The transitive property – semblance of my soul

Portia, from The Merchant of Venice (3.4.10-23). If Antonio = Bassanio and Bassanio = Portia then Antonio = Portia. I wish I’d made notes on or could remember other instances of this logic in Shakespeare. My casual sense is that it’s pretty rare and usually limited to abstract qualities so extending it to people might be a unique use – though maybe less bold a reach if you take ‘soul’ as essentially an abstract.

I never did repent for doing good,
Nor shall not now: for in companions
That do converse and waste the time together,
Whose souls do bear an equal yoke of love,
There must be needs a like proportion
Of lineaments, of manners and of spirit;
Which makes me think that this Antonio,
Being the bosom lover of my lord,
Must needs be like my lord. If it be so,
How little is the cost I have bestow’d
In purchasing the semblance of my soul
From out the state of hellish misery!
This comes too near the praising of myself;
Therefore no more of it:

You will agree with me that a Tallemant des Reaux in Soviet Russia is more interesting than an official Thucydides

From the opening of Curzio Malaparte’s The Kremlin Ball, a section titled Moscow Society is the Mirror Image of European Society but Dominated by Fear. The novel was left unfinished at the time of the author’s death and this English translation from NYRB is the product of a recent Italian critical edition (that I don’t have access to, unfortunately). The premise – best summed up in the line I’ve used here for title, said to the narrator late in the novel – is fascinating but the novel itself generally feels too unfinished to pull through on it in more than a few moments.

In this novel, a faithful portrait of the USSR’s Marxist nobility, of Moscow’s communist high society, of their haute société, everything is true: the people, the events, the things, the places. The characters did not originate in the author’s imagination, but were drawn from life, each with his own name, face, words, and actions: Stalin, who watched the famous ballerina Semyonova prance about the stage every night at the Bolshoi Theater of Moscow; Karakhan (the same Karakhan Stalin later had killed), with whom Stalin was apparently competing for Semyonova; the celebrated beauties of the Marxist nobility, the Bs, Gs, and Ls with their lovers, intrigues, and scandals, their eager and restless faces basking in the ephemeral rose-tinted glow of glory, riches, and power; the extraordinary Florinsky, Chief of Protocol of the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, who paraded through the streets of Moscow in his horse-drawn carriage; the fearful and resigned Madame Kameneva, Trotsky’s sister; all of these merveilleuses, these lions, these parvenus, these ephebes are not invented but living people, real human creatures. What differentiates this novel, however, from a “court chronicle” catering to seventeenth-century French taste, or from a mémoire such as the one by Saint-Simon, or from a book of moralités like Montaigne’s, and makes it a novel in the Proustian sense (not so much in style, but in its keen sense of désintéressement, or disinterestedness, so essential to the novels and characters created by Marcel Proust), is the fact that the characters, events, and episodes in this “court chronicle” are bound by a fatality propelling them all toward one end, toward a novelistic denouement. The protagonist, the hero of this novel, is not an individual, not a man or woman, but a social entity: the communist aristocracy that replaced the Russian aristocracy of the ancien régime, and in many ways resembled the revolutionary nobility that arose after the French Revolution, those who gathered around Barras during the Directory regime. Similarly, the protagonist of Proust’s novels is no individual, no man or woman, not Baron Charlus or Swann, not Madame de Guermantes, Odette, or Langeron, but rather the French nobility, the Parisian nobility, the monde de Paris, in other words, a social entity, society itself. The author of this novel, however, has no intention of being a moralist—as in the “plan de désintéressement” or “framework of disinterestedness” Albert Thibaudet discusses in regard to Proust in which Proust infuses morality into his psychological analysis. This author emphatically declares that he is absolutely indifferent to the fate of his characters. As for their morality, whether they are on the side of the good or the bad, he’s interested only up to a point. This author, instead, addresses disinterestedness not in terms of psychological analysis but in terms of how disinterestedness is infused in the social drama of politics and political unrest of his protagonists, ranging from Stalin to the young Marika. The most striking aspect of a Marxist society is not that it is Marxistically organized like Hitler’s Germany (which the author defines as “feudal communism”), but how Marxist morality is dominated by fatalism. That historical materialism would lead to fatalism is odd. In reality, Marxism does not lead the individual to a collective sentiment but to the most absolute fatalism, to a total dedication to fatality—which is, of course, the sign of a society in decline. If the novel contains a moral it is this: Marxist society in the USSR is already in decline. And not only the Trotskyite nobility of 1929, but the Marxist nobility and the entire Marxist society are in decline. A distinct and dreadful sign of this decline is the fatalism that is the private rationale of every Russian man, even if disguised by activity and fanatic belief—these being characteristics of a Marxist society indifferent to its own destiny. Another factor is this: Russians suffer for others. The inducement to suffer for others is a form of fatalism. Only those who suffer for themselves take part in history, participate in the thrust of history, are the subject, not merely the object, of history. The destiny of any noble revolutionary is to wind up against the wall. This destiny is assured for a noble revolutionary in a Marxist society in which mankind, human life, has no value. A new Marxist nobility, which replaced the Trotskyite nobility exterminated in 1936, has been forming in these past few years around Stalin. It, too, will wind up against the wall if it doesn’t succeed in imposing its morality, corruption, and ambition upon the entire Russian population, if it doesn’t succeed in debasing all Russians.

Incidentally, Malaparte may be better known to the Anglo world for his villa on Capri, Casa Malaparte (dated but good photos are here and another below). There was an exhibit on the villa’s furniture in London a couple of years ago.

What he failed to understand was the emotional rather than statistical nature of the discussion

From Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s short story The Blind Kittens (I gattini ciechi), some Sicilian nobles ostensibly discussing the rise and fortune of a newly blossomed peasant family. I read somewhere that Lampedusa had intended this tale as the opening chapter of a sort of followup novel to The Leopard (Il Gattopardo).

It was for these reasons for malice mixed with fear that, when the poker game broke up, the conversation turned again to the topic of the Ibbas. A group of ten members had gathered on the club’s terrace, which overlooked a peaceful courtyard and was shaded by a tall tree that rained down lilac petals on the mostly elderly gentlemen. Servants in red and blue brought drinks and cups of gelato. From the depths of a wicker armchair came the unfailingly irascible voice of Santa Giulia.

“Honestly, now, can anyone say how much land this wretched Ibba really has?”

“We can, and I do. Thirty-five thousand four hundred acres,” San Carlo answered coolly.

“That’s all? I thought it was more.”

“Thirty-five thousand? Rubbish! According to people who’ve been there, it can’t be less than fifty thousand acres, that’s dead certain, and all of it prime farmland.”

General Làscari, who appeared immersed in his reading of the Tribuna, abruptly lowered the newspaper and showed his liverish face, lined with yellow wrinkles, in which stood out, severe and slightly sinister, the extremely bright whites of the eyes, like those of certain Greek bronzes.

“The figure is seventy thousand acres, not one more and not one less. My nephew, whose cousin is the wife of Ibba’s prefect, told me so. That’s the way it is, and so be it; there’s no point in discussing it further.”

Pippo Follonica, a visiting Roman envoy, began to laugh. “Honestly, if you’re so interested, why not send someone to look at the cadastral register? It’s easy to find out the truth, this truth at least.”

The rationality of the proposal was but indifferently received. What Follonica failed to understand was the emotional rather than statistical nature of the discussion: These gentlemen were exchanging envies, grudges, fears, all things that cadastral documents would not suffice to sooth.

The general fumed. “When I tell you something, there is no need for cadasters, nor counter-cadasters.” His good manners then mellowed him toward the guest. “Dear Prince, you do not know what the cadaster is like in our parts! The transfer deeds are never registered, which means you’ll still find individuals listed as owners who have sold everything and moved into the poorhouse.”

Confronted with a refutation so rich in local detail, Follonica tried another tack. “Let us concede that the total number of acres remains obscure, but the value of the property in the hands of this boor, who arouses so much passion in you, must be known!”

“This we know very well: eight million net.”

“Rubbish!” Thus did every sentence out of Santa Giulia’s mouth begin. “Rubbish! Not one cent less than ten!”

“What world are you living in? You don’t know anything about anything! He’s got twenty-five million in land alone. Then there’s the rents, the capital he’s loaned out and not yet turned into property, the value of the livestock. That makes at least another fifteen million.”

