28 February 2021

Notes to an unfinished business


Restraint in fiction is a constraint, I suppose. One reads, say Coetzee, and one feels an Oulipian-like constraint, but a kind of constraint that is not devoid of feeling and passion. Said Max Weber: Nothing is humanly worth doing except what someone can do with passion. The emphasis was his.

A passion for reading is what may be propelling us to finish a book, let alone one short story or one short poem, even if we know that the work, the act of reading, will remain unfinished even if we arrive at the last word and the final punctuation. I find myself reading so many books at the same time, eager to start, or begin anew from where I left off, a new book. Whether on paper or on Kindle, the words and pages swim before me and I lose interest and open another one. 

I finished the Disenchantment part of Weber's twofer Charisma and Disenchantment (translated by Damion Searls) before being disenchanted with what he had to say about politics in the second half. But I finally got to have an inkling of what he really meant by disenchantment from the world. Something to do with the literal sense of the lack of enchantment or magic, the "mysterious incalculable forces intervening in our lives".

But instead all things, in theory, can be mastered through calculation. It means the disenchanting of the world. Unlike the savage for whom such mysterious forces existed, we no longer need to adopt magical means to control or pray to the spirits.

The house of the spirits was exorcised by the increasing rationality and intellectualization of the modern world. And yet the scholar (and the novelist) plod on with her work, leading Weber to theorize about the nature of unfinished business in scholarship (which can be extended to novel writing). Scholars and novelists do something that will never be finished, in face can't be finished. Which I will now extend to reading, if only to give myself the excuse of why I keep on starting and restarting books in the past few months and not blame the pandemic about it.

One book I finally got around to finishing was Sir Thomas Browne's Hydriotaphia. It seems as if I was reading a translation of a linguistically innovative and experimental poem about mortality. I did finish the thing but since it was part of his larger The Major Works, the book remains an unfinished business for me. I remember Kevin of Aquarium of Vulcan saying that Hydriotaphia or Urne-Buriall was only the first half of a diptych that ends logically wtih The Garden of Cyrus, that Browne intended for them to be a unified work. Just like The Seven Madmen was but half of a novel continued in The Flamethrowers, another novel I managed to crack open without getting the motivation to fully engage in Erdosain and the Astrologer's funk.

This unfinished business of reading made me think back on Coetzee's Jesus novels, which remain unfinished for me. I know that by the end of the third book, the death of young David is inevitable and announced by the book's title. This had a particular resonance for me reading The Schooldays of Jesus, the second novel in the trilogy. Every dialogue seemed now colored by what was about to happen.

Two more days, and the grape-picking is over; the truck has borne the last binfuls away.

'Who is going to eat all those grapes?' demands Davíd.

'They are not going to be eaten. They are going to be pressed in a wine press and the juice is going to be turned into wine.'

'I don't like wine,' says Davíd. 'It's sour.'

'Wine is an acquired taste. When we are young we don't like it, then when we are older we acquire a taste for it.'

'I am never going to acquire a taste for it.'

'That's what you say. Let's wait and see.'

Davíd is never going to acquire a taste for grape wine because he is going to die by the third book. His is an unfinished business of living. And if meaning is what escapes people all throughout their lives in this disenchanted world, how much more meaning in a life not fully lived. For the boy this is (now) predestined (by the novelist), for his adopted parents this unfinished business will be shattering. The Schooldays of Jesus is a book about parenthood. 

The imminent death of Davíd is almost a counterpoint to Ivan Ilyich's demise in Tolstoy's wondrous novella. "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" features a magistrate dying of a mysterious disease. Ivan Ilyich was in denial of his impending death, so he engaged in a moment-by-moment self-auditing of his life, and then finally accepting his finite existence rendered meaningless by suffering and death. The acceptance of the finiteness of life ultimately giving him release. Weber framed Tolstoy's work using the lens of disenchantment, locating an argument that was "fundamental to Tolstoy's art and [filled] all of his late novels".

