The Beaver Cometh
....most of the Americans I have spoken to feel that the regime is no longer viable: such a climate of violence reigns in the US, unemployment has reached such proportions, and the number of people maintained by the social security organizations is so great, that the economy is about to collapse: insoluble conflicts arise even at the technical level. "It must necessarily break down because it can't go on," friends have told me. Perhaps this collapse may set off a world-wide revolution on a world-wide scale? I do not know whether I shall live long enough to see it, but it is a comforting outlook.
Simone de Beauvoir All Said and done, 1973
A Memorable Fancy in One Act
[Curtain parts to reveal a dark chamber with dark satin hangings on the walls. A faint opaline glow from a lamp casts glints upon the satin silver gown of MADAME FLORESTINA, seated behind a table over which a crystal ball is suspended with no visible means of support. Her features are fixed, the eyes closed in a mediumistic trance. An owl sits motionless on her right shoulder.]
MADAME FLORESTINA; Come! Come noble spirit! Come into our realm of darkness, enlightened soul, chosen to speak to these adepts, gathered in New York City in the fatal month of September 2001 of the vulgar era, as foretold in the Hidden Mysteries!. Come bearing your shaft of mystic light to glimmer in our enfolding darkness! Come, emanation of Wisdom! Rise! Shine!
[A gray shape takes indefinite form at the left of platform. A single string on an ancient musical instrument throbs a single all-but-silent note, again and again and again.]
SHAPE: I come where I am called. Who calls? And where?
MADAME FLORESTINA: We meet at a Revolutionary Psychic Center in Mannahatta. The sky is falling.
SHAPE: It is true then? New York is falling? America is falling?
MADAME FLORESTINA: They fall. But we will rise.
SHAPE: Hosanna, as we used to sing in church when I was a child and not yet formed in judgment.
MADAME FLORESTINA: Welcome, spirit of Being, to this land of Non-Being. Enlighten us! Illuminate us! Reveal! Reveal! Reveal!
[The Shape thickens]
MADAME FLORESTINA: Our spiritual desires have taken physical form. Our Brahman is our Atman. She is come whom we have aspired for. She is she whose luminous sayings have guided us through dark pits and around dark corners for lo these many years. She is -
THE AUDIENCE (in unison); Simone de Beauvoir!
The SHAPE. I am she. Thank you, sisters all. I little thought to come so soon. I have long waited for this moment to return to you, this moment of light blasting through all the dark depressing clouds of these dark depressing years when the world appeared to have nothing to interest itself in but the creeping ooze of what has been so wittily termed multinational cocacolonization and the phallic exploits of the leaders of the so-called Free World.
[A titter in the second row of the Adepts, quickly hushed by a baleful glance from MADAME FLORESTINA].
MADAME FLORESTINA: Enlighten us on this fated day.
SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR. No no, dear friends, it is not I who brings light, it is you. Even in my childhood, enslaved in the meshes of hypocritical bourgeois self-satisfaction, I placed no credence in life after death. Though I dutifully sang Hosanna! to a God whose incompetence and insincerity were plainly marked on all his so-called creations which surrounded me, I put no trust in the promises made in his name. And for years now I have had more than sufficient opportunity to appreciate the vacuity of all those promises. It is to you, the living, to whom I turn for enlightenment, you who are lighting the bonfires which will illuminate the truly living, the truly free. For we are not isolated as you might think. We do not miss your mawkish television nor your odious Internet, but for beings like ourselves who lived for half a century in the very center of the existentiality of the world, its cross-currents of intellect, its dialectical anfractuosities, its clash of contradictions, its monthly deadlines punctuating Modern Times, for us to be cut off so radically from the daily onrush of events, epiphanies, betrayals, perversions, can lead some times to the gnawings of discontent. I have waited so long, my sisters. I was almost ready to lose patience. Even Sartre was ready to lose patience. Even he, whose every thought and every word I have shared, day in and night out, these many years, in our closed room with all those creatures, even he, man of infinite serenity, even he would ask from time to time, How long o Lord how long? But I knew, we knew, amidst all the chattering of those creatures, we knew the day would come. the day when the towers of oppression, of imperialism, of multinational monopoly, of the bloated bourgeoisie, would crash. When the enslaved, the enfeebled, the disempowered, would in one mighty convulsion take their well-earned and so-long-deferred revenge. And now the moment is here. And it makes me feel good.
