Wednesday, March 29, 2017

That accidental closeness

I began to sweat. I was squeezed between two old women who stared straight ahead with an unnatural rigidity. One held her purse tight under her arm; the other pressed hers against her stomach, one hand on the clasp, the thumb in a ring attached to the pull of the zipper. The passengers who were standing leaned over us, breathing on us. Women suffocated between male bodies, panting because of that accidental closeness, irritating even if apparently guiltless. In the crush men used the women to play silent games with themselves. One stared ironically at a dark-haired girl to see if she would lower her gaze. One, with his eyes, caught a bit of lace between two buttons of a blouse, or harpooned a strap. Others passed the time looking out the window into cars for a glimpse of an uncovered leg, the play of muscles as a foot pushed brake of clutch, a hand absentmindedly scratching the inside of a thigh. A small thin man, crushed by those behind him, tried to make contact with my knees and nearly breathed in my hair.

I turned toward the nearest window, in search of air.
— from Troubling Love, by Elena Ferrante.

I don't know which season is best for public transportation. A stranger brushing, or pressed against, my bare skin, or someone coughing into my neck.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Tattered like the sieve of some stupid, grinning, sunflower-seed-cracking old woman

Last week's blizzard inspired me to pick up The Blizzard, by Vladimir Sorokin. I recall treating myself to this hardcover, Christmas 2015; I was in D.C., and it was unseasonably warm and the timing wasn't right for it. Last week, however, was perfect.

Fittingly, I write this as it's snowing again. So much snow.

I love this book. It is deeply strange and funny and tragic.

You start off thinking you're reading something old-timey, à la Bulgakov. It's charming, but affected — of another era. But it's so not that.

Platon Ilich Garin is a doctor on a mission to carry a vaccine to a remote village, where an epidemic is wreaking havoc (and it's not the sort of epidemic you might expect). Garin's trying to negotiate fresh horses with the stationmaster but there are none he may be stuck there, till someone remembers Crouper, who didn't do the bread delivery so he might be available. And he has a sled, with fifty horses under the hood; the hood basically a tarp, and the horses are miniature, the size of partridges. (Other technology gets mentioned that jars you out of the mistaken belief that this is ninetennth-century Russia; this is not the world that you know.)

So the doctor and the sled driver set out.

And they encounter delay after obstacle after obstacle after delay. The blizzard itself has them moving slow, cold, blind, often in circles. There are literal obstacles, buried under the snow, like the mysterious transparent pyramid, the size of a hat, hard as steel.
"I said, where's the village?!" the doctor shouted in a voice filled with hatred, for the storm, the cemetery, and that idiot birdbrain Crouper who had led him who knows where. He was angry at his wet toes freezing in his boots; at his heavy, fur-lined, snow-covered coat; at the ridiculous painted sled with its idiotic midget horses inside that idiotic plywood hood; at the blasted epidemic, brought to Russia by some swine from far-off, godforsaken, goddamned Bolivia, which no decent Russian person had any need for at all; at that scientific, pontificating crook Zilberstein, who cared only about his own career and had left earlier on the mail horses without a thought for his colleague, Dr. Garin; at the endless road surrounded by drowsy snowdrifts; at the snakelike, snowy wind whipping ominously above them; at the hopeless gray sky, tattered like the sieve of some stupid, grinning, sunflower-seed-cracking old woman, which kept sowing, sowing, and sowing these accursed snowflakes.
There are Vitaminders. They have a Mongolian-wise-man feel about them, but more than likely they are merely corporate pharmaceutical kingpins, of the crooked variety, whatever they might be doing in the middle of nowhere.

There's a fantastic 8-page drug trip, where Garin understands everything but retains nothing; he's reduced to tears and a state of infancy (but not innocence). I mean, fucking Vitaminders. With product! It's weird.

Garin's nose — the size and the colour of it — is a recurring image; I wonder if this isn't meant to reference Gogol, though I'm not sufficiently well-read to explain the significance of it.

