War and War: A special literary project
Moon, valley, dew, death.
In the year of Our Lord, in March, to be precise on the night of the third day of the month, between about four and quarter past four, that is to say a bare eight years after the two thousandth anniversary of what may be understood by Christian reckoning to be the new age, but far removed from the mood of rejoicing usually occasioned by such events, Dr György Korin applied the brakes by the entrance to the NON STOP buffet at the bus station, managed to stop the car, scrambled out on to the sidewalk, then, having assured himself that after three continuous days of drunken misadventure he had arrived at a place where, with these four words ringing in his head, he would discover what he as looking for, he pushed the door open and swayed over to the one lonely-looking man at the bar, where instead of collapsing on the spot as he might have been expected to do in his condition, with a tremendous effort, very deliberately, he pronounced the words:
Dear Angel, I have been looking for you for such a long time.
The man thus addressed slowly turned to face him. It was hard to say whether he had understood any of this. His face looked tired, his eyes had no light in them and sweat was running in streams down his brow.
I have been looking for you for three days, Korin explained, because when it comes down to it you have to know that, once again, it’s over. That here. those damned bitches of a.. Then he fell silent a long while and the only thing that betrayed how much raw emotion he was suppressing – for his fixed expression betrayed nothing – was the way he repeated the phrase he must have practiced a thousand times: once again, it’s over.
The man turned back to the bar, raised his cigarette slowly, deliberately, delicately to his mouth and, while the other watched him, drew deeply on it, as deeply as he could, drawing the smoke right down to the very bottom of his lungs and because it could go no deeper closed his lips and pouted slightly, keeping the smoke down for an extraordinarily long time and only began emitting it in narrow wisps once his face had turned quite red and the veins stood out on the nape of his neck. Korin watched all this without moving a muscle and it was impossible to be sure whether that was because he was waiting for some kind of response to his comments once the performance was over, or because he had suddenly turned his mind off for a while, but in any case he simply stared at the man, watching as a slowly swelling cloud of smoke enveloped him, then, without taking his eyes off him, without being able to take his eyes off him, with one blind gesture he succeeded in grabbing an empty glass and tapped it on the bar a few times as if calling a waiter. But there was no waiter to be seen, nor was there anyone else in the hangar-shaped buffet unless you counted the small booth to the left of the toilet where a pair of beggar-like figures were hunkering close, an old man of indeterminate age with a dirty unkempt beard and a good many greasy pustules on his face, and an old woman, who on closer examination turned out to be of similarly indeterminate age, thin and toothless, with cracked lips that gave her a look of idiotic cheerfulness. But you couldn’t really count these two because they were sitting somehow further off, maybe just a hair’s breadth too far away, nevertheless removed in some way from the world of the buffet, further removed than might have been suggested by the positions they physically occupied within it, the boots on their feet tied round with string in one case and wire in the other, their overcoats torn, their scarves serving the office of belts, with a liter bottle of wine in front of them, the floor around them covered in a mass of commercial plastic bags stuffed to overflowing. They said nothing, simply stared ahead of them and gently held each other’s hands.
All is ruined, all is brought low- Korin continued.
But he might as well have said, he added in his own clumsy almost incoherent way in an attempt to explain himself, that when you thought about it, it should be crystal clear to any notary of heaven and earth, that they have ruined everything, brought everything low, because here, he said, and this was something the man he was talking to had, whatever else he did, to understand most precisely, it wasn’t a case of some mysterious divine decree driving an innocent human agency – the empty glass in his right hand was shaking at the words ‘divine decree’ – but precisely the opposite, a disgraceful decision taken by humanity at large, a decision far exceeding normal human authority but drawing on a divine context and relying on divine assistance, which was to say that it was the crudest imaginable imposition when you got down to it, the infinitely vulgar production of an order determined by the so-called civilized world, an order that was complete and all-comprehending, and horribly successful. Horribly, in his opinion, he repeated, and, for the sake of emphasis lingered as long as he could on the word “horribly”, which so slowed his speech that he almost came to a stop near the end of it, a remarkable achievement since all the way through, right from the beginning, he had been speaking as slowly and with as little passion as it was possible to speak, every syllable reduced to its mere phonemes, as if each of them were the product of a struggle against other syllables or phonemes that might have been uttered in its place, as though some kind of deep and complex war were being fought out somewhere at the bottom of his throat, in which the right syllable or phoneme had to be discovered, isolated, and torn from the clutches of superfluous ones, from the thick soup of syllable-larvae energetically thrashing about there then carried up the throat, led gently through the dome of the mouth, forced up against the row of teeth and finally spat forth into freedom, into the terminally stale air of the buffet, as the only sound apart from the sick, continuous moaning of the ice box, a sound on the edge of the bar where the man was standing immobile; hor-rib-ly, in his opinion, Korin said, slowing, after which he did not so much hesitate as come to a complete stop, and this being said it was possible to conclude without the shadow of a doubt, from the changed, clouded, ever-more-unfocused look in his eyes that his mind having simply and hor-rib-ly packed up at this point, he could do nothing but stand there, though the powerful gravitational force exerted on the right-hand side of his body might at any moment have caused him to tip over as he leaned heavily on the bar on his right-hand side with those ever duller eyes of his fixed immovably on the man as if he could see what he was looking at though in reality he saw nothing and was simply staring, without the least trace of comprehension at his face for a while, leaning against the bar, swaying gently and hor-rib-ly.
