Friday, April 28, 2006


St. Peter Chanel The protomartyr of the South Seas, St. Peter Chanel was born in 1803 at Clet in the diocese of Belley, France. His intelligence and simple piety brought him to the attention of the local priest, Father Trompier, who saw to his elementary education. Entering the diocesan Seminary, Peter won the affection and the esteem of both students and professors. After his ordination he found himself in a rundown country parish and completely revitalized it in the three year span that he remained there. However, his mind was set on missionary work; so, in 1831, he joined the newly formed Society of Mary (Marists) which concentrated on missionary work at home and abroad. To his dismay, he was appointed to teach at the seminary at Belley and remained there for the next five years, diligently performing his duties. In 1836, the Society was given the New Hebrides in the Pacific as a field for evangelization, and the jubilant St. Peter was appointed Superior of a little band of missionaries sent to proclaim the Faith to its inhabitants. On reaching their destination after an arduous ten month journey, the band split up and St. Peter went to the Island of Futuna accompanied by a laybrother and an English layman, Thomas Boog. They were at first well received by the pagans and their king Niuliki who had only recently forbidden canabalism. However, the kings jealousy and fear were aroused when the missionaries learned the language and gained the people's confidence; he realized the adoption of the Christian Faith would lead to the abolition of some of the prerogatives he enjoyed as both highpriest and sovereign. Finally, when his own son expressed a desire to be baptized, the king's hatred erupted and he dispatched a group of his warriors to set upon the saintly head of the missionaries. Thus, on April 28, 1841, three after his arrival, St. Peter was seized and clubbed to death by those he had come to save. And his death brought his work to completion - within five months the entire island was converted to Christianity.

St. Louis Mary Grignion Louis Mary Grignion was born to a poor family on January 31, 1673 at Montfort, France. He was educated at the Jesuit college in Rennes and was ordained there in 1700. He was assigned as chaplain to a hospital at Poitiers, and his much needed reorganization of the hospital staff caused great resentment, leading to his resignation. However, during his stay there he organized a group of women into the Congregation of the Daughters of Divine Wisdom.

Eventually Louis went to Rome where Pope Clement XI appointed him missionary apostolic, and he began to preach in Brittany. His emotional style caused much reaction, but he was successful, especially in furthering devotion to the Most Blessed Virgin through the Rosary. He also wrote a very popular book, True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. In 1715, Louis organized several priests and formed the Missionaries of the Company of Mary. He died in 1716 at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sever, France, and was canonized in 1947 by Pope Pius XII.

St. Louis de Montfort was a very able preacher, yet his emotional style along with his appeal to the poor caused much opposition. Undaunted by his critics, he continued his preaching. In addition, he expended great effort in spreading devotion to the Most Blessed Virgin, both through preaching and by the written word. Eventually he founded the clerical institute known more popularly today as the Montfort Fathers who carry on the work of preaching the Word and spreading devotion to Mary. Louis' perseverance in the face of opposition benefits the Church today in its faith struggle.

St. Vitalis According to an account that is doubtlessly spurious, Vitalis was a wealthy citizen of Milan, and perhaps a soldier. He was married Valeria, and they were the parents of SS. Gervase and Protase (which they were not). When he encouraged St. Ursicinus to be steadfast at his execution, the Vitalis was racked and then buried alive. Valeria died as the result of injuries she suffered when attacked by the pagans. They were martyred near Milan probably under Emperor Marcus Aurelius, but all else is suspect.

St. Luchesio The Val d'Elsa, then Florentine territory, was the birthplace of Luchesio, or Lucius, the first Franciscan tertiary. As a young man he was wholly engrossed in worldly interests, especially politics and money making. So unpopular did he make himself by his violent partisanship of the Guelf cause, that he found it advisable to leave Gaggiano, his native place, and to settle in Poggibonsi, where he carried on business as a provision merchant and money lender. Then, when he was between thirty and forty, a change came over him, partly perhaps as the result of the death of his children. His heart was touched by divine grace and he began to take interest in works of mercy, such as nursing the sick and visiting the prisons. He even gave away to the poor, all his possessions, except a piece of land which he determined to cultivate himself. Soon afterwards St. Francis of Assisi came to Poggibonsi. He had for some time contemplated the necessity of forming an association for persons desiring to live the religious life in the world, but Luchesio and his wife Bonadonna were actually, it is said, the first man and woman to receive from the seraphic father, the habit and cord of the Third Order. From that moment they gave themselves up to a penitential and charitable life. Sometimes Luchesio would give away every scrap of food that was in the house, and at first, Bonadonna would demur, for she did not at once rise to such perfect trust in divine Providence: but experience taught her that God supplies His faithful children with their daily bread. Her husband attained to great sanctity, and was rewarded by ecstacies and the gift of healing. When it became evident that he had not long to live, his wife begged him to wait a little for her, so that she who had shared his sufferings here, might participate in his happiness above. Her wish was granted, and she died shortly before her husband passed to his reward. Blessed Luchesio's cultus was confirmed in 1694.

St. Valerie Valerie is a derivative of Valeria. St. Valeria was an early martyr probably at or near Milan. According to legend, Vitalis was a soldier who, when the physician St. Ursicinus of Ravenna wavered when faced with death for Christ, encouraged him to stand firm. The governor accordingly ordered Vitalis to be racked and then buried alive, which was done. His wife, St. Valeria, was set upon by pagans near Milan and died from their brutal treatment. These things are said to have happened during the persecution under Nero, but the second century, under Marcus Aurelius, is a more likely date for their martyrdom.

St. Aphrodisius (1st century) A martyr with Sts. Caralippus, Agapius, and Eusebius, also involved in ancient tradition. St. Gregory of Tours related a legend that Aphrodisius was an Egyptian. He supposedly sheltered the Holy Family when they fled into Egypt. Aphrodisius and his companions were martyred in Languedoc, France.

St. Artemius (609) Bishop and mentor of St. Bond, or Balthus. Artemius was a native of Sens, France, where he was appointed bishop. He trained St. Bond in the spiritual life.

St. Valeria (1st century) Saintly matron, supposedly the wife of St. Vitalis and mother of Sts. Gervase and Protase. Her existence is considered doubtful

St. Theodora & Didymus Martyrs in Alexandria, Egypt.Theodora was a virgin who was sentenced to a brothel as punishment for being a Christian during the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian. She was rescued from the infamous house by Didymus, who was still a pagan but who was converted by her beautiful example of fidelity to Christ. They were martyred together.

St. Cronan of Roscrea (626) Founder and hermit in Ireland. He was the son of Odran, born in Munster, or possibly Ely O’Carroll, Offaly, Ireland. Cronan founded fifty monasteries, the first at Puay and the most famous at Roscrea. He ended his life as a blind hermit.

St. John Baptist Thanh (1840) Martyr of Vietnam. A native catechist, John was associated with priests of the Society of Foreign Missions. He was executed in the anti-Christian persecutions. Pope John Paul II canonized him in 1988.

St. Louis de Montfort Confessor, Marian devotee, and founder of the Sisters of Divine Wisdom He was born Louis Maie Grignon in Montfort, France, in 1673. Educated at Rennes, he was ordained there in 1700, becoming a chaplain in a hospital in Poitiers. His congregation, also called the Daughters of Divine Wisdom, started there. As his missions and sermons raised complaints, Louis went to Rome, where Pope Clement XI appointed him as a missionary apostolic. Louis is famous for fostering devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Rosary. In 1715, he also founded the Missionaries of the Company of Mary. His True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin remains popular. Louis died at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sevre. He was canonized in 1947.

St. Mark of Galilee Martyred bishop of Marsi, in the Abruzzi region of Italy. A Galilean by birth, he was a missionary to Italy.

St. Pamphilus (700) Bishop of Sulmona and Corfinium, Abruzzi, Italy. While venerated for his deep sanctity, he was nevertheless accused before Pope Sergius of being an Arian. The basis of the charge was that Pamphilus said Mass before sunrise on Sunday morning. Completely vindicated, Pamphilus was sent a gift by the pope to be distributed to the poor.

St. Patrick of Prusa Martyr with Polyaenus and Menander, put to death in Prusa, in the Roman province of Bithynia, in Asia Minor. No date can be attached to the event, but The account of his death, the Acts of Patrick, is considered by scholars to be authentic, although the names of the others were probably added to the calendar over succeeding centuries.

St. Peter Hieu (1840) Vietnamese martyr. A native of Vietnam, he joined the Foreign Missions of Paris and served as a catechist to his own people. Arrested by government authorities, he and two companions were beheaded. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1988.

St. Pollio (450) Martyr. Pollio was a member of the Christian community of Cybalae, Pannonia, a province on the Danube, serving as a lector. He was put to death during the persecution launched by Emperor Diocletian.

A brief observation on The Da Vinci Code

Kathryn Jean Lopez has this to say in the National Review Corner:
At this very moment there is at least one person--likely more--in every transportation hub in the United States--and most of Europe--reading The Da Vinci Code.

Wherever I go, I see TDVC--this is true today, six months ago, a year ago.
And who knows? Maybe it will be true a year from now. Ten years from now. Actually, it isn't too difficult to imagine a dystopia in which civilization is built around Dan Brown thrillers. Maybe we're there already.

Anyway, a brief observation about the DVC. I haven't read it, don't plan to read it, and have no interest in watching Tom Hanks prowling around in a mullet either. But I have talked to a number of people that were greatly taken with the book, and my impression is that most of them know it's a big pile of crap. They may not admit it in conversation, and they might not even admit it to themselves, but they know it. A huge, steaming pile of crap.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Thursday Morning At the Mini-Mart

A man finds that he has purchased a tub of margarine that has already been opened. He returns to the store to make the switch. Why doesn’t he just return it by going through the usual channels, i.e., by taking it up to the clerk for an exchange? Because, like all of us, he is in a hurry. And for that he must pay. Oh yes; for that he must pay, and pay he will, very dearly indeed.

Erika is the Chik

Well, I said I'd check back with some of those blogs back on the blog trail, and I have. As noted below, Mr. Red Pants appears to be doing well. A professional career in the biz, which is more than many of us can claim.

