I hate falling asleep, feeling the grasp of a time I can’t feel and won’t see taking me away. Ithread the absence of the hours transformed into seconds. Nights are the ellipses that keep us from tomorrow and, although some are obsessed with the day after, I feel stuck in a narrative where every sentence is conjugated in the past tense. Though I fear sleeping, I loved this one night spent next to you. Feeling your breath on my neck and the soft pressure of your hand on my chest, I found myself decoding your body to find poetry between its lines. There was in the way your eyes haunted my rest a house where I could have found some rest. For a night, we had painted a home with ceilings high enough to dream of later, rooms to raise treasures and a larger bed where we could learn to count till forever. Between these walls of intimacy, we could have learnt the languages of our bodies and the song our scars murmur to each other with our eyes closed. Maybe we would have gotten married, I would have had the white dress I dreamed about as a child, and it would have been intimate enough for you to be yourself. My cousins would have walked with flowers in their hair and our dads would have made a few uncomfortable jokes. Despite everything, your gaze would have been glued tome and I would have spent the day capturing your smile. Your eyes tend to talk more than your smiles. The former are as wide as worlds can be. The latter are as discrete and rare as wonders always have been. I wanted both. On this imaginary day, I would have had in my hand the conviction that we belong to each other. But marriage wasn’t our thing. I left in the morning, leaving you alone with your hopes as I was driving home seated next to my deepest fears. For weeks, I counted the stars, wondering if you ever thought about what we could have been. Do you hate me for being too fragile to start something beautiful and new with you? Do you resent me for the way I said I was not as attached? Did you get enough time between your sleepless nights to picture us happy? Since that night, some parts of the world have changed. The oceans belong to you. The pavements are empty on the roadside. You own the colour black and the label soulmate. Marriage wasn’t our thing, but there is in my heart the trace of vows never said.
[Content Warning: Substance use, brutality, vulgarity, and sexual violence]
i snorted a skyscraper today. i let its inhabitants flow in my civilised-white-ash nostrils and i felt the rush of productivity, the euphoria of paid slavery, the lights of steel cogs and fire.
i remembered the first minutes of this millennium, when the savages attacked other savages, (which is which?) and all their lands of god responded by violence.
astral bodies became our new gods, pushing their product to gather new herds all around the world. i remember when they wanted to crucify christ on live tv, thinking people would pay to see it. they would. of course they fucking would.
we raped our planet and blamed her because she just couldn’t shut her legs. i mean, mother nature is a whore. hunger? what for, hunger doesn’t exist.
i remembered when we handed our power to hatred, or cowardice, self-righteousness on all ends, venomous rats fighting over details, blindly fighting the other because they’re other, because they’re stupid, because they’re savages, because they’re black, white, believers, apostates, etc.
the announcers feeding on fear on one end, and on the other, the tin-foiled hats started to talk. governments are nothing. they mean nothing, in our western world, they have no power without corporations. government and corporation: the king and queen of our game of chess.
i remembered how we liked to push the weak around, just for the fuck of it. is idiocy malignancy? can they live without one another? who knows? maybe the little birds singing and screaming through the cage of light can explain it to us. when does stupidity become consciousness “i’ve never been more awake” said the dreamer to imaginary nightmares. truth is relative, baby. “i’m an ally, he said. just let me fuck you.”
i remembered the neons, on the district, where red meat finds the mouths of carnivorous rats. they wear suits and talk about family and cry for forgiveness when they’re not careful enough. their victims are called Aileen, they’re the fairer sex so you think they can’t kill you. but they don’t eat and they don’t sleep and they let trauma consume them.
americans love rorschach. the black and the white are all that they see, and all blackness is evil, and all whiteness is pure. they hate when their propaganda use rainbows to feast on the oppressed, because they’d rather be brainwashed all alone rather than sharing their lobotomy. kill the gays, they cried to god. kill the muslims, kill the pigs, kill them all.
we build the west on the back of the poor, and otherness is feared as much as familiarity. look at our shiny towers! look at our watches, our art, our language! so perfect. let us debate all these things in the most secluded place in the world, with complicated words and caviar and useless books nobody gives a fuck about, or let the artists who don’t know shit about what they’re talking about (like me) tell you you’re evil and you deserve to die.
like library rats, they yell about ethics and literature, fascinated by a useless field that grows something mostly tasteless, except when the rain falls on the right leaf, wherever this leaf came from. they think themselves as the new thinkers of our world when their destiny is either to rise amongst the elite and get infected by their greed, or die forgotten amongst the useless poor.
you all deserve to die in these gutters. because misanthropy is cool, look at me, i’m not like other boys. i breathe genocide and smell of supremacy, but i don’t even realise it. nietzsche has never been more popular amongst self-made men, even though we all know that, like the rest of us, they can’t understand jack shit of what that nietzsche has written.
who knows who we are. i mean, identity… right? we become another person every minute. so, [insert reference to the ship of Theseus]
And yet, while the noise blinds us, we’re still here. In the ruins of skyscrapers, We remain.
yearning for the roots, growing out of the heads of children, grains of milk-sand drag the leaves across the night sky. reaching for the beyond, abandoning the oneness of all gods, searching through star-filled nightmares, i lead the lost to find the crescent moon they dream of.
