I’ve been reading, as a sort of relief from poetry, the utterly European novellas of the Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia. The first three quotes below are from Open Doors; the second is from Death and the Knight. They are two of the four novellas collected in Open Doors and Three Novellas, the title of which implies that Open Doors itself is not a novella. Well, maybe so. Although it is must 72 pages long, it is structured like a novel. What does that mean? Robert Harlow, the Canadian novelist I studied with at University of British Columbia, put it this way: “A short story stops time so the story can happen. A novella is time flowing through a conduit. A novel is about ‘the times.’” I knew and still know what he meant, but I can’t expound on his distinctions or state them in a different way. It’s as if Antonio Porchia took a brief detour into literary criticism. Anyway, on to Sciascia:
Lackeys are always in favor of capital punishment, those who are lackeys by their function and those who are lackeys in their soul.
Good fellows form the base of every pyramid of iniquity.
Tragedy was what gook place in a sphere where law was powerless, drama what was subordinated to the vigor and rigor of law.
He had always loved to unravel a thread of spontaneous curiosity through his books and in his thoughts, ever since he had had dealings with books: which was why his brothers, whose relations with books required will and effort, thought him a time-waster. But he knew how much he had gained from those wasted hours and days; and anyway, he had always taken pleasure in it.
“There are grounds for suspecting, in other words, that there exists a secret constitution, whose first article runs: The security of power is based on the insecurity of the citizens.”
“Of all the citizens, in fact. Including those who, spreading insecurity, believe themselves to be safe.”
Honestly, I’m an old man.*
But my feelings never grow old.
My ideas fly like leaves in the wind,
but my feelings are a buried river.
My task, as I grow older, seems to be
to map out the cenotes—pools of clarity
where the river breaks from the earth.
If a few leaves blow in, are swept
away to the sea—well, why not?
But to look awhile into the waters,
the secret waters, the sacred waters—
that is the first and only reward.
* I’m not really that old. I was just feeling my age when these lines came to me.