They have ruined the world – he said a whole minute or so later, the life returning to eyes that had regained their earlier muddy ditch color.
But it doesn’t matter what he says, he said, because they’ve ruined everything they’ve managed to get their hands on, and by waging an endless, treacherous war of attrition they have managed to get their hands on everything, ruined everything – and, one should remember, they have seized everything – seized it, ruined it and carried on in this way until they had achieved complete victory, so that it was one long triumphal march of seizing and ruining, right down to the final triumph of the hordes, or more precisely, it was a long story running over hundreds of years, hundreds and hundreds of years, of seizing and, in seizing, ruining, seizing and thereby ruining, sometimes surreptitiously, sometimes brazenly; now subtly, now crudely, whatever way they could, that’s the way they carried on, the only way they could carry on over centuries, like rats, like rats in hiding waiting to pounce; and in order to achieve this utter and complete victory they naturally needed their opponents, by which we mean anyone noble, great and transcendent, to reject, for reasons of their own, any kind of conflict, to reject in principle the idea of moving beyond bare being and engaging in some passing struggle for the notion of a slightly better balanced state of human affairs; for what was needed was for there to be no struggle at all, simply the disappearance of one of the two parties, in historical terms the lasting disappearance of the noble, the great and the transcendent, their disappearance not only from the struggle but also from the realm of mere existence, and in the worst case, for all we know, said Korin, their utter and complete annihilation, all this for some peculiar reason quite unknown to anyone but themselves, no one knowing why this should all have happened the way it did, or what had happened to allow those who had been waiting to pounce and gain the victory to do so, and thereby control everything today, and there is not a nook or cranny in which you could hide anything from them, everything being theirs, said Korin at his accustomed speed, theirs is everything that may be possessed, and the decisive proportion of even those things that can’t, because heaven is theirs, and every dream, every moment of silence in nature, and, in the popular saying, immortality too is theirs – only the most common and vulgar of immortalities of course – in other words, as the embittered losers justly but mistakenly say, everything is lost and lost for ever. And – his unstoppable monologue flowed on – the power in their hands is truly of no small proportions, for their position and their depraved all-pervasive strength haa enabled them not merely to reduce all scale and proportion to match their own, such exercise of power being maintainable for only a short time, but their remarkable perspicuity had ensured that their own sense of scale and proportion should determine the very nature of scale and proportion, that is to say they made sure that their being should permeate any sense of scale and proportion that was inimical to them, keeping a close eye on every tiny detail so that from whatever angle you looked at them, the details would all support, strengthen, ensure and so maintain this momentous historical turn of events, this treacherous insurrection of false scales, false content, false proportions and false extents. It was a long struggle against invisible foes, or to put it more accurately, against invisible foes that might not have been there at all, but it was a victorious struggle, in the course of which they understood that the victory would only be unconditional if they annihilated or, if he might put it in such old fashioned terms, said Korin, exiled, exiled anything that might have stood against them, or rather, fully absorbed it into the repulsive vulgarity of the world they now ruled, ruled if not exactly commanded, and thereby besmirched whatever was good and transcendent, not by saying a haughty ‘no’ to good and transcendent things, no, for they understood that the important thing was to say ‘yes’ from the meanest of motives, to give them their outright support, to display them, to nurture them; it was this that dawned on them and showed them what to do, that their best option was not to crush their enemies, to mock them or wipe them off the face of the earth, but, on the contrary, to embrace them, to take responsibility for them and so to empty them of their content, and in this way to establish a world in which it was precisely these things that would be the most liable to spread the infection so that the only power that had any chance of resisting them, by whose radiant light it might still have been possible to see the degree to which they had taken over people’s lives. how could he make himself clearer at this point, Korin hesitated.. how to explain this more effectively, he fell to meditating, perhaps if he said it again, he ended. that, you know,. that tragic lack of nobility. By embracing the good and the transcendent, he continued, his eyes not shifting a millimeter from the man, they turned them into objects that today are of all things the most repulsive, so that even pronouncing the words ‘good’ and ‘transcendent’ is enough to fill a man with shame; they have become so horrible, so hateful, that you only needed to say them once – the good, the transcendent – and there was nothing left to say, people’s stomachs cramp up and they’re ready to vomit, not because the words mean anything to them, but because it’s enough simply to pronounce them, these two words, and how many more such words are there, and it’s done! every time they are pronounced the victorious rulers of the world sit that much more comfortably on their thrones, are just that more firmly established there than before, and the road to the worldly throne is lined with precisely such things, for they make a nice little tapping sound, clickety-click, good and good, and there go Red Riding Hood, the hoofs of the horses, the wheels of carriages and the tappets of cars as they move up and down the cylinders, good and good, clippety-clop, it’s hopeless! – Korin was slowing again – but actually that was not the right word, hopeless was somehow wrong, there was no way out of this deadly loop, since it was ready and fully functioning in its own way, and calling it hopeless was not going to foul up the works, quite the contrary, in fact, it would simply oil them, bring a constant shine to them, help them to function. It was self-oiling, said Korin, raising his voice a little and looked up at the cold light shining above him, as if he thought the light was too dim, though the light in the buffet was almost intolerably intense. The whole ceiling was packed with fluorescent tubes, neon next to neon, at least a hundred tubes from right to left, from left to right, as densely and hauntingly packed as the graves in a military cemetery without an inch of bare space, the whole fluorescent, every tube burning and not one gone out, not one dark, so that the whole buffet glowed, as did the man standing at the bar with his back to it all, a cigarette in his right hand, staring fixedly at the edge of the bar and at nothing else, with Korin leaning on the bar and glowing beside him, ditch-gray eyes fixed on the man, facing him, with these broken, painfully slow words proceeding from his mouth, and the two tramps in their booth by the toilet also glowing, squeezed in tightly next to each other like two neon tubes, the old man stroking the old woman’s left hand as it lay on the table, she, by not withdrawing her hand, offering it to his to be stroked, the pair of them just sitting, their eyes gently resting on each other, the old woman occasionally adjusting a lock of her greasy matted hair with her right hand, that is to say her free hand.