Roxane: Hello, Matt! Thank you for accepting this interview with our magazine! It’s an honor for us to interview a new staff member and especially someone who seems to be interested in so many different disciplines. It’s quite fascinating!
Matthew: Thank you, the pleasure is all mine!
R:Could you tell us a few words about yourself? Where are you from? Where did you study and how come you ended up here?
M: It was sort of a strange process getting here. I’m from Connecticut in the US, a very small state between Boston and New York, the major landmarks in the area. But I did my bachelor’s in Montreal at McGill, where we had a bilingual university environment. And then I did all my graduate work in Boston; my master’s at Boston College and my PhD at Tufts. With its 200’000 students Boston was a great space for academics and for university life. As for UNIL, I saw a job advert on Twitter of all places! I think it was after a colleague from the Netherlands posted about it. I had a great experience with the interview process and with getting to know the faculty and, since I was offered the position I decided to take it. That was about a year ago. I think I arrived in mid-February last year.
William:Was it tough for you to leave the US?
M: In some sense, yes. I do miss Boston and a lot of my friends and colleagues who are there, although with things like Zoom and social mediait’s easier to stay in touch. But other than that the transition wasn’t too hard. Everyone in the department has been really wonderful and welcoming. So, the shift from teaching in Boston to teaching in Lausanne has been fairly smooth. And my wife, who is also an academic, had already been in France for a year and a half, so I was already familiar with the European academic system. In terms of bureaucratic procedures, however, like health insurance, it took me a few months to truly get into the system, but once I got that settled, it was much easier.
R:So, did you also move with your wife who lived in France?
M: Actually, I was commuting from Boston to Paris about once a month, more or less, and I would also spend a few months over the summer to max out my tourist visa. This is the first time I’m living in Europe for a longer period.
R:And how do you like Lausanne, so far?
M: Well, I didn’t know what to expect at first but I’ve really enjoyed it. Now that I’ve settled and figured out all the bureaucratic procedures, it’s been great! I’ve been exploring Lausanne and taking advantage of all the things to do around, like hiking and the wine country, which has been a highlight! I’ve really liked it so far and, again, the department is truly fantastic and I’ve enjoyed getting to know all of my colleagues! Having people here to talk to and meeting people in Geneva as well, developing all those connections has been nice and helpful. All these friends and colleagues gave me recommendations for things to do and see in Switzerland, so that has kept me quite occupied.
R:Was there anything in particular that stood out to you?
M: When I first arrived, after landing in Zürich and taking the train to Lausanne, that moment when we came out of the tunnel by the Lavaux and I saw the Alps, and the lake, it was all so comically beautiful… Especially because it was such a perfect day and I felt kind of jetlagged and confused! That has really stood out to me. Now I live close to the center and I like to run along the lake and it’s still stunningly picturesque. I love the landscape throughout Switzerland, especially after having been in a place that isn’t quite as stunning.
R:I also love the views here! I like to run in the vineyards while looking at the landscape and then I get all distracted and go “oh, wait, I have to take a picture!”
M: Totally! Do you stay at the lower levels or do you go up?
R: I live further up, so it always goes up and down, but it’s fun!
M: Yeah, I’ve personally stuck to the flat parts…
R: You appear to have a very large range of interests from visual arts, to music and politics, psychoanalysis and, of course, American literature; so, I was wondering, why American literature, specifically? Is there a particular reason?
M: That’s a really good question. I actually came to American literature late during my PhD. In fact, throughout my master’s I was working on British literature and focused on British modernism in particular. But then, for a series of reasons, something about American literature made more sense to me and I also started shifting to the contemporary sphere. I think partly my own reading led me to contemporary American literature, but also some of the questions that come up with American studies and literature that seem open to a very diverse set of texts. It just seemed to fit better with my own theoretical interests.
R:According to UNIL’s website you are currently working on a new book on several different topics. Could you tell our readers a little more about it?
M: Sure! I have just signed my official book contract with Fordham, so the manuscript will be done in June and scheduled to appear next spring. The book is about democracy and democratic anarchy. The motivation for the book was to see how the word “democracy” in the US is now used both on the Left and on the Right, but for completely different purposes. The word has become an empty signifier and can mean whatever the speaker wants it to mean. So, part of the book interrogates this language confusion while also recovering the core principles of democracy, such as equality and freedom. That’s why I make the link between democracy and anarchy, as the latter keeps open questions of equality and freedom where democracy, as it is deployed in the US political discourse, forecloses those ideals. It’s a politically motivated book, but most of the main texts are literary with a few exceptions, such as a visual art piece and a couple of references to film and some political speeches. The goal was to find through these texts a discourse on democracy that resists the status quo of mainstream politics and social organisation. At the same time the book is kind of messy in the sense that democracy is also messy. I bring in several topics and types of literature and theories, and link references from the 19th century to the present, for instance. It’s a big bag of materials and questions.
