Saturday, 25 September 2010

In the Time of Glue

14th January 199-

Dear Mr A. B.,

What better proof could I have had that my fall from grace is no accident? It is not your fault, I am not blaming you. On the contrary you have been most kind and generous to send me your book. I thank you for it and I thank you for the inscription. How could you possibly know how your words would taunt me? It is providence laughing at me through you. I threw away my weapons and with them my caution, I am one of the damned, you are the person chosen by providence to tell me so. I see that at least I am not wrong. You are the man of the secrets. I try to run away from the forbidden subjects and discover I am running towards them. My experiments with exorcism were a miserable failure. I tried to drive out Schuster’s ghosts. Nothing sticks like his ghosts. I thought I would be unable to unglue them and I was. Your advice on how to correct a love potion is to keep on adding “chaque foi un peu plus de bave”. My exorcism foundered on too much glue. Could you perhaps explain this apparent contradiction? I think it is proper to compare these two procedures -isn’t an exorcism the inversion of an aphrodisiac as is the High Mass of the Witches’ Sabbath? Or is the one the preliminary and prerequisite for the other? Or in some other way a cause?

You can believe me, even if it sounds like I’m bragging, but I am seldom wrong about misfortune, especially my own.
“Mais moi je ne veux rire á rien
Et libre soit cette infortune.” (Rimbaud, Fêtes de la patience)

I have a toothache, from chewing slowly on thistles, or maybe from another unknowable cause, all my teeth feel too long, maybe there are white sticky patches in my mouth still invisible to the naked eye. How I long for dryness on this damp island. Where anything you touch, sticks to you. The moment it goes dry however the ground turns into something like a Persian Kawir, that geological freak consisting of part brittle salt desert tenuously covering the other part - sheer bottomless morast, where once were limpid blue seas, several worlds ago. When crossing it one false move and you’re a goner. In certain places though the kawir is so hard you can’t break up the ground enough to bury a body. That’s what it’s like here in a drought when the water company just turns off the water, pale rust spots like stigmata appear at the bottom of the bath tub, the lawns get jaundice, the train tracks and signal boxes turn to glue.

I had to give up my exorcism experiments because the ghosts were multiplying faster than before my intervention. Ghosts are very unstable by nature, as volatile in certain respects as ammonia, but without its solubility in water. Any interference with their reproductive organs does nothing to either halt or alter their rapid metamorphoses. And if my tamperings did do anything to the substance of the subsequent generations, I had no way of discovering what it was. I am still unwilling to completely abandon my theories and am waiting for a more frigid ghost to come along in order to put them into practice. One cannot drive out ghosts as one would pull out hair. One cannot leave in the middle like a bad play (Cicero). They are composed of a wet matter and are petered out, phlegmatic without springiness or courage. This phenotype led me to the comparison of ghosts with Scythians, whose racial characteristics were recorded by Hippocrates: “...because of their torpor and dampness they can neither bend the bow nor shoulder their spears.” Could these be the same Scythians who outwitted Darius? Although little is known about Scythians, even less is known about ghosts. So I thought I could apply the scant information I gleaned from Hippocrates to my efforts to rid Schuster of his ghosts. Had I known Herodotus then I would have most likely been discouraged from the start which leads me to think that anything including ignorance which helps one to overcome one’s hereditary indolence must be counted to virtue. But does not my hereditary indolence predispose me to match my wits and laziness with that of the ghosts? It is precisely their natural sloth and utter lack of enterprise which makes them so difficult to throw out. They are not of the salutary group of “les choses qui sont très-usées, mais qui séduisent cependant” (Baudelaire, Le Monstre ou Le Paranymphe d’une Nymphe Macabre) of which amulets, talismen and fetishes are made. They belong instead to that wearisome group of things one cannot get rid of, or which keep coming back, the old Ring of Polycrates mill.

Ghosts are naturally sticky. They leave most unwillingly a place to which they have become accustomed. They would rather forego new conquests than change their habits. They hate draughts and like pillows and are almost always on the verge of dying of thirst, being nine tenths liquid. They prefer a human ground which has become soft and muddy from their burrowings and shy away from biting their way through a human rock not friable from years of being rubbed at by ghosts’ teeth. Ghost teeth are dull, they mash their food rather than chew it. One of the best means of driving them out is fire, either the stake or a slower process of drying out, also known as smoking. The size loses its adhesiveness and the next wave of good fortune can sweep it off one’s person. Fire is a hazardous generally fatal method when used against ice ghosts, there is a grave danger of flooding. If one is quite desperate and chooses to employ this method despite the acknowledged dangers, then it is mandatory to take certain precautions.

One hammers four poles cut from poplars, skinned of their bark so as to be quite bony in color, into the ground. An elliptical ditch is dug at a distance of 6.66 meters from the end poles, the depth of the ditch is twice that number. One lays the fire between the poles and ditch, nine fires in all, the number of fires and poles combined being thirteen, the sum of which is again four. The great thaw which then takes place collects in the ditch or moat, one must keep the fires going forty day and forty nights, feeding it with hard wood, preferably seasoned ash, for after the thaw one cannot delay calcination. Otherwise the thawed ghosts will merely freeze over again and everything will have been in vain.
Another method which to my knowledge has never been tried is to disguise a bed as a sleigh. Ghosts are held at bay by sleds but they adore beds. They would probably run away from sleds like the horses of the Lydians ran away from the camels of Cyrus. Horses cannot stand the sight or smell of camels. Did Darius think about the antipathy of horses towards camels when he challenged the Scythians, the silent horsemen of the steppes, to meet him face to face? But as Scythian warriors seldom stepped out of the saddle, the only consequence of a rendezvous on a battlefield of the conventional sort would have been that their horses would have run away unless the Persians would have come on foot which is not very likely.

