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296 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1995
Several times during the day I felt a desire to assure myself of a reality I feared had vanished forever by looking out of that hospital window, which, for some strange reason, was draped with black netting, and as dusk fell the wish became so strong that, contriving to slip over the edge of the bed to the floor, half on my belly and half sideways, and then to reach the wall on all fours, I dragged myself, despite the pain, up to the window sill. In the tortured posture of a creature that has raised itself erect for the first time I stood leaning against the glass. I could not help thinking of the scene in which poor Gregor Samsa, his little legs trembling, climbs the armchair and looks out of his room, no longer remembering (so Kafka’s narrative goes) the sense of liberation that gazing out of the window had formerly given him.
The denial of time, so the tract on Orbius Tertius tells us, is one of the key tenets of the philosophical schools of Tlön. According to this principle, the future exists only in the shape of our present apprehensions and hopes, and the past merely as memory. In a different view, the world and everything now living in it was created only moments ago, together with its complete but illusory pre-history. A third school of thought variously describes our earth as a cul-de-sac in the great city of God, a dark cave crowded with incomprehensible images, or a hazy aura surrounding a better sun.
“Unfortunately I am a completely impractical person, caught up in endless trains of thought.”
* Man, I’m having major herring cravings right about now.
“Like our bodies and like our desires, the machines we have devised are possessed of a heart which is slowly reduced to embers.”
Now, as I write, and think once more of our history, which is but a long account of calamities...
In August 1992, when the dog days were drawing to an end, I set off to walk the county of Suffolk, in the hope of dispelling the emptiness that takes hold of me whenever I have completed a long stint of work. And in fact my hope was realized, up to a point; for I have seldom felt so carefree as I did then, walking for hours in the day through the thinly populated countryside, which stretches inland from the coast . I wonder now, however, whether there might be something in the old superstition that certain ailments of the spirit and of the body are particularly likely to beset us under the sign of the Dog Star. At all events, in retrospect I became preoccupied mot only with the unaccustomed sense of freedom but also with the paralysing horror that had come over me at various times when confronted with the traces of destruction, reaching far back into the past, that were evident even in that remote place. Perhaps it was because of this that, a year to the day after I began my tour, I was taken into hospital in Norwich in a state of almost total immobility. It was then that I began in my thoughts to write these pages. I can remember precisely how, upon being admitted to that room on the eighth floor, I became overwhelmed by the feeling that the Suffolk expanses I had walked the previous summer had now shrunk once and for all to a single, blind, insensate spot. Indeed, all that could be seen of the world from my bed was the colourless patch of sky framed in the window.
Hydriotaphia, Urne-Buriall, or, A Disocurse of the Sepulchrall Urnes lately found in Norfolk was first published jointly witth The Garden of Cyrus in 1658. See also the discussion above, pp. 38 ff.; and for further bibliographical details: below, p. 554.]
- As I sat there that evening in Southwold overlooking the German Ocean, I sensed quite clearly the earth's slow turning into the dark. The huntsmen are up in America, writes Thomas Browne in 'The Garden of Cyrus', and they are already past their first sleep in Persia. The shadow of night is drawn like a black veil across the earth, and since almost all creatures, from one meridian to the next, lie down after the sun has set, so, he continues, one might in following the setting sun, see on our globe nothing but our prone bodies, row upon row, as if levelled by the scythe of Saturn - an endless graveyard for a humanity struck by falling sickness.