R:That sounds very interesting! Do you have any other passions or projects aside from your academic ones? We were wondering precisely because you have so many different academic interests.
M: Yes, I think a lot of academics have their scholarly interests blend and bleed into their personal interests. So, for instance, I love going to museums, but at times seeing art – or reading even – feels like work. But I also play music.
M: The guitar, but I don’t have a band or anything over here.
M: I used to in the States.
W:What kind of music did you play?
M: Mostly jazz and blues. I was trained as a jazz musician, rather than a classical one. But, my PhD program kind of destroyed the practice routine that I had, so I can’t play as well as I used to. But I still try to keep up with jazz and blues music. That’s my main interest, but I also enjoy running, hiking and swimming. Although, I couldn’t swim in the lake with this temperature…
R:I do understand what you mean by your passions and scholarly interests intersecting. I could be reading a book or be in a museum and suddenly get an idea for a university paper. It’s fun, but sometimes it would be nice to be able to enjoy these passions without that mental load.
M: Absolutely! It’s really hard to read and then not have the urge to grab a pencil…
R:I happen to be very curious about what people wanted to be when they were growing up, so I was wondering, what did you want to be and who were your role models?
M: That’s an interesting question! I can’t tell you much about my early childhood, because I can’t remember early role models or desires, but I definitely went through a phase of wanting to pursue music as a profession, all the way through high school. I had this idea of making a living as a professional musician. But when I started my bachelor’s I decided to major in literature rather than music. It was a last minute change. As for role models, I’m kind of old-fashioned in terms of music, so I modelled my playing on Jimi Hendrix and other artists from the 1960s and 1970s who would combine jazz principles with blues and mainstream rock!
W:Speaking of the 1960s and considering your interest in the relationship between art and politics, what are your thoughts on the rise of nostalgia in music and film?
M: Nostalgia is a very tricky concept… My knee-jerk reaction to this 90s revival I’m currently seeing, which was an era I grew up in, is a bizarre experience. It’s alienating for me to see the 90s in a nostalgic way. It certainly was three decades ago, but to me it feels much closer, so I don’t perceive it as an object of nostalgia. Whereas the 1960s truly represent for me a distant past that I have no personal connection to, so it becomes more of a detached object of interest. But it seems like everything is destined to come back at least once in some form. And I know that nostalgia can have some negative connotations with conservative politics, such as nostalgia for an idealised past that never existed. On the other hand, there’s nostalgia for remaking things of the past, like from the 1960s, to keep alive some of the possibilities that seem to exist in that space… Nostalgia always appears to be operative and it can be pushed towards a conservative pole or a more progressive pole, or even just a neutral one. Perhaps it also draws attention to the idea that nothing really is new. We’re always recycling and reusing things from the past. Going to college in the mid-2000s, I can tell you that the music of the time was clearly inspired by the 1980s; like the big synthesizer was back and bands like Arcade Fire were becoming popular. So, that 1980s sound really came back with a vengeance. It strikes me that there seems to be this recursive structure, especially with objects like media and music. I guess this wasn’t really a sophisticated answer but more a rambling of sorts…
R:We’re here to pick your brain, so any thoughts you say are interesting to us!
M: Thank you!
W:You said that as a society we tend to recycle old ideas and that it’s normal. Does that mean the current nostalgia we see for the 1980s and 1990s is not a symptom that we have run out of ideas as a society?
M: That’s a good question. I think there are two versions of it. On the one hand there’s a more pathological and vulgar form and on the other just a normal kind of recycling. In film it always struck me how repetition is built into the medium. But when I look at Disney Plus, every day there seems to be another Star Wars series, so it seems that repetition has intensified. Now, I haven’t watched these series, so they could be great, but maybe there is a difference between recycling older forms to make something innovative and interesting with them and then a more vulgar and market-driven approach, where we just reuse old stuff because it’s gonna sell.
R:I also feel that the part about recycling just to sell is certainly a thing. I think that familiarity plays a role in it. It seems to me that people often like staying in their comfort zone and therefore seek to watch something they’re already familiar with. But the other kind you described is a phenomenon we see in art history too: there have always been movements that drew inspiration from the past while adding new features.
M: Yes, it’s like the modernist mantra by Ezra Pound; “make it new”. But, of course, he does not suggest throwing away the past. Rather, we should salvage what is useful and reconfigure things. I think it’s an interesting synthetic and dialectical process.
R:Yes, kind of like Marcel Duchamp’s ready-made art. Take what is already there and give it a new meaning.
M: Yes! That is indeed a great example.
W:But speaking of this desire to take something which already exists and make something new, do you think that people in the past, especially in the second half of the 20th century, had more hopeful ideas for the future? Because when we see renderings of how people imagined the future in the past, the future seemed pretty bright. We don’t really see those grand, retrofuturistic visions anymore.
M: That is an interesting point. It makes me think of that often misattributed quote, I think by Fredric Jameson, “It is easier to imagine the end of the world, than it is to imagine the end of capitalism”. There’s something about the post-70s world and especially post-70s America where neoliberal structures became so entrenched and successful that it becomes quite difficult to imagine an alternate form. But perhaps Afrofuturism is an exception, as it tries to imagine alternate future societies and social organisations. In that sense I find that sci-fi and fantasy remain quite alive. I think they work hard on imagining a future that is not as bleak as the one we’re constantly inundated with and that is authentically different from the status quo. I guess it’s more difficult to imagine that today than in the late 20th century, just because of the normalisation of the neoliberal logic.
