Category Archives: Literary Technique

A Great Holiday Story from Jim Steranko

From his twitter feed. His website is Prevuemag.

I moved away from home before Christmas when I was 17, taking some clothes, a towel, eating utensils, two dishes,1 and a measuring cup from which to drink2. The cheap, furnished, one-room apartment I found had a worn-out, hideously-green linoleum floor with an eye-torturing pattern;3 I had to stand in the doorway to open the refrigerator4. I had nothing and was nothing. A girlfriend occasionally brought some food. Someone gave me an old radio5. I spent most of a year in the room—which had a bed, a standing wardrobe, and no chairs—6 or in movie theaters, which I broke into and would hide out in until darkness fell. I created another identity for myself7. I feared being outdoors during daylight; there were at least three former associates in the city who would kill me on sight8.

I made furtive trips to the YMCA, where I continued to lift weights and box. One day, across the street, a building was demolished9. In the rubble, I found a solid, plain wooden door, which I hauled back to the apartment, along with two big strap hinges10. Later that week, I found a chest of drawers in a trash pile on the street and appropriated it, too11.By sawing off a third of the door and attaching it with the hinges to the furniture top, I made a drawing board12. I sat on a beat-up bar stool someone had thrown out, even though I couldn’t put my legs under the table13. Bricks elevated the board and a discarded lamp I found on the street illuminated it14. In the isolation of the bleak, little room, I began sharpening my drawing skills. Charles Dickens eat yur heart out!15

Weeks merged into a Kafkaesque mirage of pathetic daydreams & nightmares, where it was difficult to tell where one began & the other ended16. Christmas promised to be particularly desolate. I wanted to get my girlfriend a present, something she least expected: a fur coat17. I found one in a store window priced at $150, which might as well have been $150,00018. I hardly had two nickels to rub together. Some days, all I had to eat was a head of lettuce or a quarter jar of peanut butter19. I drank soda that I cut with tap water to make it last longer. I made tomato soup with ketchup and hot water. Some days, there was nothing20. I needed to look deep into my bag of tricks to survive and score the fur jacket. I found both21.

I borrowed $100 from an acquaintence, which I exchanged at a bank for four new $20s and 20 $1s22. Then, I talked a local printer into giving me a few sheets of blank Strathmore 20-pound bond typing paper (with obvious rag content),23 and began by placing them for a day in a solution of weak coffee to mitigate their brightness24. Meanwhile, the four new $20s were soaked in a saucer of tap water, then split along their edges, lengthwise, with a razor blade25 (each bill is made from three pieces of paper). The result was four fronts and four backs. Four $1 bills were also split26. The coffee treatment gave the bond paper the texture and background color of real greenbacks, and, when they were dry,27 I drew, with pen and India ink, four $20 fronts on one of the sheets28. Matching the minute engraving was difficult and mistakes were not acceptable. It took time and patience, which I had in excess29.

The next step was to paste the four drawn $20 fronts to four real $20 backs30. Then, the four real $20 fronts were pasted to four real $1 backs. Finally, the four real $20 backs were pasted to four $1 fronts31. After they were assembled, I’d wrinkle them, dump them in a bag with some dirt and gravel,32 then put the bag in a laundry clothes dryer to tumble around for 20 minutes33. When the bills were retrieved and straightened, they were almost indistinguishable from the real thing—hand-drawn fronts and backs included34.

That’s when my passing strategy kicked in35.

I took the bogus roll into the busiest department stores during high weekend customer traffic and spotted the youngest cashiers36. I’d buy something for about $25 and offer two drawn $20 with real backs37. I’d get $15 in change, then take the item to customer service for a refund38. The result was $40 in real money. Another pass at a different store netted me $80 authentic39.

Next, I repeated the process with the $20 fronts pasted to $1 backs, being careful to hand the bills to cashiers in face-up position–40 the same way they’re usually stacked in the register41. I counted on them not being turned over in the rush. They weren’t42. Finally, I’d pass the real $20 backs with the $1 fronts back side up to the most harried and inexperienced cashiers,43 those just hired for the Christmas rush44. (Sometimes, l’d buy a $22 item and pay for it with a counterfeit $20, plus two real ones on top.) No bills were ever questioned.45 My $88 investment netted $240 in real cash46 Repaying the $100 loan left me with $140 plus an additional $16–the singles which were not split—for a total of $156,47 just enough to buy the coat and a super-special card for the girl who stood by me during my darkest period48. She loved the coat, the card–and, last but not least, me, too!<<49

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Sentences I Very Much Liked

There is a spoiler to them, not plot-wise, since the plot detail is contained already in the story’s title, but because their aesthetic charge is a culmination, a gorgeous release from a strange, fascinating, still unfinished mystery, “Fallen Dean’s Life, Contradictory to Its Grisly End”, by William K. Rashbaum, Wendy Ruderman and Mosi Secret, with additional reporting by Kitty Bennett and Jeffrey E. Singer.

The sentences are these:

In death, on her bathroom floor, Dr. Chang’s face looked as if she were napping before her morning-court appearance. She wore a silky floral blouse paired with a black jacket. Her hair was neatly coifed. Her lipstick and rouge looked freshly applied, not at all smudged. There was barely a hint of anything askew, save for the shiny wire coiled around her throat like a necklace.

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Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, Arthur Schnitzler’s Dream Story Part Two

PART ONE PART TWO PART THREE

(SPOILERS for both the movie Eyes Wide Shut and “Dream Story”. The translation of “Dream Story” is an excellent one by Margaret Schaefer from the collection Night Games. To supplement some points, stills from the movie have been used. Some of these stills contain nudity. For the usual tiresome reasons, the usual suspect parts of these stills have been distorted.)

MARION, MARIANNE, AND SELFLESS VIRTUE

It is here that the historical context of “Dream Story” intrudes, one absent in Eyes. Fridolin reaches the house of his dead patient to comfort his daughter, Marianne. While there, he fixes on an image which is of key importance for understanding Fridolin’s struggles throughout the story, and one missing from the film. Fridolin lives in Vienna, during the decline of the Hapsburg empire, and after it has already lost a war with the ascendant Prussian state. Where before the weapons and uniforms connoted strength, now they are a reminder of this loss. Throughout the story Fridolin tries to make some claim to heroism through physical force, often fantasizing about duels or fights, a place where he can demonstrate a masculinity that is thwarted in his dealings with women. It is this plight that the picture, mentioned several times in the story, embodies. It is a soldier in uniform, sword out, charging at an invisible enemy:

Her brother was now living somewhere abroad; a picture he had painted when he was fifteen was hanging over there in Marianne’s room. It depicted an officer galloping down a hill. Her father had always pretended not to see the picture at all. But it was a good painting.

The father has disdain for the picture, since he is very much part of the old martial tradition and has contempt for the soft, feminine arts, among them, painting.

As he turned up the gaslight over the desk, his glance fell on the picture of a white-uniformed officer galloping down a hill with a sword drawn against an invisible enemy. It hung in a narrow gilded gold frame and made no better impression than a modest print.

That this theme begins here is not arbitrary either. What Marianne, the daughter, badly needs right now is the display of another noble virtue, simple compassionate empathy. Fridolin, however, is a cold, distant man, more suffused with the rational aspect than the sensual, and he entirely misses the need for what is wanted. This emotional blindness prevents him from helping Marianne, just as it makes him so emotionally clumsy with his wife.

This is the relevant portion where she expresses her extraordinary need for comfort in this moment:

She scarcely heard what he said. Her eyes moistened and large tears streamed down her cheeks; once more she buried her face in her hands. Instinctively he placed his hand on her hair and stroked her head. He felt her body beginning to tremble as she sobbed, first hardly audible sobs, then gradually louder and louder, and finally completely unrestrained. All at once she slipped down from her chair and lay at Fridolin’s feet, clasping his knees with her arms and pressing her face against them. Then she looked at him and with wide-open, suffering, and wild eyes, whispered ardently, “I don’t want to leave here. Even if you never return, even if I’m never to see you again, I want to live near you.”

He was more touched than surprised, because he had always known that she was in love with him or imagined that she was in love with him.

“Please get up, Marianne,” he said softly, bent down to her, and softly raised her head. He thought: of course there is hysteria in this, too. He cast a sideways glance at her dead father. I wonder if he can hear everything? he wondered. Maybe he isn’t really dead. Perhaps every man only seems dead the first few hours after he dies – ? He held Marianne in his arms but kept her a little away from him. Almost unthinkingly he planted a kiss on her forehead, an act which seemed a little ridiculous even to him. Fleetingly he remembered a novel he had read years ago in which a very young man, almost a boy, was seduced, in fact, raped, really, at his mother’s deathbed, by her best friend.

Fridolin is at many points ridiculous in the story, but I think it is here that it becomes really comic. Marianne is devastated in this scene, in great emotional need, and the ridiculous, self-centered Fridolin takes her plea as a statement of long-standing love, a compliment he desperately needs after his wife’s fantasy of infidelity. He follows this with an even more comic one, a fantasy about the possibility that he might be sexually assaulted by this unbalanced woman, who simply wants a hug and words of comfort after the loss of her father.

The movie substitutes something more overtly lustful, Marion (slight variation in name) giving Bill an open mouthed kiss, while whispering, “I love you.” The impulse stems from the death, but demands a reciprocation not in comfort, but in lust as well. This, I think, is one of the first points where the movie transforms Schnitzler’s work into one where sex is made into something alien and threatening. This is lust made frightening and morbid, because it erupts out of tragedy, a crude, degrading demand for solace.

When Marion’s fiancé appears, we get a possible explanation for this outburst.

Bill, Marion, and Carl

Carl and Bill have many similarities in look, and I think there’s a possibility that Marion is momentarily drawn to Bill because he is, in effect, Carl, but one without their shared memories, a man with whom she can start afresh, and walk away from this tragedy rather than reconcile herself with it. The story’s Carl, a professor in philosophy named Dr. Roediger, may be a double for Fridolin, as almost all the men in the story are, but he serves as a reflection of Fridolin’s own coldness. Marianne desperately needs comfort, but she is unable to find any with her own fiancé so she turns to an expected figure of compassion, a medical doctor, but he fails her as well. There is one change from Roediger to Carl that I find puzzling; Roediger is like Fridolin, though devoted instead to purer intellectual pursuits, with Fridolin conceding that he went into the medicine partly for the material comfort. He is, however, very much Fridolin’s intellectual equal or superior, marked by his forthcoming professorship at the University of Gottingen, possibly one of the best institutions in Europe at the time. The movie has this character getting a professorship at the slightly less prestigious University of Michigan. However, Marion’s need for Bill has nothing to do with money or mobility, since, given her apartment, her family clearly has a great deal of money already.

The scene in “Dream” ends with one of the first details that make the narrative more fantastic and dream-like, though we have had no indicator before this that Fridolin was dreaming this. He leaves the house and:

The people he had left behind up there, the living as well as the dead, seemed equally unreal and ghostlike.

SECOND MASQUERADE

Now begins the sequence of events leading up to, and including, the second masquerade, all of which can be considered of one section, where are all the increasingly surreal, dream-like details, where the erotic feeling reaches a crescendo, but remains unfulfilled.

Appropriate to the heightening sensuality of this part, the air on this winter night becomes warmer and warmer. A passage from just after Fridolin has left the house of the dead father:

Here and there tightly clasped couples were sitting on shady benches, as though spring had already arrived and the deceptive warm air was not pregnant with dangers.

Another, later passage notes the increasingly warm night. Note that the source of the air is from a distant pastoral mountaintop, not unlike the setting of Albertine’s sexual dream.

Meanwhile it had become even warmer. The warm wind was bringing an odor of wet meadows and intimations of spring from a distant mountain into the narrow street.

First, there is an encounter with university students. This might be where Schnitzler makes the most merciless fun of Fridolin. The heroic virtue he most needs in the situations of the story, that would be of most benefit to him and others, would be empathy. However, the virtue he most ardently wishes for is strength. He sees the students and they remind him of what he no longer has, or perhaps, what he never had.

In the distance he heard the muffled sound of marching steps and then saw, still quite far away, a small troop of fraternity students, six or eight in number, turning a corner and coming toward him. As the young people came into the light of a streetlamp, he thought he recognized a few members of the Alemannia fraternity, dressed in their blue, among them. He himself had never belonged to a fraternity, but he had fought a few saber duels in his time.

That he feels the need to stress that he fought a few saber duels in his time explains what he sees in this men, strength, military valor, the virtues of a man that can only be demonstrated and acquired through combat. That I do not entirely trust his statement of having actually fought these duels lies with how he, Fridolin, is presented up to this point and afterwards, a rather timid man who constantly protests that he’s not as timid as that.

The passage continues, this encounter reviving the image of the mysterious women of the first masquerade:

The memories of his student days reminded him of the red dominoes who had lured him into the loge at the ball last night and then had so despicably deserted him soon after. The students were quite near now; they were talking and laughing loudly. Perhaps he knew one or two from the hospital? It was impossible to make out their faces accurately in this dim light.

That the students’ faces remain blurry is another element of the dream-like setting, people are out of focus, somehow known but unknown.

He had to stay quite close to the wall in order not to collide with them. Now they had passed by. Only the last one, a tall fellow with an open overcoat and a bandage over his left eye, seemed deliberately to lag behind, and bumped into him with a raised eyebrow. It couldn’t have been an accident. What was he thinking? though Fridolin, and instinctively stopped. The other man took two more steps and also stopped. They looked at each other for a moment with only a short distance separating them. But suddenly Fridolin turned back and went on. He heard a short laugh behind him – he almost turned around again to confront the fellow, but he felt his heart beating strangely – just as it had on a previous occasion, twelve or fourteen years ago, when there had been an unusually long knock on the door while he was with that charming young creature who was always going on about a distant, probably nonexistent fiancé. But in fact it had been only the postman who had knocked so threateningly.

The man’s bandage suggests that he has perhaps been involved in violence, a wound from a pistol duel maybe, experiences Fridolin foolishly covets, but which elude him. This is followed by another comic moment of Fridolin, his memory of once truly being scared as this by the knock of a postman at a lover’s place. I give a full excerpt of Fridolin’s inner monologue, to make clear the writer’s mockery of this man.