[Tolstoy] was increasingly obsessed with the question of whether death had meaning or not. And for him, the answer was, No, not in our culture, because in the context of modern civilization, with its theoretically infinite "progress," an individual's life necessarily lacks any ultimate purpose. There is always another step to take on the path of progress; no one dies at the peak or end of his journey, because the path continues into infinity. Abraham, or indeed any farmer from a bygone age, died "in a good old age, and old man, and full of years" [Genesis 25:8] because he was part of an organic cycle of life; because as his day drew to a close, his life had given him whatever it had to offer, in terms of meaning too; because there was no riddle left to solve. Thus he could feel he had had "enough." A person in our culture, in contrast, in a civilization perpetually being enriched with ideas and information and problems, might become "tired of life" but can never be fulfilled by it, never be "full of" his years. Not only does he get wind of merely a tiny fraction of all the new ideas that intellectual life continuously produces, but even those ideas are merely provisional, never definitive. As a result, death is simply pointless for him. And so too is life as such in our culture, which in its meaningless "progression" stamps death with its own meaninglessness.

Weber's pessimism on the meaninglessness of life and death was tempered by his belief that the "truth of science and history and systematic knowledge of all kinds" could lead people into the light. He expounded on this by referencing Plato's allegory of the cave. Which led me to think that novelists like Coetzee, or Arlt, or Kafka were practitioners of cave and shadows approach to novel writing. I mean that they populate their novels with characters that flail about and try to reach out for something beyond their grasp. They will not for sure lead you directly to the light but blind you in the pitch darkness of the cave.

What Coetzee meant by childhood and schooldays was perhaps a teasing out of the meaning of what we are in life for. After all, a life taken prematurely, in fiction or not, was always a sad thought. But if the novelist had to take a character's life to prove a point that there's no point, then whatever. 

Whatever is the meaning of a "figurative death". Walter Benjamin, in "The Storyteller" (translated by Harry Zohn) said that "the nature of the character in a novel cannot be presented any better than" the statement that says that the “meaning” of [the character's] life is revealed only in [the character's] death. In observing this figurative death, the reader somehow dies with him.

But the reader of a novel actually does look for human beings from whom he derives the “meaning of life.” Therefore he must, no matter what, know in advance that he will share their experience of death: if need be their figurative death—the end of the novel—but preferably their actual one. How do the characters make him understand that death is already waiting for them—a very definite death and at a very definite place? That is the question which feeds the reader’s consuming interest in the events of the novel.

The death of the novel is its ending. The novel dies every time it ends. But the reader lives on his life as before (i.e., doing things other than reading) after this metaphorical death. But one can choose not to finish reading a book if only to defy the closure that is the end of the book.

Whether we have completed reading it or not, a book, if it is any good, remains unfinished because it continues to mystify us as we spend our short shrift of time on its pages. Maybe reading is just a way to buy some time, to delay the business of living: a morbid thought. Even so, reading books we deem worthy enough to spend time on ought to lengthen a short life by giving its waking life even just a "tiny fraction" of new ideas, even just a shred of something. 


22 November 2020

Final notes on The Childhood of Jesus

 

Halfway through The Childhood of Jesus, I was asking myself more and more if Coetzee's novel is science fiction. I meant that in the sense with which Kafka's and Borges's stories are said to fit the genre. The world in the novel was similar to but not quite a kingdom of this world. Signal images in the book at least invited comparison to Kafka's signature props.

Leaving the tennis players behind, they plunge on through the undergrowth, following the wall, until they emerge onto a dirt road leading to a pair of high iron gates. Behind the bars, through the trees, they can glimpse an imposing building in dark stone.

Though closed, the gates are not locked. They slip through and walk up a driveway ankle-deep in fallen leaves. A sign with an arrow points to an arched entranceway that opens into a courtyard at whose centre stands a marble statue, a larger-than-life figure of a woman or perhaps an angel in flowing robes gazing at the horizon, holding up a flaming torch. [80]

The Amerika-like vibe might seem a bit forced. Yet the Kafkaesque confusion and flow of philosophical ideas were somehow emulated. Meanings collapsed into uncertainties, with the characters always having Platonic dialogues to advance arguments relating to the  questionable correspondence of the signified to the signifier. That the young David's favorite children's book is an illustrated, condensed version of Don Quixote added to phantasmagoric questionings about the nature of reality, fiction, and happiness.

The light sci-fi conceit was reinforced by the fabulistic background we found the characters in. They were refugees from a place called Belstar, come to inhabit this Spanish village. Their memories were wiped out or erased for some reason. Hence, David and his guardian Simón were without a past, starting a clean slate, forced to occupy a world of forgetting, even if the disappeared past seemed to haunt both of them, "not memories themselves but the feel of residence in a body with a past, a body soaked in its past" [162].

