The images were the sort of pornography that seemed designed for men who hate women

The year before, in that same office, I had repeatedly found pornography on the desktop of the shared computer. Seeing the pop-ups of naked women in various postures, I initially wondered whether they were left there by the other instructor I shared the space with when I was not on campus. Perhaps it was her research, as she was a sociologist, one of the other adjunct faculty who everyone assumes is more permanent than we are. The images were the sort of pornography that seemed designed for men who hate women. I imagined in turn that she was also suspicious, or curious, about me. I wonder if, as a resident of this city—and a partial resident of the city that is the internet—I have become almost numb to absurd or hostile encounters. I did wonder later whether the joke was on me specifically, if this pornography was left there for me, but that would take some awareness of me, or what I had written about. I never figured out if it was a form of targeted or general harassment, or what—masturbatory carelessness?

I finally said something to the woman who worked in the office downstairs, an awkward conversation I tried to laugh my way through. We were asked to lock the office afterward, and the password to the desktop was reset. When the French sociologist (she was French) was told, she apparently just made a face of distaste, I imagine in a very French way, and asked if there were antibacterial wipes we could use to wipe down the computer and the desk, since we both ate our lunches there. Which, upon hearing this, I felt was the right reaction—and wondered why I hadn’t thought of that.

Kate Zambreno, Drifts.

Najstraszliwsze spojrzenie, jakie żywa istota może znieść

Pochyliłem się nad nią, zawołałem ją głośno, po imieniu; i od razu – mogę zaświadczyć bez chwili zwłoki – z jej ust, jeszcze zaciśniętych, wydobyło się coś na kształt tchnienia, oddechu, który powoli przemienił się w lekki, słaby okrzyk; niemal jednocześnie – jestem tego pewien – jej ręce drgnęły, próbując się unieść. Powieki były jeszcze całkiem zamknięte. Ale po sekundzie, może dwóch, otworzyły się nagle, i otworzyły się na coś straszliwego, o czym nie będę mówił, na najstraszliwsze spojrzenie, jakie żywa istota może znieść, i sądzę, że gdybym w tamtej chwili zadrżał i poczuł strach, wszystko byłoby stracone, ale moja czułość była tak wielka, że nawet nie pomyślałem o szczególnym charakterze tego, co się wydarzało, a co wydało mi się czymś całkiem naturalnym z powodu tego nieskończonego impulsu, który prowadził mnie na spotkanie z nią, i wziąłem ją w ramiona, a jej ramiona obejmowały mnie, i od tej chwili ona była nie tylko całkiem żywa, ale też doskonale naturalna, wesoła i niemal ozdrowiała.

Maurice Blanchot, Wyrok śmierci, tłum. Anna Wasilewska.

Green Girls

As she closes her door, she sees Agnes coming out of her room down the hall. A girl like Agnes spends the entire morning putting herself together. Or putting herself back together. Agnes did not wear clothes. She wears a costume. Green girls and their costumes, their trying on of brazen identities. Some green girls very in vogue wear cigarette jeans, but girls like Agnes and Ruth only smoke cigarettes. They are the type of green girls to model themselves on La Nouvelle Vague, they are new and they are vague. They are the type to wear skirts and dresses with stockings, a specific classification. Today Agnes is wearing a tight cherry-red cardigan and a vintage mustard yellow A-line. A darker mustard trench coat. Enormous sunglasses engulfed her face, as if to cultivate an air of mystery.

Kate Zambreno, Green Girl.

Trench as an outsized female organ ready to receive us

I WALKED FOR A LONG TIME through the fissures in the earth, carrying Mademba, heavy like a sleeping child, in my arms. An enemy target escaping notice under the light of the full moon, I arrived at the gaping hole that was our trench. Seen from a distance, our trench looked to me like the slightly parted lips of an immense woman’s sex. A woman, open, offering herself to war, to the bombshells, and to us, the soldiers. It was the first unmentionable thing I allowed myself to think. Before Mademba’s death, I would never have dared imagine such a thing, would never have thought of the trench as an outsized female organ ready to receive us, Mademba and me. The insides of the earth were outside, the insides of my mind were outside, and I knew, I understood that I could think anything I wanted to, on the condition that the others knew nothing of it. So I locked my thoughts back in my head after observing them from up close. Strange.

