It happened one day, at a crossroads, in the middle of a crowd, people coming and going.
I stopped, blinked: suddently I understood nothing. Nothing, nothing about anything: I did not understand the reasons for things or for people, it was all senseless, absurd. I laughed.
What I found strange at the time was that I had never realized before; that up until then I had accepted everything: traffic lights, cars, posters, uniforms, monuments, things completely detached from any sense of the world, accepted them as if there were some necessity, some chain of cause and effect that bound them together.
Then my laugh died. I blushed, ashamed. I waved to get people’s attention. “Stop a moment!” I shouted, “there is something wrong! Everything is wrong! We are doing the absurdest things. This cannot be the right way. Where can it end?”
People stopped around me, sized me up, curious. I stood there in the middle of them, waving my arms, desparate to explain myself, to have them share the flash of insight that had suddenly enlightened me: and I said nothing. I said nothing because the moment I had raised my arms and opened my mouth, my great revelation had been as it were swallowed up again and the words had come out any old how, on impulse.
“So?” people asked, “what do you mean? Everything is in its place. All is as it should be. Everything is a result of something else. Everything fits in with everything else. We cannot see anything wrong or absurd.”
I stood there, lost, because as I saw it now everything had fallen into place again and everything seemed normal, traffic lights, monuments, uniforms, towerblocks, tramlines, begggards, processions; yet this did not calm me, it tormented me.
“I am sorry,” I said. “Perhaps it was I who was wrong. It seemd that way then. But everything is fine now. I am sorry.” And I made off amid their angry glares.
Yet, even now, every time (and it is often) that I find I do not understand something, then, instincitively, I am filled with the hope that perhaps this will be my moment again, perhaps once again I shall understand nothing, I shall grasp the other knowledge, found and lost in an instant.
“The Flash,” by Italo Calvino. Collected in Numbers in the Dark.
An Italian who owns a villa in Riva on Lake Garda and can live very comfortably on the interest from the estate his father left him has, according to a report in La Stampa, been living for the last twelve years with a mannequin. The inhabitants of Riva report that on mild evenings they have observed the Italian, who is said to have studied art history, boarding a glass-domed deluxe boat, which is moored not far from his home, with the mannequin to take a ride on the lake. Described years ago as incestuous in a reader’s letter addressed to the newspaper published in Desencano, he had applied to the appropriate civil authorities for permission to marry his mannequin but was refused. The church too had denied him the right to marry his mannequin. In winter he regularly leaves Lake Garda in mid-December and goes with his beloved, whom he met in a Paris shop-window, to Sicily, where he regularly rents a room in the famous Hotel Timeo in Taormina to escape from the cold, which, all assertions to the contrary, gets unbearable on Lake Garda every year after mid-December.
“True Love,” by Thomas Bernhard. From The Voice Imitator.
In a Spring vacation hotel the rain is bad news indeed. The hundred French windows of the great galleries led the eye out to ink-and-water pines snivelling listlessly on to raw brown tennis courts, to desolate hills against soiled white sky. There was “nothing to do” for hotel and resort were one and the same and no indoor activity was promised on the bulletin board until the concert of the Princeton Glee Club Easter Monday. Women who had come to breakfast in riding clothes rushed to the hairdresser instead; at eleven the tap-k’tap of ping-pong balls was the only sound of life in the enormous half empty hotel.
The girl was one of a pair in white skirts and yellow sweaters who walked down the long gallery after breakfast. Her face reflected the discontent of the weather, reflected darkly and resentfully. Looking at her Deforrest Colman thought: “Bored and fierce,” and then as his eyes continued to follow her, “No, proud and impatient. Not that either, but what a face—vitality and hand cuffs—where’s this getting me—liver and bacon, Damon and Pythias, Laurel and Hardy.
A fragment from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Notebooks.
Bob Dylan gets extra-rambly in a 1966 interview with Playboy. I like to read the following riff as a surreal story-poem. If you want more context, the interviewer asks Dylan as a preamble to the ramble: “Mistake or not, what made you decide to go the rock-‘n’-roll route?”:
Carelessness. I lost my one true love. I started drinking. The first thing I know, I’m in a card game. Then I’m in a crap game. I wake up in a pool hall. Then this big Mexican lady drags me off the table, takes me to Philadelphia. She leaves me alone in her house, and it burns down. I wind up in Phoenix. I get a job as a Chinaman. I start working in a dime store, and move in with a 13-year-old girl. Then this big Mexican lady from Philadelphia comes in and burns the house down. I go down to Dallas. I get a job as a “before” in a Charles Atlas “before and after” ad. I move in with a delivery boy who can cook fantastic chili and hot dogs. Then this 13-year-old girl from Phoenix comes and burns the house down. The delivery boy – he ain’t so mild: He gives her the knife, and the next thing I know I’m in Omaha. It’s so cold there, by this time I’m robbing my own bicycles and frying my own fish. I stumble onto some luck and get a job as a carburetor out at the hot-rod races every Thursday night. I move in with a high school teacher who also does a little plumbing on the side, who ain’t much to look at, but who’s built a special kind of refrigerator that can turn newspaper into lettuce. Everything’s going good until that delivery boy shows up and tries to knife me. Needless to say, he burned the house down, and I hit the road. The first guy that picked me up asked me if I wanted to be a star. What could I say?