One of my other favorites on that happy trail was/is is4031ischik, aka Erika. I've heard from her as well, and she's doing fine. And in a not-so-unrelated note, if you need any modeling done, particularly in Colorado Springs, you might look up a gal named Nikole. That would be real modeling, guys.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Stealin' an entry from Korrektiv

Half my readers have already heard this song, but the other half should follow the link and listen to this, now.

If you don't think I love you
Look what a fool I've been
If you don't think I'm sinkin'
Look what a hole I'm in,
I'm stealin', stealuhuhn'
Pretty momma don't you tell on me,
I'm stealin' back to my good ole used-to-be...

Right now.

Franz Sez

Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.

~To Oskar Pollak, November 9, 1903

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Red Pants of Justice on Learning How to Type

Mr. Red Pants is up and blogging again with the usual well-written, quarterly missive about the world of entertainment. Here he asks 'How low can you go?' without actually going that low.

There's a long-standing myth that pervades the film industry, which states that one has to be prepared to do anything when one is just starting out. Now, don't get me wrong. I know all about paying your dues. I'm on first name terms with Mssrs. Putup and Shutup, and am uncomfortably well acquainted with their slovenly neighbour, Mr. Minimum Wage. If you can't stand the heat, the old saying almost goes, get out of the studio. If you're not willing to put up with it, you might as well learn how to type.

And in a sense, who can argue, so long as there is an endless stream of wide-eyed bright (and, more to the point, not so bright) young things, willing to stand any indignity, acquiesce to any demand, regardless of the number of employment laws they break in the process. The lower echelons of the business subsist on this kind of underground service economy because of the massive cost incentives involved, in the same way many Western societies would essentially collapse if one removed all the illegal immigrants, because there would be no-one left to do the jobs no-one else wants to do.
Read the rest by following the link above. I'll only add that truth of the matter is that we never finish paying our dues. But the Red Pants of Justice types just fine.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Comancheros

I watched this the other night and thought it was great. Maybe not Stagecoach or Searchers great, but right up there with just about any other John Wayne western.

Jake Cutter ( John Wayne) arrests Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman) for shooting a man in a duel, but after losing him twice somehow teams up with the gambling Louisianan man by posing as gunrunners in order to find out where the secret Comanchero hide-out is. Comancheros are basically drunken indians and outlaws of the wild west who make their living by holding up wagon trains. Cutter's bluff is called, but after being strung up and left to die, Mon-sewer Regret's old flame (Ina Balin) shows up just in time to save them both. By this point the two are less bounty hunter and murderer than Nolte and Murphy in 48 Hours. I think this had something to do with a baby being born and named for Regret. Anyway, the old flame turns to be the boss lady who runs a camp full of drunken indians and sharpshooters. After a trial of sorts, the boss lady/old flame's dad takes a liking to Cutter and Regret, and seems to have other plans for them. He even invites them to dinner. Did I mention that drunken indians are played for laughs?

According to imdb, during much of the shooting, director Michael Curtiz (Casablanca and too many others to mention) was seriously ill (he died of cancer shortly after the film's release). On days when Curtiz was too ill to work, John Wayne took over direction of the film, and when it was completed he told the studio that he did not want credit as co-director and insisted that Curtiz' name alone appear as director.

Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977)

Vladimir Nabokov's birthday is April 23. The same as Shakespeare's, which I am sure brought (brings?) him no end of delight. To celebrate, I offer this story originally written in Russian and part of a novel never finished. The italicized portion is an introduction prefacing the original English language publication.

Ultima Thule
translated by Dmitri Nabokov in collaboration with the author

The winter of 1939-40 was my last season of Russian prose writing. In spring I left for America, where I was to spend twenty years in a row writing fiction solely in English. Among the works of those farewell months in Paris was a novel which I did not complete before my departure, and to which I never went back. Except for two chapters and a few notes, I destroyed the unfinished thing. Chapter 1, entitled “Ultima Thule,” appeared in 1942 (Novyy Zhurnal, vol. 1, New York). It had been preceded by the publication of chapter 2, “Solus Rex,” in early 1940 (Sovremennyya Zapiski, vol. 70, Paris). The present translation, made in February 1971 by my son with my collaboration, is scrupulously faithful to the original text, including the restoration of a scene that had been marked in the Sovremennyya Zapiski by suspension points.

Perhaps, had I finished my book, readers would not have been left wondering about a few things: was Falter a quack? Was he a true seer? Was he a medium whom the narrator’s dead wife might have been using to come through with the blurry outline of a phrase which her husband did or did not recognize? Be that as it may, one thing is clear enough. In the course of evolving an imaginary country (which at first merely diverted him from his grief, but then grew into a self-contained artistic obsession), the widower becomes so engrossed in Thule that the latter starts to develop its own reality. Sineusov mentions in chapter 1 that he is moving from the Riviera to his former apartment in Paris; actually, he moves into a bleak palace on a remote northern island. His art helps him to resurrect his wife in the disguise of Queen Belinda, a pathetic act which does not let him triumph over death even in the world of free fancy. In chapter 3 she was to die again, killed by a bomb meant for her husband, on the new bridge across the Egel, a few minutes after returning from the Riviera. That is about all I can make out through the dust and debris of my old fancies.

A word about K. The translators had some difficulty about that designation because the Russian for “king,” korol, is abbreviated as “Kr” in the sense it is used here, which sense can be rendered only by “K” in English. To put it rather neatly, my “K” refers to a chessman, not to a Czech. As to the title of the fragment, let me quote Blackburne, Terms & Themes of Chess Problems (London, 1907): “If the King is the only Black man on the board, the problem is said to be of the ‘Solus Rex’ variety.”

Prince Adulf, whose physical aspect I imagined, for some reason, as resembling that of S.P. Diaghilev (1872-1929), remains one of my favorite characters in the private museum of stuffed people that every grateful writer has somewhere on the premises. I do not remember the details of poor Adulf’s death, except that he was dispatched, in some horrible, clumsy manner, by Sien and his companions, exactly five years before the inauguration of the Egel bridge.

Freudians are no longer around, I understand, so I do not need to warn them not to touch my circles with their symbols. The good reader, on the other hand, will certainly distinguish garbled English echoes of this last Russian novel of mine in Bend Sinister (1947) and, especially, Pale Fire (1962); I find those echoes a little annoying, but what really makes me regret its noncompletion is that it promised to differ radically, by the quality of its coloration, by the amplitude of its style, by something undefinable about its powerful underflow, from all my other works in Russian. The present translation of “Ultima Thule” appeared in The New Yorker, April 7, 1973. V.N., A Russian Beauty and Other Stories, 1973

Do you remember the day you and I were lunching (partaking of nourishment) a couple of years before your death? Assuming, of course, that memory can live without its headdress? Let us imagine — just an “apropositional” thought — some totally new handbook of epistolary samples. To a lady who has lost her right hand: I kiss your ellipsis. To a deceased: Respecterfully yours. But enough of these sheepish vignettes. If you don’t remember, then I remember for you: the memory of you can pass, grammatically speaking at least, for your memory, and I am perfectly willing to grant for the sake of an ornate phrase that if, after your death, I and the world will still endure, it is only because you recollect the world and me. I address you now for the following reason. I address you now on the following occasion. I address you now simply to chat with you about Falter. What a fate! What a mystery! What a handwriting! When I tire of trying to persuade myself that he is a half-wit or a kvak (as you used to Russianize the English synonym for “charlatan”), he strikes me as a person who... who, because he survived the bomb of truth that exploded in him... became a god! Beside him, how paltry seem all the bygone clairvoyants: the dust raised by the herd at sunset, the dream within a dream (when you dream you have awakened), the crack students in this our institute of learning hermetically closed to outsiders; for Falter stands outside our world, in the true reality. Reality! — that is the pouter-pigeon throat of the snake that fascinates me. Remember the time we lunched at the hotel managed by Falter near the luxuriant, many-terraced Italian border, where the asphalt is infinitely exalted by the wisteria, and the air smells of rubber and paradise? Adam Falter was still one of us then, and, if nothing about him presaged... what shall I call it? — say, seerhood — nevertheless his whole strong cast (the caromlike coordination of his bodily movements, as though he had ball bearings for cartilages, his precision, his aquiline aloofness) now, in retrospect, explains why he survived the shock: the original figure was large enough to withstand the subtraction.

Oh, my love, how your presence smiles from that fabled bay — and nevermore! — oh, I bite my knuckles so as not to start shaking with sobs, but there is no holding them back; down I slide with locked brakes, making “hoo” and “boohoo” sounds, and it is all such humiliating physical nonsense: the hot blinking, the feeling of suffocation, the dirty handkerchief, the convulsive yawning alternating with the tears — I just can’t, can’t live without you. I blow my nose, swallow, and then all over again try to persuade the chair which I clutch, the desk which I pound, that I can’t boohoo without you. Are you able to hear me? That’s from a banal questionnaire, which ghosts do not answer, but how willingly our death-cell-mates respond for them; “I know!” (pointing skyward at random), “I’ll be glad to tell you!” Your darling head, the hollow of your temple, the forget-me-not gray of an eye squinting at an incipient kiss, the placid expression of your ears when you would lift up your hair... how can I reconcile myself to your disappearance, to this gaping hole, into which slides everything — my whole life, wet gravel, objects, and habits — and what tombal railings can prevent me from tumbling, with silent relish, into this abyss? Vertigo of the soul. Remember how, right after you died, I hurried out of the sanatorium, not walking but sort of stamping and even dancing with pain (life having got jammed in the door like a finger), alone on that winding road among the exaggeratedly scaly pines and the prickly shields of agaves, in a green armored world that quietly drew in its feet so as not to catch the disease. Ah, yes — everything around me kept warily, attentively silent, and only when I looked at something did that something give a start and begin ostentatiously to move, rustle, or buzz, pretending not to notice me. “Indifferent nature,” says Pushkin. Nonsense! A continuous shying-away would be a more accurate description.