The powder obtained by calcination is of an extraordinary dryness, its tough little granules are almost insoluble, quite amazing considering the wetness of the source.  When burned it gives off a lovely violet phosphorous light but the odor is as foul as bone glue. A few specks of it when scattered over a rose bush in full bloom can cause it to wither within moments, its desiccating powers when used upon humans are no less potent, the powder can cause you to age by twenty years as quickly as the plant withers, but the effects wear off eventually.

All of this is useless if one is unable to construct the ghost flute. The ghost flute is a long pipe connecting the ghost carrier and the moat. The individual who is to be freed of his ice ghosts must remain in a hole 6.66 meters deep dug between the two innermost posts. He must slide into the hole by means of a chute, lying flat on his belly, dressed in a garment open in the back, his head muffled in a thick towel to protect it upon impact. The chute may be strewn with talcum powder to break the fall. He must stay in the hole for at least seven days, the time of creation, the minimum duration for any act of destruction. He must be kept semi-conscious being stunned by a blow to the head periodically by an attendant upon the ceremony. The attendant also puts a ghost cake in his hand, bait for the ghosts. The attendant comes and goes by means of a ladder which he always removes after concluding his ministrations. The ghost flute is a long tubular object made of human bones glued at the joints by a paste obtained from ghosts of the highest viscosity. To preserve the natural resins, one must employ a particular method of destruction called the number comb. The resins are vital for the prevention of any leakage along the ghost flute — as they will not dissolve in water. The number comb is a very good tool for cutting ghost throats. They are many-throated, are in general more throat than anything else, full of slime. The comb is alternatively called the pearl and claw.

Solitary numbers are hurled at the ghosts, the numbers thereby turn into hooks, the ghosts are caught on the hooks, their liquid (the size) drips out. It is dark and syrupy reminiscent in color and texture of elderberry jam. There is nothing much one can do with it except bury it in a deep cave, disguise the opening, roll a boulder in front of it. You throw the number comb with the same hand movement you would use to draw a sickle through tall grass, the position of the rest of the body is most similar to the one necessary to swing a golf-club - the same corkscrew turning of the hips. Except in the case of the number comb you let your tool fly from your hand. At the moment of casting the number comb the exorcist should urge his instrument on with the words from Lucile’s Air: “Tout ce qui peut toucher une âme” and at the moment when the comb penetrates a ghost throat with the words from Lucile’s Ariette: “Au bien suprème, Helas, je touchais si près” (Lucile, André Modeste Grétry) The mass which remains is comprised of their thick wet glossy shells out of which one can knead a dough, similar to the bread won from the shells of the fruit of the pontikon tree by the baldheaded inhabitants of the most barren part of the Scythian territory, described by Herodotus. They called the juice of the bean aschy and drank it with milk, but the ghost “aschy” one could only feed to crocodiles and vultures in lieu of fresh cadaver meat.

The shells from which the ghost flour is ground are like the “transparent sloughed skins of the cicada which fall from them in the summer”. (Lucretius, V, 803) The ghost dough is used to make the cake and to stick the parts of the ghost flute together. The dough isn’t really such a good glue, about as sticky to touch as the green sepals covering the buds of the Moss Rose. It also leaves a smell on your fingers. The dough rots very quickly and loses its value as a putty hence if the dough one has managed to procure is of older vintage one must add an organism from the group of phyla called for convenience Invertebrata, from this the subkingdom Protozoa, in the class of Mastigophora (Flagellata), out of the order Euglenoidina called the Copromonas Subtilis. (please see enclosed sheets) It will hold the mass together, acting as a surrogate binder, replacing the ghost glue, which has evaporated. Both are in essence starches. The Copromonas Subtilis possesses the additional quality of being a poison for ghosts, who mistake its starches for those of humans. Starch against starch, glue against glue! The ghost flute through which the ghost sludge flows, pulled down by the force of gravity into the moat through a drain in the bottom of the purification chamber is so called because of the sighing tone which they make as they are flushed down, compared by some who have heard it to the noise of dolphins.

Drastic changes of climate and location are also harmful for ghosts. Shaking them and knocking them about decimates them as well. It deprives them of their potency, just as, according to Hippocrates, the lifetime spent by Scythians in the saddle mortified their sexual drives.

When I did my experiments I hadn’t yet heard of Greek Fire, one of the most terrible of siege weapons, used by the Byzantines successfully against the Saracens in the siege of Constantinople 668—675, also bravely but unsuccessfully by the Turks against the Crusaders in the siege of Acre. Water wouldn’t dowse that fire, it would only spread it about. No one knows till this day precisely what it was made of, possibly some composition of sulphur, naptha and quicklime.  If anything, it was a chemical wedding, equally gruesome on sea and on land, “the crucible in which that which is can marry that which is not.” (James K. Baxter, Morning in Jerusalem) I’m still a little afraid to try Greek Fire on the ghosts. Pascal says what was once weak will never be strong. I don’t usually believe him, but in this case I’d give him the benefit of the doubt.

May I please ask you another question, as you know so much about the properties and uses of glue, is there any glue able both to “hold nothing and let nothing go”?

I send you all my best wishes,

Agréez, je vous prie, les assurances de la haute considération avec laquelle, j’ai l’honneur d’être, monsieur, votre très-obligé serviteur (…)

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