Blesok no. 107, May 2016
Reading the Light
Reading the Light
(Isaac Rosa, The Dark Room. Magor, Skopje, 2015)
May misfortune dress
As it befits the light
Translated from Macedonian: Milan Damjanovski
After reading the novel The Dark Room by Isaac Rosa, the verse composed by the Croatian poet Daniel Dragojevich seem to best serve as a subtle introduction to the obliqueness of Rosa’s literary style. Thus, I would like to commence the story from this very point, his style of writing and the manner in which Rosa leads us into the absolute darkness of the room and its significance. I would like to start by pointing out the fact that in the first fifty pages of the novel none of the characters appear, only the narrating “we” is heard addressing a no particular “you”. You – opposite us, you- one of us.You – just another among the many unrecognisable faces in the darkness. The narrating “we” is in rush at all to gives us any answers, quite the contrary. The novel opens up with the following invitation: „Don’t stand there. Come in already, we are all gathered here. Behind the curtain, the door is open, all you need to do is to push it, while you feel the weight of the fabric on your back as it falls down leaving behind the semi-darkness of the hallway. The door closes by itself, and when you make a few steps you can feel the darkness hardening on your face, heavy set, yet no, this is just the second curtain hanging from a semicircular bar so as not to obstruct the passage through the door (…) It’s a passageway, placed there to open the way for you: you can go through it only sideways, like entering a temple. When you are inside, you can only orient yourself with the help of the closest wall: you lean with your hand on the feathery surface. Consequently, you can continue moving along the edges of the room, constantly hanging to the wall; or you can make a few steps toward the center of the room.”
This invitation, at the very beginning of the novel, is in fact addressed to the reader. What is the first thing happening at the onset of the novel is a rite of initiation of the reader into the world of darkness. The experience of reading the first pages of the novel is like falling through thick dough. Yet, it’s an interesting and intriguing thick dough in which the reader experiences the torment of inner struggle – whether to surrender to the voice which has put a blindfold over his or her eyes and asks to be unreservedly followed without even knowing where, or whether during the first initiation chapter (out of the eight which comprise the structure of the novel) to find a way out into the light.
Those that decide to stay have to focus in the uterine darkness of perception and experiencing. The readers of the novel, just like the characters, are faced with the narrated events as if watching them on the mental screen of their inner universe. They have agreed to participate in the communication (the evoked memory of the role of the dark room in the 15 years of the life of the characters) through the medium of mental projection of the senses of touch, smell and hearing. In the absence of the power of sight, the skin of the other is primarily and solely the skin of the other: without a face or any other form of identity. The absolute darkness of the locked and padded basement room opens up a completely different door of perception and sets up a more intimate, animalistic, yet contemplative level of both narration and its perceptions. This allows the materialization of all the things which opens up before the mind’s eye when we close our eyes.
It is against the background of this shared darkness where both the narrating “we” and the readers find themselves up to this point that the reader experiences intimately (interiorized in one’s own inner darkness) further the destinies which are developed cinematically through various episodes in the life of the spouses Maria and Raoul, the couples Sergio and Olga, Victor and Susana, of Andres, Lola, Pablo, Jesus, Silvia, Sonia, Eva. Somewhat surprisingly, after a while one concludes that only 13 names and persons are distinguished. In the uroboric labyrinth of the story, the person of “we” is in fact perceived as a monster with countless heads and intertwined extremities. Their indistinguishable nature in the darkness only helps multiply them into constantly new possibilities. Yet, it is from this position and from the very fact of being centered in this uroboric plane, where the reader intimately experiences everything in the dark, he or she can also intimately experience the brief and scattered episodes of the crisis moments in their lives – when one of them appears in the light of day. The reader follows them with the attention given to the stories of a next of kin. The reader is, after all, a witness to their most secret, intimate and mutually shared urge to reach through a series of trials and temptations the absolute of being beyond the boundaries of sexual, professional, marital or any other kind of identity which is imposed by the community. The utopia of the dark room lies in the possibility to be in it, and with or through another next to you to be yourself with oneself. The dark room is a heuristically revealed and then by a vow of secrecy defended space, a place against which the “fall in the life of the community” of each of the characters is measured. In fact, it’s not even certain whether the 13 personified characters are the only one participating in the sacred space of the darkness. The We might also be many more others. In the end, it might be all of us.
We is the only mode of narrative expression, which is why “we” is the main, collective and not quite definable and all-encompassing protagonist of the story. “We” is anyone who is unambiguously, without reservation or qualifications, without identity boundaries of any kind, part of “we”. Through this very centeredness in this “we”, we follow the episodes telling the rise and fall on the social, private and intimate plan of the personified characters in the story from their student days, through the sunset of their youth and during a period of 15 years all the way to their middle age. The oldest person in their company is the activist Silvia, a single mother of a nine-year-old son in her forties, who shall appear as a character in the second half of the novel and whose activism together with that of the hacker Jesus, will ultimately jeopardize the safety of this secret place, which at times serves as a sanctuary, and at other times as a hiding place – depending on the existential, social or intimate drama which each of the characters go through at a given moment.
The macro-temporal periods of this shared time that takes place behind the dark curtains and walls, as it was already stated, are narrated through a film screening of the sequences. For example, the ascent up the social ladder of the characters of the multi-headed “we” is seen as a synecdochal, animated representation of the spreading of houses, raising of roofs, opening of balconies and vistas of lawns and pools. Always in the collective plural. This is also repeated in the animated cinematic description of the period of the fall, the time of recession in Spain, the credit default and the activation of the mortgages – the walls of the houses squeezing in, pools disappearing, luxury holidays, mandatory weekends out of town when a two-bedroom apartments are exchanged for studios, as well as the businessman’s office with wandering in the recesses of little towns.
The cinematic aspect of the narration is present not only in the aforementioned aspect of animated recording of the passages of time, but also in the interludes entitled “Filming”, i.e. short narrative sequences that are always placed between two chapters, which denote in the manner of the “French Nouveau Roman” the movement of the camera on the screen – there’s always a new person, in the supposedly private space of solitude, unaware of being observed.
The meaning of the specific narration and the composition of the novel is revealed in the final part of the novel. It is signaled in the moment of the first appearance of a feeble ray of light in the room. It comes from the cell phone of the stalker and impostor in the room, who is stalking Maria and is able with the help of the faint greenish light of the phone to make out her silhouette in the dark. With the help of the same phone which he will leave behind, his computer and identity will be located and his social network profile will ultimately be hacked. The surveillance at this moment becomes their weapon, but also pulls them into a vortex of changing roles, both spying and being spied, filming and being at the risk of being filmed. The introductory scene of the novel in which the collective protagonist of the novel is placed in contemplation before the mental screen of memory and reminiscence, at the end is transformed not only into an image of viewers in a film screening room, but also instantly into a surveillance recording. The dark room and its absolute opaque darkness is irretrievably lost. The light of day imposes a different set of challenges and acts of self-determination in a differently organized world, with a different system of meaning than the world of darkness, with its center and a periphery relying on the meditative leaning on the walls. Light brings knowledge, as I have already said, of the irretrievable utopia of darkness in a world dominated by the imposition of light. The last sentence is a paraphrase of an old verse by Dragojevich. In order to better underline the semantic complexity of this light, echoed also by this novel, I would like to once again quote this verse.