Extract from a short story by Julio Cortázar, Letter to a Young Lady in Paris:
When I think I’m about to vomit a rabbit I put two fingers down my throat like an open set of tongs, and I wait until I can feel the warm hair rising like the fizz of an alka-seltzer. It’s quick and clean, it all happens in an instant. I remove my fingers from my mouth and with them a little white rabbit comes dangling by the ears. The rabbit looks happy, it’s a perfectly normal little rabbit, only exceedingly tiny, as small as a chocolate rabbit except for the fact that it’s white and most definitely a rabbit. I place it in the palm of my hand, stroke its fur with my fingers; the rabbit seems happy to be alive and hoovers about burying its nose in my skin with that quiet, ticklish gnoshing of a rabbit’s nose on one’s hand. It looks for something to eat so I (I’m referring to when this used to happen in my house on the outskirts of the city) I take it out to the balcony and place it in the big pot with the clover I’ve planted especially. The little rabbit pricks up his ears as high as they go, grabs at a clover with a quick swirl of his snout, and I know then that I can leave him there and go off, continue with a life that’s no different to that of so many other people who purchase their rabbits from farms.
Original text in Spanish:
Cuando siento que voy a vomitar un conejito me pongo dos dedos en la boca como una pinza abierta, y espero a sentir en la garganta la pelusa tibia que sube como una efervescencia de sal de frutas. Todo es veloz e higiénico, transcurre en un brevísimo instante. Saco los dedos de la boca, y en ellos traigo sujeto por las orejas a un conejito blanco. El conejito parece contento, es un conejito normal y perfecto, sólo que muy pequeño, pequeño como un conejilo de chocolate pero blanco y enteramente un conejito. Me lo pongo en la palma de la mano, le alzo la pelusa con una caricia de los dedos, el conejito parece satisfecho de haber nacido y bulle y pega el hocico contra mi piel, moviéndolo con esa trituración silenciosa y cosquilleante del hocico de un conejo contra la piel de una mano. Busca de comer y entonces yo (hablo de cuando esto ocurría en mi casa de las afueras) lo saco conmigo al balcón y lo pongo en la gran maceta donde crece el trébol que a propósito he sembrado. El conejito alza del todo sus orejas, envuelve un trébol tierno con un veloz molinete del hocico, y yo sé que puedo dejarlo e irme, continuar por un tiempo una vida no distinta a la de tantos que compran sus conejos en las granjas.
“When I was small and would leaf though the Old Testament retold for children and illustrated in engravings by Gustave Doré, I saw the Lord God standing on a cloud. He was an old man with eyes, nose, and a long beard, and I would say to myself that if He had a mouth, He had to eat. And if He ate, He had intestines. But that always gave me a fright, because even though I came from a family that was not particularly religious, I felt the idea of a divine intestine to be sacrilegious Spontaneously, without any theological training, I, a child, grasped the incompatibility of God and shit and thus came to question the basic thesis of Christian anthropology, namely, that man was created in God’s image.”
From The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
The above quote brings to mind the highly controversial photograph by American artist Andres Serrano, Immersion (Piss Christ), which depicts a small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist’s urine:
The red-room was a square chamber, very seldom slept in, I might say never, indeed, unless when a chance influx of visitors at Gateshead Hall rendered it necessary to turn to account all the accommodation it contained: yet it was one of the largest and stateliest chambers in the mansion. A bed supported on massive pillars of mahogany, hung with curtains of deep red damask, stood out like a tabernacle in the centre; the two large windows, with their blinds always drawn down, were half shrouded in festoons and falls of similar drapery; the carpet was red; the table at the foot of the bed was covered with a crimson cloth; the walls were a soft fawn colour with a blush of pink in it; the wardrobe, the toilet-table, the chairs were of darkly polished old mahogany. Out of these deep surrounding shades rose high, and glared white, the piled-up mattresses and pillows of the bed, spread with a snowy Marseilles counterpane. Scarcely less prominent was an ample cushioned easy-chair near the head of the bed, also white, with a footstool before it; and looking, as I thought, like a pale throne.
This room was chill, because it seldom had a fire; it was silent, because remote from the nursery and kitchen; solemn, because it was known to be so seldom entered. The house-maid alone came here on Saturdays, to wipe from the mirrors and the furniture a week’s quiet dust: and Mrs. Reed herself, at far intervals, visited it to review the contents of a certain secret drawer in the wardrobe, where were stored divers parchments, her jewel-casket, and a miniature of her deceased husband; and in those last words lies the secret of the red-room–the spell which kept it so lonely in spite of its grandeur.
Mr. Reed had been dead nine years: it was in this chamber he breathed his last; here he lay in state; hence his coffin was borne by the undertaker’s men; and, since that day, a sense of dreary consecration had guarded it from frequent intrusion.
