Dancing pork bellies

I don't know who Francisco Capelo is, but the man sure has taste. Wow. Taste most commensurate with his (obviously) pretty ample financial firepower, too: the show of his Chinese pottery collection at the Madre de Deus (a.k.a. Museu Nacional de Azulejo)-- that would be Mister Tile Museum to you -- is a merciless progression of take-no-prisoners masterpieces.

Through this magical forest the (very) occasional French, German or Spanish tourist marches briskly with barely the time for an occasional snapshot.

I carried away 450 photos. Here are five.

This piece is a tripod censer with a purple-splashed jun-ware glaze, Jin or Yuan dynasty, ca. 13th century, 7.3 cm high. It is also a meibutsu, having once been owned by the Moris of Hiroshima.

Look at the detail of the crackle (and, as they say on porn websites, "click to enlarge yourself"):

The mouth is a kind of blunderbuss -- it's pure pornography, really -- :

And look at this lady's stubby feet jammed into the world's pointiest stilettos:

Would not these tiny trotters make the world's most delicious pie-de-cochon?

And do be my guest, go ahead, take a prurient peek (in the privacy of your cabin) at her incredibly erotic belly (no, love, please, never lose a gram of weight, do not, I repeat, do not change a thing):


Jun wares -- writes the catalog learnedly, if ungrammatically -- are among the most fascinating and controversial Chinese ceramics. Unlike most greenish- or bluish glazed wares, which rely for their color on mineral oxides, it turns out to be very difficult to understand how the typical thickly-bubbled Jun glaze generates its characteristic opalescent blue color. Current theory holds that it is generated by a phenomenon called "liquid-liquid phase separation" in which glasses in the glaze separate out within other glasses during cooling. When light strikes the glaze, it is scattered by the glass-like particles in the glaze and produces the same sort of effect as when light from the sun is scattered by the atmosphere and appears blue to our eyes.

There, fellows, the girl wears the sky for a dress.


The Francisco Capelo of the collection is probably not this Francisco Capelo, but I rather liked the idea that he might be: "Yeah," his collection set by side with his portfolio would be telling us, "I sell this stuff because I can -- God only knows why; and also because I just don't want to keep it around the house (I mean, would you?); then I use the proceeds to buy something of universal and eternal value whose quality I could not hope to match in a thousand years. For me, it is a win-win situation."

(In financial markets, this would be termed arbitrage).


Grigory Sokolov

What a discovery this fellow is. Go here (his agent's page) and scroll down to find samples, the Ravel Sonatine especially.

Sokolov no longer plays concertos:
"It's very simple. For piano is written an ocean of music, and during your lifetime you are not able to play even a small part of it. On the other hand, with an orchestra it's not easy to find enough time to rehearse; or to find an orchestra which is interested in the final product and not looking at their watch. It's also not easy with conductors, because you must find the combination of a very good musician who has this special talent to follow and to understand the music in the same way as you. It's very rare, I must say! And comes maybe the worst: if you play a solo piece several times over several days you will develop, you will go to another level with it; but with a concerto you play this piece again and again, and yet with each orchestra and each conductor you must start from scratch at the first rehearsal. So, if you spend so much energy on concertos, and you could use it instead far more more effectively for recitals; why do it? I very much like the fact that in playing recitals]everything I do depends only on me. With a hundred other people it's almost impossible. [Alone] you don´t have the responsibility."

The point is general: it often happens, when we become exceptionally good at something, that we must simply learn to forge ahead alone because trying to engage others simply slows us down.


Food in america

Why can't you get a decent cup of coffee in New York? asks culture kiosque.

It may well ask, why is it impossible to get anything decent-tasting to eat or drink in the whole of the United States.

Following the gourmet boom of the 90's, things are better in most places of the country than they once were, but they are only relatively better: mass produced Canadian "President Brie" still passes for "gourmet cheese" in most snazzy places of new England; restaurants still serve the same tired, tasteless food, concentrating their marketing efforts on service and ambiance instead; and verbal innovation: it is "Thai-fusion" now instead of "sushi", though, with your eyes closed, you could not tell the difference; and produce -- meat, fruit and vegetables -- remain as indistinguishable from each other in taste and texture as they have always been. (I have always suspected that they were all produced in the same factory out of the same basic pulp merely injected into different molds and then spray-painted to create a pleasing appearance).

The health food boom may have made organic vegetables standard, but it only satisfies the moral urge to be good to one's body (being good to one's body is one of the pillars of the code of ethics in the US1): it has done nothing for the taste of the stuff. In America, to paraphrase a character from Madness of King George, it turns out, it is possible to eat healthy food every day of one's life and -- never enjoy it.

The article then haphazardly gropes for explanations ("Protectionism? Nostalgia? Fierce brand loyalty? Hostility to fancy-schmantzy European drinks?") but brings me no closer to the mystery that, apparently, the whole American nation has no taste buds. If one did not know they -- the New-Worlders -- pretty much all come from here -- the Old World -- one would suspect some evil mutation. As it is, one is left with just two viable theories: either cultural determination, Barthes-like, extends to taste-bud formation; or emigration to the US was taste-bud asymmetrical: the genetic material was somehow sifted by the boats. ("No, you cannot embark on this boat, sorry.")

Shouldn’t the center of the civilized universe be able to provide a visiting Brit with a reasonable caffeine fix? asks the article, Brit-like, tongue in cheek. It means: it isn't.


1 As predicted by someone -- Wittgenstein? No, he didn't have the wit; more likely Russell, he had so many things right! (Except the main point, of course).


That travel need not broaden the mind, again

This reviewer of Hindoo Holiday appears to me to mistake for style what is merely the usual Indian reality. The writer's prince is zany, but then so are most your interlocutors in India; besides, seeing a naked man armed with a spear is not nearly as odds-off there as it is wherever the reviewer comes from. (Kansas?) I have only spent 18 months in India, and yet have seen several naked armed men; indeed, it was the sheer ordinariness of the naked-armed-with-spear business which convinced me not to write an India travelogue -- it's simply too easy to slip into an endless catalog of the merely weird.

Perhaps one day I will write something about my stay in India. When I do, I will be meaning to write about the ways in which India has changed me and will skip the naked-with-spear and the my-grandma-poisoned-my-grandpa stuff. One's encounter with India can really be a lot more profound than the campy gossipiness of this book, but that takes time, commitment and brains; and the time, at any rate, seems to have been short in this case.

And it usually is. Says authoritatively a character in Wharton's Age of Innocence: "You need three weeks to do India properly." Quite.


An introductory textbook in ep theory of art

Dennis Dutton does not really say anything new to me; his arguments rehash things already said by others -- Tooby and Comides, Pinker, Boyer, Dessanayake. But his book is the first presentation of evolutionary psychology theory focused entirely on the question of art; and for art lovers like you, this well may be just the introductory text you have been waiting for.

In great abbreviation, his point is that there really is such a thing as art -- a certain kind of human activity present in all peoples and all cultures, genetically inborn, which unfolds in us spontaneously because it is part of the behavioral DNA package. He speaks with a special kind of expertise (which I recognize as of my own sort): as a youth he has studied the sitar in Hyderabad; and more recently, tribal wood carving in New Guinea. Which means that he knows first-hand about art and art-experience in other cultures, something which the usual grand theorists of culture - Danto, Barthes et al. - do not.

Watch this lecture (about 1 hour) to get a better sense of the theory.

Or just read the book.


Trusting the master

Art appreciation is a course of learning; the curve is initially very steep and it is best if through its first phases one can have a trusted guide. I have had several; the most important was of course J. S. Bach, whose works, to a beginner can sometimes feel dense and inscrutable. But each time I came up against a difficult work of his -- (for some reason I had great trouble with the Motets; and with the Art of the Fugue) -- I simply persisted in listening, trusting that the great man would not lie. In this trust, I was never disappointed. (And how could I be? Just look at him). The truth is that nothing the great Bach ever wrote was ever less than perfect.

Reading reviews of Pamuk's New Life I can see that all reviewers struggle with it; a few call a spade a spade and rate it one star, or worse; but most triangulate: their reviews tell how difficult the book is, how they didn't understand it in the first place (and if they say that they understood it in the end, they transparently lie, their understanding being something they probably picked up listening to the cultural programming on the BBC), but they rate it five stars anyway. This is because they trust Pamuk to deliver the way I have always trusted Bach. If they don't like it, it must surely be that they just don't get it and eventually will. (or shall we blame it on translation?)

The truth is that Pamuk is not Bach, and his work is uneven: My Name Is Red, for instance, is really two books (written in two different time periods): the first ten chapters, ending with I am A Tree, is absolute Nobel-grade dynamite, but the rest is, but for a few nuggets (e.g. the imagined miniature of the hero crossing the Bosphorus to secure his lover's divorce), a somewhat less successful Le Carre. The New Life has its moments, but is for the most part a rehash of old ideas; it has places of poetic beauty, but they are haphazardly mixed up and curiously empty; it offers no insight which his Snow had not already offered. It is, in short, a recycled book. Except for the fact that he likes to sit at his desk writing, he didn't need to write it. Nothing wrong writing it, of course, but, as far as I know, Pamuk does not have a large family to support: there was really no need to publish.

Bach, of course, also recycled; yet, he recycled so well, one wants to thank him for recycling. It isn't the case with The New Life.


And speaking of the Art of the Fugue, find this.


Ancient ancient music

The ancient music we know as ancient (Tallis Scholars, Hilliard Ensemble) has more ancient past in the shape of the Pro Cantione Antiqua. The formula is simple: take a few good singers and have them sing ensemble. Among the cadets of this outfit are a few OK choir boys you may have heard of: Paul Esswood, Michael Chance, Ian Partridge. (Yeah, they did move on to other things later). The sound the group made is unspeakably beautiful. I have always been partial to Palestrina, but this -- well, this is something else altogether.



