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[DECEMBER 2006.]

Ymir

In his last delirium my father began to confuse his hospital room with his own body. In some ways this was understandable—the respirator really had usurped the function of his lungs—but after months in bed he had come to think of the door as his mouth, and would protest if anything unclean passed through it; the fluorescent lights were a circulatory system diffusing light through the room, the bedside television an eye perceiving the outer world, while his own immobile form in the crisp sheets was a central brain or soul cut off from the extremities. But soon I came to see (he told me nothing, I had to figure this out myself) that for the analogy to hold, he must extend past the walls of the room. The television screen was only the inner terminus of the visual apparatus, which must stretch in its entirety through the broadcast signal into the distant transmission tower, through loops of cable into video footage and even backward in time into the very lenses of the cameras that had captured that footage. Or to generalize: the totality of my father was the totality of the universe. The hospital room was only the first of his outer bodies; the next would be the hospital building, then the organism of the city, and so on through the nation and planet and solar system out to those clusters of galaxies whose movements corresponding to respiration and digestion would be governed entirely by the force of gravity, and would take eons. Similarly, my father's body was only the outer habitation of his true self, which lay inside his heart, perhaps in the very heart of his heart, a single blood cell pulsing from atrium to ventricle as his body might walk from room to room, were it not trapped in the bed; or perhaps still deeper, in the nucleus or nucleolus of that cell, in the final invisible dance of molecules—but you see that nothing was small enough, nothing absolute enough, to ground his fundamental being. It was torment. Or I guess that he was tormented; because as I said, he did not speak to me. If the worlds around him were only extensions of his self, then nothing existed beyond that self, nothing that he might address. My movements, my parody of an independent will, could be explained only by equating me to one of his wandering spermatozoa, one which had never entered my mother’s womb but had spilled with its billion brothers onto the sterile earth, a half-creature generated in mockery of man, as man was created in mockery of God.

All in all, it was a serious inconvenience managing my father, and I can’t say I was heartbroken when he expired. Only now and then over the years, face to face with great objects—glaciers, pyramids, ocean liners—have I found myself thinking that he must have been right, that all this mass and space must be his persisting outer emanation, as the old Norsemen believed the world to be a giant’s corpse. But I am not the contemplative sort and could never stop to consider it further, not with my errands and appointments. Not beneath the yoke of time.

 

The usual seasonal winds are blowing me to Arizona and Wisconsin. (They're idiosyncratic winds.) Vacation reading: Nostromo, Rayuela, The Principles of Psychology. I got a fellowship and am off from teaching next semester; I got stuck on the current novel and am taking a stab at a different one. When I’ve had more sleep I will make it all crystalline.

 

Three days earning money in Reno did me good; it was the happy part of those Balzac novels driven by the vagaries of the hero's bank account. Digging my way out of debt an hour at a time, looking out from the fourth floor at pigeons, idiocies of casinos, slanted light on the farther hills. Remembering me ten years ago looking to me ten years ahead, the books I was supposed to have written.

The novel in progress is at its most transparent in the early morning, when the light is dim and I haven’t begun to move. The skeleton lies bare, such as it is; I can articulate the joints, ponder what add next. A kneecap, a shoulder, an extra skull. It’s slight, and I think it’s confused under the surface; something about the conceit is too dreamlike, hasn’t been laid flat. I can settle at least some of it, given time, but today there are papers to grade, and a box full of documents is following me down from Reno.

 

I LOVE ATEM

Eight voids to hold you!

Mmmmm, Hungarian cakes. “translating the Gospel of Matthew in Greek?” Somehow I always thought of you as anti-religious. Or at least irreligious.

Well I’m no Christian, but J. gave me some Simone Weil and I’ve been reading Augustine and Aquinas and so on, and anyone who wants to get serious about the Scriptures in the original gets a free pass from me. Especially up here in Nevada, I get drawn to that strand in Pound and Heidegger and Stevens that wants to find a god in the landscape, or name a god for the landscape; which is all fun and games until that god starts dictating a political system....

 

Crixa Cakes, Berkeley: Hungarian cake shop. Cukrászda. I had some really excellent coffee and a bite of a "fig walnut bar" (delicious bourgeois Fig Newton) and the people at the next table are very carefully and laboriously reading through and translating the Gospel of Matthew in Greek. Much much better than the people before them who were worrying about bread makers and their salaries and where to school their kids.

—How do you say “earnest liberal bourgeoisie” in Hungarian? That’s what they need on their sign.
—ernézstiliberálabőrjösi only 11.00 to 14.00, please.

J. corrected my spelling: ernézstiliberálabőrgyösi

 

Yeah, I know Horace had his own shoals to navigate. And I’m no instructor of princes; I can’t even instruct the cat.

 

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