I haven’t gone mad – some light flashed on Korin’s ditch-gray eyes – but I see as clearly as if I were mad.
And furthermore, he added, ever since he had started seeing clearly his brain has had to be strapped in place, figuratively speaking of course, only figuratively, but because he saw everything so clearly now he felt these straps could break at any moment, and that was why he hardly moved his head, but held it as still as he could, as far as possible without the slightest movement, and he meant this very head, this one here, for, no doubt, the other could see how stiffly he held it, not that this was of the least importance, said he, suddenly dropping the subject with a touch of annoyance in his voice, no, he couldn’t see why he even brought the subject up, for it really wasn’t like him to stray off the subject he had set himself and it must be that he was drunk, a fact he couldn’t deny, for it must clearly have been his drunkenness that suddenly got the better of him, because the important thing was that he should be able to describe the true course of events as clearly, as unambiguously, as graphically as possible and to state as plainly as he could that, when it came to the question, the vitally important question, of why things had turned out like this, he was utterly unable to explain, because, personally, he hadn’t a clue why greatness had passed from the world, how the great and noble had managed to vanish, where the exceptional, outstanding ones had gone, not the faintest idea, for how should he have a clue, the whole thing was utterly incomprehensible and that was why no one could understand it, and, as ever, when someone finds things to be incomprehensible it is usually his most acute personal sense of hurt he looks to for answers, and he had looked there himself but it hadn’t got him anywhere because wherever he looked he finished up at the same place, he said, with a drab set of dull ideas and dull explanations, and though occasionally he had thought he was going the right way, along the right path, the end was still dull, infintely dull, for this disappearance or extinction, whatever he called it, was such a mysterious phenomenon that it was beyond him to understand it and, he imagined, beyond everyone else too, the only thing certain being that this was one of the greatest of human enigmas, the appearance and disappearance of greatness in history, or, more accurately, the appearance and disappearance of greatness despite history, from which one might, one just might venture to conclude that history, about which, once again, one could only speak in metaphors, and from now on in metaphors only to a certain extent, was an endless series of running battles and street fights, perhaps even one single continuous running battle or street fight, but this history, despite its extraordinary range, despite all its apparently ungovernable effects, was not entirely to be identified with all the implications of the human condition. To begin with, he said, take the example of the man in the street, that now sanguinary, now cowardly, creature adapted by nature to the street fight, who, as he crawls on through that remarkable mother of all street fights, making his way from cover to cover, possesses one, at least one, characteristic that is not in thrall to history, that being his shadow, which is not, said Korin, subject to the power of history, and so, irrespective of that which endows him with his shadow, whether it be day or night, and this shadow, so to speak, escapes the infinitely complex web of the conflict, escapes, in other words, the power of history, because, just consider this – Korin waved his empty glass at the man who still gave no sign of having noticed him, or indeed of having noticed anything at all – think it over: do you think it’s possible to hit this shadow with a gun? no chance, Korin answered sharply, a bullet is not going to cut down a shadow, and he was sure, he declared, that the other man would have no difficulty granting this, just as he, that is to say Korin, knew a thing or two, and had got this right in any case, the bullet wouldn’t touch it and that’s that! that’s more than enough to show that a man’s shadow was no part, no part at all, of history’s surpassingly seamless and apparently all comprehending mechanism; that, to put it in a nutshell, was the state of affairs and there was no point trying to pick holes in it, this was the way it was, end of the story, period, it was all that could be said on the subject of this shadow, and the only thing that might name or describe this shadow and in naming and describing it attempt to give it some narrative function was, naturally, said Korin, using his empty glass once more in the hope of attracting the barman’s attention, though the barman was somehow stranded there behind the counter beyond the orbit of this blindingly bright night and never looked likely to re-enter it, that thing, said Korin, was poetry. Poetry and shadows he said, his louder voice again, and by raising the issue he wished only to emphasize the fact that there existed something whose mode of being was independent of even history, something that, in its way, negated what, strictly speaking, we should regard as the present version of history, the version that has triumphed by stealth, and it was this thing alone, the existence of the noble, the great, the transcendent that mattered, because it is was only the concept of what was noble, what was transcendent, what was truly great that was capable of definition, or rather could be defined as the antithesis of this version of history, for the remarkable reason that it was only the noble, the great and the transcendent whose existence could not be predicated as the product of such a historical process because that historical process, said Korin, required nothing of the sort, because the existence of such things depended entirely on the establishment of nobility as a concept, and that in turn required a better balanced kind of history to come into being, which was all the more necessary so that the historical process should not take on the absolute character it took on now, a character it took on precisely because, tragically, it lacked the concept of nobility, trapped as it was in the tangled maze of vulgar expediency, in which maze it was bound to career on unhindered, so that its triumph was perfectly obvious even to itself, as witness its own repulsive progenitors, and there it remained, in the maze, polishing and burnishing the trophies of its victory until it finally arrived at a state of unimaginable perfection. The cigarette in the man’s hand had burned right down and since he had not only not taken a puff but had not moved it in the slightest the ash continued to lengthen. its own weight bending it in a gentle arc from the filter down over the waiting ashtray. In order for this state of affairs to be maintained the man naturally had very carefully to raise it millimeter by millimeter until it approached an almost horizontal position. And this was what he had been doing all the time, raising the cigarette ever nearer the horizontal, doing so moreover at precisely the rate it was burning, until it had burned right down and the ash stood in one piece suspended over the ashtray, having reached which position it had nowhere else to go, so he had to lower it and tap it in order to avoid it falling off of its own