Sunday, February 24, 2019

Norman Finkelstein, The Adventures of Pascal Wanderlust, Book 1

Gateway to September, image by Charles Burchfield 

The Adventures of Pascal Wanderlust

All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability
to sit quietly in a room alone.

                         Book 1


Pascal Wanderlust, flowered Docs
and mist-grey cloak, follows the ley line
leading down the lane. The last patches
of snow are melting, and Pascal side-
steps puddles on the way to palaces
lately dreamed. Breezes promise music,
scented sensuous turnings of air
and vapor, rustling sounds. Pascal
pulls back a hood grown moist
in greening weather. That Shining Land
lying just ahead, mirage at mountainous
horizon: what does Pascal know of destinations?


Pascal considers the wanderer’s destiny:
the homeless, the uprooted, the exiled,
those forced out upon the roads, lost,
cursed, unrecoverable, an uncountable
company. What of the hidden sinner,
the hidden saint? Pascal recalls
a mythy moment in a mythy mind.
Recalls a fall, recalls taking on a wanderer’s
garb, recalls regarding a wanderer’s fate
as one that may as well be accepted. Recalls
the road and the blessing of the road, recalls
willing exile among all the broken and unwilling.


Behind the North Star, Pascal sees great shapes
moving in the polar night. These are signs.
These are airy nothings. These are “clusters
of cubes and planes,” “the unknown arcana
of upper air and cryptical sky.” These quotations,
thinks Pascal, ought to be taken seriously.
Allusion and immediacy, forever in conflict,
cancel each other out. Only the tone remains,
only the vaporous cadence, perceptible
yet mysterious, leading to completion of
the task. Completion? Behind the North Star,
Pascal stares into the void and does not blink.


Wanderlust thinks of Eros, “conspicuous
and noisy enough,” of their long friendship
on separate paths. At the crossroads one must
worship the god: “fell down on my knees,”
the singer sang. What singer? What god? Eros,
thinks Wanderlust, considers himself a god,
sidesteps his fate, never finds himself at any
crossroad. Wanderlust, led by wanderlust,
recalibrates constantly, knowing doubt to be
the one assurance. Plucky Pascal, restless,
rests assured. Remembers the quiet of that
room. Remembers an inevitable departure.


Pascal meditates upon ruins, visits battleground
memorials, heroes’ graves. Pascal is unimpressed.
Verdigrised plaques mark historical events.
Pascal prefers the unrecognized, the clandestine,
the encrypted. The barrier thins out; the liminal
space expands. A free agent, Wanderlust moves in
and out, before and after. Puts on a suit, puts
on a dress, changes hairstyle in accordance
with the times. This happened, and then this.
Don’t you believe it, thinks Pascal. Such skepti-
cism is foundational. I used to work there; then
I was laid off. Don’t you believe that either.


Pascal looks on as they emerge from the sea.
Perhaps on assignment, perhaps on vacation,
notes what is certainly a return of the repressed.
Wanderlust on the case! The uncle shot himself
and the grandmother leapt from the pier to be
welcomed far below. Webbing between stubby
digits, wreathed with seaweed red and brown.
Shameless Pascal at the keyhole, snaps shots
of college boys with voluptuous fishwives.
Someone at Miskatonic will pay handsomely for these.
Monstrosity. Hybridity. Alchemy. Figures lurk
in the shadows. Pascal catches a bus out of town.


The man behind the desk regards Pascal
as a “person of interest.” Pascal has no
regard for him at all. Longstanding foes,
they try to conceive of a world where one
or the other has disappeared. Should one
or the other disappear, what would
the remaining one do? Rainbow hued
Pascal, rendered in black and white, knows
he’s watching. Knows of photos in a file.
As for the man behind the desk, this…person,
this Wanderlust, these suspicious blossomings
like roadside flowers—need to be contained.


Pascal puts down the graphic novel and sighs.
Sexy and sincere, the author’s on to some-
thing, but doesn’t seem to have it quite right.
Behind the shades are eyes, not mouths and teeth.
The darkness and the fear of darkness dwells
in dream and comes forth to consume us.
No other power empowers us, much as we’d
like to believe. Or thwarts us. The man behind
the desk knows it. Wanderlust knows it too.
It’s not the sort of knowledge one will find
in any book—or so it is written. Still, the man
behind the desk rarely removes his shades.


Pascal in the Palace of Mirrors, flowered Docs
receding into bad infinity. Pascal in a morass,
spring blooms besmirched. Companions likewise,
lashing out in narcissistic rage. Pascal dodges,
returns the blow, sees blood and shards of glass.
Wounded self, wounded other. The man behind
the desk, voracious, watches on the screen,
feeding on enmity and strife. Let the mockers
mock. Let the idly curious mill about and gawk.
Whatever may be learned here is a mere reflection
of perennial doubt at a millennial pitch. Not for
the man behind the desk. He knows everything already.


“If I am not for myself,” reads Pascal—but can’t
go on. Something is alive in the room, something
is there that should not be there. Studying Avot
at midnight may not have been a good idea. A sip
of wine—steady now! Pascal has heard of these
old ghosts, these antic moralists in grey and white.
“You are here alone? What are you?” Poor Pascal
has never had an answer. Unworthy Wanderlust,
unworthy of the name, unable to remain alone,
unable to be a self, unable to go forth and be
for others. Haunted Pascal at midnight, waiting,
watching for the dawn: “And if not now, when?”


Pascal Wanderlust to the Dark Tower came”—
and never mind the details of the quest. “Here it is,”
thinks Pascal. A great black bird sails overhead.
Neither knight nor childe, but a child of night,
Pascal, in the midst of dust and thorns, remembers
the fragrance of magnolia at warm spring sunsets.
A sheet of flame surrounds the Tower; faces peer
and bodies writhe. But Pascal has no peer. No one
does. Each one of us wanders toward a Tower;
each Tower has a door that may (or may not) open;
each member of the Band learns this, and hence
becomes a member of the Band. Wanderlust turns


toward home. Wanderlust in a room alone,
writing parables. Wanderlust a parable, writing
to the end. One wins or loses, writes Pascal,
and as if under a spell, understands the wager
need not be placed at all. The infinite spaces
do not frighten me. I want to show you a new
abyss. Put on your boots and descend with me
into a place that is neither dark nor light. Are you
at home in this echoing immensity? Are you
secure in what we call your soul? I call to you,
soul, or else I call to nothing at all. I am in
a room alone, and it is toward you that I wander.

—Norman Finkelstein