Living in a body without past made it doubly hard to establish human connections in a foreign world. A world starved of meaning was a perfect world to concoct meanings and study the chair-ness of a chair. So Coetzee came up with this disconsolate yet still trivial world that was hardly comforting for readers desperate for an escape from the trivial. Something was off in the world of the novel, yet that something, an alternative reality, was still a subset of this created world.

Nobody could be entertained by the philosophical digressions into the laws of nature when readers look out for something transcendent and miraculous and divine. The title of the book felt more and more like a dirty finger to the reference code, the clash of the universal and personal, the general and specific. Even the English of the novel was codified as the Spanish language the characters speak in, while the German song chanted by David [77] was attributed in the novel as sung in English. The late Coetzee always made his readers aware of the seams and the constructedness of his narrative.

Don Quixote might be struck by a mind disease called enchantment, yet the modern novel that was created by Cervantes was an early symptom of the disenchantment of the world. The thread of disenchantment ran deep in the modernist novels such that storytelling in novels was no longer a straightforward suspension of belief. The invasion of self-consciousness and fiction-ness meant that it is no longer possible to write epics with heroes and heroic deeds and valiant songs as Borges decried. Because the forbidden fruit of knowledge was already consumed, it was only ever possible to write novels that moonlight as literary criticism or as mythmaking.

The Weberian disenchantment of the world planted seeds of doubt on the creation of meaning, in particular religious meaning. The divine as perceived by non-believers was non-existent in mythmaking. The divine was in everyday life, a human construct, a secular imposition of wonder that clouded appreciation of magic and fantasy. Even Simón acknowledged that books were not powerful enough to validate miracles and dispense irreproachable mantras that could bring comfort or relief to the dazed and confused.

'Something is missing, Eugenio. I know it should not be so, but it is. The life I have is not enough for me. I wish someone, some saviour, would descend from the skies and wave a magic wand and say, Behold, read this book and all your questions will be answered. Or, behold, here is an entirely new life for you. You don't understand that kind of talk, do you?'

'No, I can't claim that I do.'

The Childhood of Jesus was not the kind of book Simón was contemplating. On the contrary, it proudly wore its titular burden not as a balm but as fake gospel for agnostics.

***

For Max Weber, meaning in a scholarly work (perhaps in a novel, too) is always problematic because human knowledge will always be limited and incomplete. Hence, his question: Why should we do something that will never be finished, in fact can't be?A rhetorical question if there was one.

The young David's burning question, What are we here for?, was best viewed as a rhetorical question, too, just like Tolstoy's question, as viewed by Weber:

When Tolstoy rises up within you once more to ask, "Who if not scientists and scholars will answer the question of what we should do and how we should live?"—or, in the language I have used tonight, the question of "Which of the warring gods should we serve? Or maybe there is a completely different god, and who is that?"—then the answer must be: Only a prophet, or a savior. If there is no such figure, or if his message is no longer believed, then you won't in any case make him appear on earth by having thousands of professors, petty prophets living off state salaries and benefits, try to take up the mantle of one in their lecture halls. All you will do is make fully clear the decisive fact that this prophet, so longed for by so many in the younger generation, does not exist and will never come in the full force of its meaning. In my view, obscuring this basic fact—that our destiny is to live in an age without prophets, far from God—with surrogates at the academic podium will never serve the personal interests of anyone who truly hears the "music" of religion. The integrity and honesty of his or her religious "ear" will rebel and refuse.

Was Coetzee's unmusical novel then a revolt against the existence of prophets? That's another rhetorical question. Weber at least distinguished believers in "positive" religion from precisely those other people who have the "virtuosic ability" to successfully "sacrifice their intellect". From Coetzee's secular school of writing, we came full circle to Coelho's alchemical school of writing, an easy target. Weber, again, from the Disenchantment section of Charisma and Disenchantment: The Vocation Lectures (translated by Damion Searls):

Such a "sacrifice of the intellect" brings the prophet a new disciple, brings the church a new believer, as it should. But never has a new prophecy come into being as a result of—people have found this image offensive, but I intentionally repeat it here—the need many modern intellectuals feel to furnish the apartment of their soul with some antiques that are guaranteed genuine. They remember that religion is one such fine piece. They may not possess it, but they can whip up a replacement—a kind of private chapel, playfully stocked with little pictures of saints from the four corners of the world—or else can create a substitute out of all kinds of experience that they then ascribe a sacred dignity to and go hawking around the book market.