accord, something he clearly did not wish to happen, which was why he lowered it and flicked the ash into the ashtray, so that the ash might gather force and be dashed and immediately disperse and only faintly suggest its earlier form, the once-straight line of the cigarette, and, later, the arc of curving ash that had resolved itself into mere powder and fallen to pieces. Then he threw away the remaining filter, immediately took out a fresh cigarette and lit it. Once more he drew on it deeply, very deeply, drawing the smoke into his lungs, and kept it there a long time. He drew just the once, very deeply and kept it there so long he almost burst. Then he started to blow the smoke out very slowly in one exceedingly thin wisp, exactly as he had done the first time and while the smoke covered his face for a second or two, obscuring it from Korin it soon shifted again and his face was once more exposed so he could raise his eyes and direct his gaze at the edge of the counter as if there were something there to look at, something drawing his eyes, something not particularly significant, some scratch, some wound, or rather, just the usual thing, that is to say nothing, just a faint band of light.
Mind and enlightenment, said Korin
And what he meant by this, he continued unremittingly, was that it was the conflict between the irresistible power of the mind and the enlightenment that unavoidably followed from it with uncanny force; it was the clash of this irresistibility and unavoidability, in his opinion, that led directly to the conditions obtaining today. He couldn’t know what had actually happened of course, for how could someone like him, a mere local historian from the back of beyond, hope to find an answer to a question that lay so far beyond his capabilities, but it was exhausting just to think of those good few centuries of nightmarish triumphal march whereby the mind ruthlessly, step by step, eliminated everything that was deemed not to exist and stripped humanity of anything it had mistakenly but understandably posited as existing, in other words ruthlessly stripped bare the entire world until suddenly there was nothing but the naked world with the hitherto unimaginable creations of the mind on the one side and the enlightenment with its killer’s instinct for destruction on the other, for if one agreed that the creations of the mind were unimaginably great one had all the more reason to grant that the enlightenment’s capacity for destruction was laced with a killer’s instinct, since the storm that broke over the mind truly swept everything away, every support on which the world had until then depended, simply wrecked the foundations of the world and in a way that proclaimed that such foundations did not exist, nor, it added, had they ever existed and there was no chance of them being resurrected from non-existence at some vainly hoped for point in the vague and distant future. The loss, according to Korin, was immense: immense, unimaginable and impossible to recover from. Everything and everyone that was noble, great and transcendent could do nothing but stand by, if he might so put it, stand at this point where one could have no idea of the true impenetrable depth of the moment, and try to comprehend all that did not exist, that had never existed. They had to understand this and accept as a first principle that – to begin at the top – there was no god, no gods: this was what the noble, great and transcendent had to grasp and resign themselves to before anything else, said Korin, though they of course were incapable of this, simply could not understand it – believe it, yes; accept it yes; but understand it, never – and so they just stood there, uncomprehending, not accepting, long after they should have taken the next step, that being, to use an old formula, he said, to declare that if there is no god, if there are no gods, then there could be no goodness or transcendence either, but they did not take it because, or so Korin imagined it, without a god or gods they were simply incapable of moving, right up until eventually, possibly because the storm that raged round the mind drove them to it, they finally shifted and immediately did realize that without a god or gods there was nothing good or transcendent, at which point they also realized that if these really no longer existed, then neither did they themselves! His feeling, said Korin, was that this might have been the moment they disappeared from history, or rather that from the historical point of view this might have been the time from which we must acknowledge their slow passing, for that was what actually happened, they gradually passed away, he said, like a fire left to burn by itself and turn to ashes at the bottom of a garden, and the result of all this, from this image of the garden that suddenly appeared before him, was that he was now troubled by a terrible feeling that it was not so much a matter of a continuous process of appearing then gradually disappearing but of simple appearance and disappearance, but who knows what precisely happened, he asked, no-one, at least not him, though he was as certain as could be about how the current holders of power had slowly and determinedly come to occupy their positions of power because that process had a kind of symmetry, a kind of infernal parasitic symmetry: for as one order slowly faded and decomposed until eventually it vanished, so the other gained strength, assumed a shape and finally gained complete control; while one retreated step by step into mystery so the other became ever more overt; as one continually lost so the other continually gained, and so it went on, defeat and triumph, defeat and triumph, and that was the way of things, said Korin, that was how one order disappeared without trace and how the repulsive other took possession of the throne, and he himself had one to realize, he said, that he had been mistaken, gravely mistaken, in believing that there hadn’t been nor could there be some revolutionary moment in life, for such a revolution, he had come to see that day, had happened, had undeniably taken place. The old beggar in the nook behind him let go of the old woman’s hand. But only for a moment because he immediately drew closer to her, body to body, and began passionately to kiss her cracked lips. The old woman’s expression showed neither acceptance nor rejection of this advance: she put up no resistance but did not respond either. It seemed to be more that she simply had no strength left, that she was some kind of wounded bird that a shot had brought down, her head thrown back, her eyes wide open, her two arms, like wings, hanging helplessly, in other words as if she had collapsed into the other’s embrace, her coat gathered round her neck to form a curious shape as the old man seized her. It was curious but all it meant was that the sudden movement had forced coat, which was in any case too big for her, to ride up, the collar rising above her head, the effect of the embrace being to more or less wrap her head up in the cloth while the rest of her body took on the appearance of a package, a package in a coat, so from a distance it looked as if the old man were hugging a coat, for the only evidence of a body was the crown of hair rising above a thin hollow face that had quite collapsed in the blinding light, or rather its cheek as the old man’s tongue flickered feverishly over it.
