BORDER LINES

Mankind, as is well known, has made giant leaps in space as well as drawn major lines on earth. Our kind is out for limits – then, to transgress these.

 

If we may believe Bataille, the French philosopher and eroticist, not to transgress such limits would reduce us to utter mediocrity and boredom, if not reducing us to melancholy; or in the philosopher’s own language, to ennui. Phrasing it more dialectically: limits, according to his philosophy, are merely invented to be transgressed; otherwise, they will simply reduce us to tamed, subdued animals.

 

There is a snag, though, in Bataille’s Philosophy of Transgression. If pursued, each transgression is necessarily, because logically so, also the last one of its kind, thus forcing its seeker to immediately go for a new limit. Besides this being rather tiresome, our simple world does not seem to offer an endless range of limits. Faced with a lack of new possibilities, at some point we would be forced to throw ourselves over that final cliff, like Lemmings leaping into the ocean – and drown. Suicide, then, would be the logical conclusion for all practitioners of Bataille’s Transgressive Philosophy.

 

Then again, Michel Foucault pointed out that tracing a limit – any limit, whether a physical frontier or a social interdiction – has always already seduced men and women to transgression. Or, in other words: limiting our behaviour actually produces transgression. It seems to be our nature…

 

When in the British colonial system, race barriers became the norm, any contact between so-called white ‘men’ and so-called coloured ‘people’ had become anathema. Reading E. M. Forster’s Passage to India one may come to shiver. The kind of warped mind that is often effected by such hypocritical Apartheid is staggering. In white men and women, such racial frontiers produce a lust after black men and black women and, of course, vice versa. However, only the black man is damned for touching a white woman – ne touche pas la femme blanche… In white men, sleeping with black women is tolerated in a camouflaged manner.

 

Of course, in all kinds of authoritarian societies circumscribing property, acres of land owned by one man and not by others, has become the norm. It has been argued by Alfred Sohn-Rethel, that mathematics was invented in Egypt, as each year after the flooding of the arable properties in the Nile Delta, those properties had to be measured and fenced in, again and again.

 

Such simple mathematics seems to have been a kind of instinctive urge in those who sought to create territories. The almost ridiculously straight lines, used to slice up whole continents into colonial territories, are a case in point. Disregarding natural barriers and tribal possession of cut-up lands, the rudeness of the undertaking still stands out all too obvious.

 

Such partitioning of territories always involved the forced removal of original inhabitants, under the cover of for instance handing the Indians new territories ‘’of their own”, complete with a List of Federally Recognized Tribes in the United States.

 

Territorial racism did not stop at the original possessors of God’s Own Country – The Indians. The Mason and Dixon Line is a fine example. Between 1763 and 1767, it was surveyed by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, two young British lads, to finally resolve a border dispute involving Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, in what was then still Colonial America. It was to become a fatal border line, in the end separating the so-called Free Northern States and the Slave Owning Southern States.

 

Though, not so much territorially separating Black people from White People, that frontier was separating territories where Whites were indeed separated from Blacks, from the Northern States in which such slave owning racism was at least forbidden.

 

Once again, the simplicity of the solution is mathematically obvious: the Mason-Dixon Line is indeed a line, even though a crooked one! This is what Mark Knopfler’s song tells us:

 

We are sailing to Philadelphia

A world away from the coaly Tyne
Sailing to Philadelphia
To draw the line

The Mason-Dixon Line
Now you’re a good surveyor, Dixon
But I swear you’ll make me mad
The West will kill us both

You gullible Geordie lad

You talk of liberty

How can America be free…

However, such ‘frontiering’ may suddenly touch oneself, rather personally so. While selling my house in Haarlem, The Netherlands, my real estate man discovered that all those fifty years we had been living there, the end of our garden – a strip of seven square meters in all – had been not ours to toil, but the property of a neighbor, two houses further on. Too crazy to be true. All these decades I had been transgressing that limit – unwittingly so, thus not really profiting in Bataille’s sense of the word…

 

As if the frontiering business is my very personal, perhaps even god-ordained issue, this is what I found out the day I bought my new house here in France, in Montmorillon, on the river Gartempe. While boringly reading aloud all the particulars of the deed, the up to date notary was also showing us the various maps of the site on a screen. Then this one popped up:

 

Observe the little red line through the house on the street side, as if it were slicing some sixth from my new property, more or less in the same way as all those decades the invisible line had done with my garden. Take notice, the notary said – if your building were to collapse on the street side, you would only be allowed to rebuild it up to that red line. You will lose a bit of your property rights…

 

At least, this time, I was warned before the fact, whereas the frontier in my Haarlem garden had been hidden and obfuscated in the deep and dark dossiers of the municipality.