It was a pity that Coetzee refused to supply those furniture or chicken soup for the soul that readers could anchor themselves to in the comfort of their apartments during a pandemic. His human novel was hardly spiritual or experiential, devoid of the sacred dignity or palatable ideas that modern readers crave for to achieve escapism, or respite, or a fleeting feeling of mystical transcendence. Coetzee's picture of Jesus was a fabricated cat in an empty apartment.


01 October 2020

Notes on The Childhood of Jesus, 2

 

‘You and Fidel seem to get on well together,’ he remarks to the boy once they are alone.

‘He is my best friend.’

‘So Fidel feels goodwill towards you, does he?’

‘Lots of goodwill.’

‘How about you? Do you feel goodwill too?’

The boy nods vigorously.

‘Anything else besides?’

The boy gives him a puzzled look. ‘No.’

So there he has it, out of the mouths of babes and sucklings.

So there he has it, Coetzee, spouting Biblical truth near the closing of Chapter 7 of The Childhood of Jesus. The reference was to Matthew 21:16.

and said to Him, "Do You hear what these [children] are saying?" And Jesus said to them, "Yes. Have you never read, 'Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise'?"

And Psalms 8:2.

Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength, Because of Your enemies, That You may silence the enemy and the avenger.

The phrase soon entered the currency of idiom and had come to mean the wisdom of young children, or children who are wise beyond their years.

The passage continued and closed the chapter in a ponderous turn. Coetzee's philosophical spirit soared.

So there he has it, out of the mouths of babes and sucklings. From goodwill come friendship and happiness, come companionable picnics in the parklands or companionable afternoons strolling in the forest. 

The word companionable – unusual, repeated – jogged my memory of college reading years, when I relished commentaries on stories and poems in a textbook on literature. I knew the word companionable streams was a phrase used in a poem by Keats because the import of the word companionable was emphasized in a close reading that accompanied the poem.

A few clicks in Google and it turned out I was wrong. It was by Yeats.

This was from "The Wild Swans at Coole" by Yeats:

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All's changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

The poet was revisiting a forest and lake where swans were frolicking. It was a regular sightseeing event, going for almost two decades now. At this particular visit, one could almost hear an audible sigh of melancholy as the poet gazed at the flock of 59 swans. There was marked contrast between the vitality of the swans and the world-weariness of the poet.

Coetzee, on the other hand, had Simón reflecting on missing human connections in a Spanish speaking refugee camp-like community. He was continually ignored by the people in the community who seemingly lacked for passion and energy. His attempts at flirting were unreciprocated.

So there he has it, out of the mouths of babes and sucklings. From goodwill come friendship and happiness, come companionable picnics in the parklands or companionable afternoons strolling in the forest. Whereas from love, or at least from longing in its more urgent manifestations, come frustration and doubt and heartsore. It is as simple as that.

... Is he insisting on the primacy of the personal (desire, love) over the universal (goodwill, benevolence)? And why is he continually asking himself questions instead of just living, like everyone else? Is it all part of a far too tardy transition from the old and comfortable (the personal) to the new and unsettling (the universal)? Is the round of self-interrogation nothing but a phase in the growth of each new arrival, a phase that people like Álvaro and Ana and Elena have by now successfully passed through? If so, how much longer before he will emerge as a new, perfected man?  

Soreness of heart amid companionable surroundings. What are the odds? 

The playful wild swans were absent in Coetzee's formulation of longing and impatience and frustration. If anything, the contrast was between the friendship of the two innocent boys and Simón's longing for an adult connection, for companionship. Simón thought he still had some way to go to renew his older self. Whereas the boys, in their innocence and carefreeness, were already perfected in their wisdom. 

 

28 September 2020

Notes on The Childhood of Jesus

 

A writer deliberately wanted to be inscrutable on the page, and it was the fault of the reader not to see the thicket for the bush. In the beginning were words, and the words were with the novelist, and the words were inscrutable to the reader. 

The title of the book was a devil trick of the novelist. The first few chapters were not indicative of any hallowed subject. The nature of the divine did not knock on the page. It was not simply granted for the atheistic reader. But why invoke the son of God into the discourse if this was not a superhero's tale?

David, the precocious boy in the book, was a Chess whiz. He easily beat an old man in a blitz chess. The man would surrender and say, 'I'll think twice before taking you on again ... You've got a real devil in you.' Can you make it any more obvious, Sir?

There definitely was something different about the boy's disposition. He doesn't like chess even if he is very talented in it. He doesn't flinch when a physical threat of violence was made right in front of him. He doesn't like violence. There was something of a pacifist, if not divine, in his comportment. But the Coetzee school of writing still resisted the equivalence of his childhood with that of sweet Jesus.