W:Do you think that the current crises, such as global warming and the COVID pandemic, are signs that capitalist structures are reaching some kind of breaking point?
M: I always like to think so, but capitalism is insidious and it strikes me that every crisis appears to be a means for the economic system to reconfigure and reassert itself. Remembering the 2007-2008 financial crisis in the US, it really seemed like an opportunity to disrupt finance capitalism, but it just ended up reentrenching it. But there is hope, I think. In my teaching experience I’ve noticed that ecological concerns have become more and more important for students in the last years. But crises themselves are not enough to change the system.
W:You’ve previously mentioned anarchism. Do you think there are things that we can learn from anarchist modes of organisation?
M: Yes, I think that the decentralisation of anarchist organization is really appealing, especially in the US, where anarchism has a much longer history than Marxism. Although it kind of moved into the background in the 20th century, it came back with movements such as Occupy Wallstreet and Black Lives Matter. I think avoiding a big central organization is helpful, because they tend to be hierarchical and thus to reproduce inequalities. With mutual aid, anarchism can bring solidarity in interpersonal relations as well as in bigger political movements. It’s not an all-or-nothing situation with anarchist groups. From what I have learned in Boston, they are also quite open to questions and avoid slipping into dogmatic ways of thinking. There’s also a Marxism vs. anarchism dispute, but that’s another topic… But in general, anarchist groups seem to have a more ad hoc approach to organization and resistance, with a willingness to experiment. That kind of inventiveness and improvisation probably leads to more long-lasting change as well.
R:I agree, I believe you need to have the courage to test new things and think outside of the box in order to move forward.
M: Absolutely! I also think that anarchist protests can be quite funny as well which can be useful in some cases.
W:Right, are you familiar with Murray Bookchin’s work?
M: Yes! Although not as much as I should be. I do know about his social ecology theory. But what I can say is that it seems like a lot of what is going on today is the conjunction of fields, which is why I love American Studies so much. Both Black and Queer studies engage with anarchism and ecology. I like these approaches that use notions of social ecology to think about the interaction between human and non-human groups, and therefore address the totality of the problem.
R:I saw that you worked on William Faulkner, among other authors. What do you appreciate the most about his writing?
M: I love his writing, he’s phenomenal! But like every modernist (it seems) he was a terrible person… I would never want to interact with him. But despite that he writes magnificent fiction that supersedes personal and subjective limitations. So, his fiction produces counter-positions to those of the biographical Faulkner. I have always loved his work partly because of how he manipulates space and time. He gives you a view of a particular object or moment while also changing the point of view. Let’s take the beginning of As I Lay Dying. The dying mother is in one room, one of her sons is building her coffin outside, while two of her sons are walking up the path from the barn and you can really map out the space just by following the shifts in view. He reconfigures the realist tradition and reinvents the fictional language in a stunning way. In that sense he is like Virginia Woolf in the British tradition.
R:Yes, that fascinates me too! You would only gradually understand what he’s describing.
M: Yes, and then in some cases he breaks the realism and there’s a character who’s just speaking in a way that does not correspond to them at all and so he just shows you another mode of thinking. I am also reminded of that boy, Vardaman from As I Lay Dying, who has a one sentence chapter, “My mother is a fish”. Out of context it’s completely enigmatic, but in the context of the novel it makes perfect sense. When you follow all of the references to the mother and the fish in the novel you can piece it all together. So, it’s a completely innovative way of building the fictional psychic interiority of a small boy dealing with his mother’s death. It really is an impressive accomplishment in fiction.
R:Alright, so our last couple of questions are very random… Let’s imagine you’re hosting a celebrity dinner party (the invites can be dead or alive)! Which writers, philosophers, artists or political and historical figures would you invite? With whom would you like to talk? And who would you like to see interact with one another?
M: Well, that’s incredibly difficult, but not Faulkner! I would love to have Toni Morrison. I’ve heard her speak a couple of times but I never spoke with her. I think she would be a wonderful person to speak with. It would also be fun to bring Karl Marx, who would probably hate the whole thing! And then someone like Frantz Fanon, whose work I really love. He’s also quite critical of Marx, so that would be an interesting interaction. I’d be tempted to invite people with whom I’d really love to speak with, as well as those really critical figures who had disagreements. It might end up like a terrible dinner party, more like a boxing match… but those would come to my mind!
R:Our editors’ team would love to know who would you put on Mount Rushmore if you had a say in it.
M: Can I give you an annoying response first?
W and R: Of course!
