Vladimir Sorokin’s Telluria (Book acquired, 13 Jan. 2022)

I read the first few bits of Vladmir Sorokin’s postapocalyptic novel Telluria today. The book is forthcoming from NYRB in translation by Max Lawton. The fantastic blurb captured my interest right away:

Telluria is set in the future, when a devastating holy war between Europe and Islam has succeeded in returning the world to the torpor and disorganization of the Middle Ages. Europe, China, and Russia have all broken up. The people of the world now live in an array of little nations that are like puzzle pieces, each cultivating its own ideology or identity, a neo-feudal world of fads and feuds, in which no one power dominates. What does, however, travel everywhere is the appetite for the special substance tellurium. A spike of tellurium, driven into the brain by an expert hand, offers a transforming experience of bliss; incorrectly administered, it means death.

The fifty chapters of Telluria map out this brave new world from fifty different angles, as Vladimir Sorokin, always a virtuoso of the word, introduces us to, among many other figures, partisans and princes, peasants and party leaders, a new Knights Templar, a harem of phalluses, and a dog-headed poet and philosopher who feasts on carrion from the battlefield. The book is an immense and sumptuous tapestry of the word, carnivalesque and cruel, and Max Lawton, Sorokin’s gifted translator, has captured it in an English that carries the charge of Cormac McCarthy and William Gibson.

Telluria is forthcoming this summer; NYRB plans to publish three more by Sorokin, including Blue Lard, “which included a sex scene between clones of Stalin and Khrushchev [and] led to public demonstrations against the book and to demands that Sorokin be prosecuted as a pornographer.”

John Berryman’s Stephen Crane biography (Book acquired, 9 Dec. 2021)

I’ve been casually looking for a copy of John Berryman’s 1950 biography of Stephen Crane for a few years now. Berryman is one of my favorite poets and Crane is one of my favorite short story writers. A write up of Paul Auster’s new Crane bio led me to reread some Crane favorites over the past few weeks, which in turn made me look a bit harder for Berryman’s Stephen Crane. The used bookstore I frequent has something like two and a half million books; I had been looking for the Crane bio in three sections: with Crane’s fiction, in biographies, and in literary criticism. This week I grabbed a stool and searched through the overstock above the Crane section and found what I’d been looking for.

As he points out in his preface, Berryman’s approach is a mix of biography and critical appraisal. Berryman claims that very little was written about Crane’s fiction (apart from The Red Badge of Courage) after his death, and that his (Crane’s) reputation was essentially invisible apart from “the war book” until later modernists took to championing him (much like earlier modernists recovered Herman Melville).

After the preface, I couldn’t help but read some of the section on composing “The Open Boat”; it’s a favorite of mine, I live in Jacksonville, where the story originates, and I use it in the classroom every semester. I also dipped into the penultimate chapter, “Crane’s Art,” which includes this nugget:

…Crane has been dead half a century, academic interest has avoided him as both peculiar and undocumented, and some of his work is still decidedly alive. This is long enough.

Elizabeth Taylor’s Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont (Book acquired, late Nov. 2021)

NYRB is reprinting the last novel of Elizabeth Taylor (not that one, the other one), Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont. NYRB’s blurb:

On a rainy Sunday afternoon in January, the recently widowed Mrs. Palfrey moves to the Claremont Hotel in South Kensington. “If it’s not nice, I needn’t stay,” she promises herself, as she settles into this haven for the genteel and the decayed. “Three elderly widows and one old man . . . who seemed to dislike female company and seldom got any other kind” serve for her fellow residents, and there is the staff, too, and they are one and all lonely. What is Mrs. Palfrey to do with herself now that she has all the time in the world? Go for a walk. Go to a museum. Go to the end of the block. Well, she does have her grandson who works at the British Museum, and he is sure to visit any day.

Mrs. Palfrey prides herself on having always known “the right thing to do,” but in this new situation she discovers that resource is much reduced. Before she knows it, in fact, she tries something else.

Elizabeth Taylor’s final and most popular novel is as unsparing as it is, ultimately, heartbreaking.