What a shame, though. You were such a darling. And, holding on to you from within by a little button, our child went with you. But, my poor sir, one does not make a child to a woman when she has tuberculosis of the throat. Involuntary translation from French into Hadean. You died in your sixth month and took the remaining twelve weeks with you, not paying off your debt in full, as it were. How much I wanted her to bear me a child, the red-nosed widower informed the walls. Êtes-vous tout à fait certain, docteur, que la science ne connaît pas de ces cas exceptionnels où l’enfant naît dans la tombe? And the dream I had: that garlicky doctor (who was at the same time Falter, or was it Alexander Vasilievich?) replying with exceptional readiness, that yes, of course it sometimes did happen, and that such children (i.e., the posthumously born) were known as cadaverkins.

As to you, never once since you died have you appeared in my dreams. Perhaps the authorities intercept you, or you yourself avoid such prison visits with me. At first, base ignoramus that I was, I feared — superstitiously, humiliatingly — the small cracklings that a room always emits at night, but that were now reflected within me by terrifying flashes which made my clucking heart scuttle away faster with low-spread wings. Even worse, however, was the nighttime waiting, when I would lie in bed, trying not to think how you might suddenly give me an answering knock if I thought about it, but this only meant complicating the mental parenthesization, placing brackets within braces (thinking about trying not to think), and the fear within them grew and grew. Oh, how awful was the dry tap of the phantasmal fingernail inside the tabletop, and how little it resembled, of course, the intonation of your soul, of your life. A vulgar ghost with the tricks of a woodpecker, a disincarnate humorist, a corny cobold taking advantage of my stark-naked grief! In the daytime, on the other hand, I was fearless, and would challenge you to manifest your responsiveness in any way you liked, as I sat on the pebbles of the beach, where once your golden legs had been extended; and, as before, a wave would arrive, all out of breath, but, as it had nothing to report, it would disperse in apologetic salaams. Pebbles like cuckoo eggs, a piece of tile shaped like a pistol clip, a fragment of topaz-colored glass, something quite dry resembling a whisk of bast, my tears, a microscopic bead, an empty cigarette package with a yellow-bearded sailor in the center of a life buoy, a stone like a Pompeian’s foot, some creature’s small bone or a spatula, a kerosene can, a shiver of garnet-red glass, a nutshell, a nondescript rusty thingum related to nothing, a shard of porcelain, of which the companion fragments must inevitably exist somewhere — and I imagined an eternal torment, a convict’s task, that would serve as the best punishment for such as I, whose thoughts had ranged too far during their life span: namely, to find and gather all these parts, so as to re-create that gravy boat or soup tureen — hunchbacked wanderings along wild, misty shores. And, after all, if one is supremely lucky, one might restore the dish on the first morning instead of the trillionth — and there it is, that most agonizing question of luck, of Fortune’s Wheel, of the right lottery ticket, without which a given soul might be denied eternal felicity beyond the grave.

On these early spring days the narrow strip of shingle is unadorned and forlorn, but strollers would pass along the promenade above, and this person or that, no doubt, must have said, on observing my shoulder blades, “There’s Sineusov, the artist — lost his wife the other day.” And I would probably have sat like that forever, picking at the desiccated jetsam, watching the stumbling foam, noting the sham tenderness of elongated serial cloudlets all along the horizon and the wine-dark washes of warmth in the chill blue-green of the sea, if someone indeed had not recognized me from the sidewalk.

However (as I fumble among the tom silks of phrase), let me return to Falter. As you have by now remembered, we went there once, on a torrid day, crawling like two ants up a flower-basket ribbon, because I was curious to take a look at my former tutor (whose lessons were limited to witty polemics with the compilers of my manuals), a resilient-looking, well-groomed man with a large white nose and a glossy parting in his hair; and it was along this straight line that he later traveled to business success, while his father, Ilya Falter, was only the senior chef at Ménard’s in St. Petersburg: il y a pauvre Ilya, turning on povar, which is “man cook” in Russian. My angel, oh my angel, perhaps our whole earthly existence is now but a pun to you, or a grotesque rhyme, something like “dental” and “transcendental” (remember?), and the true meaning of reality, of that piercing term, purged of all our strange, dreamy, masquerade interpretations, now sounds so pure and sweet that you, angel, find it amusing that we could have taken the dream seriously (although you and I did have an inkling of why everything disintegrated at one furtive touch — words, conventions of everyday life, systems, persons — so, you know, I think laughter is some chance little ape of truth astray in our world).

I was now seeing him after an interval of twenty years; and how right I had been, when approaching the hotel, to construe all of its classical ornaments — the cedar of Lebanon, the eucalyptus, the banana tree, the terra-cotta tennis court, the enclosure for cars beyond the lawn — as a ceremonial of fortunate fate, as a symbol of the corrections that the former image of Falter now required! During our years of separation (quite painless for us both) he had changed from a poor, wiry student with animated night-dark eyes and a beautiful, strong, sinistral handwriting into a dignified, rather corpulent gentleman, though the liveliness of his glance and the beauty of his large hands were undiminished — only I would never have recognized him from the back, for, instead of the thick, sleek hair and shaven nape, there was now a nimbus of black fluff encircling a sun-browned bald spot akin to a tonsure. With his silk shirt, the color of stewed rutabaga, his checked tie, his wide pearl-gray pants, and his piebald shoes, he struck me as being dressed up for a fancy-dress ball; but his large nose was the same as ever, and with it he infallibly caught the light scent of the past when I came up, slapped him on his muscular shoulder, and posed him my riddle. You were standing a little way off, your bare ankles pressed together on their high cobalt-blue heels, examining with restrained but mischievous interest the furnishings of the enormous hall, empty at that hour — the hippopotamus hide of the armchairs, the austere bar, the British magazines on the glass-topped table, the frescoes, of studied simplicity, depicting scanty-breasted bronzed girls against a golden background, one of whom, with parallel strands of stylized hair falling along her cheek, had for some reason gone down on one knee. Could we conceive that the master of all this splendor would ever cease to see it? My angel.... Meanwhile, taking my hands in his, squeezing them, puckering the skin between his brows and fixing me with dark, narrowed eyes, he was observing that life-suspending pause observed by those who are about to sneeze but are not quite sure if they will succeed... but he succeeded, the past burst into light, and he loudly pronounced my nickname. He kissed your hand, without bending his head, and then, in a benevolent fuss, obviously enjoying the fact that I, a person who had seen better days, had now found him in the full glory of the life he had himself created by the power of his sculptitory will, he seated us on the terrace, ordered cocktails and lunch, introduced us to his brother-in-law, Mr. L., a cultured man in a dark business suit that contrasted oddly with Falter’s exotic foppishness. We drank, we ate, we talked about the past as about someone gravely ill, I managed to balance a knife on the back of a fork, you petted the wonderful nervous dog that feared its master, and after a minute of silence, in the midst of which Falter suddenly uttered a distinct “Yes,” as if concluding a diagnostic deliberation, we parted, making each other promises that neither he nor I had the least intention of keeping.

You didn’t find anything remarkable about him, did you? And to be sure — that type has been done to death: throughout a drab youth supported his alcoholic father by giving lessons, and then slowly, obstinately, buoyantly achieved prosperity; for, in addition to the not very profitable hotel, he had flourishing interests in the wine business. But, as I understood later, you were wrong when you said that it was all somewhat dull and that energetic, successful fellows like him always reek of sweat. Actually, I am madly envious now of the early Falter’s basic trait: the precision and power of his “volitional substance,” as — you remember? — poor Adolf put it in a quite different context. Whether sitting in a trench or in an office, whether catching a train or getting up on a dark morning in an unheated room, whether arranging business connections or pursuing someone in friendship or enmity, Adam Falter not only was always in possession of all his faculties, not only lived every moment cocked like a pistol, but was always certain of unfailingly achieving today’s aim, and tomorrow’s, and the whole gradual progression of his aims, at the same time working economically, for he did not aim high, and knew his limitations exactly. His greatest service to himself was that he deliberately disregarded his talents, and banked on the ordinary, the commonplace; for he was endowed with strange, mysteriously fascinating gifts, which some other, less circumspect person might have tried to put to practical use. Perhaps only in the very beginning of life had he sometimes been unable to control himself, intermixing the humdrum coaching of a schoolboy in a humdrum subject with unusually elegant manifestations of mathematical thought, which left a certain chill of poetry hanging about my schoolroom after he had hurried away to his next lesson. I think with envy that if my nerves were as strong as his, my soul as resilient, my willpower as condensed, he would have imparted to me nowadays the essence of the superhuman discovery he recently made — that is, he would not have feared that the information would crush me; I, on the other hand, would have been sufficiently persistent to make him tell me everything to the end.

A slightly husky voice hailed me discreetly from the promenade, but, as more than a year had passed since our luncheon with Falter, I did not immediately recognize his humble brother-in-law in the person who now cast a shadow on my stones. Out of mechanical politeness I went up to join him on the sidewalk, and he expressed his deepest et cetera: he had happened to stop by at my pension, he said, and the good people there had not only informed him of your death, but also indicated to him from afar my figure upon the deserted beach, a figure that had become a kind of local curiosity (for a moment I felt ashamed that the round back of my grief should be visible from every terrace).

“We met at Adam Ilyich’s,” he said, showing the stumps of his incisors and taking his place in my limp consciousness. I must have proceeded to ask him something about Falter.

“Oh, so you haven’t heard?” the prattler said in surprise, and it was then that I learned the whole story.