As this painter goes, this is a successful piece -- the colors are generally good and the reflections in the water are well rendered, though bear in mind that they look better in a small size reproduction than in the original: the actual piece is 26 x 26 inches and if you see it up close in person you will realize how intrusive the brushwork is and how little of the liquid feel of the water remains as a result on closer inspection; this one is definitely best admired from 6 or 7 meters away, in other words. And this is a relatively successful piece, I say, since others by the same fellow are significantly less technically attained (and most reek of fake modiglianismo). Yet Bonhams is putting them all on auction in the absolutely breathtaking price range of HK$1,500,000 - 2,500,000 (US$190,000 - 320,000) each.

Bonham's is a good outfit and I have no doubt they read the market right, yet I cannot help feeling incredulous. Really? Why? A street hawker just outside my house turns out approximately ten of these a day and will sell you a day's production for probably 50 euros, if you haggle well. (His first price is 50 each, but he never sells more than a piece day, so most of his work either rots or gets scrapped, which makes me feel certain that a deal can be struck, especially if you throw in a beer or two).

Which brings me to my point. Why aren't all of you painting for a living? It is a well paying profession even at the economic bottom; apparently, the sky is the limit on the upside; and not much actual painting skill is required. And if you have children, please, forget the usual law, medicine, and engineering bit. The obvious economic call is: Paint, young men, paint!


Watching Gattopardo

Last night, watching (for what surely was the 127th time, or was it 128th?) Visconti's Gattopardo, I paid special attention to Don Fabrizio's reflections on Sicily, Sicilian history and her people's character; they were no doubt Tommasi di Lampedusa's own (historicist) reflections, held in absolute and honest conviction that they meant something (while they don't: they are the world's purest nonsense). One wants to thank di Lampedusa for having put them in the mouth of a fictional character, where they play an important role painting the character himself: a depressed middle aged man, possibly sick, whose intellectual powers, he realizes, do not measure up to the gravity of the times, or the role he has to play in it. Had Lampedusa written a philosophico-historical treatise, he'd have made a fool of himself; thank goodness he didn't have the ambition to be a thinker and chose to be a novelist instead.

A similar relationship obtains between Thomas Mann's own powers of reflection -- mediocre at best, and actual drivel for long stretches -- and his ability to weave them into powerful novels; divided into voices and fragmented by action, thus rendered incomplete and inconclusive, the thoughts -- or snippets of thoughts, rather -- expressed by various characters in The Magic Mountain and Doktor Faustus strike as as suggestive of great depth in the same manner in which a partly clothed woman's shoulder appears to our eye far more alluring than it is, or the way in which the shadow of a hat rack, viewed obliquely may seem a mysterious figure crouching in the dark: the uknown is mysterious and seems, by virtue of its mystery, profound.



Last Sunday I listened to a "cultural" program on the BBC; or so its title said. As it went on, I grew more and more alarmed, eventually, as a sort of self-defense, I suppose, breaking out in loud, silly guffaws, and going into spasms -- which in turn ruined my breakfast.

The program went something like this.

Some East End gallery specializes in up and coming artists ("buy it for a penny, sell it for a pound"); some of these artists were then interviewed: one, a Pakistani, makes large installations of planes locked up in huge blocks of ice which then slowly melt under harsh lights (yeah, duuude! pass the sheesha!); the interviewer asks her: you wear a chador (‘conservative’) but you make such modern works! (She doesn’t have a damn clue, does she?)

Meanwhile at the White House the What's-their-names are assembling a collection of borrowed art; it’s all modern (i.e. post-1950) of course, and American (probably has to be), including someone’s mediation on the square (!); except a DAY-ga (American enough when you pronounce it that way); except this last is judged risque (hush: legs); but the former first lady was also cultured, we are told: she owned a de Koenig (along with hyper-realist representations of West Texas landscape). Ah, the uncultured me: who de hoeck was de Koenig?

(Ah... upon consideration, don't tell me, I don't want to know).

Then, we were told, an Algerian band in France plays an electric oud. (Lousily, as it happens). You play such a mix of traditional and modern! gushes the interviewer.



Sorry, I don’t understand this language, though everyone around me seems to.

Here, for instance, is Florian Zeller (who?) invited to speak at a kind of book fair in Egypt (probably because no one better would go), offering the humid fruit of his precious brain-tree:

if the Islamic world generally had difficulties with the novel, it was because it was living to a large extent in an era that belonged to the period before modern times, bogged down in archaisms that were by their essence incompatible with the foundations of the novel: freedom, fantasy, complexity, the ambiguity of all truths and the suspension of moral judgement. In this respect, the novel could easily become the battle ground between two civilisations.
(Er? Has Zeller ever read any archaic poetry, either Islamic or -- European? And if so, which part of his anatomy does he use to think (and speak) about it?)

The terrible thing: he thinks this drivel actually means something; and – oh, emperor’s new clothes! -- his Egyptian colleagues believe him! How's that for conversation: you issue forth a series of grunts, pretending that you're saying something; then, in turn, they do the same, pretending their grunts are a meaningful response. It's possible to keep this up for quite some time!

How do you explain to these... village people that the language they speak –which happily interchanges modern, western, good, inevitable, free, sexually liberated, and cultured is incoherent; that it is broken; that it means nothing; that it is impossible to say or think in it anything that makes any sense at all and that by speaking it they just bury themselves in some horrendous dark hole of the mind?

But then -- what could possibly be the point of explaining?


The proof of the honey

This review of Salwa al Neimi's The Proof of the Honey is typical of them all: they all say that the book is good but its central story is weak: the sex isn't all that titillating and the romantic relationship of which it is part is shallow, three and a half stars.

I can't help feeling that the reviewers miss something here -- namely, the book's central point, which is that, indeed, the sex between the lovers wasn't anything nobody else hadn't done before (duh); and their relationship, for the author at least, wasn't about anything much else (blah); and yet -- and this is the point the reviewers miss -- and yet.

Perhaps to understand Salwa's story one has to have experienced what she has and perhaps the experience is simply too rare; but I think I understand her; indeed, while reading her I felt that for the first time in my life I heard someone else describe -- in what could be my own words -- my own experience.

In brief: it sometimes happens that we come across a lover who is especially sexually suitable for us; the word for it, I suppose, could be chemistry -- and no doubt this is what it is. The experience, when it happens, surprises by its power: we suddenly realize that right up to that point we had simply not understood what sex was supposed to be about, however experienced and well read on the subject we may have been; we suddenly know how incredibly satisfying the least, most ordinary things can be. The amazing thing -- which is precisely Salwa's central point, and, I think, the point missed by the reviewers -- is that such sex is certainly ordinary sex as far as the act itself, and yet with that particular partner it does to us something which it never does to us with anyone else, ever. As a result, as if in a flash, we suddenly understand all sorts of things which we had not understood before: the physical world around us changes its meaning.

Until then we had not known it could be this good. Until then we had felt like most adults do -- well, we had thought, sex certainly has its place, but, hey, there are other things in life.

And now, suddenly, we have caught sight of a kind of Dionysian mystery.

As result and henceforth, the world appears to us very clearly divided between the before and the after: before and after we understood, before and after our initiation: not initiation into sex, much of which is perfectly run-of-the-mill ordinary; but initiation to that goodness -- for which there seems to be no word.

A great sexual passion of this sort, when it happens, if it happens, not only changes us forever -- we will never see sex, or the opposite sex -- or ourselves -- in the same light again -- but it also puzzles -- puzzles? no, mystifies -- us: that special partner, sleeping with whom is unlike sleeping with anyone else on earth, is often an ordinary person: neither especially intelligent nor particularly beautiful; there is nothing romantic about the engagement: it does not grow into the hallowed relationship thing; indeed, there is no familiarity or liking or comfort; the whole thing remains uncertain, dangerous and adversarial (which is perhaps one element that keeps it so fresh, unless, that is, the arrow of causality points in the opposite direction).

Indeed, the thing that binds us -- the sex -- being so completely accidental -- by the off chance of the lottery of life we have wondered into someone who perfectly suits us physically, what is the chance of that! -- she is often not good for us in other ways: perhaps we can't respect her aspirations, or her values shock us, or she has a serious character flaw; all we ever want is more of her body -- like Salwa wanted her Penseur's -- but on account of all that strangeness, she may well -- she usually does -- turn out to be impossible to keep.

Indeed, inured as we are to have slight intellectual regard for the importance of sex; and pre-occupied by concerns of life management -- income, savings, family duties, national, political and religious obligations -- we often find that we cannot afford her and choose our life partners on some other qualifications. Not a single person I know has married his or her spouse because the sex was so very good; usually, they say, when you can get them to speak about it, the sex with him/her has never been all that great; and then they add: marriage is about other things. (And so it is).

And when the day comes on which the special she then passes out of our life, as she usually does, we are left, like Salwa, puzzling over the experience more or less incoherently, certainly incoherently to those who have not experienced the same thing: we are, on the one hand, tragically deprived -- because she is gone and her being gone no one seems to match her, and no one matching her we begin to hesitate before taking on new lovers -- why be disappointed, why have less than the very best? and, on the other hand, we are also richer for we have seen a mystery, something otherwise hidden, we know something about ourselves and the world we had not known and most people probably do not. For it is something rare: by the looks of it, the experience is perhaps in parts per million; certainly the reviewer quoted here has no clue about it or he would not say "we all like a dip of honey" -- it is a slighting vulgarism which I can't help feeling really goes to say that, in the words of another slighting vulgarism, when you turn out the light, all women are the same.

And that's just Salwa's point: they aren't. It's not a dip of honey that's great; it is the proof of that honey -- as in proof of armor, or proof of a metal alloy, or proof of a distillate; not proof meaning trial, but proof meaning strength -- which is.

Salwa's is therefore a book of esoteric knowledge, written in a kind of code, by the initiated for the initiated; and for all others, impenetrable.