Heimito von Doderer’s The Strudlhof Steps (Book acquired, 15 Nov. 2021)

Heimito von Doderer’s The Strudlhof Steps is forthcoming in translation by Vincent Kling from NYRB. Their blurb:

The Strudlhof Steps is an unsurpassed portrait of Vienna in the early twentieth century, a vast novel crowded with characters ranging from an elegant, alcoholic Prussian aristocrat to an innocent ingenue to “respectable” shopkeepers and tireless sexual adventurers, bohemians, grifters, and honest working-class folk. The greatest character in the book, however, is Vienna, which Heimito von Doderer renders as distinctly as James Joyce does Dublin or Alfred Döblin does Berlin. Interweaving two time periods, 1908 to 1911 and 1923 to 1925, the novel takes the monumental eponymous outdoor double staircase as a governing metaphor for its characters’ intersecting and diverging fates. The Strudlhof Steps is an experimental tour de force with the suspense and surprise of a soap opera. Here Doderer illuminates the darkness of passing years with the dazzling extravagance that is uniquely his.

Ed Skoog’s Rough Day (Book acquired, 13 Nov. 2021)

So we had a great long weekend with some friends in New Orleans. We stayed in Marigny—great food, great music, maybe too many drinks—but made it into the quarter for a few hours midday Saturday. I led our little group to Jackson Square where we respectfully finished our Bloody Marys before entering St. Louis Cathedral. My real aim though was Faulkner House Books on Pirate Alley right by the cathedral. Faulkner House imposed a strict four-guests-at-a-time policy, so my friends found a bar while I browsed. The stock in the small store is impeccable. Plenty of NYRB titles, a cadre of hardback Bolaños (including almost all of the poetry available in English), more Anne Carson than I’ve ever seen in a store. (I didn’t make it to Faulkner House when I visited NOLA in late 2016, but in 2012 I got some good stuff.) This time, I picked up a signed copy of Ed Skoog’s Rough Day, which seemed fitting—I’d scheduled a post that day of his poem “Run the Red Lights.”

After I finished up I headed to a bar on the outskirts of the Quarter to meet my friends, but first popped in to Arcadian Books & Prints on Orleans St.—perhaps the most chaotic bookstore I’ve ever been to. 

As always, I loved NOLA and look forward to returning sooner rather than later.

Nastassja Martin’s In the Eye of the Wild (Book acquired, late Oct. 2021)

Nastassja Martin’s In the Eye of the Wild is out in a few weeks from NYRB in a translation by Sophie R. Lewis. I dove in this morning and it’s engrossing stuff. Any book that begins with a bear mauling the author is off to a weird start. Here’s NYRB’s blurb:

In the Eye of the Wild begins with an account of the French anthropologist Nastassja Martin’s near fatal run-in with a Kamchatka bear in the mountains of Siberia. Martin’s professional interest is animism; she addresses philosophical questions about the relation of humankind to nature, and in her work she seeks to partake as fully as she can in the lives of the indigenous peoples she studies. Her violent encounter with the bear, however, brings her face-to-face with something entirely beyond her ken—the untamed, the nonhuman, the animal, the wild. In the course of that encounter something in the balance of her world shifts. A change takes place that she must somehow reckon with.

Left severely mutilated, dazed with pain, Martin undergoes multiple operations in a provincial Russian hospital, while also being grilled by the secret police. Back in France, she finds herself back on the operating table, a source of new trauma. She realizes that the only thing for her to do is to return to Kamchatka. She must discover what it means to have become, as the Even people call it, medka, a person who is half human, half bear.

In the Eye of the Wild is a fascinating, mind-altering book about terror, pain, endurance, and self-transformation, comparable in its intensity of perception and originality of style to J. A. Baker’s classic The Peregrine. Here Nastassja Martin takes us to the farthest limits of human being.

Paul Griffiths’ Mr. Beethoven (Book acquired, October 2021)

Paul Griffiths’ novel Mr. Beethoven is new this week from NYRB. Their blurb—

It is a matter of historical record that in 1823 the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston (active to this day) sought to commission Beethoven to write an oratorio. The premise of Paul Griffiths’s ingenious novel is that Beethoven accepted the commission and traveled to the United States to oversee its first performance. Griffiths grants the composer a few extra years of life and, starting with his voyage across the Atlantic and entry into Boston Harbor, chronicles his adventures and misadventures in a new world in which, great man though he is, he finds himself a new man. Relying entirely on historically attested possibilities to develop the plot, Griffiths shows Beethoven learning a form of sign language, struggling to rein in the uncertain inspiration of Reverend Ballou (his designated librettist), and finding a kindred spirit in the widowed Mrs. Hill, all the while keeping his hosts guessing as to whether he will come through with his promised composition. (And just what, the reader also wonders, will this new piece by Beethoven turn out to be?) The book that emerges is an improvisation, as virtuosic as it is delicate, on a historical theme.

