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[Here, we are in the last circle] for The Presence of Multiple Possibilities, Ordinary Culture Press, June 2012

[Here, we are in the last circle.][i]

 

No, no, I said listen to me for once.  It can never be too late.  Nothing about it is fortunate, and nothing about how you’ve acted is fortunate.  I thought as lawyers we were trained to make our own luck, as those loosed prophets with whom you reckon, forever answering those questions we know are to come.  [For the statue to stand bare the fine speeches must take flight.]  Frankly I think you’re mad to think fortune plays any part in this at all.  Was it fortune when it was stolen from Saint-Bavon?  Was it fortune when that greased lout of the Mexico City bartered for it?  Was it fortune when you quite deliberately…yes, yes, deliberately, manipulated said gorilla into handing it over to your custody?  How can you say that… I think you regard this as your greatest achievement.  You are in the pulpit, on your oak-panelled summit, but the gawping judges circle closer.  Or what did you say, this way, you dominate. [[False judges are held up to the world’s admiration and only I know the true ones.]]  You can keep it propped behind those faded cupboard doors, and you alone can blight the judicial stares, can mute their murmurings, can laugh in the face of their knowledge.   You close the panels over the panel and you lock your judges away.  [[[I am the end and the beginning; I announce the law. In short, I am juge-pénitent.]]]  Don’t you see the irony in that?  In what you think you are ironising?  Of the altarpiece, this panel was one of several moveable wings, mon cher, much like your flapping doves, held at the count.  You merely conceal what often had to be concealed.  Pure practicality.

Leave the doors ajar!  I want you to look, and I want to look.  You’ve made me as much a part of this as you now.  And I must presume, in so far as you are an observant man, a man of rampant tastes, you’ve never really looked at the panel, have you?  You are more attached to that grubby silver key.  No, nonsense, how could you call that intimacy?  The Just Judges are swarming, the ashes have descended, and you must absorb every lacquered detail.  Observe the fine fretworks of gold dangling from the horses’ reins, their necks straining with the burden.  The oily impasto is furled into their slackened tongues, hooves raised with a clipped derision. The Judges dip their backs.  Is it the glint of the medallions that parries your gut?  The royal blue and ox-blood crimson of every mantle?  Or perhaps it’s that you envy their oblivion? [[[[[Je vivais donc sans autre continuite que celle, au jour le jour, du moi-moi-moi.]]]]]  Forever set in glued powders, their marbled chins tilt with indifference to your very existence, Clamence.

Have you ever taken note, they don’t meet your eye?  They look askance, arched in their furs, tightening the reins.  The eyes betray nothing; no one Judge acknowledges their tiered company.  And so you notice the real hinge, cher ami, do you not?  Come, come, now…do not be so irascible.  Remember you have a fever.  These pious judges of yours, so bent in their task, so unyielding in their power, look toward that central panel, the Adoration of the Lamb.  You think you have revealed the true complaisance, the corrupted course, of justice in divorcing this panel from its rightful counterparts [[[Justice being separated once and for all from innocence.]]]  And yet this panel is of little use to your purpose without the knowledge of its focal point.  These judges are forever recalling that which you wish to maim.

Jean-Baptiste, you must realise, it is you who drags the symbolic Lamb. This so called penitence, this stoning of the soul, the clawing at the eyes, the head on a gilded platter, is all but another of your highly deliberated calculations. I know you.  It may only have been five days, but I know you.  You are as winnowing as any lawyer.  Don’t you see?  Your guilt gives you purpose.  [[[Above the gathered crowd, you would hold up my still warm head, so that they could recognise themselves in it and I could again dominate – an exemplar.]] It gives you something to cling onto, with those damp, mewling fingers of yours.  You cannot help but touch yourself, gripe at yourself…Quench that thirst, Clamence, in all your Papal inconsistency.  In all and no-one, the solidity of the camp fades away.   No, do not get up; it’s no use. You talk of we, of us, of compatriote. But I see your double smile.  [[When one has no character one has to apply a method.]]]  And so, are you the pilgrim or the guide…?

You’ve gone very quiet, Clamence.  You could take a little more?  Yes, yes, alright, perhaps we should open the shutters.  It’s very warm.  Yes, I think so…the breeze is perhaps a little cool, but I think we could both do with some air.  You’ve mentioned it before…but I didn’t know you could see the bridge from here.  [A flabby hell, indeed!]  And Mexico City is just round that balustrade, is it not?  No not really, although I couldn’t say; the Zeedijk stone is slick with mist. The sky is hanging like wrung rags, peeling back at the canal-flanks. Everything is so flat…I hadn’t noticed until you pointed it out…Then move the blanket aside?  No, grey is far too dense.  How can everything be grey?  Grey can’t describe those sods of briny mud on the bank, those bitter whorls in the guttering.  What? No! This is your so-called vestibule, Jean-Baptiste, your half-way house.  It is not for everyone.  You cannot be everyone.  Primed, it is not steeped in horizontals, not neutral or still.  [[Don’t wait for the Last Judgement. It takes place every day.]]   It is alive, cher maitre – suspended, yes, but breathing.  See even the rain resists, does not deem to fall.  It is held off, like your malingering doves, but frittered across the Zuyderzee.

Ah, I recognise the reeling laugh of the interlocutor.  This is your judgement; bled across the Channel… the tundral lowing of the foghorn.  On and on across the Channel from that night on the Seine.  You didn’t act and so now you never will?  You once called me a Saduccee.   You once said we are alike.  Well, perhaps I am, and perhaps we are.  But I will not cry in the wilderness and refuse to come forth.  I will not be used, be your oracle to absolution.  I cannot set my life down in slats and panels.  [Spitefulness is the only possible ostentation.]


[i] [Quotations] taken from Camus, Albert. La Chute. Everyman’s Library Collection, London, 2004. pp. 277-356.

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