The general had laid down his newspaper and was clearly distressed. The imperiousness of his manner had for years been a source of irritation to the entire club—each of whose members wished to be the only one making incontrovertible statements—such that there immediately formed against this opinion a coalition of renewed antipathies and, without reference to the greater or lesser truth of the facts, the appraised value of the Ibba properties fell precipitously.

“This is all fantasy. Claims about money, like those about saintliness, ought to be taken with a grain of salt. If Batassano Ibba has ten million, all included, that’s already a lot.”

The figure had been distilled from nothing, that is, out of polemical necessity; but when it was spoken, corresponding as it did to the desire of each man, it calmed everyone down, with the exception of the general, who gesticulated from the depths of his armchair, powerless against his nine adversaries.

A waiter entered carrying a long wooden pole, at its tip a burning bit of spirit-infused flock. The gentle glow of sunset gave way to the harsher light of a gas lamp. The Roman was rather enjoying himself. It was his first time in Sicily, and during his five-day stay in Palermo he’d been received in several houses and begun to change his mind about the supposed provincialism of Palermitan society: the dinners had been well served, the reception rooms beautifully appointed, the ladies elegant and full of grace. But now, this impassioned discussion about the fortune of an individual whom none of the disputants knew nor wished to know, this blatant exaggeration, this hysterical gesticulation over nothing, caused him to reconsider anew. It all reminded him a bit too much of the conversations he would hear in Fondi or in Palestrina, when he went to attend to his estates, and perhaps also of the Bésuquet pharmacy, a memory that, ever since he’d read Daudet’s Tartarin, never failed to make him smile. And so he laid in a supply of anecdotes to tell his friends a week later when he would be back in Rome. But he was mistaken. He was too much a man of the world to be accustomed to plunging his investigation below the most superficial appearances, and what appeared to him the humorous exhibition of provincialism was anything but comic; it was the tragic convulsions of a class that saw its own primacy as large landowners—that is, its own raison d’être and the source of its social continuity—slipping away, and that sought in arbitrary exaggerations and contrived reductions outlets for its anger, relief for its fears.

Fu per queste ragioni di rancore misto a timore che, quando il “pokerino” ebbe termine, la conversazione cadde di nuovo sull’argomento Ibba. La diecina di soci presenti si era installata sulla terrazza del Circolo, che sovrasta un placido cortile ed era ombreggiata da un alto albero che faceva piovere petali di lillà su quei signori per lo più anziani. Servi in rosso e bleu portavano in giro gelati e bibite. Dal fondo di una poltrona di vimini giungeva sempre collerica la voce di Santa Giulia. “Ma insomma si può sapere quante terre ha questo benedetto Ibba?”

“Si può sapere, si sa. Quattordici mila trecento venticinque ettari,” rispose freddo San Carlo.

“Solamente? Io credevo di più.”

“Quattordicimila un corno! Secondo persone che sono state sul posto non possono essere meno di ventimila ettari, sicuro come la Morte; e tutti semineri di prima scelta.”

Il generale Làscari, che sembrava immerso nella lettura della Tribuna, abbassò bruscamente il giornale e mostrò la faccia sua di fegatoso, ricamata di rughe gialle nelle quali la cornea bianchissima risaltava dura e un po’ sinistra, come gli occhi di certi bronzi greci. “Sono ventotto mila, né uno di più né uno di meno; me lo ha detto mio nipote che è cugino della moglie del suo Prefetto. È così, e basta; ed è inutile discuterne più a lungo.”

Pippo Follonica, un inviato romano di passaggio, si mise a ridere: “Ma insomma se vi interessa tanto perché non mandate qualcheduno al Catasto; è facile sapere la verità, questa verità per lo meno.”

La razionalità della proposta fu accolta con freddezza. Follonica non capiva la natura passionale, non statistica, della discussione: quei signori palleggiavano fra loro invidie, rancori, timori, cose tutte che i certificati catastali non bastavano a sedare.

Il generale si inviperì: “Quando una cosa la dico io non occorrono catasti né controcatasti.” Poi la cortesia verso l’ospite lo raddolcì. “Caro Principe, Lei non sa che cosa è il catasto da noi! Le volture non sono mai fatte e vi figurano come proprietari ancora quelli che hanno venduto e che adesso sono all’Ospizio di Mendicità.”

Di fronte a una smentita tanto circostanziata, Follonica cambiò tattica. “Ammettiamo che l’ettaraggio rimanga ignoto; ma il valore del patrimonio di questo buzzurro che vi appassiona si saprà!”

“Questo si sa benissimo: otto milioni netti netti.”

“Un corno!” Era questo l’immancabile inizio di ogni frase di Santa Giulia. “Un corno! Non un centesimo meno di dodici!”

“Ma in che mondo vivete! Non siete informati di niente! Sono venticinque milioni soltanto in terreni. In più vi sono i canoni, i capitali prestati e non ancora trasformati in proprietà, il valore del bestiame. Almeno altri quindici milioni.” Il generale aveva posato il giornale, si agitava. La perentorietà dei suoi modi aveva da anni irritato tutto il Circolo, ciascun socio del quale desiderava essere il solo a fare affermazioni incontrovertibili; così che contro l’opinione di lui si formò immediatamente una coalizione di antipatie risvegliate e, senza riferimento alla verità maggiore o minore dei fatti, la stima del patrimonio Ibba calò a precipizio. “Queste sono poesie; denari e santità metà della metà. Se Baldassare Ibba ha dieci milioni, tutto compreso, è molto.” La cifra era stata distillata dal nulla, cioè, per necessità polemica; ma quando fu detta, poiché rispondeva al desiderio d’ognuno, li calmò tutti, eccetto il generale che gesticolava dal fondo della sua poltrona, impotente, contro i suoi nove avversari.

Un cameriere entrò con una lunga asta di legno che portava in cima un batuffolo con spirito acceso. Alla mite luce del tramonto si sostituì quella rigida del lampadario a gas. Il romano si divertiva assai: era la prima volta che veniva in Sicilia, e nei suoi cinque giorni di permanenza a Palermo era stato ricevuto in parecchie case ed aveva cominciato a ricredersi sul presunto provincialismo dei palermitani: i pranzi erano stati ben serviti, i saloni belli, le signore aggraziate. Ma adesso questa discussione appassionata sulla fortuna di un individuo che nessuno dei contendenti conosceva né voleva conoscere, queste esagerazioni patenti, questo gesticolare convulso per niente, gli facevano di nuovo far macchina indietro, gli ricordavano un po’ troppo le conversazioni che sentiva a Fondi o a Palestrina, quando doveva andarvi per badare alle sue terre, e magari la farmacia Bésuquet, della quale dal tempo della sua lettura del Tartarin conservava un ricordo sorridente; e faceva provvista di storielle da raccontare agli amici quando fra una settimana sarebbe ritornato a Roma. Ma aveva torto: era troppo uomo di mondo per essere avvezzo a tuffare l’indagine sua al di sotto delle più evidenti apparenze, e ciò che gli appariva come umoristica esibizione di provincialismo era tutt’altro che comico: erano i tragici soprassalti di una classe che vedeva sfuggire il proprio primato latifondistico, cioè la propria ragion d’essere e la propria continuità sociale, e che cercava nelle artate esagerazioni, e nelle artificiali diminuzioni, sfoghi alla sua ira, sollievo alla sua paura.

For shame!—to feed on someone else’s grass?

From La Fontaine’s Fables (7.1). Since some of the delight of these comes from the illustrations I’ve included a few beneath the tale – one straight version by Grandville (illustrator of my childhood edition) followed by two of what I guess would be called applied references – by Bouzou from Charlie Hebdo at some point in the past decade and by Charles Gilbert-Martin about a little known corruption scandal from France in the late 1880s.

