Thursday, April 11, 2013

you must forgive me, doctor...

(a scene from dostoevsky's the double, translation by george bird slightly modified)

dr. rutenspitz, physician and surgeon, was an exceptionally healthy, albeit elderly gentleman, with bushy, greying eyebrows and side whiskers, an expressive twinkling gaze that seemed by itself to scare away all maladies, and a high decoration upon his breast.  on this particular morning, he was sitting in a comfortable armchair in his consulting room, smoking a cigar, drinking coffee brought to him by his wife herself, and now and then writing prescriptions for his patients.  the last draught prescribed by him had been for an old man with hemorrhoids, and now, having seen this worthy out by a side door, he was sitting awaiting the next patient.

in walked mr. golyadkin.

evidently the doctor neither expected nor wished to see mr. golyadkin, for he was for the moment suddenly bewildered, and unwittingly allowed a strange look, one might almost say a look of annoyance, to cross his face.

as, for his part, mr. golyadkin somehow almost invariably turned up at the wrong time, and lost his head the moment he had occasion to approach someone on a personal matter, so now, having failed to prepare the opening sentence which was the real stumbling-block for him at such times, he grew dreadfully confused, muttered something that might have been an apology, then, being at a loss what to do next, took a chair and sat down.  suddenly recollecting that he had not been invited to do so, and sensing the impropriety of his action, he made haste to rectify this breach of social etiquette and bon ton by rising from the seat he had so unceremoniously taken.  gathering his wits and realizing vaguely that he had committed two blunders at once, he then resolved without delay upon committing a third, that is, he attempted an apology, muttered something with a smile, grew flushed and confused, relapsed into an expressive silence, sat down again, this time for good, and protected himself against every eventuality by means of that defiant look which possessed the singular power of enabling him to reduce all his enemies to ashes and utter destruction.  it was, moreover, a look that gave full expression to mr. golyadkin's independence, making it clear that he had nothing to worry about, that he went his own way like anyone else, and had in any case nothing to do with what concerned other people.

dr. rutenspitz coughed and cleared his throat, evidently as a sign that all of this met with his agreement and approval, and fixed a searching inquisitorial gaze upon mr. golyadkin.

"dr. rutenspitz," began mr. golyadkin, smiling, "I have come to bother you a second time, and for a second time I venture to ask your indulgence."

mr. golyadkin was obviously finding difficulty in selecting the right words.

"m-m, yes," said dr. rutenspitz, allowing a stream of smoke to escape from his mouth, and placing his cigar on the table.   "but you must follow my instructions, you know.  I told you your treatment must take the form of a change in habits.  amuse yourself, visit your friends and acquaintances, don't grudge yourself a bottle occasionally, and keep merry company."

still smiling, mr. golyadkin was quick to remark that as he saw it he was just like anyone else; he was his own master, he had his amusements just like anyone else, and naturally could go to the theater, for like other people he had the means; he was at his post in the office during the day, but was at home in the evening; he was all right, and was, as he saw fit to observe here in passing, as well-off as the next fellow; he had his own place, and finally, he had his butler petrushka.  at this point mr. golyadkin faltered.

"uh... no, that's not the sort of life at all... I wasn't meaning to ask you about that," said the doctor.  "what I want to know is whether you are fond of merry company, whether you have a good time.  now then, sir- are you leading a melancholy life, or a merry one?"
"dr. rutenspitz, I..."
"hmm... what I'm saying," interrupted the doctor, "is that you must radically reform your whole life, and in a sense change your character completely."  dr. rutenspitz strongly emphasized the word 'change', and paused for a moment with a highly significant look.

"don't fight shy of the merry life," he continued.  "go to theaters, go to discos, go to clubs, go to lectures, and in any case don't be afraid of an occasional glass.  it's no use staying at home.  a fellow like yourself simply mustn't!"

