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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Story Retold: The Invention of Morel

illustration by Norah Borges
(source: the pointless weblog)
no copyright infringement intended


Para un perseguido, para usted, sólo hay un lugar en el mundo, pero en ese lugar no se vive. Es una isla. Gente blanca estuvo construyendo, en 1924, más e menos, un museo, una capilla, una pileta de natación. Las obras están concluidas y abandonadas. Es el foco de una enfermedad, aún misteriosa, que mata de afuera para adentro.

An Italian rugseller from Calcutta had told him about this place, the only possible for a runaway as he was: an uninhabitated island, but a human couldn't live there. A mysterious disease would kill anybody matter of weeks. His life was so unbearable that he decided to go there anyway.

Three constructions stayed on the island; the rugseller had mentioned them: the museum, the chapel, and the swimming pool; plus a mill in the marshlands, close to the shore. They had been built sometime in the twenties, by a group of white men who had left immediately after, abandoning everything.

The buildings were modern, with angular shapes, unadorned, some kind of a minimalist style pleasantly contrasting to their rather big size. Inside the museum, huge halls, their furniture in the same modern, minimalist style, lots of other rooms, larger or smaller, and a spacious library (he took from there a book with him, to read it later: a French edition, Bélidor, Travaux: Le Moulin Perse, Paris, 1737). In the basement there was a power plant, supposedly connected to the mill outside. Everything as waiting to be populated, but nobody present. The lack of any signal of life conjugated with this proximity, this potentiality of receiving guests anytime was giving a very strange impression. Was it this whole building complex waiting for humans or ghosts?


illustration by Norah Borges
(source: the pointless weblog)
no copyright infringement intended


The vegetation on the island was abundant, and the tides of the ocean were always swallowing the lowland. The summer came ahead of time, much ahead, and after a few days he woke up one morning in the sound of a music, mixed with echoes of human voices. He suddenly observed a bunch of people on the museum terrace, men and women elegantly dressed, dancing on the rhythms dictated by a phonograph, while some others were walking and talking casually. He ran immediately after a bush to stay hidden, and continued to watch them. There was an air of nonchalance that seemed to mark all of them. When had they come? And how? There was no ship in view. It was like they had emerged from within the insides of the island. Were they real? Was it a hallucination? It was possible, as he was so tired and hungry.

He was curios, while also frightened. What if these people had come to find and arrest him? He had a life condemnation to spend in a prison in Caracas. Was the Venezuelan police on his traces? Here? And in this way? Extreme caution was absolutely necessary for him. Or not?

And then he observed her.


illustration by Norah Borges
(source: the pointless weblog)
no copyright infringement intended

En las rocas hay una mujer mirando las puestas de sol, que tiene un pañuelo atado en la cabeza; las manos juntas sobre una rodilla; soles prenatales han de haber dorado su piel; por los ojos, el pelo negro, el busto, parece una de esas bohemias o españolas de los cuadros más detestables.

The woman was coming each afternoon, alone; she was sitting on the rocks, a book in hand, leaving the pages now and then to stare at the ocean. Sometimes she was looking at him, with the same discreet smile that she was contemplating the horizon. It was like she wanted to start to tell him something, slowly moving her gaze further, toward the sky, with the same smile, with the same intention of saying something, then, when the sunset was getting near, she was leaving the place, walking toward the museum.

As days went by, he realized that the woman's presence had become painfully necessary for him, her hours spent there on the rocks, book in hand, now and then leaving the pages, to gaze at the ocean, the horizon, seemingly observing him, seemingly trying to say something, then leaving the place, with the same smile, with the same imperceptible move of her lips, walking slowly toward the museum.

He forgot all risks and tried several times to talk to her. She looked like listening to him, with the same discreet smile, only moving her gaze further, toward the horizon.


illustration by Norah Borges
(source: the pointless weblog)
no copyright infringement intended


One evening he saw her walking in front of the museum, accompanied by a man. He came pretty close, taking advantage of the darkness: the man was insisting on something and she was clearly against. From bits of conversation it was impossible to understand what was their talk about, at least he heard distinctly their names: the woman was Faustine, the man was Morel.