From Jane Eyre by Charlote Brontë
A short story by Joyce Carol Oates
Her name was Connie. She was fifteen and she had a quick, nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people’s faces to make sure her own was all right. Her mother, who noticed everything and knew everything and who hadn’t much reason any longer to look at her own face, always scolded Connie about it. “Stop gawking at yourself. Who are you? You think you’re so pretty?” she would say. Connie would raise her eyebrows at these familiar old complaints and look right through her mother, into a shadowy vision of herself as she was right at that moment: she knew she was pretty and that was everything. Her mother had been pretty once too, if you could believe those old snapshots in the album, but now her looks were gone and that was why she was always after Connie.
“Why don’t you keep your room clean like your sister? How’ve you got your hair fixed—what the hell stinks? Hair spray? You don’t see your sister using that junk.”
Her sister June was twenty-four and still lived at home. She was a secretary in the high school Connie attended, and if that wasn’t bad enough—with her in the same building—she was so plain and chunky and steady that Connie had to hear her praised all the time by her mother and her mother’s sisters. June did this, June did that, she saved money and helped clean the house and cookedand Connie couldn’t do a thing, her mind was all filled with trashy daydreams. Their father was away at work most of the time and when he came home he wanted supper and he read the newspaper at supper and after supper he went to bed. He didn’t bother talking much to them, but around his bent head Connie’s mother kept picking at her until Connie wished her mother was dead and she herself was dead and it was all over. “She makes me want to throw up sometimes,” she complained to her friends. She had a high, breathless, amused voice that made everything she said sound a little forced, whether it was sincere or not.
There was one good thing: June went places with girl friends of hers, girls who were just as plain and steady as she, and so when Connie wanted to do that her mother had no objections. The father of Connie’s best girl friend drove the girls the three miles to town and left them at a shopping plaza so they could walk through the stores or go to a movie, and when he came to pick them up again at eleven he never bothered to ask what they had done.
Click to continue reading and find out what happens to Connie…
1. 14 Febrero. Daniela Edberg
2. Despair, Film Still #1. Alex Prager. 2010
By Julio Cortazar
Death stands there in the background, but don’t be afraid. Hold the watch down with one hand, take the stem in two fingers, and rotate it smoothly. Now another installment of time opens, trees spread their leaves, boats run races, like a fan time continues filling with itself, and from that burgeon the air, the breezes of earth, the shadow of a woman, the sweet smell of bread.
What did you expect, what more do you want? Quickly. strap it to your wrist, let it tick away in freedom, imitate it greedily. Fear will rust all the rubies, everything that could happen to it and was forgotten is about to corrode the watch’s veins, cankering the cold blood and its tiny rubies. And death is there in the background, we must run to arrive beforehand and understand it’s already unimportant.
In The Unberable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera describes an encounter between Tereza and one of her neighbours while she walked with her beloved dying dog, Karenin:
“Along the way, they met a neighbour who was hurrying off to a cow shed in her rubber boots. The woman stopped long enough to ask. ‘What’s wrong with the dog? It seems to be limping. ‘He has cancer,’ said Tereza. ‘There’s no hope.’ And the lump in her throat kept her from going on. The woman noticed Tereza’s tears and nearly lost her temper: ‘Good heavens! Don’t tell me you’re going to bawl your head off over a dog!’ She was not being vicious; she was a kind woman and merely wanted to comfort Tereza. Tereza understood, and had spent enough time in the country to realize that if the local inhabitants loved every rabbit as she loved Karenin, they would be unable to kill any of them and they and their animals would soon starve to heath. Still, the woman’s words struck her as less than friendly. ‘I understand,’ she answered without protest, but quickly turned her back and went her way. The love she bore her dog made her feel cut off, isolated. With a sad smile, she told herself that she needed to hide it more than she would an affair. People are indignant at the thought of someone loving a dog. But if the neighbour had discovered that Tereza had been unfaithful to Tomas, she would have given Tereza a playful pat on the back as a sign of secret solidarity.”
Kundera also talks about man’s dominion over animals:
“The very beginning of Genesis tells us that God created man in order to give him dominion over fish and fowl and all creatures. Of course, Genesis was written by a man, not a horse. There is no certainty that God actually did grant man dominion over other creatures. What seems more likely, in fact, is that man invented God to sanctify the dominion he had usurped for himself over the cow and the horse. Yes, the right to kill a deer or a cow is the only thing that mankind can agree upon, even during the bloodiest of wars. The reason we take that right for granted is that we stand at the top of that hierarchy. But let a third party enter the game –a visitor from another planet, for example, someone to whom God says, ‘Thou shalt have dominion over creatures of all other stars’ — and all at once taking Genesis for granted becomes problematical. Perhaps a man hitched to the cart of a Martian or roasted on the spit by inhabitants of the Milky Way will recall the veal cutlet he used to slice on his dinner plate and apologize (belatedly!) to the cow.”