It happened that the previous spring Falter had gone on business to a particularly viny Riviera town, and, as usual, stopped at a quiet little hotel, whose proprietor was a debtor of his of long standing. One must picture this hotel, tucked up in the feathered armpit of a hill overgrown with mimosa, and the little lane, not fully built up yet, with its half-dozen tiny villas, where radio sets sang in the small human space between the stardust and the sleeping oleanders, while crickets zinked the night with their stridulation in the vacant lot under Falter’s open third-story window. After having passed a hygienic evening in a small bordello on the Boulevard de la Mutualité, he returned at about eleven to the hotel, in an excellent mood, clear of head and light of loin, and immediately went up to his room. The star-ashed brow of night; her expression of gentle insanity; the swarming of lights in the old town; an amusing mathematical problem about which he had corresponded the year before with a Swedish scholar; the dry, sweet smell that seemed to loll, without thought or task, here and there in the hollows of the darkness; the metaphysical taste of a wine, well bought and well sold; the news, recently received from a remote, unattractive country, of the death of a half-sister, whose image had long since wilted in his memory — all of this, I imagine, was floating through Falter’s mind as he walked up the street and then mounted to his room; and while taken separately none of these reflections and impressions was in the least new or unusual for this hard-nosed, not quite ordinary, but superficial man (for, on the basis of our human core, we are divided into professionals and amateurs; Falter, like me, was an amateur), in their totality they formed perhaps the most favorable medium for the flash, the unearthly lightning, as catastrophic as a sweepstakes win, monstrously fortuitous, in no way foretold by the normal function of his reason, that struck him that night in that hotel.

About half an hour had passed since his return when the collective slumber of the small white building, with its barely rippling crapelike mosquito netting and wall flowers, was abruptly — no, not interrupted, but rent, split, blasted by sounds that remained unforgettable to the hearers, my darling — those sounds, those dreadful sounds. They were not the porcine squeals of a mollycoddle being dispatched by hasty villains in a ditch, not the roar of a wounded soldier whom a savage surgeon relieves of a monstrous leg — no, they were worse, far worse.... And if, said later the innkeeper, Monsieur Paon, one were going to make comparisons, those sounds resembled most of all the paroxysmal, almost exultant screams of a woman in the throes of infinitely painful childbirth — a woman, however, with a man’s voice and a giant in her womb. It was hard to identify the dominant note amid the storm rending that human throat — whether it was pain, fear, or the clarion of madness, or again, and most likely of all, the expression of an unfathomable sensation, whose very unknowability imparted to the exultation bursting from Falter’s room something that aroused in the hearers a panical desire to put an immediate stop to it. The newlyweds who were toiling in the nearest bed paused, diverting their eyes in parallel and holding their breath; the Dutchman living downstairs scuttled out into the garden, which already contained the housekeeper and the white shimmer of eighteen maids (only two, really, multiplied by their darting to and fro). The hotel keeper, who, according to his own account, had retained full presence of mind, rushed upstairs and ascertained that the door behind which continued the hurricane of howling, so mighty that it seemed to thrust one back, was locked from within and would yield neither to thump nor entreaty. Roaring Falter, insofar as one could assume it was indeed he that roared (his open window was dark, and the intolerable sounds issuing from within did not bear the imprint of anyone’s personality), spread out far beyond the limits of the hotel, and neighbors gathered in the surrounding darkness, and one rascal had five cards in his hand, all trumps. By now it was completely incomprehensible how anyone’s vocal cords could endure the strain: according to one account, Falter screamed for at least fifteen minutes; according to another and probably more accurate one, for about five without interruption. Suddenly (while the landlord was deciding whether to break down the door with a joint effort, place a ladder outside, or call the police) the screams, having attained the ultimate limits of agony, horror, amazement, and of that other quite undefinable something, turned into a medley of moans and then stopped altogether. It grew so quiet that at first those present conversed in whispers.

Cautiously, the landlord again knocked at the door, and from behind it came sighs and unsteady footfalls. Presently one heard someone fumbling at the lock, as though he did not know how to open it. A weak, soft fist began smacking feebly from within. Then Monsieur Paon did what he could actually have done much sooner — he found another key and opened the door.

“One would like some light,” Falter said softly in the dark. Thinking for an instant that Falter had broken the lamp during his fit, the landlord automatically checked the switch, but the light obediently came on, and Falter, blinking in sickly surprise, turned his eyes from the hand that had engendered light to the newly filled glass bulb, as if seeing for the first time how it was done.

A strange, repulsive change had come over his entire exterior: he looked as if his skeleton had been removed. His sweaty and now somehow flabby face, with its hanging lip and pink eyes, expressed not only a dull fatigue, but also relief, an animal relief as after the pangs of monster-bearing. Naked to the waist, wearing only his pajama bottoms, he stood with lowered face, rubbing the back of one hand with the palm of the other. To the natural questions of Monsieur Paon and the hotel guests he gave no answer; he merely puffed out his cheeks, pushed aside those who had surrounded him, came out on the landing, and began urinating copiously right on the stairs. Then he went back, lay down on his bed, and fell asleep.

In the morning the hotel keeper called up Mrs. L., Falter’s sister, to warn her that her brother had gone mad, and he was bundled off home, listless and half-asleep. The family doctor suggested it was just a slight stroke and prescribed the correspondent treatment. But Falter did not get better. After a time, it is true, he began walking about freely, and even whistling at times, and uttering loud insults, and grabbing food the doctor had forbidden. However, the change remained. He was like a man who had lost everything: respect for life, all interest in money and business, all customary and traditional feelings, everyday habits, manners, absolutely everything. It was unsafe to let him go anywhere alone, for, with a curiosity quite superficial and quickly forgotten but offensive to others, he would address chance passersby, to discuss the origin of a scar on someone’s face or a statement, not addressed to him, that he had overheard in a conversation between strangers. He would take an orange from a fruit stand as he passed, and eat it unpeeled, responding with an indifferent half-smile to the jabber of the fruit-woman who had run after him. When he grew tired or bored he would squat on the sidewalk Turkish fashion and, for something to do, try to catch girls’ heels in his fist like flies. Once he appropriated several hats, five felts and two panamas, which he had painstakingly collected in various cafés, and there were difficulties with the police.

His case attracted the attention of a well-known Italian psychiatrist, who happened to have a patient at Falter’s hotel. This Dr. Bonomini, a youngish man, was studying, as he himself would willingly explain, “the dynamics of the psyche,” and sought to demonstrate in his works, whose popularity was not confined to learned circles, that all psychic disorders could be explained by subliminal memories of calamities that befell the patient’s forebears, and that if, for example, the subject were afflicted by megalomania, to cure him completely it sufficed to determine which of his great-grandfathers was a power-hungry failure, and explain to the great-grandson that the ancestor being dead had found eternal peace, although in complex cases it was actually necessary to resort to theatrical representation, in costumes of the period, depicting the specific demise of the ancestor whose role was assigned to the patient. These tableaux vivants grew so fashionable that Bonomini was obliged to explain to the public in print the dangers of staging them without his direct control.

Having questioned Falter’s sister, Bonomini established that the Falters did not know much about their forebears; true, Ilya Falter had been addicted to drink; but since, according to Bonomini’s theory, “the patient’s illness reflects only the distant past,” as, for instance, a folk epic “sublimates” only remote occurrences, the details about Falter père were useless to him. Nevertheless he offered to try to help the patient, hoping by means of clever questioning to make Falter himself produce the explanation for his condition, after which the necessary ancestors could become deducible of their own accord; that an explanation did exist was confirmed by the fact that when Falter’s intimates succeeded in penetrating his silence he would succinctly and dismissively allude to something quite out of the ordinary that he had experienced on that enigmatic night.

One day Bonomini closeted himself with Falter in the latter’s room, and, like the knower of human hearts he was, with his horn-rimmed glasses and that hankie in his breast pocket, managed apparently to get out of him an exhaustive reply about the cause of his nocturnal howls. Hypnotism probably played its part in the business, for at the subsequent inquest Falter insisted that he had blabbed against his will, and that it rankled. He added, however, that never mind, sooner or later he would have made the experiment anyway, but that now he would definitely never repeat it. Be that as it may, the poor author of The Heroics of Insanity became the prey of Falter’s Medusa. Since the intimate encounter between doctor and patient seemed to be lasting abnormally long, Eleonora L., Falter’s sister, who had been knitting a gray shawl on the terrace, and for a long time already had not heard the psychiatrist’s release-inducing, high-spirited, or falsely cajoling little tenor, which at first had been more or less audible through the half-open French window, entered her brother’s room, and found him examining with dull curiosity the alpine sanatoriums in a brochure that had probably been brought by the doctor, while the doctor himself sprawled half on a chair and half on the carpet, with a gap of linen showing between waistcoat and trousers, his short legs spread wide and his pale café-au-lait face thrown back, felled, as was later determined, by heart failure. To the questions of the officiously meddling police Falter replied absently and tersely; but, when he finally grew tired of this pestering, he pointed out that, having accidentally solved “the riddle of the universe,” he had yielded to artful exhortation and shared that solution with his inquisitive interlocutor, whereupon the latter had died of astonishment. The local newspapers caught up the story, embellished it properly, and the person of Falter, in the guise of a Tibetan sage, for several days nourished the not overparticular news columns.

But, as you know, during those days I did not read the papers: you were dying then. Now, however, having heard the story of Falter in detail, I experienced a certain very strong and perhaps slightly shamefaced desire.

You understand, of course. In the condition I was in, people without imagination — i.e., deprived of its support and inquiry — turn to the advertisements of wonder-workers; to chiromancers in comedy turbans, who combine the magic business with a trade in rat poison or rubber sheaths; to fat, swarthy women fortune-tellers; but particularly to spiritualists, who fake a still unidentified force by giving it the milky features of phantoms and getting them to manifest themselves in silly physical ways. But I have my share of imagination, and therefore two possibilities existed: the first was my work, my art, the consolation of my art; the second consisted of taking the plunge and believing that a person like Falter, rather average when you come down to it, despite a shrewd mind’s parlor games, and even a little vulgar, had actually and conclusively learned that at which no seer, no sorcerer had ever arrived.

My art? You remember him, don’t you, that strange Swede or Dane — or Icelander, for all I know — anyway, that lanky, orange-tanned blond fellow with the eyelashes of an old horse, who introduced himself to me as “a well-known writer,” and, for a price that gladdened you (you were already confined to your bed and unable to speak, but would write me funny trifles with colored chalk on slate — for instance, that the things you liked most in life were “verse, wildflowers, and foreign currency”), commissioned me to make a series of illustrations for the epic poem Ultima Thule, which he had just composed in his language. Of course there could be no question of my acquainting myself thoroughly with his manuscript, since French, in which we agonizingly communicated, was known to him mostly by hearsay, and he was unable to translate his imagery for me. I managed to understand only that his hero was some Northern king, unhappy and unsociable; that his kingdom, amid the sea mists, on a melancholy and remote island, was plagued by political intrigues of some kind, assassinations, insurrections, and that a white horse which had lost its rider was flying along the misty heath.... He was pleased with my first blanc et noir sample, and we decided on the subjects of the other drawings. As he did not turn up in a week as he had promised, I called his hotel, and learned that he had left for America.