* * *

A novel is not a vaccine that could trigger an immune response to the reader. But there are certain writers who have a way with stringing words together that could trigger mass delusion on the part of the thirsty flock. An extreme case, at the end of the spectrum, was the Coelho school of writing. This was a writing characterized by an imposition of hack ideas and quack medicine about finding alignment in the universe for the circumstances to constellate into your own Personal Legend.

Another extreme case, at the other side of the spectrum, was another instance of "placebo effect", a novel variant. This was the Coetzee school of writing. This writing was not sociable, hardly helpful, full of ludic misdirections. It was not the sub-meter accurate GPS device truth-seekers yearn for. 

'What did she mean? Do you really want to push something inside her?'

'It was only a manner of speaking. She meant that I was trying to force my ideas on her. And she was right. One should not try to force ideas upon people.'

It was quite a leap: the forcing of ideas on someone (or in a novel) was satanized as sexual assault. I may be taking the dialogue out of context. In this novel, it was quite impossible to force meaning out of words when it was the meaninglessness of life itself that seemed to emerge like a castle of sand.

On page 42, a running joke on rats to prove a point that we were not reading a gospel.

'It seems to me,' he continues, 'that a growing child needs more variety, more nourishment. One cannot live on bread alone. It is not a universal food. You don't know where I can buy meat, do you ... ?

Álvaro scratches his head. 'Not around here, not around the docklands. There are people who catch rats, I have heard tell. There is no shortage of rats. But for that you will need a trap, and I don't know offhand where you would lay your hands on a good rat trap. You would probably have to make it yourself. You could use wire, with some kind of trip mechanism.'

'Rats?'

'Yes. Haven't you seen them? Whenever there are ships there are rats.'

'But who eats rats? Do you eat rats?'

'No, I wouldn't dream of it. But you asked where you could get meat, and that is all I can suggest.'

He stares long into Álvaro's eyes. He can see no sign that he is joking. Or if it is a joke, it is a very deep joke.'

A trap with a trip mechanism for catching rats? Why belabor the talk of rats when the suggestion was absurd in the first place? And this coming from a vegan author of The Lives of Animals

And: "One cannot leave on bread alone". We know what you're trying to do there, Mr Coetzee.

Later on, a villainous character was introduced, a new worker in the docks.

The next day a stranger makes his appearance at the docks. He is small and wiry; his skin is burned a deep walnut shade; his eyes are deep set, his nose hooked like a hawk's beak. He wears faded jeans streaked with machine oil, and scarred leather boots.

The amount of words Coetzee heaped upon the character, Señor Daga, indicated that this guy was up to no good. Here at least was a novelistic trope we could rely on.

Come pay time, all workers lined up to receive their pay. Señor Daga received money from the paymaster.

'What's this?' says Daga.

'Your pay for the days you have worked,' says Álvaro.

Daga picks up the coins and with a quick, contemptuous movement flings them back in the paymaster's face.

'What's that for?' says Álvaro.

'Rat's wage.'

'That's the rate. That's what you earned. That's what we all earn. Do you want to say we are all rats?'

Later there was fight between Señor Daga and Álvaro. Daga wounded the latter with a knife before mounting the paymaster's bicycle and skirting away.

The boy David would ask his guardian: 'Why is he called Señor Daga?'

Simón the guardian would reply: I don't know if Daga is his real name. It doesn't matter. Names don't matter. If he wants to call himself Daga, then let him.'

Throughout this part I was laughing. Names do matter, especially in the Coetzee school of writing. In Tagalog, the word daga, with the accent in the second syllable, actually means a rat. A rat's wage for a rat. Tit for tat.

* * *

So much for the first seven chapters of this first book in the Jesus trilogy. In spite of the flashes of humor, there was no reprieve for the reader. The opaqueness of its presentation, borrowing from the Kafka school of narrative, was jarring. So far, the experience (as perceived by this reader) was antithetical to the communion of reader and writer as perceived by Martin Amis.

The relationship between the writer and the reader is a mysterious one, and rather unexamined in my view. At its simplest, it’s a matter of straightforward transmission: I am telling a story. But it goes much deeper than that, until reader and writer become identical, almost indivisible. One mustn’t, of course, baby the reader, but one must be very considerate of them. The frame of this novel is a direct dialogue with the reader.