"hey- I like peace and quiet!" protested mr. golyadkin, throwing a meaning glance at the doctor, and obviously seeking the words that would best render his thoughts.  "there's no one at my place except myself and pretrushka... I mean my butler, doctor.  what I mean is, doctor, I go my own way, my own peculiar way... I keep to myself, and so far as I can see am not dependent on anyone.  also I go for walks, doctor.  long solitary walks late at night."
"uh...what's that?...yes.  but there's not much pleasure in that at the moment.  the weather is terrible!"
"yes, doctor.  I agree.  but as I believe I have already had the honor of explaining, although I am a quiet sort of person, my path is separate from other people's.  the road of life is a broad one, doctor...  you'll concede at least that much?  what I mean... uh... what I mean to say is... uh... oh, fuck it! forgive me, doctor- I have no gift for fine phrases."
"m-m-m, you were saying..."
"I say you must forgive me, doctor, for having so far as I can detect no inherent gift for fine phrases," said mr. golyadkin in a half-offended tone, now a little lost and perplexed.  "in this respect, doctor, I am not as other people," he added with a peculiar sort of smile.  "I'm no great talker.  I haven't learned to embellish what I say.  but to make up for it, I'm a man of action... indeed, sir... a born man of action."
"m-m-m... what's that?... so you're a man of action, eh?" responded the doctor.  then for a moment there was silence, while the doctor stared in a strange and incredulous way at mr. golyadkin, while the latter, in turn, looked incredulously askance at the doctor.

"peace is what I like, doctor, not the tumult of society," continued mr. golyadkin, still in his former tone, a little exasperated and bewildered by the doctor's stubborn silence.  "with most people- in society, I mean- you have to know how to bow and scrape."  (here mr. golyadkin performed a bow.)  "that's expected of you in society, doctor!  surely you've noticed this!"

there was no visible response from the doctor.

mr. golyadkin continued: "you're asked to make puns, too, if you please, pay scented compliments- all that sort of thing!  it's expected of one!  my god!  it's absolutely required!  but I haven't learned how to do this, doctor- I never received the right training!  I have never learned all these cunning ways... dear lord... I've had absolutely no time for them!  I'm a plain, simple fellow.  a straightforward, you get-what-you-see type of fellow.  an everyday sort of fellow, in fact!  there's no outward show about me, for better or worse.  on this point, doctor, I lay down my arms- or, to continue the metaphor... I surrender."

all this, of course, was delivered in a manner that made it quite clear that our hero had no regrets about his so-called "surrender" and his inability to acquire cunning ways, but entirely the reverse.  while listening to him, the doctor, his face unpleasantly grimaced, kept his eyes fixed upon the floor, as if preoccupied with a presentiment of some sort.

mr. golyadkin's tirade was followed by a rather long and semi-significant silence.  at length, in a low voice, the doctor said:  "sir, you seem to have wandered a little off the subject at hand, I'm afraid.  I confess that I haven't quite followed you."

"I'm not one for fine phraseology, doctor," said mr. golyadkin, this time in an abrupt incisive tone.  "I am not, as I have already had the honor of informing you, sir, a master of delicate phrases... perhaps I should look into receiving some special training in that essential department... what do you think of that, sir?"
"dr. rutenspitz, when I came in, I began by apologizing.  now I'll repeat what I said before, and again ask for your indulgence."  mr. golyadkin began once more in a low taut expressive voice, that dwelt upon every nuance, and had an almost solemn ring about it.  "dr. rutenspitz, I have nothing to conceal from you.  understand that.  appreciate that at the deepest recess of your doctorly being.  I am a small, simple fellow- you know that better than anyone.  but fortunately I have no regrets about being a small, simple fellow.  quite the contrary, in fact!  to be utterly frank with you, doc, I'm even a little bit proud of it!  not being an "intriguer", a "player", a "slickster", a "fine and upstanding fellow."  you may or may not have noticed this, doctor, but I don't do things on the quiet, but openly... transparently... without the least bit of pretense... and although I could do my fair share of harm, and do it very well too, and though I even know precisely whom to harm and how to best go about it, I don't sully myself with these things, doctor- I completely wash my hands of them!"  here mr. golyadkin simulated the washing of his hands and repeated his final phrase in an extremely loud tone of voice.  for several moments our hero relapsed into a semi-significant silence.  dr. rutenspitz continued gazing intently down at the floorboards.

"I go about straight and openly," he continued suddenly.  "I don't go beating about the proverbial bush, because, frankly, dr. rutenspitz, that's a way of doing things I've always scorned, and left to others!  I don't go trying to humiliate those who very likely are far, far better than you or I... that is, uh... better  than I... sorry... I didn't mean to say 'better than you', not at all... but still... I don't appreciate the odd word thrown in here and there, miserable double-dealing I detest, slander and gossip I abominate from my innermost core.  the only time I put on a mask is when I attend an actual masquerade or holiday costume party!..."   

(note to reader: after a few more awkward questions, our hero bursts into tears for several minutes, and only regains his composure after... well... don't wanna ruin the suspense!)