Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Sixteen Best Passages from Act II of Axel

So since I've been reading Axel's Castle, I naturally had to read Axel, the masterwork of Jean Marie Matthias Phillipe Auguste Comte de Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, and reputed to be “the epitome of Symbolist drama." In case you’re curious about the play, it’s an unperformable, almost unreadable mishmash of Faust, Hamlet, Wagner’s Ring, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, and some kind of deranged Henry Darger fantasy. And maybe it’s just me, but the combination of Villiers' practically limitless pretension and an extremely awkward English translation (by M. Gaddis Rose, who also provides a number of snarky and pointless footnotes) produces a kind of terrifying, vertiginous linguistic beauty to be found nowhere else outside of spam folders. I’ve restricted myself, for the sake of my own sanity, to Act II, much of which is taken up with an interminable conversation between two German aristocrats describing how much more powerful they are than each other (at times it reads like a transcript of the minutes of a D&D tournament). Anyway … enjoy?

“To me his eyes did not seem to belong to a man of this century.” (48)

“As garrulous centenarians, you have no earthly peer!” (52)

“UKKO My good Hartwig, don’t you suffer from the shadow of your left arm when the weather changes?
HARTWIG Yes — Why do you ask that, son?
UKKO [joking] Ah! ask that of the cannon ball which took away its reality at Lutzen. I just wanted to make you realize that a shadow is something.” (54)

“Those are magnificent old men! — They bring to mind a beautiful battlefield, a beautiful winter, and a beautiful death.” (55)

“Now I’ve spent eight long days in this forgotten, crenellated, obsolete lair where the architecture, surroundings and silence could interest only vain ideologists. Now I certainly should not have been preoccupied at such length if I had not had a confused, tenacious intuition of some kind of mystery! — Since this feeling preoccupies me still, it means that it is well-founded and … I don’t like to beat around the bush.” (59)

“Good evening, Herr Zacharias! Whatever is the matter? — I’d swear by my pillbox that you look upset.” (59)

“I believe that I have the means to assure you that you will have no regrets whatsoever if you listen until the end.” (61)

“A site of tenebrae, with accesses known to him alone, could, at least until the imminent peace, keep — faithfully! — what was entrusted to its deep entrails. Therefore, it was towards this site that he decided to guide — by routes totally removed from any possible hostile encounter — the men and the treasure for which he was answerable to the fatherland … And this, my lord, — mark well! into this forsaken region where we are.” (66-67)

“I just wanted to sleep delightfully to the distant sounds of your tireless hunting horn.” (77)

“This condiment, which all understand and which often decides us, seasons so well that amusement of elegant taste called love!” (78)

“Am I adequately surrounded?” (88)

“What! this braggart plans to arrogate the whole of this overwhelming mountain of gold to himself! … Let me first make these soldiers fearful.” (95)

“I think simply this, myself, — that the underground belongs to the State …” (105)

“For the crenellations (which you’re overlooked) of this medieval castle were provided in earlier times with forty-eight siege pieces, oh! still in shining order. And, if called for, they would be operated, even if it were tomorrow, by a garrison of rough veterans familiar with them.” (113)

“… I maintain means of producing widespread landslides for burying people alive — and being able to use those millions of combatants which do not retreat, I mean the trees, I know how to starve, render piecemeal, in short neutralize forces …” (114)

“[Long naked swords gleam around the dead man.]” (117)