An evil that induces dread,
a scourge that Heaven in its wrath devised
that crimes on earth should not go unchastised,
the plague (would that its name were never said!),
which in a day makes rich the Stygian shore,
attacked the animals as if in war.
Not all were dying; none remained exempt.
They could not make the effort to obtain
the means to nourish and sustain
a life now fading, which no food could tempt.
Nor wolf nor fox would lie in wait to slay
the innocent and gentle prey.
In solitude lived every turtle-dove;
there was no joy because there was no love.
The lion called them to his council. ‘Friends,’
he said, ‘these woes that Heaven has permitted
are due, no doubt, to sins we have committed.
So let us sacrifice, to make amends,
the guiltiest among us. His reward,
perhaps, is that our health will be restored.
From history we learn that immolation
often occurs in such a situation.
So therefore let us all examine here
our consciences; and let us be severe.
Myself, in appetite, I’ve been a glutton:
I have consumed a large amount of mutton,
although, against myself, I knew
those sheep had not committed any crimes.
It’s also happened that I’ve had, at times,
the shepherd too.
I’ll be your sacrifice, then, if I must,
but each, I think, should do the same as I,
and say how he has sinned; for it is just
that he who bears the greatest guilt should die.’
The fox said: ‘Sir, you are too good a king,
Your Majesty; in all that you confess
you take your scruples to excess.
To eat a sheep, a slavish, stupid thing,
is that a sin? Of course not; sheep should feel
much honoured to be taken for your meal.
As for the shepherd, let it be observed
that he received no more than he deserved,
like all his kind, who baselessly declare
that they should rule, while we obey their laws.’
Thus spoke the fox, receiving much applause
from all the flatterers. They did not dare
to scrutinize too deeply any deed,
however bad, committed by some breed
such as the tiger or the bear,
or any of the greater powers there;
the creatures of the more pugnacious sort,
down to the mastiff dogs, were one and all
as pure as saints, they said around the court.
The donkey’s turn arrived. ‘I chanced to pass’,
he said, ‘an abbey meadow; I recall
that with my hunger, and the tender grass,
the opportunity, and, it may be,
some devil also tempting me,
I couldn’t help but take a little bite.
I must admit I didn’t have the right.’
His words at once provoked a hue and cry.
A wolf with claims to learning spoke, and said
this mangy, scurvy brute, from whom had spread
the dire disease, accursed beast, must die.
His peccadillo was, they all agreed,
a capital offence. For shame!—to feed
on someone else’s grass? A wicked deed:
only his death could make it good.
They made quite sure he understood.

At court, if you are weak, you’re in the wrong;
you’re always right, at court, if you are strong.

Un mal qui répand la terreur,
Mal que le Ciel en sa fureur
Inventa pour punir les crimes de la terre
La Peste (puisqu’il faut l’appeler par son nom)
Capable d’enrichir en un jour l’Achéron,
Faisait aux animaux la guerre.
Ils ne mouraient pas tous, mais tous étaient frappés :
On n’en voyait point d’occupés
A chercher le soutien d’une mourante vie ;
Nul mets n’excitait leur envie ;
Ni Loups ni Renards n’épiaient
La douce et l’innocente proie.
Les Tourterelles se fuyaient ;
Plus d’amour, partant plus de joie.
Le Lion tint conseil, et dit : Mes chers amis,
Je crois que le Ciel a permis
Pour nos péchés cette infortune ;
Que le plus coupable de nous
Se sacrifie aux traits du céleste courroux ;
Peut-être il obtiendra la guérison commune.
L’histoire nous apprend qu’en de tels accidents
On fait de pareils dévouements :
Ne nous flattons donc point ; voyons sans indulgence
L’état de notre conscience.
Pour moi, satisfaisant mes appétits gloutons
J’ai dévoré force moutons ;
Que m’avaient-ils fait ? Nulle offense:
Même il m’est arrivé quelquefois de manger
Le Berger.
Je me dévouerai donc, s’il le faut ; mais je pense
Qu’il est bon que chacun s’accuse ainsi que moi
Car on doit souhaiter selon toute justice
Que le plus coupable périsse.
Sire, dit le Renard, vous êtes trop bon Roi ;
Vos scrupules font voir trop de délicatesse ;
Et bien, manger moutons, canaille, sotte espèce.
Est-ce un péché ? Non non. Vous leur fîtes, Seigneur,
En les croquant beaucoup d’honneur;
Et quant au Berger, l’on peut dire
Qu’il était digne de tous maux,
Etant de ces gens-là qui sur les animaux
Se font un chimérique empire.
Ainsi dit le Renard, et flatteurs d’applaudir.
On n’osa trop approfondir
Du Tigre, ni de l’Ours, ni des autres puissances
Les moins pardonnables offenses.
Tous les gens querelleurs, jusqu’aux simples Mâtins,
Au dire de chacun, étaient de petits saints.
L’Âne vint à son tour, et dit : J’ai souvenance
Qu’en un pré de Moines passant,
La faim, l’occasion, l’herbe tendre, et je pense
Quelque diable aussi me poussant,
Je tondis de ce pré la largeur de ma langue.
Je n’en avais nul droit, puisqu’il faut parler net.
A ces mots on cria haro sur le Baudet.
Un Loup quelque peu clerc prouva par sa harangue
Qu’il fallait dévouer ce maudit Animal,
Ce pelé, ce galeux, d’où venait tout leur mal.
Sa peccadille fut jugée un cas pendable.
Manger l’herbe d’autrui ! quel crime abominable !
Rien que la mort n’était capable
D’expier son forfait : on le lui fit bien voir.
Selon que vous serez puissant ou misérable,
Les jugements de Cour vous rendront blanc ou noir.

Charles Gilbert-Martin

And, because I was curious, the best summary of the scandal I can find – from the NYT archive. Aside from Le Figaro (a newspaper), I have no idea the people referenced with the sleeping animals in the top of the image.

Don’t believe the stories about us. We don’t kill anyone, we only love.

Meeting a siren, from Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Professor and the Siren (La Sirena). The introduction to the NYRB edition mentions an audio recording of Lampedusa reading the story where ‘at this moment on the tape, his rapid, witty rendering comes to a pause with a slight intake of breath, a sigh that reveals the author’s awe before the intense presence of his own creation.’ The recording was included on CD with a 2014 edition of the story (publisher’s site) but copies are no longer available anywhere and I’ve had no luck finding an upload.

The heat was violent in Augusta too, but, no longer reflected back by walls, it produced not dreadful prostration but a sort of submissive euphoria; the sun, shedding its executioner’s grimace, was content to be a smiling if brutal giver of energy, and also a sorcerer setting mobile diamonds in the sea’s slightest ripple. Study ceased to be toil: Gently rocked by the boat in which I spent hours on end, each book seemed no longer an obstacle to be overcome but rather a key offering me passage into a world, a world I already had before my eyes in one of its most enchanting aspects. I often happened to recite the verses of poets aloud, and thus the names of those gods, which most people have forgotten or never knew, again skimmed the surface of the sea that would have once, at their mere mention, risen up in turmoil or subsided into dead calm.
“This came to pass on the morning of August 5, at six o’clock. I hadn’t been up for long before I was in the boat; a few strokes of the oars took me away from the pebbled shore. I’d stopped at the base of a large rock whose shadow might protect me from a sun that was already climbing, swollen with dazzling fury and turning the whiteness of the auroral sea gold and blue. As I declaimed I sensed that the side of the boat, to my right and behind me, had abruptly been lowered, as if someone had grabbed on to climb up. I turned and saw her: The smooth face of a sixteen-year-old emerged from the sea; two small hands gripped the gunwale. The adolescent smiled, a slight displacement of her pale lips that revealed small, sharp white teeth, like dogs’. This, however, was not a smile like those to be seen among your sort, always debased with an accessory expression of benevolence or irony, of compassion, cruelty, or whatever the case may be; it expressed nothing but itself: an almost bestial delight in existing, a joy almost divine. This smile was the first of her charms that would affect me, revealing paradises of forgotten serenity. From her disordered hair, which was the color of the sun, seawater dripped into her exceedingly open green eyes, over features of infantile purity.

“Our suspicious reason, howsoever predisposed, loses its bearings in the face of the marvelous, and when it perceives it, tries to rely on the memory of banal phenomena. Like anyone else would have, I supposed that I’d met a swimmer. Moving cautiously, I pulled myself up to her level, leaned toward her, and held out my hands to help her aboard. Instead she rose with astonishing strength straight out of the water to her waist, encircled my neck with her arms, wrapping me in a never before experienced perfume, and allowed herself to be pulled into the boat. Her body below the groin, below the buttocks, was that of a fish, covered with tiny pearly blue scales and ending in a forked tail that slapped gently against the bottom of the boat. She was a Siren.