He now felt his heart beat just as it had at that time. What is this? he asked himself angrily, and now noticed that his knees were shaking a little. Coward – ? Nonsense! he answered himself. Should I go and confront a drunken student, I, a man of thirty-five, a practicing physician, married, and the father of a child! Formal challenge! Witnesses? Duel! And in the end get a cut on my arm and be unable to work for a few weeks because of such a stupid affair? Or lose an eye? Or even get blood poisoning – ? And perhaps in a week end up in the same state as the man in Schreyvogel Street under the brown flannel blanket [the dead father of Marianne]! Coward – ? He had fought three saber duels and had even been ready to fight a duel with pistols; it wasn’t his doing that the matter had been called off amicably at the end. And his profession! There were dangers, everywhere, anytime – one just usually forgot about them. Why, how long was it since that child with diphtheria had coughed in his face? Only three or four days, no more. That was a much more dangerous thing than a little fencing match with sabers. And he hadn’t given it a second thought. Well, if he ever met that fellow again this affair could still be straightened out. He was by no means obligated to react to such a silly student prank at midnight on his way to or from seeing a patient – he could just as well have been going to a patient – no, he was not obligated at all. On the other hand, if now, for example he should meet that young Dane with whom Albertine – oh, nonsense, what was he thinking? Well – well, really, she might just as well really have been his mistress! It wasn’t any different. Even worse. Yes, just let him cross his path now! Oh, what joy it would be to face him and somewhere in a forest clearing aim a pistol at that forehead with the smoothly combed blonde hair!

Fridolin assures himself that he does indeed possess the qualities of valor and strength, for not only has he been in several duels, he’s had a child cough in his face. The episode ends, significantly, with Fridolin connecting the weakness felt confronting this man and the revelation from Albertine about the young danish man.

In the movie, the episode is outwardly similar, though much less subtle. There is no ambiguous bump, hard stare, and single laugh, but instead a group of students pushing him to the ground and overtly taunting the man, taunting him that he is gay. This is an appropriate jeer for youth, but it misses entirely Fridolin’s crisis. Bill and Fridolin feel unmanned because of their heterosexuality, their failure with their wives, something very different from being insecure about their heterosexuality.

After this, Fridolin walks into an area filled with prostitutes. We have a scene that is more realistic than the solicitation in Eyes, while more unreal as well, with these women as ghost-like as Roederer and Marianne when he leaves their house.

Suddenly he found himself past his destination, in a narrow street in which only a few pathetic hookers were strolling around in their nightly attempt to bag masculine game. Like specters, he thought.

He meets one, we have the recurrence of red, and its association with sex.

One of the girls wandering about invited him to go with her. She was a delicate, still very young creature, very pale, with red-painted lips.

During their brief meeting, there is a mention of the red of her lips, and her age is the same of his wife when they were engaged.

He noticed that her lips were not made up but colored by a natural red, and he complimented her on that.

“But why should I use makeup? How old do you think I am?”

“Twenty,” Fridolin guessed.

“Seventeen,” she said and sat on his lap, putting her arms around his neck like a child.

The meeting progresses, reaching a sexual height, and the red theme intensifies.

She took a red dressing gown, which was hanging over the foot of the unmade bed, slipped into it, and crossed her arms over her breasts so that her entire body was wrapped up.

Nothing, however is consummated. For the reason that Fridolin is not brave enough, again, he is lacking the valor that he truly wants. There is now a movement from red to blue.

She refused his money with such vehemence that he could not insist. She put on a narrow, blue woolen shawl, lit a candle, lit his way, accompanied him down the stairs, and opened the door for him.

A few changes make the movie’s scene no longer about bravery, but loyalty, with the coitus put off because of a phone call from his wife. The prostitute’s clothing embodies the more complex color scheme of the film, a purple worn by no other character, possibly a merging of the red and blue polarities. Where the story has no intimacy between the two, the film features a beautifully shot deep, slow kiss.

After the encounters in both film and story, the protagonist meets an old acquaintance, a former medical student who ended up a musician. The movie introduces this character already at Ziegler’s party, the story only brings him in now, and makes him into something fantastic, giving him the name “Nightingale”. Where the movie tries to treat this as an actual name, calling him “Nick Nightingale”, in the story it is a simple obvious dream symbol, that we accept as part of the story’s dream logic, with the character not an actual acquaintance, but perhaps a composite of many things, partial memories of a past friend and Fridolin’s own ideas. Nightingale is just that, a night-time piano player, a bird that sings at night. He is also a missing or submerged half of Fridolin, someone intuitive, musical, sexual, more successful with women than Fridolin, while Fridolin is closer aligned with the rational and scientific. He is also an exile of this society in a way Fridolin never can be, his speech touched by a “jewish twang” (his first language is Yiddish), and it is this apartness which perhaps made it more difficult to complete medical school.

Nightingale tells the doctor that he will be playing blindfolded at a strange erotic masquerade that night, and Fridolin begs to go with him. The pianist gives him the password, which, significantly, is “Denmark”, the same place where both Fridolin and his wife felt lust for others. The masquerade will be a path to fulfill the doctor’s own secret, submerged desires. The movie’s password is “Fidelio”, a Beethoven opera which Nightingale is familiar with but Bill is not, the opera’s theme of a woman who infiltrates a prison to save her husband, either a possible foreshadowing of the sacrifice that will take place later, or of Alice’s forgiveness of Bill’s attempts at infidelity.

A small important detail in the conversation between Nightingale and Fridolin absent from the movie’s dialogue, stressing again the theme of the doctor’s lack of bravery, the same absence he felt during the confrontation with the students:

“Listen,” said Nightingale after a slight hesitation. “If there is anyone in the world that I would like – but how can I do it -” and suddenly he burst out, “Do you have courage?”

“That’s a strange question,” said Fridolin in the tone of an offended fraternity student.

After arrangements are made, in both versions the doctor visits a shop for the costume necessary for entrance to the masquerade. We have again an indicator in the story that Fridolin moves in a dream world; he is never told exactly what costume he should wear, yet somehow he intuits that it must be a religious one. This might be the key distinction between the masquerade of the movie and story. That of the movie involves a vaguely mystic cult, with an opening ritual where a masked leader circles with a censer and a staff. It’s a variation on the trope of a shadowy cabal, a select one percent of one percent that give wealth and sex a religious veneration. They are a sinister group in opposition to the values of Bill and the viewer. The masquerade of the story, on the other hand, is very purposely in Catholic outfits, of monks and nuns. This is not a critique of the church or religion, but there for the simple reason that Fridolin is catholic. The outfits at the party serve as a metaphor for Fridolin’s internal self, his sense that beneath exteriors of piety and religious virtue are impulses of rabid carnality. Tellingly, Fridolin, for obvious reasons, is given the costume of a pilgrim.

Both movie and story feature a costume store owner with a strange, lustful daughter. The treatment of this character is another key distinction. In the story, she is just one more of a series of young women who are the age of his wife or younger when they were engaged, part of a fantasy of being with his wife before she was his wife. In the story, there are two men of vague description, but a position of authority who are engaged, one assumes, in sexual play with this girl. The men, like others in the story are not apart from Fridolin, but a projection of Fridolin, his own dualities. They are dressed as inquisitors, the outward costume of authority and judgement, though their robes are red, a sexual note, while one wears a wig that is white, a note of purity. The lusts they express are the lusts of Fridolin, for his wife, the young danish girl, the various other young women of the story.

Two men dressed as inquisitors in red robes arose from the chairs to the left and to the right of the table, while at the same moment a graceful little creature disappeared. Gibiser rushed forward with long strides, reached across the table, and grabbed a white wig in his hand, while at the same time a graceful, very young girl, still almost a child, wearing a Pierrette costume with white silk stockings, wriggled out from under the table and ran to Fridolin, who was forced to catch her in his arms.

The movie handles this part very differently, making this lust not Bill’s, but that of grotesques. I think Kubrick here demonstrates something awkwardly crude here, with the two inquisitors made into very obvious, cheap asian sterotypes. By making the inquisitors into simple pedophiles, and men who clearly are not Bill, this moment loses the meaning that exists in the story, and again, makes sex into something like a malevolent outsider that intrudes on the doctor’s life, rather than the doctor’s own impulses.

asian grotesques

Another crucial point is that the girl is dressed as a Pierrette, a clown pining for a lost love. This is an unsubtle mirror of Fridolin, but also an image of a woman in need of compassion, not valor. A helpful illustration can be found here. We see again two of the thematic colors, the white of the face, the red of the lips. It is also a mask, another female surface Fridolin cannot decrypt or see beneath. The girl of the movie has the lustfulness, but not the counterpoint of sadness of this character, making her into a simple perverse type. A Pierrette costume shows up in the second masquerade of the film, possibly worn by Ziegler’s betrayed wife (she stands next to a man who instantly recognizes Bill and gives him a nod), but the reason why a betrayed wife would wear a mask pining for a lost love is obvious.

Pierrette at masquerade

Before he receives his costume, the Pierrette offers a suggestion.

“No,” said the Pierrette with gleaming eyes, “you must give this gentleman a cloak lined with ermine and a doublet of red silk.

Milich's daughter and Bill at costume shop

This makes sense in the context of the story’s color schema, it’s a white outfit of sensual softness with a red interior, a simple image of purity on the outside and carnality hidden inside, a reiteration of Fridolin’s recurring vision of his world. This line is repeated in the movie, but I have difficulty making sense of it given the film’s very different color mapping.

Fridolin receives his costume and mask, which carries a strange perfume. I assume that it is from the orient, another intrusion of the exotic like the “1001 Nights”, one that is outside him yet part of him as well. He feels an urge to stay and protect the girl, yet once again, he finds himself painfully lacking the valor to do so.

Gibisier, standing on a narrow ladder, handed him the black, broad-brimmed pilgrim’s hat, and Fridolin put it on; but he did all this unwillingly, because more and more he felt it to be his duty to remain and protect the Pierrette from the danger that threatened her. The mask that Gibiser now pressed into his hand, and that he immediately tried on, reeked of a strange and rather disagreeable perfume.

Fridolin leaves the store, and we have another discordant note which establishes that we are in a dream world. Where the movie might imply a fantastic quality through heightened colors, here we have a moment that is not a more vivid reality, but one that establishes the dream state because it could not take place in reality. The men who were in the clothes of inquisitors are in a sudden jump cut, now in another formal outfit, black and white tails, with red, sensual, masks.

Pierrette turned around, looked in the direction of the end of the hallway, and waved a wistful yet gay farewell. Fridolin followed her gaze. There were no longer two inquisitors there but two slender young men in coat and tails and white ties, though both had red masks covering their faces.

The doctor sees himself in the mirror and though he does not think of himself as this figure, a pilgrim into the sensual, nor as the man he does not want to be, someone “haggard”, a much older man than the Pierrette, he is very much these men.

She stood in the doorway, white and delicate, and with a glance at Fridolin sadly shook her head. In the large wall mirror to the right, Fridolin caught a glimpse of a haggard pilgrim – and this pilgrim seemed to be him. He wondered how that was possible, even though he knew it could not be anyone else.

In the movie, Bill leaves the costume store and travels far outside the city to vast estate where the masquerade is held. Before the story’s Fridolin leaves, however, he confronts the owner about his daughter:

But Fridolin did not stir from the spot. “You swear that you won’t hurt that poor child?”

“What business is it of yours, sir?”

“I heard you describe the girl as mad – and now you called her a ‘depraved creature.’ Rather a contradiction, don’t you think?”

“Well, sir,” answered Gibiser in a theatrical tone of voice, “aren’t the insane and the depraved the same in the eyes of God?”

Fridolin shuddered in disgust.

“Whatever it is,” he finally said, “I’m sure something can be done. I’m a doctor. We’ll talk about this more tomorrow.”

This is an important dialogue, as much about Fridolin as about the daughter. The doctor is confronted with the idea of his own sexual desire as a lunacy, something irrational, both part of himself, and entirely in opposition to the rational individual that he considers himself to be, as much a pervert and lunatic as this young girl.

Fridolin now leaves, following the carriage of Nightingale, the details having the fantastic quality of a fairy tale. A few fragments from the ride:

They crossed Alser Street and then drove on under a viaduct through dim and deserted side streets toward the outlying district. Fridolin was afraid that the driver of his carriage would lose sight of the carriage ahead, but whenever he stuck his head out of the open window into the unnaturally warm air, he saw the other carriage and the coachman with the tall black silk hat sitting motionless on the box a little distance in front of him.

Suddenly, with a violent jolt, the carriage turned into a side street and plummeted down as though into an abyss between iron fences, stone walls, and terraces.

A garden gate stood wide open. The hearse in front drove on, deeper into the abyss, or into the darkness that seemed like one.

When the doctor arrives at the house, the password is given. Again, we have the image of two men, the duality of Fridolin, it is he himself who is the guardian over this secret place, allowing himself entrance.

He heard a harmonium playing, and two servants in dark livery, their faces covered by grey masks, stood to the left and right of him.

“Password?” two voices whispered in unison. And he answered, “Denmark.”

As said before, the movie features a mystic cult, while the story’s characters are clearly in Catholic clerical dress:

One of the servants took his fur coat and disappeared with it into an adjoining room; the other opened a door, and Fridolin stepped into a dimly lit, almost dark room with high ceilings, hung on all sides with black silk. Masked people in clerical costume were walking up and down, sixteen to twenty persons all dressed as monks and nuns.

This is a contrast with the costumes of the film, which are variations on the historical outfits of a Venetian masquerade. A good contemporary example of such dress is here, “The Ridotto” by Pietro Longhi:

Ridotto of Venice

Eyes Wide Shut

Continuing the religious theme, the music of the story’s masquerade is liturgical:

A woman’s voice had joined the strings of the harmonium, and an old sacred Italian aria resounded through the room.

At a point in the ceremonies of both film and story, the women disrobe:

All the women stood there completely motionless, with dark veils around their heads, face, and necks, and black lace masks over their faces, but otherwise completely naked. Fridolin’s eyes wandered thirstily from voluptuous bodies to slender ones, from delicate figures to luxuriously developed ones – and the fact that each of these women remained a mystery despite hr nakedness, and that the enigma of the large eyes peering at him from under the black masks would remain unresolved, transformed the unutterable delight of going into an almost unbearable agony of desire. The other men were probably feeling what he felt.

