YFTS: The Perils of Dancing

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.

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Scott: the moment I read that passage commingling the image of the blood and the image of the snow, I thought of you and everyone else participating in this shared read and commenting on this blog. Our conversations of a week or more ago about the leitmotifs that Marias has woven throughout these two volumes so far also came to mind immediately, as we saw further how Marias is both repeating and subtly varying (or expanding) those images—like the ever-expanding concentric rings of water emanating from a pebble dropped in a pond.

The dancing! What a scene that is…Marias has that odd way that I’m still trying to work out of making me laugh while also making the hair stand up on the back of my neck. He has such a wonderful sense of humor even in the midst of such seriousness—and it’s the kind of sense of humor that I find I cannot communicate to someone else who is not concurrently reading the book—you just can’t really explain why certain turns of phrase or images are so damned funny. (It remind me a bit (oddly, and in no other way does Marias remind me of this writer) of the odd humor I find in Charles Portis’ work: laugh-out-loud scenes that you just cannot communicate the humor of to someone who has not read the book(s).)

I hope no one will mind if I make another, but still connected, series of comments here about what has quickly become for me one of the more extraordinary reading experiences of my life. I will humbly admit that, just as it has for you, Scott, the novel has fully come alive for me in a very thrilling way over these past two weeks. So much so, in fact, that I have been constitutionally unable to prevent myself from continuing, and, indeed, from finishing Volume II in two late-night reading orgies. I had to fight myself, in fact, from beginning Volume III. I spent another two nights reading back over sections of Volume II, and, completely unhinged without more to read, to assuage my now heightened state of suspense and anticipation, I went to the bookshelf and picked up All Souls, which I had not as yet had the pleasure to read. (Prior to this reading of Your Face Tomorrow, I have read A Man of Feeling, Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me, and A Heart So White over the past few years.)

I hope it will not disturb anyone’s progress here, or irritate you, Scott, but All Souls: what a revelation! A revelation in and of itself, but particularly with regard to Your Face Tomorrow. My god, part of me wishes I had read this and Dark Back of Time before first beginning Fever and Spear. I am now about 60 pages from the end of All Souls, and plan to immediately read Dark of Time before we together move on to Vol III. For now, let me say these things: There are entire passages, whole paragraphs, in All Souls that are not only referenced in both Fever and Spear and Dance and Dream, but are repeated almost verbatim (in Deza’s memory). Some of the things Deza remembers while listening to Peter Wheeler in both Vol I and Vol II are direct transcriptions of things the now legendary, mythical (for me, anyway) Toby Rylands says to Deza in All Souls. And not only this, but the images of the river at the end of Vol I in YFT are not only foreshadowed, but directly explored in All Souls. There, as we learn was the case in the past in YFT, is Mrs. Berry, working for Toby! There is the River Charwell, that representation of time passing.

And, perhaps most stunning to me of all, is this passage that I just read (and you will recall as I did, I hope, the very opening of Fever and Spear, and the repetitions and variations upon it with regard to “telling”):

“Everything that happens to us, everything that we say or hear, everything we see with our own eyes or we articulate with our tongue, everything that enters through our ears, everything we are witness to (and for which we are therefore partly responsible) must find a recipient outside ourselves and we choose that recipient according to what happens or what we are told or even according to what we ourselves say. Each thing must be told to someone—though not necessarily always to the same person—and each thing will undergo a selection process, the way someone out shopping one afternoon might scrutinise, set aside and assess presents for the season to come. Everything must be told at least once although, as Rylands had determined, with all the weight of literary authority behind him, it must be told when the time is right or, which comes to the same thing, at the right moment, and sometimes, if you fail to recognize that right moment or deliberately let it pass, there will never again be another. That moment presents itself sometimes (usually) in an immediately unequivocal and urgent manner, but equally often, as is the case with the greatest secrets, it presents itself only dimly and only after decades have passed. But no secret can or should be kept from everybody for ever; once in life, once in the lifetime of that secret, it is obliged to find at least one recipient.
That’s why some people reappear in our lives.
That’s why we always condemn ourselves by what we say. Not by what we do.”