“She lay back, resting her head on interlaced fingers, displaying with serene immodesty the delicate little hairs of her armpits, her splayed breasts, her perfect stomach. She exuded what I have clumsily referred to as a perfume, a magical smell of the sea, of decidedly youthful sensuality. We were in the shade but twenty yards from us the seashore reveled in the sun and quivered with pleasure. My near-complete nudity ill concealed my own emotion.

“She spoke and thus was I overwhelmed, after her smile and smell, by the third and greatest of her charms: her voice. It was a bit guttural, husky, resounding with countless harmonics; behind the words could be discerned the sluggish undertow of summer seas, the whisper of receding beach foam, the wind passing over lunar tides. The song of the Sirens, Corbera, does not exist; the music that cannot be escaped is their voice alone.

“She spoke Greek and I struggled to understand her. ‘I heard you speaking to yourself in a language similar to my own. I like you: take me. I am Lighea, daughter of Calliope. Don’t believe the stories about us. We don’t kill anyone, we only love.’

Il caldo era violento anche ad Augusta ma, non più riverberato da mura, produceva non più una prostrazione bestiale ma una sorta di sommessa euforia, ed il sole, smessa la grinta sua di carnefice, si accontentava di essere un ridente se pur brutale donatore di energie, ed anche un mago che incastonava diamanti mobili in ogni più lieve increspatura del mare. Lo studio aveva cessato di essere una fatica: al dondolio leggero della barca nella quale restavo lunghe ore, ogni libro sembrava non più un ostacolo da superare ma anzi una chiave che mi aprisse il passaggio ad un mondo del quale avevo già sotto gli occhi uno degli aspetti più maliosi. Spesso mi capitava di scandire ad alta voce versi dei poeti e i nomi di quegli Dei dimenticati, ignorati dai più, sfioravano di nuovo la superficie di quel mare che un tempo, al solo udirli, si sollevava in tumulto o placava in bonaccia.

“Questo venne a compiersi la mattina del cinque Agosto, alle sei. Mi ero svegliato da poco ed ero subito salito in barca; pochi colpi di remo mi avevano allontanato dai ciottoli della spiaggia e mi ero fermato sotto un roccione la cui ombra mi avrebbe protetto dal sole che già saliva, gonfio di bella furia, e mutava in oro e azzurro il candore del mare aurorale. Declamavo, quando sentii un brusco abbassamento dell’orlo della barca, a destra, dietro di me, come se qualcheduno vi si fosse aggrappato per salire. Mi voltai e la vidi: il volto liscio di una sedicenne emergeva dal mare, due piccole mani stringevano il fasciame. Quell’adolescente sorrideva, una leggera piega scostava le labbra pallide e lasciava intravedere dentini aguzzi e bianchi, come quelli dei cani. Non era però uno di quei sorrisi come se ne vedono fra voialtri, sempre imbastarditi da un’espressione accessoria, di benevolenza o d’ironia, di pietà, crudeltà o quel che sia; esso esprimeva soltanto se stesso, cioè una quasi bestiale gioia di esistere, una quasi divina letizia. Questo sorriso fu il primo dei sortilegi che agisse su di me rivelandomi paradisi di dimenticate serenità. Dai disordinati capelli color di sole l’acqua del mare colava sugli occhi verdi apertissimi, sui lineamenti d’infantile purezza.

“La nostra ombrosa ragione, per quanto predisposta, s’inalbera dinanzi al prodigio e quando ne avverte uno cerca di appoggiarsi al ricordo di fenomeni banali; come chiunque altro volli credere di aver incontrato una bagnante e, muovendomi con precauzione, mi portai all’altezza di lei, mi curvai, le tesi le mani per farla salire. Ma essa, con stupefacente vigoria emerse diritta dall’acqua sino alla cintola, mi cinse il collo con le braccia, mi avvolse in un profumo mai sentito, si lasciò scivolare nella barca: sotto l’inguine, sotto i glutei il suo corpo era quello di un pesce, rivestito di minutissime squame madreperlacee e azzurre, e terminava in una coda biforcuta che batteva lenta il fondo della barca. Era una Sirena.

“Riversa poggiava la testa sulle mani incrociate, mostrava con tranquilla impudicizia i delicati peluzzi sotto le ascelle, i seni divaricati, il ventre perfetto; da lei saliva quel che ho mal chiamato un profumo, un odore magico di mare, di voluttà giovanissima. Eravamo in ombra ma a venti metri da noi la marina si abbandonava al sole e fremeva di piacere. La mia nudità quasi totale nascondeva male la propria emozione.

“Parlava e così fui sommerso, dopo quello del sorriso e dell’odore, dal terzo, maggiore sortilegio, quello della voce. Essa era un po’ gutturale, velata, risuonante di armonici innumerevoli; come sfondo alle parole in essa si avvertivano le risacche impigrite dei mari estivi, il fruscio delle ultime spume sulle spiagge, il passaggio dei venti sulle onde lunari. Il canto delle Sirene, Corbèra, non esiste: la musica cui non si sfugge è quella sola della loro voce.

“Parlava greco e stentavo molto a capirlo. ‘Ti sentivo parlare da solo in una lingua simile alla mia; mi piaci, prendimi. Sono Lighea, sono figlia di Calliope. Non credere alle favole inventate su di noi: non uccidiamo nessuno, amiamo soltanto.’

Like Shakespeare says, some damn thing about sticking a mere pin in through the armor, and goodbye king

The line is from Phillip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch:

What we have here, he realized, is not an invasion of Earth by Proxmen, beings from another system. Not an invasion by the legions of a pseudo human race. No. It’s Palmer Eldritch who’s everywhere, growing and growing like a mad weed. Is there a point where he’ll burst, grow too much? All the manifestations of Eldritch, all over Terra and Luna and Mars, Palmer puffing up and bursting–pop, pop, POP! Like Shakespeare says, some damn thing about sticking a mere pin in through the armor, and goodbye king.

The Shakespeare passage referenced is one of Richard’s more famous speeches in Richard II (3.2):

No matter where; of comfort no man speak:
Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth,
Let’s choose executors and talk of wills:
And yet not so, for what can we bequeath
Save our deposed bodies to the ground?
Our lands, our lives and all are Bolingbroke’s,
And nothing can we call our own but death
And that small model of the barren earth
Which serves as paste and cover to our bones.
For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear’d and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable, and humour’d thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!

Cover your heads and mock not flesh and blood
With solemn reverence: throw away respect,
Tradition, form and ceremonious duty,
For you have but mistook me all this while:
I live with bread like you, feel want,
Taste grief, need friends: subjected thus,
How can you say to me, I am a king?

Radical pessimism turns out to be much like optimism

From Guido Morselli’s Dissipatio H.G. (ch 10):

Mylius (former paranoid) had a bleak and irrefutable hypothesis, funereally reassuring.

Human beings were half-dead even while they were alive, he held. My talk with Mylius comes back to me only now, dug up by my discussion with myself on the presentiment, the itinerarium mentis.

It was an April morning. We were having coffee on the terrace at the Hôtel Zemmi; the view was festive (snow and sun), and we were feasting our eyes on a Sachertorte layered with whipped cream. Why the old man chose that moment to expound his philosophy, I have no idea. A portent?

Mylius: Let us begin with a realistic notion of what “being dead” means to us. Impassive so far as the outside world goes, insensible, indifferent. If we agree that this is death, then life is similar, the difference between the two merely quantitative. Ideally, life ought to be learning, experience, interests, but you know very well that measured against that ideal of life (in any case never fully realized), measured against a theoretically possible multiplicity of experiences or relations, each of us is not much more than a dead man. Death signifies impassibility, yet ignorance and forgetfulness or the tendency to forget, reduce the living—in terms of nearly all the possible experiences and relations—to a similar impassibility. We are dead to everything that doesn’t touch us or doesn’t interest us. I don’t mean what’s happening on the Moon, but what’s happening in the house just across the road. Of the myriad events taking place every day in our own human sphere, we know of only a few, a few dozen, shall we say, and most of them indirectly, via the news. We speak, badly, one language of the 3,000 spoken on Earth. Biological death, then, is the perfecting of a state we already occupy.

Me: My biological death makes me impassible to myself, the private individual, but while I live whatever affects me, the private individual, is something I suffer or enjoy. Greatly!

Mylius: There’s no reason the private individual should be the privileged object of experience. Everything that is real can be experienced, but we’re incapable of achieving that, and if as seems right, that is how life should be measured, we don’t have very much of it. It’s understandable that we console ourselves with the thought that not very much, however little, is precious and important to us, but it doesn’t make things better.