I concealed my employer’s disappearance from you, but did not go on with the drawings; then again, you were already so ill that I did not feel like thinking about my golden pen and traceries in India ink. But when you died, when the early mornings and late evenings became especially unbearable, then, with a pitiful, feverish eagerness, the awareness of which would bring tears to my own eyes, I would continue the work for which I knew no one would come, and for that very reason that task seemed to me appropriate — its spectral, intangible nature, the lack of aim or reward would lead me away to a realm akin to the one in which, for me, you exist, my ghostly goal, my darling, such a darling earthly creation, for which no one will ever come anywhere; and since everything kept distracting me, fobbing upon me the paint of temporality instead of the graphic design of eternity, tormenting me with your tracks on the beach, with the stones on the beach, with your blue shadow on the loathsome bright beach, I decided to return to our lodging in Paris and settle down to work seriously. Ultima Thule, that island born in the desolate, gray sea of my heartache for you, now attracted me as the home of my least expressible thoughts.

However, before leaving the Riviera, I absolutely had to see Falter. This was the second solace I had invented for myself. I managed to convince myself that he was not simply a lunatic after all, that not only did he believe in the discovery he had made, but that this very discovery was the source of his madness, and not vice versa. I learned that he had moved to an apartment next to my pension. I also learned that his health was flagging; that when the flame of life had gone out in him it had left his body without supervision and without incentive; that he would probably die soon. I learned, finally, and this was especially important to me, that lately, in spite of his failing strength, he had grown unusually talkative and for days on end would treat his visitors (and, alas, a different kind of curiosity-seeker than I got through to him) to speeches in which he caviled at the mechanics of human thought, oddly meandering speeches, exposing nothing, but almost Socratic in rhythm and sting. I offered to visit him, but his brother-in-law replied that the poor fellow enjoyed any diversion, and had the strength to reach my house.

And so they arrived — that is, the brother-in-law in his inevitable shabby black suit, his wife Eleonora (a tall, taciturn woman, whose clear-cut sturdiness recalled the former frame of her brother, and now served as a kind of living lesson to him, an adjacent moralistic picture), and Falter himself, whose appearance shocked me, even though I was prepared to see him changed. How can I express it? Mr. L. had said that he looked as if his bones had been removed; I, on the other hand, had the impression that his soul had been extracted but his mind intensified tenfold in recompense. By this I mean that one look at Falter was sufficient to understand that one need not expect from him any of the human feelings common in everyday life, that Falter had utterly lost the knack of loving anyone, of feeling pity, if only for himself, of experiencing kindness and, on occasion, compassion for the soul of another, of habitually serving, as best he could, the cause of good, if only that of his own standard, just as he had lost the knack of shaking hands or using his handkerchief. And yet he did not strike one as a madman — oh, no, quite the contrary! In his oddly bloated features, in his unpleasant, satiated gaze, even in his flat feet, shod no longer in fashionable Oxfords but in cheap espadrilles, one could sense some concentrated power, and this power was not in the least interested in the flabbiness and inevitable decay of the flesh that it squeamishly controlled.
His attitude toward me now was not that of our last brief encounter, but that which I remembered from the days of our youth, when he would come to coach me. No doubt he was perfectly aware that, chronologically, a quarter of a century had passed since those days, and yet as though along with his soul he had lost his sense of time (without which the soul cannot live), he obviously regarded me — a matter not so much of words, but of his whole manner — as if it had all been yesterday; yet he had no sympathy, no warmth whatever for me — nothing, not even a speck of it.

They seated him in an armchair, and he spread his limbs strangely, as a chimpanzee might do when his keeper makes him parody a Sybarite in a recumbent position. His sister settled down to her knitting, and during the whole course of the conversation did not once raise her short-haired gray head. Her husband took two newspapers — a local one, and one from Marseilles — out of his pocket, and was also silent. Only when Falter, noticing a large photograph of you that happened to be standing right in his line of sight, asked where were you hiding, did Mr. L. say, in the loud, artificial voice people use to address the deaf, and without looking up from his newspaper: “Come, you know perfectly well she is dead.”

“Ah, yes,” remarked Falter with inhuman unconcern, and, addressing me, added, “Oh well, may the kingdom of heaven be hers — isn’t that what one is supposed to say in society?”

Then the following conversation began between us; total recall, rather than shorthand notes, now allows me to transcribe it exactly.

“I wanted to see you, Falter,” I said (actually addressing him by first name and patronymic, but, in narration, his timeless image does not tolerate any conjunction of the man with a definite country and a genetic past), “I wanted to see you in order to have a frank talk with you. I wonder if you would consider it possible to ask your relatives to leave us alone.”

“They do not count,” abruptly observed Falter.

“When I say ‘frank,’” I went on, “I presuppose the reciprocal possibility of asking no matter what questions, and the readiness to answer them. But since it is I who shall ask the questions, and expect answers from you, everything depends upon your consent to be straightforward; you do not need that assurance from me.”

“To a straightforward question I shall give a straightforward answer,” said Falter.

“In that case allow me to come right to the point. We shall ask Mr. and Mrs. L. to step outside for a moment, and you will tell me verbatim what you told the Italian doctor.”

“Well, I’ll be damned,” said Falter.

“You cannot refuse me this. In the first place, the information won’t kill me — this I guarantee you; I may look tired and seedy but don’t you worry, I still have enough strength left. In the second place, I promise to keep your secret to myself, and even to shoot myself, if you like, immediately after learning it. You see, I allow that my loquacity may bother you even more than my death. Well, do you agree?”

“I refuse absolutely,” replied Falter, and swept away a book from the table next to him to make room for his elbow.

“For the sake of somehow starting our talk, I shall temporarily accept your refusal. Let us proceed ab ovo. Now then, Falter, I understand that the essence of things has been revealed to you.”

“Yes, period,” said Falter.

“Agreed — you will not tell me about it; nevertheless, I draw two important deductions: things do have an essence, and this essence can be revealed to the mind.”

Falter smiled. “Only do not call them deductions, mister. They are but flag stops. Logical reasoning may be a most convenient means of mental communication for covering short distances, but the curvature of the earth, alas, is reflected even in logic: an ideally rational progression of thought will finally bring you back to the point of departure where you return aware of the simplicity of genius, with a delightful sensation that you have embraced truth, while actually you have merely embraced your own self. Why set out on that journey, then? Be content with the formula: the essence of things has been revealed — wherein, incidentally, a blunder of yours is already present; I cannot explain it to you, since the least hint at an explanation would be a lethal glimpse. As long as the proposition remains static, one does not notice the blunder. But anything you might term a deduction already exposes the flaw: logical development inexorably becomes an envelopment.”

“All right, for the present I shall be content with that much. Now allow me a question.. When a hypothesis enters a scientist’s mind, he checks it by calculation and experiment, that is, by the mimicry and the pantomime of truth. Its plausibility infects others, and the hypothesis is accepted as the true explanation for the given phenomenon, until someone finds its faults. I believe the whole of science consists of such exiled or retired ideas: and yet at one time each of them boasted high rank; now only a name or a pension is left. But in your case, Falter, I suspect that you have found some different method of discovery and test. May I call it ‘revelation’ in the theological sense?”

“You may not,” said Falter.

“Wait a minute. Right now I am interested not so much in the method of discovery as in your conviction that the result is true. In other words, either you have a method of checking the result, or the awareness of its truth is inherent in it.”
“You see,” answered Falter, “in Indochina, at the lottery drawings, the numbers are extracted by a monkey. I happen to be that monkey. Another metaphor: in a country of honest men a yawl was moored at the shore, and it did not belong to anyone; but no one knew that it did not belong to anyone; and its assumed appurtenance to someone rendered it invisible to all. I happened to get into it. But perhaps it would be simplest of all if I said that in a moment of playfulness, not mathematical playfulness, necessarily — mathematics, I warn you, is but a perpetual game of leapfrog over its own shoulders as it keeps breeding — I kept combining various ideas, and finally found the right combination and exploded, like Berthold Schwartz. Somehow I survived; perhaps another in my place might have survived, too. However, after the incident with my charming doctor I do not have the least desire to be bothered by the police again.”

“You’re warming up, Falter. But let’s get back to the point: what exactly makes you certain that it is the truth? That monkey is not really a party to the cast lots.”

“Truths, and shadows of truths,” said Falter, “in the sense of species, of course, not specimens, are so rare in the world, and available ones are either so trivial or tainted, that — how shall I put it? — that the recoil upon perceiving Truth, the instant reaction of one’s whole being, remains an unfamiliar, little-studied phenomenon. Oh, well, sometimes in children — when a boy wakes up or regains his senses after a bout with scarlet fever and there is an electric discharge of reality, relative reality, no doubt, for you, humans, possess no other. Take any truism, that is, the corpse of a relative truth. Now analyze the physical sensation evoked in you by the words ‘black is darker than brown,’ or ‘ice is cold.’ Your thought is too lazy even to make a polite pretense of raising its rump from its bench, as if the same teacher were to enter your classroom a hundred times in the course of one lesson in old Russia. But, in my childhood, one day of great frost, I licked the shiny lock of a wicket. Let us dismiss the physical pain, or the pride of discovery, if it is a pleasant one — all that is not the real reaction to truth. You see, its impact is so little known that one cannot even find an exact word for it. All your nerves simultaneously answer ‘yes!’ — something like that. Let us also set aside a kind of astonishment, which is merely the unaccustomed assimilation of the thingness of truth, not of Truth itself. If you tell me that So-and-so is a thief, then I combine at once in my mind a number of suddenly illuminated trifles that I had myself observed, yet I have time to marvel that a man who had seemed so upright turned out to be a crook, but unconsciously I have already absorbed the truth, so that my astonishment itself promptly assumes an inverted form (how could one have ever thought honest such an obvious crook?); in other words, the sensitive point of truth lies exactly halfway between the first surprise and the second.”

