c'est trop beau

Claude Aveline's anthology, Les Mots de la fin. I found Alfred Le Poittevin's last words especially moving in their simplicity: "Close the window, it's too beautiful." In their brevity, they express an entire hymn that is given back to life by a dying man; they cannot be objected to. What was there beyond the window? A tree, the curve of a hill, a bit of sky, a few clouds, the smells of the earth, birds singing? Can a dying man, you ask, really be wounded by so little? Yet it is such things that most surely sustained us; we were nourished by them. Even if we were unaware of it. They form the very framework of life. Le Poittevin was not mistaken. As the separation was about to be accomplished, the window indeed needed to be closed. Ears and eyes were trained elsewhere: it was no longer possible to let earthly echoes enter.

Pierre-Albert Jourdan,
Straw Sandals: Selected Prose and Poetry, pg. 255



you must go on

Here he stood. Here he sat. Here he knelt. Here he lay. Here he moved, to and fro, from the door to the window, from the window to the door; from the window to the door, from the door to the window; from the fire to the bed, from the bed to the fire; from the bed to the fire, from the fire to the bed.

Samuel Beckett: from Watt

You must go on.
I can’t go on.
You must go on.
I’ll go on.
You must say words, as long as there are any...

Samuel Beckett: from The Unnamable


at least the rudiments of the art of seeing

The Old Berlin City Hall (1840)

The Old Berlin City Hall (1840), Johann Wilhelm Brücke

It is necessary to mention that my cousin lives in a small room with a low ceiling, high above the street. That is the usual custom of writers and poets. What does the low ceiling matter? Imagination soars aloft and builds a high and cheerful dome that rises to the radiant blue sky. Thus the poet's cramped quarters are like the garden that consisted of ten square feet enclosed within four walls: neither broad nor long, but always at an agreeable height. Moreover, my cousin's lodgings are in the most attractive part of our capital city, overlooking the big market square which is surrounded by magnificent buildings and has the colossal theatre, a work of genius, adorning its centre. The house where my cousin lives stands on a corner, and from the window of a tiny room he can overlook the entire panorama of the splendid square at a single glance.

'You probably think', went on my cousin, ignoring my reaction, 'that my health is improving, or that I've made a complete recovery. That's anything but true. My legs are disloyal vassals who have refused obedience to the head of their ruler, and want nothing more to do with the rest of my worthy corpse. That's to say, I can't move from the spot, and cart myself to and fro in this wheelchair in the most charming fashion, while my old soldier whistles' the most tuneful marches he remembers from his army years. But this window is my comfort; it is here that life in all its colour has been revealed to me anew, and I feel at home with its incessant activity. Come, cousin, look outside! '

I sat down opposite my cousin on a small stool for which there was just room in front of the window. The view was indeed strange and surprising. The entire market seemed like a single mass of people squeezed tightly together, so that one would have thought that an apple thrown into it would never reach the ground. Tiny specks of the most varied colours were gleaming in the sunshine; this gave me theimpression of a large bed of tulips being blown hither and thither by the wind, and I had to confess that the view, while certainly very attractive, soon became tiring, and might give over-sensitive people a slight feeling of giddiness, like the not disagreeable delirium one feels at the onset of a dream. I assumed that this accounted for the pleasure that my cousin derived from his corner window, and told him so quite frankly.

My cousin, however, clapped his hands together above his head, and the following conversation developed between us:

MY COUSIN: Cousin, cousin! I now see clearly that you haven't the tiniest spark of literary talent. You lack the first prerequisite for treading in the footsteps of your worthy paralysed cousin: an eye that can really see. The market down there offers you nothing but the sight of a motley, bewildering throng of people animated by meaningless activity. Ho, ho, my friend! I can derive from it the most varied scenery of town life, and my mind, an honest Callot, or a modern Chodowiecki, dashes off a whole series of sketches, some of them very bold in their outlines. Come on, cousin! Let me see if I can't teach you at least the rudiments of the art of seeing. Look directly down into the street--here are my field-glasses--do you see the somewhat strangely dressed person with a large shopping-basket on her arm who is deep in conversation with a brush-maker and seems to be hurriedly settling domestic matters quite unconnected with bodily nourishment?

from E.T.A. Hoffmann, My Cousin's Corner Window
(Hoffmann's short story has strong autobiographical elements, since he himself was living in Berlin at the time of writing, was paralyzed and died only a few months later)