Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Train Ride

A man has been on a train for a long time. He had jumped onto the train on a whim, in order to pursue a beautiful woman he glimpsed at a station hundreds of miles ago. She was someone he recognized as having met, for a only a minute, four years earlier. She is in the ladies' carriage however and he cannot approach her yet. Obviously this is frustrating. In the compartment with him sits a man minding his own business, reading...

And the train rolled on.

How could that dumb idiot sit there in his seat hour after hour and just read? I could have read through a crummy little book like that three times in the time he took, and he was utterly shameless, puffed up with his own importance, podgy with learning. Finally his stupidity became utterly intolerable. I leaned forward, looked at him and said:

'I beg your pardon?'

He raised his eyes and and gazed at me in astonishment.

'I'm sorry?' he said.

'I beg your pardon?'

He didn't understand it at all.

'What do you want?' he asked angrily.

"What do I want? What do you want?'

'Me? I don't want anything.'

'No, neither do I.'

'I see. Then why are you speaking to me?'

'Me? Was I speaking to you?'

'I see,' he said, and turned away in anger.

After that we fell silent again.

And the hours pass, until finally the whistle blows for Kalmar.

Knut Hamsun The Queen of Sheba, circa 1895. from Tales Of Love and Loss, trs 1997.

Just a little surreal incident of pointless aggression, right? Nothing special these days - Irvine Welsh maybe, Will Self? A scene from Taxi Driver? But hang on, this was nearly 100 years before those guys. No-one had been writing like this, these snippets of irrelevant insanity (doesn't advance the plot, but woah, deepens your knowledge of the protagonist) except maybe Huysmans or the Dostoevsky of Notes From Underground, until the post-modernists and the surrealists in the 1920s and 30s. This is a completely anachronistic scene, could have been written last week.

Anyway, I was impressed.

Play again the surrealist Root song I put up last week - lyrics: "What are you looking at me for?"


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