So it’s Halloween and UMass Amherst campus has swine flu big time. My students have it, my friends have it; I subbed for a friend who is laid up with her son and the fevers and the rest; the full on pits.
Now, swine flu is not the most literary flu, but who knows, it’s still early.
From Virginia Woolf’s essay, On Being Ill:
“Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to light…it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love, battle, and jealousy among the prime themes of literature. Novels, one would have thought, would have been devoted to influenza; epic poems to typhoid; odes to pneumonia; lyrics to toothache. But no; … literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind; that the body is a sheet of plain glass through which the soul looks straight and clear.”
So last night I read a few years of Kafka’s diaries–how feverish and haunting! This morning I’ve been playing collage with the most vivid days in his life. This is the best one I assembled; Happy Halloween:
The family sat at dinner. Through the un-curtained windows one could look out into the tropic night.
More and more fearful as I write. It is understandable. Every word, twisted in the hands of the spirits–this twist of the hand is their characteristic gesture–becomes a spear turned against the speaker. Most especially a remark like this. And so ad infinitum. The only consolation would be: it happens whether you like or no. And what you like is of infinitesimally little help. More than consolation: You too have weapons.
Yesterday’s observation. The most appropriate situation for me: To listen to a conversation between two people who are discussing a matter that concerns them closely while I have only a very remote interest in it which is in addition completely selfless.
Too late. The sweetness of sorrow and of love. To be smiled at by her in the boat. That was most beautiful of all. Always only the desire to die and the not-yet-yielding; this alone is love.