Me: Perhaps. But that “not very much” will suffice for me.

Mylius: Consider the blindness of a dead man and that of a living person. What is the difference? Our ignorance, and thus indifference, impassibility, confronted with almost all the possible “data” or even with the sum of others’ experiences, those of our own kind—that ignorance amounts to a genuine blindfold. That data, those experiences don’t exist for us, and we don’t for them. No matter that for other individuals, they are the very plot of daily life; we, here, are dead, and it’s pointless to call that death metaphorical. It’s a partial death, but real.

Me: Life is motion; death, torpor.

Mylius: There’s no denying the distinction between the two states. Certainly, life is movement. But it is a circular motion (around that tiny nucleus called the self), motion so circumscribed that it’s like a piétiner sur place: a tapping of your heels in place while surrounded by a large circle of shade of all that escapes our cognition, and of which we desire no cognition. And I’m not referring to the knowable, and even less to the mystery of the universe, I’m referring to petty reality, and as I said, that closest to us.

We may talk of the individual’s life dynamism, of his nearly infinite multiplicity of relationships, or experiences. But we must face the fact that this is rhetoric. Each of us is limited to his own tiny fragment of reality, and in fact, cannot escape it. The contrasting rhetoric, about incommunicability, is true only in this sense. Acting, learning, observing: these functions lead us around in circles. And, please note, we are individuals, coherent, stable (even physically), thanks to this. Surrounded by the possible, which almost never materializes, but closed to and distant from that immensity—lucky for us or we would fritter ourselves away. Determination is negation; as individuals we must have these strict confines, we must exclude, close off. And thus life, anyway our life, is awfully similar to what we call its opposite.

Me: Not a happy tale.

Mylius: Not happy? Actually it’s comforting, considering that we all have to die. You, too, even though you are still young. Or do you think you’ll be an exception?

Me: Certainly not. (As you can see I was anything but prescient just then.)

Mylius: Think about ataraxia, or utter equanimity, the supreme form of spiritual life for the Stoics, the Buddhists, the ascetic Christians. Such detachment before moral and physical ills is a taste of the dead man’s impassability. In any case, secular man strives to be imperturbable, impassive, before death; it’s the extreme toward which the hero, the man gifted with courage, the real man, aims. It’s spelled out explicitly in the famous expression perinde ac cadaver, in the manner of a corpse. You know the one about the soldier, observing his dead companion out in front of the trench, who says: “Look at that, he’s the bravest, lying there under the machine-gun fire calmly looking up at the heavens.” There’s nothing offensive about that remark, it’s profound.

Thus Mylius, the philosopher, that April morning. All the better for him, actually; if he believed what he was saying, the Event will not have been a surprise, or painful for him. Radical pessimism turns out to be much like optimism.

Let me add that our philosopher was nearly sixty years old and hobbled by arthritis, that a few years back his wife had abandoned him and run off with an assistant, also a philosopher. Even so, philosophy had this going for it, it was anti-rhetorical. It debunked a pseudo-fatal antithesis probably unknown in nature. To some extent, that’s a consolation.

L’assunto di Mylius (ex-paranoico), era tetro e irrefutabile, fúnebremente rassicurante.

Gli uomini sarebbero semi-morti già mentre vivono. Ci ripenso solo ora alla chiacchierata di Mylius: a richiamarla è stato il discorso con me stesso, sull’ ‘ appressamento ‘, l’itinerarium mentis.

Una mattina d’aprile. Prendevamo il caffè sulla terrazza dell’Albergo Zemmi e la scena era festosamente neve-sole, la Sachertorte farcita alla panna si mangiava con gli occhi; non capisco perché il vecchio scegliesse quel momento per espormi la sua filosofia. Un presagio?

Mylius – Occorre partire dalla premessa realistica di ciò che significa per noi ‘ essere morti Imparte- cipazione al mondo esterno, insensibilità, indifferenza. Stabilito che la morte è questo, si conclude che la vita le assomiglia, il divario essendo puramente quantitativo. Idealmente, la vita dovrebbe essere apprendimento, esperienza, interessi, ma lei capisce che in confronto alla vita in questa sua ideale e non mai raggiunta pienezza, in confronto alla molteplicità delle esperienze (o relazioni) teoricamente possibili, ognuno di noi non è molto diverso da un morto. Il connotato del morto è l’impassibilità: ora l’ignoranza e (aggiunga) la dimenticanza o facilità a dimenticare, riducono noi vivi, per la quasi totalità delle esperienze (o relazioni) possibili, a una impassibilità analoga. Siamo morti a tutto ciò che non ci tocca o non c’interessa. Non dico a ciò che succede sulla Luna, ma a ciò che succede a coloro che stanno di casa dirimpetto a noi. Della miriade di eventi che si verificano ogni giorno nella nostra stessa sfera umana più prossima, ne conosciamo solo alcuni, qualche decina diciamo, e di solito indirettamente, attraverso un notiziario. Usiamo, e male, una lingua, delle 3.000 che si parlano nel mondo. Morire biologicamente, è il perfezionarsi di uno stato in cui ci troviamo già ora.

Io – Ma la mia morte biologica mi rende impassibile verso il mio privato individuo, e invece finché vivo, quel che riguarda il mio individuo lo soffro o lo godo, e come!

Mylius – Non c’è motivo per fare del nostro privato individuo un oggetto privilegiato di esperienza. Tutto quanto è reale può essere esperito, e noi non siamo capaci di ciò; se la vita, come è giusto, si deve misurare da ciò, ne abbiamo ben poca. Il consolarci dicendo che questo poco è importante per noi, o prezioso, è un atteggiamento comprensibile, che però non migliora la situazione.

Io – Può darsi. Ma a me basterebbe quel poco.

Mylius – Consideri la cecità di un morto e la cecità di un vivente. Che differenza c’è? La nostra ignoranza e quindi indifferenza, impassibilità, rispetto alla quasi totalità dei ‘ dati ‘ possibili, o anche rispetto alle effettive esperienze altrui, ossia dei nostri simili, è autentica occlusione. Quei dati, quelle esperienze, ‘ non ci sono ‘ per noi, e noi non ci siamo per essi. Non importa che, per altri individui, essi costituiscano la trama del ‘ quotidiano ‘ : noi, qui, siamo morti, e non c’è ragione di chiamare tale morte ‘ metaforica ‘. È morte parziale, ma reale.

Io – La vita è moto, la morte immobilità.

Mylius – Non si nega la distinzione fra i due stati: certo, la vita è movimento. Un moto, però, circolare (intorno a quel piccolo nucleo che si chiama ‘ io ‘), un moto talmente circoscritto che assomiglia a un piétiner sur place. Circoscritto dal gran cerchio d’ombra di tutto quello che sfugge alla nostra cognizione, o di cui non c’interessa avere cognizione. E non alludo allo scibile, né tanto meno al ‘ mistero dell’universo ‘, alludo a ciò che rappresenta la realtà spicciola e, come le dicevo, la più vicina a noi.

Parliamo pure di dinamismo vitale dell’individuo, di molteplicità virtualmente infinita di relazioni, o di esperienze. Ma rendiamoci conto che è retorica. Ognuno è vincolato a un suo minuscolo frammento di realtà, e, di fatto, non ne esce. La retorica opposta, quella della incomunicabilità, solo in questo senso si giustifica. Non soltanto l’agire ma anche l’apprendere, il sentire, sono funzioni per cui ci aggiriamo in tondo. E, lei noti, siamo individui, manteniamo una coerenza e una stabilità (anche organica), proprio in grazie di questo. Intorno c’è il possibile, che non diventa quasi mai reale (per noi), e a quella immensità siamo chiusi e remoti: per fortuna nostra, poiché altrimenti ci disperderemmo. Determinazione è negazione, il nostro status d’individui richiede questi stretti confini, noi siamo fatti di esclusioni, di occlusioni. Ma questo fa sì che alla vita, perlomeno la nostra, ciò che chiamiamo il suo contrario le assomigli molto.

Io – Non è allegro.

Mylius – Non è allegro? Anzi, è confortante visto che a morire dobbiamo arrivarci tutti. Lei compreso, benché sia ancora giovine. O crede di fare eccezione?

Io – No di certo. (In quel momento, è chiaro che io non ero presago).

