The whole mechanical theory of the Universe is absurd. A few years from now all systems will be ridiculous – even the planetary system.
Besides the existentially insane nameless narrator, there’s another major character in Húmus, a mad philosopher called Gabiru. Our first glimpse of Gabiru comes from the narrator, who has a strange relationship with him. His initial description of Gabiru is amazing and troubling:
An absurd man. Magnetic frog eyes. He’s a part of my being that I abhor, the only part of my being that interests me. Sometimes he drops ink in my nerves. He speaks when I least expect. I call him, he doesn’t show up. If I want to be practical, he gesticulates inside his coat, horrified: “The Soul! The Soul!” Singular philosopher! He’s capable of wishing death just to see what’s inside of it; he’s capable of finding even eternal things vulgar. Next to life he builds another life. He dreams, and his dreams are always undoable, in his hands they turn into shapeless clay. Everyone laughs – he’s already dreaming again… For him life consists, huddled and numb, in getting drunk on dream, in dissolving in dream, in holing himself up in dream. For whole months no one snatches a word from him, for whole days I hear him monologuing at the bottom of myself. He ignores all practical realities. In the tree he seeks the tree’s soul, in the rock the rock’s soul. He distorts everything. He places his hand and soaks. He discolours dream…
I don’t have the faintest idea if Gabiru exists or if he’s a mere figment of the narrator’s imagination. Somewhere he talks of a wife, possibly he’s responsible for her death, maybe, I don’t know, I have no certainties. Be that as it may, he has his own sections in the novel, collections of aphorisms. His aphoristic style reminds me of Nietzsche’s writings, particularly Beyond Good and Evil. I will insist that this is a Nietzschean novel, inspired by Thus Spake Zarathustra, not least of which because the narrator speaks of super-men in the final chapter.
Let’s begin with Gabiru’s remarkable speech about Hell:
I discern in death an atrocious suffering. Hell is not a vain word. It’s a hell of anxiety, a despair without consciousness and screams. Life is nothing but a truce – an ah – and then a plunge into that hell of pain. Into extreme pain. Here’s what death is: extreme pain, mute pain. The instinctive terror of death is a warning. I don’t want to die and I will resurrect you! To live forever! To love forever! To dream forever! – What a splendid dream! Life is almost nothing. All the things that cost so much despair, all of it gone in a hole forever. Do you hear? For all eternity. What were the screams, the tears, climbing, going up, reaching the top of Calvary for? For all eternity! I know it well: what I’m clinging to is intangible: it’s the woman who passed, an expression of tenderness appearing on her snout, and who you’ll never see again; it’s that rainy morning when we got wet together (and I still feel wet) and that won’t be repeated, it’s the minute running down our hands like a thread of water, but the sun makes it golden, and it’s that same translucent minute that I want to live again, without the shadow of death on my side. It’s that trifle that life is that I grasp at with despair. Life is nothing – it’s this colour, this ink, this disgrace. It’s pining and tenderness. It’s everything. It’s my living and my dead. I pity everything, even ugliness. I clutch at everything, everything holds me, the dream that doesn’t exist, the useless hours, the possible and the impossible. The forest isn’t part of my being, and I have the forest here, the sound and fragrance of the forest, the life of the forest; the sky isn’t part of my being, and I am the deep sky, the tragic sky and the splendid sky. Give me life – I’ll give you everything in return… I cling like a shipwrecked sailor, I cling with a pining that comes not just from me, but from afar, from the basis of life itself. Forever! For all eternity! And with a deeper sigh, repeats: - I’ve suppressed death, I will resurrect you!
By the way, And with a deeper sigh, repeats… I love it that there’s nothing separating Gabiru’s words from the narrator’s. Like I wrote before, it’s as if he’s writing it faster than he can think and has no time for punctuation.
Yes, he’s mad, but there’s madness in his madness. What is this dream he clings to so ardently? It’s the dream of God, the existence of God. If God exists, he doesn’t have to fear death, eternity is his reward. Even if it’s a “dream that doesn’t exist,” it’s better to believe in it. This is Pascal’s wager, incidentally. Gabiru has found peace in continuing to believe in God. Whereas the narrator alternates between outbursts of rage and ecstasy, Gabiru keeps a sober serenity. So maybe he’s not mad, even if he is.
Now an excerpt from Gabiru’s papers:
What stops me from seeing life, is the insignificance of life.
Joy is light. The supreme light is God.
If He doesn’t exist – we create Him.
I’ve reached that point in life when the others don’t interest me, and I don’t interest the others. We don’t speak the same language. I only understand a few wretched ones.
Everything in nature are forms of my soul. My soul passes like a light in front of darkness. Extinguished, only darkness remains.
