I say: I am a man. And more: I am a giant. And even more: a giant of fixed ideas. An enormous man, five-foot-five, with hair on his scalp, a white collar on his shirt, a nose inclined for victory, a gorgeous watch, pure silver, enviable suits, legs, two for now, and an insatiable appetite to trample on whoever dares to get in front of me. Me: a virtuoso in the art of personifying the ambition of man and what he has of abominable. All qualities that go beyond me, and that, without effort, in a rotating and versatile machine for counting the hours, simultaneously surpass the centuries, the years, and even the practically instantaneous milliseconds. The past, the present, and the future merge into a single round point that resembles a soccer ball, in order to see me in action. And I, a man, a giant, basking in my art, I kick time to the opposite field, to my opponents. And I become, right here, this timeless man.
Fate, as soon as I came into this world, looked at me with a friendly face and announced: you will rise concentrically, in a serpentine spiral, towards success, where the center is the highest point of the universe. Getting to the top of the universe is my first fixed idea. I got it long before I could utter the words, daddy and mommy. What was born first, I often wonder, I, in my mother’s womb, or this fixed idea inside of me?
If I have something that really belongs to me (and if it belongs to me, I want to make sure that I take it with me to the bottom of my importance), it is trust. From there, I can look down on all those around me, regardless of their stature. I have a colleague in my company who doesn’t stop growing. He’s six-foot-five and I still only know his sagittal suture (the highest top of his conical skull), which sits far below, at the height of its own insignificance. For two or three times, I even played with him, using the tip of my nails.
In short: I sleep like an angel after doing bad things.
And when I fall asleep, from time to time, something bad happens to me – I find myself dreaming good things. More than enough reason for me to get up with that bitter taste of those who had dreams filled with stupidly generous and cute ideas. These dreams love to creep in, to show off, and they never miss a chance to hang on to my sleepy limbs. They rise up with me, boring and sticky, following me in a single file, cheerful and loud. Ah, shitty ones, I don’t believe you. Can you tell me why then you still believe in me?
Good dreams abhor movement, especially aerobic effort. It’s eight-thirty, time for me to go for a run, to run off with them, these undesirable little fat guys.
I put on my tracksuit, simulate an animated whistle, and go into the pine forest next to the condominium where I live. I always run with one foot in front of the other. And I never sweat. I can spend a week running uninterruptedly in the desert of Namibe and not a single drop of sweat will you see in this little body. But the kind and cuddly dreams, in their turn, they just have to think of the secular movement of a statue to begin to sweat profusely. They lose water constantly. Each of their pores is a faucet, exhaustible, fortunately. By nature, dreams are useless objects (a nuisance, a nausea of beauty) without a millimeter of resistance. At the end of the third kilometer of the run I have already gotten rid of them: they’re all left behind, silent and lifeless, leaving the surface of my subconscious finally free and clear of all the dirt. By the fifth kilometer I increase my pace: soon the ideas, the useful ones, will appear. It is in full swing that my fixed ideas arise. Today I had four: humiliate my secretary, be promoted again when my colleague Roger Vailland hands in the statistical study to the boss, get hugely drunk, and go to bed with Roger Vailland’s sister.
Life and the day can, therefore, with due ceremony, begin. Here you have me, comrades. Are you prepared to receive this winner? Here I am on my way, neat, meticulously presentable. Look at me, and I will do the possible and the impossible to not look at anyone.
As soon as I walk into my office, I'm alone. It’s nice to look at myself when I'm alone, and say: you're a real success in your company. In two years, you've climbed faster than the very idea of climbing itself.