Mylius – Pensi alla atarassia o impertubabilità, in cui consiste il culmine della vita spirituale per lo stoicismo, il buddhismo, l’ascesi cristiana. Tale indifferenza di fronte ai mali morali o fisici, anticipa la impassibilità del morto. Ma, già per il laico, l’imperturbabilità o impassibilità della morte è la condizione-limite a cui tende l’eroe, l’uomo, comunque, dotato di coraggio, il vero uomo. Il che è affermato esplicitamente nella famosa formula ‘perinde ac ca- daver ‘. Lei conosce la storiella di quel soldato che dice, osservando un suo compagno morto davanti alla trincea: vedi un po’, quello è il più bravo di tutti, se ne sta lì disteso sotto il fuoco della mitraglia, a guardare tranquillo il cielo. – La storiella non è irriverente, è profonda.

Fin qui il filosofo Mylius, quella mattina d’aprile. Meglio per lui, del resto: se era convinto della sua tesi, l’Evento per lui non sarà stato né sorprendente né doloroso. Il pessimismo radicale sconfina nell’ottimismo.

Andrebbe aggiunto che il mio filosofo aveva quasi sessant’anni, che un’artrosi lo inchiodava, che qualche anno fa la moglie lo aveva piantato per scappare con un assistente, della sua stessa cattedra. Con tutto ciò, quella filosofia aveva un merito, si metteva contro la retorica. Sfatava un’antitesi pseudo-fa- tale, probabilmente ignota alla natura. Io posso sì, in qualche misura, confortarmene.

A complete catalog of Bokononisms

From Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, all quotes attributed to Bokonon and all lines referencing Bokonon’s thought (fragments and testimonia, for classicists). These are given in order of appearance.

“Live by the foma* that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.” The Books of Bokonon. I: 5 * Harmless untruths

Chapter 1
We Bokononists believe that humanity is organized into teams, teams that do God’s Will without ever discovering what they are doing. Such a team is called a karass by Bokonon, and the instrument, the kan-kan, that brought me into my own particular karass was the book I never finished, the book to be called The Day the World Ended.

Chapter 2
“If you find your life tangled up with somebody else’s life for no very logical reasons,” writes Bokonon, “that person may be a member of your karass.” At another point in The Books of Bokonon he tells us, “Man created the checkerboard; God created the karass.” By that he means that a karass ignores national, institutional, occupational, familial, and class boundaries. It is as free-form as an amoeba. In his “Fifty-third Calypso,” Bokonon invites us to sing along with him:

Oh, a sleeping drunkard
Up in Central Park,
And a lion-hunter In the jungle dark,
And a Chinese dentist,
And a British queen—
All fit together
In the same machine.
Nice, nice, very nice;
Nice, nice, very nice;
Nice, nice, very nice—
So many different people In the same device.

Chapter 3
In the autobiographical section of The Books of Bokonon he writes a parable on the folly of pretending to discover, to understand:

I once knew an Episcopalian lady in Newport, Rhode Island, who asked me to design and build a doghouse for her Great Dane. The lady claimed to understand God and His Ways of Working perfectly. She could not understand why anyone should be puzzled about what had been or about what was going to be. And yet, when I showed her a blueprint of the doghouse I proposed to build, she said to me, “I’m sorry, but I never could read one of those things.” “Give it to your husband or your minister to pass on to God,” I said, “and, when God finds a minute, I’m sure he’ll explain this doghouse of mine in a way that even you can understand.” She fired me. I shall never forget her. She believed that God liked people in sailboats much better than He liked people in motorboats. She could not bear to look at a worm. When she saw a worm, she screamed. She was a fool, and so am I, and so is anyone who thinks he sees what God is Doing, [writes Bokonon].

Chapter 4
I should like to offer a Bokononist warning about it, however. The first sentence in The Books of Bokonon is this: “All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies.” My Bokononist warning is this: Anyone unable to understand how a useful religion can be founded on lies will not understand this book either.

Chapter 9
I suppose Dr. Breed was a member of my karass, too, though he took a dislike to me almost immediately. “Likes and dislikes have nothing to do with it,” says Bokonon—an easy warning to forget.

Chapter 10
As it happened—“as it was meant to happen,” Bokonon would say

Chapter 13
“Ah, God,” says Bokonon, “what an ugly city every city is!”

Chapter 18
“Nothing generous about it. New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.” Had I been a Bokononist then, that statement would have made me howl.

Chapter 24
Which brings me to the Bokononist concept of a wampeter. A wampeter is the pivot of a karass. No karass is without a wampeter, Bokonon tells us, just as no wheel is without a hub. Anything can be a wampeter: a tree, a rock, an animal, an idea, a book, a melody, the Holy Grail. Whatever it is, the members of its karass revolve about it in the majestic chaos of a spiral nebula. The orbits of the members of a karass about their common wampeter are spiritual orbits, naturally. It is souls and not bodies that revolve. As Bokonon invites us to sing:
Around and around and around we spin,
With feet of lead and wings of tin …

And wampeters come and wampeters go, Bokonon tells us. At any given time a karass actually has two wampeters—one waxing in importance, one waning.

Chapter 25
“Dr. Breed keeps telling me the main thing with Dr. Hoenikker was truth.” “You don’t seem to agree.” “I don’t know whether I agree or not. I just have trouble understanding how truth, all by itself, could be enough for a person.” Miss Faust was ripe for Bokononism.

Chapter 31
As a Bokononist, of course, I would have agreed gaily to go anywhere anyone suggested. As Bokonon says: “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”

Chapter 32
Had I been a Bokononist then, pondering the miraculously intricate chain of events that had brought dynamite money to that particular tombstone company, I might have whispered, “Busy, busy, busy.”

Busy, busy, busy, is what we Bokononists whisper whenever we think of how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life really is.

Chapter 34
… vin-dit, a Bokononist word meaning a sudden, very personal shove in the direction of Bokononism, in the direction of believing that God Almighty knew all about me, after all, that God Almighty had some pretty elaborate plans for me.

Chapter 36
A wrang-wrang, according to Bokonon, is a person who steers people away from a line of speculation by reducing that line, with the example of the wrang-wrang’s own life, to an absurdity.

Chapter 40
As it happened —“As it was supposed to happen,” Bokonon would say—I

Chapter 41
a flawless example of what Bokonon calls a duprass, which is a karass composed of only two persons. “A true duprass,” Bokonon tells us, “can’t be invaded, not even by children born of such a union.” Bokonon tells us, incidentally, that members of a duprass always die within a week of each other.

Chapter 42
a textbook example of a false karass, of a seeming team that was meaningless in terms of the ways God gets things done, a textbook example of what Bokonon calls a granfalloon. Other examples of granfalloons are the Communist party, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Electric Company, the International Order of Odd Fellows—and any nation, anytime, anywhere. As Bokonon invites us to sing along with him:

If you wish to study a granfalloon,
Just remove the skin of a toy balloon.

Chapter 46
The words were a paraphrase of the suggestion by Jesus: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s.” Bokonon’s paraphrase was this: “Pay no attention to Caesar. Caesar doesn’t have the slightest idea what’s really going on.”

Chapter 47
It was the belief of Bokonon that good societies could be built only by pitting good against evil, and by keeping the tension between the two high at all times. And, in Castle’s book, I read my first Bokononist poem, or “Calypso.” It went like this: “

Papa” Monzano, he’s so very bad,
But without bad “Papa” I would be so sad;
Because without “Papa’s” badness,
Tell me, if you would,
How could wicked old Bokonon
Ever, ever look good?

Chapter 48
As a youth, for all his interest in the outward trappings of organized religion, he seems to have been a carouser, for he invites us to sing along with him in his “Fourteenth Calypso”:

When I was young,
I was so gay and mean,
And I drank and chased the girls
Just like young St. Augustine.
Saint Augustine,
He got to be a saint.
So, if I get to be one, also,
Please, Mama, don’t you faint.

Chapter 49
But a gale hounded the schooner onto the rocks of San Lorenzo. The boat went down. Johnson and McCabe, absolutely naked, managed to swim ashore. As Bokonon himself reports the adventure:

A fish pitched up
By the angry sea,
I gasped on land,
And I became me.

He was enchanted by the mystery of coming ashore naked on an unfamiliar island. He resolved to let the adventure run its full course, resolved to see just how far a man might go, emerging naked from salt water.

