Saturday, December 10, 2011

   "I'm a playful fellow - it's my artistic nature. Look, I know them: they're swine. I supply them with troughs. It amuses me; many things do. I like to see them prating about Liebe and Schonheit - and coming to the trough in the end. Did you notice, my inattentive friend, how many of the faces are familiar? They start out at the Zaubertheater and end up at the Schwarzen Stiefel: yes, it pleases me to make certain experiments, I won't deny it. Let me tell you something. When I was a lad of sixteen I went about with a blue-eyed maiden from a cultured family. Or to be more precise: the father was the owner of a pork butcher shop and the mother read Kleist and Nietzsche and Baudelaire and played Liszt and Wagner on the pianoforte. She took an interest in me, lent me books, and was in every way so superior to her empty-head daughter that I soon dropped every pretense of caring about the girl and looked forward only to my next dose of spiritual food from the lips of the mother. I wasn't by any means unaware of the more material charms of my maternal Beatrice, but I no more thought of violating that shrine than I thought of attempting to discuss the Ubermensch with her daughter. Need I say more? One twilit afternoon, as I turned the pages of a Chopin nocturne while she played, she seemed to grow faint as she neared the end of the piece, and as the last chords died away I was astonished to feel her head against my shoulder. Like a nice young idiot I asked her if she wanted a glass of water. She asked me to lead her to the couch. She was very direct. One detail I remember quite vividly: at the moment all youth dreams of - I had never been with a woman before, and had to be shown how to make her wet - but at that famous moment I saw, not far beyond her tense, flushed face, which appeared to be the strangely distorted mask of the woman whose soul I adored - I saw, lying upon a little mahogany table, a copy of volume two of Dichtung und Wahrheit, from which she had earlier read me a passage in order to compare it unfavorably to the nervous prose of Kleist. It was then I realized that art is nothing but a beautiful cool hand placed by a woman, sometimes not very carefully, over her hot pudendum. She spoke to me of beauty and the soul, but she really meant to speak of less rarefied matters. During her orgasms, which she herself compared to the Liebestod, she was fond of sighing out "Beautiful...oh, beautiful..." - a chant varied by the frequent interpolation of choice obscenities. Our meetings grew less and less artistic until one day - but that, my friend, is a story I shall save for my memoirs. i still have a dread of pork butchers. And so at the tender age of sixteen I learned an important secret: all words are masks, and the lovelier they are, the more they are meant to conceal. If it pleases me to be an unmasker - why, all to the good, I serve the fatherland in my own generous way. They chatter about the soul, I give them what they really want, and in the process I satisfy a sense of world-irony and a love of truth. Yes, I drag them down, the swine - I drag them down."

- Steven Millhauser
"August Eschenburg"

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