Tragically, Garin himself is often the reason for the delay, and he never takes responsibility for that. He'd hoped to make it by nightfall, but days go by. And sadly, the novel ends before he reaches his destination, so we never learn how that epidemic turns out.

New York Times review (a bit spoilery).

[I'm thinking it's nigh time I return to Sorokin's Ice Trilogy.]

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

In the evenings I'm truly unfathomable

Of course, everybody thinks I'm no good. Actually, when I'm hung over in the mornings I'm of the same opinion. But really, how can you trust the opinion of a person who hasn't yet had a hair of the dog? Now in the evenings — oh, God, what depths I can reveal! — always assuming, of course, I've had a good skinful during the day — in the evenings I'm truly unfathomable.

Well, okay, so I'm no good, so what? In general terms, I'd say a person who feels lousy in the morning, and who's buzzing with ideas in the evening, full of dreams and schemes, is just no good at all. Rotten mornings, and great evenings, are a sure sign of a bad person. But if it's the other way round — if somebody's bright and cheerful first thing, full of hope, and then totally knackered by evening, they're nothing but garbage, narrow-minded mediocrities. Complete shits, in my view. I don't know about you, but I reckon they're shits.

Of course, there are people to whom morning and evening are all the same, sunrise and sunset equally pleasing — people like that are straightforward bastards, it disgusts me even to talk about them. Then again, if somebody feels lousy morning and evening alike, well, I just don't know what to say, that's the last word in scum, a complete dickhead. I mean, the off-licenses stay open till nine at night, and the Yeliseev's open till eleven, for God's sake, and if you're not a scumbag, you can always manage lift-off to somewhere by evening, you can surely reach some sort of shallow depths...
— from Moscow Stations, by Venedikt Yerofeev.

So are you a morning person or an evening person?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

She had reduced the uneasiness of bodies to paper and fabric

I found Troubling Love, by Elena Ferrante, to be something of a troubling novel, on several levels.

It's Ferrante's first novel. Perhaps it shows; maybe it lacks fluidity, or something like that — it's jarring. I would not recommend this book as a way into Ferrante. It's narratively less compelling than her other novels. Maybe my hesitation in endorsing it lies simply in that it's so troubling (which, of course, may be the point). This is not an easy book.

Then there's the novels subjects and themes. Also troubling.

This is about Delia, a 40-ish-year-old woman coming to terms with her mother's death. There's the problem of the nature of the death, accidental or deliberate — could it really have been suicide? There's the problem of the circumstances of the death — where she was and with whom, and dressed like that? There's the problem of the relationship of the mother, long ago separated from Delia's father, with another man, whom Delia recalls from her childhood.
It occurred to me that ever since she was a girl Amalia had thought of hands as gloves, silhouettes first of paper, then of leather. She had sewed and sewed. Then, moving on, she had reduced widows of generals, wives of dentists, sisters of magistrates to measurements of bust and hips. Those measurements, taken by discreetly embracing, with her seamstress's tape, female bodies of all ages, became paper patterns that, fastened to the fabric with pins, portrayed on it the shadows of breasts and hips. Now, intently, she cut the material, stretched tight, following the outline imposed by the pattern. For all the days of her life she had reduced the uneasiness of bodies to paper and fabric, and perhaps it had become a habit, and so, out of habit, she tacitly rethought what was out of proportion, giving it the proper measure. I had never thought about this, and now that I had I couldn't ask her if it really had been like that. Everything was lost. But, in front of Signora De Riso as she ate cherries, I found that that final game of fabrics between her and Caserta, that reduction of their underground history to a conventional exchange of old garments for new, was a sort of ironic fulfillment. My mood abruptly changed. I was suddenly content to believe that her carelessness had been thought out. Unexpectedly, surprisingly, I liked that woman who in some way had completely invented her story, playing on her own with empty fabrics. I imagined that she hadn't died unsatisfied, and I sighed with unexpected satisfaction.
There's the problem of love. Is the title referencing the mother's relationships? Delia's relationship with her mother (not exactly loving, yet somehow fraught with love)? Delia's love life (perhaps troublingly absent)?