It was a rebirth for him:

Be like a baby,
The Bible say,
So I stay like a baby
To this very day.
How he came by the name of Bokonon was very simple. “Bokonon” was the pronunciation given the name Johnson in the island’s English dialect.

Chapter 55
A duprass, Bokonon tells us, is a valuable instrument for gaining and developing, in the privacy of an interminable love affair, insights that are queer but true. The Mintons’ cunning exploration of indexes was surely a case in point. A duprass, Bokonon tells us, is also a sweetly conceited establishment. The Mintons’ establishment was no exception.

Chapter 56
From the “Calypsos” again:

Oh, a very sorry people, yes,
Did I find here.
Oh, they had no music,
And they had no beer.
And, oh, everywhere
Where they tried to perch
Belonged to Castle Sugar, Incorporated,
Or the Catholic church.

Chapter 58
“There was at least one quality of the new conquerors of San Lorenzo that was really new,” wrote young Castle. “McCabe and Johnson dreamed of making San Lorenzo a Utopia.

“To this end, McCabe overhauled the economy and the laws.

“Johnson designed a new religion.”

Castle quoted the “Calypsos” again:

I wanted all things
To seem to make some sense,
So we all could be happy, yes,
Instead of tense.
And I made up lies
So that they all fit nice,
And I made this sad world
A par-a-dise.

Chapter 63
At a limp, imperious signal from “Papa,” the crowd sang the San Lorenzan National Anthem. Its melody was “Home on the Range.” The words had been written in 1922 by Lionel Boyd Johnson, by Bokonon. The words were these:

Oh, ours is a land
Where the living is grand,
And the men are as fearless as sharks;
The women are pure,
And we always are sure
That our children will all toe their marks.
San, San Lo-ren-zo!
What a rich, lucky island are we!
Our enemies quail,
For they know they will fail
Against people so reverent and free.

Chapter 64
In The Books of Bokonon she is mentioned by name. One thing Bokonon says of her is this: “Mona has the simplicity of the all.”

Chapter 72
the Bokononist ritual of boko-maru, or the mingling of awarenesses. We Bokononists believe that it is impossible to be sole-to-sole with another person without loving the person, provided the feet of both persons are clean and nicely tended. The basis for the foot ceremony is this “Calypso”:

We will touch our feet, yes,
Yes, for all we’re worth,
And we will love each other, yes,
Yes, like we love our Mother Earth.

Chapter 78
“When Bokonon and McCabe took over this miserable country years ago,” said Julian Castle, “they threw out the priests.And then Bokonon, cynically and playfully, invented a new religion.” “I know.” I said. “Well, when it became evident that no governmental or economic reform was going to make the people much less miserable, the religion became the one real instrument of hope. Truth was the enemy of the people, because the truth was so terrible, so Bokonon made it his business to provide the people with better and better lies.” “How did he come to be an outlaw?” “It was his own idea. He asked McCabe to outlaw him and his religion, too, in order to give the religious life of the people more zest, more tang. He wrote a little poem about it, incidentally.” Castle quoted this poem, which does not appear in The Books of Bokonon:

So I said good-bye to government,
And I gave my reason:
That a really good religion
Is a form of treason.

“Bokonon suggested the hook, too, as the proper punishment for Bokononists,” he said. “It was something he’d seen in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussaud’s.” He winked ghoulishly. “That was for zest, too.”

Chapter 81
“Don’t try,” he said. “Just pretend you understand.”
“That’s—that’s very good advice,” I went limp.

Castle quoted another poem:

Tiger got to hunt,
Bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder,
“Why, why, why?”
Tiger got to sleep,
Bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand.

“What’s that from?” I asked. “What could it possibly be from but The Books of Bokonon?”

Chapter 82
So I asked Julian Castle what zah-mah-ki-bo meant. “You want a simple answer or a whole answer?” “Let’s start with a simple one.” “Fate—inevitable destiny.”

Chapter 85
I learned of the Bokononist cosmogony, for instance, wherein Borasisi, the sun, held Pabu, the moon, in his arms, and hoped that Pabu would bear him a fiery child. But poor Pabu gave birth to children that were cold, that did not burn; and Borasisi threw them away in disgust. These were the planets, who circled their terrible father at a safe distance. Then poor Pabu herself was cast away, and she went to live with her favorite child, which was Earth. Earth was Pabu’s favorite because it had people on it; and the people looked up at her and loved her and sympathized. And what opinion did Bokonon hold of his own cosmogony? “Foma! Lies!” he wrote. “A pack of foma!”

Chapter 88
“Maturity,” Bokonon tells us, “is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything.”

Chapter 89
Duffle, in the Bokononist sense, is the destiny of thousands upon thousands of persons when placed in the hands of a stuppa. A stuppa is a fogbound child.

Chapter 90
All things conspired to form one cosmic vin-dit, one mighty shove into Bokononism, into the belief that God was running my life and that He had work for me to do.
And, inwardly, I sarooned, which is to say that I acquiesced to the seeming demands of my vin-dit.

Chapter 93
“A sin-wat!” she cried. “A man who wants all of somebody’s love. That’s very bad.”

Chapter 94
“What is sacred to Bokononists?” I asked after a while. “Not even God, as near as I can tell.” “Nothing?” “Just one thing.” I made some guesses. “The ocean? The sun?” “Man,” said Frank. “That’s all. Just man.”

Chapter 102
Bokonon’s “hundred-and-nineteenth Calypso,” wherein he invites us to sing along with him:

“Where’s my good old gang done gone?”
I heard a sad man say.
I whispered in that sad man’s ear,
“Your gang’s done gone away.”

Chapter 102
As Bokonon tells us, “It is never a mistake to say good-bye.”

Chapter 104
Bokonon tells us:

A lover’s a liar,
To himself he lies.
The truthful are loveless,
Like oysters their eyes!

Chapter 105
“Write it all down,” Bokonon tells us. He is really telling us, of course, how futile it is to write or read histories. “Without accurate records of the past, how can men and women be expected to avoid making serious mistakes in the future?” he asks ironically.

Chapter 106
And then ‘Papa’ said, ‘Now I will destroy the whole world.’” “What did he mean by that?” “It’s what Bokononists always say when they are about to commit suicide.”

Chapter 107
Well, as Bokonon tells us: “God never wrote a good play in His Life.”

Chapter 110
“Sometimes the Pool-Pah,” Bokonon tells us, “exceeds the power of humans to comment.” Bokonon translates pool-pah at one point in The Books of Bokonon as “shit storm” and at another point as “wrath of God.”

Chapter 110
And I remembered The Fourteenth Book of Bokonon? which I had read in its entirety the night before. The Fourteenth Book is entitled, “What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?” It doesn’t take long to read The Fourteenth Book. It consists of one word and a period. This is it: “Nothing.”

Chapter 111
But, as Bokonon tells us, “Any man can call time out, but no man can say how long the time out will be.”

Chapter 113
“History!” writes Bokonon. “Read it and weep!”

Chapter 118
The sixth book of The Books of Bokonon is devoted to pain, in particular to tortures inflicted by men on men. “If I am ever put to death on the hook,” Bokonon warns us, “expect a very human performance.” Then he speaks of the rack and the peddiwinkus and the iron maiden and the veglia and the oubliette.

In any case, there’s bound to be much crying.
But the oubliette alone will let you think while dying.

Chapter 118
I turned to The Books of Bokonon, still sufficiently unfamiliar with them to believe that they contained spiritual comfort somewhere. I passed quickly over the warning on the title page of The First Book:

“Don’t be a fool! Close this book at once! It is nothing but foma!”

Foma, of course, are lies. And then I read this: In the beginning, God created the earth, and he looked upon it in His cosmic loneliness. And God said, “Let Us make living creatures out of mud, so the mud can see what We have done.” And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak. God leaned close as mud as man sat up, looked around, and spoke. Man blinked. “What is the purpose of all this?” he asked politely. “Everything must have a purpose?” asked God. “Certainly,” said man. “Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this,” said God. And He went away.

I thought this was trash. “Of course it’s trash!” says Bokonon.

Chapter 119
“Today I will be a Bulgarian Minister of Education,” Bokonon tells us. “Tomorrow I will be Helen of Troy.” His meaning is crystal clear: Each one of us has to be what he or she is.