(A philosopher once said: let him who has ears, hear).


The only thing we can do

X thinks that Barry Lyndon is visually lovely, has good costumes, landscapes and interiors, but little more than an ordinary story. Last year, Y said precisely the same thing about another old favorite of mine, Visconti's Senso.

I wonder what my friends would think constitutes an extraordinary story?

And is an extraordinary story possible? Life's not a terribly complicated business: a limited number of possible life goals (food, shelter, sex, freedom, happiness, knowledge, skill) combined with a limited number of possible relationships (parents/children, siblings/friends/allies, lovers, masters/slaves, strangers, enemies) ends up generating a rather small grid of possible plots. 6 x 7 = 42, says math. 36 says Polti. 20 says Tobias. 7 says the volunteer librarian Jessamyn West.1

Really, the only thing we can do is tell an old story well -- beautifully, if we can, or with suspense, if we can't. The story itself cannot possibly matter, because, if you think about it, every new story you ever hear, you have heard already.

There is a kind of delightfully youthful innocence about the complaint that X tells an ordinary, old story: it is the charming expectation that new, different, surprising stories are possible.


PS. Here is a well written novel review, oblique to this post:

Let's see: In many key aspects, Jane Eyre rewrites Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Gaskell's North and South and Browning's Aurora Leigh rewrites Jane Eyre. One conclusion might be, therefore, that reusing plots is not in the least a problem. Of course Vergil also self-consciously rewrites Homer, and Milton both Homer and Milton (and quite a few others). Is the limited number of plots a problem, then, or an advantage — a bug or a feature?


Some conundrums posed by the Opera de Paris ballet

My intellectual life has been lived in a series of mono-thematic obsessions.

The evolutionary psychology thing -- it unfolded between 1999 and 2001 in the wake of the lecture of the foundational Toby and Comides article -- was typical of the phenomenon: for two years I read intensely on the subject (somewhere between 12oo and 1500 pages a week), audited college courses, followed news-feeds, participated in online discussions, thought about it intensely on long afternoon walks, corresponded with researchers, wrote about it copiously in my journal, and generally ate, thought, spoke and... dreamt principally E-P.

There had been other such periods in my life before: Chinese classics, for one; Zen; bread-baking; ornithology; logical foundations of mathematics; South Indian curries; Chola bronzes; Mahler; Bartok; chess. And there have been others since: Italian painting, baroque opera, Balinese dance, kathakali, Indian textiles, Chinese porcelains.


Sometime in the middle of last August, my most recent intellectual obsession played itself out. I closed the notebooks and the sketchbooks, filed away the photos and news-clippings, put away the books.

That subject was done.

And then came the present period -- of -- repose, should I say? -- of silence; a period of waiting; a period of actually looking -- but not strenuously -- looking but without seeming to (most of all to myself) to look. Co nagle, to po diable, we say in Polish -- the devil take all things urgent.

Finding an intellectual obsession is a bit like falling in love: one falls in love best when he makes an effort not to look at women and to occupy himself with something altogether else. (Evolutionary psychology, for example). Then they come and take us by surprise, out of the blind spot, as it were. Because we are not looking.

I have not yet found it -- the next obsession -- or rather, I should say, it has not yet found me -- but some things are brewing, I can tell. And one of them is -- surely -- the ballet of Paris.


Partly with the help of Mezzo -- I cannot believe you Americans, with your 7 million channels, do not get this gem -- and partly compliments of fnac.fr and amazon.fr, I have been watching


and this;

and more for which no fitting footage is to be found online; Sylvia -- try to see the scene in which Orion seduces Sylvia, an astounding piece of absolutely beautiful sleaze -- if you can imagine such a thing -- Nicholas La Riche's rendition makes the attraction of Russian oligarch-types understandable (if not necessary); or the scene entitled Aminta returns to the forest -- a kind of treatise on the defeat of middle age ("wiek męski, wiek klęski"); and La Dame aux Camelias; and Jeune homme et la mort; and Le songe de Medee -- all of them absolutely superb, fantastic manly ballet, with not a shred of sissy pussycat anywhere.

(The selections from these ballets which are available on you-tube tend to the pussycat -- the beautiful rather than the exciting -- for some reason; which makes for an interesting conundrum in itself).

The pleasure of dance is not entirely new to me: I have spent four seasons watching Balinese ballet and this stuff comes close to it in its oddness, weirdness, abstraction -- even if the figural language is apparently different. (And, for crying out-loud, is not the kathakali dancer's skirt basically a tutu?) (Besides, the stuff the jardiniers get up to in Le Parc is classic ketchak).


Watching it, my intellect is stirred to want to understand:

1. how comes it that the French have danced these four hundred years -- through war and revolution, kings beheaded and republics overthrown -- without, as it were, skipping a beat? Danish and British and Russian ballet have come and gone, have had their great days and declined into irrelevance -- but the French keep on dancing: to dance is to be French (and vice-versa). (A partner in a rhumba once amazed me with her light-footed grace; oh, she explained, I am French -- by which she meant as a matter of course 8 or 12 years of compulsory ballet).

2. how comes it that an institution like the Opera de Paris can produce year after year four or five productions of absolutely first class ground breaking ballet; and has done so now for two centuries, without losing its way (like all national cultural institutions normally do) or blowing up (like all other ballet troupes invariably do)? and without slipping into the petrifying, mindless replay of the tried and true (like Japan's Noh)? I want to see a management self-help book on this topic: surely, it deserves one.

3. how comes it that state sponsorship does not kill its aesthetic standards, the way it seems invariably to do in the anglo-saxon world? ("who's to say that x is better than y?", they say, demagogically, in America, with the result that the state ends up sponsoring oodles of utter and complete crap -- the inevitable result of the bureaucrats' natural inclination to triangulate). But not in France; not, at any rate, at the Opera de Paris. The state pays through its teeth for it, but it gets value for money like no one else on the planet does.

4. how comes it that in modern ballet it is the Americans that make such a meaningful and important and beautiful contribution -- the Jerome Robbinses, the John Neumeiers, the Carolyn Carlsons -- while in every other field -- from literature to painting to classical music -- they seem to have brought to European art nothing but crass, crude and ugly vulgarity?

Starting from scratch -- brave new world and all -- means in art, all too often, barbarity.

But -- somehow -- not in dance?


(Conundrums, said once a great philosopher, meaning questions without answers, is what makes up philosophy. It is when you have figured out how to go about answering them that you have shifted from philosophy to science; from the unknowable to the approachable, if only asymptotically).


Lisbon, 7 A.M.


Two Manchu stories

An old man, riven still -- thirty years later -- by survivor's guilt, recalls events he witnessed aged only twelve, in distant Myanmar: the last Ming empress's suicide: she cut her throat using a shard from a broken piece of porcelain. Why did he not also die with her? A man can have only one master.

The whole devastating chapter is to be found here.

From Lynn A. Struve, Voices from the Ming-Qing cataclysm.

And speaking about Qing, here is an incredibly moving story about Manchus trying to be Manchus again:

Dekjin, a 28-year-old teacher, turns to the whiteboard and in a blue marker writes in Manchu script a word. Next to it she writes in Roman letters the way the word is spoken: m-a-n-j-u; Manchu.

Then she turns to the class and says, "This is who we are."


Mon corps, souviens-toi

Mon corps, souviens-toi, non seulement combien tu fus aime
Non seulement des lits ou tu t'es etendu
Mais souviens-toi, aussi, de ces desirs
Qui, dans certains regards, si ostensiblement brillaient
Pour toi, et tremblaient dans les voix
Et qu'un obstacle fortuit a jamais empecha de s'accomplir.
A present que tout cela git dans le passe,
Il semble presque que tu te sois livre
Aussi a ces desirs - souviens-toi comme ils brillaient
Dans les regards qui te fixaient; comme ils tremblaient
Dans le timbre des voix - souviens-toi, mon corps.


Not really Qing, but pretty all the same

From the people who brought you the tobacco leaf reproductions, here is a mug in a style called Qing.

Not really Qing, but pretty all the same.


Only Beatrice (1)


Teodor Parnicki


Historical Novel
Warsaw 1977

Translated by
Abdullah Mordengo Piedrusinski

There is no heaven, no earth, no hell, no abyss
There is only Beatrice, and she – precisely – isn’t.

Jan Lechoń, Meeting

You give me the shiver of death
-- Not the empty shiver of sensuality --
And then you lead me away
To the isles of eternal happiness

Nikolai Gumiliev, Dante


“I have come. I have not broken the promise I had given. I am prepared to hear you out with all attention, worshipful fathers; and with great sympathy. I understand: you may not be inclined to believe in the sympathy; perhaps it would even be odd if you did. But, among all the many things which you have taught me at various times, you have also taught me the truth contained in the words of Christ, Our Savior: “You shall know them after their fruit.” Therefore note that – were I not honestly well disposed towards you – this hall would already be burning around you, above you and – with you. But I was able to impose upon your until yesterday faithful subjects an armistice, which shall last for the remainder of today, the whole tonight, and perhaps even until tomorrow noon. You smile ironically, father Bernard? You shouldn’t. This is war. Maybe not an ordinary war, but a war all the same. In wars fought by princes and counts, it often so happens to the garrison manning a fortress, when they are no longer able to resist, that the besieging forces break in and murder all defenders. You are in the same danger – precisely the same danger, even though no side here is an army of a king, prince, or count. Of course – not differently from any other war – the losing side here would also like to obtain the best possible terms upon which it might end the fight. Oftentimes, this is also the desire of the mediators; in this case, this is my role. With the difference that – if I drew the correct conclusion from my conversation which we had before daybreak – the arch-worshipful father Peter and I, your humble servant – you expect that I shall be able to save your lives without obtaining any commitments on your part in return; any commitments that is beyond merely the expression of willingness to forgive the unrighteous, godless – these are the arch-worshipful abbot’s words – rebels. I could of course discuss with your worshipfulnesses such a proposal, but I must make note, honestly and unambiguously: I could not make any guarantees to your worshipfulnesses that your lives could be spared on such terms; I could make some kind of efforts in that direction, I suppose, but without any promises as to their successful outcome.