 

The Old People (Book acquired, Sept. 2021)

The Old People is a 2014 novel by A.J. Perry. The Old People gets a new life thanks to Carrying Woman Originals, an imprint of Cow Eye Press, which also published Perry’s novel Cow Country a few years ago.  As you can see in the photo above, Perry’s name is not on the cover. There’s no blurb on the back. Perry’s name shows up on the editions page and then on a second title page that faces the edition page (but not on the first title page).

I was under metaphorical water in September when The Old People arrived, having decided to recommit to doing a good job at my job, by which I mean trying to provide much more feedback and coaching and general mental attendance to my students than I think I was giving in the last (covid-drenched) semesters, all the while worrying about the utter idiocy of Florida Fall 2021’s Death Campaign. Anyway, I stacked it in a growing stack of other TBR copies and retreated into Barthelme’s stories I’d already read a few times when I made the time to read for pleasure.

I moved the stack around today, dropping The Old People to the floor. I picked it up, decided to read the opening pages, and then kept reading. It’s really good! I mean, it’s a really strange thing. It’s a book about tying a knot, which I guess is a metaphor, but it’s really focused on that metaphor’s concrete component. Pages and pages of digging holes and tying knots. I’m not sure exactly what The Old People reminds me of, but it taps into the intersection of myth and anthropology, all without being precious or pretentious (so far, anyway). I hunted down a blurb on Cow Eye’s site:

Since the beginnings of darkest silence the people of a mythical island have spent their days tying the ancient knot that binds them to their past. To tie this knot they must dig a hole; to dig a hole they first must have fire; and to make a fire that is hot enough for hole digging, the knot that they have been tying must finally be tied. From silence to mud to rope to knot to wood to words to fire, the Old People will work to tie their knot under the cool shade of the island’s original knotmaking.

 

Jean Giono’s The Open Road (Book acquired like last week or maybe the end of the week before; I can’t remember, September’s been rough)

I’m a big fan of picaresque novels about con artists. Jean Giono’s The Open Road is forthcoming in translation by Paul Eprile from NYRB. Their blurb:

The south of France, 1950: A solitary vagabond walks through the villages, towns, valleys, and foothills of the region between northern Provence and the Alps. He picks up work along the way and spends the winter as the custodian of a walnut-oil mill. He also picks up a problematic companion: a cardsharp and con man, whom he calls “the Artist.” The action moves from place to place, and episode to episode, in truly picaresque fashion. Everything is told in the first person, present tense, by the vagabond narrator, who goes unnamed. He himself is a curious combination of qualities—poetic, resentful, cynical, compassionate, flirtatious, and self-absorbed.

While The Open Road can be read as loosely strung entertainment, interspersed with caustic reflections, it can also be interpreted as a projection of the relationship of author, art, and audience. But it is ultimately an exploration of the tensions and boundaries between affection and commitment, and of the competing needs for solitude, independence, and human bonds. As always in Jean Giono, the language is rich in natural imagery and as ruggedly idiomatic as it is lyrical.

Papa Hamlet (Book acquired, 20 Aug. 2021)

Papa Hamlet is kind of a weird one. This is the first time Arno Holz and Johannes Schlaf’s collaborative 1889 German novel has appeared in English, thanks to translator James J. Conway and publisher Rixdorf Editions. Here’s their blurb:

Adultery, vulgarity, disordered lives on the brink of collapse: the feverish existence of failed actor Niels Thienwiebel shocked German readers when Papa Hamlet was first published in 1889. In declaiming the soliloquies of his most famous role, ‘the great Thienwiebel’ finds delusional refuge from the squalid room he shares with despondent wife Amalie and infant son Fortinbras. But it was the radical style as much as the moral outrage of this novella that so confounded contemporaries. Reflecting their own bohemian Berlin milieu, Arno Holz and Johannes Schlaf showed the dream of the self-authored life turning to nightmare through apathy and self-absorption. Originally credited to a fabricated Norwegian writer, Papa Hamlet signalled the explosive arrival of Naturalism while also pointing ahead to Modernism; its appropriations, irony and play of identity even foretold Postmodernism. Appearing for the first time in English, it is teamed here with an early incarnation of the same narrative by Schlaf alongside further collaborations with Holz. Together their fearless candour and anarchic ingenuity reveal another side to German Naturalism that is well overdue for rediscovery.