A clear difference between the two is the variety of the bodies of these women, these are women that Fridolin has seen on the streets of Vienna that he has fantasized about, that he sees exposed. The bodily perfection of the film’s women is something entirely different, women of a wealthy elysium, the models from an upmarket magazine, unclothed, their bodies like the marble of the bar of a VIP room of an exclusive club, unseen and known to only the elect. There is also the obvious point that if these were women of the streets of New York now re-created in Bill’s dreams, there would be a greater variety of skin tones.

nude woman of the masquerade

The men in the story now lose their robes, and display a range of rainbow colors in costumes of cavaliers, the noble warrior of the painting seen in Marianne’s apartment. They are, disturbingly for Fridolin, simultaneously the virtuous ideal and lusty animals. This contradiction is absent from the film, the martial ideal which existed in Vienna of the time, absent now. In the most infamous part of the film, there is now open and explicit sex, which is not a verbatim reading of the story, where no sex is visible in the house, and perhaps none takes place. The cavaliers and the nude women dance, yet never become closer than that. The events are part of Fridolin’s mind, yet this encounter, like the ones before, is frustrated by his own restraints; were he to imagine such an orgy as takes place in the movie, it would be a sign of a release from his inhibitions.

In both, however, the doctor is now warned by one of the women of the danger he’s in. This passage details the mysterious woman’s warnings, as well as the relative chastity of the event, despite what Fridolin himself deeply wants. A digression about the “wild tunes of the piano” in the following quote: in Eyes, the piano of the masquerade is an archaism, a marker of a society that is cultured, isolated, elite. The piano of “Dream Story” is simple sensual music, something like the torrid song of Tolstoy’s “Kreutzer Sonata”. A true contemporary equivalent for Nightingale in Eyes would be a frontman for a Prince cover band.

“It’ll soon be too late, go!”

He wouldn’t listen to her. “Do you mean to tell me there are no out-of-the-way rooms here where couples who have found each other can go? Will all these people here say goodbye with polite hand kisses? Hardly!”

And he pointed to the couples that were dancing in time with the wild tunes of the piano in the too bright, mirrored adjoining room, white bodies pressed against blue, red, and yellow silk. It seemed to him as though no one was concerned with him and the woman next to him now; they were standing alone in the smei-darkness of th middle room.

“Your hopes are in vain,” she whispered. “There are no small rooms such as you are dreaming of here. This is your last chance. Flee!”

“Come with me.”

She shook her head violently, as though in despair.

He laughed again and didn’t recognize his own laughter. “You’re making fun of me! Did these men and these women come here only to inflame each other and then go away? Who can forbid you to come away with me if you want to?”

In both story and movie, he is now found out and confronted by the partygoers. There is now another crucial change. The film has the doctor remove his mask, but he refuses the humiliating demand of taking off his clothes. The viewer might sympathize with this, few would want to take part in such a degrading exposure, but what takes place in the story is far more apt for the character. He is asked to remove his mask, and this is what he refuses, since this would be admitting that he, Fridolin, had these lusts. In fact, he states explicitly that to remove his mask would be worse than to be naked among these people.

“Off with the mask!” a few demanded simultaneously. Fridolin stretched his arms out in front of him as though for protection. It seemed to him a thousand times worse to be the only unmasked one among so many masks than to be the only one naked among people who were dressed. And with a firm voice, he said, “If one of you is offended by my presence here, I am ready to give him satisfaction in the usual way. But I will not take off my mask only if all of you will.”

Note the “I am ready to give him satisfaction in the usual way”, which would be a duel. He has once again been thwarted in his desire, so he seeks the security of the role of noble warrior.

The next voice, not incidentally, has the quality of a military man.

“Take off the mask!” another commanded in a high-pitched, insolent voice, which reminded Fridolin of the tone of an officer giving orders. “We’ll tell you what’s in store for you to your face, not your mask.”

“I won’t take it off,” said Fridolin in an even sharper tone, “and woe to him who dares touch me.”

Given what we know of Fridolin’s character, we may consider the last line either one more piece of comic ridiculousness, or, in a story made up of dreaming, a moment of heroic fantasy.

The woman is now, appropriately, back in the clothes of a nun to redeem Fridolin:

An arm suddenly reached for his face, as if to tear off his mask, when suddenly a door opened and one of the women – Fridolin had no doubt which one it was – stood there dressed as a nun, as he had first seen her. Behind her in the overbright room the others could be seen, naked with veiled faces, crowded together, silent, a frightened group. But the door closed again immediately.

“Leave him alone,” said the nun. “I’m prepared to redeem him.”

This heroic desire is thwarted, just as his sexual desire is frustrated again and again. Fridolin attempts to block this woman’s sacrifice by finally, allowing his mask to drop, but it is too late, her redemption has been accepted. The movements at the end are properly fantastic, the disrobing, the falling of the hair, the doctor pushed away and out, as if propelled by the waves of a repulsive magnet, a not uncommon sensation of dreams where motions are not our own or have sudden, greater momentum than they ever would in waking life.

“No,” he said, raising his voice. “My life means nothing to me if I have to leave here without you. I won’t ask who you are or where you come from. What difference can it make to you, gentlemen, whether or not you keep up this masquerade drama, even if it’s supposed to have a serious ending? Whoever you may be gentlemen, you surely have other lives than this one. But I’m not an actor, not here or elsewhere, and if I’ve been forced to play a part from necessity, I give it up now. I feel I’ve happened into a fate that no longer has anything to do with this masquerade, and I will tell you my name, take off my mask, and be responsible for all the consequences.”

“Don’t do it!” cried the nun, “You’ll only ruin yourself without saving me! Go!” And turning to the others, she said, “Here I am, take me – all of you!”

The dark nun’s habit dropped from her as if by magic, and she stood there in the radiance of her white body. She reached for her veil which was wrapped around her face, head, and neck, and unwound it. It sank to the floor. A mass of dark hair fell in great profusion over her shoulders, breasts, and hips, but before Fridolin could even glance at her face he was seized by irresistible arms, torn away, and pushed to the door. A moment later he found himself in the entryway. The door fell shut behind him; a masked servant brought him his fur and helped him put it on, and the outer door opend. As though driven by an invisible force, he hurried out.

The film has a woman who offers herself for sacrifice as well, but there are no protests from Fridolin, no attempts at gallantry, no expression of desire for this woman which requires him saving her. The nature of the sacrifice in the two works is different as well; the movie implies that her life will be taken, while in the story, the redemption will take place through this woman being ravaged sexually by the cavaliers: “Here I am, take me – all of you!”. So we again have another paradox of the house. After the partygoers dressed as holy figures, the lust ridden men as cavaliers, a wanton woman who acts virtuously, there is now a holy redemption performed through debauched sex.

Before reaching home, there are a few more details in the story establishing a dream state, not simply of atmosphere or vividness, but fantastic moments entirely alien to reality. Fridolin entering the carriage after leaving the party:

The servant replied with a wave of his hand so little servantlike that any objection was out of the question. The coachman’s ridiculously high top hat towered into the night sky. The wind blew gusts; violet clouds flew across the sky. In view of his experience tonight, Fridolin could not fool himself into thinking that he was free to do anything but step into the carriage, which started off the moment he was inside.

Note the surreal size of the top hat, and the unnatural violet of the clouds. Violet is used previously for the imperial robe of the prince, and later, for the imperial robe of an imaginary queen. Here it elevates the chaotic, the pagan, these violent unruly clouds, to the point of supreme power.

The end of the journey, the carriage doors move entirely on their own, like objects animated by magic, the coachman unseeing of the doctor though knowing exactly where to go and when to depart, like someone spellbound and receiving orders from somewhere else:

The carriage began to jostle, going downhill, faster and faster. Fridolin, gripped with anxiety and alarm, was just about to smash one of the opaque windows when the carriage suddenly halted. Both doors opend simultaneously as if through some mechanism, as though Fridolin was sarcastically being given the choice between the right and the left door. He jumped out of the carriage; the doors closed with a bang – and, with he coachman paying not the slightest attention to Fridolin, the carriage drove away across an open field into the night.

At this point in both stories, the doctor returns home, where his wife wakes from her sleep in a burst of laughter, then tells him about her troubling dream.

ALBERTINE’S DREAM, ALICE’S DREAM

Beside the changes to the masquerade, from one in catholic costume to that of a mystic sect, those made to the dream of the doctor’s wife are the most important in the migration from story to film. The movie’s dream is in many ways much simpler, though carrying a common seed: that while Bill moves through his own dream world, tantalized by images he creates from his own past memories, his wife carries an image of him as well, traveling in her own world with this man, then betraying him. Alice dreams of a pagan place, an empty beautiful field, where she and Bill have sex before he disappears suddenly. She then has sex with the naval officer she fantasized about, before she is suddenly in an orgy among thousands of men and women, where she has sex with countless more men. When her husband returns she laughs at the way she betrayed him, and it is in the middle of her laughter at his humiliation that she awakes. The dream parallels what has taken place with Bill, though her fantasies are consummated while his are not. He avoids the degradation of being forced to disrobe at the masquerade, only to be humiliated in his wife’s dream. The shame of disrobing that he avoids at the house is of no importance in his wife’s dream, where she and her lovers are naked, and he may well be clothed.

ALICE
We were in a deserted city…and our clothes were gone. We were naked…and I was terrified…(ALICE starts sobbing)…and I felt ashamed. Oh, God…and I was angry because I thought it was your fault. You rushed away to go find clothes for us. As soon as you were gone, it was completely different. I felt wonderful. Then I was lying in a beautiful garden…stretched out naked in the sunlight…and a man walked out of the woods. He was the man from the hotel, the man I told you about. The naval officer. He stared at me…and then he just laughed. He just laughed at me.

BILL
But that’s not the end…is it? Why don’t you tell me the rest of it?

ALICE
It’s too awful.

BILL
It’s only a dream.

ALICE
He was kissing me…and then we were making love. Then there were all these people around us…hundreds of them, everywhere. Everyone was fucking. And then I…I was fucking other men. So many…I don’t know how many I was with. And I knew you could see me in the arms of all these men…just fucking all these men. I wanted to make fun of you…to laugh in your face. And so I laughed as loud as I could. That must have been when you woke me up.

Albertine’s dream of the original story plays on the themes of christian and heroic virtue that are prominent in the story’s masquerade, where the partygoers dressed in clerical outfits denoting christian virtue, their carnal selves underneath, a tainted woman demonstrating a heroic bravery that Fridolin does not.

Her dream is set in a pre-christian pagan place where a virtuous act, his fidelity to his wife, isn’t heroic, but laughed at as weakness. It is all deeply upsetting for Fridolin, a man who wishes to hold onto the idea of a rational, moral universe. The dream opens with her near a city both European and that of the East, a union of their world and that of the “1001 Nights”:

“I didn’t see this city, but I knew it was there. It was far below and was ringed by a high wall – a really fantastical city that I can’t describe. It was neither an oriental city nor an old German one, exactly – rather it was first one and then the other. In any case, it was a city buried long ago.”

It is a city buried and behind a wall, a place of submerged, hidden carnal urges.

She gets dressed and Fridolin arrives, now both in the clothes suitable for the roles Fridolin wishes for them, a princess and a virtuous warrior whose appearance connotes his valor and purity, clothed in gold, silver, and a dagger. Note the galley slaves which bring Fridolin to Albertine, just as in the “1001 Nights”, and that among the costumes are oriental ones.

I opened the wardrobe to look, and instead of the wedding dress a great many other clothes were hanging there – costumes, actually, like in an opera, splendid, oriental. Which of these should I wear for the wedding? I wondered. At that point the wardrobe suddenly fell shut or disappeared, I can’t remember exactly. The room was very bright, but outside the window it was pitch black…All of a sudden you were there – galley slaves had rowed you here – I saw them disappear into the darkness. You were dressed in splendid clothes, in gold and silver, with a dagger in a silver sheath at your side, and you lifted me down out of the window. I too was now gorgeously dressed, like a princess.

Fridolin now disappears, Albertine is joined by the man from Denmark she lusted after, they finally consummate her fantasy and are suddenly surrounded by other couples in carnal union. Albertine is not sure if she has sex with other men after this, but this is not the point which disturbs Fridolin, but rather what takes place upon his return:

Then, while you stood in the courtyard, a young woman with a crown on her head and a purple cloak appeared at one of the high arched windows between red curtains. She was the queen of this country, and she looked down at you with a stern and questioning gaze.

She was holding a piece of parchment in her hand – your death sentence, in which both your guilt and the reasons for your conviction were written. She asked you – I didn’t hear the words, but I knew it – whether you were prepared to be her lover, in which case your death sentence would be canceled. You shook your head, refusing.

Then the queen moved toward you. Her hair was loose and flowed over her naked body, and she held out her diadem to you – and I realized that she was the girl from the Danish seashore that you saw one morning naked on the ledge of a bathing hut. She didn’t say a word, but the meaning of her presence, yes, of her silence, was to find out whether you would be her husband and the ruler of the country. Since you refused her once more, she suddenly disappeared, and I saw at the same time that they were erecting a cross for you – not down in the courtyard, no, but on the flower-bedecked, infinitely broad meadow where I was resting in the arms of my lover in the middle of all the other lovers.

You climbed higher and higher, the path became wider as the forest receded on both sides, and then you were standing at the edge of the meadow at an enormous, incomprehensible distance from me. But you greeted me with smiling eyes, as a sign that you had fulfilled my wish and had brought me everything I needed: clothing and shoes and jewelry. But I thought your gestures stupid and senseless beyond belief, and I was tempted to make fun of you, to laugh in your face – because you had refused the hand of a queen out of loyalty to me, had endured torture, and now came tottering up here to a horrible death. I ran toward you, and you toward me faster and faster – I began to float in the air, and you did too, but suddenly we lost sight of each other, and I knew: we had flown past each other. Then I hoped that you would at least hear my laughter, just at the moment when they were nailing you to the cross. And so I laughed, as loudly and shrilly as I could.

Fridolin acts more virtuously than he did in his own travels, yet he is considered a fool for not surrendering to his own carnality, by all those in the field, by his wife. The story may have a setting like that of the “1001 Nights”, but it is one where women have power, with a female leader wearing a crown and an imperial robe.

