Hundreds of Days
After a while, you forget it’s summer. You don’t remember what the morning is. After a while, you won’t remember what summer is or its happiness that with summer has long since merged into a fading white light, when that morning had awakened and ceased. But here you are, now in it immersed. Your eyelids flutter to alight upon the dawning of world, as dreams with memories mingle, tangled together as are your legs with soft linen sheets. There, the curtain quakes before the windowpane in blissful breeze, distilling as it drifts a soft, white light that is as immersive as it is inaccessible. This slanting light1 is a caress. It is voluptuosity itself. It is an angel wing that sweeps the light beams. It goes beyond touch and comes from far past the yearning to touch. Swirling in this unreality at the threshold of the real, you are caressed by a glimmering light, and in its evanescence and swoon, you feel like floating in the scintillating pure experience of being with yourself in the illumination of the inexpressible.
And there’s no need to describe the sense of utter loss you feel upon awaking. And there’s no need to say this loss has no object. After all, the only memory of happiness is the mourning for its immemory. Being wholly yourself is rapture, but also voluptuosity profanes. The revelation of the hidden as hidden is not to be seen, and what it discovers can’t be rendered visible, even though it is all lightly so. Only the feeling of utter loss you feel upon awaking, only the whisper that this loss has no object.
The plucks and shimmering washes of her harp seem like they belong to an Arcadia where the flowers still bloom beneath the lyre of Orpheus, or else angels, or else the opening of the sky. Yet, to hear this is to be nostalgic for its loss. Yet it was never lost, or else: it was only ever loss. Nostalgia is the condition for a memory that can’t be remembered. An angel that arrives having forgotten what it came to pronounce. An angel that tenderly annihilates. An angel that pities those who see it without being entirely consumed.
The Denis Johnson story “Emergency,” from which she borrows the words, “Their Faces Streaked With Light and Filled With Pity,” is the story of impossible sight. Describing the faces of angels that appear in rapture to two visitors in death’s land and just as abruptly pass from miracle to morbid materiality, the pity, I think, is that the witnesses to the emergent rupture didn’t just shatter there and then. The pity, I think, is that as soon as you notice you’re happy, you no longer are. I think the pity is that memory requires this distance in order to retain what might else be lost. Without this pity, “It was the most beautiful summer of my life,” is impossible to say, and is just as impossible to conceive in song. Yet, an ideality that expresses its own impossibility, that, with pity, destroys itself in unraveling in time, maybe this was the happiness we can’t keep with us. Maybe I can understand how a drowning man might suddenly feel a deep thirst being quenched. Maybe I can understand why angels speak in music and why they are always adorned with harps as with incense. And maybe I can understand why a caress belongs to the world of light.
1. Here are all of the times the words slanting light appear in The Brothers Karamazov:
That is exactly how it was with him: he remembered a quiet summer evening, an open window, the slanting rays of the setting sun (these slanting rays he remembered most of all), an icon in the corner of the room, a lighted oil-lamp in front of it, and before the icon, on her knees, his mother, sobbing as if in hysterics …
Perhaps he was also affected by the slanting rays of the setting sun before the icon to which his mother, the “shrieker,” held him out.
And there was much more that I can’t recall or set down. I remember once I came into his room alone, when no one was with him. It was a bright evening; the sun was setting and lit up the whole room with its slanting rays. He beckoned when he saw me; I went over to him, he took me by the shoulders with both hands, looked tenderly, lovingly into my face; he did not say anything, he simply looked at me like that for about a minute: “Well,” he said, “go now, play, live for me!” I walked out then and went to play. And later in life I remembered many times, with tears now, how he told me to live for him.
But it is possible, it is possible: the old grief, by a great mystery of human life, gradually passes into quiet, tender joy; instead of young, ebullient blood comes a mild, serene old age: I bless the sun’s rising each day and my heart sings to it as before, but now I love its setting even more, its long slanting rays, and with them quiet, mild, tender memories, dear images from the whole of a long and blessed life — and over all is God’s truth, moving, reconciling, all-forgiving! My life is coming to an end. I know and sense it, but I feel with every day that is left me how my earthly life is already touching a new, infinite, unknown, but swift-approaching life, anticipating that my soul trembles with rapture, my mind is radiant, and my heart weeps joyfully …
The whole of the old man’s profile, which he found so loathsome, the whole of his drooping Adam’s apple, his hooked nose, smiling in sweet expectation, his lips — all was brightly lit from the left by the slanting light of the lamp shining from the room. Terrible, furious anger suddenly boiled up in Mitya’s heart: “There he was, his rival, his tormentor, the tormentor of his life!” It was a surge of that same sudden, vengeful, and furious anger of which he had spoken, as if in anticipation, to Alyosha during their conversation in the gazebo four days earlier, in response to Alyosha’s question, “How can you say you will kill father?”