Mantis found Arrhodes just before he took his last breath. She tucked his body in, and so they lay, through the two days of the blizzard, "and on the third day, the sun came up”. By the way, that last phrase is weird. Where was the sun for these two days? Only behind the clouds? The definition of the day refers only to the movement of celestial bodies, regardless of the weather. I suspect it refers to the very first sentence of the story, “in the beginning there was darkness”. In the Bible’s Genesis , the rhythm of the subsequent days does not depend on the Earth’s rotations, but involves all of creation. A day is not 24 hours, nor a full diurnal cycle (alternating brightness and darkness does not begin until one of the later days) but a figure of convention that means a period of time that can be grasped, understood. So what I see here is a link and a deeper, somehow perverse reference to the myth of the beginning. But how to understand it exactly – that I do not know.
Anyway, it is now finished. The composition is a little over half an hour long, it has one part, divided into several sections. I think it is quite demanding, especially for a soloist... but Asia Freszel can accomplish greater things with her voice. And she will be accompanied, it seems, by Klangforum Wien. Where and when, I do not know yet. The final title: lo firgai. That's the Lojban term for a mask, meaning a covering of the face.
I did not write much about music this time, there were only few examples of the score. So now the entire thing, from bird’s eye view:
And here’s the final text in English:
There was darkness.
And who was I?
I was moving?
a volitional entity
I am / me
I opened my eyes, I smiled
I moved forward,
and her dresses moved with me
This was the court ball.
There opened up a corridor,
that I might walk like some Queen
down the path through people
At the foot of a marble statue stood a man shorter than the rest.
For he was the king.
And who was I?
Passing him I stopped as if I wished to curtsy low to him.
He did not deign to look upon me. He was the King.
And who was I?
But what could he want of me,
But to where was I walking thus?
And then this stranger looked at me
just as utterly alone as I
He rose and came towards me.
Two steps and he stopped… he stopped
I let slip from my wrist the little loop of my fan.
For it to fall.
‘Madam’, he said, ‘Your fan…’
‘Sir’, I said, ‘must I drop it again?’ And I smiled.
And he was silent.
He did not know what to say.
I smiled and he was silent.
Oh, it was a passionate love, tender
and altogether ordinary. Very great, it caused me to tremble,
it quickened my pulse. And very small, being limited in me,
subject to the style.
And we kept falling.
In two days the love affair had progressed in due form.
I was guiltless and at the same time full of guilt.
He did not suspect anything.
On the evening of the third day I finally set about discovering who I was.
I turned to myself.
Into the dark secret.
Before, yes, exactly.
Where was I?
Where was it?
What was earlier?
A chorus of answers.
If there was only one chain…
The Duenna and/or Angelita and/or Tlenix
These genealogies revolved within me.
But such a thing was impossible,
Truth cannot contradict itself.
It is madness.
So I retreated from the abyss
that was myself and not myself.
Back to that which was one.
I picked up the smallest Lancet.
I cut the body in half.
Clenching my teeth.
I saw a light.
A sliver shape.
It was not a foreign thing,
It was again, still myself.
And then he.
He sneaked in.
With red roses, like a shield in front of him.
His face, his silent scream and escape
I looked at myself in the mirror.
This was I, I told myself wordlessly.
I ran out into a garden dark and dump.
I could go after him right away,
but I didn’t.
What occupied me now was my new body.
My cold left lung; right lung, hot. My faceted internal eye.
Still able to think with my former skill and ease,
I began to execute.
I took in the smell of my unlover
to follow his track
I circled once and twice,
then sped straight ahead
on the course which would be mine until the end
I ran through rains
I ran scorching suns
I ran through fields,
I ran through ravines
I did not require sleep
thus in the night too
I ran through villages
I ran through settlements
I ran through small towns
I ran through winds
I ran through crackling frost
I ran through parks,
I ran through valleys
I did not require to eat
thus in the morning too
I ran through markets
I ran through exhibitions
I ran through fairs
The days became weeks,
the weeks months,
and I still ran.
I crossed rivers and bays
I was sprinting
I crossed rapids and lakes
I was racing
I ploughed through anthills
plants and animals
I was darting
I crossed mountains and plains
I was sprinting
I crossed rocks and deserts
I was racing
I broke through whatever was in my way
But the day came
when I lost his scent
I felt uselesness of all my perfect senses
Studying myself, I crawled heavily
towards the monastery gate,
under which stood a monk.
I asked him to hear
my confession in a difficult matter
I told him everything
what if you should find the one you seek
Do you know what you will do then?
I only know what I do not wish to do
but I cannot know
that I shall not kill.
If, as you indeed tell me, you struggle with this in your mind
So tell me how does this feel?
The feeling is bad
but hunting and tracking and detecting
sneaking and lurking,
all this gives me satisfaction
He asked again:
What will you do when you see him?
And I answered again:
I do not know. I do not know.
No, I do not know.
You are my sister, he said.
Your ignorance makes us equal
in the face of Providence.
Then he showed me an old woodshed.
A smell entered my lung.
The monk said:
Yes, he was here
He hid in our monastery,
but two traitors carried him off
five days ago.
I ran out full speed,
towards the mountains
according to monk’s directions.
I climbed, following the clear spoor
on the warm surface of the stone.
I raced up
and I felt my pulse strengthening
felt it play and sing
in magnificent pursuit
I saw a building covered with snow
Inside silence reigned
Suddenly, a short noise
then one more sound, and again silence.
He was lying under the stairs.
Alive but unconscious.
At dawn he groaned
and seized to breathe.
And only then, my mind at rest,
did I lie down beside him
and wrapped him tightly in my arms.
I lay thus in the light and in the darkness through two days of snow storm
And on the third day the sun came up.
(based on the transl. by Michael Kandel, Penguin 2016)
I need to shake that story off. Lem created a pretty grim reality. The Girl-Mantis is, in many ways, quite off-putting; she is far from being a positive heroine, so it’s difficult to identify with her. But it’s also hard not to empathise. I myself feel sorry for her. She is a monster that had been called to existence and burdened with a terrible task against her will, without being able to escape or be consoled. She learns the taste of love, beauty and freedom, but she is very well aware that these values and these feelings are only tools in her case. One more paradox: the sense of her existence is strictly defined, she gets to know it quite quickly, but finding it does not give her happiness, it only gives her a tiny bit of satisfaction, at best. Interesting. Happiness requires an unknown. The fate of the other characters concerns me less, they are superfluous, little is actually known about them. Anyway, they did not live happily ever after. But there also is some addictive, terrible beauty in it.
I don’t have much time to shake things off. Another thing is waiting, a smaller one this time. I’m back to work on an idea that has been developing at the back of my head since the summer, perhaps much, much longer... more about this next week.
(transl. Magdalena Małek-Andrzejowska)