Telling, condemnation by speaking, etc…wow.(And there’s much more here about MI5 and spies, as well.) I can’t express to you the chill, the thrill of recognition, the wave of apprehension (or apprehending) that washed over me as I read these words…And then, of course, to meet and hear from Toby Rylands in the flesh (who hints, darkly, and without explanation, in one of those moments Deza describes Sir Peter as having in YFT, wherein he loses himself or forgets himself or gets lost in the past and utters something that he would not normally ever utter to (or tell) another person, and then immediately brushes past that pointed thing, but he tells Deza that he witnessed in person the suicide of the only person he ever loved…and I am beginning to suspect that Toby was in love with Sir Peter’s beloved, whom we know from YFT died too young and unexpectedly…could she have committed suicide? Was Rylands there when she did it? Did she do it because she was torn between the two brothers? I cannot wait to begin Vol III in a few weeks…)

I am in no way suggesting that you cannot have a thrilling experience reading YFT without having read All Souls (and, I suspect, Dark Back of Time)—someone early on in our adventure noted that he had read these and mentioned there being threads of connection…However, going back and reading them now (and perhaps this is, in a strange way, the ideal manner in which to read these books—that is, out of order: after you’ve read or at least partially read YFT, so that all the echoes become fully noticeable) is a tremendously enriching experience.

I won’t bog us down as we move forward with references to these two books that not many will recognize, or distract us with pointing out every nuance and echo and expansion, but for the moment, I just had to say that there are things—even “small” things (Deza has brothers!)—that are further enriching this awesome reading experiences for me to be found in these earlier novels, published in Spanish more than a decade before Fever and Spear…and I understand from a friend who has read all three volumes of YFT that there are even characters from A Heart So White who play roles in Poison and Shadow and Farewell.

All of this is giving a different perspective on Marias and his work: Proust, sometimes, yes, but also, well, let’s just say it: Faulkner, and, in fact, other writers who have created a whole cosmos…Dark back of time indeed…dark back of life…dark back of the novel…dark back of “reality”…

RJH – you’ve definitely just convinced me to read All Souls and Dark Back of Time. I too haven’t been able to resist jumping ahead in the reading and am somewhere in the middle of Vol 3. But I’ll slow down now and go back to those two previous works.

As much as I’m enjoying this read immensely, I do worry that there are so many strands and mysteries – will they be all be resolved by the end? Maybe it won’t really matter, after all, life never really gets resolved either, but I feel I MUST find out what caused that blood stain on Wheeler’s staircase!

I’d actually be a little disappointed if we ever found out who caused the blood on the staircase. Much more interesting to leave little tidbits like that open for interpretation, for me at least.

Considering Deza’s immense, ever ruminating, subjectivity in relation to the objective governance of those who rule is very insightful. With this in mind, I am really looking forward to the consequences– considering the recent transformations Deza has experienced. That is, I think, what we have seen over the course of this section. And I think that Scott has done a magnificent job demonstrating the appearance of a remarkably changed Deza. While once he could quote shakespeare to himself–in a disco no less–” I am not what I am”, and imagine a parenthetical existence for himself, as ‘Dance’ begins I believe Deza now sees himself as an active social agent, implicated whether he likes it or not.