 

As, according to my lover, I have always already been a bit of a border-liner, all this frontiering gets on my nerves and pushes them to their very limits – as it were, transgressing my very own self. In the fine words of the poet Pessoa, I must plead for myself:

 

This my madness, accept it, those who can,

Dare whatever it needs.

What, without madness, is a man

More than a beast after feeding,

A corpse adjourned, the half-alive breeding?

Sierksma, Montmorillon 2.7/2020

 

OUT OF THIS WORLD…

While I took up this pen, the smooth version of John Coltrane, a saxophone player who may also be screeching, his Out of this World flew from the speakers – sounds like swifts or swallows, cleaving the air faster than a Mirage jet plane, yet in a silken movement which freezes into an etching on the sky’s blue sheet. I know:  paradoxical it sounds – however, a paradox it is.

 

Is what I wrote with that pen, in the dusky light slowly fading from my balcony overhanging the river Gartempe:

 

Here and now, up there in the sky on high-pressure wings, the swallows are still tangible – specks they are, yet specks as still part of my world, now up there, then again in their nests under the eaves of my house, almost in reach of a gentle hand. Yet, rather a thousand out there, than one in that hand…

 

Though I have almost no memories of my childhood in the Dutch North, I can still imagine my dad and me sitting on, or rather lying in the deckchairs at the back of our garden. I must have been five years old, thus filling the chair completely, legs and all. My dad, a tall man, as I am tall now, hanging flat on his back, feet touching the ground. Our shared pleasure, one of the few things an illiterate child and a brainy father can share. We were swallow watching. Endlessly, so it seems, after dinner and, as my memory dictates me, till dusk took them out of the sky.

 

However, long before darkness took them from that sky – still, clearly there in my memory – each now and then, one or two left this world, fleeing into the outer cosmos, escaping vulgar gravity, like Alice finding their little door in the sky to sneak through. They were indeed intangible to me, the still fairy tale child, little marvels disappearing into an unknown nowhere land; as – for sure – they must have been the object of intense and loving scrutiny for my bird-watching ethologist-father.

 

Now, continuing this little essay behind the laptop, I am sure that my father would have known the difference between Swifts, Martins and Swallows. He would have considered the link between habitat and species. We were living in a town. Now, still living inside a town, I am also situated on the river. Perhaps, the mixture of types of ‘swallows’ is different here.

 

Instead of fleeing out of this world, now and then my lovelies seem to desire their entry in the Underworld, perhaps mistaking the Gartempe for the River Styx – as I have done many a time. Some of them are skirting the water, just touching it with their little beak, however without toppling, an impressive airy and acrobatic exercise, just a swift kiss on the water’s surface and the joy of having caught an insect there. Each one of them, a miracle to behold. And never a dull moment on this balcony of mine.

 

Once, entering my second French house, the cottage I lived in for over twenty years, I had that familiar feeling of what my wife used to call an inkling of a horizon changed. The Gestalt is not what it was, what it ‘should’ be – something does not fit… However, that impression is rather vague, it takes some time to find or to figure out what it is that is not fitting.

 

Then I saw them: two cute, tiny, black heads peeping over the top of my summer hat, placed on a tall, thin bookcase. Two Martins, who had decided that in its cosy dip they had discovered the ideal place for a nest. I had to disappoint them, not after long contemplation of their beauty, knowing for sure that our ensemble would be a little cosmos in itself. However, closing up my house, for instance to make a little trip, would cause havoc and disaster in the Martins’ family life. So, I committed my sin of sins and showed them the doorway.

 

Sierksma, Montmorillon 26.6/2020

I AM A MAN!

Could it be that France is the country, or rather the nation, in which sex confusion is of prime, if not historical importance? Jeanne d’Arc – why not, prototypical!

 

Where else could one find a memorial statue like this one, commemorating those from Montmorillon, who died in the Great War or, for that matter, in the Algerian one?

 

Even her tits seem to be pantzered.

 

One hears the lady screaming: I’m a Man, I’m a Man! She is raising her symbolical prick straight up into the high heavens, no mistake about it.

 

The very moment this Bronze Woman, this French Brunhild, confronted me, she reminded me of Jack Lemon in Some Like it Hot. In that splendid movie he is impersonating a female base-player in an all-female orchestra who, together with his crony and saxophonist Tony Curtiss, also in disguise, is fleeing a mob of gangsters.