Chapter 120
We found a boulder in it. And under the boulder was a penciled note which said: To whom it may concern: These people around you are almost all of the survivors on San Lorenzo of the winds that followed the freezing of the sea. These people made a captive of the spurious holy man named Bokonon. They brought him here, placed him at their center, and commanded him to tell them exactly what God Almighty was up to and what they should now do. The mountebank told them that God was surely trying to kill them, possibly because He was through with them, and that they should have the good manners to die. This, as you can see, they did. The note was signed by Bokonon.

Chapter 121
“What a cynic!” I gasped. I looked up from the note and gazed around the death-filled bowl. “Is he here somewhere?”

“I do not see him,” said Mona mildly. She wasn’t depressed or angry. In fact, she seemed to verge on laughter. “He always said he would never take his own advice, because he knew it was worthless.”

Chapter 124
I walked away from Frank, just as The Books of Bokonon advised me to do. “Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before,” Bokonon tells us. “He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.”

Chapter 125
When I hadn’t been writing, I’d been poring over The Books of Bokonon, but the reference to midgets had escaped me. I was grateful to Newt for calling it to my attention, for the quotation captured in a couplet the cruel paradox of Bokononist thought, the heartbreaking necessity of lying about reality, and the heartbreaking impossibility of lying about it.

Midget, midget, midget, how he struts and winks,
For he knows a man’s as big as what he hopes and thinks!

Chapter 126
But Bokonon had been there, too, had written a whole book about Utopias, The Seventh Book, which he called “Bokonon’s Republic.” In that book are these ghastly aphorisms:

The hand that stocks the drug stores rules the world.
Let us start our Republic with a chain of drug stores, a chain of grocery stores, a chain of gas chambers, and a national game. After that, we can write our Constitution.

Chapter 127
“Bokonon?” “Yes?” “May I ask what you’re thinking?” “I am thinking, young man, about the final sentence for The Books of Bokonon. The time for the final sentence has come.” “Any luck?” He shrugged and handed me a piece of paper. This is what I read:

If I were a younger man, I would write a history of human stupidity; and I would climb to the top of Mount McCabe and lie down on my back with my history for a pillow; and I would take from the ground some of the blue-white poison that makes statues of men; and I would make a statue of myself, lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who.

The entire universe is moving toward a final state of total, absolute kippleization

Advice for homeowners from Phillip K. Dicks’ Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep:

“Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday’s homeopape. When nobody’s around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up the next morning there’s twice as much of it. It always gets more and more.”

“I see.” The girl regarded him uncertainly, not knowing whether to believe him. Not sure if he meant it seriously.

“There’s the First Law of Kipple,” he said. “‘Kipple drives out nonkipple.’ Like Gresham’s law about bad money. And in these apartments there’s been nobody here to fight the kipple.”

“So it has taken over completely,” the girl finished. She nodded. “Now I understand.”

“Your place, here,” he said, “this apartment you’ve picked–it’s too kipple-ized to live in. We can roll the kipple-factor back; we can do like I said, raid the other apts. But–” He broke off.

“But what?”

Isidore said, “We can’t win.”

“Why not?”


“No one can win against kipple,” he said, “except temporarily and maybe in one spot, like in my apartment I’ve sort of created a stasis between the pressure of kipple and nonkipple, for the time being. But eventually I’ll die or go away, and then the kipple will again take over. It’s a universal principle operating throughout the universe; the entire universe is moving toward a final state of total, absolute kippleization.”

She was crying because she was not a wolf

The Wolf and the Dog From La Fontaine’s Fables (1.5). But Rousseau’s mention of this one in Emile is worth including first:

From the fable of the sleek dog and the starving wolf he learns a lesson of licence rather than the lesson of moderation which you profess to teach him. I shall never forget seeing a little girl weeping bitterly over this tale, which had been told her as a lesson in obedience. The poor child hated to be chained up; she felt the chain chafing her neck; she was crying because she was not a wolf.

Dans la fable du loup maigre et du chien gras, au lieu d’une leçon de modération qu’on prétend lui donner, il en prend une de licence. Je n’oublierai jamais d’avoir vu beaucoup pleurer une petite fille qu’on avait désolée avec cette fable, tout en lui prêchant toujours la docilité. On eut peine à savoir la cause de ses pleurs; on la sut enfin. La pauvre enfant s’ennuyait d’être à la chaîne, elle se sentait le cou pelé; elle pleurait de n ‘être pas loup.

A wolf was skin and bone; the dogs on guard
performed their duties well, and times were hard.
He chanced to meet a dog one day
who’d carelessly allowed himself to stray.
This dog was large, well-covered, trim,
and handsome; if Sir Wolf had had his way
he’d happily have torn him limb from limb;
but first there’d have to be a fight,
and since the mastiff, from the look of him,
was likely to defend himself with vigour,
the wolf decides it’s best to be polite,
approaches meekly, starts a conversation,
and compliments the dog; so fine a figure,
he says, deserves his admiration.
‘Fair Sir, the choice is yours,’ the dog responds;
‘you too could be well-fed like me. You should
abandon living in the wood;
your fellows there are paupers, vagabonds,
poor devils in a wretched state;
to starve to death will surely be their fate.
There nobody will serve you dinners free;
you get your food by violence and strife;
there’s no security. Come back with me;
you’ll have a much more comfortable life.’
‘What must I do, then?’ asked the wolf. ‘Not much,’
answered the dog; ‘just chase away
beggars and tramps who have a stick or crutch.
Upon the staff you fawn; the master you obey.
They give you in return a lot to eat:
all sorts of scraps, left-over meat,
with pigeon-bones and chicken-bones to chew.
They often stroke you and caress you too.’
The wolf reflects upon this life of ease,
and weeps to think it could be his to share.
They walk along together; then he sees,
around the other’s neck, a strip rubbed bare.
‘What’s that?’ he asks him. ‘Nothing.’ ‘What d’you mean,
it’s nothing?’ ‘Nothing much,’ the dog replied.
‘There’s something, all the same.’ ‘Perhaps you’ve seen
the mark my collar makes when I am tied.’
‘You’re tied?’ the wolf exclaimed. ‘You cannot go
wherever you might want?’ ‘Not always, no.
It’s not a thing I mind about.’
‘But I would mind; and so much so,’
the wolf said, ‘that I’ll do without
the meals you’re given. Eat your fill;
to make me want them at that price
no kind of treasure would suffice.’
With that, the wolf ran off; he’s running still.

Un Loup n’avait que les os et la peau ;
Tant les Chiens faisaient bonne garde.
Ce Loup rencontre un Dogue aussi puissant que beau,
Gras, poli, qui s’était fourvoyé par mégarde.
L’attaquer, le mettre en quartiers,
Sire Loup l’eût fait volontiers.
Mais il fallait livrer bataille
Et le Mâtin était de taille
A se défendre hardiment.
Le Loup donc l’aborde humblement,
Entre en propos, et lui fait compliment
Sur son embonpoint, qu’il admire.
Il ne tiendra qu’à vous, beau sire,
D’être aussi gras que moi, lui repartit le Chien.
Quittez les bois, vous ferez bien :
Vos pareils y sont misérables,
Cancres, haires, et pauvres diables,
Dont la condition est de mourir de faim.
Car quoi ? Rien d’assuré, point de franche lippée.
Tout à la pointe de l’épée.
Suivez-moi ; vous aurez un bien meilleur destin.
Le Loup reprit : Que me faudra-t-il faire ?
Presque rien, dit le Chien : donner la chasse aux gens
Portants bâtons, et mendiants;
Flatter ceux du logis, à son maître complaire ;
Moyennant quoi votre salaire
Sera force reliefs de toutes les façons:
Os de poulets, os de pigeons,
……..Sans parler de mainte caresse.
Le loup déjà se forge une félicité
Qui le fait pleurer de tendresse.
Chemin faisant il vit le col du Chien, pelé :
Qu’est-ce là ? lui dit-il. Rien. Quoi ? rien ? Peu de chose.
Mais encor ? Le collier dont je suis attaché
De ce que vous voyez est peut-être la cause.
Attaché ? dit le Loup : vous ne courez donc pas
Où vous voulez ? Pas toujours, mais qu’importe ?
Il importe si bien, que de tous vos repas
Je ne veux en aucune sorte,
Et ne voudrais pas même à ce prix un trésor.
Cela dit, maître Loup s’enfuit, et court encor.