There's the problem of memory. How Delia remembers her childhood, and the people and events of her childhood, and the hazy reality of it. The past is quite troubling, and she must finally confront it.

There's Delia's relationship to her own body. Her aging body. Clothes and appearances figure prominently.

The most troubling thing of all: she is becoming her mother.

See also
New York Times: Return to Naples
The Iowa Review

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The only map we have is woefully lacking

"You used a map to get to this inn yesterday, did you not? Because of that map, you are able to find our way up the road without getting lost. Likewise, in order for us as a species to walk the correct path in life, we need a very detailed map that will tell us what the world is like. Except our map in incomplete, almost entirely useless. Which is why, even now, in the twenty-first century, people are still making mistakes. War and the destruction of the environment and countless other things persist because the only map we have is woefully lacking. It's the mission of scientists to fill in those missing pieces."
A Midsummer's Equation, by Keigo Higashino, is a perfectly delightful old-school mystery story. By which I mean, no hi-tech pyrotechnics, no weird sex, no ultra violence, no obscure specialists in esoteric fields of study you've never heard of. Just a suspicious death, some good old police work, and a fairly innocuous nest of family secrets.

That's a good thing.

It also makes the "Japanese Steig Larsson" proclamation stamped across the front cover silly, though I won't dispute that Higashino deserves to be better known. I loved The Devotion of Suspect X. A Midsummer's Equation is not as innovative a puzzle, but it confirms Higashino as a reliable writer to fall back on when I'm in the mood for a mystery.

Despite physicist Yukawas's insistence on the pursuit of pure truth and knowledge for its own sake, he seems very much concerned with moral truths. It is clear that for him the right path is the one leading to the greatest benefit for humanity. While logical, it may not be strictly legal. And that makes it quite different from many of the mysteries I've read in recent years in which legal justice tends to prevail.

This novel is not thriller. It's a tearjerker.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sending out coded signals

Why do people whose existence you are unaware of, whom you meet once and will never see again, come to play, behind the scenes, an important role in your life?
So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood was originally published in French just the week before Patrick Modiano was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. No doubt this speeded along its translation.

I've read a few Modiano novels now, enough to confidently say this one is typical, if slighter.

This can easily be read in one sitting, if you don't count my getting up to fix myself a cocktail.

This book is all mood, and great to get lost in, but if you're looking to get from point A to B via a traditional story, with, you know, an ending, this book won't get you anywhere.

So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood starts in the Paris apartment of Jean Daragane, an aging novelist, who receives a mysterious phonecall, which leads to a meeting with a mysterious couple and further meetings with the young woman (with a mysterious dress), and a mysterious file folder containing a mysterious yet familiar passport photo, and from there it meanders down mysterious memory lane.

The couple had asked Daragane about a specific man, but his memories of him are vague and convoluted and intertwined with equally fuzzy memories of other figures from his past. He'd used the name of that man in one of his novels, and a few episodes also had basis in his memory of his reality.
He had written this book only in the hope that she might get in touch with him. Writing a book, for him, was also a way of beaming a searchlight or sending out coded signals to certain people with whom he had lost touch. It was enough to scatter their names at random through the pages and wait until they finally produced news of themselves.[...] He had never understood why anyone should want to put someone who had mattered to them into a novel. Once that person had drifted into a novel in much the same way as one might walk through a mirror, he escaped from you forever. He had never existed in real life. He had been reduced to nothingness...
So were they important names, or weren't they?

We never learn what really became of the figures from the past, we never learn much about the murder beyond the fact that there was one (and it's mentioned barely as much as I mention it here), we never know where the dress came from and the young woman never comes back for it. Most puzzling of all to me, we never know what happened to Jean's mother, or why he was temporarily in the care of others.