Then I call my secretary, and in a flash, I’m not alone anymore. She comes in, filled with fear. Fear of what? Of whom? I say to her, reaching out my hand. Take this flower, you have been an exemplary employee. She picks it up, blushing and swollen with commotion. Two minutes later I call her again, expressing my indignation, showing her the cup: is this a proper coffee? It arrived cold, with coffee grounds and missing a second packet of sugar. Do you think you’re worthy of this job, which I have granted you out of mercy, do you? You give them an inch, and they walk all over you. Honestly, you’re not even worthy of your life, woman. Bring me the paperwork that I have not yet asked for, quickly. And when she was going to say – what paperwork? I gave her my glowering stare and told her, shut up, you wretch! and she left bursting into tears, thinking she had just lost her job. I told her on the phone that the marketing study had to be on my desk in less than ten minutes. And that Roger Vailland would have to be sitting in front of me in fifteen minutes. She blew her nose, relieved. And I topped it off: and in five seconds I'll be drinking my well-deserved coffee, right?
A person with fixed ideas has an inborn tendency for life unfolding as planned: I drank my boiling coffee, the study was done by a competent newbie that was hand-picked by me and bore my signature, and poor Roger Vailland, as soon as I mentioned his lover's name, had no other choice – he went straight to the top floor to talk to his uncle, claiming, based on the evidence from a marketing study, that I was a wonder, an angel fallen from heaven to the company and that, if I was given leeway, the company would take off from mediocrity in no time.
To celebrate my promotion as the main area coordinator, we left at the end of the afternoon, me and Roger Vailland, for the bar where (with a push here and there), he eventually admitted that he had the habit to meet with his sister. He was not lying. He behaved well. He was convinced, poor fellow, that with these two favors, he would be free of being torn to pieces by his wife, once she learned about his mistress. I feel sorry for him, I cannot imagine him torn to pieces even if I try. But you never know if one of these days his beautiful lover won’t be useful to me.
For now, his sister will do. There she was, always putting on airs. A charm! A beauty! A rare example of grace. With an innate talent to stir your beliefs. I immediately began to tremble in my fly. It’s incredible how she manages to keep that air of distinction, indifferent to the predatory looks of any man, as if she is incessantly announcing ‘look at how mysterious I am.’ But I am not any man. I’m a giant with fixed ideas. And as this matter of fixed ideas came up, I remembered to go ahead with the idea of the great drunkenness: I ordered a double whiskey, I took the (imaginary) hat off to the drink and I started to make it trickle down my throat without much pleasure. By the fifth whiskey, I began to feel thirsty. And from then on it was always growing. The more I drank, the thirstier I got. At some point (at the point of no return), it was not I who was heading towards my great drunkenness. It was the great drunkenness that, no matter how motionless I tried to stay by the counter, was coming with an irreparable balance, in my direction. As soon as it bashed me, I heard a voice, far away in the distance (which was actually right there by my side) calling for me. I pulled my chin up and as I turned, I saw, not one, not two, not even three men who looked alike. I was in such a state that I saw quadrupled, someone exaggeratedly thin. From the front, he seemed to be on his side. In profile, he was hardly visible. René Daumal, he said, introducing himself. Can you hand me, if you please, said the four politely, that little plate of lupines so I can put an end to this useless hunger? Stunned, I pick up the plate, and as I turned to that René Daumal, I froze: which of the four was the original? As I looked for the answer, I found a larger question: behind the four, peered two more of their fellows. And behind these, another pair. And another. And another. And so on, to infinity. Was this alcohol drenched skull producing a delirious play of mirrors?
I clung to a René Daumal, by chance, and we began a visually intermittent conversation (when he was facing me, it was easy to make him out. When he turned in profile, puf, he disappeared. And his voice, until he decided to turn, would just hang there, half lost, clinging to something or someone invisible):
– You're looking for what, trouble? – I said to him, dizzy – Go mind your own business. At first glance, it does not seem that you’ll be of much use to me nor to my fixed ideas.
– Young man, you’re relying too much on appearances.
– You're wasting your time around here.
– You’re of some use for me. I’m not wasting time.
– Tell me, then, how can I be of service to you, which I won’t be, happily so. What are you doing here, apart from bothering people?