David Diop, At Night All Blood Is Black, translated from the French by Anna Moschovakis.

Lubię patrzeć

Galen obudził się i kilka centymetrów od swojej twarzy zobaczył majtki Jennifer, a jej uda po obu stronach swojej głowy.

– Dzień dobry, kuzynie – usłyszał. – Wiesz, to grzech podglądać. Ale ty robisz to nieustannie. Pomyślałam więc, że pozwolę ci się porządnie napatrzeć.

Niebieski jedwab, inny odcień od wczorajszej niebieskiej bawełny. Bardziej obcisłe. Czuł ciepło. Próbował ją powąchać, ale pachniała tylko mydłem.

Bał się cokolwiek powiedzieć. Nie chciał, żeby to się skończyło.

– Dwudziestodwuletni prawiczek – mówiła. – Bliżej nigdy nie byłeś, co?

– Nie – odparł.

– Dlaczego?

– Nie wiem. Widać nie jestem zbyt popularny.

– No i maminsynek. Nigdy nie wychodzisz z tego domu.

– Ludzie nie doceniają duchowości.

– Świry nie mogą podupczyć. Możesz sobie teraz zwalić. Możesz sobie zwalić, patrząc na mnie.

Sięgnął więc na dół i zaczął ciągnąć, mocno ściskać, to był przyjemny ból.

– Odwrócę się – powiedziała – żeby popatrzeć.

Stanęła na łóżku, które zakołysało się niczym ocean, i uklękła ponownie, tym razem tyłem. Ściągnęła koc i prześcieradło, żeby odsłonić Galena. On ciągnął mocniej. Takiego widoku nigdy przedtem nie doświadczył. Tył jej ud i pupy, idealne kształty, piękne krągłości, zagłębienie w lekko odstających pośladkach. Rąbek majtek na miękkiej kremowej skórze.

– Możesz odsunąć trochę brzeg majtek? – zapytał. – Chcę zobaczyć.

– Nie – odparła. – Jeszcze nie. Na razie wystarczą ci majtki.

– Jeszcze nie.

– A po co ci to w ogóle potrzebne? Myślałam, że wolisz duchowość.

Członek Galena nigdy nie był taki twardy. Dotykał go wolniej, by wszystko przedłużyć, i zauważył, że Jennifer robi się mokra, jedwab pociemniał na środku.

– Robisz się wilgotna – powiedział.

– No – odparła. – Lubię to. Lubię patrzeć. Teraz chcę widzieć, jak dochodzisz.

Przyspieszył więc ruch ręką i wypchnął biodra do przodu, czując, jak każda część ciała mocno się spina, po czym doszedł, odchylił szyję i zatrząsł się z przyjemności. Kiedy otworzył oczy, zobaczył jej ciemne, mokre majtki nad sobą i zapragnął jej posmakować.

– Proszę. Pokaż mi albo pozwól polizać.

Jennifer stanęła na łóżku, ostrożnie zeszła na podłogę, boso.

– Nie – odparła. – Ale było fajnie. Podobało mi się. Zawsze miło spędzić czas z rodziną.

David Vann, Brud, tłum. Dobromiła Jankowska.

Massive demand for meat

Cannibalism, another word that could cause him major problems. He remembers when they announced the existence of GGB. The mass hysteria, the suicides, the fear. After GGB, animals could no longer be eaten because they’d been infected by a virus that was fatal to humans. That was the official line. The words carry the weight necessary to mould us, to suppress all questioning, he thinks.

Barefoot, he walks through the house. After GGB, the world changed definitively. They tried vaccines, antidotes, but the virus resisted and mutated. He remembers articles that spoke of the revenge of the vegans, others about acts of violence against animals, doctors on television explaining what to do about the lack of protein, journalists confirming that there wasn’t yet a cure for the animal virus. He sighs and lights another cigarette.

