Friday, February 29, 2008

On the Flooding of the World

I don’t know if you remember the last world flood. Probably not, since people forget just punishments quite readily; but it does not matter, I shall remind you. It was probably as simple as the Lord getting angry at human dissipation, partisanship and other sins, and decided He would not let it happen any longer. So He sent a rain which lasted forty days and forty nights; the national meteorological institute claimed, however, that it was an influx of moist air from the ocean caused by an extensive low front over the continent, but when the Vltava reached the Museum, people started to say that it was not a natural occurrence and that it had to be the end of the world. And so it was. Some people sought protection in churches, others made a run on the banks, withdrawing their money at once (what good that would do them when the world ended God only knows) and others lived it up, spending above their means like before; hundreds of them drowned in bars all the same. More reasonable people said that of course something should be done about this world flood, like building levees, and industriously and freely announced their intentions; but the plans for the levees remained in the planning office and haven’t been approved to this day. Finally people set to work themselves and started to build levees where it occurred to them to do so, but what good were levees when the water had already drowned Barrandov, Pankrác, Bohdalec and Střešovice and continued to rise. In other cities in other states with different geographies it wasn’t any better; it was still the end of the world, as it had been written. And no one could even construct an ark, for obvious reasons. Podskálí flooded first, and the people in Vinohrady and Dejvice didn’t even know how to build a raft, let alone an ark. There was nothing to be done. The end of the world is the end of the world.

In these times there lived an elderly man, named Kirchner or Bezdíček or something like that; and as a retiree he took up archeology, and was always looking for prehistoric relics Once he was digging somewhere near Hloubetin and found some potsherds, covered with some sort of nicks or scratches; there were perhaps about twenty of them. Then this Mr. Kirchner (or Bezdíček) got it into his head that these symbols were ancient runes, and he would decipher them. The word “Samo” came out during his decipherment and some other strange words; so he gleefully collected them and composed the book On The Fragments of Samo, in which he demonstrated that these fragments had come from the broken urn of the great ruler Samo, conqueror of the Avars, and that Samo’s life was written on it in the long-extinct Celtic language of the ancient Boii. Naturally, learned archeologists reacted to this discovery with laughter and suggested the runes were simply a poorly-executed linear decoration. From that point on Mr. Bezdíček (or Kirchner) bore a lifelong grudge against “learned archeologists” and produced many pamphlets proving that they were ignoramuses and that his fragments were truly the remnants of Samo’s urn. He set to the study of the Celtic languages and maintained that the words he had deciphered on those fragments had Celtic roots. But you know, try to convince the educated of something they have not discovered themselves! Simply put, science did not accept Mr. Kirchner (or Mr. Bezdíček’s) proofs, and Mr. Bezdíček felt personally insulted by this, continuing his bitter struggle against archeology. Nothing else existed for him except his runic inscriptions and his fight to sweep away our archeology. And just then came the flooding of the world.

Mr. Bezdíček (or Kirchner) lived in Vinohrady close to the reservoir; he did not care that it was pouring buckets outside, because he was sitting at his writing desk and writing a furious polemic against a Professor Ondrejček or whatever the expert on Celtic graves’ name was. He was writing and didn’t care about anything else, and when his maid said that it might be the end of the world, he only grumbled for her to leave him in peace, he didn’t have time for such foolishness; what did he care about some end of the world? ‘I’ll show that Ondrejček,’ he said, ‘I’ll take him apart bit by bit. His graves in Ouholice,’ he said, ‘are not Celtic at all, but ordinary Germanic barrows; and that idiot would lecture me on Samo’s fragments?’ And then he threw the maid out, saying he didn’t have time to talk to her, and kept writing.

Then a neighbor ran up to him, saying that all the building’s tenants had started to build a levee downhill in Kravín against the elements; and Mr. Kirchner should come too and help build. ‘What’s this about levees,’ Mr. Bezdíček said, ‘what concern are they of mine. I’m giving it to this dullard, this psuedo-scientist Ondrejček, such that he’ll never recover. I have to discredit him; it is in the interest of archeology, sir. Such an ignoramus must not be allowed to defile an extinct nation,’ Mr. Kirchner (or Bezdíček) cried. ‘This flood of yours does not interest me; please do not bother me further with it, sir.’ And he sat down and kept writing. At this point the water was halfway up the statue of Svatopluk the Czech.

A third person then came to see Mr. Kirchner, his sister from Flora. She was from a sect that had hidden themselves at the home of a mason in Olšany, devoting themselves to prayers, miracles and prophesy. This cousin informed Mr. Bezdíček that the end of the world and the resurrection of the righteous were nigh, as it had been in the book of Revelations; and that he, Mr. Bezdíček, should join them and await it to the chanting of hymns on the triumph of the righteous. ‘Some righteous you are,’ Mr. Bezdíček proclaimed. You pray, sure, but you do not fight against the false science that this Ondrejček is spreading, not at all. And leave me be with this end of the world of yours. Let the world end ten times, so long as I get this Ondrejček and his so-called Celtic graves.’ And then he locked the door, so no one could interrupt his work.

Then the waters rose higher until they flooded the whole world; humanity was extinguished; justly so was it done.

When the waters receded and only reached to the Vinohrady square, this Mr. Kichner or Bezdíček appeared on the streets, covered in a layer of mud. He was dry as a bone, carrying the manuscript of his polemic against Prof. Ondrejček, terribly angry that he couldn’t find a printer to make a run of his brochure.

When people began to multiply again years later, the new people wondered how Mr. Kirchner or Bezdíček had survived the flooding of the world; but whenever they came out and asked him, his eyes got wide in wonder and he said: “What flood? I don’t know anything about it. I was busy with that idiot Ondrejček. Imagine, that ignoramus had come out against my runic inscriptions!”

We say there is nothing unusual about Mr. Bezdíček’s survival. We’ve known for ages that human rage and fanaticism will survive all disasters and floods; not even the end of the world can touch it.

LN, 5 June 1938

2 comments:

Eric said...

Howdy.

I hope that maybe you can help me as a "Slava-cist."

Am looking for the works of Michal Ajvaz, a Czech author whose works are 'magical realism.' Ran across his writing in a 1997 collection of Czech authors.
So far, most of his works seem to be out of print, if they were ever even translated into English.

Sadly, the few phrases that I picked up years ago are shabby and faded, and only really the Russian cognates even remain, so I need to find these books and then devise a way to artfully, faithfully translate them.

You can use the google email that I give to send me a reply.

Thanks for any help you can give.

Andrew said...

Well, there's no email given in anything I can access, but I can respond here.

So you like the Ajvaz, and want to see it in English. Hmm. Well, I can use a contact or two to see if anything's still in print in the Czech republic...that'd be a good starting point.

Email me more if you want to chat. (firstname).(lastname)@gmail.com will do better than this.