So a few more comments about last week’s section, pp. 122 – 201. I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to page 194, which I think contains a rather pivotal moment.
To set the scene, here Deza is watching his neighbor dance, a pastime he has been indulging in all throughout Your Face Tomorrow. This is the first time, however, that he joins in on the dance, and I think all of the details in this scene are quite meaningful. Leading up to page 194, Marias goes to much trouble to make it clear that although Deza can see his neighbor (and his two female companions of ambiguous relationships–which mirrors Deza with Luisa and Perez Nuix), he cannot hear the music that they dance to. So instead he starts playing the music he thinks they’re dancing to, in effect taking creative control of his–and their–environment.
And then Deza begins dancing a dance that is his simulacrum of theirs.
I had started dancing, it was incredible, there I was alone in the house, as if I were no longer me, but my agile, athletic neighbor with the bony features and neat moustache, a clear case of visual and auditory contagion, of mimesis, encouraged, in fact, by my own musings. . . . [A]nd in my hands an open newspaper which, of course, I wasn’t reading, I had picked it up, I suppose, to provide an element of balance required by the dance.
A couple of observations on this scene. First of all, note Deza’s acknowledgment of his being infected by the sights and sounds of his environment, a detail that is surely symbolic of how his work for Tupra is more and more infecting his thoughts and life. And secondly, let us pause before the beautiful image of Deza dancing with an open newspaper held out before him like a partner–it is a concretizing of the fact that for some time now Deza has been dancing with history, moving to its rhythms, stepping per its pre-ordained steps, but, perhaps, exercising a bit of control in that he will lead it every now and then as a good dancer should with his partner.
And then the passage that I quoted above continues:
And then I felt embarrassed, because when I turned to look properly at the original dancers, when I looked again–really looked this time, rather than while absorbed in my own thoughts–I had to assume that they, in turn, had heard my music during a brief pause in theirs–my window was open as where two of theirs–and they would have located me without difficulty, by tracing where the music was coming from; and, of course, they were amused to see me (the watchman watched, the hunter hinted, the spy spied upon, the dancer caught dancing), because now not only were the four of us dancing absurdly and wildly according to their choreography, there had been another contagion too, from me to them: they must have found my idea ingenious or imaginative, and so each of them was now holding an open newspaper, as if they were dancing with the pages, with the newspaper as partner.
There are at least two very noteworthy things here: first of all, Deza has reached out from his own individual cocoon to impact the world around him; he is forced to confront something he has been suspecting for some time now–that he cannot simply be the passive observer but in fact must take responsibility for the ways he is influencing the world as a watcher. This has just been rather dramatically demonstrated to him.
And then secondly, Deza feels embarrassed. That is, he sees himself as if from outside himself; however crudely, he steps into the subjectivity of another human being to briefly consider how he is seen from outside. It is an action that has been conspicuously lacking on his part ever since Deza came across the report in vol 1 wherein he read that some anonymous observer had declared that he had no interest in knowing himself.
This scene with the dancing seems to be a key turning point in the novel for Deza, as it coincides with the telling of a hellacious night when Deza sees things he cannot forget, things he cannot simply assume to have never occurred, as he imagines will one day happen with the memory of the drop of blood he has effaced from the world. Deza’s very concrete realization of the fact that he cannot pass through the world without impacting others and being impacted coincides with the creation of a memory that will not be erased, and together the two seem to be forcing Deza to begin trying to understand himself.
Note at the end of this section (on page 201) that Deza seems to be wrestling with what he has just discovered. He pulls together the image of the snow and the blood, seeming unable to decide which best represents himself:
I will be the rim of a stain that vainly resists removal when someone scrubs and rubs at the wood and cleans it all up; or like the trail of blood that is so hard to erase, but which does, in the end, disappear and is lost, so that there never was any trail of any blood spilled. I am snow on someone’s shoulders, slippery and docile, and the snow always stops falling. Nothing more. Or rather this: “Let it be changed into nothing, and let it be as if what was had never been.” That is what I will be, what was and has never been. That is, I will be time, which has never been seen, and which no one ever can see.
There is, of course, another metaphor in this section for the persistence of the past: wrinkles, which Deza learns people attempt to erase with deadly botulism, but which cannot be hidden (either the toxin dissipates and the wrinkles return, or the toxin leaves the face looking doll-like, so obvious that it’s falsifying effects are clear to even an unobservant individual like Rafita).
The Botox does double duty: in addition to concretizing the persistence of memory, it also plays into Marias’ ongoing theme of how the concerns of the World War II generation have become so changed in the current generation. We already saw this rather clearly throughout Wheeler’s speech to end vol 1, and now we see it again, as Deza becomes fixated on the fact that a deadly toxin used to assassinate the most dangerous Nazis has become nothing more than a means of shoring up the vanity of the wealthy.
I’ll be interested to hear everyone’s thoughts, as last week’s section was particularly rich, in my opinion. And now we head on to an angered Tupra’s rendezvous with Rafita in the bathroom.