Moon, valley, dew, death.
Behind the counter the refrigerator shuddered and gave a loud crack as if wanting to give up the ghost but then decided against it, and started up again, rattling as it painfully resumed its business, and the two liter bottles of COCA COLA that must have shifted in the convulsive movement, now found themselves next to each other and began to tinkle and chime with the vibration.
Revolution – Korin proclaimed as the four words in his head, like four rooks circling in the darkness, were slowly absorbed into the vanishing horizon.
What is more, a revolution of world historical moment, he said, and having made this grave announcement, it was as if his strange manner of speaking were striving for some consonance, for there came a change, a change that the ravages and predictable consequences of drunkenness had made entirely predictable, a change whereby the mind that had hitherto been strapped into place, the continuity between throat and tongue that had been maintained only with the utmost effort to prevent the words falling apart, shifted key as it was bound to do. For while the words had till now been broken up like stones into distinct syllables, there now began a complete reversal of the process so that they ran into each other, the power that had hitherto disciplined and ordered them having suddenly ran out of steam, and his speech was held together only by some bitter compulsion, a compulsion that after three ill-fated days of searching for the appropriate celestial luminaries he should at all costs now finish what he had to say, what the finally and painfully located emissary of such luminaries should, in his opinion, at all costs have to hear, and his capacities being such as they were it was like watching a train crash, the engine hitting the stationary vehicle while the phonemes, like carriages piled into each other, requiring the notary of heaven and earth to whom the speech was addressed, to descry the word ‘revolution’ from the ruins of ‘rvshon’ and the sense ‘world-historical’ from ‘wrldstical’.
I.lkdnto.thefyoor.atard.spisl.. Korim declared in the appropriate new spirit.
And since this signified that he had reached a state of terminal disillusion in the celestial light that had, so to say, cleared the doors of his perception, he felt genuinely capable of having “looked into the future at our disposal’, a future, if he might condense everything that meant into a single word, he raised his voice, that frankly horrified him. It horrified him, he continued at the same volume, and it broke his heart, for so far he had only been speaking of how the good and transcendent were defeated as the result of a loathsome rebellion, but now that he had had a glimpse into the future he, Korin, could report that his vision of that future had clarified, that this future that had been based on rebellion, lacked not only the good and the transcendent, but the perspectives provided by the good and transcendent, that is to say, he continued with increasing tension in his voice, the way he saw it, it wasn’t so much a case of the good and transcendent of the future being usurped by the bad and mean-minded, but of something radically, startlingly different, a future that would lack both good and bad, that at least is what Korin had recognized when, the doors of his perception having been cleansed, as they say, he had a glimpse of the dark future, when he looked forward and sought what he could not find, for the perspective was lacking, the perspective whereby the scale of the aforementioned good and transcendent might be related to the scale of the aforementioned bad and mean-minded; that set of perspectives required to gauge the value of actions and intentions, those shadowy and ever more disquietingly lifeless perspectives – the empty glass was trembling in his hand again – were broken and unusable in that future, or, to employ a somewhat frivolous analogy, they had passed their sell-by dates much like the goods displayed in the refrigerators of butchers’ stalls on the market, and once he had understood this, once he had reached the bottom of that safely strapped-in mind, it not only broke his heart, it simply and utterly crushed him because suddenly there in front him there opened the saddest map in the world, that of a whole disappearing continent, the true Atlantis which was now completely and irretrievably lost. These are the words of a broken man, quite broken, said Korin, his voice fading, and so that there should be no doubt as to whom he meant he tried to indicate himself with the empty glass. Since this movement meant letting go of the counter then recovering his balance, the gesture turned out to be much grander than he had intended, so grand that it seemed to include the entire buffet where nothing had changed so there was no-one present who might have felt himself included in it, for the figure chiefly addressed seemed to be frozen, completely shrouded in smoke, and the pair of beggars seemed to slide ever further beyond the actual compass of the premises. Their scarves had slipped to the floor, their heavy coats were open, and they no longer sat but in their unabated passion, seemed to have assumed a horizontal position. The old male was on top, his moustache and beard completely soaked in saliva. He was kissing the female in a frenzy, squeezing her hard, only momentarily loosening his hold on her so that he might seize her again, accommodating her to the waves of his cresting desire, seizing her with ever more convulsive vehemence. The old woman no longer simply reminded him of a dead bird, but bore it all as if the bird had collapsed in on itself, dangling in the old man’s embrace as though raised in mid-swoon, spent, helpless, resigned, indifferent, surrendering like a servant to its master, obliged to let herself be used according to any command, and only once the increasingly demanding, ever more unchecked, panting and gripping kisses no longer allowed her to remain in her passive state, did she obey the imperative of response with the faintest, hardly perceptible raising of her left hand from the floor in an attempt to stroke the other’s face. But since her attempt to reach the face had twice been obstructed by considerable rolls of fat, her hand grew uncertain as to how to resolve the contradiction between fat and face, and dropped back to the floor, that is to say having started to rise by reflex it hovered for a moment hopelessly then began to sink back again, past the neck, past the ribcage, past the top of the stomach, to hesitate half