Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Descants on this enchanted frequency

I have one good thing to say about post-op convalescence: all that time to read!

I finally knocked out the new Victor Serge novel - well, newly translated (by Richard Greeman); the writer died a hounded, exiled Communist in Mexico in 1947. Unforgiving Years is aptly titled: It's about the death throes of the dream of revolutionary Communism.

The action and point of view are splintered among several revolutionists in several European theaters of war, in Mexico and in the U.S. (which looks like babes in toyland to haunted Communist eyes). The book's most lyrical stuff describes a bombed-out German city, where revolutionary double agents wait out the Allied bombing campaign with half-hearted Nazis, whole-hearted Nazis, and a bunch of ordinary Germans jammed up in it without much of a choice.

Throughout, the characters are more like instruments in an orchestra than people whose lives change in instructive ways. The one that wants to leap off the page into a film is a disabled German vet known as "Minus-Two" (for the number of limbs he is missing). Let's walk with him as he leaves the underground bomb shelter.

"Minus-Two hauled himself up the stairs, limped along a narrow corridor, skirted a bulwark of sandbags, struck the high notes of a piano keyboard with his prosthesis as he went by, making it blurt out a cracked lament, listened to this fragment of lied fade away, and continued on, with a little apprehension now because there was always a risk that the entrance to the underground might be blocked by fresh debris. It wasn't: silvery clouds opened against a dusting of stars. Minus-Two whistled between his teeth the triumphal march of King Frederick's fifes."

I see Werner Herzog is getting ready to make a crime drama with Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes. When he is finished with that, he should sink his teeth into Minus-Two! Serge's wartorn children also seem to have crawled out from under a Werner Herzog shoot:

"On sunny the mornings the children emerged in their clean clothes like baby scorpions scuttling out from under a stone to bask in the heat; out came the children to roll marbles, throw balls, skip rope, and play war. They played at escaped prisoners, who were chased, caught, and solemnly shot, yet despite the inevitability of this outcome, they all wanted to be the prisoner ..."

Minus-Two's departure into philosophy during an all clear reminded me of listening to Herzog muse about "the jungle" during the making of his great films with Klaus Kinski:

"The earth has a phosphorence all its own. The crutch, the cane, and the iron tip of the prosthesis added nothing to the scattered sounds of solitude. Stones fell of their own accord. The nocturnal rustlings of the city were like those of a forest: they filled the silence with a minute tremor that was the very substance of silence. The vibration of a spring night in the Black Forest orchestrates the beating of wings, the cries of animals seeking one another out or simply expressing their joy to be alive, the pricking of deer hooves along paths known only to them, the fall of dead branches, the hum of the wind ... And there can be no doubt that the respiration of leaves, the radiance of the stars, the thrust of roots through the soil, the rising saps must chime in with subtle, essential descants on this enchanted frequency."

I also speed-read a book that seems to prove that Christopher Columbus the Italian was actually Cristofer Colom the Catalan. But that's another story!


Image by Monstromo, who gets the Colom of Catalonia book next.

1 comment:

Brett said...

You said, "sink his teeth into".