Fridolin wishes to have the virtues of a bygone time, courage and martial valor, yet the lack of these virtues are not the cause of difficulties between him and his wife. The gallantry one associates with the figure of the valorous man makes him a figure of ridicule in his wife’s dream. Fridolin returns from travels where the sexual self underneath the most virtuous exterior is revealed, to a home that he wishes to be a sanctum from such hungers, only to be confronted by a wife who reveals that she thinks even these external virtues are ridiculous. She dreams of Fridolin dying as a christian martyr, a man on a cross, and thinks this hilarious.

Fridolin’s sense of himself and his world is shaken. A later passage captures this vertigo.

After finishing his consulting hours he stopped to check on his wife and child, as he usually did, and ascertained, not without satisfaction, that Albertine’s mother was visiting and that the little girl wa having a French lesson with her governess. And only when he was on the stairs again did he realize that all this order, all this regularity, all this security of existence was nothing but an illusion and a deception.

Both Fridolin and Bill now go back and examine each part of the night before: the grieving daughter, the prostitute, the costume shop, the masquerade. A search for answers, but also the possibility of consummating what went unconsummated, a reprisal for his wife’s dream infidelity.

PART ONE PART TWO PART THREE

All images and dialogue excerpts copyright Warner Brothers.

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Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, Arthur Schnitzler’s Dream Story Part Three

PART ONE PART TWO PART THREE

(SPOILERS for both the movie Eyes Wide Shut and “Dream Story”. The translation of “Dream Story” is an excellent one by Margaret Schaefer from the collection Night Games. To supplement some points, stills from the movie have been used. Some of these stills contain nudity. For the usual tiresome reasons, the usual suspect parts of these stills have been distorted)

INVESTIGATIONS

The doctor in film and story goes to the costume shop, meeting again the owner and his daughter. In both, the doctor returns the costume. Where the film emphasizes the amount paid and the mask gone missing, the story does not note the absence of a mask at all. It then returns to a moment absent from the film, Fridolin’s attempt the night before to help out the mentally ill daughter.

“I am also here,” said Fridolin in the tone of a police magistrate, “to have a word with you about your daughter.”

Herr Gibiser’s nostrils twitched – whether it was out of discomfort, scorn, or annoyance was difficult to tell.

“What do you mean?” he asked Fridolin in a similar tone of voice.

“Yesterday,” said Fridolin, with the outstretched fingers of one hand resting on the office desk, “you said that your daughter was not quite normal mentally. The situation in which we found her does seem to indicate that. And since chance made me a participant or at least a spectator of this strange scene, I would very much like to advise you to consult a doctor about her.”

Fridolin is complicit in this scene, because he felt lust for this girl. There is now an “unnaturally long” penholder, which may be a phallic sign, and an indicator that we remain in a dream world.

Gibiser, twirling an unnaturally long penholder in his hand, surveyed Fridolin with an insolent air.

“I suppose the doctor himself would be so good as to take the treatment upon himself?”

“I beg you not to put words in my mouth that I haven’t said,” Fridolin answered sharply.

The store owner’s barb finds its mark, for if his daughter is guilty of depraved feeling and in need of a cure, then so is the doctor.

At that moment the door that led to the inner room opened, and a young man with an open coat over an evening suit stepped out. Fridolin knew immediately that it could be none other than one of the inquisitors of the night before. No doubt he came from Pierrette’s room. He seemed taken aback when he caught sight of Fridolin, but immediately regained his composure, greeted Gibiser casually with a wave of his hand, lit a cigarette, for which he used a match lying on the desk, and left the flat.

“So that’s how it is,” remarked Fridolin with a contemptuous twitch of his mouth and a bitter taste on his tongue.

“What do you mean?” asked Gibiser with perfect equanimity.

“So you changed your mind, Herr Gibiser,” said Fridolin, letting his eyes wander about significantly from the entrance door to the door from which the judge had come, “changed your mind about notifying the police.”

“We came to another agreement, Herr Doctor,” remarked Gibiser coldly, and stood up as though an interview had ended. Fridolin started to go. Gibiser obligingly opened the doors, and in an affectless manner he said, “If the Herr Doctor should want anything else…it needn’t necessarily be a monk’s robe.”

A variation of all this is in the film, though the small changes alter the implications. What takes place in the story is an absurdist rendering of Fridolin’s own conflicting feelings of lust and protectiveness for his own daughter, who will one day be courted by beaus driven by his same impulses. He wishes to protect this young girl, yet he also lusts for her, and she feels this back. Fridolin condemns the store owner, yet this man is not much different from other fathers, who must accommodate themselves to the sexual lives of their children. Another crucial point is that before there were two inquisitors, now only one leaves. This, I think, has to do with these men expressing a duality, with one half, the rational, moral, restrained part, leaving the daughter’s room, while the carnal side remains.

The store owner of the film is made into something simpler and more sinister, a venal man who pimps out his daughter to the men of the night before, and speaks of an arrangement that can be made with Bill as well. Again, the father of the story and the inquisitors are both expressions of Fridolin, whereas the men of the movie are made into something entirely other, part of a disturbing sexual world that Bill has intruded into, but does not belong to.

MILICH [the store owner]
Would you like to say hello to Dr. Harford?

DAUGHTER extends hand. BILL gently shakes it.

DAUGHTER
Hello.

The TWO ASIAN MEN emerge from the back of the store.

FIRST ASIAN MAN
Thank you, Mr. Milich. I’ll call you soon.

MILICH
Goodbye, gentlemen. Merry christmas and happy new year.

FIRST ASIAN MAN
And you too.

MILICH
Well, Dr. Harford, here is your receipt.

DAUGHTER smiles radiantly.

MILICH
I’m tearing up your deposits and thanks for the business.

BILL
Mr. Milich, last night…you were going to call the police.

MILICH
Things change. We have come to another arrangement. And by the way, if the good doctor should ever want anything again…anything at all…

MILICH meaningfully pulls his daughter close to him. A close-up of the DAUGHTER, still smiling radiantly.

MILICH (V.O.)
It needn’t be a costume.

Another of Kubrick’s masterful shots, where we see the daughter, the light fully capturing her beauty and radiant smile, yet at the same time there being an eerie hollowness to the image, the child as wind-up doll.

Storeowner's daughter smiling

The doctor continues his search for answers by going to Nightingale’s hotel. There is again the contrast between the brevity of the scene on the page, and its length in the movie, though both give much the same information.

A tough-looking concierge with sly, red-rimmed eyes, ready to give information to the police, willingly gave Fridolin information. Herr Nightingale had driven up around five o’clock in the morning in the company of two other gentlemen who had disguised their faces, perhaps intentionally, with scarves wrapped high around their heads and necks. While Nightingale was in his room, the gentlemen had paid his bill for the last four weeks, and when he didn’t appear after half an hour, one of the men had personally brought him down. All three had then driven to the North Train Station. Nightingale had appeared to be very agitated – well, why not tell the whole truth to a man who seemed so trustworthy? – and, yes, had tried to slip the concierge a letter, which however the two men had immediately intercepted. Any letters for Herr Nightingale – so the men had explained – would be picked up by a person properly authorized to do so.

There was nothing to be done about Nightingale for the time being. They had been extremely cautious and probably had good reason for it.

Fridolin’s caution here does not reflect a simple physical cowardice, but his own reluctance to look too deeply into himself. If we consider the world he travels in a dream world, one he himself constructs, with the second masquerade his most hidden inmost desires, then what takes place now should be seen as his own reaction to these desires. Where the two inquisitors were reflections of himself, so too, I believe, were the two servants who gave him entrance to the house, his own self letting him peer deeply at his own carnality, and the two men who now appear in the story to take Nightingale away are a projection of himself as well, wanting to get rid of any trace or connection to these desires. The letter that the pianist tries to pass but is unable to, is the unconscious trying to transmit a message to the conscious mind that it is unable to, whether because the very nature of the message cannot be understood by the rational, conscious mind, or because such messages are suppressed.

Given that the movie has removed much of the fantastic and metaphorical cues of the story, when the film’s concierge provides this information, these men become more “real”, frightening men who act on behalf of a secret society that hosted the night’s masquerade. When they take Nightingale, his face is bruised, a detail of violence absent in the original text, a sign of intimidation unnecessary in the original text. A countervailing note is the way the concierge delivers the monologue in a way that sometimes seems frivolous or mocking, as if it’s a performance that he’s been paid to give, the intent to make Bill believe a false story of brutality so he’ll stop asking questions. In one of the few moments where the camera is not with Bill or Alice, it returns to the concierge after has left, and we are given an ambiguous moment of his nervousness, though whether he’s unsettled about his performance achieving the desired intent, or the repercussions of having given this information, is left unanswered.

Concierge after Bill leaves

Later, the doctor contacts Marion / Marianne to cheat with her in order to pay back his wife for her betrayal. This is a very short moment in the film, with a phone call to the woman’s house answered by the fiancé, after which Bill hangs up. It is an extended scene in the story, a moment which best conveys that the virtue most wanted from this man is empathy, rather than heroic valor, and this lack is what hurts him and those around him. It might be the most upsetting passage in the story, and makes clear that this a woman not sick with infatuation but crushing grief.

He rang the bell, and Marianne herself opened the door. She was dressed in black, and around her neck she wore a black hade necklace that he had never seen on her before. Her face became slightly flushed.

“You’ve made me wait a long time,” she said with a feeble smile.

“Forgive me, Fraulein Marianne, but I had a particularly busy day.”

She sat motionless, and tears streamed down her cheeks. He saw them without sympathy, more with impatience; and the thought that she might in the next minute perhaps be lying at his feet once more, repeating her confession of yesterday, filled him with fear. And since she said nothing, he stood up brusquely. “much as I regret it, Fraulein Marianne-” He looked at his watch.

She raised her head, looked at Fridolin, and her tears kept flowing. He would gladly have said a kind word to her, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

She didn’t move, as though she had heard neither his congratulations nor his farewell. He held out his hand to her, but she did not take it, and he repeated almost in a tone of reproach, “Well, I sincerely hope that you’ll keep me posted about your health. Goodbye, Fraulein, Marianne.”

She sat there as if turned to stone. He left; for a second he stopped in the doorway, as if he were giving her a last opportunity to call him back. But she seemed rather to turn her head away from him, and he closed the door behind him.

Both Bill and Fridolin visit the house where the masquerade took place. The location and type of house in both works is of great importance. Eyes gives us a vast mansion on an estate far from the city. It is in all respects distant from the doctor’s life, in positions both social, economic, and geographic, its hosted perversities far from his own life as well.

Mansion of the masquerade

This contrasts with the source material, which aptly makes its masquerade house an undistinguished one, much like many others, in the heart of the city, with the bustle of children and families close by.

It was a quiet little street. In one front garden there were rose bushes carefully covered with straw; in the one next to it there stood a baby carriage; a boy, dressed from head to foot in a blue wool knit, was romping about and a young woman was looking down from the first-floor window, laughing. Next came an empty lot, then an uncultivated fenced-in garden, then a small villa, next a lawn, and then, no doubt about it – there was the house he was looking for. It didn’t look grand or magnificent in the least. It was a one-story villa in modest Empire style and obviously renovated not very long ago.

In both cases, he receives a warning to cease his inquiries. The threat in the movie feels more literal, an actual warning from a secret society that he is in physical danger if he continues his questions. The alert in the story feels closer to an existential warning, that his questions into what took place is an investigation into his own desires, and may well endanger his own sense of self.

Now the doctor tries to visit the prostitute of the night before, with him discovering that she has AIDS in the movie and syphilis in the story. He goes to a café casually flips through a newspaper before reading that the night before a beauty queen overdosed on drugs, the movie’s plot, or that a baroness staying at a hotel committed suicide, the plot point of the story.

Shortly after coming across the story, there is this passage:

He would see her; no one on earth could stop him from seeing the woman who had died because of him; indeed, who had died for him. He was the cause of her death – he alone – if this was the same woman. Yes, it was she. Returned to the hotel at four o’clock in the morning in the company of two men! Probably the same ones who had brought Nightingale to the train station a few hours later. They didn’t have a lot of scruples, those two!

Fridolin very much wants to transform what has taken place, a messy, unsuccessful search for sex, into a gallant quest. The two men who returned this woman to the hotel are those who took Nightingale away, with his own self, his own mind eliminating all evidence of this inconvenient desire.

His investigation winds near its close as Fridolin and Bill now travel to the morgue to see the body, under the suspicion that it is the woman of the night before.

ADLER AND ZIEGLER

This section of the plot, a conclusion to the search for answers about the masquerade is a brief episode in “Dream Story” and a much lengthier sequence of the movie. That it is a briefer moment of the former does not dilute its importance. Fridolin goes to the morgue to try and see first-hand the body of the suicide and confirm that it is the woman of the night before. There, he runs into Adler, a former fellow student, the only male character of prominence other than Nightingale, and like Nightingale, a variation and double of Fridolin. Where Nightingale abandoned medicine for music, becoming more intuitive and sensual, Adler is at the other polarity, a cold, clinical doctor who works beside corpses, comfortable in his isolation of working nights among the dead. It might be imagined that Fridolin, with his lack of empathy, his aversion to intimacy, will become more and more like Adler as he grows older.

Fridolin looks among the bodies of the morgue with a flashlight and finds a possibility.

Was it her body – that wonderful, voluptuous body for which only yesterday he had felt such agonizing desire? He saw a yellowed, wrinkled neck; he saw two small and yet already somewhat limp girl’s breasts between which – as though the work of decomposition was already beginning – the breastbone already stood out with terrible clarity from the pale skin; he saw the rounding of her brown-tinged abdomen; he saw how the well-formed thighs now opened indifferently from a dark and now meaningless shadow; saw the kneecaps, slightly turned outward, the sharp edges of the calves and the slender feet with the toes turned inward.

The woman has a hold on him for her extraordinary virtue in pledging to save him, yet his obsession with her is also intertwined with her physical form. Now this body is entering the stages of decay, and that desire is lost. The obsessive feeling he has had, for the image of this woman, nude except for a nun’s veil, and the decomposition he is confronted with, is part of the same theme of the distance between the image of the material and the material itself which is throughout the book, whether it is the memory of the danish girl for Fridolin, the officer for Albertine, the image Albertine holds of him in her dream, the image of Albertine that Fridolin holds in his. The image of this woman, of that moment in the masquerade, will persist, even while this decays. There is a subtle point made here, I think, about Fridolin’s marriage to Albertine, a union whose bond lies with how the two saw each other during their courtship, blind to how each other is now. Fridolin confronts the decay of this woman’s body, but also the distance between his image of Albertine and how she is, as well as what he is now and the vision of him Albertine once held onto.