way between face and floor, to intrude itself between the two tightly pressed bodies, to shift in the first place from the dome of the old man’s stomach down towards her own, then, sliding further down, to locate the simple mechanism of the fly and after a certain amount of fumbling to reach the erect male member. The scarves were crushed beneath them by now and their legs kicking and straining now this way, now that, caused considerable ruckus among the plastic bags too. None of them was completely kicked over but they were shedding items, or to be precise, items were trailing from them like the intestines of a mangy dog that had been run down by a car, the sleeve of a greasy shirt from one, the frayed electric lead of an old iron from the second, the toweling material of belts from old dressing-gowns from the third, a set of door handles tied attached to a ring from the fourth, dirty underwear from the fifth, two yellowing Advent crowns from the sixth and so on from the seventh to the twelfth, from the pile of felt strips to the toilet paper rolls, all of which created a filthy mess between their shuffling feet, there where a thin faint light from above could expose it to view, and the mess the dirty light revealed conclusively defined the status of the owners of those legs, and equally conclusively differentiated them from the quite improbable province of the buffet, locating them in another reality, as the sickly writhing progeny of the waste dump below them, since they seemed genuinely to have grown out of the dump, and were continuing to grow minute by minute, their legs growing ever more irreversibly entangled with the waste, and their embraces, the way they were joined together on the wooden floor of the booth, added to the complexity, like a shadow that swam first one way then another caught in the trailers among the thickets of a sudden, unpronounceable sentence signaling desire. They were flat out on the floor by now, the table shielding them from the eyes of anyone at the counter so that nothing could be seen of them, only an occasional elbow as it was raised to indicate in its own mysterious vague fashion what might be going on down there. The man at the counter pushed away the current cigarette and lit a new one.
Deargel!.Korin leant closer to him. Evring.iverd.zonzat.atliss!
What he meant, he continued quietly, was, really and truly, that everything he ever had was on that Atlantis, everything he ever had, he repeated a few times, putting the accent now on everything and now on had, then straightened up again, regained balance by resting his right arm on the counter and was clearly struggling to gather himself so that he might continue with his account in the detached, unemotional manner in which he had begun, especially now that he had reached the point at which it seemed likely to take a particularly delicate turn. For from this point on his peculiar way of stringing words together, which seemed to be addressed exclusively to the notary of heaven and earth, was engaged in explaining how difficult it was to continue his account in such a detached yet detailed manner in the light of all that had happened, and how terrible was the taste in his mouth, a taste that extended to the tiniest detail, when he was painfully obliged to itemize all that had disappeared with the sinking of Atlantis. Let us therefore mention the mornings and the afternoons, said Korin, the evenings, the nights; all the unforgettable, enchanting hours of spring and fall, when we knew the meaning of innocence and conscience, of good will and companionship, of love and freedom, so moving in thousands of old stories; when we knew what a child was, what lovers were, when we knew what was fading away and what was coming into being, all those things that for someone waking or for someone entering a dream were so unarguably eternal; such things, he said, can no more be expressed in words than can the pain caused by the utter loss, the non-existence, of their enchantment, their heart-shaking and eternal being, for the pain ran so deep that it simply could not be circumscribed or articulated, it could only be mentioned, discussed to some extent, referred to, and so he, Korin, was now at least mentioning it, discussing it a little, no more than referring to it, to this aforementioned pain, to indicate roughly where it was and how deep it ran. For he had to confess, he confessed, that when he first decided to render this account at what, for him, was this highest and most holy of tribunals, to tell of this decisive historical turn in human affairs; when he first determined that it would be he who would finally inform the denizens of heaven that the reign of good was finally at an end, that its time, like the time remaining for him to render his account, was run; then, at that point of decision, he had hoped that he would be able to describe the fatal wounding of his spirit, the sense of being hunted and struck down my melancholy at one and the same time, to describe the punishment or price set by fate for his recognition of this state of affairs. And now he was standing here, now that he knew that this was the proper occasion, his report was concluded, and he had absolutely nothing more to add. There was nothing left that was his, he said, nothing, no possessions, no place on earth, the place where he might have deposited his personal memory was lost, that’s to say he couldn’t even give the things he had lost a decent burial, the place had sunk, vanished without trace, and the knowledge of a higher order of things that was once part of him had sunk with it, swallowed by the last of the waves that covered Atlantis; to put it in a nutshell, he said, this should have been the right time to tell all, but now, even the he felt its presence, knew it inside out, he was incapable of speaking. And the feeling of personal pain, the sense of being harried, of deepening melancholy, was partly borne of the bitter loss of the aforementioned mornings and evenings, the enchanting histories, the honor, the sense of eternity and heartbreaking loveliness, and partly of a recognition that defied belief, that the mornings and evenings had themselves vanished, as had the histories and codes of honor; and not only the good but the bad mornings and bad evenings, bad histories, bad faith, because, he said, it so happened that the good dragged the bad down with it, so that one day you woke or went to bed and realized that there was no longer any point in drawing distinctions between waking and sleeping, between morning