Tellingly, when Daragane goes to investigate the house of his memories, the local doctor suggests the best informant might be the little boy who was present — but this of course is Daragane himself. I mean, there are episodes from my childhood that, weirdly, my mother knows nothing about. But I know I don't understand them fully because I processed them the way a 7-year-old would.
Many years afterwards, we attempt to solve puzzles that were not mysteries at the time and we try to decipher half-obliterated letters from a language that is too old and whose alphabet we don't even know.
It's very Paul Auster, City of Glass, only more realistic. All very fuzzy and mind-bendy. The mood, and the way Daragane processes his memories, is very much exacerbated by the unseasonable heat — it makes everything urgent, sexual, restless, confused.

LA Times, Patrick Modiano's many detours into echoes, longings and tension:
It also has to do with how the past appears to rise up from the streets around us, mingling with the present until we are no longer sure where (or when) we are.
The Northwest Review of Books:
As we age, our brains accept and absorb events differently, and thus our perception of the importance of these events changes too. Storytelling often suggests clean causality, but that, for Daragane, is a youthful interpretation. For him, older and more isolated, the sheer vastness of his memory makes these connections nearly impossible to make.
The New Yorker, The Mysteries of Patrick Modiano

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

He died in the hall with the radio on

I've been working my way through a collection of short stories, Tenth of December, by George Saunders.

I have the impression that Saunders is a big deal. (I read and loved The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip a long time ago.)

The thing is, I don't get on well with short stories in general. I don't know why. Too short to connect, to develop a relationship with? But then there are several specific short stories that I have actually liked. It's the idea of short stories I don't like. That is, I like the idea of reading a story that's short. I just don't like them. Most of them are forgettable, they don't stay with me. I generally don't choose to read short stories.

With that massive disclaimer out of the way, I'll say these stories were quite all right. In fact they were just the thing, the right kind of bedtime reading this past week. I will consider reading more Saunders. The stories are very human and tragic, and several of them have a futuristic or science fiction-y aspect that while not central is essential to the backdrop of the story. Or maybe it is central. That is, the stories start off being very familiar, until suddenly they're really not.

One of the stories ("The Semplica Girl Diaries") I would've loved to experience at novel length.

Another story I loved is shorter than short. (I like really short short stories like this one; I like them better than short stories. They have a meditative aspect like poetry. All that's inessential has been stripped away.) I give it to you here in its entirety.

Every year Thanksgiving night we flocked out behind Dad as he dragged the Santa suit to the road and draped it over a kind of crucifix he'd built out of metal pole in the yard. Super Bowl week the pole was dressed in a jersey and Rod's helmet and Rod had to clear it with Dad if he wanted to take the helmet off. On the Fourth of July the pole was Uncle Sam, on Veteran’s Day a soldier, on Halloween a ghost. The pole was Dad's only concession to glee. We were allowed a single Crayola from the box at a time. One Christmas Eve he shrieked at Kimmie for wasting an apple slice. He hovered over us as we poured ketchup saying: good enough good enough good enough. Birthday parties consisted of cupcakes, no ice cream. The first time I brought a date over she said: what's with your dad and that pole? and I sat there blinking.

We left home, married, had children of our own, found the seeds of meanness blooming also within us. Dad began dressing the pole with more complexity and less discernible logic. He draped some kind of fur over it on Groundhog Day and lugged out a floodlight to ensure a shadow. When an earthquake struck Chile he lay the pole on its side and spray painted a rift in the earth. Mom died and he dressed the pole as Death and hung from the crossbar photos of Mom as a baby. We'd stop by and find odd talismans from his youth arranged around the base: army medals, theater tickets, old sweatshirts, tubes of Mom's makeup. One autumn he painted the pole bright yellow. He covered it with cotton swabs that winter for warmth and provided offspring by hammering in six crossed sticks around the yard. He ran lengths of string between the pole and the sticks, and taped to the string letters of apology, admissions of error, pleas for understanding, all written in a frantic hand on index cards. He painted a sign saying LOVE and hung it from the pole and another that said FORGIVE? and then he died in the hall with the radio on and we sold the house to a young couple who yanked out the pole and the sticks and left them by the road on garbage day.
That's it. That's the whole gut-wrenching story. Doesn't it make you just — ?