“For the outcome would – very likely – be the opposite from the one intended; with the added result that the mad anger – quite justified, in my opinion – of your local subjects, who are now threatening you with death, might extend that danger to me, too. Yet, I would be willing to risk it – I have already said that I am guided here by a great sympathy for your worshipfulnesses. But in order for me to take that risk, it is necessary that you convince me during this armistice – and above all doubt – that, first, it is indeed necessary for you to continue to exist on earth in your current earthly form; and, second, why it is that I – yes, I – should risk my own life while trying to extend yours? Did you wish to speak, noble and worshipful father Andrew? I will be glad to hear your voice again. I have not heard it since the day when you put a dog’s muzzle on my face.”

“You wretch, you are guided by the feelings of ungratefulness, hate, and revenge towards us, not by any sort of sympathy. I was opposed to making any deals with you. Having now heard you speak, I am convinced even more thoroughly that I was right. You came here to torture and torment us; not with any thought of helping us. And no matter what we say, it will have no other end result than this: you will depart from here before daybreak laughing blasphemously, sacrilegiously, godlessly in the faces of the Lord’s martyrs; and you will gladly and contentedly watch this hall go up in flames about us, above us and – with us.

“Archworshipful father abbot, brother Bernard, and you, Urban, sweetest child, I beg you all: let us break off with this perverse man, the most unnatural of sons, this degenerate son. Let him depart from here immediately and may God himself judge him: it will be a terrible judgment!”

“Father Andrew: neither the archworshipful abbot, nor father Bernard seem to share in your opinion. As for Urban – his life, his health even – are not in the least danger. He will be able to depart from here along with me, regardless of the outcome of our talks, unless he himself chooses to share your fate. He chooses so now, I imagine; but I do hope that once he hears everything about which we shall talk here, that desire will leave him.”

Urban: “It shall not, dear brother Stanislaw”.

Andrew: “How dare you call this villain, this blasphemer, this messenger of hell – how dare you call him your brother?”

Bernard: ‘Brother Andrew, I beg of you: be careful with your words. I am not too pleased to have this man as my intercessor, either, but let us not forget: he did suffer many iniquities at our hands.”

Stanislaw: “I did not come to have my iniquities made whole. Nevertheless, you have spoken holy words, father Bernard. Worshipful Andrew ought to be careful with his words; but you have warned him too late. You did say, father Andrew, did you not: first “the most unnatural of unnatural sons” and then, much simpler: degenerate son. You aimed these words at me – in what sense? Metaphorical or literal? When saying so, did you mean me as a child of your monastery? Or rather – as your son of flesh and blood? Of course, I cannot be a son of flesh and blood of all of you. So am I perhaps – your son, worshipful Father Andrew?”

Urban: “Neither father Andrew’s; nor father Bernard’s; nor the archworshipful abbot’s…”

Stanislaw: “…and nor yours, of course. But only this last is clear and certain above all doubt, nothing more. I have intended to space out – quite widely – over the duration of the armistice various subjects which we must – must! – cover. And the time would have certainly come – I have originally expected it would come around midnight – to cover this topic, too: the identity of my father, my father in flesh and blood; but it has happened otherwise, thanks to Father Andrew. He hurried the arrival of that moment which I did not wish to hurry at all. My worshipful fathers! For some years now I have been convinced that one of you has fathered me, not quite thirty years ago, with the daughter of the Niałek miller.

Andrew: “I was not in Wieleń during the rule of the worshipful Nicholas; nor was I a member…”

“…Of the monastic complex of Obra. No. But you did come here from outside Poland twice. The first time when the Obra complex was ruled by the worshipful John, and the Wielen complex by its first abbot, Olibierus, or perhaps Henry; that is between the years one thousand two hundred seventy eight and eighty eight. And on the unforgettable night of the third day of the first week of Lent in the year ninety-six the worshipful Father Peter – today the arch-worshipful abbot – has deigned to inform me that I was then fourteen. From which it follows that I was born in the year eighty-two; perhaps eighty-one; and must therefore have been conceived in the first year of the rule of aforementioned Abbot John.

“But why are you so deeply moved, Father Andrew? Did I say that I suspect you of having fathered me? I said you could be my father; but are you more likely my father than either the arch-worshipful abbot Peter or Father Bernard? Forgive me, but you have just behaved like Achilles, the son of Peleus, when Odysseus, having struck his shield with his sword… Ah, but you know what happened then, don’t you? After all, I have heard this story from you, did I not? But then: I do not claim that you are my father, despite what could have been your inadvertent revelation a moment ago. For I happen to have found evidence that Father Bernard, when he arrived in Wielen at the side of the then Abbot Nicholas, was not in fact visiting Poland for the first time, though I do not yet know when exactly his first visit here – in Obra if not in Wielen – had taken place. But I will know it, no doubt, you will tell me, Father Bernard, will you not? No such difficulties attach to your eminent person, arch-worshipful Peter. You belonged to the Wieleń community from the very beginning. If you ever left, it was well after my birth, and never while Nicholas was abbot. Of course all three of you must be offended by now that I should bring up such filthy business – but can it really be possible that you do not understand – not one of the three of you – that I will probably lose my father within the next twenty four hours? It is a natural and noble thing to mourn for one’s father; but I must know for whom it is that I mourn. I will of course mourn for all three of you as my spiritual fathers; but only one of you as my father of flesh and blood. I wish you all well, of course, and I already said it. What’s more: I think I have the right to expect that you requite the sentiment.

Andrew: “If these cruel and sarcastic words have not been inspired – why, commanded -- by the ruler of hell himself, I’ll…”

Abbot Peter: “And now I, too, will repeat after Father Bernard: you must reckon with your words, Brother Andrew. But also you, Stanislaw. Or rather – if indeed you still remember our night time conversation, our last before your departure from here all those years ago, you must remember that I called you by a different name then. By what name did I call you?”



“No, you are mistaken. I am wholly certain: you called me Telemachos, not Telegonos”.

“Perhaps I am mistaken. Yet, I notice in you an unambiguous – and therefore dangerous – tendency to overestimate your memory, however impressive it may be; which memory I so greatly admire that to express this admiration I would first have to (if I do not want you to take me for your father in flesh and blood) convince you (not without difficulty, I imagine) as to the obvious truth: how wholly unimportant it is, compared to spiritual fatherhood, who begat you in flesh and blood, whether this individual, or this, or this…”

“For instance, the itinerant hurdy-gurdy player to whom you have once instructed me to give a penny; or, perhaps the opposite, one of the Piast princes…”

“Precisely. Either this, or that – it is not at all as important as it seems to you. For regardless whether it was the itinerant hurdy-gurdy player, or a Piast prince – that which you are has not been created by either one or the other. Neither could have done it even had they wanted to for the simple reason that neither had the ability to do so: neither the understanding nor the inclination. You know a lot about us; and we know a lot about you: not only that you whom we have here, in the Wieleń monastery, raised over the years, day by day, like a rare plant, and polished like a precious stone; but also about that distant you, roaming between Tartary and Cymbria. And that which we do know about you leads us – leads me at least – to be both proud of you and to fear for you. Yes, for you, not for us. Should the Lord of Heaven, our Creator and Savior at once, decide that we should stand before him in judgment within this day? What is more: should He desire that our road to Him should lead through martyrdom in flames? Well, let the name of the Lord be praised! More worthy men – more just, more holy – underwent just such a martyrdom traveling from this vale of tears into God’s presence. But what shall you do unto yourself if you do this unto us? What joy will that short moment give you? – for believe me, if it at all comes, it will be very brief indeed! The joy of having paid us back for real – not merely imagined wrongs? And believe me there were plenty more of the latter!”

“My arch-worshipful father! The death in flames which threatens you now would not go to avenge my wrongs, but to avenge for the wrongs you have dealt to your subjects!”

“Is that so indeed? I think you do not believe this yourself. Please do not say you do believe this, for if you were to say this, I would have to stop being proud of you.”

“Yet, I will say just so. When we two spoke this morning, one-on-one, in front of the house, what would I have said to you if I merely wanted to avenge my wrongs? Undoubtedly just this: you must all die. And therefore prepare yourself mentally for the fact that there is – there can be – no hope of survival for you. But what did I say? I said: if you wish to escape death in flames, you must agree to such and such demands of the peasants of Mochy. If you accepted these demands, what benefit would I have of it? Would your rebelled subjects reward me with gold? Or would they follow me unto the ends of earth in search of the Holy Grail? Surely, you do not think so.”

“We do not think so. Or at least I do not. I am not even inclined to think that you might, after burning us here, lead your colons somewhere far away, where they may escape the severe justice of the lay and church authorities. Though perhaps that would have been the smartest thing to try: become their leader, struggle through forests and marshes towards the coast, then the sea; buy – or hijack – a ship in Wolin, and sail far, far away, West, beyond England, Ireland, Iceland.

“No, you will not do it. Our peasants, well, the peasants will run away and hide in the forest perhaps; but you will remain here, above the smoldering ambers of this house, the ashes which had once been our flesh, to curse yourself and mourn for us bitterly. The prince’s – or the bishop’s – men will find you here in tears.”

“You are saying the very same thing which I have myself said here only recently: it is a noble thing to mourn one’s father. But so long as to give time for the prince’s – or bishop’s henchmen – to catch me? After all, it’s not like I would be mourning a worthy father rather than merely one who begat me in sin, with the Niałek miller’s daughter!”