“Right. This is all fairly clear.”

“On the other hand, surprise carried to stunning, unimaginable dimensions,” Falter went on, “can have extremely painful effects, and it is still nothing compared to the shock of Truth itself. And that can no longer be ‘absorbed.’ It was by chance that it did not kill me, just as it was by chance that it struck me. I doubt one could think of checking a sensation of such intensity. A check can, however, be made ex post facto, though I personally have no need for the complexities of the verification. Take any commonplace truth — for instance, that two angles equal to a third are equal to each other; does the postulate also include anything about ice being hot or rocks occurring in Canada? In other words, a given truthlet, to coin a diminutive, does not contain any other related truthlets and, even less, such ones that belong to different kinds or levels of knowledge or thought. What, then, would you say about a Truth with a capital T that comprises in itself the explanation and the proof of all possible mental affirmations? One can believe in the poetry of a wildflower or the power of money, but neither belief predetermines faith in homeopathy or in the necessity to exterminate antelope on the islands of Lake Victoria Nyanza; but in any case, having learned what I have — if this can be called learning — I received a key to absolutely all the doors and treasure chests in the world; only I have no need to use it, since every thought about its practical significance automatically, by its very nature, grades into the whole series of hinged lids. I may doubt my physical ability to imagine to the very end all the consequences of my discovery, and namely, to what degree I have not yet gone insane, or, inversely, how far behind I have left all that is meant by insanity; but I certainly cannot doubt that, as you put it, ‘essence has been revealed to me.’ Some water, please.”

“Here you are. But let me see, Falter — did I understand you correctly? Are you really henceforth a candidate for omniscience? Excuse me, but I don’t have that impression. I can allow that you know something fundamental, but your words contain no concrete indications of absolute wisdom.”

“Saving my strength,” said Falter. “Anyway, I never affirmed that I know everything now — Arabic, for example, or how many times in your life you have shaved, or who set the type for the newspaper which that fool over there is reading. I only say that I know everything I might want to know. Anyone could say that — couldn’t he? — after having leafed through an encyclopedia; only, the encyclopedia whose exact title I have learned (there, by the way — I am giving you a more elegant definition: I know the title of things) is literally all-inclusive, and therein lies the difference between me and the most versatile scholar on earth. You see, I have learned — and here I am leading you to the very edge of the Riviera precipice, ladies don’t look — I have learned one very simple thing about the world. It is by itself so obvious, so amusingly obvious, that only my wretched humanity can consider it monstrous. When in a moment I say ‘congruent’ I shall mean something infinitely removed from all the congruencies known to you, just as the nature itself of my discovery has nothing in common with the nature of any physical or philosophical conjectures. Now the main thing in me that is congruent with the main thing in the universe could not be affected by the bodily spasm that has thus shattered me. At the same time the possible knowledge of all things, consequent to the knowledge of the fundamental one, did not dispose in me of a sufficiently solid apparatus. I am training myself by willpower not to leave the vivarium, to observe the rules of your mentality as if nothing had happened; in other words, I act like a beggar, a versifier, who has received a million in foreign currency, but goes on living in his basement, for he knows that the least concession to luxury would ruin his liver.”

“But the treasure is in your possession, Falter — that’s what hurts. Let us drop the discussion of your attitude toward it, and talk about the thing itself. I repeat — I have taken note of your refusal to let me peek at your Medusa, and am further willing to refrain from the most evident inferences, since, as you hint, any logical conclusion is a confinement of thought in itself. I propose to you a different method for our questions and answers: I shall not ask you about the contents of your treasure; but, after all, you will not give away its secret by telling me if, say, it lies in the East, or if there is even one topaz in it, or if even one man has ever passed in its proximity. At the same time, if you answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a question, I not only promise to avoid choosing that particular line for a further series of related questions, but pledge to end the conversation altogether.”
“Theoretically, you are luring me into a clumsy trap,” said Falter, shaking slightly, as another might do when laughing. “Actually, it would be a trap only if you were capable of asking me at least one such question. There is very little chance of that. Therefore, if you enjoy pointless amusement, fire away.”

I thought a moment and said, “Falter, allow me to begin like the traditional tourist — with an inspection of an ancient church, familiar to him from pictures. Let me ask you: does God exist?”

“Cold,” said Falter.

I did not understand and repeated the question.

“Forget it,” snapped Falter. “I said ‘cold,’ as they say in the game, when one must find a hidden object. If you are looking under a chair or under the shadow of a chair, and the object cannot be in that place, because it happens to be somewhere else, then the question of there existing a chair or its shadow has nothing whatever to do with the game. To say that perhaps the chair exists but the object is not there is the same as saying that perhaps the object is there but the chair does not exist, which means that you end up again in the circle so dear to human thought.”

“You must agree, though, Falter, that if as you say the thing sought is not anywhere near to the concept of God, and if that thing is, according to your terminology, a kind of universal ‘title,’ then the concept of God does not appear on the title page; hence, there exists no true necessity for such a concept, and since there is no need for God, no God exists.”

“Then you did not understand what I said about the relationship between a possible place and the impossibility of finding the object in it. All right, I shall put it more clearly. By the very act of your mentioning a given concept you placed your own self in the position of an enigma, as if the seeker himself were to hide. And by persisting in your question, you not only hide, but also believe that by sharing with the sought-for object the quality of ‘hiddenness’ you bring it closer to you. How can I answer you whether God exists when the matter under discussion is perhaps sweet peas or a soccer linesman’s flag? You are looking in the wrong place and in the wrong way, cher monsieur, that is all the answer I can give you. And if it seems to you that from this answer you can draw the least conclusion about the uselessness or necessity of God, it is just because you are looking in the wrong place and in the wrong way. Wasn’t it you, though, that promised not to follow logical patterns of thought?”

“Now I too am going to trap you, Falter. Let’s see how you’ll manage to avoid a direct statement. One cannot, then, seek the title of the world in the hieroglyphics of deism?”

“Pardon me,” replied Falter, “by means of ornate language and grammatical trickery Moustache-Bleue is merely disguising the expected non as an expected oui. At the moment all I do is deny. I deny the expediency of the search for Truth in the realm of common theology, and, to save your mind empty labor, I hasten to add that the epithet I have used is a dead end: do not turn into it. I shall have to terminate the discussion for lack of an interlocutor if you exclaim ‘Aha, then there is another, “uncommon,” truth!’ — for this would mean that you have hidden yourself so well as to have lost yourself.”

“All right. I shall believe you. Let us grant that theology muddies the issue. Is that right, Falter?”

“This is the house that Jack built,” said Falter.

“All right, we dismiss this false trail as well. Even though you could probably explain to me why it is false (for there is something queer and elusive here, something that irritates you), and then your reluctance to reply would be clear to me.”

“I could,” said Falter, “but it would be equivalent to revealing the gist of the matter, that is, exactly what you are not going to get out of me.”

“You repeat yourself, Falter. Don’t tell me you will be just as evasive if, for instance, 1 ask you: can one expect an afterlife?”
“Does it interest you very much?”

“Just as much as it does you, Falter. Whatever you may know about death, we are both mortal.”

“In the first place,” said Falter, “I call your attention to the following curious catch: any man is mortal; you are a man; therefore, it is also possible that you are not mortal. Why? Because a specified man (you or I) for that very reason ceases to be any man. Yet both of us are indeed mortal, but I am mortal in a different way than you.”

“Don’t spite my poor logic, but give me a plain answer: is there even a glimmer of one’s identity beyond the grave, or does it all end in ideal darkness?”

“Bon,” said Falter, as is the habit of Russian émigrés in France. “You want to know whether Gospodin Sineusov will forever reside within the snugness of Gospodin Sineusov, otherwise Moustache-Bleue, or whether everything will abruptly vanish. There are two ideas here, aren’t there? Round-the-clock lighting and the black inane. Actually, despite the difference in metaphysical color, they greatly resemble each other. And they move in parallel. They even move at considerable speed. Long live the totalizator! Hey, hey, look through your turf glasses, they’re racing each other, and you would very much like to know which will arrive first at the post of truth, but in asking me to give you a yes or no for either one or the other, you want me to catch one of them at full speed by the neck — and those devils have awfully slippery necks — but even if I were to grab one of them for you, I would merely interrupt the competition, or the winner would be the other, the one I did not snatch, an utterly meaningless result inasmuch as no rivalry would any longer exist. If you ask, however, which of the two runs faster, I shall retort with another question: what runs faster, strong desire or strong fear?”

“Same pace, I suppose.”

“That’s just it. For look what happens in the case of the poor little human mind. Either it has no way to express what awaits you — I mean, us — after death, and then total unconsciousness is excluded, for that is quite accessible to our imagination — every one of us has experienced the total darkness of dreamless sleep; or, on the contrary, death can be imagined, and then one’s reason naturally adopts not the notion of eternal life, an unknown entity, incongruent with anything terrestrial, but precisely that which seems more probable — the familiar darkness of stupor. Indeed, how can a man who trusts in his reason admit, for instance, that someone who is dead drunk and dies while sound asleep from a chance external cause — thus losing by chance what he no longer really possessed — again acquires the ability to reason and feel thanks to the mere extension, consolidation, and perfection of his unfortunate condition? Hence, if you were to ask me only one thing: do I know, in human terms, what lies beyond death — that is, if you attempted to avert the absurdity in which must peter out the competition between two opposite, but basically similar concepts — a negative reply on my part would logically make you conclude that your life cannot end in nothingness, while from an affirmative you would draw the opposite conclusion. In either case, as you see, you would remain in exactly the same situation as before, since a dry ‘no’ would prove to you that I know no more than you about the given subject, while a moist ‘yes’ would suggest that you accept the existence of an international heaven which your reason cannot fail to doubt.”

“You are simply evading a straightforward answer, but allow me to observe nevertheless that on the subject of death you do not give me the answer ‘cold.’”