 

Each time he falls for the singer of the band, Marilyn – yes, Marilyn herself – or even for another music-playing beauty, Lemon is corrected by his transvestite pall Tony, who has to remind him of his girlhood. I’m a Girl, I’m a Girl! he is singing over and over again. Of course, Tony wants Marilyn all to him himself… When circumstances change, however by this time conditioned to his new sex role, Jack Lemon has to remind himself of what he really is: I’m a Boy, I’m a Boy… This sexual mix-up, then, is not exclusively French.

 

My one-time maîtresse accused me of being a misogynist. Reminding her of Timon of Athens, Shakespeare’s creature, I told her that not only do I hate women, I also hate men – I detest mankind.

 

I am Misanthropos, and hate mankind.
For thy part, I do wish thou wert a dog,
That I might love thee something.

 

That ugly, even ridiculous statue in Montmorillon eases my predicament. Then again, I do not like dogs either – I am a cat man.

 

Sierksma, June 2020 Montmorillon

SIAMESE LOVE

Two of a kind,

as if made for the other.

Too much of a kind,

joy fading, allowing no life,

dimming the light,

dying of raging.

 

Souls severed,

snails from their shell,

the child from its mother,

waters from their well,

two Siamese twins,

the one from the other –

perhaps, one survives…

 

Or, the head from its corpse,

with the Guillotine blade,

both gone forever.

 

Sierksma, 21.6/2020

FELLING OF TREES

Tree Melancholia II

It was the month of May.

Trees in Harvard Yard

Were turning a young green.

There was whispering everywhere.

Seamus Heaney, Canopy

 

 

Perhaps, distinguishing between short term and long term melancholia might help, if only to enable us to use that beautiful expression a bit more extensively than Dr Freuds famous analysis would allow us to do. Melancholia – surely a beautiful word that makes one feel happy!

 

Freud, in his psycho-analytical theory, reserved the concept of melancholia for a sadness so deep and pervasive, that it does not leave a man’s organism ever again. Struck by a miserable lightning, at the most unhomely moments that bad experience emerges again. An unheimisch feeling of being lost, forever caught up in trauma. One becomes a Trauerarbeiter, slaving and belabouring one’s sadness…

 

By contrast – still according to Freud – someone simply mourning a loss or an incisive, sad experience, after a while will come out of his depth and will begin to live again; the person suffering from melancholia is forever lost in his mourning. Yet, I would like to consider such ‘simple’ mourning also to be called melancholic, as it cuts into the soul’s marrow as badly as does that mourning which turns into an imprisonment for life.

 

The intensity of the loss may differ, yet both experiences lead to a feeling of not being at home in this world any longer, left behind by all and everything; only some will be struck by this sad numbness forever, quite often covered with feelings of misplaced guilt for whatever bad has happened. Thus we have short term melancholia as well as lifelong melancholia.

 

Short time melancholia is perhaps best described as seeing an ephemeron flying – that infamous one-day May-fly. Long term melancholia: perhaps, the never-ending dark contemplation of the lifecycles of trees and turtles.

 

In a confused past, reaching far into our so-called Renaissance, scientists of the mind considered mankind to be divided into sorts, purportedly determined by the specific juice which was dominant in their organism. In a sanguine person, for instance, the blood had primacy – this determines his hot-bloodedness. A melancholic man was supposed to be dominated by his black gall. Et cetera, et cetera.

 

We know better now: a tree, say a giant, awesome Sequoia in the forests of Oregon or California, may produce a sanguine high in one person; in the next man it leads to melancholic contemplation of the finiteness of Man’s Being. Then again, having first had that glorious high, the same man may very well drop into deep melancholia, when he witnesses a dragline machine ripping a Sequoia from the earth, root and all, which is what happened to me. One is suddenly reminded that the gods made us the Stewards of all that is Nature. How volatile our moods are…

 

One glorious spring, I was in court, summoned there to appear with my legal adviser. I would have preferred to represent myself; alas, not done in the Land of Justice. My neighbour, a sectarian fool who considers himself not only an artist, but also an art critic as well as a photographer, claimed that our stunning, large Maple tree was throwing so much shadow over his house and garden that, as result, he had become mentally afflicted. A gross error in autobiographical judgement, so it seems.

 

The courtroom, however, is not a place to joke and tell the judge that the causal nexus mentioned by the plaintiff was precisely the index of the kind of mental trouble which afflicted my neighbour long before he came to be our neighbour.