“You are mistaken if you think that you are strong… No, no… do not interrupt now. Yes, you are strong but with a different strength than such as is born of hate or vengefulness…”

“Born of the hunger for justice, out of pity for wrongs done…”

“Whose wrongs? You will say not yours but the peasants’. A hunger for justice for the subjects of the monastery, not for yourself… Yes, it could be like that. Except it is not. Perhaps you yourself are not aware that it is not. Knowing you as well as I do, I am inclined to believe that you do believe yourself to be the avenger of the colons’ wrongs. But even if you had been an avenger of their wrongs, you are him no longer, you have ceased to be him. From the moment of your arrival here; from the moment in which you expressed your readiness to seek our salvation, even if we were to reject the peasants’ demands… But whence this sudden readiness to negotiate, only seemingly unexpected? Two explanations are possible: the first is that the peasants’ wrongs do not concern you at all, and that you are not at all eager to grapple with us for justice for them; and the second that considering us lost souls you want…”

“…to humiliate you and torture you, as worshipful Andrew said? Achieve that you will die cursing me?”

“On the contrary. Achieve that we will die admiring you…”

“That is not the case. But were it even the case, I could never achieve it. No one could.”

“Very probably. But you think that you just might achieve it.”

“So that I may then mourn you while cursing myself bitterly until the prince’s – or bishop’s – henchmen come? Nonsense! Your arch-worshipfulness said that you know me well. More nonsense! You do not know me at all! Nor can you know me. You said that you know a great deal about that me who roamed the great spaces between Tartary and Iceland. You do not know a hundredth part of it. That adolescent who left here, bid goodbye by your curses, in the night of the third day of the first week of Lent over thirteen years ago is no more. I have changed. You said that you were proud of me; or rather, proud of that plant you have grown, or that precious stone you have polished. Well, you have a right to that kind of pride… But do you deserve my gratitude? You had it. Plenty of it. But you still deserve a pay back. Am I not paying you back? And how generously! Here I am trying to save your life, even while risking my own; but since I am risking my own life, I must know… -- the miller’s daughter’s son will now speak to you! – that the bread I receive isn’t worth less than the price I am prepared to pay for it. This is simple – you will agree? – or at least clear?

“I repeat, you must convince me successively: first, that you deserve saving; and then: why I should do the saving while risking my own life!”

“Let us suppose that we did manage to convince you in some manner wholly satisfactory to you in respect to both the first and the second question. And let us suppose further: that you have saved us and, along with us, yourself. The Mochy peasants will receive from us forgiveness for their rebellion, but nothing else: they will have to pay their taxes in kind just as they were supposed to pay it all along (and ought to have paid before the rebellion broke out). And thus the wrongs of the peasants – as you see it – will continue unabated…”

“Ah, but you will retain the memory of the dangers which you have – practically miraculously – escaped. Your fear will remain – forever. You will be kinder to your peasants henceforth.”

“Indeed? You appear so wise, so well-raised, so well-polished – and yet you understand so little! Nothing feeds ruthlessness as well as fear… We will be far worse towards the Mochy peasants than towards any others; and the peasants will hate us even more than ever before… And they will often think to themselves: “why did we not burn them then?” And in so thinking they will also remember your intermediation; and remembering, what will they send you – near or far -- thanks? Blessings? No! Curses!”

“You appear to want the same thing father Andrew wants: that I go away already.”

“You are mistaken. Andrew does not want you to go. He merely allowed himself to speak in anger. Nor do I want you to go. But all of us here want one thing: that you avoid doing something which you will later be unable to undo; and will want to undo, badly but belatedly.”

“These are beautiful words but they do not advance the least bit the negotiations for the sake of which I have managed to arrange this truce. Arch-worshipful father, tell me, do you or do you not wish to continue living here, on earth? And if you do, please provide some argument why you should…”

“You appear here with two functions: as prosecutor and judge… But even if I were to accept to defend myself before this sort of tribunal – a tribunal which violates all rules of justice – you may want to try to afford it… if not exactly justice then – legality enough to fulfill the ancient requirement: that an accusation must precede defense. For how can the judged defend himself if he does not know wherein lies the accusation?”


“But be careful. You must now set aside the wrongs of the Mochy peasants, and all monastery’s peasants in general. It is not they who want to know whether we deserve to continue our lives in flesh on earth; or whether you should be saving us. You do not wish to be a fair judge; but try at least to be a rational one.

“We have heard that you listened in Cologne, on the Rein, to the lectures of great masters of logic. Show us then how you have profited by those lectures: prove that you have not wasted your and your teachers’ time. Your accusation – if it were to reveal your ability to reason correctly – must aim to prove that we do not deserve to continue our life in flesh on earth; or, at the very least that even if we deserved to do so, then there is no reason why you should try – perhaps at risk of your own life – to save us.

“Personally, though I am very proud of you – how many times I have said it here already – I am not inclined to think that you can make such a proof; or rather that you could present such a proof without violating principal rules of correct implication. I may be mistaken in my expectations; but I say: try it, if you wish to see my defense in due course. Of course, if you do not try (which may suggest that you are not sure of your prosecutorial skills), such due course will not come. I have spoken. Or rather we have spoken, the abbot of the Monastery of the Cistercian Fathers in Wielen, and, by virtue of that fact, the shepherd of Mochy and the legal representative of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Andrew: “I object.”

“Our abbot’s “we” a moment ago was of course directed at Stanislaw here, but even more so at you, worshipful father. This mansion belongs to the Wieleń monastery; whether it stands or burns, there will be here only one legal authority: the will of the abbot.

“Stanislaw, we are ready to hear you. Oh, but wait. You have listened to lectures on the subject of correct implication, or, to say it in Greek, of logic; but, as far as I know, you have never studied law. That is a great pity since you must henceforth perform a judgment, even though your professional preparation for the task is no greater than that of a tailor (or roofer) who suddenly resolved to make shoes.

“Allow me to help you somewhat here, then, though without leading you to draw out of my willingness to help you the conclusion that this is yet one more proof of my fatherhood of you. Well then, you must begin your accusation as follows: it shall be shown in my argument above all doubt that such-and-such and so-and-so among the Cistersian monks (we know who they are) have committed criminal acts for which the laws of our kingdom foresee the penalty… but wait… what kingdom is this? It might seem that it is the kingdom of Poland… but by the command of which ruler of this kingdom are you here in the role of a prosecutor or judge?”

“I am here as a representative of all the peasants of the Obra province who have been attached to the property currently under the management – whether legal or illegal – of the Cistercian monks settled in two neighboring monasteries, in Obra and Wieleń. I am intentionally using the word “management” rather than “possession”: I have been taught that monks may not own any property, since they take the oath of eternal poverty.

“Of course, whether the lord exercises possession or management, the subjects of all degrees owe him their obedience. But is it unconditional? The church teaches us in the words of its greatest authorities – Pope Gregory VII, among others, and the doctor known as angelic – Thomas Aquinas – that in order to expect unconditional obedience, the ruler’s rule must also be wholly and unconditionally just. But should the rule prove unjust it is not only allowed; but it is required to refuse obedience because unjust rule is a tyranny; and the same church authorities teach that tyrannicide is not murder; and is therefore not a mortal sin; it may be at most an ordinary sin and, under certain circumstances it may even be a virtuous, deserving act. Mochy was ruled unjustly; they rose against tyranny; which is to say that if you do die here tomorrow in flames, your death will be an act of tyrannicide.”

Andrew: “Saint John the Evangelist, our Lord’s favorite student, wrote: “all power comes from God.”

Stanislaw: “Dear father, was that indeed John the Evangelist? I don’t think our arch-worshipful abbot would agree.”

“I don’t. You shame us, father vicar; and not for the first time today. And not the first time today Stanislaw, our beloved son, proves that we were not much mistaken years ago when we whispered to each other: this miller boy will one day grow up to be a great jewel and pride of our monastery.

“Jewel and pride intellectually – I must add; since hardly any one of us had expected that the boy whom we had taken in, and by taking him in had preferred him over all others; hardly any of us, I say, had expected that this boy would make us proud with virtues other than those of the intellect. It is true that I did fool myself for some time that I might be able to transform that boys’ – yours, Stanislaw, whom at some time I may have called Telemachos or Telegonos – that boys’ ever increasing tendency for self-love, which is to say, the most terrible sin of pride; transform it into its opposite, such as noble pride rooted in two things: the understanding that to possess great intellectual gifts is not a merit, as it is an unsolicited gift of God, of which it is well to be proud but with pride no greater than is proper to an undeservedly selected vessel; and, second, in constant meditation on the divine warning: to whom more is given, from him more will be expected. But when tested, that same Stanislaw showed above all doubt that God has not only gifted him, but also burdened him; which must not surprise us since being above all creatures, Divinity exceeds all teachers, whether of mathematics or music, in its love for harmony, and therefore with its dislike for self-loving youths who upset all harmony. Putting it differently, perhaps more clearly, I will say: tested, Stanislaw proved to be handicapped in spirit, and therefore also intellectually: he has no sense of duty, a sense which, we imagine, should characterize especially those who have received so much more than all others: an expectation that more will be expected of them; nor does he possess, the same test showed, another sense, closely connected with the aforementioned: self-respect; or what I have called earlier noble pride.”

Andrew: “Can there be anywhere on earth such a thing as self-respect – noble pride – of bastards?”

Bernard: “Allow me to put a word in, arch-worshipful abbot. Father Andrew’s interjections fill me with distaste; but your speech fills me with sadness. In different form you express the same injustice, or perhaps only insensitivity, or inability to understand the deeper aspects of human soul.”

Andrew: “Are you still in your old place – or are you already on your knees before the giver of life and death, Father Bernard? The wretches – the rebels, worthy of pity rather than anger – have boarded up the windows and my sight has always been weak… But, as a result, my hearing has always been keen… It is no surprise then that I catch in your voice a note of fear… Would you want to live in flesh, on earth, for ages and ages and ages?”