He’s alone. His wife has gone to live with her mother. It’s not that he still misses her, but there’s an emptiness in the house that keeps him awake, that troubles him. He takes a book off the shelf. No longer tired, he turns on the light to read, then turns it off. He touches the scar on his hand. The incident happened a long time ago and it doesn’t hurt any more. It was a pig. He was very young, just starting out, and hadn’t known that the meat needed to be respected, until the meat bit him and almost took his hand off. The foreman and the others couldn’t stop laughing. You’ve been baptized, they said. His father didn’t say anything. After that bite, they stopped seeing him as the boss’s son and he became one of the team. But neither the team nor the Cypress Processing Plant exist, he thinks.

He picks up his phone. There are three missed calls from his mother-in-law. None from his wife.

Unable to bear the heat, he decides to shower. He turns on the tap and sticks his head under the cold water. He wants to erase the distant images, the memories that persist. The piles of cats and dogs burned alive. A scratch meant death. The smell of burned meat lingered for weeks. He remembers the groups in yellow protective suits that scoured the neighbourhoods at night, killing and burning every animal that crossed their paths.

The cold water falls onto his back. He sits down on the floor of the shower and slowly shakes his head. But he can’t stop remembering. Groups of people had started killing others and eating them in secret. The press documented a case of two unemployed Bolivians who had been attacked, dismembered and barbecued by a group of neighbours. When he read the news, he shuddered. It was the first public scandal of its kind and instilled the idea in society that in the end, meat is meat, it doesn’t matter where it’s from.

He tilts his head up so the water falls onto his face. What he wants is for the drops to wipe his mind blank. But he knows the memories are there, they always will be. In some countries, immigrants began to disappear en masse. Immigrants, the marginalized, the poor. They were persecuted and eventually slaughtered. Legalization occurred when the governments gave in to pressure from a big-money industry that had come to a halt. They adapted the processing plants and regulations. Not long after, they began to breed people as animals to supply the massive demand for meat.

Agustina Bazterrica, Tender is the Flesh, tł. Sarah Moses, 2020

Donald, Jim, Brian, Joseph, Matthew, and Peter

Six of the Galvin boys took ill at a time when so little was understood about schizophrenia—and so many different theories were colliding with one another—that the search for an explanation overshadowed everything about their lives. They lived through the eras of institutionalization and shock therapy, the debates between psychotherapy versus medication, the needle-in-a-haystack search for genetic markers for the disease, and the profound disagreements about the cause and origin of the illness itself. There was nothing generic about how they each experienced the illness: Donald, Jim, Brian, Joseph, Matthew, and Peter each suffered differently, requiring differing treatments and a panoply of shifting diagnoses, and prompting conflicting theories about the nature of schizophrenia. Some of those theories could be especially cruel to the parents, who often took the blame, as if they’d caused the disease by something they did or did not do. The entire family’s struggle doubles as a thinly veiled history of the science of schizophrenia—a history that for decades took the form of a long argument over not just what caused the illness, but what it actually is.

(…)

Starting in the 1980s, the Galvin family became the subject of study by researchers on the hunt for a key to understanding schizophrenia. Their genetic material has been analyzed by the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, the National Institute of Mental Health, and more than one major pharmaceutical company. As with all such test subjects, their participation was always confidential. But now, after nearly four decades of research, the Galvin family’s contribution finally can be seen clearly. Samples of their genetic material have formed the cornerstone of research that has helped unlock our understanding of the disease. By analyzing this family’s DNA and comparing it with genetic samples from the general population, researchers are on the cusp of making significant advances in treatment, prediction, and even prevention of schizophrenia. Until recently, the Galvins were completely unaware of how they might be helping others—oblivious to how their situation had, among some researchers, created such a feeling of promise. But what science has learned from them is only one small portion of their story. That story begins with their parents, Mimi and Don, and a life together that took flight with limitless hope and confidence, only to curdle and collapse in tragedy, confusion, and despair.