M: I would just get rid of Mount Rushmore entirely. There’s just such a risk to any kind of monumentalisation of one particular figure. That’s really obvious when it’s on the Right. Take all the Confederate statues in the US. Then, when they’re taken down the obvious answer is to replace them with a left-wing figure. My fear is that any kind of monumentalisation ends up encouraging some kind of dogmatic indebtedness to that figure. But if I really had to choose, I’d say Toni Morrison. Also because her works resist monumentalisation. There’s always something in her fiction that completely disturbs the reader. So, she’s kind of an impossible figure to fix in a stable position.
R:Yes, I noticed that Love is one of her most disturbing books, which is pretty ironic. But that’s what’s interesting about her. She is bold enough to go the extra mile and make us uncomfortable and push us to think about what’s wrong with the system.
M: Yes, and this also makes me think of her novel Paradise which she initially wanted to call War but her editor overruled her. “Paradise” and “Love” probably sell better.
R:How confusing! This reminds me of Recitatif, where, just like Faulkner, she’s not straightforward. As readers we’re left guessing which character belonged to which race, all based on stereotypes.
M: Yes, and right now I’m teaching Sula in a third year class and there’s three characters named Dewey, all with different ethnic identities, but the matriarchal figure just refers to them as “that Dewey”. So, I think Morrison is playing with our own obsession to impose a certain identity on characters and people. She does that in a kind of comic way.
R:Well, that would be all from our part. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
M: I would just like to emphasize how important it is that we, as readers, or students even, remain willing to be surprised and made to feel uncomfortable, precisely to ask us to question our own ethical and moral positions. We might call it productive self-alienation! Well…Thank you very much for these extremely interesting questions!
W and R:Thank you for answering them and taking the time!
I wonder if people can feel my excitement just from the way I’m walking. I feel like I’m oozing energy. But I guess there’s no way they could tell. Still, I should probably try to look a bit more relaxed, just in case. Contemplating the possibility of an arrest for a second, Isaiah’s train of thoughts quickly goes back to the object of his desire. It’s the first time I have seen cocaine so pure, so majestic. God am I glad that I gave it a try before buying it! I almost feel like it’s not real. Exhaling deeply, his hands slightly shaking, he thinks – Gosh… I should really hurry home. It doesn’t feel right to walk around with this diamond in my pocket. Forgetting all about his drug-obsession for a minute, Isaiah moves towards a shop window. Oh yeah sencha! That’s the perfect combo.
Jesus Christ, who does she think she is? Who cares if I was late? I should just dump her and be done with it. Even more annoyed than he was when he slammed the door in Jenny’s face, James gets his phone out. Okay. proteins, kale, bananas and that matcha powder thing. Heading towards the supermarket, he sees a large group entering. I guess that means Asian shop first. Walking up the street, he starts scrolling through dating profiles. This one’s not too ugly. Wait, she loves cats… Ugh and that one is too smiley… As he is about to enter the Japanese grocery shop, he feels something pushing him, causing him to drop his phone to the floor.
I hope she’s okay. It’s not like it’s the first time this happened. Maybe I should just stop by, make sure she’s fine. But I don’t want to impose. Nervously pacing through her apartment, Lizzy starts opening all her kitchen cabinets. If I show up with, like, brownies or something it will seem less weird. I could just say I baked too many. Right. Good. Did I really finish all the chocolate? I guess I’ll go buy some… Oh, and some milk, and maybe bananas. Oh, and I don’t have any more ginger confit or kimchi. On the beat of a slow ballad, she starts reciting her list of groceries, whilst strutting towards the supermarket. Bananas, milk, kimchi, ginger, cacao powder, chocolate, peanuts, and rice.
Dude, what the hell! Can’t you watch where you’re going? James keeps swearing and picks his phone off the ground, checking that the screen is still intact. You’re lucky it didn’t break, or it would have been your face on the floor! Now get out of my way, you moron. In shock, Isaiah stays still for a minute. What just happened… Of course he went into my tea shop. Dammit, I really wanted that sencha. Well I guess, I’ll just go home. After a big exhale he starts slowly humming – Happy thoughts, happy thoughts, It’s Christmas time…
Okay I think I got all the things on my list. Let’s go to the Korean shop! Moving from ballads to a funky pop tune, she whispers – Up up we go. I hope she likes brownies. I mean, everybody likes brownies, right? I don’t even know if she has allergies. Oh I’m probably overthinking this, as usual. As she is walking, Lizzy spots someone blankly staring into oblivion. Is he high? People nowadays really have no shame. It’s broad daylight and this is supposed to be a family friendly neighborhood. Anyway… ginger here I come! Quickly passing him by, she takes a few more steps to the Korean shop. As she walks back out, she spots something white on the ground near the bus stop.
Hello…? Could I get some help around here? Jesus this really is a shit day, he says just loud enough to be heard. I can’t find that matcha powder thing. The cashier points towards a small green box on the counter. Yeah, sorry I guess I didn’t see it. I’ll take just that thanks, he says with an awkward smile. As James heads out, he decides to sit at the bus stop for a second. I really don’t want to have to deal with her tonight. Maybe I can find some girl who’ll let me crash at her place. But I don’t know if I’ve got the energy to deal with some new chick though. I’ll probably have to buy her tons of drinks too. Ugh, might just be easier to go home. Who knows? Maybe she’ll have calmed down by then.