“I should like to leave my flesh at the moment appointed for it by Divine Will; and in company of just, or at least merciful, brothers. His arch-worshipfulness abbot has spoken at great length about Stanislaw’s pride; but has he never asked himself whether that pride has been no more than a shield, wrought from captured iron (metaphorically speaking) which he broke off constantly – and bravely – from spears and lances aimed at him by pseudo-friends, foster-fathers, spiritual fathers – indeed, his despisers and torturers. We took him in; but did we privilege him? Why, we had him for a puppy – metaphorically speaking, of course, until Father vicar put a dog’s muzzle on him; whether metaphorically or literally, he was for us no more than a puppy dog, sweet, and bright from birth; one plays with such dogs and teaches them all sorts of tricks; but when they begin to bore or tire us with their playfulness, we kick them. (And sometimes well before they begin to bore us, too). But we expect from such dogs – no, demand from them – that they should always remember the stroking hand, not the kicking foot. And how surprised we are when, kicked cruelly and often, a dog will suddenly jump up to our hand in order not to lick it but bite it!

“You also mentioned, your arch-worshipfulness, a trial of fate which Stanislaw failed thereby revealing a spiritual handicap, which is to say insufficient self-respect or noble-pride. Do you remember? I was opposed to such trials; as was Abbot Nicholas, who now rests in the lap of God, I expect, but then was both yours and mine abbot. But you insisted. Was your insistence then guided only by worthy motivations? Why, did you really select Stanislaw to undertake that a trial only because you thought it may lead to transform the youth’s supposed self-love into its opposite, noble pride, self-respect? Further: you say he failed the test; disappointed hopes placed in him. Did you ask him then – that night on which you sent him away – discarded him like a dog – that night which you can recall so very well since you speak of it so precisely: the night of the third day of the first week of Lent of the year so-and-so” – did you ask him: “Beloved son, we have placed such hopes in you, and you have disappointed us bitterly… Why?” You see, I did ask him, with these very words precisely. I ran after him for a long time, long after his mother, all in tears, had given up – because it was such a frosty night!”

“And what did he answer you?”

“He spoke softly, even tenderly, but his voice did not tremble; on the contrary, it was almost happy. He said: ‘Good father, the time comes when you will learn everything; you. Only you.’”

“And have you learned?”

“Your arch-worshipfulness has spoken. I received a letter from Prague in the year…”

Stanislaw: “Worshipful father! The time has not yet come to discuss that matter! But I am happy to hear that my letter from Prague reached you. I have long wanted to ask you about it; it was the first thing I wanted to ask when I arrived here at the doorstep of the monastery after ten years’ absence. But on my first day here I could not find you; and on the second the worshipful father Andrew, as you have already graciously observed, put a dog muzzle on my face. Which, of course...”

Andrew: “…creates hopes for one of us – father Bernard, of course – that he will escape Mochy with his flesh intact… My lords – noble, less noble, and those entirely devoid of nobility of any kind! -- time passes! It is completely dark already: not only inside, but also outside. Let us pay attention to the importance of the passage of time – if we cannot pay attention to self-respect. I am deeply convinced that I will not see the next night; and if therefore you are indeed Christians, allow me to prepare myself for my death. I wish for peace – nothing more, but nothing less. And if I have to pay for this right to peace the highest price, then I will pay it. It is my understanding that Stanislaw’s vengefulness – or, perhaps, as father Bernard’s words have shown us, a released dog’s madness – is really aimed only at one person: his father in flesh and blood. And if he has drawn all three of us into this trap, it is only because he does not know which one of us has begat him with the daughter of the Niałek miller. Once he knows, the trap for the remaining two will loosen. Listen, whatever your name (since you have been named Stanislaw, secretly by your mother and without permission from the monastic authorities), shall we make a deal? I will prove to you – in accordance with all the rules of precise and correct implication – that you are my bastard. It will not be pleasant for me to lower myself to the task of reasoning with a low-life like you – yet I will undertake this effort and I am sure its results will please you. But if you are pleased, will you assure me that the arch-worshipful abbot, the cowardly father Bernard, and the innocent child Urban will be able to leave this place unharmed? I do not doubt it, I have never doubted it for a moment, that this whole supposed peasant rebellion is really your work; not directly, but indirectly, of course: you have influence with your grandfather, and the cunning miller has influence over all the peasants in the possession of the Wieleń and Obra monasteries. You have caught us; not our peasants’ anger. So, if you want the death of your father of flesh and blood – his death in flames, no less – you will have that death, but only that death. Do you agree?”

Abbot Peter: “We order you, dear brother Andrew, to be silent. We are pleased of course by your readiness to sacrifice yourself for the sake of your brethren…”

Andrew: “I have already explained it: I am not guided by any sense of love; I merely long for some moments of peace before death… I need some moments of concentration to settle with God some earthly accounts…”

“We said: be silent! I warn you, I must speak to you more sharply – though I do not like doing so: you are behaving nobly, but with the nobility of a knight, not that of a monk. You are self-sacrificing, too, but with the self-sacrificing of a simpleton. And in this you are as proud as Stanislaw, but at the same time – unlike Stanislaw – foolish. Not in all things, but in that which is most important, because that which is most important is too complicated – it is insufficiently simple for you to grasp!

“You are right when you say that it was not the rebellion of our peasants’ which has trapped us here, in this trap, this ambush, this net – this most unusual net woven of fire. We agree with you, we the Wieleń abbot, your superior, as perhaps does father Bernard, too, that the rebellion here is the work of one individual and not, to use the language of Caesar, Cicero and Salust, of the oppressed people. Of course, without the people, this rebellion would not have become the success it has been; so the people have been fooled, fooled through the agency of a person of great authority among all the simpletons in the area, Stanislaw’s maternal grandfather, the miller; and they have been fooled into thinking that by threatening us – what is more, by threatening us with death – they may receive a commutation of the due labor and goods into payment in coin; and a rescission of the right of to judge criminals among our peasants back from the monastic to the secular authorities. They have been fooled because they do not know, though the miller knows it well, and his grandson, whom we have transformed into a great learned lord knows it even better – that even if we wanted to satisfy such demands, we could not, since, just as our colons are our subjects, we ourselves are subjects, indeed, slaves, of the set of rules which make up the law according to which our monastic order is ruled. And knowing as much, Stanislaw is in fact misleading the peasants; and more, since misleading the peasants is but a means to a further goal. You believe, father Andrew, that that goal is vengeance upon his father of flesh and blood; in thinking so, you reason further correctly: if the father reveals himself (which would amount to his accepting death), Stanislaw may let the other two (and the child Urban) slip out of here unharmed. But I deny it…”

Bernard: “And I join you in your denial. I believe – I have always believed – that Stanislaw’s greatest complaint against us has been that (since he assumed that one of us was his father) he’d never lived to see the day on which his father stepped forward to identify himself; for he reasoned thus: “Since he does not reveal himself – even secretly, to me alone – then I am not dear to him; worse: I must be repulsive to him.

“Which is to say, in other words, that he dearly – though secretly – wished for his father’s love; and if someone – I believe equally dearly myself – longs for his father’s love, then that proves that he loves his unknown father; and if he loves him, then it is impossible for him to be motivated by his disappointment, though the disappointment be year by year ever more bitter, to commit the crime of patricide, a crime which is more terrible than any other crime, except matricide. And thus I think that brother Andrew’s reasoning, however noble and selfless, is completely mistaken; I might agree with the supposition that Stanislaw may have been behind the peasants’ rebellion against us so as to force that among us who is his father to reveal himself; but he desires that revelation not in order to wreak revenge on his father, but – in order to save him.

“To save only his father.

“Surely, you remember, Stanislaw, the story about the wizard’s apprentice? The apprentice, while watching his master, learned the secret of how to compel evil spirits to perform works ordered by the human will; but only how to summon and order them to perform such works, but not how to dismiss them when their services were no longer required. I suppose it is with you just as it was with that apprentice: you were able, in order to serve your own ends, to transmute the resentment of the peasants’ into an open rebellion, but you would never be able to calm the rebellion you have caused: having learned how to call the evil spirits, you have forgotten to learn also how to dispel them. And therefore you know, if you are wise – and you are wise – that if we do not make concessions – and we cannot make concessions as the arch-worshipful abbot has shown to you very wisely only a moment ago – therefore you know that the rebellious peasants must – they have no choice – must murder the monks; or, to be precise, to burn us with this whole mansion. You could perhaps, in your overall impotence (so very clear to you, am I not right?), you could perhaps snatch a small part of the booty which the forces summoned by you, but now no longer obedient to you, will now take, since, after all, the killing of two or three can give as much animal pleasure to those bent on murder as the killing of three or four; especially if one tells them that among those about to be murdered such and such person was really in favor of making concessions, but was shouted down by the wolves among the others, among whom that person was but a gentle lamb. Which is all to say that – it must be obvious – what you really expect of our talk tonight – of the armistice, as you put it – is to discover the identity of your father; but with the purpose of saving him, not taking revenge upon him. That’s all for now.”

Abbot Peter: “You are very insightful, brother Bernard; certainly more so than brother Andrew; but you, too, are mistaken. I agree that, given a chance to save any one of us from the powers he has released upon us, but which he now cannot call back, Stanislaw would indeed do this: he would try to save that one of us as to whom he could now say without any shadow of doubt, or uncertainties, or fear: ‘I have found my father in flesh and blood.’

“But then again: having always wished Stanislaw well – too well, perhaps, for certainly a lot better than he has turned out to deserve – you have now taken your softness towards him decidedly too far: for it would most certainly not be love for his found father, but vengefulness towards him that would motivate Stanislaw to save only his father from among us all.

