Thursday, 12 August 2010

The Hunger Tower of Ugolino

Quite contrary to what one would expect, the philosophy of the hunger tower was not to subject its inmates to the odious tortures of the slow hunger death.  The governors of the tower were quite content to see its inhabitant live to a ripe old age and to succumb to the natural cessation of bodily and will processes.  All was provided in the tower to this end.  Attendants replenished food and drink as necessary and always whilst the inmates were sleeping.  In their dreams they saw the heavy iron door of their cell opening and the hand and face of the jailer taking away empty dishes with a shovel and lowering down full ones with ropes.  Sometimes a madrigal sung by a castrato voice as sweet as Farinelli’s sounded so real they woke briefly.  But only in the dream.  Music was banned in the tower.  They all seemed to sleep a great deal.  

In the beginning of their incarceration the inmates were disbelieving about the efficacy of the hunger tower.  They scoffed at the tales of their predecessors who gave the hunger tower its name.  Few means of distraction were allowed the inmates, but those who wished could pass their days in an abutting bare room called the library.  Furnished much like a monk’s cell, the only works in the library were a collection of decrees and papal bulls and the diaries or journals of some former prisoners who had ended their days by starvation.  The present occupant of the tower would resist reading those journals for a while; he could foresee the effect of vicariously living the life he had before him, death by anticipation.  He reassured himself that even in confinement “(…) there is not a day, (…) which does not bring surprises, which is not a translucent network of minimal happiness.” (Borges)  

After a certain period of time varying with the resistance left in the inmate, his resolve and strength of character, his will to live and when the arid language of the papal bulls had achieved its desiccating effect, he could no longer refrain from glancing at one of those journals left behind by his predecessors.  In the beginning he planned only to look at the first page, but the ensuing shudder of recognition usually swept all caution aside – he read on and on about a new sort of species hidden in his feedings.  He started gnawing his hands and his fate was sealed. 

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