This last point made me implied as well when Fridolin begins to look through the bodies of the morgue and realizes that he has no idea what the woman’s face looks like, that he has in fact been picturing his own wife as this woman.

He only knew her body – he had never seen her face, had only been able to catch a hasty glimpse of it at the moment he was leaving the ballroom last night, or rather had been chased out of the ballroom. He realized that he had not thought of this fact before because, up to this moment, in the last few hours since he had read the notice in the newspaper, he had envisaged the suicide, whose face he didn’t know with Albertine’s face. In fact, as he now shuddered to realize, it had been his wife that he had imagined as the woman he was seeking.

Throughout the story, Fridolin has always suffered from a lack empathy, a too cold distance from others. Now, for this dead woman, this distance disappears. It begins when he first asks Adler to see the corpses in the morgue. My bold for emphasis.

“I have a feeling that this so-called Baron Dubieski is someone I knew casually years ago. And I’d like to know if I’m right.” [Fridolin's line]

“Suicidium?” [Adler]

Fridolin nodded. “Yes, suicide,” he translated, as though he wished to restore the matter to a personal plane.

Then, when he comes across the possibility, he is moved by feelings he has not known as a doctor:

The head was hanging down on one side; long, dark strands of hair feel almost all the way to the floor. Instinctively Fridolin reached out his hand to put the head in its proper position, but with a dread which, as a doctor, was otherwise foreign to him, he hesitated.

He moves, arguably, out of a place of strict science, to a place of magic. The body becomes infested with a subtle anima. Fridolin sees life stirring in the eyes, and he moves closer and closer to look into them.

Rigid as they were, it seemed to him that the fingers tried to move, to seize his; yes, it seemed to him as though from underneath the half-closed eyelids a vague and distant look was searching for his eyes, and as though pulled by a magic force, he bent over her.

Suddenly, he heard a voice whisper behind him, “What on earth are you doing?” [this is Adler speaking]

The use of the phrase “magic force” is not, I think, an idle one. A sort of magic starts here, Fridolin looks into the eyes, achieving something closer to empathy than at any point in the story, and then, the spell is broken by Adler, a cold rationalist at the pole furthest from magic, sensuality, sex.

The magical trance has ended. He moves back to being the clinician of the story, and this is a regrettable choice, returning him to a more limited world. Note also the “pedantry”, a brief moment where he must re-acquire the instincts of an unempathetic man. My bolds for the key phrase.

He freed his fingers from those of the dead body, clasped the slender wrists, and with great care, even a certain pedantry, he laid the ice-cold arms alongside the trunk. And it seemed to him as though she had just now, just now this moment, died.

Now, one of the most important passages of the story:

“Well – was she the one?” [asked Adler]

Fridolin hesitated a moment, then nodded wordlessly and was hardly aware that his affirmation might in fact be a falsehood. Because whether the woman who was now lying in the morgue was the same one he had held naked in his arms twenty-four hours ago while Nightingale played his wild piano, or whether the dead woman was someone else, a stranger he had never met before, he knew: even if the woman whom he had sought, desired, perhaps loved for an hour was still alive and no matter how she now lived her life – he knew that what was lying behind him in that arched room, illuminated by the light of flickering gas flames, was a shadow among shadows, dark, without meaning or mystery like all shadows – and meant nothing to him, could mean nothing to him except the pale corpse of the past night, doomed to irrevocable decay.

The paradoxical image of sensuality and virtue persists, will continue to persist for all his life, whether or not the woman here was the source, is now of no consequence.

Eyes has a shorter morgue scene, entirely without dialogue, with Bill shown the beauty queen while a sleepy doctor stands by, Bill moving closer and closer to the woman before he stops himself. The nude woman’s body, like that of all the female nudes in the film, is perfect, without any sign of decay or flaw. Bill then receives a call to meet with Ziegler, the doctor who hosted the opening party, for urgent reasons.

Ziegler is entirely from whole cloth, absent from the original story, and not Adler or an Adler variation at all. He strikes me as very true in every note, a wealthy arrogant doctor of New York City, callous and grasping enough to have sex with a woman in the bathroom of a party his wife is at, a man who is casual in his cruelness, entirely blind to how his malice is seen by others. The character has all these qualities, yet he doesn’t come across as a stock villain, but rather, a very recognizable man, and in part this is in tribute to the excellent performance by the late Sidney Pollack. A supplemental point: though Bill and Ziegler suffer from wayward lust, the viewer does not see one as a variation of the other, again making the movie about a man intruding on the world of disturbed sexual desire, rather than a story about the exploration of his own.

Ziegler at pool table

Ziegler reveals he was at the second masquerade, a point underscored by the way his parlor feels like a light re-shuffling of elements of the rooms of the masquerade house, such as the lined bookshelves, the oil portraits, the similar carpet pattern, the red of the pool table at center like the red of the circle in which the ceremony is performed. He makes ambiguous warnings, telling Bill that the people at the masquerade are incredibly powerful so he should stop asking questions, but that no harm has come to Nightingale, and though the beauty queen is the woman with the blue headdress, she died of a simple overdose. Ziegler tells Bill that there was no sacrifice, it was just a ruse to keep him from talking. What’s interesting is the way the movie takes Fridolin’s own doubts about the sacrifice, his wish that there be no sacrifice at all and he not need to take up any quest, and places them in the mouth of Ziegler.

A secret society? Well, yes, it certainly was secret. But they probably knew one another. Were they aristocrats, perhaps members of the court? He thought of certain archdukes who might easily be capable of such pranks. And the women? Probably…recruited from brothels. Well, that was not by any means certain. At any rate, they were very attractive. But what about the woman who had sacrificed herself for him? Sacrificed? Why did he persist in imagining that it was really a sacrifice? It had been an act. Of course, the whole thing had been an act. He should have been grateful to have gotten out of the scrape so lightly. Well, why not? He had preserved his dignity. The cavaliers must have recognized that he was nobody’s fool. And she must have realized it in any case. Very likely she had cared more for him than for all these archdukes or whatever they were.

While whether or not to believe in the sacrifice still lies with the doctor, Fridolin’s need to doubt her virtue is because of the codes of virtue and gallantry of his own time, codes by which Fridolin has failed. That the sacrificed woman had met such codes, giving herself up to save another, while Fridolin lacked the bravery to do so, is something he does not or cannot accept.

A further discussion of the sacrifice in Eyes requires a separate section to look at the movie’s own themes, implanted and separate from those in the original story.

FIVE KISSES, CHRISTMAS, PASSWORDS

Eyes has several concerns not in the book, one being a man attempting communion with women and failing throughout. This is something different from Fridolin’s lack of empathy, as Fridolin makes no such attempts. That Fridolin wishes to act gallantly or be seen bravely, is for his own benefit, that he may demonstrate and be observed having this virtue, rather than for any attempt at a deeper contact with the women of the story.

There are five kisses in the movie, absent from the story, each an attempt at this contact, each for different reasons a failure.

Bill kissing Alice

A kiss that Alice breaks off, before giving herself a look in the mirror, a point of self-analysis and self-doubt. Perhaps asking herself, given all this happiness, my great husband and daughter, why am I unhappy about much of my life? This question might be tied to her own feelings about having to stay at home and take care of their child while her husband goes to work.

Marion kisses Bill

A deep kiss from Marion which Bill rejects, a kiss made out of desperate need for comfort, which Bill cannot reciprocate. When he does call her house to perhaps follow up on the promise of this kiss, it is for the petty reason of striking back at his wife.

Domino kisses Bill

A long, deep kiss which might be a communion between these two people except for a detail. Domino is a prostitute, and she makes this kiss as a servant might to a subject. The camera pulls back and we see that she is bending over and down to kiss Bill.

Domino bending down

This moment is interrupted by his wife’s phone call.

Masked woman and Bill kiss

There is the lengthy kiss at the masquerade between Bill and the woman with the blue headdress. Yet this also is a failure, it’s entirely a ceremonial one, their lips never touch because of the masks.

He remains obsessed with this woman, finds her body at the morgue, and drawn closer and closer, he does simply look into the woman’s eyes, as in “Dream”, but moves towards a kiss, before breaking away, knowing it is now too late, he in the world of the living, her in the world of the dead. In many ways, she is the woman he feels closest to, other than his wife, and the possibility of his reconciling and finding communion with his wife, is left an open and ambiguous point by the film’s end, with this woman having perhaps sacrificed her life for the doctor, and his wife having made the sacrifice of forgiving him for his attempts at infidelity.

woman at the morgue

Another theme absent from the story but prominent in the movie is the idea of society as partitions closed off by wealth and privilege, which require the equivalent of passwords to gain access. Some of these passwords Bill has, and some he lacks. In order to gain access to the costume shop at night he must show his doctor’s ID and have the extra money to pay the gratuity. He has the money for a long cab ride, and an extra hundred dollars for the cab to wait. The second masquerade, obviously, has a password which he knows, and a second trick password: the code that there is no second password. He uses his doctor’s ID to get information at the diner, to find out what took place from the concierge, and to gain access to the morgue.

That there are, literally, gates through which he can and cannot pass is made clear through two similar images.

Bill at gate of costume shop

Bill at gate of estate

The first is the gate of the clothing store, by which he gains access through the wealth and identification of a doctor. The second gate is that of the estate of the masquerade, which remains closed.

That his movement is restricted by his economic place, rather than anything inherent in his character, is made clear in the scene from Ziegler’s parlor, where he makes clear how they knew right away he did not belong, even though he had a costume and password for the event:

BILL
Was it the second password? Is that what gave me away?

ZIEGLER
Yes, finally. But not because you didn’t know it. It’s because there was no second password. Of course, it didn’t help a whole lot that those people arrive in limos and you showed up in a taxi.

That the second password doesn’t exist, that ignorance of the fact is what marks those in the society and those without, is specific to the movie, not to be found in the story. It further conveys the exclusivity of this group and that it is ultimately a rigged game, that the expected method of answering a riddle to gain entry is pointless: the very fact that you think there is a riddle makes clear that you should not enter. Further, no second password is necessary because it can already be seen whether you should be at this place based on external cues, like a cab for a ride instead of a limo.

So, Bill has stumbled upon a corrupt enclave of extraordinary wealth, all powerful, at the heart of society. Bill may be able to travel to places restricted to some of us because of his medical license, but Ziegler can travel to those places too, as well as many more forbidden to Bill, so this is not a recognition of the benevolence associated with a doctor, but recognition of power.

These themes are all intertwined with the last one indigenous to the movie, the setting of the whole story at christmas. The holiday marks, of course, the birth of a savior who sacrifices himself for the redemption of man. This context, I believe, is not an arbitrary one, but an attempt to move this idea of a virtuous sacrifice from a religious context, which a jew, a muslim, any atheist or skeptic might question as having taken place, to a secular one, a woman having actually sacrificed herself for this man. Where believing in the christian sacrifice is tied with christian belief itself, and the obscurity of an event that took place thousands of years ago, Bill’s belief or non-belief in this sacrifice lies only with the acceptance of the consequences of his belief. If he is to believe that the sacrifice genuinely took place, it would mean disrupting his entire life and abandoning everything he has.

The world he lives in is something like ancient rome, a wealthy elite devoted to a pagan cult with a sudden self-sacrifice that places this entirely in context, making the place look utterly squalid and corrupt. An obvious aside: this cult’s emphasis on materialism and a world twisted for the benefit of an elite is not alien to society’s top tier then or now. Were he to believe the sacrifice actually took place and continue his investigations, he would be like a pre-Constantine roman who took to christian belief, a believer that there were virtues lacking in the society he lived in. It would mean leaving behind the comforts of his life, risking the possibility of exile and the appearance of a lunatic. Were he to believe the sacrifice actually took place, that would be his only moral choice, and it might offer him the possibility of a secular communion that eludes him so far.

It’s unimplied what takes place after the end of the movie, but of what we see until that point, Bill considers this burden took great, and refuses to see the sacrifice as real. We in the audience may wish to refuse to believe in the sacrifice as well, to believe that the choice he makes, to try and return to the life he had, is the best possible compromise, when it might be the lesser one. Where Fridolin is a man who very much wishes to be a hero in such a simple conflict, yet very clearly is a timid man lacking the necessary virtues, the movie presents us with a figure who, outwardly, has many of these heroic qualities, someone very good looking, strong, who often does the proper thing, played by an actor who has a long career of heroic roles. Yet at this crucial point, the protagonist makes the easier choice that is the wrong choice, though the audience may well wish that it were the right one, since few of us would have the strength to take on the same burden of questioning our lives too much.

A final, minor, note. I think everything just mentioned rests on what’s easily seen and said in the movie. I leave this small point for last since it’s far more tenuous. Ziegler may signify to other members the upcoming ceremony of the masquerade cult, placing the cult’s symbol, a banal star surrounding a circle at various points, throughout his house.

At the party, this star is lit up.

lit up small star

lit up large star

After the ceremony has been completed, when Bill visits Ziegler, the star is now off, as we might turn off christmas lights after the end of that holiday.

unlit small star

unlit large star

However, this may well be just a simple star of the magi, and it may be off for the obvious reason that even the wealthy like to save electricity.

ENDINGS

Both movie and story end with the doctor arriving home to his wife, finding his costume mask on the bed. Bill’s mask is missing already when he goes to the costume shop, so the viewer assumes that the cult behind the masquerade somehow acquired it, then placed it in his house as a final warning. The story has Bill assuming that his wife placed it there in an effort to get an explanation. Something in the doctor bursts now, in both versions, he lets out an unrestrained sob, and then confesses to his wife all that took place.

His wife’s reaction, however, is very different at this point. In the film, she is utterly devastated by what she hears, and they are both emotionally spent after the doctor’s revelations.