(…)

What would progress look like for schizophrenia? If the Galvin boys had been born a half century later or more—growing up today, let’s say, and not in the 1950s or 1960s—would their treatment be any different now? In some respects, little has changed. The market for new schizophrenia drugs remains sluggish. Antipsychotic drugs require expensive and risky testing, even in the early trials, where rats are no substitute for humans. And the same nature-nurture squabbles over the source of the illness have continued, if at a more granular level. Where the conversation once was about Freud, now it’s about epigenetics—latent genes, activated by environmental triggers. Researchers now argue about what might be playing the part of a trigger—something ingested, like marijuana, or infectious, like bacteria? Researchers have come up with a variety of other suspects—head injuries, autoimmune diseases, brain-inflammation disorders, parasitic microbes—all of which have their adherents and detractors. Everyone still picks their horse on the merry-go-round, and very few are willing to stop taking the ride.

Robert Kolker, Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family, 2020.

Hair that always smelled of cows

The Discomfort of Evening

In the nights that followed, I kept sneaking downstairs to check whether my brother was really dead. First I’d lie in my bed wiggling around or ‘making a candle’, as I called it, by throwing my legs up in the air and supporting my hips with my hands. In the mornings his death seemed obvious but as soon as it grew dark, I’d begin to have my doubts. What if we hadn’t looked hard enough and he woke up under the ground? Each time, I’d hope that God had changed his mind and hadn’t listened to me when I’d prayed for him to protect Dieuwertje, just like the time – I must have been about seven – when I’d asked for a new bike: a red one with at least seven gears, and a soft saddle with double suspension so that I didn’t get a pain in my crotch when I had to cycle home from school into the wind. I never got the bike. If I went downstairs now, I hoped, it wouldn’t be Matthies lying beneath the sheet but my rabbit. Of course I’d be sad, but it would be different from the beating veins in my forehead when I tried to hold my breath in bed to understand death, or when I made the candle for so long my blood ran to my head like candlewax. Finally, I let my legs drop back onto my mattress and carefully opened my bedroom door. I tiptoed onto the landing and down the stairs. Dad had beaten me to it: through the banisters I saw him sitting on a chair next to the coffin, his head on the glass of the viewing window. I looked down at his messy blond hair that always smelled of cows, even when he’d just had a bath. I looked at his bent body. He was shaking; as he wiped his nose on his pyjama top, I thought how the fabric would become hard with snot, just like my coat sleeves. I looked at him and began to feel little stabs inside my chest. I imagined I was watching Nederland 1, 2 or 3 and could zap away at any moment if it got too much. Dad sat there for so long my feet got cold. When he pushed his chair in and returned to bed – my parents had a waterbed that Dad would sink back into now – I descended the rest of the stairs and sat down on his chair. It was still warm. I pressed my mouth to the window, like the ice in my dreams, and blew. I tasted the salt of my father’s tears. Matthies’s face was as pale as fennel; his lips were purple from the cooling mechanism that kept him frozen. I wanted to turn it off so that he could thaw in my arms and I could carry him upstairs so that we could sleep on it, like Dad sometimes ordered us to when we’d misbehaved and been sent to bed without any dinner. I’d ask him whether this was really the right way to leave us.

The first night he was in the coffin in the front room, Dad saw me sitting with my hands around the banisters and my head pushed through them. He’d sniffed and said, ‘They’ve put cotton wads in his bottom to stop his crap coming out. He must still be warm inside. That makes me feel better.’ I held my breath and counted: thirty-three seconds of suffocation. It wouldn’t be long before I could hold my breath for so long that I’d be able to fish Matthies out of his sleep, and just like the frogspawn we got out of the ditch behind the cowshed with a fishing net and kept in a bucket until they were tadpoles and tails and legs slowly began to grow out of them, Matthies would also slowly transform from lifeless to alive and kicking.

