BARNÁS Ferenc - The parasite
Az élõsködõ
  Perhaps it was all decided at the beginning. It´s hard to put a finger on it, but I was always drawn instinctively to illnesses. As a child, for example, I regularly escaped into hospitals on account of various, suspicious complaints, as if nowhere else could I be secure. Hospitals were my world, no matter how firmly ordered the outside world seemed, I felt genuinely free only amidst the muteness of those olive-colored walls. Although after two or three weeks it was invariably determined there was nothing wrong with me I knew, even while packing my things to go home that, soon enough I would return to some run-down hospital. That which children fear, that which makes adults uneasy, soothed me.
  Above all, it wasn´t the diversity of clinical cases which drew me, but the mysterious aura which illness in general build about itself. No sooner would I step into the hospital at my father´s side than I would sense this, on noticing the porter´s tired face, curtained by boredom or by the obligatory solemnity stipulated in his employment contract. Surely he was among the most important people here, I imagined, for he wore his dark-blue smock with the pride of a bureaucrat entrusted with authority, well aware that here, he was not simply a guard carrying out his duty, but a breathing crossing-barrier at the border dividing two worlds. It seemed that his eyes - glittering sometimes dimly, sometimes more brightly - exuded that indefinable light which received those stepping into the hospital. I noticed the difference immediately, perhaps as keenly as a virologist might sense that a laboratory is sterile, whereas others wouldn´t notice this at all. I breathed this light into myself like someone with tuberculosis breathes in heavy alpine air. Now, I call it a light, whereas light hardly seeped through the windows and even that which did was subdued by that characteristic hospital smell people find so revolting. Perhaps I´m not mistaken in asserting what in fact I perceived: this glitter was a materialized extension of the sundry illnesses of those suffering in the hospital both present and past. This perception of mine was akin to those fortunate occasions when we succeed in seeing behind another´s smile; so that, for example, we discover the supporting pillars which balance the smile - pillars which, were someone or something to tip them to the side, would immediately destroy the effect of this smile, though only a moment earlier it seemed incontrovertible.
  I breathed more easily on seeing the doctors appear in the hallway. So then, I´m home once again, I sighed as my father accompanied me to the familiar door of the admittance office. I was worried only that the doctor might reconsider things at the last moment, and be pleased to announce that I needn´t stay after all. Thanks to my vigilance, I kept following through on the symptoms I came up with a week earlier, so that the esteemed doctor, after yet another test, could now hand me over to one of the darling little nurses. Indeed, how could he have suspected that a ten-year-old boy was playing sick? While he racked his brains over the cause of my constant headaches, frequent dizziness, and supposed fainting spells, I wanly awaited the verdict, worried that my trickery would be uncovered any minute. The sight of my frightened face, however, could hardly have led him to suspect some machination, especially not the one at issue - that I yearned to be in a place everyone else would, if possible, flee. But I cunningly deceived him: when he notified us that they must draw a sample of my spinal fluid, I well-nigh looked upon him with joy, as if awaiting a speedy recovery from this test.
  Then I was led into the ward and shown my bed. Of course, I didn´t have pajamas, so my father had to ask them to dig me up some nightclothes. When, a little while later, that darling nurse placed the clothing before me, rather then being ashamed, I was overcome by apparent exhilaration, as if only with this ill-matched, overwashed uniform could I have become a fully legitimate denizen of the hospital, in contrast with the semi-civilians who, as they wore their own pajamas and robes, I did not consider full-fledged residents. I looked awkward in these scraps of fabric, but they were mine as surely as the guile by which I´d succeeded in deceiving those around me. Now I only waited to say good-bye to my father. Oh, he tried cheering me up, he did, saying I shouldn´t be scared, that they´d pay me a visit in no time, but even as he stroked my head, I was hoping they´d take as long as possible before tearing me out of the freedom I´d feel after our separation. No sooner did he step from the ward than I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally even my final link with the outside world had disappeared, and by now not even his presence could disturb my solitude.
  In this confinement, the fear I never could have overcome at home or at school began to slowly let up. As if I couldn´t get air anywhere else except cramped between four walls, separated from the outside world. I breathed in what my roommates´ sick bodies and frightened expressions exuded; and doing so was as an unexpecte two-day leave for a convict. So it was in this atmosphere, bleak and sad to all, that I came upon my self-identity, dubious though it may have been. Not only was I soothed by the proximity of my fellow patients, but actually drew strength from within them: I nourished myself on their worries, uncertainties, and pains, like animals that cull their food from human excrement. Why, I didn´t even have to spy on their faces to discover that distinctly visible vibration, one composed of a marqueterie of fear: the fear of their illnesses. Perhaps it was a heightened sensitivity to this shadow play, distinguishable from their bodies, which attracted me to the wards to begin with; for there I could observe that the worse off someone was, the more this vibration appeared on them as something separable from, yet nonetheless in contact with, the material world. Later, when I would catch the eye of one of my fellow patients, I met with this stare, which appeared to have torn through a veil, and I couldn´t shake off the impression that they weren´t really watching me after all, but rather, that the current surrounding their face was descending upon me.
