Saturday, September 24, 2011
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Thursday, September 8, 2011
It was late. We were at the inn again and Nicolas, who was walking about the room and gesturing dramatically, declared what had been on our minds all along.
That we should run away to Paris, even if we were penniless, that it was better than remaining here. Even if we lived as beggars in Paris! It had to be better.
Did I want to go on like this? So our fathers would curse us. After all, our life was meaningless here.
And this notion of the meaninglessness of our lives here began to enflame us.
I took up the theme again that music and acting were good because they drove back chaos. Chaos was the meaninglessness of day-to-day life, and if we were to die now, our lives would have been nothing but meaninglessness. In fact, it came to me that my mother dying soon was meaningless and I confided in Nicolas what she had said. "I'm perfectly horrified. I'm afraid."
Well, if there had been a Golden Moment in the room it was gone now. And something different started to happen.
I should call it the Dark Moment, but it was still high-pitched and full of eerie light. We were talking rapidly, cursing this meaninglessness, and when Nicolas at last sat down and put his head in his hands, I took some glamourous and hearty swigs of wine and went to pacing and gesturing as he had done before.
I realized aloud in the midst of saying it that even when we die we probably don't find out the answer as to why we were ever alive. Even the avowed atheist probably thinks that in death he'll get some answer. I mean God will be there, or there won't be anything at all.
"But that's just it," I said, "we don't make any discovery at that moment! We merely stop! We pass into nonexistence without ever knowing a thing." I saw the universe, a vision of the sun, the planets, the stars, black night going on forever. And I began to laugh.
"Do you realize that! We'll never know why the hell any of it happened, not even when it's over!" I shouted at Nicolas, who was sitting back on the bed, nodding and drinking his wine out of a flagon. "We're going to die and not even know. We'll never know, and all this meaninglessness will just go on and on and on. And we won't any longer be witnesses to it. We won't have even that little bit of power to give meaning to it in our minds. We'll just be gone, dead, dead, dead, without ever knowing!"
But I had stopped laughing. I stood still and I understood perfectly what I was saying!
There was no judgment day, no final explanation, no luminous moment in which all terrible wrongs would be made right, all horrors redeemed.
The witches burnt at the stake would never be avenged.
No one was ever going to tell us anything!
No, I didn't understand it at this moment. I saw it! And I began to make the single sound: "Oh!" I said it again "Oh!" and then I said it louder and louder and louder, and I dropped the wine bottle on the floor. I put my hands to my head and I kept saying it, and I could see my mouth opened in that perfect circle that I had described to my mother and I kept saying, "Oh, oh, oh!"
I walked and talked and gestured like a contented human being, but I was flayed. I was shuddering. My teeth were chattering. I couldn't stop it. I was staring at everything around me in horror. The darkness terrified me. The sight of the old suits of armor in the hall terrified me. I stared at the mace and the flail I'd taken out after the wolves. I stared at the faces of my brothers. I stared at everything, seeing behind every configuration of color and light and shadow the same thing: death. Only it wasn't just death as I'd thought of it before, it was death the way I saw it now. Real death, total death, inevitable, irreversible, and resolving nothing!
"But how do you live, how do you go on breathing and moving and doing things when you know there is no explanation?" I was raving finally. And then Nicolas said maybe the music would make me feel better. He would play the violin.
"Play again," I said. "The music is innocent."
Nicolas smiled and nodded. Pamper the madman.
And I knew it wasn't going to pass, and nothing for the moment could make me forget, but what I felt was inexpressible gratitude for the music, that in this horror there could be something as beautiful as that.
You couldn't understand anything; and you couldn't change anything. But you could make music like that.
At least we had these beautiful things, I said. Such goodness.
By day I almost forgot the vision of the inn, and the darkness. Unless, of course, I glimpsed some uncollected corpse in a filthy alleyway, of which there were many, or I happened upon a public execution in the place de Grave.
And I was always happening upon a public execution in the place de Grave.
I'd wander out of the square shuddering, almost moaning. I could become obsessed with it if not distracted. But Nicolas was adamant.
"Lestat, no talk of the eternal, the immutable, the unknowable!" He threatened to hit me or shake me if I should start.
And when twilight came on -- the time I hated more than ever -- whether I had seen an execution or not, whether the day had been glorious or vexing, the trembling would start in me. And only one thing saved me from it: the warmth and excitement of the brightly lighted theater, and I made sure that before dusk I was safely inside.
Even if I hadn't had this newly acquired dread of the dark, this "malady of mortality," as Nicolas persisted in calling it, it couldn't have been more exciting to go through that stage door.
"Nicki, this kind of talk is poison," I said under my breath. "You can't do anything but try to get what you want. You knew the odds were against you when you started. There isn't anything else... except..."
"I know." He smiled. "Except the meaninglessness. Death."
"Yes," I said. "All you can do is make your life have meaning, make it good."
"Oh, not goodness again," he said. "You and your malady of mortality, and your malady of goodness." He had been looking at the fire and he turned to me with a deliberately scornful expression. "We're a pack of actors and entertainers who can't even be buried in consecrated ground. We're outcasts."
"God, if you could only believe in it," I said, "that we do good when we make others forget their sorrow, make them forget for a little while that. . ."
"What? That they are going to die?" He smiled in a particularly vicious way. (...)
The long vibrant notes, and the chilling glissandos, and the violin singing in its own tongue to make every other form of speech seem false. Yet as the song deepened, it became the very essence of despair as if its beauty were a horrid coincidence, grotesquery without a particle of truth.
Was this what he believed, what he had always believed when I talked on and on about goodness? Was he making the violin say it? Was he deliberately creating those long, pure liquid notes to say that beauty meant nothing because it came from the despair inside him, and it had nothing to do with the despair finally, because the despair wasn't beautiful, and beauty then was a horrid irony?
