The Lightened Burrow

excerpts When I call up one of these memories with my eyes closed and it is reborn with the intensity of its previous reality; when at other times, with the same intensity and in the same convincing light, settings and events which never happened pass through my mind; when afterwards, opening my eyes I look around me in the sunny afternoon and before me all the colors and forms of the day gush up as in an artesian spring, the small and finely separated green of the grass, the shiny Chinese-silk yellow of the dahlias, and the child-like blue of the forget-me-nots to which the intense and smooth blue of the sky responds, so intense and so smooth that its mystery envelops my brain in a haze of lucid dizziness; when memories, visions, and settings march to and fro across my eyelids, I often ask myself nervously what could the meaning of this constant interior illumination be and what percentage of the world does it constitute, only for the answer to always be relentlessly discouraging… At the base of reality there is a misunderstanding of vast proportions and extravagant diversity from which our imagination extracts a trifling amount, just enough to, by gathering a few lights and a few interpretations, make up "the thread of life." And this thread of life, like a thin and continuous strand of light and dreams, every man extract it from the maternal reservoir of reality, full of settings and events, full of life and dreams, just as the oblivious child presses its mother's breast and sucks the gush of warm and nourishing milk. In the time which "hasn't yet flown past" lie all the events, all the emotions, all the thoughts, all the dreams which haven't taken place from which generations and generations of people will take out their necessary portion of reality, dream, and insanity. The world's immense reserves of dementia which will feed such a multitude of dreamers! The world's immense reserves of reverie from which so many poets will draw forth poems, and the immense reserves of nighttime dreams which will supply the nightmares and night terrors of so many sleeping people! It is the unknown deposit of reality, full of shadows and surprises. All these things lie bunched up in an enormous space of time and will not show themselves except cell by cell, dream by dream, fiber by fiber, composing themselves into an immense mosaic each moment, in every corner of the world, pebble next to pebble, in order to form that unimaginable picture which is "universal life in all its manifestations." And I think of this manifestation during the span of a single moment of my life. At the moment I am writing, through tiny and obscure canals, in winding rivulets, through dark cavities dug into flesh, with a slight rhythmic gurgle pulse, my blood pours out into the night of my body circulating through flesh, nerves, and bone. In darkness it flows like a map with thousands and thousands of streams through thousands and thousands of pipes, and if I imagine that I am miniscule enough to travel by raft on one of these arteries, the rushing sound of the liquid which speeds me along fills my head with an immense roaring in which I distinguish wide beats under the waves like that of a gong, of the pulse and the waves expand and carry the sonorous beating farther along the darkness under the skin while the waves move me along faster through the darkness and in an unimaginable roar they throw me into the cascade of the heart, into the cellars of muscle and fibers where the pouring of the blood fills immense reservoirs just so that in the next moment the dams are raised and in a terrible contraction of the cavern, immense and powerful, as terrifying as if the walls of my room would press together instantaneously and tighten to remove all the air in a contraction which smacks the red liquid and thickens it, with cell over cell, all of a sudden the expulsion of the waters and their casting out takes place, with a force beating the moist and shiny walls of the dark canals with blows of vast rivers falling from great heights. In the darkness, I submerge my arm up to my elbow in the river which carries me and its waters are warm, steamy, and it reeks terribly. I bring my cupped hand to my mouth and I suck the warm liquid and its salty taste reminds me of the taste of tears and of the ocean. It is dark and I am enclosed in the roar and the steam of my own blood. And I also think of all the rivers, cascades, and dark canals of blood within the masses and masses of people on earth, this hidden flowing which happens beneath their skin in obscurity while they walk or sleep, of all the beings which have arteries and veins, of all the animals in which the same heat reaches the farthest most flesh, the same steam and the same roar. And if I try to imagine the universal life of blood, and just its life, I imagine that people and animals have lost their flesh and nerves and the bones they had, so that they themselves remain only trees of arteries and veins, keeping the exact form of the vanished body but only they are left, like delicate red networks of people and animals, like people and animals made of fibers and roots and liana vines instead of the full flesh, but still people having a head like a ball, only