  It was here, also, that I learned another thing: silence lays the path of understanding those we deem interesting. For days on end I lay near these wordless bodies, because only in this way could I truly map them. Of course, it is generally held that we can get to know one another best through conversation. My experience on this point differs. A breathing body near gives off a vapor as the blood of the executed on freshly fallen snow; one need only note the ´messages´ which emanate alongside the pleasant or unpleasant smells. Perhaps my job was made easier because illness rendered these bodies vulnerable, having torn away the armor each of them could have used for protection, as they´d learned earlier through steady practice. Here on the hospital beds, however, the bodies touched as imperceptibly as the flavors of vegetables and sauces used in some exceptional supper on the table of a master chef.

  I moved about these health-care institutions feeling just as much at home as a girl who, after many years, happens upon the brothel where she was born and raised. Even the most neglected hospital signified for me the possibility of freedom; once inside, I could look out upon the world without being accused of having done anything wrong. At most, folks would feel sorry for me, which of course evokes something akin to love, not only in the one who does the pitying. But it wasn´t this that held me there, for I was occupied by my heightened opportunities. With observing the sick, for example. A hospital was a laboratory of the soul, where I could glean information unavailable elsewhere.
  On some days it wasn´t through a strategy of silence that I got my neighbors to talking, but I asked them flat out to tell me about their illnesses. (From age eleven they no longer sent me to the children´s ward, but among the adult males.) The ability with which one middle-aged man in particular presented his problem would have made even a specialist proud. He spoke very nearly with devotion, although he spoke of his hemorrhoids. He began by recounting the difficulties of bowel motions, which, he pointed out, most folks unthinkingly consider the most natural phenomenon in the world. But if only they were in his place, he said, hatefully glinting his tiny eyes at me, they´d understand straight away what tortures this emptying of excrement, supposedly so natural, sometimes holds in store. At first even he regarded his situation with humor. After all, he was able to read his favorite papers from beginning to end, and that mischievous tickling from down under occasionally prompted him to laugh. But once things got to the point where he´d be waiting in vain a half hour for something to happen, he got plain irritated. Of course, only later did he realize that compared to the discomforts yet in store, he had no reason to feel this way.
  He paused briefly while giving his presentation, as if afraid that recalling the events might lead him to experience the pain anew. Once convinced that after his operation, which could be termed a success, he didn´t have to worry about this after all, he continued. If you´re unlucky, he said, ominously heightening his voice, then by God you´re at the mercy of your excrement, especially if it´s as impertinently hard as his had been in recent months. As he´d told his wife more than once, shit is the master of man. This occurred to him when he once spent an entire night on the toilet, until finally forcing the lousy little sausage through the thick web of veins enmeshing his anus, and sure enough, what emerged was bloody as all hell, just like the text books say. Only later did it occur to him to check the relevant chapter in the medical reference encyclopedia, for he´d been in agony all the while.
  Had I read Nietzsche when I was fourteen, no doubt I would have interjected, Mister, you´re absolutely right, why that German gentleman pronounced long ago that man would have a far easier time imagining himself to be God if he didn´t have a hole in his bottom. Since I was so young, however, he had to be content with sympathetic nodding on my part, which of course wasn´t exactly unproblematic, as a fit of laughter threatened to overwhelm me. The previous week, he now continued, he couldn´t postpone the operation any longer, and had no choice but to come to the hospital. He´d expected some routine incision he´d easily get through. But the next day when they laid him on his belly, on the operating table, and the shovel-handed doctor took to poking around in his buttocks, his head began to spin. He was angry with himself, too, for not having taken note of the doctor´s hands the day before, hands which, he said, had more in common with those of a manual laborer than of a surgeon´s. But this wasn´t what he wanted to talk about just now after all, but about that certain posture. Now, he´d lived through a thing or two in his life, but he´d never wound up in such an awkward situation. Imagine, he said, lowering his voice, there you are, whimpering on the table, on your belly, legs spread apart, your bottom half propped up, and there´s this rough hand fiddling around your sphincter, which it sometimes stretches out, as if intent on making room for the scalpel only there. He felt as though all his secrets had been revealed to the world. This is not to mention those discreet puffs of wind which warmed not only his behind from time to time, but the doctor´s rummaging fingers as well, rendering his situation all the more bleak. Of course, he tried to smooth over the matter with profuse apologies, but the female surgical assistant´s sympathetic humming only heightened his shame. "Believe me, if I was a philosopher or something of the sort, this little operation would at least have made me see the world differently." But he couldn´t continue his philosophizing, for the nurse then arrived to tell him it was time for bandaging. I´d enjoyed the man´s report. Indeed, how illuminating it would be if certain men of intellect would essay to verify their discoveries while in this particular awkward position.
  The week after my arrival on one occasion, by which time my roommates regarded me as part of the family, I presented my favorite theory, a technique I´d devised to acquire a knowledge of personality. I wish to briefly sum up my method.