Beauty wasn't the treachery he imagined it to be, rather it was an uncharted land where one could make a thousand fatal errors, a wild and indifferent paradise without signposts of evil or good.
In spite of all the refinements of civilization that conspired to make art -- the dizzying perfection of the string quartet or the sprawling grandeur of Fragonard's canvases -- beauty was savage. It was as dangerous and lawless as the earth had been eons before man had one single coherent thought in his head or wrote codes of conduct on tablets of clay. Beauty was a Savage Garden.
So why must it wound him that the most despairing music is full of beauty? Why must it hurt him and make him cynical and sad and untrusting?
Good and evil, those are concepts man has made. And man is better, really, than the Savage Garden.
But maybe deep inside Nicki had always dreamed of a harmony among all things that I had always known was impossible. Nicki had dreamed not of goodness, but of justice.
...Death was my commander and I gave him a thousand victims, but I'd snatched her right out of his hand. I said it aloud. I said other desperate and nonsensical things. We were the same terrible and deadly beings, the two of us, we were wandering in the Savage Garden and I tried to make it real for her with images, the meaning of the Savage Garden, but it didn't matter if she didn't understand.
"The Savage Garden," she repeated the words reverently, her lips making a soft smile.
"You, and your talk of goodness" -- low seething voice, eyes glittering -- "your talk of good and evil, your talk of what was right and what was wrong and death, oh yes, death, the horror, the tragedy..."
"Don't you see it's the confirmation of everything? That it exists is the confirmation -- pure evil, sublime evil!" Triumph in his eyes. He reached out suddenly and closed his hand on my face.
"It is petty!" I said. "It is merely beautiful and clever and nothing more."
My voice had not been very loud but it brought him to silence, and it brought the others to silence. And the shock in me melted slowly into another emotion, no less painful, merely easier to contain.
Nothing but the sounds again from the boulevard. A glowering anger flowed out of him, his pupils dancing as he looked at me.
"You're a liar, a contemptible liar," he said.
"There is no splendor in it," I answered. "There is nothing sublime. Fooling helpless mortals, mocking them, and then going out from here at night to take life in the same old petty manner, one death after another in all its inevitable cruelty and shabbiness so that we can live. And man can kill another man! Play your violin forever. Dance as you wish. Give them their money's worth if it keeps you busy and eats up eternity! It's simply clever and beautiful. A grove in the Savage Garden. Nothing more."
"Vile liar!" he said between his teeth. "You are God's fool, that's what you are. You who possessed the dark secret that soared above everything, rendered everything meaningless, and what did you do with it, in those months when you ruled alone from Magnus's tower, but try to live like a good man! A good man!"
"...And then, the magic, when you got the magic, irony of ironies, you protected me from it! And what did you do with it but use your Satanic powers to simulate the actions of a good man!"
"Like a mindless beam of sunlight you routed the bats of the old coven!" he whispered. "And for what purpose? What does it mean, the murdering monster who is filled with light!"
"I want to know, for example, why beauty exists," she said, "why nature continues to contrive it, and what is the link between the life of a lightning storm with the feelings these things inspire in us? If God does not exist, if these things are not unified into one metaphorical system, then why do they retain for us such symbolic power? Lestat calls it the Savage Garden, but for me that is not enough."
"I am evil," he said half smiling. He almost laughed. "It's not a matter of belief, is it? But do you think I could go from the spiritual path I followed for three centuries to voluptuousness and debauchery such as that? We were the saints of evil," he protested. "I will not be common evil. I will not."
"Make it uncommon," she said. She was growing impatient. "If you are evil, how can voluptuousness and debauchery be your enemies? Don't the world, the flesh, and the devil conspire equally against man?"
He shook his head, as if to say he did not care.
"You are more concerned with what is spiritual than with evil," I interjected, watching him closely. "Is that not so?"
"Yes," he said at once.
"But don't you see, the color of wine in a crystal glass can be spiritual," I continued. `"The look in a face, the music of a violin. A Paris theater can be infused with the spiritual for all its solidity. There's nothing in it that hasn't been shaped by the power of those who possessed spiritual visions of what it could be."
Something quickened in him, but he pushed it away.
"Seduce the public with voluptuousness," Gabrielle said. "For God's sake, and the devil's, use the power of the theater as you will."
"Weren't the paintings of your master spiritual?" I asked. I could feel a warming in myself now at the thought of it. "Can anyone look on the great works of that time and not call them spiritual?"
"I have asked myself that question," Armand answered, "many times. Was it spiritual or was it voluptuous? Was the angel painted on the triptych caught in the material, or was the material transformed?"
"No matter what they did to you after, you never doubted the beauty and the value of his work," I said. "I know you didn't. And it was the material transformed. It ceased to be paint and it became magic, just as in the kill the blood ceases to be blood and becomes life."
And if I could stop thinking: Nicolas de Lenfent is gone. My brothers are gone. Pale taste of wine, sound of applause.
"But don't you think it's good what we do when we are there, that we make people happy?"
"Good? What are you talking about? Good?"
"That it's good, that it does some good, that there is good in it! Dear God, even if there is no meaning in this world, surely there can still be goodness. It's good to eat, to drink, to laugh... to be together..."
And it all seemed more than ever the story of the Savage Garden, dancers in the Savage Garden, where no law prevailed except the law of the garden, which was the aesthetic law. That the crops shall grow high, that the wheat shall be green and then yellow, that the sun shall shine. Look at the perfectly shaped apple that the tree has made, fancy that! The villagers would run through the orchards with their burning brands from the Lenten bonfire, to make the apples grow.