I went to a party and corrected a pronunciation. The man whose voice I
had adjusted fell back into the kitchen. I praised a Bonnard. It was not a
Bonnard. My new glasses, I explained, and I'm terribly sorry, but
significant variations elude me, vodka exhausts me, I was young once,
essential services are being maintained. Drums, drums, drums, outside the
windows. I thought that if I could persuade you to say "No," then my own
responsibility would be limited, or changed, another sort of life would be
possible, different from the life we had previously, somewhat skeptically,
enjoyed together. But you had wandered off into another room, testing the
effect on members of the audience of your ruffled blouse, your long magenta
skirt. Giant hands, black, thick with fur, reaching in through the window.
Yes, it was King Kong, back in action, and all of the guests uttered loud
exclamations of fatigue and disgust, examining the situation in the light of
their own needs and emotions, hoping that the ape was real or papier-mache
according to their temperments, or wondering whether other excitements were
possible out in the crisp, white night.
"Did you see him?"
"Let us pray."
The important tasks of a society are often entrusted to people who
fatal flaws. Of course we tried hard, it was intelligent to do so,
extraordinary efforts were routine. Your zest was, and is, remarkable. But
carrying over into private life attitudes that have been successful in the
field of public administration is not, perhaps, a good idea. Zest is not
fun for everybody. I am aware that roles change. Kong himself is now an
adjunct professor of art history at Rutgers, co-author of a text on tomb
scupture; if he chooses to come to a party through the window he is simply
trying to make himself interesting. A lady spoke to me, she had in her hand
a bunch of cattleyas. "I have attempted to be agreeable," she said, "but
it's like teaching iron to swim, with this group." Zest is not fun for
everybody. When whippoorwills called, you answered. And then I would go
out, with the lantern, up and down the streets, knocking on doors, asking
perfect strangers if they had seen you. OK. That is certainly one way of
doing it. This is not a complaint. But wouldn't it be better to openly
acknowledge your utter reliance on work, on specific, carefully formulated
directions, agreeing that, yes, a certain amount of anesthesia is derived
from what other people would probably think of as some kind of career?
Excel if you want, but remember that there are gaps. You told me that you
had thought, as a young girl, that masturbation was "only for men."
Couldn't you be mistaken about other things, too?
The two sisters were looking at the television in the bedroom, on the
bed, amidst the coats and hats, umbrellas, airline bags. I gave them each a
drink and we watched the game together, the Osservatore Romano team vs. the
Diet of Worms, Worms leading by six points. I had never seen khaki-colored
punch before. The hostess said there would be word games afterward, some of
the people outside would be invited in, peasant food would be served in big
wooden bowls -- wine, chicken, olive oil, bread. Everything would improve,
she said. I could still hear, outside, the drums; whistles had been added,
and there were both whistles and drums. I was surprised. The present era,
with its emphasis on emotional cost control as well as its insistent, almost
annoying lucidity, does not favor splinter groups, because they can't win.
Small collective manifestations are OK insofar as they show "stretch marks"
-- traces of strain which tend to establish that public policy is not a
smooth, seamless achievement, like an egg, but has rather been hacked out at
some cost to the policymakers. Kong got to his feet. "Louise loves me," he
said, pointing to a girl, "but I would rather sleep with Cynthia Garmonsway.
It's just one of those things. Human experience is different, in some
ways, from ape experience, but that doesn't mean I don't like perfumed
nights, too." I know what he means. The mind carries you with it, away
from what you are supposed to do, toward things that cannot be explained
rationally, toward difficulty, lack of clarity, late-afternoon light.
"Francesca. Do you want to go?"
"I want to stay."