Contrary to what were emphasized above, the novelist in question (Coetzee) was very inconsiderate of the reader. To hell with the reader. And isn't it concerning that reader and writer could become one and the same, like one is being possessed by the other? That's a disenchanting thought. It's like forcing ideas on the reader.


12 September 2020

On Arlt's broken threads and mixed metaphors

 

The streetlamps shone feebly, their shafts of woolly light only penetrating the dark of the pavements for a couple of yards, while the rest of the suburb remained invisible. Filled with an immense sorrow, Erdosain walked on as disconsolate as a leper.

He felt as though his soul had finally become detached for ever from any human emotion. His anguish was that of a man who carries a fearful cage inside him, where prowling, blood-stained tigers yawn among a heap of fish bones, their remorseless eyes poised for their next leap.

The mixed metaphors in that passage of Roberto Arlt's were oddly cinematic. The foreboding was almost its own parody. From the walk of a leper, to the fearful cage inside Erdosain, to blood-stained, yawning tigers on a heap of fish bones, you've got to hand it to the man. The noir and hysterics combined to produce a quirky animation of a forlorn man as he walked toward the dilapidated home of the Espilas, a family of misers. 

The first time he had seen them in their new surroundings had been a great shock. The Espila family had moved into a ramshackle three-story building near Chacarita, divided up by corrugated iron sheets. From the outside the tenement looked like a huge ocean liner, with kids swarming all over it as if it were a religious commune.

The "huge ocean liner" tenement where kids swarm all over as if it was "a religious commune" – the mixed descriptions teased out the absurdity of life in the underbelly of Buenos Aires. The hint of humor, however cruel, was suppressed but it bubbled to the surface like the hiss of chemicals mixed in a beaker.

The fog blocked off the road beyond sad patches of light around the oil streetlamps. Suddenly, Luciana grasped Erdosain's arm and whispered to him:

"I care for you so much, I really do."

Erdosain shot her an ironic glance. All his anguish had turned to cruelty. He said: "I know." She went on: "I love you so much that just to please you I've studied how a blast furnace and a Bessemer converter work. D'you want me to explain what the joists are for, or how the cooling process is carried out?"

Erdosain gritted his teeth. He stumbled along the street thinking only that man's existence is absurd, and an inexplicable anger rose in him again, directed against this sweet girl who was clutching his arm.

Erdosain rejected Luciana's feelings even if she did everything – even studied the alchemy of making a copper rose – for him. He could not simply imagine a fuck up trying to woo a fuck up like himself.

In the absurd, fucked up world of The Seven Madmen, characters were mostly unemployed or down on their luck. They wallowed in the poisonous pit lake of desperation and destitution. They fired off monologues as if saying their piece of mind was enough to atone for their sins. But their unedited speeches condemned them further to a life sentence. 

"Now I've reached the end. My life is a disaster … I have to create the foulest messes for myself … to commit sin. Don't look at me. Perhaps … listen: people have forgotten the meaning of the word sin … sin is not simply a mistake … I've come to realise that sin is an act by which a man breaks the slender thread still linking him to God. It means God is denied him for ever. Even if after committing the sin that man's life were purer than the purest saint's, he could never reach God again. And I'm going to break the slender thread that connected me to divine charity. I know it. As from tomorrow, I'll be a monster on the face of this earth … just picture it, a little creature … a foetus … a foetus that was somehow living outside its mother's womb … unable to grow … covered in hair … tiny … with no fingernails … walking among men without being one itself … its fragility horrifying all those around it … and yet there's no force on earth capable of restoring it to the lost womb. That's what's going to happen to me tomorrow. I'll cut myself off from God for ever. I'll be alone on this earth. My soul and me, just the two of us. With infinity in front of us. Alone for ever. Night and day … under a yellow sun. Can you picture it? Infinity growing all the time … a yellow sun up above, and the soul which cut itself off from divine charity wandering alone and blind under that yellow sun."

Erdosain's anguish before committing murder had made him philosophical and voluble. But his self-picturing of a fetus detached from its mother's womb was the summary statement of the negated status of Arlt's lost wanderers. People lost to the womb, cut off from charity and from the source of its life force. 

In Arlt, possession of life is malum prohibitum. Unlinked from God, his characters were walking dead sinners whose mere existence was itself a crime, or a sin. In the bleak, rank world of Arlt's novel, how does one create beauty from the savagery of existence? Remove the last traces of humor and the paradox is suffocating.