149. Feast Day

Part 5 of the 'Tunnel' series. (Starts here.)

AUGUST 15, 1940. MY dear Arthur, it has indeed been a beautiful summer, and thus a summer dripping with more than the usual irony.. But then again every summer is beautiful, even the lousy ones. Especially the lousy ones, even. I thank for your letter and assure you there is no cause for concern. Despite the war, the letters still arrive in the mail - and I find myself enjoying this summer. This is the third letter I have written today, and as I begin I hear the bells tolling all over the town, which means it must be midday. I write letters in the morning, sunshine streaming into the bedroom I share with Dora, then we take lunch, then the entire afternoon is devoted to my writing. What am I writing? I will save you the postage of asking me that one, It’s what all of my friends ask. What are you writing?, asks Arendt, asks Horkheimer, asks Adorno. What they really want to know is, why are you writing? What is it that is so important that I cannot do it from Lisbon, from New York, from anywhere but here? I don’t know, is my answer, other than to say this one will really shock them, this one will change everything, this one is an entirely new direction for me. Sometimes, like them, I wonder if I am going crazy. I look myself square in the mirror while I am shaving and I ask myself, straight out. This is my answer: there are two options. Either I am going crazy, which would not be a surprise after recent events, or I was already crazy, and have been all along, and will continue to be, in which case the craziness is merely morphing from one kind of craziness to another. I hear Dora calling me from the kitchen – she is serving soup. We eat soup three times a day with day-old bread, and every day we wait for word from Boyle in Marseille. She will take this letter to the post office tomorrow – everything is closed today. It’s a holiday: the Assumption. The one where Mary was taken body and soul into heaven: then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. No wonder the bells are still tolling. Despite or because of the shadow of war, Lourdes is even more crowded with pilgrims than usual, seeking Mary’s intercession, or healing from the magical waters. But since the invasion, we refugees have taken up residence in most of the hotels, planning our next move, planning our escapes from the tentacles of evil. It's strange to think that freedom lies just on the other side of these mountains - and yet, though so near, it is a purely hypothetical freedom. As a result of our presence, many of the pilgrims are forced to sleep in the streets and in the hills. But they are a tough people, used to tough conditions, and I am merely a literary critic – this is what is written on my papers, as if it is a profession! I have no reason to feel guilty, I have endured my own share of sleeping on concrete in recent months - pity all or none, I say - yet I know we owe our survival to the pilgrims. By blending in with them, the authorities are unable to tell us apart - this is partly why so many of us have ended up in what is effectively a town of transients. We must merely appear suitably modest - and devout. And yet we live in constant fear, because we know that among the pilgrims there are spies. I suspect there may even be spies among the refugees. And so, rather than think of such themes as betrayal and fear, I concentrate on my work. You will disapprove of what I am working on. I suspect you have all secretly disapproved of most of it all along – long essays, too long for newspapers, not long enough for books, fit only to be published in obscure journals, on unfashionable themes, especially books, always books, books, books. I suspect all along you have all thought, why can’t he do something more useful with all that intelligence? – and still you have helped me, still you have encouraged me. But this one will push even your limits – so new, so bold, it borders on an indulgence: a study of the very origin of our world. But, I hear you say, history is a continuum, there is no point of origin. Sure enough, I reply – but if there were to be a point of origin, where would it be? Right here, Arthur, right here, where the winds of history have blown me, right here in Occitania! And my work will demonstrate, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that there was a civilisation here that surpassed all others, not only in sophistication but also and above all in simple humanity! And that this civilisation was wiped out – obliterated! – by the northerners. An entire people, erased. Of course, by now you will have realised that I am talking about the Albigensians - the Bogomils, or Cathars as they are sometimes (mistakenly) called. But that is not the most interesting part, Arthur. The most interesting part of it is that my work will show that, even if the people were destroyed, and their language and their culture, amid untold suffering, history has subsequently shown that the ideas live on – the ideas are eternal! As are their opposites. The struggle continues - in that sense, the Dualists were right. But enough for now - don't breathe a word of this to anyone. Dora is calling me, the soup is getting cold, I had better go. I will see you soon in Marseille, if you haven't already shipped out by then. Best wishes, etc, Stampflinger