Semprun, a member of the Resistance who was captured and imprisoned at Buchenwald, wrote that the latrines were the one place in the camp where humanity was restored to the prisoners:
It was in the collective latrines, in this unhealthy atmosphere reeking of urine, shit, feverish sweat, and acrid makhorka, that we found one another, literally brought together by huddling around the same cigarette butt, sharing the same caustic attitude as well, the same combative and fraternal curiosity about the chances of our unlikely survival.
Or, more likely, the death we would share.
“I saw us as a figure trying to enter the sketch of a forest, with another forest sketched on top, and above it, still attached to the first, the sketch of a third forest, mingling with a fourth forest.”
[I found the passage below in Jan Zwicky’s Wisdom & Metaphor. On the facing page, Zwicky writes: “Coming to experience the fit of human thought to the world is a way of finding ourselves at home.”]
The ferryboat smells of oil and something rattles all the time like an obsession. The spotlight’s turned on. We’re pulling into the jetty. I’m the only one who wants off here. “Need the gangway?” No. I take a long tottering stride right into the night and stand on the jetty, on the island. I feel wet and unwieldy, a butterfly just crept out of its cocoon, the plastic bags in each hand are misshapen wings. I turn round and see the boat gliding away with its shining windows, then grope my way towards the familiar house which has been empty for so long. There’s no one in any of the houses round about…. It’s good to fall asleep here. I lie on my back and don’t know if I’m asleep or awake. Some books I’ve read pass by like old sailing ships on their way to the Bermuda triangle to vanish without a trace…. I hear a hollow sound, an absentminded drumming. An object the wind keeps knocking against something the earth holds still. If the night is not just an absence of light, if the really is something, then it’s that sound. Stethoscope noises from a slow heart, it beats, goes silent for a time, comes back. As if the creature were moving in a zigzag across the Frontier. Or someone knocking in a wall, someone who belongs to the other world but was left behind here, knocking, wanting back. Too late. Couldn’t get down there, couldn’t get up there, couldn’t get aboard…. The other world is this world too. Next morning I see a golden-brown branch. A crawling stack of roots. Stones with faces. The forest is full of abandoned monsters which I love.
There are people who think contraception is immoral because the object of copulation is procreation. In a similar way there are people who think the only reason to read a book is to write a book; people should call up books from the dust and the dark and write thousands of words to be sent down to the dust and the dark which can be called up so that other people can send further thousands of words to join them in the dust and the dark. Sometimes a book can be called from the dust and the dark to produce a book which can be bought in shops, and perhaps it is interesting, but the people who buy it and read it because it is interesting are not serious people, if they were serious they would not care about the interest they would be writing thousands of words to consign to the dust and the dark.
(Was there ever another writer as comprehensive as Tolstoy, who also wrote about the inner life of a dying tree?)
“Do you remember the feeling that sense was provisional and that two people could build around an utterance a world in which any usage signified? I think that’s poetry.”