Bill devastated after revelations

Alice devastated after revelations

Only after, when they go later that morning to a toy store with their child is there an attempt at reconciliation, though no completed kiss. This is all in extraordinary contrast with the story, which has Albertine hear about the attempts at infidelity with great calmness, no visible reaction whatsoever. Her attitude is shaped in part, I think, in what a woman’s choices were then compared to now: Albertine cannot simply divorce her husband and find work on her own. This option, however difficult, is available for Alice. Albertine, who I read as far more perceptive than her husband, sees this man with a clarity that she’s never seem before, a man who is fundamentally weak, childish in his attitude to his wife, and lacking the courage to engage in any sexual adventure, even an impulsive one born out of brief petty jealousy of her past lusts. Some image she had of him has finally died. His weaknesses will make it easier for him to stay loyal to their union, while increasingly intolerable as a husband. That they are both awake for a long time to come, that they will now see each other without illusions, as entirely a good thing.

Albertine hadn’t once interrupted him with a curious or impatient question. She probably felt that he neither would nor could keep anything from her. She lay thee calmly, her arms folded under her head, and remained silent long after Fridolin had finished. Finally – he was lying stretched out beside her – he leaned over her, and looking into her immobile face with the large, bright eyes, in which morning also seemed to be dawning, he asked in a voice of both doubt and hope, “So what should we do now, Albertine?”

She smiled, and with a slight hesitation, she answered, “I thin that we should be grateful that we have come away from all our adventures unhared – from the real ones as well as from the dreams.”

“Are you sure we have?” he asked.

“Just as sure I suspect that the reality of one night, even the reality of a whole lifetime, isn’t the whole truth.”

“And no dream,” he said with a soft sigh, “is entirely a dream.”

She took his head with both her hands and pressed it warmly to her breast. “But now I suppose we are both awake,” she said, “for a long time to come.”

Forever, he wanted to add, but before he could say the word she put a finger to his lips and whispered almost as if to herself, “Don’t tempt the future.”

The movie, as said, ends in a toy store, the characters in a background of red and blue, the daughter with red hair and a blue outfit, Alice, who often wears blue clothes contrasting with her red hair, now, perhaps significantly, covers her dark blue outfit with a tan coat. Bill is a mix of blue, coat and pants, with red sweater.

Alice and Bill at toy store

child of Alice and Bill at toy store

Alice and Bill, Bill with coat open

This may be the conflict between two opposing qualities of the world, which now balance in Bill. I am not entirely sure, as I find the movie more cryptic than necessary in this area and others. A good quote about the respective mysteries of the story and the movie may be found in “The Wrong Shape” (a story with a vile attitude towards hindus and hinduism, but with some solid moments apart from this) by G.K. Chesterton:

“The modern mind always mixes up two different ideas: mystery in the sense of what is marvellous, and mystery in the sense of what is complicated. That is half its difficulty about miracles. A miracle is startling; but it is simple. It is simple because it is a miracle…If it was pure magic, as you think, then it is marvellous; but it is not mysterious-that is, it is not complicated. The quality of a miracle is mysterious, but its manner is simple. Now, the manner of this business has been the reverse of simple.”

I find “Dream Story” something like a miracle, one of the best stories I’ve ever read, an extraordinarily subtle and detailed work, without any melodramatic notes sounding its importance, a substantial lasting tale made up of elements light as cake dust. That Kubrick became obsessed with such a story is not surprising. To reproduce its qualities would be difficult, if not impossible, for any director. The change in time and setting ultimately requires other changes in detail, and in a story as finely sewn as this, small changes in the stitching will create something different, and ultimately, dilute the achievements of the original material. That these beauties are lessened is not to say the movie does not have beauties of its own, as any Kubrick movie would. Ultimately, the enigmas of the story do seem miraculous, a half smile cast partly in shadow, whereas the enigmas of the movie are too complex, an opaqueness for the purpose of puzzlement and worship, a monolith on the moon, but a monolith one keeps looking at, not for its puzzles, but the beauty of its puzzling face.

PART ONE PART TWO PART THREE

All images and dialogue excerpts copyright Warner Brothers.

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Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, Arthur Schnitzler’s Dream Story Part One

PART ONE PART TWO PART THREE

(SPOILERS for both the movie Eyes Wide Shut and “Dream Story”. The translation of “Dream Story” is an excellent one by Margaret Schaefer from the collection Night Games. To supplement some points, stills from the movie have been used. Some of these stills contain nudity. For the usual tiresome reasons, the usual suspect parts of these stills have been distorted.)

From Cracked’s “Twelve Classic Movie Moments Made Possible By Abuse And Murder”:

Just to be clear, we’re not criticizing him for being a perfectionist. Lots of people like to make sure shit is done just right. But at some point, you go past “perfectionist” into “obsessive-compulsive.” Beyond that on the spectrum, you have “insane,” “a danger to himself and others” and finally a category that experts have simply named, “Stanley Kubrick.”

Eyes Wide Shut, the last film of a great director, may also be the last film of a great era. It is a deeply personal, often static, very intimate story, yet made up of images that have the majesty of an epic. It has nothing of the design, in conception or character, of most films now, designed for banality, to be as widely seen as possible, to be understood easily by children. So, I think of it as a monument, or, to be morbid, a grave marker, of a few decades in the United States when the extraordinary possibilities of film were staked out, and many risked a great deal not simply for the usual bounty of the movie business, whores, cash, and ego, but for the possibility of creating something breathtaking and effervescent, made entirely of light. With this, Terry Malick’s The Thin Red Line and Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York may be the terminii of putting vast fortunes and rep into the possibility of a legacy of a lasting pile of images. This period is marked not simply by the greatness of the works, but the vast scale of the attempts at such greatness, whether it’s Apocalypse Now, Casualties of War, Once Upon a Time in America, Heaven’s Gate, The Last Emperor, Heat, Blade Runner, Days of Heaven, Empire of the Sun, or this. These movies, whether or not they entirely succeed, have something of the character of egyptian tombs or roman festivities, the vast power and wealth of empire invested in strange, glittering, magnetic obelisks.

Much of Kubrick’s work is considered enigmatic, and his last is masked by an obscurity that is part inherent, part willed by adherents of the director, just as the idols of a religion might derive some of their power from their obscurity. It is, however, not entirely as obscure as it needs to be; by looking at the Arthur Schnitzler story on which it’s based, for illuminating clarity and for the brilliance of the story itself, we may have a greater sense of the movie’s focus, why the movie’s trance holds and breaks, why the genius of the story may be trapped in amber of a place and time, immovable to anywhere else.

The plots of both Eyes Wide Shut and “Dream Story” are roughly the same in many externals, with the small changes making an extraordinary difference in tone and theme. A doctor and his wife have a brief fight over their respective sexual pasts, the doctor has to leave for a medical emergency, then has a few thwarted sexual possibilities before sneaking into a sexual masquerade. The next day he retraces the path of the night’s potential conquests, investigates the mysterious sexual party, is strongly dissuaded from these inquiries by persons unknown, looks into the death of a woman whose fate may have been caused by the same mysterious powers that held the masquerade,
breaks from his inquiries out of fear or lack of belief, and returns to the union of his wife.

A first difference is how both works treat sexual desire. “Dream Story” has Fridolin traveling through a world very much of his own creation, each scene reflecting his own infatuations. These desires may make him anxious, but they emerge from within, and they are very much our own. Eyes takes these same desires and makes them alien, malevolent, and emerging from without, sex entirely as dangerous threat. When going through both works part by part, I’ll mention the obvious contrast at relevant points.

The second, crucial, difference between the movie and its source might be that of weight and lightness. The distinction is best expressed by Italo Calvino in his chapter “Lightness”, from Six Memos For The Next Millennium. His essay gives a full and extraordinary examination of the idea, but a small fragment should be suitable for our purpose:

We might say that throughout the centuries two opposite tendencies have competed in literature: one tries to make language into a weightless element that hovers above things like a cloud or better, perhaps, the finest dust or, better still, a field of magnetic impulses. The other tries to give language the weight, density, and concreteness of things, bodies, and sensations.

The images of Eyes have extraordinary weight, each giving a sense of having been forged with great skill and hard work. “Dream Story”, has an outward casual, easy quality to it, a lightness of fine dust, which point by point forms into a vision, all the more haunting that each dust point was seemingly so simple and inconsequential. Schnitzler’s story embodies the very aspect of the dream in its form, an image where things happen quickly, often barely seen, decisions are made impulsively, with the dreadful sense of later consequence when the dreamer wakes up. This is what gives the story an eeriness, because in the vivid mid-section we seem clearly to be in a dream, yet the events of the dream continue on in waking reality. The reader waits to break from this extended dream, yet it never takes place, we remain in the dream, only guessing at what takes place outside this shadow world. It should be noted that to achieve something like the effect of the book here, Kubrick would have to sacrifice something of his technique, his images would have to be a little more careless, a little more lacking in craft, as if they just flowed like loose words from a sleeping man. To write more of this it is necessary to look at how “Dream Story” begins, an opening entirely absent in the movie.

1001 NIGHTS

The first words of “Dream Story” belong not to Schnitzler, but the “1001 Nights”. The daughter of Fridolin and Albertine, the couple of the story falls asleep as she reads them:

“Twenty-four brown-skinned slaves rowed the magnificent gallery which was to bring Prince Amgiad to the palace of the caliph. But the prince, wrapped in his purple cloak, lay all alone on the deck beneath the dark blue, starry sky, and his gaze…”

Up to this point the little girl had been reading aloud, but now, suddenly, her eyelids fell shut.

This ancient book of tales foreshadows the nature of the story, staying in the netherworld of stories told at night, perhaps never leaving the bedroom for the world outside. It is also about what is now labeled the “orientalist” world, an exotic, mystic, pre-rational one, unlimited by christian morals, a more sexual and mysterious life, yet at the same time, not entirely in an exotic land, but here, alongside them, the book of tales on the children’s bedside, just as the child’s bedroom is close by the parents’, the innocent beside the carnal, the dreams of Fridolin and Albertine merging with the “Nights”.

Equally important is the specific story quoted in this opening, with Schnitzler’s plot reflecting its various turns. The “One Thousand and One Nights” was well-known at the time, and the tale not an obscure reference, but one that the reader could be relied on to know or easily look up. The story of the princes Amgiad and Assad follows the two princes, children of the same king, whose respective mothers fall in love with each other’s son, Amgiad’s mother falling in love with Assad, Assad’s with Amgiad. This is not maternal feeling, but carnal, sexual love. When the princes reject this love, the two women mislead the king to think that the princes initiated the advances, which results in the king calling for the death of the men, and their flight from the kingdom. The story continues through various adventures, ending with the family reconciled, and both princes married. That there are two princes in the story, who are in effect doubles of each other, is crucial for what takes place in “Dream Story” where the theme of two men appears again and again, two men as a projection of Fridolin, two men as the two sides of his self, the rational and the sensual. There is another duality as well, of the material and the image of the material, with Fridolin traveling throughout the city while the subject of Albertine’s torrid dream, as well as Fridolin tantalized by the image of a memory of a woman, but the image alone, an image that persists after the woman’s body decays in death, an image that may ultimately have no connection with this woman at all.

Another relevant detail is that in the world of “1001 Nights”, though they may occasionally intrigue, they are almost entirely under the power of men. The two mothers may lust for each other’s sons. might lie to their king of what took place, but they live in mortal fear of what their king will do if he discovers their infatuation. A woman solicits one of the princes for sex in a manner no woman of Vienna not a prostitute would so brazenly do. Yet she is later beheaded without legal consequence when she betrays the prince. This is a necessary contrast with the surrounding structure of “Dream Story” where Fridolin again and again feels himself to be weak, under the influence of the women around him, unable to resort to the traditional prerogative of men, physical force, to impose his will. A key detail of the fragment of the “1001 Nights” glimpsed in “Dream Story” is Amgiad’s purple cloak which declares his imperial power. However, in the main of Schnitzler’s narrative, it is not Fridolin that wears this cloak, but a woman in a dream of Albertine.

FIRST MASQUERADE

After this brief moment with their child, the couple retire to their bedroom in “Dream”, to go over what took place at the masquerade they attended the night before. The detail of placing this masquerade as a past event, a memory that now wields influence on what takes place now and ever after through the plot, further connects this story with “1001 Nights”, a series of dream like tales, one after another, night after night, but also sets the tone of what will take place through “Dream”, a sense that the events are of the same hazy substance as a dream, yet have the consequential impact of actual events.

The events of this recalled masquerade share some of the details of the party in the movie. Fridolin meets two beautiful women, while his wife is unsuccessfully courted by a stranger. One difference is that this is a masquerade, and so many of the players have their faces concealed, making for a symmetry with the second masquerade of the story. The other distinction from the film, a difference in approach which recurs throughout, is that these moments are extraordinarily brief, barely seen by the reader, like the vivid, startling image of a dream which then recedes out of reach before it can be glimpsed in detail. This contrasts, of course, with the enactments in the film, where the encounters of both spouses go on at some length.

This short passage is all that’s given to the episode:

Fridolin had no sooner entered the ballroom then he had been greeted, like a long lost and now impatiently awaited old friend, by two red dominoes, whom he couldn’t for the life of him identify, though they had shown strikingly detailed knowledge of his student and internship days. They had left the loge to which they had eagerly invited him with the promise that they would come back – unmasked – very soon, but had stayed away for so long that he, becoming impatient, had decided to go back down to the ballroom where he hoped to meet the two enigmatic figures again. But however carefully he looked around, they were nowhere to be seen; instead, another woman unexpectedly took his arm. It was his wife, who had just abruptly freed herself from a stranger whose melancholy and blasé manner and foreign, evidently Polish, accent had at first charmed her but who had then offended and even frightened her with a casually dropped, unexpectedly, vulgar, and hatefully impertinent remark.

The lack of specific details, actual conversational quotes, do not diminish this moment, but add to the effect, a hazy moment that strikes like a pebble in the water and whose vibrations travel through till the end. The dominoes are simply hooded cloaks, women entirely unseen and unknown to him yet who, somehow, know Fridolin very well. We may have here the female duality like that of the two princes of the “Nights”, two halves of women, not two women who we will literally encounter again and again in the story, but two aspects which will become re-imagined in various variations over and over by Fridolin in the course of the plot. Another theme that begins here is the story’s approach to color, a far simpler one than that of the film. Red is one of the only colors stressed in the story, and its use is for the obvious emphasis, of sensuality. As already mentioned there is the purple, in one scene there is a rainbow palette, and in two others, blue, but otherwise, that’s it. The simple use of color exemplifies the story’s method, with symbols used but ones that are extraordinarily simple and intuitive, having no manner of elaborate construction, but very much like a dream, where an image may contain second or third meanings, yet these same images are built intuitively, impulsively, and the underlying idea may be inferred fairly easily.