“There you go again,” sighed Falter. “Didn’t I just explain to you that any deduction whatsoever conforms to the curvature of thought? It is correct, as long as you remain in the sphere of earthly dimensions, but when you attempt to go beyond, your error grows in proportion to the distance you cover. And that’s not all: your mind will construe any answer of mine exclusively from a utilitarian viewpoint, for you are unable to conceive death otherwise than in the image of your own gravestone, and this in turn would distort to such an extent the sense of my answer as to turn it into a lie, ipso facto. So let us observe decorum even when dealing with the transcendental. I cannot express myself more clearly — and you ought to be grateful for any evasiveness. You have an inkling, I gather, that there is a little hitch in the very formulation of the question, a hitch, incidentally, that is more terrible than the fear itself of death. It’s particularly strong in you, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Falter. The terror I feel at the thought of my future unconsciousness is equal only to the revulsion caused in me by a mental foreview of my decomposing body.”

“Well put. Probably other symptoms of this sublunary malady are present as well? A dull pang in the heart, suddenly, in the middle of the night, like the flash of a wild creature among domestic emotions and pet thoughts: ‘Someday I also must die.’ It happens to you, doesn’t it? Hatred for the world, which will very cheerfully carry on without you. A basic sensation that all things in the world are trifles and phantasmata compared to your mortal agony, and therefore to your life, for, you say to yourself, life itself is the agony before death. Yes, oh yes, I can imagine perfectly well that sickness from which you all suffer to a lesser or greater degree, and I can say one thing: I fail to understand how people can live under such conditions.”

“There, Falter, we seem to be getting somewhere. Apparently, then, if I admitted that, in moments of happiness, of rapture, when my soul is laid bare, I suddenly feel that there is no extinction beyond the grave; that in an adjacent locked room, from under whose door comes a frosty draft, there is being prepared a peacock-eyed radiance, a pyramid of delights akin to the Christmas tree of my childhood; that everything — life, patria, April, the sound of a spring or that of a dear voice — is but a muddled preface, and that the main text still lies ahead — if I can feel that way, Falter, is it not possible to live, to live — tell me it’s possible, and I’ll not ask you anything more.”

“In that case,” said Falter, shaking again in soundless mirth, “I understand you even less. Skip the preface, and it’s in the bag!”

“Un bon mouvement, Falter — tell me your secret.”

“What are you trying to do, catch me off guard? You’re crafty, I see. No, that is out of the question. In the first days — yes, in the first days I thought it might be possible to share my secret. A grown man, unless he is a bull like me, would not stand it — all right; but I wondered if one could not bring up a new generation of the initiated, that is, turn my attention to children. As you see, I did not immediately overcome the infection of local dialects. In practice, however, what would happen? In the first place, one can hardly imagine pledging kiddies to a vow of priestly silence lest any of them with one dreamy word commit manslaughter. In the second place, as soon as the child grows up, the information once imparted to him, accepted on faith, and allowed to sleep in a remote corner of his consciousness may give a start and awake, with tragic consequences. Even if my secret does not always destroy a mature member of the species, it is unthinkable that it should spare a youth. For who is not familiar with that period of life when all kinds of things — the starry sky above a Caucasian spa, a book read in the toilet, one’s own conjectures about the cosmos, the delicious panic of solipsism — are in themselves enough to provoke a frenzy in all the senses of an adolescent human being? There is no reason for me to become an executioner; I have no intention of annihilating enemy regiments through a megaphone; in short, there is no one for me to confide in.”

“I asked you two questions, Falter, and you have twice proved to me the impossibility of an answer. It seems to me useless to ask you about anything else — say, about the limits of the universe, or the origin of life. You would probably suggest that I be content with a speckled minute on a second-rate planet, served by a second-rate sun, or else you would again reduce everything to a riddle: is the word ‘heterologous’ heterologous itself.”

“Probably,” agreed Falter, giving a lengthy yawn.

His brother-in-law quietly scooped his watch out of his waistcoat and glanced at his wife.

“Here’s the odd thing, though, Falter. How does superhuman knowledge of the ultimate truth combine in you with the adroitness of a banal sophist who knows nothing? Admit it, all your absurd quibbling was nothing more than an elaborate sneer.”

“Oh well, that is my only defense,” said Falter, squinting at his sister, who was nimbly extracting a long gray woolen scarf from the sleeve of the overcoat already being offered to him by his brother-in-law. “Otherwise, you know, you might have teased it out of me. However,” he added, inserting the wrong arm, and then the right one in the sleeve, and simultaneously moving away from the helping shoves of his assistants, “however, even if I did browbeat you a little, let me console you: amid all the piffle and prate I inadvertently gave myself away — only two or three words, but in them flashed a fringe of absolute insight — luckily, though, you paid no attention.”

He was led away, and thus ended our rather diabolical dialogue. Not only had Falter told me nothing, he had not even allowed me to get close, and no doubt his last pronouncement was as much of a mockery as all the preceding ones. The following day his brother-in-law’s dull voice informed me on the telephone that Falter charged 100 francs for a visit; I asked why on earth had I not been warned of this, and he promptly replied that if the interview were to be repeated, two conversations would cost me only 150. The purchase of Truth, even at a discount, did not tempt me, and, after sending him the sum of that unexpected debt, I forced myself not to think about Falter any more. Yesterday, though.... Yes, yesterday I received a note from Falter himself, from the hospital: he wrote, in a clear hand, that he would die on Tuesday, and that in parting he ventured to inform me that — here followed two lines which had been painstakingly and, it seemed, ironically, blacked out. I replied that I was grateful for his thoughtfulness and that I wished him interesting posthumous impressions and a pleasant eternity.

But all this brings me no nearer to you, my angel. Just in case, I am keeping all the windows and doors of life wide open, even though I sense that you will not condescend to the time-honored ways of apparitions. Most terrifying of all is the thought that, inasmuch as you glow henceforth within me, I must safeguard my life. My transitory bodily frame is perhaps the only guarantee of your ideal existence: when I vanish, it will vanish as well. Alas, with a pauper’s passion I am doomed to use physical nature in order to finish recounting you to myself, and then to rely on my own ellipsis....

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Swan

Saw this the other night at the Northwest Actors Studio at 11th and Pike. Despite a couple of mishaps (detailled in an article studiously unlinked to here), I thought the whole thing worked pretty damn well. The play itself is fairly potent stuff, with a kind of metaphorical fog built around the questions concering the man/bird character, mental illness and theatricality, mimicry and authentic and inauthentic language and then the connection of all this to love both human and potentially divine. Some of the lines fall flat (when Bill the Swan finally speaks, he says, "I'm depressed", which, come to think of it, is pretty funny), but some of them are brilliant (as in Bill the Swan's flights of poetry and descriptions of 'fields of lovelessness'), but on balance I think it works very well. The performances are all quite good, and Lyam White in particular is brilliant. The guy in charge of props did an especially fine job; his execution was really quite stunning. I hope they're paying him a lot of money.

Friday, April 21, 2006


St. Frodulphus
c. 750 Benedictine hermit, also listed as Frou. He was a disciple of St. Madericus and be­came a monk at Autun, France. The Saracen invasion compelled him to flee to Barj on, on the Cote d’ Or.

St. Conrad of Parzham
Franciscan mystic and lay brother. Born Carl Birndorfer in Parzham, Bavaria, Germany, on December 22, 1818, he became a Capuchin lay brother in 1849. For more than thirty years, Conrad served as porter or doorkeeper of the shrine of Our Lady of Altotting, and he was known for his Marian devotions. Conrad had the gift of prophecy and of reading people’s hearts. He died in Altotting on April 21. He was canonized in 1934.

St. Beuno
St. Beuno's untrustworthy legend has him a monk in Wales who founded his own community and performed numerous miracles, among them, restoring St. Winifred's head after she was beheaded. However, he does seem to have been an effective preacher who evangelized much of North Wales and founded a monastery at Clynnog Fawr (Carnavonshire). His feast day is April 21st.

St. Anastasius XI
Patriarch of Antioch, distinguished for his learning and holiness. Anastasius opposed Emperor Justinian, who was issuing imperial documents about the faith. Justinian commanded that Anastasius be exiled but died before the sentence could be carried out by the court. Justin II, who succeeded his uncle Justinian, exiled Anastasius five years later. In 593 Anastasius was restored to his see by Pope St. Gregory the Great.

St. Anastasius the Sinaite
c. 700 Abbot and defender of the faith. He was a Greek writer born in Alexandria. The abbot of the monastery of Mount Sinai, he was called "the New Moses" because of his outstanding attacks on the various groups trying to influence the Church. He wrote "The Guide", a book defending the faith. This work remained popular for centuries.

St. Apollo & Companions
c. 302 Martyrs, supposedly servants in the palace of Alexandra, wife of Emperor Diocletian. There was no Alexandra, and the martyrdom of Apollo and companions Isaac and Crotates at Nicomedia, is not documented.

St. Arator
Martyr with Fortunatus, Felix, Silvius, and Vitalis. Arator was a priest in Alexandria, Egypt. He and his companions were martyred in an early persecution and were listed in the Roman Martyrology.

St. Maximian of Constantinople
c. 434
Patriarch of Constantinople. He was a Roman priest and a friend of Pope Celestine I, who esteemed him.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

When We Were Orphans

is what I'm reading now. It's pretty good. It's written from the point of view of a detctive investigating the disappearance of his parents in Shanhai some twenty years previously. Oddly enough, he seems to hold out some hope of actually finding them, which strikes the reader, or should strike the reader, as completely ludicrous. But then perhaps we all hope to see our parents again, even after we haven't seen them for twenty years. At least I think that's the point. Or maybe he's just supposed to be transparently unreliable. Something along those lines, I think.