All of the stories in this collection are available online:

Victory Lap
Escape from Spiderhead
Al Roosten
The Semplica Girl Diaries
My Chivalric Fiasco
Tenth of December

Sunday, March 05, 2017

The forgetfulness of sugar

Edgar felt confused. He wanted a cookie, the forgetfulness of sugar. [...] Life was complicated, and dangerous. Edgar needed a teacher. Someone, like the aliens, who could extend long fingers into his brain and adjust the dials, rearrange the chaos of dots until the picture was marvelous and clear, and with no effort at all you would understand why you'd been born in a place where the rain of information never ceased, and where every person was a baffling conceit.
I'm not sure why I accepted a review copy of Edgar and Lucy, by Victor Lodato.

If I'd known more about what it was about, I might not have picked it up. (I remember thinking something similar about Lodato's first novel, Mathilda Savitch.) I don't naturally gravitate toward books that deal explicitly with grief, childhood trauma, family secrets, tragedy. (I don't seem to mind when those themes are implicit, subtly woven into the fabric of a story, but when a book is about overcoming a challenge, I tend to look elsewhere.)

Edgar is an eight-year-old albino boy, Lucy's his mom, his father's gone, dead, suicide. Lucy's got a limp and she drinks too much. They live with Edgar's grandmother, who has her own ghosts to deal with, until she dies. And then Edgar goes missing.

Upon starting in, I wasn't convinced I was prepared to invest my time in 500+ pages, but Lodato's writing is hugely compelling, and comes a point you have to know how it ends. I would've cut a few pages, but in the end I was quite satisfied to have spent a rainy day last weekend blanketed with this book.


Saturday, March 04, 2017

Everything there was sliced-up nerves

Reading notes on Clarice Lispector's The Passion According to G.H., the fourth and fifth chapters.

The first sentence of each chapter repeats the last sentence of the preceding chapter. It makes for a nice sense of continuity, maybe a looping effect. (Should I skip to the end to see the very last sentence? No.) Każdy przecież początek to tylko ciąg dalszy... [Every beginning is but a continuation...] ("Love at First Sight," Wisława Szymborska).

I wonder if these sentences stack up to have a more direct message,say, à la If on a Winter's Night a Traveller (Italo Calvino), where the chapter headings tell their own story.

In the fourth chapter, G.H. enters the maid's room to find the opposite of what she'd expected: it is orderly, clean, bright, dry, stripped bare — "as in an insane asylum."
The room seemed to be on a level incomparably higher than the apartment itself.

Like a minaret.
This is an effect of the angles and reflections, but the use of the word "minaret" connotes something spiritual yet foreign. One wonders if G.H. doesn't perceive it as higher morally, uncomfortable as the sight makes her.

This room is described so vividly, I think I can draw it. On one wall are drawn in charcoal a naked man and woman and a dog, with a coarse rigidity, hard motionlessness (p 31).
They were emerging as if they'd gradually oozed from the wall, slowly coming from the center until they'd sweated through the rough lime surface. tries to recall the maid, believing this mural is intended as a message for her, but has trouble doing so (p 32).
Abruptly, this time with real discomfort, I finally let a sensation come to me which for six months, out of negligence and lack of interest, I hadn't let myself feel: The silent hatred of that woman. What surprised me was that it was a kind of detached hatred, the worst kind: indifferent hatred. Not a hatred that individualized me but merely the lack of mercy. No, not even hatred.
G.H. describes the maid as having the features of a queen, and for this she is despised. I get the sense that the maid is physically superior, so G.H. tries extra hard to bring her down. The maid is also "invisible" (p 33). Class tensions are in play — did the maid intend the dog to represent G.H.? G.H. feels the maid, her inferior, is judging her. I'm reminded of Magda Szabo's The Door, for the force of the clashes between the employer and employee, each with a strong worldview entirely formed by where they came from.

