Ephemeris by Norm Sibum

The cheap seats applaud: about time. But we have made an executive decision to put aside Herr Broch’s The Death of Virgil, or what remains of it to be read, for a rainy day, or for some much more dire climactic cataclysm. In other words, we have raised the white flag and we surrender. It seems the novelist has had the poet (Virgil, in this instance) cave to Caesar and his designs, one item of which includes the fate of Virgil’s unfinished manuscript. Is it, in accordance with the poet’s wishes, to be allowed to slide into oblivion? Or will it adorn Caesar’s rule as one of its jewels? The poet is near his dying moment. Caesar is chomping at the bit, so to speak, impatient for the poet ‘to see’ reason; and reason dictates, among other things, that the poet’s poem is no longer his property; it is imperial largesse, Caesar’s gift to the people, however rough and ready the state of the poem. This audience the poet has with his earthly master ought to be one of the more important encounters in all literature; but somehow, and I do not really know at which point it began to happen, a false note crept into the proceedings, and I, for one, could no longer trust the writing. London Lunar would have me simplify the argument and just state without equivocation that the novel, or the prose poem, if you will, got unreadable; that Broch simply fell off his writerly 10-speed and scraped his shins – badly. Or that somehow, as he viewed the fork in the road that Mediterranean civilization was obliged to take, he was no longer envisioning a pair of pagans, or poet and Caesar, but Christ and the devil in the wilderness as per the gospels, Christ dueling with one of evil’s more amiable and eminently civilized avatars. In the novelist’s mind, it would appear that the poet and Caesar, in their debate, are meant to prefigure the Christian stand-off to come. We believe here that evil does exist, and that it is so much more than one of literature’s niceties, so much more pernicious than comic book villains, though perhaps Batman has a more yeoman’s grasp of the reality than Broch’s languishing poet. It seems that the poet, just before he draws his final breath, rediscovers the ‘word’ and its power to unite body and mind. And so forth and so on. In the beginning was the word, and all that jazz. Was this what Broch intended? What a time to discover it, even if one often ‘gets it’ at precisely the point when getting it has come too late to bring about any effing good. It is not that we are cynical here (well, we are to some extent), but what should be the ennobling penultimate stretch in the book comes off as so much melodrama that I see Sound of Music where I ought to be seeing something that perhaps Dostoyevsky might have tossed off as an afterthought— Otherwise, MH and I had McGravitas to dinner. Late in the proceedings, and we were all of us comfortably in our cups, McGravitas noted that where there is irony to behold in any of the ‘installated-arts’ as such, there is sure to follow a spate of cocktail parties. Did he not steal a march on a great deal of what passes for critical discourse? Not bad for a fellow who was reared in a remote fishing village. It is perhaps what left his mind fairly uncontaminated by art-speak and poem-speak and review-speak and other industrial-strength derring-do. The village itself, because remote, was free to treat with life’s inherent ironies without care packages of the more work-shopped sort of irony taking up space in the local postal outlet. Well, two thousand years after the facts of Caesar and Virgil who actually did trundle about on the face of this earth, Caesar with his proscription list, Virgil with his parchment rolls, P.M. Carpenter, to the south of here, in his distinguished commentaries, he a self-confessed social democrat, troubles to explain why he is no less enthused with the doctrinaire left as he is with the right. Ah but, yes, the centre position is a lonely road to hoe or haul or howsoever the expression goes. There is no centre; it has not held, except perhaps in the White House, of all places, where it is not holding so much as it is hunkered down—We have wandered into Sebald’s Vertigo, the beginning of which treats with Stendhal’s inept lust and bungled love affairs. If it is Sebald’s weakest book, as London Lunar would have it, it is so far enjoyable reading. Enjoyable reading is not necessarily synonymous with great literature, but it will do in a pinch. The growth of love in the salt mines of the soul—One line among others encountered early on in Sebald’s Vertigo. Broch’s The Death of Virgil promised greatness; here and there one had flashes of the thing; and then – hey, all gone. Absconded. Now, Nikas. Afternoon. A couple of aging computer geeks, in sartorial spirits, plunk an enormous bottle of wine on a table, and within minutes, as if they are cats batting a mouse back and forth between them, they have got the new personnel in the place – a male waiter – in complete disarray. I am sure they do not wish anyone to believe that they have had special access to what special dispensations the centre of the universe has to offer, then again – are they not favoured by the spirit of the times? Even the plumber must genuflect—