– My friend, I am a whole story. I’m here on an assignment. I pretend to be afflicted by the illness you suffer, only to study you better. Then I will publish a sensational account of this trip. It will be called (and at this point the speech came closer to my ear) A Night of Serious Drinking. In it, I will show the nightmare of the forlorn who try to feel a little more alive, but end up in drunkenness, for lack of direction, brutalized by drinks that do not cool them. In short, as the wise Oinophile said, ‘while philosophy teaches how man intends to think, drunkenness shows how he thinks.’ And I study people like you: the makers of useless objects.
– For manufacturers of useless objects, like you, anything is good for manufacturing. I even met some that could make unusable the most useful things.
– Very close from here there is a colony of growers who produce potatoes for the purpose of consumption so they have the necessary strength for growing potatoes. Others began to build houses and then had to invent mechanical men to inhabit them, then spinners to dress the automatons, then other automata, to make the wiring work, then houses to house these automata ... in short, this world is in a fever of activity, in such a work enthusiasm, that it is difficult to exchange more than two words with the least busy of them.
– I ask: and wh ...
– If you ever utter out loud the word ‘why,’ you will not leave from here alive.
– Give me a handshake, and go on your way. I promise that in three minutes neither you nor I will remember what was said here – and I focused my attention on my next fixed idea, the woman I had to take to bed.
– The makers of useless objects have a great contempt for bodily life. They consider harmless those who produce objects that are only good for that same bodily life. There is only one category of humans that they cannot stand and are always ready to lacerate, to starve, to crush, or to insult, – the makers of objects useful-in-another-form, the rare survivors of those whom, in past centuries, were called artists. But they only venture through these parts in armored cars.
– You make me laugh.
– Come on, don’t be naive. Everyone likes to laugh. Even octopuses like to be tickled.
– I know everything, I’m a giant, but I do not understand anything you say.
– Perfect. You are on the right path. Not understanding, not being. Not aiming for much. With all this crowd wanting to be something, how can this world not get full? How do surpluses disappear? For if in this world no one lives truly, they cannot die, can they?
– Being something is decisive. Or is it not?
– I also wondered about that. I’ll answer you, since you ask me the question. But what I’m going to tell you must stay between us. Is there anything more comforting than realizing that we are less than nothing? – And he insisted again with shameless brazenness. – Don’t forget, while philosophy teaches how man intends to think, drunkenness shows how he thinks. Do you agree with me now?
Damn, that sentence, inexplicably, touched me more than the eight whiskeys. I realized this when I found myself saying out loud:
– I just want to get out of this great drunkenness. Go back. Skip my coming to this bar. Wake up in the place I came from. Go back to myself too. Show up at home in a snap. This is what my drunkenness says.
René Daumal listened attentively. Nodding, he stretched out his arm, put his hand close to my ear, and in a snap, I was at my house, in my kitchen, sitting at my table.
I’m a man, I thought. I’m a giant. A person of fixed ideas and a headache the size of a melon. And how, how was I not able to get into bed with Roger Vailland's sister? I recalled in frustration. Nothing that cannot be fixed, I thought, if I substitute that idea for other small things. And because I was filled with thirst, a thirst for water, I stuck in my head the beautiful fixed idea of drinking water. I thought about my hand and its usefulness, if it managed to reach the glass in front of me. As soon as I grabbed it, I realized that the glass was glued to the table top. Then I had the idea of getting another glass, but the fingers, no matter how hard I pulled them, were stuck to the first glass. Then I had the good idea to get out of there. I tried with all my might to get myself up. Impossible: the bum refused to leave the chair, my feet did not leave the ground, my other hand did not leave my thigh. I closed my eyes, and I could not open them again. The light went out. It’s dark around here. Where I’ve been stuck for years in this fixed idea of darkness.
* Much of the talk of the bar scene, in the second part of this text, was taken from René Daumal’s book A Grande Bebedeira [A Night of Serious Drinking] (Dois Dias Edições, 2017)