Three old suitcases labeled G.H. are stacked along one wall. Barely noticeable. As if she herself had been boxed up, set aside, forgotten? Accumulating dust.

G.H. looks more closely at the room. Everything is dry, dusty, bleached, desert-like, in contrast to her habitual cozy, moist surroundings, their soft beauty. This is a place where things are exposed, over-exposed. "The room was the portrait of an empty stomach" (p 34). "Everything there was sliced-up nerves that had been hung up and dried on a clothesline."

Oh my god, this room is becoming an attack on all her senses. Charcoal scratching like needles on records and hissing and fingernails.

G.H. is planning on setting the room right, but she is summoning up a violent rage, the urge to kill. And then she goes i n(p 36). (She's been standing in the doorway this whole time?) She feels like the world is collapsing in on her. "Suddenly the whole world that was me shriveled up in fatigue." It's like some facade has crumbled, some pretense of being the kind of human being she'd fashioned herself to be. "And it's inside myself that I must create that someone who will understand." She's lost and needs to find herself, create herself anew.

Is it really the room that is triggering this existential crisis? Her relationship to the maid, and the existing class structures? The contrast of the room to the rest of her life that makes her question, I don't know, truth, purity, fullness? Or is it just that she's remembering how it unfolded yesterday, that now she reinterprets her perceptions then in order to make sense of her present state. The room is a void, a nothingness she's breached. She left pieces of herself in the hallway because she didn't fit.

She needs to refocus. The wardrobe. "The darkness inside escaped like a puff." The suspense! "And, as if the darkness inside were spying on me, we briefly spied each other without seeing each other." It's a Neitzschean moment, slightly sidestepped; what might you become if you saw each other? The door's blocked, move the bed over. Open the door! My god, it's a fucking horror novel!

A cockroach! Ancient, repulsive, obsolete, lurking in your wardrobe. Are there more?

"They're the miniature version of an enormous animal." What? Obviously that's not meant literally. A beast like Satan (though I don't recall him ever being described in insect-like terms)? Death? Life? Slow, patient, meaningless life? Something primal. Fear? What is this enormous animal?

Now the room is a sarcophagus, housing the roach and that maid. G.H feels herself limited, delimited by space. "I wasn't imprisoned but I was located." G.H. recalls an impoverished childhood (is she afraid of her past? ashamed of her past? afraid of denying her past?). Space and time are wholly palpable. And she needs to escape, needs to admit the danger she's in (what danger?).

"That was when the cockroach began to emerge." It really is a horror novel!

Thursday, March 02, 2017

I lost my human form for several hours

I am reading Clarice Lispector's The Passion According to G.H. It is clearly a book that demands something of the reader. It hopes to be read by "people whose souls are already formed." I think I qualify.

I am forcing myself to read slowly, though I feel I could devour this in just a few hours. I want to document my understanding, my processing of it. I feel it's important.

The passion, the suffering. Of whom, what? Is this a Jesus story? And who is G.H.?

The epigraph is from Bernard Berenson: "A complete life may be one ending in so full identification with the non-self that there is no self to die." Wikipedia tells me that Berenson was an art historian specializing in the Renaissance. Perhaps he and Lispector knew each other. They both had Jewish backgrounds, and emigrated from Eastern Europe (though decades apart).

The novel starts with series of dashes, blanks. "I'm searching, I'm searching. I'm trying to understand." the narrator is mired in profound personal disorder, existential chaos. To the narrator, nothing makes sense anymore.

Something happened yesterday (p 4). "Yesterday, however, I lost my human setup for hours and hours." But then (p 6), "I get so scared when I realize I lost my human form for several hours. I don't know if I'll have another form to replace the one I lost." So, is the narrator currently formless? That seems to be the case in terms of the narrator's consciousness and sense of self. But is this more than metaphorical? Did something happen to the narrator physically? This reminds me a little of Lila's "dissolving margins" and "dissolving boundaries" in Ferrante's Neapolitan quartet, where the form of things breaks down to reveal some terrifying essence, only the self was somehow preserved from dissolving while experiencing the effects. Here, the self is lost too, and there seems to be trouble in regaining it.