He disliked immediately Morel: arrogant, obviously the opposite of a pleasant guy. Was this man her lover? No, that was impossible. Maybe in the past? In this case, clearly it wasn't any more. Though, what if it was something still between them?

Another question came quickly in his mind. Such a beautiful woman couldn't be alone. As simple as that! She had a lover, it was natural. Obviously she wasn't a nun. If not Morel, maybe somebody else from the group.

No, it was clear from the discussion that nothing could have been between Faustine and Morel. Though...

He went away, far from the museum, in the lowlands. Was this love, what he was feeling? He rejected the idea. There could be nothing between him and Faustine. It was like loving an image, an idea. That woman was not real, or she was from another universe. Though, he couldn't stop thinking. No, nothing could have been between Faustine and Morel, that was ridiculous. Or? How could he be so sure?


illustration by Norah Borges
(source: the pointless weblog)
no copyright infringement intended


Next morning he noticed a ship. The captain came on the shore and was greeted by Morel, the two starting immediately an animated discussion. A bit later the ship was no more. The visitors neither. The island was again deserted. What was all that? It could have been a hallucination, of course. He should be careful not to loose his mind.

Those days of summer had disappeared, it was again pretty cold. He started to read the book he had taken from the library, that Bélidor edition: it was a treaty about mills and their ways of running. He studied the book carefully, with that Leonardian Ostinato rigore that was also his life principle, and he started to understand the liaison between tides, mill and the power plant from the museum.

A bit of time passed and summer came again. And one day he saw Faustine, she had an umbrella with her, it was one of those summer rains. He tried to tell her something, she seemed to listen to him, while in the same time listening to the slow wind and to the gentle sound of rain.


illustration by Norah Borges
(source: the pointless weblog)
no copyright infringement intended


Then such periods of presence of the visitors followed by their absence came again and again. He realized that it was the rule of the island, this alternation of their presence and absence. It was linked in some peculiar way to the tides, and little by little he also realized that their discussions, their movements, were always the same. It was an endless repetition, like a theatrical play.

He finally understood that he was invisible for them, he did not need to stay hidden any more. Sometimes he was even staying in Faustine's room during night, sleeping on the floor, or rather remaining awake and protecting her sleep. She seemed to realize a tiny bit his presence. Or not? Sometimes he was talking to her, sometimes he was just thinking his words. And he slowly began to realize that his words and his actions were coming each time the same, like a theatrical play. Was he real, or just an image of himself (or of anyone else) from the past? Was he like Faustine, like all others, just a fruit of hallucination, just an idea? Just an image in perpetual repetition?

And what was Morel's role in all that? Oh, it was sure that Faustine didn't love Morel. Or she did?


illustration by Norah Borges
(source: the pointless weblog)
no copyright infringement intended


But I think I should stop here and not spoil the rest of the story.

Adolpho Bioy Casares wrote La Invención de Morel in 1940 and dedicated it to his friend and mentor Jorge Luis Borges. The book was illustrated by Norah Borges. It was published with a Prologue written by Borges. Men of letters discussed about liaisons between this novel and Wells' Island of Doctor Moreau, as well as Resnais' and Robe-Grillet's L'Année dernière à Marienbad.

Here is the text of the novel:




Al hombre que, basándose en este informe, invente una máquina capaz de reunir las presencias digregadas, haré una súplica. Búsque nos a Faustine y a mí, hágame entrar en el cielo de la consciencia de Faustine. Será un acto piadoso.



illustration by Norah Borges
(source: the pointless weblog)
no copyright infringement intended





An Italian movie was made in 1974, based on this novel. Anna Karina played the role of Faustine.




L'invenzione di Morel, 1974
(subtitles English, French, Spanish)
(video by baccarat1260)


Is it this story about immortality? Immortality that one gets with the price of his life? Immortality like a recurring paradise, like a circular week from one's life played for ever and ever? Are we allowed by gods to choose one image from our life and live it in eternity? Maybe Borges was making allusion at this when quoting Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the Prologue, the stanza from Sudden Light:


I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.





(Norah Borges)

(Bioy Casares)

(Italian Movies)

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