Alfred Jarry’s Five Senses
I carry it carefully, rolled in a towel like the mummy of a monkey in a little shroud, through the viscous shadows that my passage parts like soft curtains. And my muscles must strengthen themselves if I am to walk in this obscurity that repulses bodies like water repulses cork. The slabs give my feet painful drubbing, and the granite is a file that bites into my soles. I stretch out my arms to push the shadows right back to the walls of the room, and my fingers knock into long, irregular columns. Right and left, the branching bones must be put back in order, and sometimes my hand flinches when it comes in contact with a dry and flaccid chest: the rind of the mummies flakes off like bark from a plane tree; and perhaps skeletal dryads, emerging from these burnished trees, will grow attached to me. But their clawed palms spare me. I have it still, the Foetus I was entrusted to carry to its rightful place among its peers; and its body, longsince a wrinkled medlar, to my hands that have just been fingering bones feels smooth as enamel. And, cleaving the shadows with my shoulder as a prow, I carry it, crouched in my hands clasped together with respect, like a porcelain Buddha.
I carry it through the formless, colorless trembling of dead dust. The air is haunted by spirits, invisible but not immaterial: a fine powder rises from the bones in effluvia and precedes me like the mystical luminous pillar. The fold of the towel in which I carry it beat the air with their simoom; and the angry whirlwinds of sand turnback on themselves and suffocate me. The rhythmic footfalls on the endless stairs impart a rhythm to the sand dance; and at regular intervals, like the incoming tide of the sea, incubus atoms drum on my nostrils, corroding them with the acrid burn of ammonia. It is the muffled accompaniment of an Indian march; and jolting at the end of my unconscious arms, rocked by the swaying motion of dromedaries, the crouching Foetus curls up and falls asleep.
The arid dust dries up my throat; it must have been a long time ago, a very long time ago, since I drank deeply from a full leather-bottle. For I hold it still, this crumpled waterskin, sagging and shriveled in my hands; and the musty smell of desiccated residues rises up from it. A breath of air! the humid air is hidden from me by the heavy sky of these impenetrable vaults! And the window turns its rudder in the sea of black oil. All is black, the stars have fled the sky irreparably, and everywhere darkness is absolute, without the least lapping of seagreen.
The joyful wind rushes in through the open window and passes over the shadows with a low thrumming, as if playing upon the string of a double bass. It whines as it passes through the copses and thickets of bones, whose presence I divine by their rattling reeds; and the night, locked in parrot cages of ribs, baritones, like the wind in hooped barrels or coffins being nailed shut. It gently shakes the broad-leafed antler-tines of a gigantic stag, whose fronds flutter like wings on a death’s-head. And the long aeolian flutes of the Cetacea, each set of vertebrae joined end to end by copper collars, wait to be played. Spiders scratch the floor with their little claws as they scuttle out of the way; and the perception of all these sounds is so clear that I can even pick out from among them the skeletons’ vacant eyes as they turn in their sockets.
The wind blows obliquely over the open jar and sounds its key-note; it is the pure, liquid sound of alcohol with its little waves. And, as I am forbidden to light a flame, I shall fulfill my mission in the shadows, with real remorse, like someone who is about to push a passing sucker off the bank and into the eddying depths.
Like sealions diving, and letting out a raucous hiccup with each dive, black bottle filling up, it falls into the dank, glass prison. And, having bumped against the flat trampoline of the surface, it slowly descends, as slow as a balloon coming down to land. I feel as though I have thrown it down a well, and that it is only my cowardice that makes me feel proud to have a hand strong enough to close off this well with a lid sealed with wax.
The lantern yawns, and puffs its beams abroad, and the high ceilings and bare walls loom into view. The steps of the stairs and their shadows stand out against one another in alternation, black and white piano keys. And, at a bend in the circular path where I had heard the winds blowing, that great stag appears before me. Behind me, as far as the eye can see, a pack of skeletal mastiffs trots along heavily, and instinctively I make way for them. Behemoths with bestial heads and tusks in varying numbers urge their herd forward; but their cloven hooves cannot be heard clattering on the slabs, for invisible grooms keep them tethered tot he wall with copper shackles and leashes. Copper fetters paralyse their limbs and copper bonds also stop the great stag on its hindlegs, the great stag with the extravagant antlers, as it flees headlong before them. Their hollow sockets follow us like the circular gaze of a portrait that is too photographic; the fleshless Leviathan, Raphael’s “carcass”, would turn around to bite us, but five bronze hands sprung from the ground like cathedral pillars rigidly hold in place its long backbone, the spine of a ship under construction. Creatures from a witches’ Sabbath are frozen in their convulsions; but man despaired of ever closing the abyss that spies from beneath their eyelids. And on the very bright walls, the shadows behind the narrow bones are also frozen, glued there like black paper cut-outs.
… In truth, if I felt I had committed a crime, it was surely in error. He has bloomed in his vase like a bouquet sprinkled with water. And air bubbles, irritated and iridescent under the garish lamplight, remain caught in the wrinkles not yet smoothed from his face. His eyelids open and his lips part in a vague smile. He has carried air down with him in his ears like an aquatic beetle in its dive. His eyes and mouth observe me with the disturbing, mystical gaze of a molten-glass mask. But my clumsy fingers shake the jar, bubbles disperse, and I stand gaping before the ludicrous spectacle of an India-rubber baby as it stretches itself.
My lamp has pricked with points of light the teeth of the nearest monsters. The stuffed screech owls open their scissor-like beaks under white velvet masks pierced with two eyes like a comb-case. The numberless herd of fleshless quadrupeds lies flat like a dog looking up for a bone, and the teeming pack waits for the quarry. The skeletons hung by their skulls, immutably upright and correct, open their yellow lips in silent gourmet smiles, and the mummies draw up their crooked, brown, nutcracker kneecaps. I am merely the unthinking head-waiter bring them an hors d’oeuvre for their next witches’ Sabbath — for, in the crystal jar on the shelf of the glass cabinet, the Foetus, already bloated with pure alcohol, blooms like a fat fruit of the West Indies.