full of holes and woven just out of the threads through which the blood circulates and the nose is woven out of threads into aquiline or straight forms, while the lips like a piece of red lint move and open, and the entire body, when a breeze passes by, rustles like a dry plant blown in an autumn wind. And these kinds of bodies made out of networks of fibers and arteries, fleshless, can be found throughout the world now, and they move around, sleep, and feed like the normal beings of before, walking through leaves, grass, and trees, like a sanguine vegetable world next to the world of sap and chlorophyll of the plants and trees. It is the world of pure blood, the world of vein beings and fibrous bodies, the world which I didn't make up but which exists as I see it under the skin of people and of all animals. During the moment I'm writing and I'm thinking of it. It is the world of reality which lies beneath the skin, beneath the scenery and the light we see with our wide open eyes. In this way, I imagine the world of blood and I realize that my own blood is just a meaningless weaving of strands and arteries in the forest of arteriali sanguini trees of the entire world and the rumbling and thunder of its circulation is but a trifling vibration in the vast cadence and the vast din made by the blood gathered in all the arteries in the world. And the rumbling of the blood is lost in the rumbling of the wind and the slapping of the ocean waves and the draining of the rivers and the streams of the world, which have their own noises, in the vast unraveling of the infinite sounds of the entire world. Oh! The infinite clamor of our planet in space! And lost in this rumbling is my blood's pulse! Completely lost, completely meaningless! And I think of something else that terrifies me. While I write, while my pen runs on the paper in curves and lines, and the undulations which will designate words and, to my absolute amazement, will mean something to strangers who will "read" them (because for me the act of writing up to this point remains profoundly incomprehensible and the subject of great astonishment), while I am writing, something is happening in every atom in space. In the garden, a bird flew by and crossed the distance between two branches, the wind blew and a leaf rocked, a baby carriage passed on the street with a small squeaking of its wheels, a sharp and shrill instrument passed through a hard body, the stool-maker across the street struck into a piece a wood, a cow gave out a prolonged moo, a small sound which I can't identify is coming from the neighbor's barn, in the adjacent garden someone is shaking a tree so that its ripe fruit will fall down, in the bottom of the slums a violin has begun its screeching once more and a bark intersects with the violin's groan, and I stop and it is impossible for me to follow everything that is happening around me here next to me. And if I think about what is happening a bit outside the circle of these actions which I can hear and see, the motions and actions happening multiply extraordinarily, on each street the things which I suspect, and many others, are happening, a terrifying number. How many? Horribly many, piles of motions and actions and of people who talk and others who smoke, and others who drink tea in cafes, and some who sleep and dream, and some who slowly wipe the dust off their clothes and horses which pull the carriages to which they are harnessed while in a dark theater a film is reeling and in the hot steam of an overheated room people are bathing and trains are traveling on rails and the wind is blowing widely over everything turning the rustling of the forest upside down, while the rivers carry planks of wood in a vertiginous fall… And things are happening in this world in the moment I am writing, so many things and events that all the words which people have uttered since the day the first man spoke and all they will continue to utter from now on would not be enough to describe everything that is happening in the world in a single second. Okay, so every moment of my life, every move I make, every ache I feel, everything which appears to be happening in my life, every occurrence which I believe to be extraordinarily important for me is nothing more than an atom lost in the vast ocean of occurrences in the whole world. And my life is nothing more than an extra shapelessness in the paste of the world's events, amorphous in its totality and indistinct. It is the barrenness of events in the world which surround every life, and every life remains lonely and isolated in this perfect desert of actions which keep on taking place. When I think of all this, of the rumbling in my blood which has hidden me like a curtain from the whispering of the entire world and my life lost among the incidents of the world, everything I do, everything I write appears in vain and the visions which illuminate me, lost in this immense diversity seem like ocean phosphorescences lost somewhere in the darkness of night on the quietness of an aquatic surface when the winds have died down and the starry sky covers the vastness of the tropical seas with a cupola of silence. And these kind of phosphorescences, lost for all time in the night, senselessly, are my