Home sweet home… I hope I have some green tea left somewhere around here. Ooh yeah, found it! Whilst performing what one might call a ‘happy dance’, he starts preparing his tea. God I’m as excited as a child! Maybe that’s not the right comparison, but hey, sugar highs are a big thing with children, so… Laughing at his own joke, he wonders – Maybe I should sleep a bit before though. Give my brain a minute to breathe. Yeah, I can wait 30 minutes. He goes into his room, puts on wave sounds, and starts to doze off.
I probably shouldn’t have picked it up. Geez, I panicked because I saw that douche coming out of the Japanese convenience store. I’m an idiot. I don’t even know what this is… I could contract a disease just from touching that thing. I mean, I probably can’t, but who knows?! What was I thinking? Sickened with worry and confusion, she runs up the stairs and within seconds she is home. I mean, what if he had seen me? It’s not like anything would have happened. How can I hope to be of any help to her if I can’t even face this dude without running away. Come on Lizzy. Just breathe. You got it. First, the brownies. We’ll deal with the rest later.
He takes his shoes off and goes into the bedroom but not without catching a glimpse of Jenny sitting in a corner, her eyes still red and puffy. Geez, she hasn’t moved an inch since I left. She’s pathetic. I’ll just get my stuff for the gym, prepare my shake and leave. With any luck, she’ll be asleep when I’m back. After mixing the ingredients for his smoothie, he looks at her and says: It’s really pointless, sitting here, crying like a three-year-old when you could have cleaned the apartment or made dinner. But as usual, it’s all about your feelings…You better not be in the same position when I’m back from the fit. He slams the door and leaves.
I think the brownies are almost done. Wait, is it him? Looking through the peephole, she sees James stepping out of the opposite apartment. Okay. He left. I guess it’s now or never. What do I say…? Maybe I should just slip her my number in the plate of brownies. I wish I could just give her a weapon, something, anything to fight him off. What if I… No, I couldn’t. I mean if I’m wrong and this is just some dishwasher powder then … I don’t know. But it could give her a chance to fight back. After a few minutes, she rings the doorbell and says to the bruised young woman – I know we don’t really know each other, but I made too many brownies and thought you might want some. I’m just across the hall if you ever need me. Jenny accepts the plate, with a shy smile, and closes the door.
Waking up, feeling disoriented, Isaiah gets up to go to the kitchen. Oh the water’s cold, got to heat it up again. I wonder how long I slept. Looking at his watch, he rubs his eyes. It can’t be. Did it stop working? Turning on the TV, he stares at the date at the top of the screen. It can’t be! I did not just sleep for almost 24 hours. Could it be the coke? Nah… Where did I put it anyway? Oh yeah, my jacket. I think it was in the left pocket… Uhm maybe it fell somewhere on the couch. I should check the bed too. Geez, where did I put it? Suddenly, he remembers yesterday’s altercation. Did he steal it from me? No way! As the weather report finishes, the local news starts:
A 27-year-old was found dead in his apartment yesterday evening at around 10pm. After a sport session at his local fitness center, the young man went home and indulged in some late-night snack, little did he know that this would be the cause of his death. The paramedics first thought that this was a drug OD – many cases have gone through the doors of hospitals since a new and very lethal cocaine has invaded the streets – only to later realize that it was a simple case of peanut allergy. We therefore implore you to be careful of the dangers of both drugs and the ingredients some food may contain.
Everything’s dying And seems to mingle with the melancholy of my sweet soul. In the depth of despair, That the scenery captures – I feel comforted by the found friend. I am a character In the Autumn performance.
“You should write about the stars,” she said before coughing. I nodded. I could write about the stars. I started to picture myself lying on top of a hill, with the sky as my limit and countless of lights. They were dancing to the rhythm of the nostalgic symphony nature plays when no one is watching. So far away from one another, they seemed slightly lonely. It was the price to pay to be this beautiful. Suddenly the night felt too heavy, like the pressure of a thousand worlds was resting on my chest. “But it should be comforting”, she added, still coughing. I nodded again. Stars could be comforting. They are, actually. They remained still throughout countless lifetimes as if they were powered by the gods. They watch from above and listen to every wish. I could imagine talking to them and sending all my grief in unanswered prayers to the sky. “And anything but depressing.” I looked at her with a smile in my eyes. “It’s a funeral grandma, it must be depressing.” She coughed again and let out a sigh. With her wrinkled fingers, she drew a heart on my hand. I was sitting on the side of her bed, on which she was neither sitting nor lying. Old people know how to write poetry without words. “I guess you’re right, it has to be a bit depressing.” I took my pen and started to write again. “What about comparing you to a star in your living era and saying something about you watching us from above, among the others?” “Come on Mackenzie, even for an old lady like me, it sounds cheap.” The nurse came to feed her, letting me know my presence was no longer welcomed. I closed my notebook and kissed her on the right cheek. She held my hands for a while and pressed them on her lips, as if she was revealing to them her dearest secret. Old people know how to write poetry without words. “You’ll come back tomorrow, and we’ll work on that eulogy a bit more.” She died that night. The next week at the funeral, I was standing on a wooden stage in front of her family and what she called her “leftover companions”. My aunt, who drove from the south of France, seemed more tired than sad, her two daughters were too young to capture the essence of the moment, and most of my grandmother’s friends were too senile to understand anything. A few died in the year that followed to support this observation. After six nights of staring at my bedroom wall, searching for inspiration between waves of sorrow, I was left with a few sentences about the stars, and the recurring sound of her bad cough. My grandma sought out to dance among the stars and it suited her. For her eulogy, I said a few words about their shiny dance and her coughing poetry with acoustic feedback as only musical support. It was cheap, but everyone shed a tear; sadness tends to transform weak verses into touching art. For years, her last words haunted me, as if the perfect eulogy were lying in the day after. With each night that separated me from her funeral, it was growing a day older, always in advance. I could picture it, in the form of a young woman full of wit, smiling sardonically at me, knowing I would never capture her. I never came close enough to seize the rhymes that would flawlessly capture her spirit. Her eulogy resisted me, and its absence reminded me of the silence spell she whispered before leaving, as if she put in it the secret recipe to catch the perfect tribute. Every now and then, I still try to translate the poetry that she left in my hands. Sometimes it’s cheap, and sometimes there is a taste of tomorrow between the lines.
