Blindly (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)
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Who is the mysterious narrator of Blindly? Clearly a recluse and a fugitive, but what more of him can we discern? Baffled by the events of his own life, he muses, "When I write, and even now when I think back on it, I hear a kind of buzzing, blathered words that I can barely understand, gnats droning around a table lamp, that I have to continually swat away with my hand, so as not to lose the thread."
Claudio Magris, one of Europe's leading authors and cultural philosophers, offers as narrator of Blindly a madman. Yes, but a pazzo lucido, a lucid madman, a single narrative voice populated by various characters. He is Jorgen Jorgenson, the nineteenth-century adventurer who became king of Iceland but was condemned to forced labor in the Antipodes. He is also Comrade Cippico, a communist militant, imprisoned for years in Tito's gulag on the island Goli Otok. And he is the many partisans, prisoners, sailors, and stowaways who have encountered the perils of travel, war, and adventure. In a shifting choral monologue—part confession, part psychiatric session—a man remembers (invents, falsifies, hides, screams out) his life, a voyage into the nether regions of history, and in particular the twentieth century.
head), I try to reserve it for real blows of fate. In a word, I treat it with respect. It seems to me an affable and dignified way to acknowledge disasters and also a mark of a good upbringing—of Kinderstube, my father would say. When you meet an acquaintance, even a disagreeable one, it’s only right to greet him and tip your hat, and if that lout is death or misfortune, of course you try to avoid him and turn the corner before he can bore you with his story, but that doesn’t mean you should
consulted Wilhelm Schmidt’s Tasmanische Sprachen (Utrecht-Anvers, 1952), as well as the writings of Jorgensen himself—for example, A Narrative of the Habits, Manners, and Customs of the Aborigines of Van Diemen’s Land, which contains a chapter on the languages of the Tasmanians. The verse in Triestine dialect, “Del mio fato no me lagno, go trovà un altro bagno,” is from a poem by Cesare Colussi, one of the many individuals who emigrated from Trieste to Australia after the Second World War; it is
from their blowholes. The first whale was harpooned by me, Jorgen Jorgensen, King of Iceland and a convict, forced to build cities and jails, even my own jail, Romulus who ends up a slave in Rome. But all these whirlwinds that scatter the dust of the dead and of the living are of little importance. What is critical, Dr. Ulcigrai, is that I can answer your pleonastic questions accurately as far as the essentials go, because I know who I am, who I was, who we are. What do you mean by that—“I know
sail’d, My name was William Kid when I sail’d, My name was William Kid, God’s laws I did forbid, And so wickedly I did, when I sail’d.” The voice of the ballad singer would try to outdo the shouts of the orange vendors and drunks at St. Giles’s, when the Jane docked in London for a few days, during those first four years at sea. God’s laws I too did forbid, when I sailed—I tried, that day in Nyhavn, to pretend some emotion over bidding my parents farewell, my father’s restrained sadness, my
did. But even in Berlin the hot air balloon, which Prince Puckler-Muskau graciously let me ride in, rises swiftly in indigo blue, the people and linden trees become smaller and smaller, the Spree is soon a thin ribbon and the noises and cries that greet us are muffled in a murmur that is actually the rustling of the wind. That dazzling blue sucks you in like a vortex. The clouds, above us—for a while there are still some above and some below, but then ...—had almost closed in; a small opening