“Believe me! Love takes many forms; and so does vengefulness. We have talked so much together, brother Bernard, you and I, in the evenings in the monastery – over years and years – concerning all the most terrible dangers involved in hiding sin and crime under the mask of virtue! Do you remember? We even spoke about how even that which is the holiest can be employed by the arch-cunning Satan to mislead creatures of God which he selects as especially attractive to him and which, while being mortal are also sentient. You yourself have described how the incontrovertible proof – of great literary value, too – of Saint Anselm of Durovernum that the Holy Spirit comes from both Father and Son – a powerful proof against the Greek schismatics – was itself once subverted so as to give not brief pleasure to Satan; and since that could happen, who could claim that Satan cannot pull an even more daring subterfuge: to collect profits from Christ’s own instructions? “Man is not for Sabbath, but Sabbath for man”, said our Lord Savior; but how many opportunities for crime does this teaching create – as a result of Satanic whisperings – when it is put into practice by lazy men? The same must be true regarding other teachings of Our Lord Savior: gluttony and drunkenness spread behind the shield wrought from the gospel story of the miracle at Cana. Tell me, is it so, or is it not?”

Bernard: “You have spoken truthfully.”

Abbot Peter: “I am glad to hear this. And now you will be glad to hear this: the Lord said: “when a brother strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the left”; which, we have been taught, is an injunction to gentleness, humility, and rewarding evil with good. But Satan is well capable of turning this teaching into a weapon not for the humble, but for the proud; the vengeful who are not inclined to forgive mercifully. This weapon is not intended for all; only the higher minds, of course, the higher minds among the proud, vengeful and merciless. I’ll say more, because the words “higher minds” are not sufficient; one should add “for shy, unwarlike characters, in other words – the bloodless – so as not to say…

Andrew: “…those with impotent testicles; or thoroughly lacking in honor…”

Stanislaw: “I will not rebuke you, eminent vicar, should I even care to, for we waste time here – seemingly fruitlessly, though perhaps only seemingly so – priceless and merciless time, every faster advancing towards tomorrow… all this considering of my worth, whether I have matured, whom I in fact serve, how to interpret my relationship to the rebellion of the Mochy peasants – surely, you must admit, it is exactly and no more than – and attempt at self-defense. Would I, once I have identified my father, abandon him to death in flames, or, on the contrary, try to save him from the same? Or again: by saving him, would I reveal my love for him or my feelings of vengefulness towards him? And if I intended revenge, would it be the sort especially pleasing to Satan, which lies in exposing our left cheek to a brother who strikes us on the right one, in order to punish him all the more cruelly with spiritual suffering, feelings of guilt and shame; more cruelly than striking him back, or indeed, killing him would have been?!

“Spending our time in this manner, our precious time measured not in days, but only hours till the expiration of the armistice – in fact you two – you arch-worshipful abbot, and you father Bernard – show how right is the third of you: if you can or will only engage your judge here in this manner– your judge representing here your oppressed people (despite all your arguments, I am such a judge) – then perhaps it would be better if you stopped talking to me at all leaving me in conviction that I am indeed father Andrew’s son in flesh and blood…”

Andrew: “How terribly you would be punishing me, oh Lord of Heaven, if it were to be the truth…”

Stanislaw: “How valuable this admission of yours: if by way of its form alone. But let’s set that aside. Having, as I do, a great number of well founded reasons to suspect that no other person but you, father Andrew, begat me with the daughter of the Niałek miller, I said: I will not rebuke you. But you, arch-worshipful abbot? You said a great deal to attack me, and would say a great deal more, too; but by doing so do you not undermine the dignity of your own extraordinary mind, polished by both philosophical and legal education? Were you not demanding yourself only a short while ago that, respecting the foundational principles of legality I should agree to hear your self-defense only after you have learned the content of the accusation against you? I agreed – and what followed? You were offering me help – as one who has completed legal studies – you proposed to help me formulate my accusation in agreement with the rules of law – but then you cut off your work on formulation quickly and passed on to defense. After all, your disagreement – supposedly a tacit disagreement – as the eminent vicar was kind enough to put it for us – well – well – weren’t you supposed to make peace with God?

“Yes, peace with God – Him who makes your appearance – after passing the fiery gates through which you shall pass to leave this earth – a passing ever more likely – thanks to your wasting of the precious time so generously granted you by your tribunal; ever more likely – if not by now unavoidable! Perhaps you desire to die already? Do you despise this chance of survival because – it comes from me? Or perhaps you do want to live on but do not believe that I have either the power or the desire to protect you from imminent death?

“Whichever one of these possibilities (dressed by me into the form of questions) corresponds to the truth, well, such a truth would not be contradictory to the purpose of your hearing out the accusations of your tribunal – yes, tribunal: tribunal of the people against the tyrants. Are you not able to copy me – once, just this once? I said: your every utterance strengthens my ability – it teaches me, enriches me, develops: take the arch-worshipful abbot’s mention of a term from the writings of Caesar, Cicero and Sallust: this term, precisely: the people – not in the sense which I have heretofore known – which was “the people of God” – the community of Christians – but in the sense of that collective whose interests are in direct opposition to the interests of all rulers and owners. How much I have gained by becoming acquainted with this term! Learn from me then – follow me! – and try to convince me that (no more than this really) that you deserve to continue living your life; or, if you prefer, that I should save that life. Do not waste your time on secondary question: how good is he who brings you this chance? Grab this chance! You are hereby accused that you have oppressed the people; well, present proof that, although you have oppressed them, yet you do not deserve the punishment appointed by the people rebelled against tyrannical rule. Yes, you have said already that according to the rules which make up the law code by which the international – inter-tribal? – Cistercian order is ruled, you have no power to promise to the people that you will change their duties in kind and labor into a cash payment; or that you will renounce the power to punish their crimes by life or death. I know that you do not have sufficient powers to promise such changes; but are you not able to promise the people’s tribunal that, once you have escaped the present straits alive, you will seek to obtain such powers? And more: that you will promote within the order the intellectual trend – later to be made practical – seeking to make such legal changes within the order as could improve the fate of those who subject to the order’s rule?

“Indeed, I tell you, you could easily swear as much. Yet you do not. Why not? Would such a movement serve no purpose? -- would it be impractical, unable to achieve any real changes? What of it? Your good faith – and out of it arising good will – would be sufficient that those who generously spared you would have no grounds to curse you, or jeer you: ‘they promised but in bad faith’! You believe yourself to be honest good monks, and therefore law-abiding, and precisely as such are unwilling to promise anything? But why should the receipt of copper, or silver, or, indeed, gold, not be preferable to forcing your peasants to perform labor in kind? And more: if one of your peasants should indeed commit a crime deserving the penalty of death, would it not be one hundred-fold more agreeable to you – to each and every one of you here – to send the criminal before the tribunal of the governor, the prince, or the king than to send him yourself into the hands of the executioner? I do not believe that you really prefer the former custom over these new ones – though they would indeed be new here (since they have long since been accepted as normal everywhere else). Would you really want me to think yourselves intellectually slothful as well as fools? Were I to think like this (or otherwise: were you to force me to think like this) – would you not think me forced to add another chapter to my list of accusations against you?”

Andrew: “What are the basic – the original – chapters of your accusation?”

“At last we have a sensible question! There are five basic, or original, headings of my accusation. They are: the violation of the vows of poverty, violation of the vow of chastity, violation of the vow of obedience; and further: forgery; and: a subversion of the teachings of the church, which is to say – heresy.

“Have you noticed? There are more headings of the accusation than there are accused! But I believe that, if not all three of you, then at least the arch-worshipful abbot himself has noticed that fact; and more: noticed the significance of this numerical disparity. One of you could be guilty of all these crimes, which means that the rest of you could be innocent. But this is unlikely; rather, it seems more likely that one of you has committed two of these crimes, another one also two, and the third only one; or perhaps two of you have committed one of these crimes each, which would mean that the third is accused here of the other three. But now: there is another possibility: that two of you, or perhaps all three, have committed one and the same crime, in addition to the crime which each committed separately.

“There was once here –if I am not mistaken – a blackboard somewhere here; and if it still is here, then there may well be some chalk. Then we would have before us, venerable fathers, an incredibly complex and fascinating exercise; a mathematical exercise, though it seems impossible to solve by mathematical means; or even geometric; though, luckily, when I was in the service of the ruler of Tartary (in the role of a chaplain of sorts, though not exactly chaplain’s) there was there in his service a certain Indian, very learned; he taught me a new branch of mathematics: the kind which using a special notation for the conception of void, allows one to find the solution for problems in which several known and unknown quantities are joined together by means of the four arithmetical functions; such a solution being rendered possible by the use of that special notation for no number; that is: for nothing; or: for less than one. (Indeed, numbers less than nothing, too).

“This seemed to me at first a kind of black magic – but in time I came to realize that it not was black magic; and this realization firmed up here, in Mochy: a certain peasant – a bee-keeper, shall we say – is obliged by virtue of his feudal duties to deliver to the monastery five barrels of honey; but he is free to keep all others, whether for his own consumption, or for sale. Now, were he able to collect enough honey to fill up seven barrels, we would say, according to this Indian branch of mathematics, that, in that particular mathematical relationship, he has two more than nothing; a positive number. But then let us say that the fruit of his labor comes out to three barrels; and the monastery refuses to lower his dues despite his desperate pleas; then how much shall we have in that mathematical notation? Two not above but below nothing, a negative number.

Andrew: “Black magic, or not, it is a pagan teaching, and therefore Satan’s: one more weapon in his struggle against Divine Majesty.”