Eyes makes the two beautiful women unmasked and literal, two beautiful women only who know Bill from a specific episode when he helped them, rather than the enigmatic, brief image of the story, women masked in red robes who somehow know many intimate details of the hero but whom he doesn’t recognize at all. There is also the beginning of the movie’s own very complicated color scheme. Kubrick first creates an incredible background for the party of blazing white light which surrounds Bill and Alice during these scenes. We might think of these moments of courtship as occurring in an elevated place, the white light of a point nearer the sun. Light, of course, can be broken into many fragments in a prism, and after these scenes, Bill is called in to help the man behind this fete, Dr. Ziegler. He ascends a staircase, and reaches the bathroom, where the light is broken into its various prismatic colors: the blue and red of the dragons, the blue of the exterior through the window, the red of the sofa chair, the green and yellow of the walls, the various colors of the painting. There is the white light of courtship, here are the underlying colors of that light, the messy carnality that follows, that lies beneath, appropriately in a bathroom, a place we associate with physicality and exposure, defecation and bathing.

Bill climbing stairs at Ziegler's

Ziegler and Mandy in bathroom

From here on, the color scheme is extraordinarily intricate, far more complex than that of the book, and one which I cannot say I follow. I will pick this up at later points, but at this moment I think it’s enough to say that red and blue are made into a point counterpoint, two intertwining and competing forces, though not with red as sensual. Whereas red is only associated with the erotic in the story, red appears in many places here where it makes no sense in that context, such as the red clothes of Bill and Alice’s daughter, while absent in other obvious sexual contexts. In the second masquerade, there is a red cloak, a red circle in which the opening ceremony is performed, and red in the carpeting, but an absence of red in the masks of the women, with the sacrificial woman given, pointedly, a blue feathered headdress. This is one aspect that makes it difficult for me to think of Eyes as a dream, though that might well be the intent, since, though its colors are sometimes too vivid and rich to denote realism, the color methodology is too complex, a deliberate industriously thought out map, for the effortless uninhibited images of a dream.

This scene featuring Ziegler is not in the story, as Ziegler is not in the story. An in-depth examination of Ziegler will be taken up only later, but for the moment, I think it’s enough to say that his creation is one more way that the movie inserts those whose sexual character is very different from Bill / Fridolin, in this case, a callous, mercenary, pervy older man, for whom lust is another manner of acquisition. A final, and smaller note: Nightingale is entirely absent from this episode in the story as well, introduced only later, when Fridolin meets him at a small club.

THE FIGHT OF FRIDOLIN AND ALBERTINE, THE FIGHT OF BILL AND ALICE

After the first masquerade in both story and movie, the couple has a very satisfying sexual episode. The next day has their usual work routine, then a sudden conjugal argument at night, but the routines of that day, and what the argument is about, are very different, necessarily different because of the shift in time and place from Habsburg Vienna to contemporary New York City. The source of conflict in the story is very much about sex. In Eyes, the source is very much Alice and work.

Only now, when the day’s work was finished for both of them and no disturbance was likely, the child having gone to bed did the shadowy forms of the masquerade, the melancholy stranger and the red dominoes, rise into consciousness again and all at once the insignificant events were magically and painfully imbued with the deceptive glow of neglected opportunities. Harmless but probing questions and sly, ambiguous answers were exchanged. Neither failed to notice that the other was not completely honest, and so both felt themselves justified in taking a mild revenge. They exaggerated the degree of the attraction that their unknown masquerade partners had exerted upon them, made fun of the jealous tendencies of the other, and denied their own. But the light banter about the trivial adventures of the previous night gradually became a more serious conversation about those hidden, scarcely suspected desires that are capable of producing dark and dangerous whirlpools in even the most clearheaded, purest soul. They spoke of those hidden regions that barely attracted them but to which the incomprehensible winds of destiny could still drag them, even if only in a dream.

Anxiously drawing closer to each other, both searched for an event, however indifferent, for an experience, no matter how trivial, that might count as an expression of the inexpressible and whose honest confession now could perhaps free them from the tension and mistrust that was gradually becoming unbearable.

The story leaves ambiguous who begins these inquiries, and there is a sense given that they are both equally drawn forward and hesitant about these self-investigations. In the film, the questioning is initiated by Alice, she is the one interested in this, with her husband keeping pace.

The back and forth of the couple reaches a peak now:

Albertine, whether she was the more impatient, the more honest, or the more kindhearted of the two, first summoned the courage for a frank confession.

Her confession arises out of the impulsive questions each has about the masquerade. In the film, there is a conversation about their respective partners at the party, before Alice gets angry at Bill for a prolonged moment, and it is only then that she speaks about her time with the naval officer.

The difference, I think, is rooted in what precedes the dialogue. In the story there is this description of their days:

The husband’s profession called him to the bedside of sick patients at an early hour, and household and motherly duties prevented Albertine from staying in bed much longer than he. So the hours had flown by soberly in predetermined daily routines and work, and the events of the previous night, those at the beginning as well as those at the end, had grown pale.

These roles, the man busy at work outside, the wife at home taking care of the home and child are to be expected of Vienna at the time. Alice in Eyes is a professional woman very much of our time, who once ran an art gallery. She spends her day with her child, doing rather dull tasks, including wrapping presents.

Alice and daughter wrapping presents

After her husband arrives home, she mentions that they might finish the wrapping that night, but he casually declines.

BILL watches TV with his feet up. ALICE pushes past his legs without asking or giving notice.

ALICE
So how do you feel about wrapping the rest of the presents?

BILL
Uh…let’s do that tomorrow.

ALICE gives him a hard look.

Alice gives Bill hard look

He has spent the day doing far more interesting work than she has, and she’s aware of this. She’d dearly like to finish the wrapping that night so she’s not burdened with it another day, but her husband puts this off, not noticing or asking anything of her needs. We see her in the mirror of the bathroom, and there is something obviously bothering her, something she wants to bring up, but doesn’t know how. She takes out the pot to relax a little.

Alice overwhelmed looks in mirror

The partners of Bill and Alice are not equal, with Bill getting two lithe young models, and Alice getting a much older man. Alice is the one who starts the questioning, and I think she does this, in crudest terms, to start a fight, but more specifically, to give her husband a sense of how unhappy she is with the way their lives are arranged now, her life is arranged now, whatever agreement they might have had when the child was born. When Bill brings up her seducer at the party, Alice clearly thinks the man was ridiculous, and there was no possibility of anything taking place.

ALICE
Tell me something…those…two…girls…at the party last night…Did you…by any chance…happen to…fuck…them?

BILL
What?

BILL
Anyway, who’s the guy you were dancing with?

ALICE cracks up.
A friend of the Zieglers.

BILL
What did he want?

ALICE
What did he want? Sex…upstairs. Then and there. (continues laughing)

BILL
Is that all?

ALICE
Yeah, yeah, that was all.

BILL
Just wanted to fuck my wife?

ALICE
That’s right.

Where the story’s conversation focuses on sexual possibilities, when Bill brings up the possibility that the only reason this man started talking to Alice was out of sexual interest, she gets very upset.

ALICE
Woah…woah woah woah…wait. So. Because I’m a beautiful woman, the only reason any man ever wants to talk to me is because he wants to fuck me? Is that what you’re saying?

She is exasperated at being restricted to the limited roles of either mother or object of seduction. When they move to the issue of sexual temptation, Alice focuses not on the various women Bill would run into throughout his life in the city, but exclusively those at his place of work. I don’t think this is incidental, but a detail which points to the true focus of Alice’s concern.

ALICE
Let’s say for example you have some gorgeous woman…standing. In your office. Naked. And you’re feeling her fucking tits. Now what I wanna know…I wanna know what you’re really thinking about when you’re squeezing them.

BILL
Alice. I happen to be a doctor. It’s all very impersonal. And you know there’s always a nurse present.

ALICE
So, when you’re feeling tits it’s nothing more than just your professionalism, is that what you’re saying?

It is only after this moment of anger, then the focus on work, that Alice makes her confession, and I do not think it is out of impatience, honesty, or kindheartedness, but reprisal, to make clear to her husband that she is not simply his domain and vassal, that she has parts unknown that elude him. Her story of the naval officer starts after this dialogue.

BILL
I’ll tell you what I do know. You got a little stoned tonight, and you’ve been trying to pick a fight with me, and now you’re trying to make me jealous.

ALICE
But you’re not the jealous type, are you?

BILL
No. I’m not.

ALICE
You’ve never been jealous about me, have you?

BILL
No, I haven’t.

ALICE
And why have you never been jealous about me!

BILL
Well, I don’t know Alice. Maybe because you’re my wife. Maybe because you’re the mother of my child and I know you’d never be unfaithful to me.

ALICE
You are very, very sure of yourself, aren’t you?

BILL
No. I’m sure of you.

A small digression. It is here, in much of this scene, that we see Kubrick’s mastery of images. This is an extraordinarily simple scene, with unexotic elements, a man and woman arguing, yet he creates something distinct and subtle at once. An example would be this shot, the camera giving us a great sense of Alice’s beauty that is intimate while distant, exactly how Bill sees his wife at this point:

A great shot of Alice triumphant beautiful distant

She talks about her time with the naval officer. Bill does not remember this man. Perhaps it is only myself, but I think the man he sees as the naval officer is a younger version of a man he has seen, her seducer at the ball. I see a resemblance between the two:

Alice dancing at party

Alice's fantasy with naval officer

In the story, Albertine talks of a military officer she felt a great sudden lust for while the couple were on vacation in Denmark. In the movie, Bill does not bring up any encounter in reply to this, while the story’s Fridolin talks of a girl he himself became infatuated with on this same Danish vacation:

But one morning I suddenly became aware of a female figure that had been quite hidden only a moment before and was now cautiously walking on the narrow ledge of e beach hut set on piles in the sand, her arms spread out backward against the wooden wall behind her. She was a very young girl, maybe fifteen years old, with loose blonde hair flowing over her shoulders and to one side over her delicate breast.

That the girl is fifteen is not an indicator that Fridolin is a pedophile. It is very much connected with his courtship of his wife and when they were married. Earlier in their conversation, there is this moment between the two, when they talk about the moment they met, the night before they were engaged.

“Albertine – so there is something that you’ve kept from me?”

She nodded and looked down with a peculiar smile.

Incomprehensible, unreasonable doubts awoke in him.

“I don’t quite understand,” he said. “You were barely seventeen when we got engaged.”

“Older than sixteen, yes, Fridolin. And yet – ” she looked him squarely in the eye – “it wasn’t thanks to me that I was still a virgin when I became your wife.”

“Albertine – !”

But she continued:

“It was at Lake Wörther, just before our engagement, Fridolin. There, one beautiful summer evening, a very handsome young man stood in front of my window that looked out into the large and spacious meadow, and while I talked with him I was thinking – yes, just listen to what I was thinking – What a lovely, charming, young man – he would only have to say the word – the right word, of course – and I would come with him into the meadow and walk with him wherever he wanted to go – maybe into the woods – or, even better, we could take a boat out into the lake – and I would grant him anything that he wanted that night. Yes, that’s what I was thinking. But he didn’t say the word, that charming young man; he only kissed my hand tenderly – and the next morning he asked me – to be his wife. And I said yes.”

Fridolin, annoyed, let her hand drop. “And if,” he said, “someone else had by chance stood at your window that night and said the right word, if it had been, for example – ” and he pondered what name he should say, but she had already lifted her arms in protest.

There is an asymmetry between Fridolin and Albertine, with Fridolin having been with many women, while Albertine, to Fridolin’s best knowledge has only been with him. This is why the possibility that she has been with another man at some point is so haunting to him in the story, and perhaps rings less true in the movie. Regarding the previous point, the girl Fridolin fixes on is fifteen; his wife was sixteen or seventeen when they were engaged. What tantalizes him is the idea of sleeping with Albertine before he was with her, paradoxically knowing his wife before she became his wife, as someone different than the woman he met. This recurs through the story, with the storeowner’s daughter and the prostitute Mitzi both young enough to be substitutes for his wife to be.

Both scenes end with the hero leaving to give his respects at a house where one of his patients has died.

PART ONE PART TWO PART THREE

All images and dialogue excerpts copyright Warner Brothers.

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More Sentences I Liked

The vessel was just comfortable for two people; there was room only for necessities, and Flambeau had stocked it with such things as his special philosophy considered necessary. They reduced themselves, apparently, to four essentials: tins of salmon, if he should want to eat; loaded revolvers, if he should want to fight; a bottle of brandy, presumably in case he should faint; and a priest, presumably in case he should die.

“The Sins of Prince Saradine” by G.K. Chesteron, a man of many disagreeable notions and many agreeable sentences.

But every work of art, divine or diabolic, has one indispensable mark — I mean, that the centre of it is simple, however much the fulfilment may be complicated. Thus, in Hamlet, let us say, the grotesqueness of the grave-digger, the flowers of the mad girl, the fantastic finery of Osric, the pallor of the ghost and the grin of the skull are all oddities in a sort of tangled wreath round one plain tragic figure of a man in black.

“The Queer Feet” by G.K. Chesterton

If a little hoochie tunnel leading straight to the Miz’s presence hadn’t opened right at that moment, causing her to sprint from my side, I was going to ask her, “What’s it all about?”

“Leaving Reality” by John Jeremiah Sullivan

Not to mention that in our minds the basement was now permanently a onetime BDSM sex dungeon, and not a mutual-consent swinger dungeon, either.

“Peyton’s Place” by John Jeremiah Sullivan

After comedian Sarah Silverman riffed at TED 2010 that her wish to adopt a terminally ill “retarded baby” made her an “amazing person,” [TED organizer Chris] Anderson, who had invited her, tweeted to his million-plus followers that she had been “god-awful,” and AOL co-founder Steve Case tweeted, “Shame on you.” (In an ensuing tweet war, Silverman schooled both Anderson—“a barnacle of mediocrity on Bill Gates’ asshole”—and Case—“should be nicer to the last person on earth w/ an AOL account.’)”