The narrator refers to having lost a third leg, something that was essential but never existed and is no longer needed. An absence. An absence in relief, a positive absence.

The narrator has lost organization (acquired disorganization?) and lost courage (acquired cowardice?). But the narrator cannot yet feel freely, give over to disorientation.

There is something of a confession: that life is a disappointment. "Maybe disappointment is the fear of no longer belonging to a system?" Hence the fear of not being able to create order out of disorder (and disappointment when one stops wanting to try?)?

What the fuck happened yesterday?

The narrator is afraid of passion (p 7). But here, I think, the passion is in the sense of intense emotion.
Then may I at least have the courage to let this shape form by itself like a scab that hardens by itself, like the fiery nebula that cools into earth. And may I have the great courage to resist the temptation of to invent a form.
Do not make meaning. Give over to it.

Something was revealed. A secret the narrator is already forgetting. Relearning it would require re-dying. Did the narrator die? Literally?

The narrator breaks the wall so the reader can hold her hand (but I don't know yet that the narrator is a woman). But she cannot imagine a whole person because she herself is not a whole person (missing that third leg, I think).

This horror she has seen is the vastness of the truth. But truth of what? Maybe what she saw was love.

She has lost her fear of ugliness, and this is good and sweet.

"Creating isn't imagining, it's taking the great risk of grasping reality."

The narrator spends a couple pages trying to explain the difficulty of articulating any kind of truth; we've had ample evidence of this difficulty already.

"Three thousand years ago I went astray, and what was left were phonetic fragments of me" (p 14). Um, what? Is the narrator now claiming to be three thousand years old? Her consciousness in three thousand years old? Her missing third leg is three thousand years old?

Yesterday she went into the maid's room we learn at the start of the second chapter (though the chapters are not numbered), the maid who had quit the day before. She was having breakfast, deciding her day, she remembers.

She reflects on, trying to recapture, who she was before. In a photo, her face revealed a silence: The Mystery (mystery of faith?). "Courage isn't being alive, knowing that you're alive is courage." Here we are with the problem of self-awareness.

We learn that her suitcases are initialed G.H. We learn definitively that she is a woman (p 18). A so-called successful person, a sculptor. Her reputation placed her socially between men and women, "which granted me far more freedom to be a woman, since I didn't have to take formal care to be one." This was written in 1964.

More about the truth and false truths. How we reflect each other. Here personal life has "a light tone of pre-climax." Is this suggested sexually? Is that the kind of passion this book is addressing after all?
My question, if there was one, was not: "Who am I," but "Who is around me." My cycle was complete: what I lived in the present was already getting ready so I could later understand myself. An eye watched over my life. This eye was probably what I would probably now call truth, now morality, now human law, now God, now me. I lived mostly inside a mirror. Two minutes after my birth I had already lost my origins.
She describes her apartment, like herself, moist shadows and light. Elegant, ironic, witty. "Everything here actually refers to a life that wouldn't suit me if it were real" (p 22). She herself lives in quotation marks (p 23). She is a replica of herself. (Are we preparing to meet the real self?) She was devoted to not being.

The third chapter starts with G.H.'s plan to clean the apartment, starting with the maid's room. Before starting, she pauses and looks around her:
I was seeing something that would only make sense later — I mean, something that only later would profoundly not make sense. Only later would I understand: what seems like a lack of meaning — that's the meaning. Every moment of "lack of meaning" is precisely the frightening certainty that that's exactly what it means, and that not only can I not reach it, I don't want to because I have no guarantees. The lack of meaning would only overwhelm me later. Could realizing the lack of meaning have always been my negative way of sensing the meaning? it had been my way of participating.
(Participating in meaning? in life?)