22 July 2017

Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty‑Eight Nights – Salman Rushdie

The philosopher who could not philosophize feared that his children would inherit, from him, the sad gifts which were his treasure and his curse. "To be thin-skinned, far-sighted, and loose-tongued," he said, "is to feel too sharply, see too clearly, speak too freely. It is to be vulnerable to the world when the world believes itself invulnerable, to understand its mutability when it thinks itself immutable, to sense what's coming before others sense it, to know that the barbarian future is tearing down the gates of the present while others cling to the decadent, hollow past. If our children are fortunate they will only inherit your ears, but regrettably, as they are undeniably mine, they will probably think too much too soon, and hear too much too early, including things that are not permitted to be thought or heard."

(...) for a wise man always prepares for adversity, but, if he is properly modest, good fortune takes him by surprise.

And Ibn Rushd was dead, but, as will be seen, he and his adversary continued their dispute beyond the grave, for to the arguments of great thinkers there is no end, the idea of argument itself being a tool to improve the mind, the sharpest of all tools, born of the love of knowledge, which is to say, philosophy.

(...) her gift for verbal abuse was tiring. In addition there were, as he told her in their break-up conversation, just too many things she disliked. She would only eat in five restaurants. She disliked clothes in any color other than black. She was unimpressed by his friends. Modern art, modern dance, movies with subtitles, contemporary literature, all types of philosophy, these she abhorred, but the mediocre neoclassicist nineteenth-century American pictures at the Met, those she much admired. She loved Disney World but when he wanted to take her to Mexico for a romantic getaway at Las Alamandas she said, “It’s not my kind of place. Plus, Mexico is dangerous, it would be like vacationing in Iraq.” This, with zero self-irony, from the daughter of Spanish immigrants living just one step up from the trailer park in Aventura, Florida.

For a brief moment the financial titan Daniel "Mac" Aroni tried her out "just to see what all the fuss was about” but he ran from her after a couple of weeks, complaining that she was the most bad-tempered, foulmouthed bitch he'd ever laid hands on. “She called me words I'd never heard, and I have a pretty personal thesaurus in that area," he told everyone. "She'll try to tear your heart out and eat it raw, right on the sidewalk, and me, I was brought up right, I don't talk to women that way no matter the provocation, but that woman, in five minutes you're over the body and the sex, which they're both something, this is undeniable, but nothing's good enough to make up for her bad character, you just want to throw her out the car door on the Turnpike and go home to eat meatloaf with your wife.”

Your health was what you had until the day you didn't have it and after that day you were screwed and it was better not to let doctors screw you before that day came.

The opening of the wormhole which linked his world to theirs had been his most impressive feat, and to underline its significance he appeared on the jumbotron in Times Square to reveal himself as the leader of a mighty invasion which would shortly subjugate the entire human race, You are all my slaves now, he cried again, forget your history, a new time begins today. But a true student of the jinn would have noted that even though the wormhole in Queens stood scarily open, there was no invading army pouring through it. The jinn in Peristan were just too busy having sex.

This must be said again: the competitiveness of even the mightiest of the jinn is often petty and childish, and leads to childish feuds. These are usually, as is the way with childishness, quarrels of short duration, but they can be bitter and spiteful while they last. When the jinn fight the results can be spectacular to the human eye. They throw things which are not things as we understand them, but the products of enchantment. Looking up at the sky from the earth, human beings would read these enchanted not-things as comets, meteors, shooting stars. The not powerful the jinni, the hotter and more fearsome the “meteor”. Zabardast and Zumurrud were the strongest of all the dark jinn, so their magic fire was dangerous, even to each other. And the slaying of the jinn by the jinn is a crucial part of our story.

Beware the man (or jinni) of action when he finally seeks to better himself with thought. A little thinking is a dangerous thing.

She talked too much, as she always had, your nonstop chat-a-tat, he had called it in the good old days, Radio Ella, and there had been times when, laughing but just a little irritated, he had asked her to try being silent for sixty seconds, and she hadn’t been able to do it, not even once. She advised him on healthy eating, admonished him about drinking too much alcohol, worried that in his increasingly confined condition he was not getting the exercise to which he was accustomed, discussed the latest skin-friendly cosmetics (dreaming, he didn’t ask how she kept abreast of such matters), pontificated about politics, and, of course, had much to say about landscape gardening; talked about nothing, and everything, and nothing again, at length.

At the beginning of all love there is a private treaty each of the lovers makes with himself or herself, an agreement to set aside what is wrong with the other for the sake of what is right. Love is spring after winter. It comes to heal life’s wounds, inflicted by the unloving cold. When that warmth is born in the heart the imperfections of the beloved are as nothing, less than nothing, and the secret treaty with oneself is easy to sign. The voice of doubt is stilled. Later, when love fades, the secret treaty looks like folly, but if so, it’s a necessary folly, born of lovers’ belief in beauty, which is to say, in the possibility of the impossible thing, true love.

(...) and if this was delirium, he was okay with that, it was a delirium he chose and wanted, because all of us want love, eternal love, love returning beyond death to be reborn, love to nourish and enfold us until we die.

This is known, and what is not known does not undermine it. This is the scientific way. To be open about the limits of one’s knowledge increases public confidence in what one says is known.

Just as we are created anew by what we love, so we are reduced and unmade by what we hate.

We no longer dreamt. It may be that this time those slits and holes were closed so tightly that nothing at all could leak through, not even the drips of fairy magic, the heaven-dew, which according to legend fell into our sleeping eyes and allowed us our nocturnal fantasies. Now in sleep there was only darkness. The mind fell dark, so that the great theater of the night might begin its unforeseeable performances, but nothing came. Fewer and fewer of us, in each successive generation, retained the ability to dream, until now we find ourselves in a time when dreams are things we would dream of, if we could only dream. We read of you in ancient books, O dreams, but the dream factories are closed. This is the price we pay for peace, prosperity, understanding, wisdom, goodness, and truth: that the wildness in us, which sleep unleashed, has been tamed, and the darkness in us, which drove the theater of the night, is soothed.

We are happy. We find joy in all things. Motorcars, electronics, dances, mountains, all of you bring us great joy. We walk hand in hand towards the reservoir and the birds make circles in the sky above us and all of it, the birds, the reservoir, the walking, the hand held by the hand, all brings us joy.

But the nights pass dumbly. One thousand and one nights may pass, but they pass in silence, like an army of ghosts, their footfalls noiseless, marching invisibly through the darkness, unheard, unseen, as we live and grow older and die.

Mostly we are glad. Our lives are good. But sometimes we wish for the dreams to return. Sometimes, for we have not wholly rid ourselves of perversity, we long for nightmares.