 

When, some thirty years ago he bought the house next door, the criminal tree was already forty years of age, fully grown and lush. In the morning, it shades both our houses from a summer’s hot sun, on afternoons mysteriously dimming parts of the garden, a paradise in which one may dream and read and ponder. Now, decades after this neighbour’s arrival, all of a sudden that very same tree is accused of wrecking his mental health as well as hindering his artistic work. His attorney demanded that the whole tree should come down, must be felled.

 

The outcome of the trial was somewhat ambivalent; yet, I consider it a victory. The judge allowed the tree to stand and do its beneficial and aesthetic work; the quarter of it overhanging the neighbours’ garden, though, had to be cut away, an operation which I performed myself. Helped by two assistants, my younger son and his friend, I performed my vicious labour like a true tree surgeon. In the process I lost my health. The old man, labouring the enormous tree for hours, high up there, felt his disk seriously slip, which now, years later, is still a handicap. A pensioned cripple I am, worth perhaps another trial…

 

However, before all this happened, that neighbour had already fucked up the tree by cutting off an enormous branch, almost a tree in itself, this with the use of a chain saw, in the midst of spring. The beautiful Maple started bleeding like a man with a limb torn off. Only a flesh wound… I had to bandage the tree with enormous pieces of cloth; yet, through it, the bleeding went on, turning the trunk into a red chunk of meat in the butcher’s shop.

 

That, as such, was traumatic. However, by the time the trial took place I had managed to nurse my tree into some health again. However, its condition remained disconcerting, each new year the place of the saw-cut showing an ever deeper opening in the trunk. Years later, the end came; the tree had become ill, its leaves slowly dying, the branches losing their bark, than the trunk itself laid bare. This time, I had to have it felled.

 

My beautiful tree had turned into a corpse, lying on the cutting table of a first year medical student.

 

Mourning, thus Walter Benjamin, is the mood in which the feeling of a world emptied of meaning is once again experienced, now in a mask-like way. It feels as if all life has been ebbing away from all things. Things, then, become meaningless, thus more thing-like than ever before; consequently, the Self becomes reified, mask-like, dead.

 

Here, then, was no way out. Ever since, I am suffering from long-term melancholia, even in the gorgeous trees around me, with their eye-blistering spring-green beauty, descrying the death mask of my long-gone Maple. Or I find pictures of evil doers, with a caption in a language unknown to me, devilish, threatening…

 

Then again, a text from Ecclesiastes suddenly lifting the spirit, if not the soul of this professional atheist:

 

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

Not to forget the wise anonymous words:

 

To everything there is a season,

and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate;

A time of war, and a time of peace.

So, next to the little bit of trunk of the Maple left standing at the bottom of my garden I planted a new tree – an Acer, its Japanese version. At the time I was already sure never to see it growing to its full length, a small tree with a colour both reminding one of sanguine Life as well as the purple of melancholic mourning and Death.

 

Behind it, on its right, the reader may have observed a bit of the old Maple turned Art, by simply putting it on a little pedestal of marble.

 

Since, I have sold the house and thus the garden. The utter irony of it all came to light. My real estate man uncovered the fact that seven square meters of the garden had not been my property at all, not for all those forty years – they had belonged to another neighbour. You have guessed it, Reader: all those years, my Maple had been standing precisely inside the perimeter of those seven square meters owned by someone else. He should have been the defendant at ‘my’ tree trial…

 

I am living now in my River House in Montmorillon, with no garden at all, just a balcony with merely a Wisteria.

 

Covered with sunlight, I am a man without a shadow.

 

Sierksma, Montmorillon 9.6/2020

 

 

 

 

RUSTREST

 

The body, seeking its peace of mind,

be sane again, in bones and brain,

fathoming silent endings,

of shelters that have been.

The gaze sinks into quiet rust,

of beams as yet unbending,

corrosive ease, a dawdling splendour,

no hurry to achieve its grand finale.

 

To find an end – the end, one’s end –

the wise man said,

is not the easiest part of being,

and yet – it is its rationale.

 

Sierksma, Montmorillon, 1.6/2020

HIDDEN LOVERS

The first tiff my maîtresse and I had, was on the meaning of the word maîtresse – this on the very first day she came to visit me in my court-yard in La Roche. Sort of a pragmatic paradox… From that first one on, at my suggestion, we would designate all our quarrels with the German word Krach.

