Tuesday, October 31, 2006

New Jerusalem (5th part)

Part of the story which has been originally published in “1999” under the title “Novi Jerusalem”, Ljubljana, Zagreb; pp. 118-119, 65-66 © Borislav Pekic; English translation © Bernard Johnson.

for 1st part HERE

The concept of amusement did not exist. If one uses the mutant sense of the word amusement was to be found exclusively in other people. The only amusements were this other people.

Unity with nature had been complete. It is difficult to express this in terms of a world which rejects nature. Whatever one says wouldn’t be enough to describe absolute unity with nature which was achieved in New Jerusalem and in the whole Gulag. It was not only seen in life in close association with animals (rats, moles, wolfs, fleas, laces), but in their general customs.

They slept in the forest, on ice, in water, with nothing to impede the sensation of direct contact with nature and cosmos. That is undoubtedly facilitated by the wearing of summer clothing in areas where the mercury dropped even to 40°C below zero.

(It showed, incidentally, that they had also overcome the climate, not like their primitive world by a technique of isolating themselves from it, but by the regulation of body temperature by pure will-power, otherwise they would have succumbed to the cold long before reaching any kind of perfection.)

Personal possessions had not existed. For a civilization which rejects materialism this is the only natural stand. Those few, always the same, personal objects that had been located alongside the skeletons - a wooden spoon, an empty, battered tin, a needle made out of fish bone - could have had only a ritual significance.

Maybe the greatest innovation of this civilization was togetherness. The rejection of repellent privacy, pernicious individuality and ruinous egocentrism – sacred concepts of the mutant world – was completely rejected. Their program was to live together. They slept, woke up, reposed, lived exclusively together.

The people of New Jerusalem were never alone. (Except maybe with rats, since there were not enough for all in the same moment.) This philosophy i practice made the ZEKs an indivisible spiritual and corporal community - open to all animals, which lived together and reposed together in the grave.

(All graves that I have discovered were collective.) As a proof, however, that no idealism is perfect – which gives it its conviction – there were also people who lived alone in a relative material comfort. They were stationed outside the wire. I have proof that they were rare, or existing convicts who violated the common norms of the society and therefore, probably in order to be rehabilitated were convicted to that strict privacy and materialistic life.

Dogs are my only mystery. According to tradition they were men’s best friends. In the wires of New Jerusalem I didn’t find any dog’s skeletons. All were among the convicts.


The greatest achievement of this icy proto-civilization was its Para normality. The dream of mankind was incarnated. Whilst a certain lower stratum of life still has to endure the last torments in touch with matter, the upper develops in pure spirituality. The ZEKs’ rudimentary language gave proof of their capacity for paranormal communication.

New Jerusalem’s people spoke little, for they all thought identically, and the thought identically because they all lived identically. (Note: It seems that this supreme ideal satisfies also some historic, the one about brotherhood, liberty, equality.) Speech had always been a means of arriving at a bearable compromise with regard to reality.

As each mutant had his own exclusive reality, speech served as a means of communication with his machines, which maintained that reality. In relation to other people, it was not needed, because they existed for us only theoretically. Our speech disappeared, since there is no other explanation of reality to contradict it.

In New Jerusalem speech had disappeared for the opposite reasons: since everyone’s reality had been the same, there was nothing to be said about it. The reality can only be lived in. ZEKs paranormal powers maybe could be best observed in the effects on nature. Certainly, in order to practice, since there is no other explanation, they moved for miles whole mountains, which an ordinary mortal could not move even an inch, if they pushed it for ages.

The complete absence of art served to confirm without any scientific reservation that in New Jerusalem and in the whole of the Gulag mankind had achieved its archaic goal that life itself should become an artistic category, an artistic skill which would make all others superfluous. On the whole, living there must have been real – art.

The only thing that remained unclear to me was their religious life. I hope nevertheless, that I would be able to understand it as soon as I could decipher one concept which was evidently of a cultural nature. It is the so called “Slop-Drum”, a hollow, cylindrical article which probably expressed the absolute harmony of the community, as well as the harmony of the cosmos, and maybe also the harmony with the cosmos. The universal purpose of it was certain, since it stood in every chamber of New Jerusalem, in the same way as hearth gods and idols protected the homes of the earliest mankind. The secondary proof was the fact that it was not found in any houses of the convict’s colony. It could have meant that the lawbreakers, apart from not being able to participate in communal life, for a time were left without – god.

I had a my disposal an incomplete copy of a book, also found in the northern ice, which was called the ‘Bible’ and was, apparently, the history of some earlier imperfect world which had abounded in clear violence and unclear philosophy. In it were mentioned large number of divinities but the Slop-Drum was not amongst them. I had, however, found New Jerusalem. Of it was written:

“And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the Holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. Having the glory of God, and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal ...”

I, mutant Arno, as a result of this discovery, had been happy and sad. Happy that the prophecy had been fulfilled, sad that it had lasted for such a short time. (...)

The mystery of “sending to the cellar for fourteen days”, had been resolved, he had found a way out of the syllogism which had seemed to be a dead end.

If some generally accepted right – either to happiness of justice, for example – was not realized, it did not have to mean that it was deliberately denied. That would be something quite natural in an imperfect community. In an ideal one, it would have contradicted its ideal nature. As New Jerusalem had undoubtedly been a model for a perfect society, the crown of the best tendencies of the materialistic proto-civilization, the failure to realize some general right could have come about only because objective conditions for it had not existed.

(His expert judgment was that in the bad proto-state there had been hunger, because food had been badly distributed; in the good one, because there had been none. For the people involved, this perhaps had not made a significant difference, since they died in the same way both from the absence of food and because of injustice in its division, but for historical science, it was crucial.)

It was quite simply that a right which was generally accepted, could not be satisfied, because the conditions were not right for it. In this instance, the rats were a limiting condition of happiness because there were not enough of them. From this point onwards, his conclusion flowed in a quite routine way.

It followed logically, that given a scarcity of rats, happiness could be realized only in shifts. It had to shared, even though by the nature and understanding of the ZEK-civilization it was indivisible. It could only be enjoyed from time to time. And only for a limited time.

This kind of happiness of course, because there was evidence that people deprived of the enjoyment of the cellar and the rats, in the meantime, while they were awaiting their turn with the rats, were kept happy in other ways. (...)

A profound feeling for justice, implying that nothing living should be deprived of happiness had been appended to the general principles of the wise civilization of New Jerusalem.

From what he had found out about the past, it was certain that the crucial problem for first Mankind, a problem which in all probability had destroyed it, had been in arriving at an accord between the general right to happiness and the general right to justice. In the eternal ice of the North, these two rights had finally been associated, the contradiction of existence had been resolved, the eternal ideal achieved, the circle finally closed:

in New Jerusalem everyone had the right to his moment with the rats.

for 1st part HERE

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