Just four years in duration, the collaboration between Arno Holz (1863-1929) and Johannes Schlaf (1862-1941) created a revolution in form and content which exerted a huge influence on German literature. As well as Papa Hamlet their partnership produced the play The Selicke Family, a number of shorter prose works and an autobiographical comic. After living and working in bohemian isolation just outside Berlin, the pair split acrimoniously in 1892 and continued sniping at each other for decades as they moved on from their Naturalist origins. Arno Holz was something of a tragic figure, consumed with bitterness; works like his verse collection Phantasus were years head of their time yet security eluded him. The more amenable Johannes Schlaf enjoyed greater success but his posthumous reputation suffers from his later embrace of the Nazis. Neither writer has previously appeared in English.

Read an excerpt here.

Jean-Patrick Manchette’s The N’Gustro Affair (Book acquired 11 Aug. 2021)

Jean-Patrick Manchette’s The N’Gustro Affair is forthcoming from NYRB in a translation by Donald Nicholson-Smith. NYRB’s blurb:

Mean, arrogant, naive, sadistic on occasion, the young Henri Butron records his life story on tape just before death catches up with him: a death passed off as a suicide by his killers, French secret service agents who need to hush up their role—and Butron’s—in the kidnapping, torture, and murder of a prominent opposition leader from a third-world African nation in the throes of a postcolonial civil war.

The N’Gustro Affair is a thinly veiled retelling of the 1965 abduction and killing of Mehdi Ben Barka, a radical opponent of King Hassan II of Morocco. But this is merely the backdrop to Jean-Patrick Manchette’s first-person portrait (with shades of Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me) of a man who lacks the insight to see himself for what he is: a wannabe nihilist too weak to be even a full-bore fascist.

Aleksandar Tišma’s Kapo (Book acquired, 10 Aug. 2021)

Aleksandar Tišma’s Kapo is forthcoming from NYRB in translation by Richard Williams. NYRB’s blurb:

The Book of BlamThe Use of ManKapo: In these three unsparing novels the Yugoslav author Aleksandar Tišma anatomized the plight of those who survived the Second World War and the death camps, only to live on in a death-haunted world. Blam simply lucked out—and can hardly face himself in the mirror. By contrast, the teenage friends in The Use of Man are condemned to live on and on while enduring every affliction. Kapo is about Lamian, who made it through Auschwitz by serving his German masters, knowing that at any moment and for any reason his “special status” might be revoked.

But the war is over now. Auschwitz is in the past. Lamian has settled down in the Bosnian town of Banja Luka, where he has a respectable job as a superintendent in the railyard. Everything is normal enough. Then one day in the paper he comes on the name of Helena Lifka, a woman—like him a Yugoslav and a Jew—he raped in the camp. Not long after he sees her, aged and ungainly, Lamian is flooded with guilt and terror.

Kapo, like Tišma’s other great novels, is not simply a document or an act of witness. Tišma’s terrible gift is to see with an artist’s dispassionate clarity how fear, violence, guilt, and desire—whether for life, love, or simple understanding—are inextricably knotted together in the human breast.

Ben Shahn’s The Shape of Content (Book acquired, 23 July 2021)

I went by my favorite used bookstore the other week to pick up the copy of Tatyana Tolstoya’s novel The Slynx last week. (I’m halfway through it, and it’s fantastic stuff—dirty, cruel, funny, unexpectedly moving—like a filthy generative loam that isn’t exactly poisonous, but will certainly yield side effects.) After seeing this diagram earlier in the week, I looked for a copy of Thomas C. Oden’s 1969 multidisciplinary

text Structure of Awareness. I was unsuccessful there, but I did spy something called The Shape of Content by the artist Ben Shahn. I’ve long been a fan of his work, so I picked it up and thumbed through. I ended up reading most of it this weekend.

The Shape of Content (the title now is not exactly ironic, I guess) collects a series of lectures Shahn gave to Harvard students in the late 1950s. The first lecture is a somewhat boring apologia, a kind of What the hell am I doing here?, but the following material is good stuff, if not exactly fresh. There are plenty of illustrations too, mostly unrelated to the, uh, content of the words (although they are of course intimately related). Illustrations like the one above, and this one, below, make the 144 pager seem, well, kinda short.

Here’s Harvard UP’s blurb:

In his 1956–57 Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, the Russian-born American painter Ben Shahn sets down his personal views of the relationship of the artist―painter, writer, composer―to his material, his craft, and his society. He talks of the creation of the work of art, the importance of the community, the problem of communication, and the critical theories governing the artist and his audience.

Tatyana Tolstaya’s The Slynx (Book acquired, 23 July 2021)

I’ve been wanting to read Tatyana Tolstoya’s post-apocalyptic novel The Slynx for a few years now. I finally broke down and ordered a copy through my local book store, and started it yesterday—fantastic stuff: gross, grimy, raw, inventive, perplexing, upsetting, and very very funny. Jamey Gambrell’s translation transmits the playful noisy distortions that must surely be in the original Russian. I’m about fifty pages in, and so far it reminds me of the Strugatski brothers’ stuff—pessimistic, wry, earthy, as well as Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, and Gely Korzhev’s mutant paintings.

Here’s NYRB’s blurb:

Two hundred years after civilization ended in an event known as the Blast, Benedikt isn’t one to complain. He’s got a job—transcribing old books and presenting them as the words of the great new leader, Fyodor Kuzmich, Glorybe—and though he doesn’t enjoy the privileged status of a Murza, at least he’s not a serf or a half-human four-legged Degenerator harnessed to a troika. He has a house, too, with enough mice to cook up a tasty meal, and he’s happily free of mutations: no extra fingers, no gills, no cockscombs sprouting from his eyelids. And he’s managed—at least so far—to steer clear of the ever-vigilant Saniturions, who track down anyone who manifests the slightest sign of Freethinking, and the legendary screeching Slynx that waits in the wilderness beyond.

Tatyana Tolstaya’s The Slynx reimagines dystopian fantasy as a wild, horripilating amusement park ride. Poised between Nabokov’s Pale Fire and Burgess’s A Clockwork OrangeThe Slynx is a brilliantly inventive and shimmeringly ambiguous work of art: an account of a degraded world that is full of echoes of the sublime literature of Russia’s past; a grinning portrait of human inhumanity; a tribute to art in both its sovereignty and its helplessness; a vision of the past as the future in which the future is now.

Sometime, Never (Book acquired, 15 July 20210

Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy was one of my favorite reads last year, so when I spotted a used copy of the anthology Sometime, Never, I picked it up. Along with novellas by William Golding (Envoy Extraordinary) and John Wyndham (Consider Her Ways), this 1956 includes Peake’s Boy in Darkness, a novel that takes place between the first two Gormenghast books. Gervasio Garvado’s cover illustration seems to depict Peake’s tale. Blurb:

Each of the three tales of imagination in this book is by a master of the art, and in each there is incident and invention enough to surpass most full-length novels.

Envoy Extraordinary, by William Golding, tells of a barbarian genius who arrives in ancient Rome with three inventions–and the results are appalling.

Consider Her Ways, by John Wyndham, presents a shocking and utterly convincing picture of a world of women–without men.

Boy In Darkness, by Mervyn Peake, is a venture into a dream-like world of strangeness and terror–quite unlike anything you have ever read, and unforgettable.

Kobo Abe’s Secret Rendezvous (Book acquired, 8 July 2021)

So well my grandmother has Alzheimer’s and we’ve had to move her to a memory care facility and pack up all the many many things in her house and so on and etc., the house she’s lived in forever, or at least for close to what I conceive of as forever, and it’s been painful and I’m not writing about it here or now, but she was a reader, still is a reader, although she doesn’t remember what she reads, although I guess I don’t remember most of what I read, but I do remember the feeling of reading a certain book, or at least the feeling of the feeling of reading a certain book, but I don’t know what it’s like for her to read now, I just know that she loved reading—not the kind of stuff I like, but a reader nonetheless, and so well now anyway I have boxes and boxes of her books to go trade in for store credit at the local shop, a thing, the trading I mean, that I try to do slowly, one box (or sometimes bag) at a time, so as not to overburden the kindly bookbuyers, who seem to be always dealing with box after box after musty box of books obtained in similar situations (i.e., grandmothers, grandfathers, beloved old great uncles and strange wonderful aunts, you know the type, who, for whatever sad reason, no longer require books in such a volume)—and so like I don’t bring in but one or two bags or boxes at a time, a strategy that also gives me some small license to browse and browse and browse and

 

 

 

And so last Thursday I picked up Kobo Abe’s 1977 novel Secret Rendezvous. I’ve always wanted to read Abe—specificically his first novel, Inter Ice Age 4, but I’ve never found it. (I have found his most famous novel, Woman in the Dunes, but for whatever reason failed to pick it up.) Secret Rendezvous, in English translation by Juliet Winters Carpenter, seems to be a surrealistic tale of “a man’s desperate search for his vanished wife in a vast underground hospital.” The blurb on the back also mentions a test-tube baby, an impotent health administrator, and a nymphomaniac. Maybe I’ll read it next.

Borges/Calvino (Books acquired, 23 June 2021)

I’m a huge sucker for Avon-Bard massmarket paperbacks, so I couldn’t pass up Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges. (The conversations are with the late writer Richard Burgin.) I also picked up a nifty 1976 paperback of Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics.

Here’s one of those cosmicomics, “All at One Point” (English translation by William Weaver):

“All at One Point”

by

Italo Calvino


Through the calculations begun by Edwin P. Hubble on the galaxies’ velocity of recession, we can establish the moment when all the universe’s matter was concentrated in a single point, before it began to expand in space.

Naturally, we were all there, —old Qfwfq said, — where else could we have been? Nobody knew then that there could be space. Or time either: what use did we have for time, packed in there like sardines?

I say “packed like sardines,” using a literary image: in reality there wasn’t even space to pack us into. Every point of each of us coincided with every point of each of the others in a single point, which was where we all were. In fact, we didn’t even bother one another, except for personality differences, because when space doesn’t exist, having somebody unpleasant like Mr. Pber^t Pber^d underfoot all the time is the most irritating thing.

How many of us were there? Oh, I was never able to figure that out, not even approximately. To make a count, we would have had to move apart, at least a little, and instead we all occupied that same point. Contrary to what you might think, it wasn’t the sort of situation that encourages sociability; I know, for example, that in other periods neighbors called on one another; but there, because of the fact that we were all neighbors, nobody even said good morning or good evening to anybody else.

In the end each of us associated only with a limited number of acquaintances. The ones I remember most are Mrs. Ph(i)Nk_0, her friend De XuaeauX, a family of immigrants by the name of Z’zu, and Mr. Pber^t Pber^d, whom I just mentioned. There was also a cleaning woman — “maintenance staff” she was called — only one, for the whole universe, since there was so little room. To tell the truth, she had nothing to do all day long, not even dusting — inside one point not even a grain of dust can enter — so she spent all her time gossiping and complaining.

Just with the people I’ve already named we would have been overcrowded; but you have to add all the stuff we had to keep piled up in there: all the material that was to serve afterwards to form the universe, now dismantled and concentrated in such a way that you weren’t able to tell what was later to become part of astronomy (like the nebula of Andromeda) from what was assigned to geography (the Vosges, for example) or to chemistry (like certain beryllium isotopes). And on top of that, we were always bumping against the Z’zu family’s household goods: camp beds, mattresses, baskets; these Z’zus, if you weren’t careful, with the excuse that they were a large family, would begin to act as if they were the only ones in the world: they even wanted to hang lines across our point to dry their washing.

But the others also had wronged the Z’zus, to begin with, by calling them “immigrants,” on the pretext that, since the others had been there first, the Z’zus had come later. This was mere unfounded prejudice — that seems obvious to me — because neither before nor after existed, nor any place to immigrate from, but there were those who insisted that the concept of “immigrant” could be understood in the abstract, outside of space and time.

It was what you might call a narrow-minded attitude, our outlook at that time, very petty. The fault of the environment in which we had been reared. An attitude that, basically, has remained in all of us, mind you: it keeps cropping up even today, if two of us happen to meet — at the bus stop, in a movie house, at an international dentists’ convention — and start reminiscing about the old days. We say hello — at times somebody recognizes me, at other times I recognize somebody — and we promptly start asking about this one and that one (even if each remembers only a few of those remembered by the others), and so we start in again on the old disputes, the slanders, the denigrations. Until somebody mentions Mrs. Ph(i)Nk_0 — every conversation finally gets around to her — and then, all of a sudden, the pettiness is put aside, and we feel uplifted, filled with a blissful, generous emotion. Mrs. Ph(i)Nk_0, the only one that none of us has forgotten and that we all regret. Where has she ended up? I have long since stopped looking for her: Mrs. Ph(i)Nk_0, her bosom, her thighs, her orange dressing gown — we’ll never meet her again, in this system of galaxies or in any other.