It is not always pleasant where we are. The space is confined, the furniture is of the dreariest, the heaviest bourgeois Second-Empire taste. Even the words that pour out endlessly, the endlessly rich panorama of the human experience, at times threaten to pall. For even Sartre could be wrong. To hear him say to me again, and again, and years later yet again, the words he spoke to me in Alsace in 1940 when he was wearing the uniform of the loathsome Third Republic, the words to the effect that "that there will be no fighting, that it will be a modern war without massacres as modern painting is without subject, music without melody, physics without matter," are a reminder that even modern philosophy has been unable to cut its umbilical chord to scholasticism. But what is one inaccurate detail but a piece of random wreckage floating on the great swell of prophecy? Of that intimate knowledge we share of the better world to come? The world without oppression, without aggression, without the petty tyrannies or petty minds of a bloated bourgeoisie?
But who is there to share the prophecies streaming forth from that indefatigable mouth? There is I of course, and I commit every word to memory. But what an effort to shut off, somewhere between the indiscriminately functioning ear and the ever-discriminatory brain the ceaseless chatter of those creatures overrunning our hideous room, tumbling over and under and around and on occasions inside the overstuffed furniture, all those creatures, every creature that ever sat on Sartre's lap at the Flore, every chippy, every floozy, every intellectualizing tart that crawled into his bed at night, all professing to adore him, but of them it might be said as it was said of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, whom I have always considered the most antipathetic of all that medieval herd, that just as they look but do not see, so they listen but do not hear.
I do not like to apply such names, or rather epithets, to them as I just have, these are epithets manufactured by the middle-class phallocrats who control the so-called education of our young , and they are so cunningly implanted into the cerebral cortex of our female young that instead of growing up into spirited whole-hearted brave generous women, they hardly become women at all, they become the epithets, day and night crawling and flouncing and squeaking out their libidinous inanities.
If I were a religious person, which common sense and common decency forbid me to be, I would call myself a saint. But I am preserved by obstinate faith in the flowering of the human spirit, in the mighty surge of progress, the recognition of humanity in humanity, in a word the triumph of socialism made even more human by the triumph of feminism. And though we are cut off by solid oak second-empire doors from the world we left behind, some echoes do manage to reach my ears.
[As she continues speaking in her quiet pleasant monotonous voice, a screen lowers behind MADAME FLORESTINA'S table, on which we see and hear SARTRE, seated motionless in a well-stuffed armchair, determinedly mumbling one paragraph at a time from his book L'Etre et le Néant, his book on Flaubert, his book on Jean Genet, his book on Tintoretto, his speech to the striking workers at the Renault plant in Boulogne-Billancourt, and all the rest of his Collected Works, while fifty-nine BIMBOS climb over him, tickle him, adore him, and ululate in counterpoint to the words issuing from his mouth and the words issuing from the mouth of SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR. A few faint notes from the trumpet solo of MILES DAVIS in the film Ascenseur vers l'Echafaud may be heard in the background]
SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR, continuing: For we are not as wholly alone as you may imagine. The domestics who bring us at regular intervals our meals and empty our chamber-pots, though by regulation they may not speak to us, occasionally mumble among themselves, and by concentrating on occasional parentheses in the everlasting chatter of the creatures I can at rare intervals pick up by snatches details of their own sordid intrigues and of the events in the great world of the living which may arouse a languid interest in their brains browbeaten into sluggishness by the system created for that purpose by their -- or should I say our -- masters.
For all too many years the news I thus picked fragmentarily up has not been, to speak frankly, good. Chronicles of sell-outs and coat-turns, of lassitude and compromise, of mediocrity and ineptitude, of intellectual sloth, a wallowing in baubles, a cheap vaudevillized representation of the materialism which should be the basis of a sane brave generous acceptance of the world with all its disappointments and its rewards.
But today a new word has floated through the forbidding doors, a word of hope, a word of triumph. It is spoken with awe and a bit of pride by the brutish domestics whom I had come to believe incapable of such emotions. It is a word, or perhaps a name. I have not been able to hear it distinctly, it something like Hosama, Hosanna.
Hosanna! The very word I learned to despise in childhood, but now it swells in my heart. It is surely a turning-point in the history of the world.
For what has this Hosama or Hosanna done?
He has torn down the tower of privilege, the tower of oppression, the tower of the rampant ruthless world-devouring Rockefellers!