Now the sisters have begun taking their interminable showers, both
bathrooms are tied up, I must either pretend not to know them or accept the
blame. In the larger rooms tender fawns and pinks have replaced the earlier
drab, sad colors. I noticed that howls and rattles had been added to the
whistles and drums. Is it some kind of revolution? Maybe a revolution in
taste, as when Mannerism was overthrown by the Baroque. Kong is being
curried by Cynthia Garmonsway. She holds the steel curry comb in her right
hand and pulls it gently through the dark thick fur. Cynthia formerly
believed in the "enormous diversity of things"; now she believes in Kong.
The man whose pronunciation I had corrected emerged from the kitchen.
"Probably it is music," he said, nodding at the windows, "the new music,
which we older men are too old to understand.
You, of course, would never say such a thing to me, but you have said
worse things. You told me that Kafka was not a thinker, and that a
"genetic" approach to his work would disclose that much of it was only a
kind of very imaginative whining. That was during the period when you were
going in for wrecking operations, feeling, I suppose, that the integrity of
your own mental processes was best maintained by a series of strong,
unforgiving attacks. You made quite an impression on everyone, in those
days: you ruffled blouse, you long magenta skirt slit to the knee, the
dagger thrust into your boot. "Is that a metaphor?" I asked, pointing to
the dagger; you shook your head, smiled, said no. Now that you have had a
change of heart, now that you have joined us in finding Kafka and Kleist,
too, the awesome figures that we have agreed that they are, the older
faculty are more comfortable with you, are ready to promote you, marry you,
even if that is your wish. But you don't have to make up your mind tonight.
Relax and enjoy the party, to the extent that it is possible to do so;
is not over yet. THe game has ended, a news program has begun. "Emerald
mines in the northwest have been nationalized." A number of young people
standing in a meadow, holding hands, singing. Can the life of the time be
caught in an advertisement? Is that how it is, really, in the meadows of
And where are all the new people I have come here to meet? I have
only a lost child, dressed in rags, real rags, holding an iron hook attached
to a fifty-foot rope. I said, "What is that for?" The child said nothing,
placed the hook quietly on the floor at my feet, opened a bottle and
swallowed twenty aspirin. Is six too young for a suicide attempt? We fed
her milk, induced vomiting, the police arrived within minutes. When one has
spoken a lot one has already used up all of the ideas one has. You must
change the people you are speaking to so that you appear, to yourself, to be
still alive. But the people here don't look new; they look like
emerald-mine owners, or proprietors of some other sector of the economy that
something bad has just happened to. I'm afraid that going up to them and
saying "Travel light!", with a smile, will not really lift their spirits.
Why am I called upon to make them happier, when it is so obviously beyond my
competence? Francesca, you have selected the wrong partner, in me. You
made a mistake a long time ago. I am not even sure that I like you now.
But it is true that I cannot stop thinking about you, that every small daily
problem -- I will never be elected to the academy, Richelieu is against me
and d'Alembert is lukewarm -- is examined in the light of your possible
reaction, or displeasure. At one moment you say the Academy is a joke, at
another you are working industriously to sway Webster to my cause. Damned
capricious! In the silence, an alphorn sounds. THen the noise again,
drums, whistles, howls, rattles, alphorns. Attendants place heavy purple
veils or shroudes over statuary, chairs, the buffet table, members of the
orchestra. People are clustered in front of the bathroom holding the fine
deep-piled towels, vying to dry the beautiful sisters. The towels move
sensuously over the beautiful surfaces. I too could be excited by this
Dear Francesca, tell me, is this a successful party, in your view?
this the best we can do? I know that you have always wanted to meet Kong;
now that you have met him and he has said whatever he has said to you (I saw
you smiling), can we go home? I mean you to your home, me to my home, all
these others to their own homes, cells, cages? I am feeling a little
ragged. What made us think that we could escape things like bankruptcy,
alcoholism, being disappointed, haing children. Say "No," refuse me once
and for all, let me try something else. Of course we did everything right,
insofar as we were able to imagine what "right" was. Is is really important
to know that this movie is fine, and that one terrible, and to talk
intelligently about the difference? Wonderful elegance! No good at all!