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, The Discomfort of Evening, tłum. Michele Hutchison, 2020.

Nie ma w tym nic dziwnego, że zakochałem się w Magdalenie

Jean Fouquet Virgin of Melun 1415–1481

W tej niepojętej chwili, w której wybrałem swój los, nie wiedziałem, iż zakładał, że zakocham się w Marii Magdalenie. Będę ją zresztą nazywał Magdaleną: nie przepadam za podwójnymi imionami i sądzę, że nazywanie jej Marią z Magdali byłoby męczące. Wykluczam nazywanie jej po prostu Marią. Mylenie imion kochanej osoby i własnej matki nie jest szczególnie godne polecenia.

W miłości nie ma związku przyczynowego, ponieważ się nie wybiera. Powody wymyślamy potem, dla przyjemności. Zakochałem się w Magdalenie, gdy tylko ją ujrzałem. Moglibyśmy się spierać: jeśli zmysł wzroku odegrał tę rolę, można by uznać za powód nadzwyczajną urodę Marii. Faktem jest, że milczała, a zatem widziałem ją, zanim ją usłyszałem. Głos Magdaleny jest jeszcze piękniejszy niż jej postać: gdybym ją poznał słuchem, skutek byłby ten sam. Gdybym kontynuował ten wywód, przywołując trzy pozostałe zmysły, byłbym nieprzyzwoity.

Nie ma w tym nic dziwnego, że zakochałem się w Magdalenie. To, że ona zakochała się we mnie, jest czymś nadzwyczajnym. A jednak tak właśnie się stało w sekundzie, w której mnie zobaczyła.

Opowiadaliśmy sobie tę historię setki razy, dobrze wiedząc, że ta fikcja nam się wymknęła. Uczyniliśmy słusznie: to nam przyniosło nieskończoną radość.

– Kiedy ujrzałem twoją twarz, nie mogłem uwierzyć własnym oczom. Nie wiedziałem, że takie piękno jest możliwe. A potem na mnie spojrzałaś i było jeszcze gorzej: nie wiedziałem, że można patrzeć w taki sposób. Gdy na mnie patrzysz, trudno mi oddychać. Czy na wszystkich patrzysz w ten sposób?

– Nie sądzę. Nie jestem z tego znana. Kocioł przygania garnkowi, a sam smoli. To twoje spojrzenie jest sławne, Jezusie. Ludzie pielgrzymują, żebyś na nich spojrzał.

– Na nikogo nie patrzę tak jak na ciebie.

– Mam nadzieję.

Miłość skupia w sobie pewność i zwątpienie: mamy pewność, że jesteśmy kochani, a jednak w to wątpimy, nie na przemian, lecz równocześnie, i to nas niepokoi. Gdybyśmy chcieli się pozbyć tych wewnętrznych rozterek, zadając tysiące pytań ukochanej osobie, zaprzeczalibyśmy skrajnie ambiwalentnej naturze miłości.

Magdalena znała już wielu mężczyzn, a ja nie znałem żadnej kobiety. Jednak nasz brak doświadczenia stawiał nas na równi. W obliczu tego, co nam się przydarzyło, byliśmy nieświadomi jak para noworodków. Cała sztuka polega na akceptacji tego konwulsyjnego stanu z entuzjazmem. Ośmielę się powiedzieć, że jestem w tym niezrównany, Magdalena również. Jej przypadek jest bardziej godny podziwu: mężczyźni przyzwyczaili ją do najgorszego, a mimo to nie stała się nieufna. Zasługuje na najwyższe uznanie.

Jak mi jej brakuje! Przywołuję ją w myślach, ale to niczego nie zmienia. Może byłoby bardziej stosowne, gdybym się wzbraniał przed tym, by mnie ujrzała w takiej sytuacji. Niemniej dałbym wszystko, żeby ją znów zobaczyć i przytulić.

Amélie Nothomb, Pragnienie, tłum. Jacek Giszczak, Wydawnictwo Literackie 2020.