Life and Times of Michael K
Anyway, said Robert, they got a big fright. After that they started dropping pellets in the water and digging latrines and spraying for flies and bringing buckets of soap. But do you think they do it because they love us? Not a hope. They prefer it that we live because we look too terrible when we get sick and die. If we grew thin and turned into paper and then into ash and floated away, they wouldn't give a stuff for us. They just don't want to get upset. They want to go to sleep feeling good.
But most of all, as summer slanted to an end, he was learning to love idleness, idleness no longer as stretches of freedom reclaimed by stealth here and there from involuntary labour, surreptitious thefts to be enjoyed sitting on his heels before a flowerbed with the fork dangling from his fingers, but as a yielding up of himself to time, to a time flowing slowly like oil from horizon to horizon over the face of the world, washing over his body, circulating in his armpits and his groin, stirring his eyelids. He was neither pleased nor displeased when there was work to do; it was all the same. He could lie all afternoon with his eyes open, staring at the corrugations in the roof-iron and the tracings of rust; his mind would not wander, he would see nothing but the iron, the lines would not transform themselves into pattern or fantasy; he was himself, lying in his own house, the rust was merely rust, all that was moving was time, bearing him onward in its flow.
Doch am meisten von allem lernte er, als der Sommer sich neigte, den Müßiggang zu lieben, Müßiggang nicht mehr als Strecken der Freiheit, die heimlich hier und da unfreiwilliger Arbeit abgeknapst wurden, gestohlene Augenblicke der Freude, wenn er mit von den Fingern baumelnder Gabel vor einem Blumenbeet auf der Fersen hockte, nein, Müßiggang als Hingabe seiner selbst an die Zeit, eine Zeit, die langsam wie Öl von Horizont zu Horizont über das Angesicht der Welt floß, die seinen Leib überspülte, in seinen Achselhöhlen und Leisen kreiste, die seine Augenlider bewegte. Er war weder erfreut noch verärgert, wenn es zu arbeiten galt, es war dasselbe.
Do I believe in helping people? he wondered. He might help people, he might not help them, he did not know beforehand, anything was possible. He did not seem to have a belief, or did not seem to have a belief regarding help. Perhaps I am the stony ground, he thought.
From one seed a whole handful: that was what it meant to say the bounty of the earth.
He even knew the reason why: because enough men had gone off to war saying the time for gardening was when the war was over; whereas there must be men to stay behind and keep gardening alive, or at least the idea of gardening; because once that cord was broken, the earth would grow hard and forget her children. That was why.
He thought of himself not as something heavy that left tracks behind it, but if anything, as a speck upon the surface of an earth too deeply asleep to notice the scratch of ant feet, the rasp of butterfly teeth, the tumbling of dust
he was learning to love idleness, idleness no longer as stretches of freedom reclaimed by stealth here and there from involuntary labour, surreptitious thefts to be enjoyed sitting on his heels before a flowerbed with the fork dangling from his fingers, but as a yielding up of himself to time, to a time flowing slowly like oil from horizon to horizon over the face of the world, washing over his body
How many people are there left who are neither locked up nor standing guard at the gate?
it came to me with great force that I was wasting my life, that I was wasting it by living from day to day in a state of waiting, that I had in effect given myself up as a prisoner to this war.
Let me tell you the meaning of the sacred and alluring garden that blooms in the heart of the desert and produces the food of life. The garden for which you are currently heading is nowhere and everywhere except in the camps. It is another name for the only place where you belong, Michaels, where you do not feel homeless. It is off every map, no road leads to it that is merely a road, and only you know the way.
No papers, no money; no family, no friends, no sense of who you are. The obscurest of the obscure, so obscure as to be a prodigy.
Speaking the words he had been taught, directing them no longer upward but to the earth on which he knelt, he prayed: 'For what we are about to receive make us truly thankful.' ... he... felt his heart suddenly flow over with thankfulness... like a gush of warm water... All that remains is to live here quietly for the rest of my life, eating food that my own labour has made the earth to yield. All that remains is to be a tender of the soil.
There is no home left for universal souls, except perhaps in Antarctica or on the high seas.
Trotzdem konnte er sich nicht vorstellen, sein Leben damit zu verbringen, Grenzpfähle in die Erde zu treiben, Zäune zu errichten, das Land aufzuteilen. Er sah sich nicht als etwas Schweres, das Spuren hinterließ, sondern allenfalls als einen winzigen Fleck auf der Oberfläche der Erde, die zu fest schlief, um das Kratzen eines Ameisenfußes, das Raspeln von Schmetterlingszähnen, das Taumeln von Staub zu bemerken.
What would yield the greater benefit to mankind: if I spent the afternoon taking stock in my dispensary, or if I went to the beach and took off my clothes and lay in my underpants absorbing the benign spring sun, watching the children frolic in the water, later buying an ice-cream from the kiosk on the parking lot, if the kiosk is still there? What did Noël ultimately achieve labouring at his desk to balance the bodies out against the bodies in? Would he not be better off taking a nap? Maybe the universal sum of happiness would be increased if we declared this afternoon a holiday and went down to the beach, commandant, doctor, chaplain, PT instructors, guards, dog-handlers all together with the six hard cases from the detention block, leaving behind the concussion case to look after things. Perhaps we might meet some girls. For what reason were we waging the war, after all, but to augment the sum of happiness in the universe? Or was I misremembering, was that another war I was thinking of?
You are like a stick insect, Michaels, whose sole defence against a universe of predators is its bizarre shape. You are like a stick insect that has landed, God knows how, in the middle of a great wide flat bare concrete plain. You raise your slow fragile stick-legs one at a time, you inch about looking for something to merge with, and there is nothing. Why did you ever leave the bushes, Michaels?
You have never asked for anything, yet you have become an albatross around my neck. Your bony arms are knotted behind my head, I walk bowed under the weight of you.
Your stay in the camp was merely an allegory, if you know that word. It was an allegory--speaking at the highest level--of how scandalously, how outrageously a meaning can take up residence in a system without becoming a term in it.