What is the goal of this pilgrimage of meaning?
All of civilisation is made up of evidence like this… Everything comes to us secondhand… Reason, knowledge, faith… What the dead have left behind I collect, out of love… No one else does that in our city. And I doubt it’ll become tradition. It’ll die with me. It’ll get consumed by the mysterious and benevolent transformations taking place underground. Incapacitated.
I can’t resist the clothes the dead have left behind. They call to me, tame a lifeless element inside me. I’ve got this pair of trousers that’ve lived with me for thirty years. Their owner is nothing now but white bones, still I don’t know how to get rid of these trousers. They keep being nice to me. I put on weight but they stay nice, they fit me. Buying clothes in the size we’re dealing with now would be some kind of mental catastrophe.
The clothes the dead have left behind give me a sense of safety that I don’t get from either money or living people. People take away my sense of safety, they come and take it away, threatening me with their needs, their wisdom, threatening me with the truth they’re frenziedly searching for, they exhaust me with their terroristic need for success and for lengthening their days, with their looking after their health, with their prudence, they crush me with their scrimping on life for the sake of death. The clothes of the dead wrap around me, protect me from a world of evil spirits, like talismans. And I feel at home in them. I take possession of someone’s jacket and I become nothing less than its fulfillment. In the evening I can slip along Garbarska Street as if I weren’t there, I can turn left or right. That’s how I attain my joy of joys.
It truly pains me that I can only exist in this city, in clothes the dead have left behind, with no possibility of leaving Litental’s maze of streets. I’m not leaving here, leaving would mean losing the only chance I’ve got. No getting out of Litental. That’s my most important instruction in life. My thinking grows saturated with the beauty of the sky, the wind, the smell of the pavements after rain, solitary walks in the evening, barely lit corner shops and clothing stores, stairwells and courtyards, where you can find objects no longer needed, abandoned. Nothing gives me as much hope as what’s been abandoned, left behind. A hope that I don’t know how to share with others.
I don’t want to leave here. For me, life outside this town would mean annihilation. Outside town there is annihilation. Fighting. And fighting bores me, destroys my brain, destroys my sense of self, destroys everything that’s good in me. Fighting totally kills off everything I’ve loved, everything I really could have loved, fighting is betrayal. We have become mediocrities, because without fighting we don’t know how to survive year after year, we’re mediocrities because we have to run ourselves into the ground.
Existence outside this town would be an unbearable torment for me. I’d fall into a series of even deeper delusions, falsehoods and counterfeits. The reality of existence outside this town would strip me of reason. Litental is the only path my life has. Everywhere outside Litental is unbearable, repellent provincialism. I am not leaving Litental.
Excerpt translated by Sean Gasper Bye
What is the goal of this pilgrimage of meaning?
Tefil is the first name of the main character of this short novel, made up mainly of a monologue by Tefil himself. We listen to his claims, of prophethood perhaps, for we get a great deal of serious- sounding wisdom about the essence of life. But we also hear a lot of ostentatious clichés, so maybe instead we’re witnessing one of those pitiable oneman- shows performed by the aged and afflicted on the tram or out in front of the off license. Tefil’s narrative language – intricate, intellectual, sometimes poetic, rhythmic, conscious of its form – seems out of step with the character of an elderly vagabond, but it also sounds convincing and tempts us to surrender to his persuasive power. It is the reader, as the true addressees of this modern Diogenes, who must therefore decide whether to trust this character and the subjects he treats, or keep a sceptical distance.
We see an ageless man, living in a nearly undefined, though surely European, provincial town, finding for himself a patient listener who invites him to dinner at the area’s only, and therefore “famous”, restaurant. The listener does not speak, but the listener’s presence provokes the speaker. Over a pork cutlet and a beer, Tefil puts on trial a defectively constructed world, though as the sole and necessary one, it is therefore ultimately… beautiful. He diagnoses and condemns with such conviction, it seems he has experienced everything that is important, considered it deeply and finally had a flash of revelation. Later, the two characters will wander the town, its ugly streets transforming into a maze of archetypal signs, as Dublin was for the twentieth-century incarnation of Ulysses, or a map of the simplest symbols of human fate, as the hero of Hrabal’s tales discovered in Prague.
What is the goal of this pilgrimage of meaning? The euphoria of constant beginning. The condition of knowing the world fully without that getting in the way of life itself. As this small-town philosopher sums up his lecture: “all-encompassing, eternal and unyielding ignorance.” Wojasiński has noticed Tefil where we have not, gained wisdom from him and proclaimed it to the attentive.
Translated by Sean Gasper Bye
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