 

As many of such skirmishes would follow, it seems advised to inform my reader that she is British, or rather a mixture of Irish, Welsh and Scottish blood, thus stubborn and hedgehog-like in her attitude towards imperial London;  I am Dutch, however not to be confused with ‘a Dutchman’, as I was born in the northern region of the Netherlands, called Friesland, a bit like the Basque territory in Northern Spain, with its own language and peculiar habits, as well as much bad feeling towards ‘the centre’, the West that is, with its two Hollands, the Dutch Capital town of Amsterdam and the government seat in The Hague.

 

That discussion on the notion of maîtresse simply had to be, as in that courtyard of mine I hoped that she would become my maîtresse. She fumed at the word, telling me in no simple words that she refused to be called a mistress – period. That was it; on your bike, was what I think she told me. So, I tried to explain the vital difference between the two words mistress and maîtresse, which – of course – she considered to be ‘a lecture’, which could also not be tolerated.

 

The British notion of mistress has unpleasant connotations, indeed, more or less the prime example of the Hidden Lover. The mistress, not so much a being, is being kept: a man has a mistress. Being stacked away, his wife may only have an inkling; no colleague will know of her; a very good friend may. Being turned into a mistress, she is robbed of her existence, more or less annihilated.

 

Having seen that word in a variety of contexts, it always implied a man setting up his lover in some room or apartment, paying for her upkeep and thus for her services in bed. Here is certainly an element of the whore, if only its gentrified version. On the Isles, it is also an utterly bourgeois or petty-bourgeois institution. Indeed, the British habit of keeping a mistress is a miserable habit, practiced by the wrong kind of man; she is the Hidden Woman par example.

 

My British maîtresse, being a self-confessed feminist, insisted on both words having the same ideological, negative connotation. It took me quite a while to convince her off the contrary, years I fact. Sombart, that great German economist-sociologist, was of help here. In his splendid little book Liebe, Luxus und Kapitalismus – of which, to my great surprise, I could not find an English translation – he argued that, in France, the maîtresse is an institution, even one with a history. Kings and nobles have built castles for them, causing the simple craft production of window panes, beams and the like to be transformed into what became the first French assembly line manufacture on the banks of the Loire. Huge sums were involved.

 

The first official maîtresse even had a name. She was beautiful Agnès Sorel, dame de cœur of King Charles VII, who had gorgeous royal lodgings built on a rock in the town of Loches, especially for her.

 

Nothing hidden here; on the contrary, the Lady was known to be the King’s maîtresse, known as such to his wife, known to the nobles of his court, known to everybody. Her title was a title of honour, designating the woman to be the Special One, the woman with whom one not only wants to sleep, but also desires to dine and play chess with, to visit friends, to make walks… I still consider her as such, perhaps anachronistically so.

 

That we may indeed consider it a French institution, is also confirmed by the fact that from its aristocratic origins it descended down the social ladder, the maîtresse becoming an accepted way of living amongst the bourgeoisie and later even amongst the petty bourgeoisie. After all, a French bourgeois always considers himself a king…

 

The background, however, is everywhere the same: a marriage, either forced on partners by their parents or simply and naturally dulled in the flow of time, is as it were multiplied by a third figure-of-true-love. And mind you, my Feminist Reader: in France this third figure of love is often the fourth im Bunde, the wife having her own maître, however a word not in use.

 

What I do not know, is whether men and women both try to eliminate former lovers from their lives in the same manner. So much is certain that – institution or no institution – men may fall out of love with their maîtresse, then perhaps finding a new one. I only know of two male cases, both of them in the form of a painting.

 

In the lower right corner of Courbet’s famous painting The Atelier, a special place is reserved for the poet Baudelaire. His bodily attitude and the absorption in his book do give one the impression of a grumpy young man. Absorbed in his book, Baudelaire completely negates the rather impressive behind of the naked woman, who – given the landscape painting without human life on Courbet’s easel – is an odd bit of accessory on this large canvas.

 

Of interest in the context of Baudelaire’s varied appetite for great pale, as well as black if not coffee-brown women, is the pictorially speaking inexplicable curious black rectangle behind the reading poet. It is certainly not a painting hanging in that atelier.

 

New research techniques have discovered that in an earlier version of Courbet’s image, this empty black space behind the poet was occupied by black Jeanne Duval, his maîtresse of quite some years standing. Suddenly, we see more then what we actually see. This is what she must have looked like:

 

We also know that Courbet did not work with the poet as a live model; he was using an earlier portrait made of him in 1844. Not only does Baudelaire look younger here than he actually was at the time of painting The Atelier. But for this very reason, Courbet did not know that by that time Baudelaire had broken with what he now called his cursed black maîtresse. She had to be blackened away, out of existence, surely at the behest of the older Baudelaire.