Do you remember the film of that great Dutch cineast which showed in alternate scenes of great power and poetry the two faces of the modern world, the serene and joyful faces of factory workers putting together great sleek machines in factories they own, in socialist Warsaw, juxtaposed with the starveling embittered faces of our own wage slaves in Detroit, in Boulogne-Billancourt? There are unforgettable scenes of long lines of ragged rainsoaked multitudes waiting for their wretched dole of soup, while the raging waters of the Mississippi, bursting through holes in dikes weakened by the criminal negligence of profiteers, carried away their wretched hovels. There are many such painful scenes, and then a mighty voice cries out, Who is responsible? Where is the blame? And it answers itself with a cry of the accumulated rage of centuries: WALL STREET! And the camera leaps to the great tower of the Rockefellers, which I myself saw in the heart of Wall Street in the middle of New York, when Nelson Algren was showing me the sites and the symbolic meaning of the boastful buildings, and the camera leaps up the endless array of offices, floor after floor, jutting up so ostentatiously and so tastelessly to proclaim its own arrogance while it cuts off from thousands of underpaid laborers below the vivefying view of the sun which in old behind-the-times Europe is still available to the wretched of the earth.
And now it is no more. The tower is overthrown! The reign of the Rockefellers is over. Everywhere the news is out. America has fallen, despair and dissolution are everywhere, disconsolate faces line the empty streets where once paraded the insolent chariots of the rich. The stock market is closed, the stock-brokers have fled to their air-conditioned caves with their electronic doors. But no doors can keep out the sound of the Song of the Lamp-Posts, the Lamp-Posts from which tyrants are hung..
Already the walls of Paris are being plastered with signs saying A BAS LA GUERRE! VIVE LA RÉVOLUTION! .
I am taken back to those glorious days of upheaval when Sartre spoke on Radio Luxembourg and said that the students' only possible relationship with the university system was to smash it and that in order to do that they had to come out into the streets.
And they did come into the streets, and has ever such joy been in those streets as filled them in those days.
Candor compels me to admit that both Sartre and I became somewhat disillusioned with those students in later days. It was impossible not to admire them as, with the bubbling ebullience of youth they smashed the plate-glass windows of the fashionable confectioners and ground the jars of caviar into the pavements to mingle with the excrement of the pampered poodles of the idle rich. They were a lesson, a shining light, a beacon to the proletarians. But what did they really do? The windows were repaired, the world returned to all the deplorable patterns of the past. There were unpleasant recriminations between us and those students afterwards.
There have been many such disappointments and disillusionments. I did not myself share in the enthusiasms of so many of my contemporaries for the Surrealists, even when they proclaimed themselves for the Revolution, but who could stifle a certain thrill of enthusiasm when André Breton proclaimed that the most Surrealist action possible was to go out in the street with a gun and start shooting, by which of course he meant the destabilization of all the bourgeois order which holds us all enchained both physiologically and ideologically. Very well, but what did Breton do when the guns began to shoot in earnest? During all those years of the Occupation, when Sartre sat impassive in the Café Flore, skewering the fascists with the coded messages in such manifestoes of freedom as his play Les Mouches, Breton spent in the comfort of New York, reciting over the short wave the messages of American propaganda.
How often have we been similarly let down by those in whom we put our perhaps naive but ever hopeful trust. Everything seemed much clearer, much simpler, in our youth. You remember the dialogue between my Sartre character say to my Camus character in my novel Les Mandarins: "You are quite convinced that between the USSR and America we must choose the USSR?" "Of course." "Well, that is all you need to know." As it turned out, there was more we needed to know. Those we trusted let us down, Stalin let us down, Castro let us down. The Symbionese Liberation Army let us down. Even Mao did not live up to all our hopes. But better to have hoped and lost than to have sunk into the vile cynicism of the popular press and never to have hoped at all.
And now all is different. This movement is from the depths. I have no idea who or what this Hosanna is, I have no specific physical frame of reference. Is he a Black Panther? Is it a band of Tupamaros? Or a new whirlwind out of Africa, of the kind predicted by the admirable Fanon? It matters not. What counts is that he, or it, exists, like the whirlwind which sweeps away the tents of the circuses constructed by our masters to keep us distracted from their depredations and their delinquencies.
So I say, with all the "confidence and sanguine and energetic concern for the human condition" with which I am credited by the admirably impartial New York Review of Books, I say
MADAME FLORENTINA: Thank you, noble spirit. And now it is time for you to return -
SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR. Return? To that? To them? I will not -
MADAME FLORENTINA. I am sorry, noble spirit. Your time is up. The electricity is about to be turned off.
SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR: But I have so much to say, to learn, to embrace, to comprehend -
MADAME FLORENTINA: HURRY UP PLEASE, IT'S TIME
SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR: You are right. I must go.
[She begins to fade]
MADAME FLORENTINA: HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR: But I shall return.
[The electricity is cut off]
[A faint VOICE in a distant background repeats:]
©2001 Robert Wernick