Sunday, 4 December 2011

all the king’s horses [michèle bernstein]

Who were we? What were we doing? Stumbling round the city like flat-footed dancers. Drinking and driving. Ducking and diving. Were we ever young? Did we ever feel young? What does it mean to be young? Is there a curse? Is it contagious? What was the plan? What wasn’t the plan? Did the city belong to us or did we belong to the city? Was any of it real? Did it even happen?

Somewhere in another universe people knew that they were cursed with more than just knowingness; they were cursed with the wand of knowing that they would never have to lift a finger, that the things people fought for and cried about would barely touch them because it was all too easy. So even if they did find themselves crying or fighting it wasn’t really real, not in the naïve way of those who really cry or fight. For whom the moment is all-consuming, a be-all or end-all. They laughed and/ or cried with the desperation of people who wanted to know what it would really be like to laugh or cry, to be hurt, not to have to hurt, to be heartbroken, not the other way round. The more glamorous it all seemed the more they wanted to curl up in a corner and start again somewhere else, start again as children. Who would perhaps retain the shard of naivety you need to love, not just be loved: that most disposable, objective of pleasures which bears almost no connection with the subjective glee of the suffering of the lover, as Barthes might have said, just to let them know what they were missing out on. Of course they couldn’t be born again, they couldn’t be re-christened, so instead they strolled around the city in all their shiny but inevitable cynicism, (a cynicism they couldn’t help, which they hated), doing what they did, and one day, because there was no reason not to, one of them wrote a book about it.

It wasn’t a great book and it wasn’t a terrible book. It was, if anything, a curious book, which was greater than it aspired to be but not as great as it might have been had life not been the way it was. It was a kink in the slipstream of literature, one that laughed at itself, just like the writer found herself laughing at herself, and him, because if you didn’t laugh at yourself, and all your wasted talents, what else could you do? You couldn’t cry and you couldn’t fight so all that was left was to laugh. And the book said nothing really, because the idea that books can say things is one of the great myths of literature, which is almost a myth in itself. But it did do one thing. It captured a time and a moment and the way they lived, these strange, happy, unhappy people. Their names were Guy and Michèle and they lived in Paris; but they also lived in London and New York and sometimes they lived in a parallel universe, the one you inhabit, the one whose air you breathe, little knowing that they’re watching you, envying you, laughing at you, wondering what it’s like to live inside another kind of brain.

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