 

My second example of a woman hidden away in a canvas may be found on Portrait with Still Life, done by David Bailly, a typical vanitas painting, complete with skull, snuffed candle and the passage from youth to old age. Vanitas vanitum, et omnia vanitas, as is written on the bit of paper seen at the lower bottom right.

 

Almost invisible – certainly so on this very bad reproduction, yet spotted well by art lovers and art historians – we may observe what is almost a shade of death, the vague face of a woman who seems to have been painted away, yet not completely so, as she is still to be observed behind the champagne flute, one of the sure signs of vanity. Who she was, nobody has figured out.

 

It must be well nay on purpose that the contours of her eye are placed in the middle of that Glass of Vice. Why then not completely blot her out, as Courbet did with poor Jeanne Duval in his Atelier? Still, in the deepest of heart of the painter Bailly, loving memories? Or did he just paint some woman as Woman, emblem of all Vanity? A veiled expression of a love still burning; or, perhaps, even a reprimand for the woman who may have left him against his will, now reduced to a mere emblem?

 

Hidden, or almost hidden lovers they both have become. Baudelaire’s Duval – most certainly a maîtresse in the true sense of the word; after all, he was born from the Catholic, more permissive tradition. Bailly’s mysterious unknown shade, a maîtresse? Perhaps, perhaps not; despite his English name, he was a 17th-century Dutchman; then again, he was probably not a Calvinist but a catholic, as he became the president of the St. Luke’s Academy in Leyden

 

Sierksma, Montmorillon, 11.5/2020

BOVINE HEAT

It seems, the two men as well as the two enormous bovines are posing for the photographer.

 

In those end-of-the-19th-century days, as we know so well from the almost corpse-like individual portraits of that period, people had to wait rather long, sitting in front of the camera lens that had to remain open for quite some time, this in order to catch those precious rays of light…

 

Photography, or rather the writing with light, or even the Signature of Light, was still taken quite literarily. The eyes of the sitters began to stare, after a while their bodies became fixed in an unnatural attitude. Thus, knowing this, more surprising than these stiff men are the oxen who have obviously understood the photographer’s instructions rather well. Or could it be that, dumb as they are, they’re always unmoved and unmoving?

 

It is also a bit like feeding the sparrows by feeding the horses. The man on the right is handing hay to the enormous beasts – their fuel. Thus, they can keep their body heat up to the mark, which is the reason behind this curious scene. The oxen’s shed is opened onto the living room, so their bodies are supplementing the warmth from the fire place, which is always disappearing through the chimney for at least half of its calories. The two beasts constituted the central heating system of those ancient farm cottages.

 

The image also speaks of utter poverty: these people just managed to survive, wearing the same set of clothes inside as well as outside their cottage, perhaps during the night as well as during day time. The furniture is of rock-bottom quality; the mantel piece is made of wood, rickety to say the least. Posthumously, I feel ashamed; only a few days ago, I’ve spent quite a lot of money on a ‘antique’ chimney mantel, also made of wood, yet a bit chic, painted as it is in fake-marble colours.

 

The world is coming to an end, at least my world, the one I have lived in, the one which I ‘lived’. That was the Modern world, with all its techniques, its electricity, its comparative luxury for the masses of which I have been a mere particle. Even after Auschwitz, and whatever the Adornos and the Horkheimers of this world may have said about its Modern horror, there was still some kind of conviviality and humanity left in that Age of Modernity.

 

Now, Postmodernity has taken over. As the world of bovine central heating was not mine, so Postmodernity is not mine. I have been reduced to a marginal man, timewise that is – caught between two different eras. Torn, miserable, waiting for my death – though, not to forget, also listening to Brahms’ splendid syncopated Fourth, Reich’s 18 Minimal Musicians and what not, all on postmodern musical equipment… As well as transforming an old building into my last home, carpenters busy with the metamorphosis of an ugly space into a cut bedroom with its little bathroom – my gorgeous, final coffin. And not to forget: arranging a rather nice chimney mantel piece in my salon, which is becoming more beautiful every day.

 

Sierksma, 26.5/2020 Montmorillon

A THOUSAND GREENS

  

Flaming in spring are all those greens,

pure delight, explosive bliss.

Did gods invent spring’s splendour,

to challenge painters’ mimesis,

to make them meet their Makers,

to then desist their undertaking.

 

No human hand may imitate such riches.

 

By august, tired of the dust and heat,

the sun to blame,

what once was source of our lust,

is waning, spent,

begins to dull, looking the same,

withering into autumn imperceptibly.