“Those Fabulous Confabs” by Benjamin Wallace

So frequently did gazes slip to reëxamine my badge that I came to know what it must be like to have cleavage.

“Magic Mountain: What Happens At Davos?” by Nick Paumgarten

This is admittedly a little hard to parse, because Santorum uses a handful of words differently than many people would use them.

“What Santorum Didn’t Say” by Greg Marx

At lunch, the most common question, aside from ‘Which offensive dick-shaped product did you handle the most of today?’ is “Why are you here?” like in prison.

“I Was A Warehouse Wage Slave” by Mac McClelland. It is one of the only funny lines in a grim, essential piece of reporting that makes me grateful that it was written, and will dissuade me from ordering anything from Amazon, which may not be the actual warehouser featured, but which no doubt runs under similar conditions.

Flambeau drove the blade of his spade through the whistling grass into the wet clay below. Then he seemed to stop and lean on it as on a staff.

‘Go on,’ said the priest very gently. ‘We are only trying to find the truth. What are you afraid of?’

‘I am afraid of finding it,’ said Flambeau.

“The Honour of Israel Gow” by G.K. Chesterton

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Four Phrases I Liked

Angus, who had hitherto maintained hilarious ease from motives of mental hygiene, revealed the strain of his soul by striding abruptly out of the inner room and confronting the new-comer. A glance at him was quite sufficient to confirm the savage guesswork of a man in love. This very dapper but dwarfish figure, with the spike of black beard carried insolently forward, the clever unrestful eyes, the neat but very nervous fingers, could be none other than the man just described to him: Isidore Smythe, who made dolls out of banana skins and match-boxes; Isidore Smythe, who made millions out of undrinking butlers and unflirting housemaids of metal. For a moment the two men, instinctively understanding each other’s air of possession, looked at each other with that curious cold generosity which is the soul of rivalry.

From “The Invisible Man” by G.K. Chesterton.

Never forget that the Kennedys were hardheaded Irish parvenus who liked thumbing their noses—well, some appendage, anyway—at a WASP high society that had tried to exclude them. If Jacqueline Bouvier had only been Protestant, her husband might have been besotted with her.

Presumably, most of you are up to speed on the, so to speak, bare bones of Alford’s story. Awarded a White House summer internship, 19-year-old Mimi — who has less sexual experience than a eunuch’s handkerchief — travels to Washington in 1962.

From “Burying Camelot” by Tom Carson.

When Romney tried to “humanize” himself early on by dropping a George Costanza reference, it should have been a tip-off that this was going to be the worst final episode of a TV series since Seinfeld. This time it was the audience that ended up in jail.

From “The GOP’s Season Finale Bombs” by Frank Rich.

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A Last Note From Milan Kundera On Kafka

This post overlaps with, and serves as a complimentary fragment to the posts here and here. I quote so much from Milan Kundera because his investigations are so diligent, and his findings sound so truly. As always, this is from The Art of the Novel.

First, an anecdote:

In one of his books, my friend Josef Skvorecky tells this true story:

An engineer from Prague is invited to a professional conference in London. So he goes, takes part in the proceedings, and returns to Prague. Some hours after his return, sitting in his office, he picks up Rude Pravo – the official daily paper of the Party – and reads: A Czech engineer, attending a conference in London, has made a slanderous statement about his socialist homeland to the Western press and has decided to stay in the West.

Illegal emigration combined with a statement of that kind is no trifle. It would be worth twenty years in prison. Our engineer can’t believe his eyes. But there’s no doubt about it, the article refers to him. His secretary coming into his office, is shocked to see him: My God, she says, you’re back! I don’t understand – did you see what they wrote about you?

The engineer sees fear in his secretary’s eyes. What can he do? He rushes to the Rude Pravo office. He finds the editor responsible for the story. The editor apologizes; yes, it really is an awkward business, but he, the editor, has nothing to do with it, he got the text of the article direct from the Ministry of the Interior.

So the engineer goes off to the Ministry. There they say yes, of course, it’s all a mistake, but they, the Ministry, have nothing to do with it, they got the report on the engineer from the intelligence people at the London embassy. The engineer asks for a retraction. No, he’s told, they never retract, but nothing can happen to him, he has nothing to worry about.

But the engineer does worry. He soon realizes that all of a sudden he’s being closely watched, that his telephone is tapped, and that he’s being followed in the street. He sleeps poorly and has nightmares until, unable to bear the pressure any longer, he takes a lot of real risks to leave the country illegally. And so he actually becomes an émigré.

Then: a precise detailing of what might be meant by the “Kafkan”, and further notes on Kafka’s prophecies.

The story I’ve just told is one that would immediately call Kafkan…But what is the Kafkan?

Let’s try to describe some of its aspects:

One:

The engineer is confronted by a power that has the character of a boundless labyrinth. He can never get to the end of its interminable corridors and will never succeed in finding out who issued the fateful verdict. He is therefore in the same situation as Joseph K. before the Court, or the Land-Surveyor K. before the Castle. All three are in a world that is nothing but a single, huge labyrinthine institution they cannot escape and cannot understand.

Novelists before Kafka often exposed institutions as areas where conflicts between different personal and public interests were played out. In Kafka the institution is a mechanism that obeys its own laws; no one knows now who programmed those laws or when; they have nothing to do with human concerns an are thus unintelligible.

Two:

In Chapter Five of The Castle, the village Mayor explains in detail to K. the long history of his file. Briefly: Years earlier, a proposal to engage a land-surveyor came down to the village from the Castle. The Mayor wrote a negative response (there was no need for any land-surveyor), but his reply went astray to the wrong office, and so after an intricate series of bureaucratic misunderstandings, stretching over many years, the job offer was inadvertently sent to K., at the very moment when all the offices involved were in the process of canceling the old obsolete proposal. After a long journey, K. thus arrived in the village by mistake. Still more: Given that for him there is no possible world other than the Castle and its village, his entire existence is a mistake.

In the Kafkan world, the file takes on the role of a Platonic idea. It represents a true reality, whereas man’s physical existence is only a shadow cast on the screen of illusion. Indeed, both the Land-Surveyor K. and the Prague engineer are but the shadows of their file cards; and they are even much less than that: they are the shadows of a mistake in the file, shadows without even the right to exist as shadows.

Three:

Raskolnikov cannot bear the weight of his guilt, and to find peace he consents to his punishment of his own free will. It’s the well-known situation where the offense seeks the punishment.

In Kafka the logic is reversed. The person punished does not know the reason for the punishment. The absurdity of the punishment is so unbearable that to find peace the accursed needs to find justification for his penalty: the punishment seeks the offense.

Four:

The tale of the Prague engineer is in the nature of a funny story, a joke: it provokes laughter.

Two gentlemen, perfectly ordinary fellows (not “inspectors” as in the French translation), surprise Joseph K. in bed one morning, tell him he is under arrest, and eat up his breakfast. K. is a well-disciplined civil servant: instead of throwing the men out of his flat, he stands in his nightshirt and gives a lengthy self-defense. When Kafka read the first chapter of The Trial to his friends, everyone laughed, including the author.

In speaking of the microsocial practices that generate the Kafkan, I mean not only the family but alo the organization in which Kafka spent all his adult life: the office.

In the bureaucratic world of the functionary, first, there is no initiative, no invention, no freedom of action; thee are only orders and rules: it is the world of obedience.

Second, the functionary performs a small part of a large administrative activity whose aim and horizons he cannot see: it is the world where actions have become mechanical and people do not know the meaning of what they do.

Third, the functionary deals only with unknown persons and with files: it is the world of the abstract.

To place a novel in this world of obedience, of the mechanical, and of the abstract, where the only human adventure is to move from one office to another, seems to run counter to the very essence of epic poetry. Thus the question: How has Kafka managed to transform such gray, antipoetical material into fascinating novels?

The answer can be found in a letter he wrote to Milena: “The office is not a stupid institution; it belongs more to the realm of the fantastic than of the stupid.” The sentence contains one of Kafka’s greatest secrets. He saw what no one else could see: not only the enormous importance of the bureaucratic phenomenon for man, for his condition and for his future, but also (even more surprisingly) the poetic potential contained in the phantasmic nature of offices.

But what does it mean to say the office belongs to the realm of the fantastic?

The Prague engineer would understand: a mistake in his file projected him to London; so he wandered around Prague, a veritable phantom, seeking his lost body, while the offices he visited seemed to him a boundless labyrinth from some unknown mythology.

The quality of the fantastic that he perceived in the bureaucratic world allowed Kafka to do what had seemed unimaginable before: he transformed the profoundly antipoetic material of a highly bureaucratized society into the great poetry of the novel; he transformed a very ordinary story of a man who cannot obtain a promised job (which is actually the story of The Castle) into myth, into epic, into a kind of beauty never before seen.

By expanding a bureaucratic setting to the gigantic dimensions of a universe, Kafka unwittingly succeeded in creating an image that fascinates us by its resemblance to a society he never knew, that of today’s Prague [Art of the Novel was published in the 1980s, when the Soviet Union still existed, Czechoslovakia still existed, and Prague was behind the iron curtain].

A totalitarian state is in fact a single, immense administration: since all work in it is for the state, everyone of every occupation has become an employee. A worker is no longer a worker, a judge no longer a judge, a shopkeeper no longer a shopkeeper, a priest no longer a priest; they are all functionaries of the State. “I belong to the Court,” the priest says to Joseph K. in the Cathedral. In Kafka, the lawyers, too, work for the Court. A citizen in today’s Prague does not find that surprising. He would get no better legal defense than K. did. His lawyers don’t work for defendants either, but for the Court.

In a cycle of one hundred quatrains that sound the gravest and most complex depths with an almost childlike simplicity, the great Czech poet [Jan Skacel] writes:

Poets don’t invent poems
The poem is somewhere behind
It’s been there for a long long time
The poet merely discovers it.

For the poet, then, writing means breaking through a wall behind which something immutable (“the poem”) lies hidden in darkness. That’s why (because of this surprising and sudden unveiling) “the poem” strikes us first as a dazzlement.

Kafka made no prophecies. All he did was see what was “behind.” He did not know that his seeing was also a fore-seeing. He did not intend to unmask a social system. He shed light on the mechanisms he knew from private and microsocial human practice, not suspecting that later developments would put those mechanisms into action on the great stage of History.

The hypnotic eye of power, the desperate search for one’s own offense, exclusion and the anguish of being excluded, the condemnation to conformism, the phantasmic nature of reality and the magical reality of the file, the perpetual rape of private life, etc. – all these experiments that History has performed on man in its immense test tubes, Kafka performed (some years earlier) in his novels.

The convergence of the real world of totalitarian states with Kafka’s “poem” will always be somewhat uncanny, and it will always bear witness that the poet’s act, in its very essence, is incalculable; and paradoxical: the enormous social, political, and “prophetic” import of Kafka’s novels lies precisely in their “nonengagement,” that is to say, in their total autonomy from all political programs, ideological concepts, and futurological prognoses.

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Newt Gingrich: The Hyperbolic Style Of American Politics

Make your sentences come alive. Turn an ordinary day into something extraordinary.

Around lunch, I thought a while about having a chocolate bar, a decision of massive global implications that cannot be understated. After, a colleague told me the new Coldplay album wasn’t any good, an astonishing denial of reality and contemporary musical genius. While walking on the street, a dog barked at me for no reason at all, an unprecedented event in the history of our great nation, now crippled by modern liberal ideas. A girl I texted about going to a movie never texted back, a mistake that no doubt will be cited by future historians as the chief cause of the end of Western Civilization.

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Milan Kundera on Kafka’s Prophecies

Again, from the essential The Art of the Novel.

Mystifications and legends aside, there is no significant trace anywhere of Franz Kafka’s political interests; in that sense, he is different from all his Prague friends, from Max Brod, Franz Werfel, Egon Erwin Kisch, and from all the avant-gardes that, claiming to know the direction of History, indulged in conjuring up the face of the future.

So how is it that not their works but those of their solitary, introverted companion, immersed in his own life and his art, are recognized today as a sociopolitical prophecy, and are for that very reason banned in a large part of the world?

The famous letter Kafka write and never sent to his father demonstrates that it was from the family, from the relationship between the child and the deified power of the parents, that Kafka drew his knowledge of the technique of culpabilization, which became a major theme of his fiction. In “The Judgement,” a short story intimately bound up with the author’s family experience, the father accuses the son and commands him to drown himself. The son accepts his fictitious guilt and throws himself into the river as docilely as, in a later work, his successor Joseph K., indicted by a mysterious organization, goes to be slaughtered. The similarity between the two accusations, the two culpabilizations, and the two executions reveals the link, in Kafka’s work, between the family’s private “totalitarianism” and that in his great social visions.

Totalitarian society, especially in its more extreme versions, tends to abolish the boundary between the public and the private; power, as it grows ever more opaque, requires the lives of citizens to be entirely transparent. The ideal of life without secrets corresponds to the ideal of the exemplary family: a citizen does not have the right to hide anything at all from the Party or the State, just as a child has no right to keep a secret from his father or his mother. In their propaganda, totalitarian societies project an idyllic smile; they want to be seen as “one big family.”

It’s often said that Kafka’s novels express a passionate desire for community and human contact, that the rootless being who is K. has only one goal: to overcome the curse of solitude. Now, this is not only a cliché, a reductive interpretation, it is a misinterpretation.

The Land-Surveyor K. is not in the least pursuing people and their warmth, he is not trying to become “a man among men: like Sartre’s Orestes; he wants acceptance not from a community but from an institution. To have it, he must pay dearly: he must renounce his solitude. And this is his hell: he is never alone, the two assistants sent by the Castle follow him always. When he first makes love with Frieda, the two men are there, sitting on the café counter over the lovers, and from then on they are never absent from their bed.

Not the curse of solitude but the violation of solitude is Kafka’s obsession!

Lyrical souls who like to preach the abolition of secrets and the transparency of private life do not realize the nature of the process they are unleashing. The starting point of totalitarianism resembles the beginning of The Trial: you’ll be taken unawares in your bed. They’ll come just as your father and mother used to.

People often wonder whether Kafka’s novels are projections of the author’s most personal and private conflicts or descriptions of an objective “social machine.”

The Kafkan is not restricted to either the private or the public domain; it encompasses both. The public is the mirror of the private; the private reflects the public.

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