Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hotel Europa

The excellent Dalkey Archive Press of Champaign, Illinois just published a translation of Dumitru Tsepeneag's Hotel Europa, first published in Romanian in 1996. Here is an instructive passage from an early page of that novel:

I stand up, go into the bathroom, and switch on the light. I experience it as an assault. Raise my arm to parry the blow.

Then I see myself in the mirror.

We always think about ourselves in clichés: the same words keep seeping into our consciousness, forming a kind of schematic, coded monologue that at least has the merit of preserving some mental continuity. On the other hand, what's the point of repeating over and over again something that can no longer be called an observation, still less an appraisal of a particular state of affairs, because it's no longer linked to reality directly through a process of perception, but only vaguely through one of recognition not an image but an idea, and in the end an idée fixe? I don't take the trouble to verify it: I've grown old!
Is this a leitmotif of mine, or the mirror's?

It's no longer a question of angst; it's become something mechanical by dint of repetition, like the flicking of a switch. It's not a thought but a label stuck to the mirror, an intertitle in a silent movie. Or a subtitle in a sound movie in a different language: I see an image with the word underneath; I no longer try to fight it, as I would have done a few years ago, nor to study it more attentively, to inspect it for plausible arguments against this "accusation," to plead that at least there are extenuating circumstances. I no longer defend myself in any way. I shrug my shoulders
and the accusation becomes a verdict, a final sentence.