An initiation is needed for the other world.
I feel every step I take is irremediable.
If they asked me what I’d like to be – I’d like to be this right here. Thus in eternity I’d want you, my soul, with the same dream, the same life and the same mistakes. I won’t swap you for another soul.
No beauty is complete without a dash of pining.
Poverty, disgrace and pain scare me. But how prestigious! Being fed by disgrace gives us another fibre, which alone to disgrace belongs. You become part of a splendid legion.
There’s a better portion of our being, there’s no denying it. Light between residues, screams and instincts. If there isn’t another life, I ask what for?
If it were possible to suppress the illusion – we’d all die as one. I live between four walls, and between four walls I analyse and comment and build the Universe. Outside this cocoon nothing exists for me. It happens, however, that everything else is outside it…
If you ask me what life is – I don’t know what life is. I know it devours me – I know I have death close to me.
What does life make of us? It wastes us, reduces us to essential lines. It gets us used to living, and, when we’re used to living, it suppresses us.
I know everything is appearances, with a single reality, death. In order to die living wasn’t worth it, to be full of pining living wasn’t worth it. Just to be mystified living wasn’t worth it.
The best part of life – missing life.
What does your life boil down to in the end? Some petty ideas – and something that doesn’t fit inside.
Yes, life has beautiful moments, when we forget it. And above all the dream. The dream is worth life.
It’s nothing and less than nothing, Impulse, confusion and logic, and at the bottom of your being an anxiety bigger than everything, which is the best part of your being. Better yet, that makes you wretched. Better yet, that insists in having a Universe in its way, and that little by little, in spite of everything, against everything, has been building the world in its way. It made Jesus. It propels you upwards, all the time further up.
I hear myself living with terror – and I walk on tip-toes towards death.
If future life is an absurd, this life is a bigger absurd still. It’s all a question of habit. I dreamt you so much I built you.
I’m as necessary here as the stars of the sky. Here I am, a petty creature, with pain on my side, with dream on my side. I’ll end up dominating you. There’s no death that’s worth you!
This is abject, sometimes it’s grotesque – but if it disappeared, God would disappear, and, with the greatest of dreams, all other dreams.
I bet you never spent Christmas day thinking about stuff like this!
It’s in these aphorisms that the novel also comes closest to The Book of Disquiet.
Also, it’s curious that Gabiru’s papers also have dates, like the narrator’s diary sections; another clue they may just be the same person.
A key principle of Gabiru’s thinking:
A life is summed up in two lines, synthesized in two or three facts. If life were only that, living it wouldn’t be worth it. Life is much bigger through the dream than through reality. For what we suspect than for what we know. If we content ourselves with the surface, there’s nothing more stupid – if we stop contemplating it, it causes dizziness. That’s why I insist Death doesn’t just have five letters, but the most beautiful, the most tremendous, the most profound of mysteries. Prepare yourself.
And his final words in the novel:
Let life follows its splendid path. It tastes like dream and iron. And tenderness, disgrace and despair. It takes us, drags us, compels us, fills us with illusion, disperses us to the four corners of the Globe. It bruises us. It gets us up. It stuns us. It supports us. It soaks us in the same whirlpool of slime. It kills us. But just for a moment it forces us to look at the sky and until the end we get our eyes dazed. I believe in God.
My irreverence aside, I find Gabiru’s thoughts extremely fascinating, and even beautiful. The awe, sadness and submission have such a visceral honesty I believe he believes in them. There’s nothing artificial or novelistic about his voice, which means the author did his job very well. I can’t read Gabiru’s final words in the novel without a feeling of moving apprehension. His I believe in God has an incredible power after everything he wrote, after the cumulative effect of his writings throughout the novel. Because if the narrator is a man torn between faith and atheism, Gabiru has a chilling constancy of thought. He believes in God, and he dismounts his entire thought process to explain why. His choice of words refers to the same metaphors of dreaming, building, creating, imagining. He believes in God but he also clinically analyses why he has to believe in God, not as a vain concept, but as the principle that gives meaning to his life.
His strange peacefulness, his contempt of life, his acceptance of death, his clinging to the dream of God, but also his capacity to cold reflect about his self-illusion, as a non-believer, touch me very deeply. It’s amazing and terrible. His I believe in God isn’t the futile utterance of someone who never wrestled with the question, who just absorbed his faith from family or society. It’s the articulate, reasoned decision to coldly believe in spite of everything. I hardly noticed it the first time I read because it’s such a banal sentence, but as the culmination of all of Gabiru’s reflections, it’s the last thing he could say before leaving the novel.
Next, the apocalypse.