  A composer with a perfect sense of pitch would be commissioned to ´compose´ a neurotic who´d volunteered for the experiment, and to do so not only by transcribing the patient´s words, but all the sounds the subject generates in the course of his activity. The task would not be simple in the least, for the composer could not be content with recording simply the musical equivalent of the sounds produced by speech. It would be all-too easy to substitute an exclamation with a high F, or a cool pronouncement with a scale-opening C. If polyphony can be expected anywhere at all, it must be here. In keeping with this, the body´s subtler sounds must also be incorporated into the score. When a sigh slips from an almost pure G to a G flat, for example, the composer must immediately note the glissando, and stand at the ready to ascertain whether the next sigh generates the same shift in tone. For a sound can only become the element of a musical composition if, as in this case, the slide occurs repeatedly. Chance nonetheless remains a factor, but it is advisable to consider this during the final arrangement of the score. Though it may take some work, it is possible to determine the key. Continuous talking offers countless reference points. Perhaps it is here that the composer of ´personality music´ encounters his easiest task. It is child´s play to determine, based on those chords which pop up more than once in the hoops and hollers of a sentence, which direction to nudge those sounds which obviously fall on the border - toward the major or minor key? Alas, this artifice can no more be avoided than the need for our composer to decide which among the hundreds of thousands of available notes, sufficient by any standard, to accord privileged treatment by inserting them into the composition. Notwithstanding, an opus is born whose material was provided by the musical transcription of our patient´s speech, yawns, ear-scratching, or, say, his indiscreet movements transposed as a series of sounds. Once the piece is complete, the patient would be transferred to the musical therapy ward. How exciting: the patient would be confronted with an acoustic arrangement virtually identical to himself! "Yes," he could say to his doctor with pride, "I´ll just put myself on the record player, so go ahead and listen while I step out to the toilet."
  Or else the patient wouldn´t be sent to the musical therapy ward in those first weeks at all, only his composition would. The specialist would be handed the "Lajos Balogh Sonata for Piano and Violin in D Minor," and wouldn´t even have an appointment with the patient until ascertaining the appropriate clues to the harmony of Lajos Balogh. It can hardly be doubted that the interpretation of personality music is the thorniest matter of all; indeed, the most reassuring scenario would see the psychiatrist himself compose the score. We can´t make such demands of those who specialize in mental and nervous disorders, however, so we must settle for the superlative and praiseworthy knowledge of music theory which characterizes our doctor, namely, the music therapist.
  The possibilities inherent in understanding personality through music, even if limited, are a given. Why, the very tonality of a ´piece´ says so much! Obviously it wasn´t by chance that our composer rejected atonality. One would naively believe that nervous system disorders readily tend toward chordless musical compositions, which reject harmony. Not so. While composing the Lajos Balogh Sonata the composer must have felt all the while that the setting of this personality to music expressly requires that referential center of notes and chords: the tonic. That is to say, he recorded only that from the nervous system, from behavior, from the sounds characterizing the personality, which could be seized at all; the ´gravitation´, so to speak, whose musical equivalent is the tonic. A general diagnosis can readily be established using this point of evidence. Lajos Balogh may indeed have serious problems, but his case is not hopeless. Among other indications, the minor key supports this presumption. The caressing strains of a quartet or even a somewhat more frisky sextet demonstrates that this personality is still holding itself in check. However, it would be a mistake to simply take these undeniably encouraging signs at face value. Indeed, this is the point that serves to distinguish a real specialist from a charlatan, for the former will form a suspicion over this very point; in other words, perhaps it is in this very tenderness, this hyper-harmony, that the reasons for the thus-far obscure illness must be sought. Perhaps Lajos Balogh is in fact too delicate, and so ´sensitivity for sensitivity´ is a dubious approach to treatment, for after a while it will necessarily lead to a breakdown! Perhaps the specialist has thus found the clue to solving this riddle?
  The time has come for experimentation. Having arranged a personal session with the patient, our doctor first plays him the "Lajos Balogh Sonata for Piano and Violin in D Minor." Observing his reactions, the doctor soon realizes that Lajos, entirely transfixed by the nauseatingly sweet melodies, is similar to an overweight diabetic who would devour all the chocolate and pastries he could lay his hands on, until he´d drop dead. Our musical psychiatrist has already formulated his plan. First he allows Lajos to listen to the piece from beginning to end, letting him scoop out even the last drop of the opium, then, initially digging up a Mozart serenade - something melodious enough, that is, so as not to terrify our patient from the outset - he gradually switches over to those ´foreign´ pieces which, via ever more dissonant tones, compel the patient to confront a very different world. Finally he might lure him into the realm of atonality, where the degree of the patient´s aversion to this world of sounds generally regarded more as noise than as music, becomes clear. If the selection of pieces is fortunate, then perhaps it is precisely this frightening music which can touch the patient´s own inner chaos; the chaos, that is, which in his case was in fact borne of a desire for harmony. The doctor can now establish a diagnosis. Namely, this personality disorder can be treated only with an even greater degree of chaos!

translated by Paul OLCHVÁRY

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