Stanislaw: “I very much doubt whether you are right, father vicar. Killing is sometimes referred to as a-nihil-ation, am I not right? The peasant -- the vicar – had something here on earth; more of this, or less of this, or nothing at all other than life; but even if all he had was life, yet he had something. But when he loses the power to move and feel, then he has truly nothing; he once ruled, now he rules no more; he once suffered, now he no longer suffers. That would be an example of reducing a positive number to that number by which nothingness is denoted in India. Take yourself: if the peasants should set fire to this mansion at dawn, your journey towards nothingness will begin, in the sense that first you will suffer terribly in the flames, but then you will stop suffering, you will cease to be a thought, or feeling, or shape; you shall become dust, which is to say: nothing. Or, according to mathematics, that would be your end. But will that be your end? It is fit to show respect to our teachers by displaying from time to time before them the knowledge which we owe them; which is no more than what I am doing here now, arch-worshipful abbot, by presenting you with this proof of your teaching efforts expended upon my person – I will now pass from Latin to Tuscan –

…chi e’n quell foco che view si diviso
Di spora, che par suger della pira
Ov’ Eteocle col fratel fu misto?
Risposemi: la dentro si martira

“And precisely! Foco, pira, martira! And who? Why, Ulisses, arch-worshipful father, that is to say the father of both Telemachos and Telegonos. Thus you have here a mathematical problem with both positive and negative numbers. The flames of the mansion burning above you, around you, with you – before you death, before nothingness, before the end… but then it turns out that death is not the end, and therefore not that number denoting a figure smaller than one, smaller than the smallest fraction of one, that is to say, nothing – that it is not the smallest number at all! Following it, another one will come, one bearing a negative sign; then two, then ten, then hundred, then thousand, then thousands of thousands, infinity, unto infinite time; for, after all, it is not Satan, but God’s own church that teaches us – you, worshipful fathers as well as me – that the sufferings of sinners will have no end in the flames of hell; that very hell of which the Tuscan (whom I had just quoted) says that it was formed by “la divina potestate, la somma sapienza e’l primo amore”. Will you deny this, arch-worshipful fathers? You cannot, and since you cannot, then you should be able to say to yourselves: the next Saturday – which is tomorrow – will be a great mathematician and he will undertake to solve a mathematical problem involving a number whose name is Fire; that number will appear in the problem as both positive and negative; except that where that value is positive, that value might be, let us say, one hundred; but where the negative sign appears, it will also be one hundred, but multiplied by thousands of thousands; indeed, by the infinity of the fires of hell…”

Bernard: “You are threatening us, but we are not afraid… And do you know why we are not afraid? Or at least – I? Everything you say lacks any power to convince. Do you understand?”

Stanislaw: “That is your business whether you are afraid or not. For now, as an example, and for greater clarity, I spoke about problems which you must solve, not I. But I am interested in that other problem: three accused, five crimes – five numbers and three unknowns. That is not an easy problem to solve, I repeat. It can be solved, perhaps, but solving it would take the whole night. Does that make sense? Would it not be better – for me as well as for you (a thousand fold better for you) – if you, who are aware of the facts, would simply state them here out of your own free will? Which one of you has violated the vow of chastity? And which – the vow of obedience? And which – poverty? Who committed an act of forgery, and who committed the crime of heresy? Or otherwise: shall we say that it was you, Father Bernard, who forged the document proving (falsely) the perpetual right of the Obra monastery to the services and income of the mill in Nialek? And you, father Andrew, who seduced the daughter of the Niałek miller? Come on, admit it, and having once admitted it, try to convince me that these acts were not crimes. If you can, the people’s tribunal will release you from responsibility.”

Bernard: “And also from punishment?”

Abbot Peter: “People’s tribunal! You have heard in Cologne lectures on the art of correct drawing of implications, yet here you talk only pure nonsense; worse, you cast it, like Pelion casting rocks at Ossa. First, where is the people here? Second: what do the peasants of Mochy care for monks’ infractions against some or other vows; or their forgeries; or heresy? Third: had any of us indeed committed such a crime – or any of these crimes, or any other crimes – only the Church could judge us: the authorities of the order, bishops, archbichops, the Pope. No other tribunal on earth, no provincial, nor princely, nor royal, nor imperial could; all the less – a people’s tribunal! Let’s stop this play, this nonsensical, silly play. Yes, we may die here – by fire if it comes to that; we do wish to live longer because we are mere mortal men, and every man wants to live the longest he can, if – and this is a very significant if – if his continuing life is not tantamount to the betrayal of God, which would mean the sentence of eternal tortures of hell. You have us in your power. I doubt – along with the remaining brothers – that your power is as much life-saving as it is death-dealing. Yet, let us assume that indeed, you can – if you chose to – cause it that the rebelled peasants will not burn us; if so, then we must give you something: you, not the peasants. What do you want?

“The truth.”

“About what?”

“I have already said it: I want to know which one of you has broken his vow of chastity; which – the vow of poverty; which – obedience; which one of you has committed the forgery, and which fell into heresy.”

“Why must you know this?”

“Because I am your tribunal.”

“Again, in circles! We do not recognize this tribunal’s legality.”

“You will die in flames!”

“We will die. And may our blood…”

“There won’t be any blood.”

Bernard: “Please, allow me to speak now, arch-worshipful father and lord. When we kick a dog he usually knows – and we usually know – why he is dealt that kick: he did something which we consider wrong, and for this we punish him; unless that is, being by nature cruel, we enjoy torturing dogs even when they have done nothing wrong. But the dog almost never knows why we play with him; and why we play in this manner and not another. It seems clear to me that Stanislaw, the millers boy, is playing with us, just like we usually do in the monastery with dogs; and as we did, many years ago, with the miller boy himself, who was so capable of pleasing us with all kinds of charms; so much better than any dog. Do you remember how we ordered him to play the lute and sing or recite poetry in all kinds of languages? We heard in his version fragments of Christian the French, Rambald the Provancal, and Wolfram the Thuringian…”

Stanislaw: “You said it, father Bernard! To sing such songs, to recite such poems – in a monastery! – is a violation of the vow of obedience. The rule of the Cistersian order clearly forbids such pleasures!”

Abbot Peter: “These were indeed violations, but minor ones. Ordinary sins, not mortal ones”.

Bernard: “My dear son! We taught you so much; and you have learned so many more things – incomparably more – after you have parted from us so many years ago. You could not therefore claim that you do not know that atonement, repentance, and confession blot out sins. They blot out even mortal sins – and how much more easily they blot out ordinary ones! If that is meant to be in your opinion a violation of the vow of obedience, then – believe me – this fault no longer exists! Yes, such a crime did weigh upon my conscience: I have taught a certain little miller boy not only the singing of psalms and Eucharistic hymns, but also love songs, though never – and you, having such a good memory will admit as much, will you not – never indecent ones. Yes, I did have such a sin on my conscience once, but – no more! I have confessed these sins. Not otherwise does anyone who ever violates any of the monastic vows – whether of obedience, or some other ones – or who somehow disrespected the Majesty of God; and he thereby re-acquires the salvation-giving Mercy: by confessing his sins, receiving absolution. And what God, acting through the sacramental powers of the Church, forgave – you now dare to drag out in public again, as if before some tribunal; this is a sinful self-will, blasphemous and sacrilegious, and if it is such then it is a thousand-fold more threatening to you with that world of infinitely large numbers, as you say, than it is to us (negative numbers – eternal sufferings of hell)…”

Stanislaw: “You named: atonement, repentance, confession. You forgot: satisfaction of wrongs”.

Bernard: “Forgive me, but that business is solely between me and my confessors. It is, in other words, a sacred secret. Whatever it is that they imposed upon me by virtue of satisfaction of wrongs, I have fulfilled. But what that was is not your business. Or anyone’s. Nobody’s.”

Stanislaw: “It seems that you are mistaken. You mentioned my excellent memory, and therefore do not be surprised that I remember: and I remember that the noble and arch-worshipful Nicholas once spoke at table – I served at the table that night – of the importance of seeking to understand with our human mind the minds of other natures, whether lower than our own, or our equal, that is human, or superior to ours, that is, Divine. Under the influence of that speech, I have decided to kill one of the monastery hens in order to study the shape of its skeleton. And though I was then suddenly seized by pity and stopped whipping her with that stick, she died all the same. I often dreamt about her later: she appeared to me as a skeleton, but a huge one, the size of a calf, sometimes as big as an ox. These dreams stopped when I confessed my crime before you – before you, father Bernard. But do you remember? You rebuked me severely not on account of my cruelty towards that hen, but for the sin of theft of monastic property. You refused me absolution until I make up for my sin. You ordered me to go and find another hen just like it; to find it anywhere; and then bring it into the monastery’s coop. Of course, I decided to go to Niałek, to my grandfather and mother, but since I had many duties in the sacristy at that time, I was unable to get permission to leave the monastery – for what was perhaps two weeks. And that is when the skeleton of the hen grew up in my dreams to the size of an ox. And later, at the mill, I was unable to find a hen that looked exactly the same as the other one. But my grandfather saved me: he bought from someone – in Widzim, I think – paying in silver! – a hen just like it; I returned to the monastery and threw her among the hundreds of others in the coop; and then you gave me absolution; and I have never since dreamt about a hen skeleton; even an ordinary-sized one.

“If I speak about it now, it is in order to…”

Abbot Peter: “We understand; and we thank you. You have here (in order to instruct us, that is, you think, for our benefit) revealed – precisely described, perhaps I should say, betrayed -- though this was not your intention – you have betrayed the secret motives as to why you are here with us now; and why you speak to us in this and not some other manner. Your presumed judgment over us now is just like whacking that hen was then. It comes from the same motives. Having appointed yourself a researcher of human (no longer hen-) nature, you seek to establish what lies in us, under our skin; and for that purpose you are prepared to resort to killing us. But look out! Just as the causes are the same, so the ends will be no different. First, when the rebelled peasants begin to set fire to this house, you will suddenly, bitterly regret our fate; but that regret will come too late: we will burn all the same, even if you should propose to withdraw your investigation; just as the hen died even though you said to yourself: “I should not have wanted to seek the truth about the shape of the skeleton of birds through the act of killing this hen.” Further, just as you dreamt a gigantic, terrifying hen skeleton, so you will dream ours…”

“Until the moment when I receive my absolution!”

“And who would grant you – or anyone – absolution for such a terrible crime?!”