Stephen–I love the way you phrase that–Deza once having been able to “imagine a parenthetical existence for himself” but now seeing “himself as an active social agent, implicated whether he likes it or not”–so true, and so devastating in a way. The tension has definitely built to a near crescendo by the end of Vol II, and from what I understand, the strings are even further tightened in Vol III. And while I promised I would not harp on this–and will not do so–I must mention how fascinating it is to hear Deza in All Souls (although we never learn his name there) describe his first “exile” in Oxford as a sort of time out of time, a time that will be infinitely lost to him once he leaves, and to which he will never return, and how much of a literally parenthetical existence he lives during that first go round (even–and especially–in his relationship with his great love(r) Clare Bayes, to whom he refers in YFT a number of times without much explanation or further reference at all)…and also to see references to things like the fact that “names tell you so much” and to refer to people having double or even triple identities or faces that they wear, and to see so many foreshadowings of the spies and spying in YFT–it seems the seeds of YFT were planted so deeply in All Souls and Dark Back of Time (which I have just begun this evening), but then took another decade to begin to actually sprout, and sprout they have. There is even, fascinatingly, a repeated rumination in All Souls, during one of Deza’s sessions with Toby Rylands, wherein he (after Toby has already done so) muses about what it must be like to know that one is near the end of one’s life, and that one may begin to lose the will to desire, to want what one wants–and here, there is no direct or even indirect reference to Rilke’s Duino Elegies. It almost makes me wonder if Marias wrote those passage in All Souls not consciously thinking at all of Rilke, and then sometime afterward read or reread the Duino Elegies, and realized he had written something very similar to the great lines he repeatedly has Deza muse upon in YFT, and thus directly referenced the Elegies and those lines in YFT when he came to begin writing it. I must say my admiration and envy of Marias as a writer has grown infinitely during my reading of these works–there is so much to study and muse upon, so much to admire–his chutzpah, his balls, if I may say so, his bizarre and truly wonderful sense of humor (smacking of Beckett and Nietzsche but also (like Beckett himself in fact) of Buster Keaton and The Three Stooges), his fine irony, his utter fearlesness when it comes to the expression of the movement of thought, the fact that his writing is in some ways so highly stylized (very differently from, but in same way that Delillo is criticized for being “stylized”) yet I buy ever single word, every syllable, as the real thoughts of a real man…

I must say, I’m so excited for the conversation next week and the week after, when we’ve all finished Vol II–I’m very much looking forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts on the conclusion of the bathroom scene with Tupra, Deza, and the grandly and sublimely ridiculous De La Garza…

Like Neil, I was initially inclined to let the bloodstain on Wheeler’s floor stay a delicious unsolved mystery — but now I feel compelled to discover what caused it, especially as all of this menstrual blood imagery has started to frustrate me a little bit.

Scott brought this topic up in last week’s discussion and Maylin referred to it briefly and I agree with what she had to say — as a woman, all of these drop of menstrual blood scenarios seem quite farfetched and somewhat unnatural. Luisa addresses this directly on page 153 by literally laughing at Deza and saying, yes, it could happen, but not exactly Deza’s describing and it has certainly never happened to her. But even at that point, I have a nagging desire to know: what is all this obsession about? Is it just that Deza is so clueless about the functions of female bodies? Deza can read people so well (we assume) but (with the exception of Flavia) has yet to penetrate the deep mind and read the personality of a woman yet — he’s clueless when it comes to Mrs. Berry, Perez or Luisa. I’m really wondering where Marias is going with all of this menstrual blood and this constant reference to the most infertile point in a woman’s cycle. This is the one repeated image that’s starting to try my patience in the novel and I’d love to get someone else’s take on it and what it might mean.

As far as “I will be time, which has never been seen and which no one ever can see –” we get a chapter all about marking the passage of time — keeping time by dancing, de la Garza’s dated outfit from another era, the Botox erasing the lines from women’s faces, the sudden connection between Deza and Luisa that points out only how much time they have been apart, Flavia’s worry that everyone can physically see the passage of time on her face, Deza’s job to keep her from forgetting the passage of time, Tupra and Deza’s obsession at how long Flavia is alone with de la Garza, Deza’s specific references to how much time passed in every bathroom, and, of course, those menstrual cycles. An interesting thought to end a section literally obsessed with marking the passage of time… Even though Deza might think he’s stuck out of time, all we can see is time passing him by.

I finally caught up with the group yesterday after being very far behind for almost a month, so I’m a little late to this discussion and don’t have anything to add to what has been said above beyond saying, for myself: what an amazing book this has been so far, and I’m really enjoying the journey and looking forward to participating in next week’s discussion.

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