Once all splendour – now has-been,

like our eye, become indifferent.

Sierksma, Montmorillon 12.5/2020

MY RIVER LÉTHE

It was the kiss from someone who, over all those years, allows death

to approach – in those dark, blue eyes was that feeling of decline, which all men are going to feel, sooner or later …

Javier Marías, All Souls

___________________

 

When – rather unexpected, as you were quite convinced that of the small, inner circle of friends you would be the first one to go – the others begin to tumble away, becoming stepping stones in the River Léthe, easing my transit to the other side without becoming unnecessarily wet.

 

Their passing-on aids the dissolving of my own being. Yet, the sorrow with which I had to buy this rather comfortable crossing has been dreadful. I cried a few times. Without knowing it, my by now dead friends may have undergone grave perils, perhaps even drowning in those dark waters before they ever reached the other side.

 

The idea is that, after one has turned into a ‘shade of death’, one should drink some of River Léthe’s water in order to forget all the experiences one had as a living being. According to some, such induced forgetfulness may very well guarantee us some kind of resurrection. This, at least, is what Virgil claimed in his Aeneid. Not that I am looking forward to any re-appearance on this earth. I detest postmodern society and prefer Shakespeare’s …and is heard of no more. I loathe what seems to be the future of those poor next generations. Merely dying just once will suffice.

 

Crossing the Léthe, drinking some of its water, seems to be the pre-requisite for crossing that second more profound River Styx which is separating the world from the underworld. If that is what you want to believe. It’s all right with me, as any belief in these matters is as good as any other and since, after all, I had a Grammar School Education. The real snags, so I believe, are on this side, on this bank of The Styx, all the predicaments I’d rather forget. However, an elixir has yet to be invented to perform that trick, even though alcoholics and morphinists seem to think they have found it. One must do with all that is remembered, even if one’s memory is notoriously bad.

 

In an attack of aesthetic optimism, Cicero wrote his little pamphlet explaining the art of getting older. A stand-in, his former master Cato Maior, is telling you the story. His problem, however, is the semantic confusion between getting older and getting old – or worse: being old and worn out. Borrowing from folktale wisdom, the author claims that in order to stay old longer than could be expected, you have to practice, already earlier on in life exercise becoming old. Or in shorthand: prepare yourself – Cicero alias Cato will help you. Getting older may indeed be a teachable art; getting old, or rather being old, is a whole different ball game. It is in the ‘being old’ that may reside the pain and the suffering – the crux of the matter.

 

For that moment, when one’s time has come, Cicero rather prefers the gentler metaphor of extinguishing. This, then – or so I claim – is an evil euphemism, a cover-up if there ever was one, worthy of the politician, as well as of the lawyer. Cicero was in fact both. My best friend, who is now suffering the worst of pains, coughing his lungs into outer space, losing his voice in the process, no appetite left, not even being able to eat normally, not any longer able to do the few things he enjoyed, that is reading and listening to quartet music and so on – how dare one call this extinguishing or, for that matter, fading away? You must be kidding, Cicero. And what about that other friend, radically fallen into his own oblivion of deep dementia, become a vegetable being ‘cared for’ by the gardeners of a thriving old-folks business? A gentle extinction, a sweet fading away – my ass.

 

Then again, Cicero is one of the many who is betting on an afterlife, that is for his soul. Such thinkers may not have looked all too seriously at the corporeal side of the issue. Curiously enough, quite a few highly-bred and even stern philosophers who would argue against making sinful bets in everyday life, turn to the gambling table when Death peeps around the corner. Pascal is one of the better known of these final gamesters.

 

I don’t think, I like these lean and hungry looking men; they may be good thinkers, but in this case, they are thinking too much, coming up with… immortality. When Cicero criticises those, who do not even want to consider the probability of immortality, he calls them those poor, irrelevant philosophers. Our poor Cicero himself is in Reason’s Dire Straits; name calling has never been a good argument.

 

Where I do follow him, is when he takes aim at the wrinklies who nowadays, under conditions of Postmodernity, are still running marathons when almost dead and, I would claim, often rather in an aesthetically unacceptable, ugly manner. Or, those who are trying to fuck with withered pricks, boosted by Viagra – these acrobats and athletes of Sex. Those who complain ‘that old age is lacking energy’ Cicero pointedly answers with this riposte: Old age is not asking for all too much energy, liberated as it is from tasks that demand force. Not being enforced we are – not to do what we cannot do, nor to do what we still can perform…

 

Being pleased with their deliverance from lust and desire, old folks are not even ridiculed by their friends and next of kin, which according to Cicero is also a comfort. Without the excessively passionate drive for a lover, according to him the path is opened to the calm contemplation of art, culture and sciences. Perhaps, this can be phrased a bit differently and, methinks, therefore a bit better.