and morning, between evening and evening, since the distinction had suddenly, from one day to the next, had become meaningless, for at that point you understood that there was only one morning and one evening, that at least was what happened to him, said Korin, for he saw that there was just one of each thing to be shared by everyone, one morning and one evening, one history and one honor – it was only the enchantment, the heartbreaking beauty, the sense of eternity that was not shared, since they no longer existed, and furthermore, said Korin, in feeling this pain a man begins to feel that he has imagined it all, that there never had been such a state of affairs, never. That’s to say, he continued unremittingly, and it was very clear from the way his voice broke from time to time, that his thoughts were leading him into such deeply emotional territory that he would be powerless to resist, that’s to say, he said, that mornings and evenings no longer existed for him, he had neither history nor honor, and since it was all the same to him where he was he might as well be nowhere, that is to say, his voice broke again and again, it deeply grieved him to report that the future of mankind was standing before them in his, Korin’s, person for he was already living in the future, in a future where it had become absolutely impossible to speak of loss because the very act of speaking had become impossible, for everything you said in the language turned into a lie the instant you pronounced it, and particularly when anyone tried to speak of mornings and evenings, particularly of histories and honor, and most particularly of enchantment, of the shaken heart, of eternal truth. And this condition, said Korin, that for someone like him, who saw clearly that this tragic turn of events was not the product of supernatural agency, not of divine judgment, but of the actions of a peculiarly horrible heterogeneous bunch of people, there was nothing left than to use the rest of his speech to lay the most terrible, most incurable curse on them, so that if reality itself were incapable of addressing them, the language of curses might at least establish such terms that the sheer weight of words would cause the ground under these unprecedentedly repulsive people to give way, or cause the sky to fall in on them, or cause all the misery wished on them to take effect. So he was cursing them, he said in a voice trembling with emotion, cursing the mean and degenerate; let the dry flesh fall from their bones and turn to dust; he cursed them once, he cursed them a thousand times; that they should prepare themselves for ruin, for the time their children, their orphans, their widows roamed the world unconsoled, as he has roamed it, starving and fearful in the impenetrable darkness, abandoned for ever. He cursed them, he said, cursed those on whom curses had never nor ever would take effect; he cursed those who worked evil and destroyed trust; he cursed the cold-hearted slick ones, cursed them in victory and in defeat; he cursed the very idea of victory and defeat. And he cursed the ruthless, the envious, the aggressive, those who were so in their thoughts; he cursed the treacherous, and the way the treacherous always triumphed; he cursed the cheapskate, the confidence trickster, the unprincipled. Let the world be cursed, he declared, choking, a world in which there is neither Omnipotence nor Last Judgment, where curses, and any who pronounced them, were held up to ridicule, where glory could only be bought with trash. And above all, he said, curse the infernal mechanism of chance that upholds and maintains all this, and reveals it; curse even the light that by illuminating it exposes the fact that there are no worlds but this, that nothing else exists. But above even that, he said, curse humanity, curse mankind that enjoys control of the mechanism whereby it may reduce and falsify the essence of things and make that reduced and false essence the cornerstone of the deepest laws of our existence. All is false by now, he shook his head, it is all one lie after another, and these lies so permeate the most obscure recesses of our souls that they leave no room for expectations or for hope, and so, should that which will never happen actually come to pass after all and present itself anew then he Korin had a message for this breed of humanity: that no, there would be no point in expecting mercy, that they should scurry away, for they should not trust to forgiving and forgetting, for in their case there would be no forgetting; nor should they try to mend their ways or to reform, for reform and salvation are most certainly not for them, for under no circumstances will they be forgiven, nothing awaits them but memory and punishment; for in their hands even the good has become bad; for his message to them was: perish, rot and perish, for it is enough that the mark they have left, that indelible mark, had its place in eternity. The man he was addressing neither nodded nor shook his head, in fact he did nothing whatsoever, or at least nothing to indicate that he had been listening to Korin or had understood anything. All you could say was that nothing had changed in his behavior, that he went on smoking, slowly exhaling the smoke, his gaze fixed on the same point at the edge of the counter as before, and as he blew the smoke out, blowing it before him in thin wisps, this wisp of smoke.. precisely as before. rose from the side and top of the counter to more or less his own height ahead of him and seemed to stop there, forming a ball that gradually drifted back towards him, enveloping his face. It was hard to tell what was happening for a while: the ball of smoke stationary, the man perfectly still, then, very slowly, the ball drifting towards him, enveloping him, his head, as a cloud might a mountaintop, at the same time thinning, losing something of its bulk. It took a whole minute at least to make out the process, to see how the man tried to draw back into himself the whole mass of that which he had earlier expelled, trying to direct that which had formed itself into a ball back down into his lungs, and how this maneuver, he having calculated the precise volume with impressive precision, not only succeeded but succeeded gloriously, with no vestige of smoke left, how the ball of smoke did not dissipate but remained a ball, albeit of smaller mass, to disappear from the area round his head, sucked back down through his mouth into his lungs, only so that it should pretty soon reappear in the form of a thin wisp of smoke.