sentences and phrases… All that I accomplished before becoming ill had for me a well-defined meaning and a certain purpose in life which positioned my everyday actions on the network of a vast picture whose shape and subject were to appear at the end. I know now that neither network, nor shape, nor subject exists and that the actions of my life happen, in any case, in a world which is in its turn coincidental. But there is something else as well, I had a kind of density of existence which lay somewhere within me and kept my lucidity in balance like the small lead weights which are put in rubber figurines to keep them in the same position. I knew I was me in the sum of my parts and it seemed to me that I was irreplaceable. Moreover, for the "exercising" of my life I knew and I had learned certain habits and manifestations which could characterize me as a normal man similar to all those around me. I knew how to laugh when the situation was comic because at that time I was convinced that the situation was comic and without wanting them to, tears came to my eyes whenever I experienced a physical pain or moral suffering. They were precise manifestations which accompanied exact and charming emotions, displaying themselves in the space of a day from the morning's coffee with milk until the evening's newspaper reading. I was well-put-together and I constituted a consistent and well-organized "I, myself" with feelings that had names and daydreams which could be recounted. I was what is called a man who lives his life and understands it. Understands namely that which he believes to be the explanation and the meaning of this life. And it is exactly this solidity of conscience which should harden in sickness and amplify to the point of pride, yes pride, my power and ability to withstand suffering, as happens to all sick people without exception and should have made me in a few months or a few years, a "patient" with all the connotations of this conventional word, worthy of pity and compassion, it is exactly this lucidity of interior perceptions which collapsed in me and left me that which I am, namely a man who lives and understands nothing around him, rather bewildered, rather dizzy in the whirlwind of this world's events, without emotions, without suffering and without happiness. Because we're speaking in passing about suffering, which includes physical suffering as well, I allow myself to consider it, for those who have to endure it, abject, meaningless, and not to elevate it to an illustrious status like, for example, "the noble and admirable inspiration for art" and that which alone gives birth to viable works. I believe that infinitely more works were born in tranquility and plenitude and have remained than those which appeared in suffering and the gnashing of teeth. To go back to where I started, I am convinced that a simple accident made this illness mix and undifferentiate all the emotions in me and turned my lucidity into something like slimy mud, in which nothing is reflected and no feature is perfectly discernable. I think it is an accident, the same one which made a chunk of matter a rock here and a block of platinum there. It is, I suppose, all the same exceptionally interesting to note all the consequences of this collapse in myself and this confusion of emotions. At times it made me out to be none other than a hero against suffering while other times, truth be told, a bit out of my mind. It was rather unjust for me in either case, maybe less in the latter supposition because I perceive of dementia as very tempting and the ultimate attempt to see reality in the light of an understanding different from the everyday, and I consider the expression "out of one's mind" very accurate because of this manner of perceiving the events of the world, situated a short distance away from rationality. There is that children's game called "copying pictures" and when it is not done well and the paper moves around a bit while the child is copying, the figures turn out crooked and deformed. It is the surprisingly original point of view of the madman for whom, while "copying" life, reality shifted a few centimeters, it basically "went out of its mind" and so created completely extraordinary forms. Yes, the status of hero seemed to me much more inaccurate, but I never gave an explanation for my attitude. There was too much to say and it was too complicated to explain. This is how it all happened: the first time I had to suffer excruciating physical pain was after my operation and especially during the bandaging. It was towards the end of summer and so that the wound wouldn't get infected during those extremely hot days, they left it completely open, that is they didn't sew the edges, so that it was undone down to the muscles like a splendid piece of meat from the butcher's, bloody and red. When, upon slightly lifting the sheet with which the nurse covered me in order not to see my wound while she applied my bandages, I discovered for the first time the wound which left my belly open, its appearance was so raw that it was there like a piece of meat that had nothing to do with my body. It was impossible for me to understand all at once that those skinned, round, and swollen muscles damp with blood were one