|Utah Valley Sunset While I Read Chapter 8|
Awakened from his sleep on the grass, pressed by Zeitnot or dangerously evaporating time, he falls (stuerzt) into the inner city.
The threshold to the inner city is marked by a newly constructed public toilet. And should there be any lingering thoughts that this is a story written by a religiously addled and aging Peter Handke, what follows should dispel those notions while making you laugh early on a Thursday morning.
The front of the toilet spreads out in a way that reminds the actor of the nave of the church he has just been in. Perhaps it is even broader once you enter and close the door he thinks. And inside, from the dome, a gentle light radiates over the azure-blue tiles. "The ceremonious organ music that sounded all around was the constant flow of water." In short, he washes himself and undergoes a transformation in the toilet very much like the one in the church that so inspired the Austrian Public Radio Sunday host (see the post titled Angus Deli).
Besides being funny as hell, this scene reminds a reader that Peter finds meaning, the meaning that arises from form, wherever he can. Van Morrison (whose "It's a wonderful [sic] night for a moondance" floats out of a car window earlier in this novel) has always been as good a source for meaning as Bach or Beethoven, perhaps better. And the films cited here aren't Tarkovsky or even Wim Wenders. The only difference between popular culture and high culture is that the latter is apt to carry with it the taint of crowd worship, the whiff of decay.
As the actor walks on, there's a riff on wall paintings vs graffiti, the former harmonious the latter threatening to run amok. Order vs anarchy. No real preference stated. The actor sees the graffiti "as letters out of a half-sleep, as a mirror text, impossible to decipher."
In the subway, after a funny imagined future in which all cell-phone users are required to encase their heads in helmets that completely deaden the sound of their talking (a metaphor, perhaps, for what the constant public talking and listening has already accomplished?), the actor feels the threat of violence. Someone will soon attack someone else with a knife or something else, he thinks. And then he sees the person, "recognized him, the one who stood there still and erect, by his fixed eyes and even more clearly by his tense cheeks." (This could be, the standing image suggests, one of the policeman who threatened him earlier, standing firm on their spread legs.) It turns out to be his own mirror image in the window of the subway car. "It's strange," he thinks, "that so few people run amok." The novel has been taut with that possibility throughout. The actor will play someone who runs amok in the film. He is reading a book about someone who runs amok. He himself is constantly on the cusp of violence in his thoughts.
In a broad plaza that features a giant screen, the actor watches the country's president declare war (or if not war an "intervention," a "reaction") in the name of God: "History demands its due and must run its divinely determined course. May God help us! Our God is great. Great God, we praise you. . ." The actor wishes he had killed him in the woods earlier that morning.
The rest of the people the actor has seen during the day reprise their contacts with him, as does his father, as the sole representative of an earlier life. The book has had many references to a mostly domineering father; but here he comes back as an aged dancer entering a ballroom where he dances the tango with other old people until they tire and turn to waltzing. The scene ends as the actor addresses his father: "He Vater, alter Stenz!" Old dandy.
In the plaza huge advertisements of naked women compete with the hidden faces and bodies of women in veils. The actor finds himself rejecting both as counterfeits, wishing instead for real faces: "The face of the other as medicine."
He writes a letter to his son (the reverse of Kafka's letter to his father) which ends "And thus I wait for your judgment as your father." He puts the letter in an envelope, but realizes he doesn't have the address for the Yukon River the son is descending in Alaska. Should he send the message electronically? No. "The letter was a letter and thus had a distance in space and more importantly in time to put behind it."
Made me want to write Peter a letter.
The actor watches, as darkness gathers, hundreds of people put personal letters in the mailbox marked International. Letters are being written again! he thinks. It's not the last days after all!
But where is a face? he asks. Ein Antlitz. The medicine he needs.
Two women are talking in a bar in front of him and one of them is so lively, so alive, speaking with her whole soul so intensely that he is filled with thankfulness. "What a gift."
The bar is the Bar of Destiny. The woman is the woman he has come to meet, the woman in whose bed he woke up. Her face is so alive that he feels unworthy of her. She is talking of love and he has betrayed love. He thinks that all the ravens of Alaska should descend on him. Her face, "this face there, was power, true power, legitimate power -- misuse of this power unthinkable."
The chapter ends with the actor sitting in a dark place lit up now and then by sheet lightning. The last image is of a mailbox that appears in the lightning that will surely ensure that his letter will reach his son.