the rigorous m

bits and bobs, quotes and catching up

quotes: wandering through the other city

Posted by rigorousm on July 27, 2010

All at once I knew that the other city must open up to whoever really wants leave; then every path they take will lead them to the shining palaces and gardens. I had not really left yet. To really leave one must leave everything behind and go smiling and empty-handed with no thought of return. Those who depart while counting on returning do not leave home, even if they reach the white cities in the depths of the jungle and repose on the marble of its squares: their journeys remain woven into the tissue of the objectives that create the space of home; the shining borders of foreign parts retreat before them. I have lived my whole life on the periphery and have been more at home in the world of stains and cracks on old walls than in the world of shapes acknowledged as meaningful and alon important. I never understood the purpose of the play being performed and the roles of which I was supposed to choose one; sometimes I tried to assume one of them and play it, but I would always rattle off the prescribed part parrot fashion, with distate and a sense of awkwardness and embarrassment. Eventually it totally undermined my feeble performance, so that I preferred to fall silent and retreat to a corner of the stage — and yet up to that moment I had been in constant fear of throwing away the script and exiting to the darkness of the wings. I used to exist as my last role, the role that would eventually, in some strange way, involve me in the play after all.

Now I knew that the other city can only be entered by someone who leaves in the awareness that they journey he is undertaking has no purpose, because purpose means a place in the fabric of relations that create the home, and that it is not even purposeless, because purposelessness simply complements purpose and belongs to his world. The restlessness engendered by the awareness that all testimonies about the other city contradict each other had vanished.

I realized that my efforts to unify my nocturnal interpretations in the light of day were simply the expression of a yearning to incorporate the other city into a familiar order, to change it into a colony of the home, and thereby subjugate and annihilate it. The insoluble question was solved by ceasing to be a question. I now glimpsed in the darkness a space in which alien luminescent shapes rolled around and metamorphosed, shapes that could not be converted to forms from our world and which had no meaning, even though they did contain some kind of justification, which seemed more powerful, authentic and incontrovertible than the justification of meaning: it was a right that was directly connate with being; it was independent and unaccountable to anything, and therefore in danger from nothing. What surged languidly in that space was also a raw presence and cause: a mesmeric and indifferent dark effulgence. The questions I had previously directed at those rolling shapes and to which I had always received different and contradictory answers could not cope with that dark effulgence. In the spaec that opened up it was impossible to distinguish the sources of the laws and customs from the fragments of extinct beings and detritus of our world, the shapelessness of the beginning from the shapelessness of extinction, the battle of hostile forces from a profound and unshakable unity, turbulent chaos from the most stable order. This space had finally freed itself from the power of home. There opened before me the landscape that they try to protect from throughout our lives, denying us the right to defeat and the right to exile, the right to lose ourselves and stray alongside walls, to be exiles in the world of nooks and crannies, in the dark courtyards of being. How tedious they are, importunately forcing refuge and home onto us all the time. They want to deprive us of the shining foreign land, where splendid, cold light flows softly from liberated things, of the joy of solitude on nocturnal plains above glittering cities, of the beautiful, slow dance of monsters on a deserted road, of intoxicating extinction in the depth of dark bedrooms, beneath cold mirrors, in which there sway the lights of distant lamps like painful constellations of the zodiacal belt winding through the interior of houses.

— Michal Ajvaz, “The other city,” pp. 162-164.

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