Some of the later descriptions of the famous Warren in Shanghai during the Japanese invasion of the 30's are somewhat more than somewhat in the style of Kafka, and some of the reunions throughout the story are kind of funny. Here's the very beginning:
It was on one such leisurely walk that I encountered quite by chance an old schoolfriend, James Osbourne, and discovering him to be a neighbour, suggested he call on me when he was next passing. Although at that point I had yet to receive a single visitor in my rooms, I issued my invitation with confidence, having chosen the premises with some care. The rent was not high, but my landlady had furnished the place in a tasteful manner that evoked an unhurried Victorian past; the drawing room, which received plenty of sun throughout the first half of the day, contained an ageing sofa as well as two snug armchairs, an antique sideboard and an oak bookcase filled with crumbling encyclopaedias -- all of which I was convinced would win the approval of any visitor. Moreover, almost immediately upon taking the rooms, I had walked over to Knightsbridge and acquired there a Queen Anne tea service, several packets of fine teas, and a large tin of biscuits. So when Osbourne did happen along one morning a few days later, I was able to serve out the refreshments with an assurance that never once permitted him to suppose he was my first guest.

For the first fifteen minutes or so, Osbourne moved restlessly around my drawing room, complimenting me on the premises, examining this and that, looking regularly out of the windows to exclaim at whatever was going on below. Eventually he flopped down into the sofa, and we were able to exchange news -- our own and that of old schoolfriends. I remember we spent a little time discussing the activities of the workers' unions, before embarking on a long and enjoyable debate on German philosophy, which enabled us to display to one another the intellectual prowess we each had gained at our respective universities. Then Osbourne rose and began his pacing again, pronouncing as he did so upon his various plans for the future.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Red Square!

25.223 seconds!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Franz Sez

What will be my fate as a writer is very simple. My talent for portraying my dreamlike inner life has thrust all matters into the background; my life has dwindled dreadfully, nor will it cease to dwindle. Nothing else will ever satisfy me.
~August 6, 1914

Monday, April 17, 2006

Fibonacci Poems

From a New York Times article:
and rumor
But how about a
Rare, geeky form of poetry?

THAT'S exactly what happened after Gregory K. Pincus, a screenwriter and aspiring children's book author in Los Angeles, wrote a post on his GottaBook blog ( two weeks ago inviting readers to write "Fibs," six-line poems that used a mathematical progression known as the Fibonacci sequence to dictate the number of syllables in each line.

Within a few days, Mr. Pincus, 41, had received about 30 responses, a large portion of them Fibonacci poems. Most of them were from friends or relatives or people who regularly read his blog, which focuses on children's literature.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

St. Bernadette

Born into a humble family which little by little fell into extreme poverty, Bernadette had always been a frail child. Quite young, she had already suffered from digestive trouble, then after having just escaped being a victim of the cholera epidemic of 1855, she experienced painful attacks of asthma, and her ill health almost caused her to be cut off for ever from the religious life. When asked by Monsignor Forcade to take Bernadette, Louise Ferrand, the Mother Superior of the Sisters of Nevers, replied: "Monsignor, she will be a pillar of the infirmary".

At least three times during her short life-time, she received the last Sacraments. She was gradually struck by other illnesses as well as asthma: among them, tuberculosis of the lung and a tubercular tumor on her right knee. On Wednesday, April 16, 1879, her pain got much worse. Shortly after eleven she seemed to be almost suffocating and was carried to an armchair, where she sat with her feet on a footstool in front of a blazing fire. She died at about 3.15 in the afternoon.

The civil authorities permitted her body to remain on view to be venerated by the public until Saturday, April 19. Then it was "placed in a double coffin of lead and oak which was sealed in the presence of witnesses who signed a record of the events". Among the witnesses were "inspector of the peace, Devraine, and constables Saget and Moyen".

The nuns of Saint-Gildard, with the support of the bishop of Nevers, applied to the civil authorities for permission to bury Bernadette's body in a small chapel dedicated to Saint Joseph which was within the confines of the convent. The permission was granted on April 25, 1879, and on April 30, the local Prefect pronounced his approval of the choice of the site for burial. Immediately they set to work on preparing the vault. On May 30, 1879, Bernadette's coffin was finally transferred to the crypt of the chapel of Saint Joseph. A very simple ceremony was held to commemorate the event.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Bl. Damien de Veuster, SS.CC.

The word “leper”, meaning one possessed by a type of disease that devours flesh and bone, still makes us shudder, and brings to mind those victims of leprosy who, in the Bible and in medieval times, were excluded from human society because of the contagiousness of their ailment. That type of leprosy, now called “Hansen's Disease”, has survived up to the present. In our own century, fortunately, medical science has found ways to treat and even to cure it.

In the 1860s, there were no such remedies. Consequently, when an epidemic of the disease hit the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands, the ruler, King Kamehameha V, (this was before the United States acquired the Islands) ordered that the victims be rounded up and exiled to the barren island of Molokai. The 800 so quarantined, given little or no government assistance, and not even police to maintain public order, soon became lawless and hopeless, and the island a living tomb.

Eventually, however, a group of dedicated Catholics on Molokai asked the missionary bishop in Honolulu to send a priest to the island. The bishop agreed, and in 1873 sent a young member of the missionary Picpus Fathers (Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary), who had volunteered for the job. He was Damien Joseph de Veuster, SS.CC.

Father de Veuster was a Flemish Belgian, a native of Tremeloo. His was a farming family, and his father expected him to become a trader in grain. But Joseph's brother Pamphile, already a member of the Picpus Congregation, interested him in joining the same community.

He took his vows as “Damien”, a lay brother, in 1860. The community did not plan to admit him to the priesthood at first, for he was no theologian but a hearty, cheerful man who was a practical “doer”. Sent to the Hawaiian Island missions in 1863, he was, nevertheless, ordained a priest after arrival, and spent his first eight years in arduous work on the rural and island missions.

Father Damien, though zealous for souls when he volunteered for the leper island, was not yet a hero. When he first arrived, he slept under a tree for fear of contagion. But as he grew used to the lepers, he saw that their needs were physical as well as spiritual. So he became closer to them, lovingly dressing their sores, sharing his food and even his pipe with them, making their coffins, building them churches and houses and orphanages.

Most of all, he became the champion of these outcasts and their better medical care. Hitherto a quiet man, he now turned into a ferocious lion when it came to demanding assistance for them from the government and the church. He had planned to work at Molokai for only a certain term. As it happened, he spent the rest of his life there.

Especially in his later years, he suffered much painful opposition. Some jealous non- Catholics denounced this rough- cut philanthropist, and even among the Picpus Fathers he had his critics. One of his greatest trials was lack of communication, and the inability to see any priests, even for confession.

In 1885 he himself contracted leprosy. When he discovered it, he made the announcement by addressing the congregation as “we lepers”. But being a leper grieved him far less than the opposition of his fellow priests.

Towards the end of his life, he was comforted by the arrival of two “lay brothers” to assist him. Equally welcome were the Franciscan Sisters, Conventual, from Syracuse, N.Y., who arrived in 1883 under the leadership of Blessed Mother Marianne Cope, and who labor at Molokai to this very day. The “Leper Priest” died on April 15, 1889.

Criticism of Father Damien did not cease with his death. The Rev. Dr. Hyde, a Protestant clergyman, wrote of him as a man of dubious morals. In 1900, the famous author Robert Louis Stevenson, also a Protestant, answered Dr. Hyde with an impassioned refutation. Correspondence in the Pacific Commercial Advertiser of Hawaii also proved that Hyde had misread his sources.

Father de Veuster's remains were taken to Belgium in 1936. His cause for canonization was introduced in 1955; he was declared “venerable” in 1977; on June 4, 1995, he was beatified by Pope John Paul II.

Leprosy has not vanished, but is mostly under control. The parallel disease of AIDS has taken its place as a deadly worldwide contact disease. Blessed Damien shows us how to act towards these new outcasts: Serve them lovingly as we find them.

~ Father Robert F. McNamara

Friday, April 14, 2006

St. Lydwine

Those who live in constant pain have a special heavenly patron, the Hollander Saint Lydwine of Schiedam, "a prodigy of human misery and of heroic patience." The only daughter among the nine children of a poor but devout laborer, Lydwine took a private vow of virginity before she was fifteen. Otherwise, she was an ordinary child.

In 1396, while enjoying a skating party on a frozen canal, Lydwine fell and broke some ribs. Normally, these would have mended as a result of the good care she was given. As a matter of fact, however, a host of complications set in that finally affected her whole body so that she would assume no position, walking, standing, sitting or lying, that allowed her any comfort.

Only gradually, through the counsel of her parish priest, Lydwine became aware that there could be a reason behind this overwhelming pain. Once she was persuaded that by accepting the suffering as an atonement in Christ for the sins of others, she became not only willing but eager to assume the role of victim. For years she was bedridden, virtually one sore from head to foot. Loyal friends galore and the best physicians tried to help her, but in vain. Although normally people would have kept their distance because of the usual stench of open sores, in her case, those who nursed her said that her body rather gave off a sweet fragrance, and even glowed with a heavenly brightness. Other mystical gifts were also granted her, and by the end, her only food for nineteen years was the Holy Eucharist.

To almost every variety of physical disability were added spiritual pains. Her new parish priest thought she was a faker and for a time denied her Holy Communion. Eventually her reputation was vindicated. A niece who tried to protect Lydwine from two soldiers who invaded the sickroom died as the result of injuries they did her. The tragic loss of this niece, Petronilla, caused the sick woman untold anguish.

In the end, Lydwine died very suddenly -- alone, as she would have preferred. Great veneration for this valiant woman had begun even during her life. It increased mightily after her death, as a result of the writings of such eminent writers as Thomas a Kempis, compiler of the famous book, The Imitation of Christ. Some of God's saints we take to more readily because, being pragmatic ourselves, we admire, say, their acceptance of martyrdom by enemies of Christ, or their charity to the poor. Normally, we would be less attracted to those whose vocation was to engage in prayer at a depth that is beyond our depth, or, as in the case of Saint Lydwine, to appreciate her mysterious calling to suffer on behalf of those who do not take up their own crosses and follow Christ.

But those who are called to this mystical vocation fulfill a necessary role. They remind us that without a Good Friday there can be no Easter. One interesting fact is that God normally gives such a call to women rather than to men. Isn't it because women, at least in self-giving, are really the "stronger sex?" Didn't Our Lady stand at the foot of the cross?

~ Father Robert F. McNamara