I


At first the darkness sometimes forms the vague outline of an ace of spades: from a point in front of you two lines recede, diverge and, after tracing a vast curve, tum back towards you.

Later it becomes an ocean, a black sea over which you sail, as if your nose were the point or rather the stem of a gigantic steamship. Everything is black. No night, no darkness, the entire world is black, intrinsically black as on a photographic negative, and the only whiteness, or perhaps grayness, is in the surge your passage raises on each side of your nose, along your eyes, which are perhaps the sides of the ship, where formerly the ace of spades bad figured as if in mere prelude to this wake, the whitish, undulating trail that you cut in front of you as you glide over the black water. The water encompasses you on all sides, a black, motionless sea, extraordinarily smooth, lacking even phosphorescence, and yet you feel that you could detect every detail, the slightest cloud if there were a sky, the merest shoal if there were an horizon. But there is only sea, and you are all stem cutting without effort, sound, or tremor the deep white tracks of your way, like a share ploughing up a field.

Soon, however, some place overhead, as if an inset, as if a screen appeared and a motion picture negative were projected on it, there is the same ship only now seen from above, in its entirety, and as for you, you are on the deck leaning over the railing or rather the gunnel, in a somewhat romantic attitude. For a long time the double image remains absolutely precise; and indeed if there is any one thing that irritates, that bothers you, it’s that you can no longer manage to tell whether first of all you are the stem all by itself, raising white waves as it glides over the sea, and subsequently, almost simultaneously, some such thing as the consciousness of being this stem, which is to say the entire ship overhead on which you are the motionless passenger who is leaning from the deck in a slightly romantic attitude; or whether, on the contrary, there is first of all the entire ship gliding over the black sea with you, its only passenger, leaning against the gangway, and then a single detail inordinately magnified of this ship, the stem that divides the billows and raises on either side two waves—dense, white, but perhaps too definite in their con-tours to be really waves, they are more undulations, effects of drapery, with something about them rather stately, almost slowed down.

For a long time the two ships—the part and the whole, your stem nose and your steamship body—sail in consort without giving you any chance to dissociate them: you are at once the stem and the ship and yourself on the ship. Then a first contradiction occurs, but it is perhaps only an optical illusion ascribable to differences of scale and perspective: it appears to you that the ship is moving slowly, more and more slowly, perhaps a little as if you saw it from a greater and greater distance, from higher and higher up; and yet you leaning on the gunnel, do not grow any smaller at all, you still remain as visible as ever; and as far as the stem is concerned, it moves faster and faster, it is no longer gliding but shoots over the water, like a motorboat or even an outboard no longer an ocean liner at all.

At this point, and here things become much worse, as if you knew, perhaps by experience, that what is in the process of taking shape is the beginning of the end, since you will never he able to stand the intensity of what is foreshadowed for more than a few moments, for more than a few seconds, even though nothing as yet has been revealed except, perhaps, a premonitory sign at the most, a token whose meaning was not even certain, and whose elucidation you await in the vain hope that everything will stay blurred for as long as possible, because you know already that the moment of awakening is about to lay hold of you, it’s precisely your impatience that has brought it on and every effort you make to delay it only speeds its onset;—at this point, as it does every time, there emerges, not slowly enough, the feeling at once thrilling and dismal, wonderful and heartbreaking, from the start too precise and becoming very soon an almost painful throb: the absurd certainty—or, instead, not yet quite absurd but sure to become absurd—that this is a true memory, exact in every detail: the sea was black, the ship made slow headway through the narrow channel, projecting sheaves of white foam along its sides, you were leaning over the railing of the promenade deck in the slightly romantic attitude adopted by all passengers looking at sea gulls while they take the air; you experienced the same feeling that you now experience, and nevertheless you experience no feeling now other than the perilous, the ever more perilous one of knowing that such a memory is at once impossible and ineradicable.

Later, much later—you may have woken up several times, dozed hack to sleep several times, you have turned on your right side, on your left side, you have lain on your back, lain face down, perhaps you have even turned on the light, perhaps smoked a cigarette—later, much later, sleep becomes a target, no, it’s rather you who become sleep’s target. It’s a widening, intermittent focus. In front of you, or more exact-J} in front of your eyes, sometimes a little to the left, sometimes a little to the right, never at the center, a myriad of little white dots gradually draw together, finally assuming some cat-like shape, the profile of a panther’s head, which moves forward, grows larger as it bares two sharp fangs, then disappears, giving way to a luminous spot that broadens, turns into a rhombus, a star, and swoops down on you, missing you at the last second as it goes by on your right. The phenomenon recurs several times at regular intervals—nothing at first, then faintly luminous dots, a panther’s head in out-line, filled out, growing larger, roaring, baring two sharp fangs; afterwards a ball of light that heads towards you, just misses you, passing so close that you almost thought you had touched, felt, and heard it; then again nothing, for a long time—white dots, the panther’s head, the star that swells and brushes against you.

Then, for a long time, nothing; or else, sometimes, later, somewhere, something like a white sun exploding...