Imgun. ptfie.ble.thrme, Korin declared.
In other words he wished to announce that he would put five bullets through himself, that there would be five shots in all, that is to say he would inflict five wounds on his own body, and while he had to confess that he hadn’t quite thought through where and when he should do this, he felt here and now was a perfectly acceptable place and time, for there was no particular time that seemed to him more fitting, nor a particular place, so this would do and since he had said everything he had to say, there was no point in looking further so he might as well stop right here. There’d be one in the left hand, he said, one in the left foot. There’d be one in the right foot and one, if he could manage it, in the right hand. The last, the fifth. he started then left off, and did not finish, but put down the glass in his right hand, reached into the outside pocket of his coat and pulled out a gun. He undid the safety catch, raised his left hand, raised it right up until it was above his head, then, from below, raised the barrel and pulled the trigger. The bullet actually penetrated the hand and lodged in the ceiling between two neon lights but Korin collapsed and lay flat out on the floor as if it had entered his head not his hand. Back in the booth it was as if the loud report had been accompanied by lightning. The two beggars leapt to their feet in terror and started touching themselves all over in case someone had taken a shot at them, then they adjusted trousers, skirts, coats and other garments, and sat down in their chairs as though obeying an order. They stared at the bar, their eyes wide open with fright, but neither of them dared shift an inch, but sat there petrified, and it was clear that they would not move from there for quite some time, so frightened were they. The man in front of them had not moved a muscle or responded to the shot in any way, only turning his head when Korin collapsed and was stretched out, the gun having bounced three times across the floor until it stopped at the foot of the counter. He watched for a while, as one might watch the lid of a saucepan that had fallen to the tiled floor of a kitchen, then he stubbed out his cigarette, buttoned his coat, turned, and slowly walked out of the buffet. There was a long silence under the neon lights, the kind of silence you get when you suddenly find yourself under water, then a door behind the counter slowly opened a fraction, and a red faced man with tousled hair stuck his head through the gap. He stayed there a while, only his head remaining hanging by the door, then, since the noise was not repeated, he opened the door wide and took an uncertain step towards the counter – behind which, invisible to him, lay the figure of Korin – then, anxiously glancing one way then another he started buttoning his fly with one hand. “Is there a problem?” a cracked female voice asked from behind the door. “I can’t see anything.” “I told you, it came from the street! Get out there and take a look!” The man shrugged and was on the point of stepping out from behind the counter to the entrance to check what had actually happened out there since everything seemed to be in order inside when he froze in mid-movement as the ashtray on the edge of the counter caught his eye. The instant he did so he stopped fiddling with his flies and his hand stopped and rested on one of the buttons: it was obvious that something was dawning on him, that a fury was rising in him because his red face was becoming redder and redder. “Fuck it!” He stood quite still and closed his eyes, then his fingers started to form themselves into a fist that he brought smashing down on the counter. “What’s up?” the woman croaked uneasily from behind the door. “The filthy, fucking, son-of-a-bitch scum!” the man pronounced, accentuating every word with a thrust of his head. “He has fucked off, the bastard! What’s up, dear Detti, is that he’s split, our stinking filthy son-of-a-bitch guest has quit, fucked off! Our dear guest. the only serious thing in days.and.” “He’s not in the john?” The man was almost dizzy with fury and had to hold on to the counter to steady himself. “A priest too,” he growled to himself. “And not just any old priest, but one from Jerusalem! How could I be such a fool! The rat! A filthy common rat! Priest from Jerusalem! Hah! Yes, and I am Donald Duck in Disneyland!” “Béla, don’t get yourself riled so! You haven’t even checked in the.” “Listen, Detti,” the man scowled over his shoulder, “stop going on about the john and all that shit, when this filthy, stinking rat has chiseled us! And left not a stinking penny behind, you understand!? He has been eating and drinking the whole day and not paid a bent farthing, you understand, Detti, not a farthing!?” “Sure I understand, Béla sweetheart, I understand it all,” the woman kept trying to calm the man, possibly from some bed, “but there’s nothing to be gained, you’ll not get the filthy stinking money back by winding yourself up into a state. Take a look in the john, won’t you?” “And all along I had this feeling,” said the man, his fingers practically white on the counter, “I said to myself, listen Béla, the guy might be lying his head off? How the fuck would a priest from Je-rus-al-em get here anyway! How could I have swallowed all that shit, Detti?” “Really, Béla sweetheart, you should really.” The man just stood there swaying and it was a full minute or so before he could let go of the counter, straighten up, wipe his hands across his face as if wanting to erase the lines of bitterness engraved there, and was about to return to the woman, the lines of bitterness still unerased, when his eyes lit upon the petrified figures of the two beggars beside the entrance to the john. “You still here, you two shitface nogood abortions, still cooling your asses?” He bellowed at them but it was like kicking a dog, nothing came of it, nothing followed the voice, in other words rather than going over to them and chasing them out on to the street, a sad and broken figure, he returned to his place behind the counter and quietly closed the door behind him.
The buffet was quiet again,
Korin lay by the counter, unconscious.
Moon, valley, dew, death.
Later they took him away.
Translated by George Szirtes ✪