Let me make one thing clear: this theory that the universe, after having reached an extremity of rarefaction, will be condensed again has never convinced me. And yet many of us are counting only on that, continually making plans for the time when we’ll all be back there again. Last month, I went into the bar here on the corner and whom did I see? Mr. Pber^t Pber^d. “What’s new with you? How do you happen to be in this neighborhood?” I learned that he’s the agent for a plastics firm, in Pavia. He’s the same as ever, with his silver tooth, his loud suspenders. “When we go back there,” he said to me, in a whisper, “the thing we have to make sure of is, this time, certain people remain out … You know who I mean: those Z’zus …”

I would have liked to answer him by saying that I’ve heard a number of people make the same remark, concluding: “You know who I mean … Mr. Pber^t Pber^d …”

To avoid the subject, I hastened to say: “What about Mrs. Ph(i)Nk_0? Do you think we’ll find her back there again?”

“Ah, yes … She, by all means …” he said, turning purple.

For all of us the hope of returning to that point means, above all, the hope of being once more with Mrs. Ph(i)Nk_0. (This applies even to me, though I don’t believe in it.) And in that bar, as always happens, we fell to talking about her, and were moved; even Mr. Pber^t Pber^d’s unpleasantness faded, in the face of that memory.

Mrs. Ph(i)Nk_0’s great secret is that she never aroused any jealousy among us. Or any gossip, either. The fact that she went to bed with her friend, Mr. De XuaeauX, was well known. But in a point, if there’s a bed, it takes up the whole point, so it isn’t a question of going to bed, but of being there, because anybody in the point is also in the bed. Consequently, it was inevitable that she should be in bed also with each of us. If she had been another person, there’s no telling all the things that would have been said about her. It was the cleaning woman who always started the slander, and the others didn’t have to be coaxed to imitate her. On the subject of the Z’zu family — for a change! — the horrible things we had to hear: father, daughters, brothers, sisters, mother, aunts: nobody showed any hesitation even before the most sinister insinuation. But with her it was different: the happiness I derived from her was the joy of being concealed, punctiform, in her, and of protecting her, punctiform, in me; it was at the same time vicious contemplation (thanks to the promiscuity of the punctiform convergence of us all in her) and also chastity (given her punctiform impenetrability). In short, what more could I ask?

And all of this, which was true of me, was true also for each of the others. And for her: she contained and was contained with equal happiness, and she welcomed us and loved and inhabited all equally.

We got along so well all together, so well that something extraordinary was bound to happen. It was enough for her to say, at a certain moment: “Oh, if I only had some room, how I’d like to make some noodles for you boys!” And in that moment we all thought of the space that her round arms would occupy, moving backward and forward with the rolling pin over the dough, her bosom leaning over the great mound of flour and eggs which cluttered the wide board while her arms kneaded and kneaded, white and shiny with oil up to the elbows; we thought of the space that the flour would occupy, and the wheat for the flour, and the fields to raise the wheat, and the mountains from which the water would flow to irrigate the fields, and the grazing lands for the herds of calves that would give their meat for the sauce; of the space it would take for the Sun to arrive with its rays, to ripen the wheat; of the space for the Sun to condense from the clouds of stellar gases and burn; of the quantities of stars and galaxies and galactic masses in flight through space which would be needed to hold suspended every galaxy, every nebula, every sun, every planet, and at the same time we thought of it, this space was inevitably being formed, at the same time that Mrs. Ph(i)Nk_0 was uttering those words: “… ah, what noodles, boys!” the point that contained her and all of us was expanding in a halo of distance in light-years and light-centuries and billions of light-millennia, and we were being hurled to the four corners of the universe (Mr. Pber^t Pber^d all the way to Pavia), and she, dissolved into I don’t know what kind of energy-light-heat, she, Mrs. Ph(i)Nk_0, she who in the midst of our closed, petty world had been capable of a generous impulse, “Boys, the noodles I would make for you!,” a true outburst of general love, initiating at the same moment the concept of space and, properly speaking, space itself, and time, and universal gravitation, and the gravitating universe, making possible billions and billions of suns, and of planets, and fields of wheat, and Mrs. Ph(i)Nk_0, scattered through the continents of the planets, kneading with floury, oil-shiny, generous arms, and she lost at that very moment, and we, mourning her loss.