and the same as my smooth and white belly from before the operation; it was indeed like a piece of meat from the butcher's placed there, maybe to frighten me. Yet it was open in the middle like an enormous vagina, swollen and sanguinolent at the edges, I saw something like that before only when I went out with my carriage and my mare, raising its tail to complete a certain business, revealed a superb red vulva like an exotic flower with thick rose-like petals. But it was my flesh now which looked like this and it was not a complete organ, perfect and worthy of admiration, rather a horrible wound, totally different, and excruciatingly sensitive. In this wound of unhealed raw flesh, they had to pour in fresh ether every day in order to prevent infection and to clean the injury. It was inhumanly painful. Like ten knives digging into my flesh at the same time, like ten claws rummaging through and ripping all my nerves, like molten lava being poured into my body up to my brain, the pain released its virulence and its fever at the extraordinary pressure of the highest suffering. To give a detail to show more exactly how acute this pain was, I would have to mention that this kind of dressing was usually done under anesthesia during the first few days following the operation and there were patients who had to be put under until about the eighth dressing before being able to stand the pain in a conscious state. The fact that the doctor dressed my wound without anesthesia was due to the negative side effects chloroform gave me which put me in a state of intense irritability with insufferable dreams and fevers, and also to the "heroism" about which I want to speak now. I think the doctor was completely stupefied when during the first dressing I didn't scream nor even groan. When he finished, he looked at me astonished. "I was expecting you to bellow so loudly the sanatorium would shake…your reaction comes as a surprise. Even more so taking into account that I didn't anesthetize you…congratulatulations…you are a hero, in your own way…" "Thank you, Doctor, but I don't think I deserve that, I could very well have screamed." And to myself I added: "if my experiment had not been a success just now." Because it had been a simple experiment which I tried out and a certain procedure, which I will try to describe as precisely as possible, a procedure like any other but done in order to manage physical pain, I discovered it in the very first days when I began to suffer, thanks to a small observation. This is what I remarked: while the pain was attacking one nerve and irritating it, all the organic functions, including the brain, were going on as usual. In this general tranquility, in this activity ignorant of suffering, it's clear that pain intervenes like a disagreeable intruder. While it harasses us, everything in us struggles to remain calm, indifferent, and normal, except our thoughts, which in the moment painful tension vibrates like an electric current through all the nerves, become interrupted in a kind of nameless chaos, and desire nothing more than the end of suffering in order to return to preoccupations having nothing to do with pain and remembering nothing other than the vague but constant fear that the spasm will return. It is a kind of doorbell mechanism which intermittently wakes the brain up to suffering just so it can fall asleep again in its own concerns when the buzzing has stopped. And the more often it returns, the more intense the fear is, until it becomes a continuous anxious waiting and a terror of pain as unbearable as the pain itself. In such a state, a return to normal thoughts is harder because fear and apprehension are hanging on to them with all their might. It is well-known, then, that the prescription against pain would be to "amuse yourself" and to forget, to do whatever it takes, for example to read a newspaper or to continue a conversation, to "escape" pain. Alright, that's exactly what I observed makes up the torment of suffering itself but my conclusion was simple, namely that to avoid pain, you didn't have to "escape" from it but rather just the opposite, to "tend to it" as closely as possible. As closely as possible, as carefully as possible. Until you sense it in the tiniest fibers. And so, when for example the pain sprang up all of a sudden in my injured thigh, I put aside any reading material, any conversation and especially any interior thought and I began to follow its windings in the abstract and dark space where they occurred, it was like a trickle of water which sprang up boiling in my thigh and out of it drops and rivulets separated every which way, like in a fireworks show; afterwards from time to time a more intense pain became like a thickening of the gush and spread like a fan of pricks throughout my flesh. I now knew the "contour" of the pain and all that remained was, with my eyes closed, to follow it like a fragment of music and to try to "listen" carefully to all the variations in tone and intensity of suffering exactly the same way I used to follow the modulations and range of a concerto with the same leitmotifs and the same "themes" which I discovered in the "composition" of pain, just like in the music I listen to. Because, even so, it was not quite