Danilo Kiš – “Hourglass”

1043265_f5201“Thanks to suffering and madness, I have had a finer, richer life than any of you, and I wish to go to my death with dignity, as befits the great moment after which all dignity and majesty cease. Let my body be my ark and my death a long floating on the waves of eternity. A nothing amid nothingness. What defense have I against nothingness but this ark in which I have tried to gather everything that was dear to me, people, birds, animals, and plants, everything that I carry in my eye and in my heart, in the triple-decked ark of my body and soul. Like the pharaohs in the majestic peace of their tombs, I wanted to have all those things with me in death, I wanted everything to be as it was before; I wanted the birds to sing for me forever, I wanted to exchange Charon’s bark for another, less desolate and less empty; I wanted to ennoble eternity’s unconscionable void with the bitter herbs that spring from the heart of man, to ennoble the soundless emptiness of eternity with the cry of the cuckoo and the song of the lark. All I have done is to develop that bitter poetic metaphor, carry it with passionate logic to its ultimate consequence, which transforms sleep into waking (and the converse); lucidity into madness (and the converse); life into death, as though there were no borderline, and the converse; death into eternity, as if they were not one and the same thing. Thus my egoism is only the egoism of human existence, the egoism of life, counterweight to the egoism of death, and, appearances to the contrary, my consciousness resists nothingness with an egoism that has no equal, resists the outrage of death with the passionate metaphor of the wish to reunite the few people and the bit of love that made up my life. I have wanted and still want to depart this life with specimens of people, flora and fauna, to lodge them all in my heart as in an ark, to shut them up behind my eyelids when they close for the last time. I wanted to smuggle this pure abstraction into nothingness, to sneak it across the threshold of that other abstraction, so crushing in its immensity: the threshold of nothingness. I have therefore tried to condense this abstraction, to condense it by force of will, faith, intelligence, madness, and love (self-love), to condense it so drastically that its specific weight will be such as to life it like a balloon and carry it beyond the reach of darkness and oblivion. If nothing else survives, perhaps my material herbarium or my notes or my letters will live on, and what are they but condensed, materialized idea; materialized life: a paltry, pathetic human victory over immense, eternal, divine nothingness. Or perhaps–if all else is drowned in the great flood–my madness and my dream will remain like a northern light and a distant echo. Perhaps someone will see that light or hear that distant echo, the shadow of a sound that was once, and will grasp the meaning of that light, that echo. Perhaps it will be my son who will someday publish my notes and my herbarium of Pannonian plants (unfinished and incomplete, like all things human). But anything that survives death is a paltry, pathetic victory over the eternity of nothingness–a proof of man’s greatness and Yahweh’s mercy. Non omnis moriar.”

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