Complete the titles or authors’ names of the following works:
I Know Why the ___ ___ Sings by Maya Angelou
The ___ Land by T. S. Eliot
Moby Dick by ______ _____
___ Lost by John Milton
“The ___ Speaks of ___ ” by Langston Hughes
Little Women by _____ ________
The ___ Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Le Morte d’Arthur by _____ _____
A Rose for Emily by ______ _____
Pick the right answer for the ending of each of these stanzas:
From William Blake’s “The Tyger”:
What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
And when thy heart began to beat, / What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the anvil? what dread grasp, / Dare its deadly terrors clasp!
What immortal hand or eye, / Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
From Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death”
We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
We passed the Setting Sun –
My Tippet – only Tulle –
The Cornice – in the Ground –
From Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door— / Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;— / This it is and nothing more.
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor / Shall be lifted—nevermore!
Guess the work and author the following summaries come from:
Emotionally damaged young adult boy drops out of school, consistantly rants about adults being a bunch of fakes, befriends a prostitute and a couple of nuns and keeps nagging everybody else about the ducks from Central Park asking them where the hell do they all go in the winter. Last but not least, he desires to preserve a child’s innocence.
Young prince deals with an existential crisis while his widowed mother marries his uncle (who we don’t like by the way) and his father’s ghost visits him every now and then to spook him into avenging his death. And of course, his solution to it all is (drumroll please) to pretend to go all nuts, procrastinating on killing his uncle, accidently stabbing the wrong dude, dramatically harassing his mom, driving his ex to insanity, and talking to himself instead of taking action.
A blinding light floods the sky Stretches from the soil to mountain high Dyes the land in the sweetest tones Nourishes the leaves, brightens the stones The droplets that hung in the air Now shine bright, pink and fair The world is a prism bathed in light Reflecting life, banishing night.
The World in Winter
The mountains are like the earth’s teeth hungering for a dawn after a long, long night and the frost takes hold in this barren heath a potter’s field covered in white
The falling flakes are the cold ashes of a fire that bright burns no more on the meadow the snow crashes burying deep the earth’s ardor
Under the rooftops covered in white a quiet maze of vacant halls bathed dimly in faint daylight when in slumber the pale sun falls and as the wind howls over the world whittling the trees with its whistling carving the rocks with runes all twirled crushing the hopes and their kindling a bitter cold devours the groves turning the wood into splinters while a waning moon rises up above silent witness of the winter
The Shattered City
An organism of steel and concrete spreads like a disease, far out into darkness with skeletons adorning the streets waiting for light to shine on the nameless
The dying stars flicker only dimly as the towers are circled by haze the ghosts are roaming limply in this collapsed and dusty maze
Under the ground, hopes are buried old love letters in the streets scattered and hate letters in the chimneys burned down to ashes, by winds carried
Broken wings caught in cobwebs clipped apart by vicious hands far below, the water ebbs and crashes on the cliffs and sands
But far above, a faint glimmer beyond the forest and the hills a distant hope that still lingers before diving in the landfills
It expands to the furthest corners All the sorrows, the joy, the songs it covers The darkness progresses, and soils, and gathers But through the tears in its skin, the light shimmers
I know of a place, just beyond a poppy field, where I sometimes go to sing my songs. It’s quite close from your house, yet so very far away from you. When I go there, I usually sit near the streams, between the sad lilies (they keep their heads down, toward the ground) and I think about which words I should use. I have to carefully choose which words I will write or sing, because not all of them seem to reach your house, beyond the red tangled barrier of poppies. I’ll tell you something I don’t think you know: in my little book, now resting on the slightly wet grass, there are hundreds of words, and in the breeze flowing along the stream, there are even more, and there are still even more unspoken words inside my mind. I don’t think you know this, because in your mailbox, in front of your house, beyond the poppies, there are at best a few dozens of my words, and in your mind, which I feel is very far away from me, I think there are even less of my words. And perhaps, if I know that your house is close to me, yet I can’t see or feel you anymore, it’s because it’s not your house anymore, and you never told me you moved out. And sometimes I tell myself that you did not move out: it’s just that I can’t see you through all the knotted poppies. And if there are so few of my words in your mind, maybe it’s not because you never read what’s in your mailbox, but because so many times I didn’t dare go through the poppy field to put my words in your mailbox. Many times I tried to walk to it, but the wind blew from your house and through the poppy field, and I found myself in a quiet, hypnotic haze, and in this fog I thought I could see you next to your