Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Blind Violinist

Dialogue - Steinbrecher and Rutkowski taken from How to Quiet a Vampire, English translation by Stephen M. Dickey and Bogdan Rakić; copyright © 2005 by Northwestern University Press (pp. 49-51). Originally published in Serbian – Kako upokojiti vampira, © 1977 by Borislav Pekić.

(...) “Last year I had to deal with a blind violinist. He was suspected of passing messages to the bandits as he went playing from café to café.”

“Because of an anonymous tip, I assume?”

“No. It was a logical inference. A handicapped person who evokes compassion, with such a wide radius of movement, with unlimited possibilities for contact – you understand, of course.”

I don’t understand, but I say nothing.

“But his playing was fantastic. The stroke of his bow was almost ethereal. Schubert. Schumann. E. T. A. Hoffman. Noccolo Paganini. And – don’t report me – that Jewish duo, Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer! I know because he played his entire repertoire in my office.”

“The messages were, no doubt, coded as musical phases?”

“Don’t be an idiot, Rutkowski. There wasn’t anything in the music, only pure beauty. His hands made the coarse horsehair sing. It wasn’t singing, but chant, as Homer would say. He’d usually performed after an interrogation. We’d exchange roles. Now he would direct the game. But this isn’t what I wanted to talk about. I was thinking of his eyes. Although it had been medically determined that his eyes were dead, they were filled with life, like precious stones: the light of the sky, the reflection of a mirror, the gleam of glass, the flame of a lamp. They’d move, but their movements were false – do you know what I mean, Rutkowski? – phantasmal. They didn’t come from within, but resulted from the refraction of light. There was an unbearable sensation when you looked into them. I assure you. My investigation even suffered on account of this. In the end I was forced to cover them with a black blindfold. Funny, isn’t it? But logical nevertheless, because what use are eyes if they don’t give anything away?”

Hilmar, can you imagine that supernatural scene? The Army Hall on Prince Mihail Square in Belgrade. A granite mausoleum with a broken clock on its tower. Four o’clock in the morning. The offices are empty. All but the most urgent interrogations have been postponed until the following day. The last officials, with the pale, poisonous traces of vigilance on their faces, are plodding down the aseptic corridors and disappearing into the green dawn. The reflector laps in the interrogation cells go out one by one. Only the light bulbs inside their wire-mesh housing flickers on for a bit, like the wicks in hanging cemetery lamps. All sounds are hushed. The slithering song of bullwhips has fallen silent. Nothing can be heard except the ethereal delirium of insects around the remaining sources of light. And then, like a dirge sung after a massacre – Karneval, opus 9. Der Maskenball. A masked phantasmagoria. A fiesta for the dying. Schumann in a fit of madness.

From the depths of a deranged soul, through painful tenderness, a lament rises up to God. In the basement, which has just been scrubbed clean of his blood with stiff brushes, the violinist accompanies the composer in his holy orgy, a black blindfold over his eyes. Like a minstrel in the service of someone else’s despair, the blind man doesn’t forget his own either. The message of the song is that there’s no hope. There’s no salvation, not even in madness. That’s the answer from the heavens. Two artists are addressing the same woman. Ave Maria, all in one breath, in a single scream so painful that its final chords become cheerful, roaming the deserted corridors in search of the Virgin Mother. Standartenführer Steinbrecher sits upright. He’s unbuttoned his uniform. Only one button, the top one, of course. He won’t surrender himself any more than that for art. Dawn thaws his face. Unsettled, he listens to the hopeless dialogue with heaven. Is he doing it as a policeman or a wretch? Is he still in the line of duty or is he himself also trying to come into contact with the loftiest mysteries? Will he also enter into conspiracy for once?

I ask him what happened to the blind violinist?

“We shot him.”

“So he’d been passing messages?”

“No. He was shot as a hostage.” (...)

No comments: