Thursday, May 22, 2003

I love the smell of cannabalism in the morning

You know, I sometimes wake up and, before I do anything else, take a book, any book, off a shelf andd begin reading in it randomly; other times, I do the same thing and skim it for a specific passage. Today was such a day for the latter kind of reading. My selection was the English translation of Patrick Süskind's modern classic, Perfume. If you've not read it, shame! More to the point, if you've not yet read it but intend on doing so, now that I've recommended it with such, so you may claim, uncharacteristic vigor, you may wish to skip all that follows.

My quick reading of the day comes from the final pages of the book. I think it will do you well. Enjoy.

He walked across the Pont-Neuf to the right bank, and then down to Les Halles and the Cimetière des Innocentes. He sat down in the arcades of the charnel house bordering the rue aux Fes. Before him lay the cemetary grounds like cratered battlefield, burrowed and ditched and trenched with graves, sown with skulls and bones, not a tree, bush or blade of grass, a garbage dump of death.

Not a soul was to be seen. The stench of corpses was so heavy that even the grave-diggers had retreated. Only after the sun had gone down did they come out again to scoop out holes for the dead by torchlight until late into the night.

But then after midnight -- the grave-diggers had left by then -- the place came alive with all sorts of riff-raff: thieves, murderers, cut-throats, whores, deserters, young desperadoes [ed. Sounds a bit like the fair community we have here at Silentio]. A small campfire was lit for cooking and in the hope of masking the stench.

When Grenouille came out of the arcades and mixed in with these people, they at first took no notice of him. He was able to walk up to the fire unchallenged, as if he were one of them. That later helped confirm the view that they must have been dealing with a ghost or an angel or some other supernatural being. Because normally they were very touchy about the approach of any stranger.

The little man in the blue frock coat, however, had suddenly simply been there, as if he had sprouted out of the ground, and he had had a little bottle in his hand that he unstoppered. That was the first thing that any of them could recall: that he had stook there and unstoppered a bottle. And then he had sprinkled himself all over with the contents of the bottle and all at once he had been bathed in beauty like blazing fire.

For a moment they fell back in awe and pure amazement. But in the same instant they sensed their falling back was more like preparing for a running start, that their awe was turning to desire, their amazement to rapture. They felt themselves drawn to this angel of a man. A frenzied, alluring force came from him, a rip-tide no human could have resisted, all the less because no human would have wanted to resist it, for what the tide was pulling under and dragging away was the human will itself: straight to him.

They had formed a circle around him, twenty, thirty people, and their circle grew smaller and smaller. Soon the circle could not contain them all, they began to push, to shove, and to elbow, each of them trying to be closest to the centre.

And then all at once the last inhibition collapsed within them, and the circle collapsed with it. They lunged at the angel, pounced on him, threw him to the ground. Each of them wanted to touch him, wanted to have a piece of him, a feather, a bit of plumage, a spark from that wonderful fire. They tore away his clothes, his hair, his skin from his body, they plucked him, they drove their claws and teeth into his flesh, they attacked him like hyenas.

But the human body is tough and not easily devoured, even horses have great difficulty accomplishing it. And so the flash of knives soon followed, thrusting and slicing, and then the swish of axes and cleavers aimed at the joints, hacking and crushing the bones. In very short order, the angel was divided into thirty pieces, and every animal in the pack snatched a piece of itself, and then, driven by voluptuous lust, dropped back to devour it. A half-hour later, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille had disappeared utterly from the earth. When the cannibals found their way back together after disposing of their meal, no one said a word. Someone would belch a bit, or spit out a fragment of bone, or softly smach his tongue, or kick a leftover shred of blue frock into the flames. They were all a little embarrassed and afraid to look at one another. They had all, whether man or woman, committed a murder or some other despicable crime at one time or another. But to eat a human being? They would never, so they thought, have been capable of anything that horrible. And they were amazed that it had been so very easy for them and that, embarrassed as they were, they did not feel the tiniest twinge of conscience. On the contrary! Though the meal lay rather heavy on their stomachs, their hearts were definitely light. All of a sudden there were delightful, bright flutterings in their dark souls. And on their faces was a delicate, virginal glow of happiness. Perhaps that was why they were shy about looking up and gazing into one another's eyes.

When they finally did dare it, at first with stolen glances and then candid ones, they had to smile. They were uncommonly proud. For the first time they had done something out of Love.