home. You should know that when I see you in these dreams, I can never bring myself to unwind the tangled poppies and make myself a way to you. Now you know why your mailbox needed to be empty for months before welcoming some of my words, and why lately no words came at all. I was simply sitting by the stream, between the sad lilies. Sometimes I wish you had left your house and helped me cut, burn, or untangle the poppy field, but was it even your task to do so? I’m not even sure you knew how potent these poppies were, and how a single step into them would throw me inside this stupor that kept me away from you for so long, and that will probably keep doing so. I could take care of the poppy field myself, but why should I do it? As I already said, I’m pretty sure you moved out of your house long ago, and that behind the field I would only find a rusted, empty mailbox. Besides, I don’t think you realize how afraid I am of discovering what lies beneath the poppy field. I already have an idea: under the poppy field is a graveyard, a graveyard containing all the words I could never bring all the way to your mailbox, all the words that ran along the stream until they got caught into this web of poppies, never to reach your ears. I’ll never know if you understand how much that hurts me to know that I had so much to say, but that I could only tell you so few words, as the rest of it was buried under the poppies. Now every time I go to this place again, I wish I had broken the golden vow while you still lived in your house, so that I could have told you everything I wanted to. But it seems like it’s just wishful thinking, and now the best thing I can do is hope that my decomposing words, resting under the poppy field, serve as a fertilizer for new, beautiful flowers. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll see them if you ever pass by your old house.
In celebration of returning to our academic and social lives in person (hopefully for good this time), MUSE sent out a form inviting UNIL students to share the most surprising, funny and strange thoughts and reactions they have experienced ever since Coronavirus barged into our lives uninvited. Every response was entertaining to read and much appreciated by your favorite student magazine. Don’t forget to grab your popcorn and enjoy!
Me coming to university on the first day like:
OH mY gOd there are PEOPLE here
When my workplace changed their sanitizer brand, my first thought was “Cool! I’m looking forward to trying the new one!”. And then I realised how excited I was for something that’s genuinely very unexciting.
I get offended when people don’t want to hug me because of Covid, lol.
It’s always a weird experience meeting new people and then seeing them for the first time without the mask. I always try to guess what their full face looks like, but I get surprised every time.
The two things I fear the most are : wasps, and Zoom meetings with camera on and mic unmuted.
Even though I’ve been studying at UNIL for 6 years, the first time I took the lift again to go to the ground floor, I pressed the button “0”… and ended up in the basement.
Whenever I watch a movie or TV show and there are bars and club scenes I feel so weirded out, like where are their masks and why are they standing so close to each other? And then I remember that these shows and movies were released before Covid, hahaha.
Well, I guess waking up and getting out of bed is a thing now!
Coming back to uni in September and recognizing other students from Zoom – i.e., knowing in some cases their first AND last names – and still being way too shy to go say hi in real life.
I was in the metro one day when ticket controllers came in, and for a solid ten seconds, I had no idea if I had to show my travel card or my Covid certificate…
I’ve got to say, there’s at least one positive thing about wearing a mask during lectures: if I answer a question wrong, no one can see my embarrassment.
Then again, if a lecturer smiles or something, I feel like I have to exaggerate all of my facial movements and expressions to be understood. Is it possible to make your eyes… smiley?
Recently, I was standing in a crowd and looking for my friends and I could not remember how I used to handle crowds before and find people in them.
During the first days of this semester, I sat in the cafeteria and everything felt so different and I tried to remember what my lunch breaks used to be like (who I used to eat with, what I’d eat, when I’d have my breaks) and I could not remember Lunch Breaks BC™️ (Before Covid) for the life of me!
On the first day back to uni, the metro was so crowded I nearly had anxiety, haha, and I decided to change my route to come to uni. So, now I don’t take the metro anymore to come to uni.
When I used to leave my place, I always made sure I took with me my phone, wallet and keys. Now mask and ID are on the list. I sometimes still manage to forget them both and run back and get them. You can’t go anywhere without them anymore, it’s crazy. It’s like leaving the house without pants!
Everytime I see a shop in movies or a TV show, I’ll be mad at them all for not wearing masks, until I realise that it’s well over 2 years old…
I forgot what it was like to be in class in person again… Like you can actually sit next to people, talk to them and all which is really exciting when you first think about it. And then you run into people you wish you could avoid and try to master the skills of doing so. But all in all, it still feels great to be back.
I don’t think Covid is finished yet because there are still many restrictions and over 1000 cases most days.
Responses have been edited for clarity and length.