enough to counteract the pain and in order to create a balance in suffering, I would squeeze with the little finger on my right hand violently. In this finger and in this pressure, this "melody" of pain was supposed to empty out like an electric current that discharges into a metallic tip. And the results were always admirable on the strict condition that I didn't interrupt my attention, not even for a second, and that I allowed pain its own realm while I inhabited the realm of consciousness. Clearly I was no longer suffering, but the pain had to remain in the center of attention, in the full light of lucidity; that which is extremely conscious is amorphous and causes you neither suffering nor allows you happiness. Examined close-up, a sensation loses its acuity and color just as in an overly-intense light you can no longer distinguish anything well-defined. And when my doctor congratulated me for the "heroism" with which I endured the pain after the dressing of my wound, instead of giving justifications and explanations, I should have held up the little finger on my right hand. It was always purple afterwards from the force of my grip. In another instance, the "heroism" was even more unexpected, the attitude I adopted was almost cynical and maybe it was even considered to be a façade in order to appear more courageous than I actually was. All the same, it was a simple and natural attitude with a completely basic explanation. Last winter my thigh developed an extraordinary complication, a terrible swelling full of festering substances, red and engorged, extremely painful and sensitive to the slightest touch. In my room, people walked on tiptoe so as not to "shake" the floor in their imagination, preventing the trembling of my bed from awakening my pain, that's how terrible this suffering was, which I of course managed well enough but didn't want to provoke needlessly. A medical consultation quickly took place and its result was that the swelling had to be punctured. This required a needle as thick as a small pipe and barred the use of anesthesia which would harden the skin around the thigh. In place of the extracted liquid, a kind of antiseptic containing alcohol was introduced, designed to prevent an infection in that region but which burned in the empty pocket of the bulge like hot embers. I am giving all these details in order to define the exact situation in which I found myself so that my reaction can be understood. Moreover, in those days the first summer vegetables made their appearance which caused me a severe intestinal disturbance accompanied by unbearable cramps and all sorts of unpleasantness in my daily toilette, things extremely disagreeable for someone confined to his bed and who always has to be relying on the help of others. Anyways, during the medical consultation it was observed that my legs were ankylosed at the knees in a terrible position and they had to straighten them out immediately with the help of a forced extension. The extension was fashioned next day and it consisted of some small bandages made out of elastic cloth which squeezed my leg and the end of them, hanging full force, was a bag of sand weighing a few kilograms, designed to pull my leg and unbend it. It is unbelievable how painful the stretching of a prolongedly stiff article can be, one that has long since been denied the slightest exercise, with its muscles extremely atrophied. So I found myself in a situation with cramps, alcohol in my thigh, and an extension on my leg. Alright, I confess, and I'd like to be believed, that this situation caused me to laugh and to smile on the inside as if it were something comic. In the course of a few days I had accumulated in my body all the possible complications. And that's what became, through excess, the pinnacle of hilarity. In the comedies we often see in cinemas what is comic and makes us laugh is the situation where a strong and muscular character fights against one who is weakling but still clever enough to avoid the blows, for example the fight between an American policeman and the feeble Charlot who is always slipping through his fingers. In this disparity of forces which pits a powerful, self-confident individual against a soft and uncertain one, it is exactly in this unbalance that the essence of the comic situation lies. And it was the very same situation in the case of my illness when so many complications surfaced. Every day a new pain and a new torment. Every day yet another suffering and another misery, all fighting against a tired-out body which had nothing left but an incomprehensible force of resistance, it was exactly this disparity of forces which creates hilarious situations. When they assembled my extension and it began to hurt me as well, I felt like laughing. "Got any more?" I asked my sufferings to myself. It was the stubbornness of an elephant faced with a mouse. And once arrived at this point, my sufferings began to retreat. In the body of a single patient there isn't enough room for all the pain of the world, nor for all the complications. At some point either the patient has to die, or a change for the better must come about so that he can continue being "ill"…. And I was allowed the latter option. 

by M. Blecher (1909-1938)