 

As an older man’s capacity to reach orgasm is diminishing, his loving desire for a woman is not necessarily waning. Yet, he may very well spent all the energy, as yet given, to him by releasing his desire to please his woman, wholly becoming her servant in the flesh which, perhaps, he should have been all along. There is also something of the despicable Puritan in Cicero, our teacher in the art of growing old, when he tells us that if a young man has been spending too much time on exercising his lust, he may very well reach old age exhausted.

 

To graciously undergo the various forms of unpleasantly growing older, to enjoy the comfortable slowness of contemplating a stone wall, or listen endlessly to the myriad of birds in this cosmos’ volière – all things, the active live of youth has been keeping us from…

 

To gently and leisurely please one’s maîtresse’s lusts, even though the fulfilment of one’s own physical desires may not be seriously at stake any longer…

 

To enjoy the privileges of a newly-acquired Palazzo at a splendid river, lying on one’s sofa in the Belvedere overlooking the stream which is reaching out for the ocean, now speeding down in haste, to achieve its Nirvana, then again gently flowing with here and there a feather floating or a bit of trees’ debris…

 

When in extremis, many a dying man is seen to have his consciousness suddenly light up, become clearer and sharper for the last time. Experts have explained this, by pointing out that in a very short stretch of time many memories are passing through. This overdose takes away their original emotional colouring and meaning; as a result, even tragic memories tend to become peaceful. Not bad, then, dying… However, if the tragedy of a life concentrates itself precisely in its dying, body and soul suffering as never before, things seem to be a bit different, tragedy overtaking any gentle musing on the dying man’s past.

 

A good reason, by the way, for enjoying one’s last lusts and please the ones of your maîtresse, is another peculiarity of the human brain and its memories. Our capacity to recall resides solely in the senses of our ear and eyes: music, a painting, the shape of a lover’s body… However, we may only remember the intensity given to us by the senses of smell, taste and skin; we cannot recall the actual experience that gave them to us. Precisely this is what happens to all so-called ‘memories’ related to acts sexual; it is perhaps the motive behind man’s and woman’s urge to repeat what is remembered as lust, but not as an experience; do it again and again, time and again…

 

When Draaisma – a Dutch specialist on memory, in this case taking his cue from a few others – presents a brilliant analysis of a painting by one David Baily from Leyden, called Portrait with Still Life, he explains how we may perceive in it two diagonal iconographic timelines. They concern the painter’s passage from youth to old age of, but also his looking back as an old man on his youth. Draaisma points out that just as the Arrow of Time points towards the right, so do both lines in this painting. He obviously takes this direction of Time’s Arrow for granted.

 

Yet, could it be that the direction of Time’s Arrow is culturally determined, let us say by the direction one’s pen must take while writing. Perhaps, then, only in the so-called West would this arrow be pointing from left to right; in the Arabic speaking world that very same arrow of time would point to the left. If this were the case – my lazy unwillingness to follow Popper this time, is preventing any research – this would imply that, in extremis, it would not be a bad thing for a Christian, or even for an atheist, to be converted to the Islamic creed… This might give him a second life on this earth, that is: if he would like to live it.

 

These and other broodings I concoct, half sitting, half lying in my Belvedere, in the river’s flowing water the shimmer of sky and clouds and sunlight playing with my reason. I may already be in the process of that final forgetting, halfway between here and there, the ill body enjoying the anaesthesia by way of thoughtlessness.

 

Could it be, that the River Gartempe might be my River Léthe, imbuing me with lustful drowsiness? Mind you, I would not drink its waters, knowing all kinds of filth entering it up-stream. Just overlooking it is enough. And admiring its meander, it certainly makes me wish for some extra months or even years, mumbling the atheist’s quick prayer to Maria Consolatrix Afflictorum, who is standing high-up on the rocks of Montmorillon, towering over my Palazzo – to allow me to, sort of, enjoy my affliction and its chemo a little longer.

 

My passage over the River Styx may wait a while. And, if my time has come, I won’t follow Cicero’s advice, trying to wither away in agony. To rage and rage against the dying of the light is one thing; to rage in pain is another. Just one more Greek-rooted word will do: Euthanasia.

 

Sierksma, Montmorillon 10.5/2020