wiser today

A man should never be ashamed to own that he is wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

Bruno Schulz

The Street of Crocodiles

Before we relate the other events of that memorable winter, we might shortly mention a certain incident which has been always hushed up in our family. What exactly had happened to Uncle Edward? He came at that time to stay with us, unsuspecting, in sparkling good health and full of plans, having left his wife and small daughter in the country. He just came in the highest of spirits, to have a little change and some fun away from his family. And what happened? Father's experiments made a tremendous impression on him. After the first few tricks, he got up, took off his coat and placed himself entirely at father's disposal. Without reservations! He said this with a piercing direct look and stressed it with a strong and earnest handshake. My father understood. He made sure that Uncle had no traditional prejudices regarding 'principium individuationis'. It appeared that he had none, none at all. Uncle had a progressive mind and no prejudices. His only passion was to serve Science.

At first father left him a degree of freedom. He was making preparations for a decisive experiment. Uncle Edward took advantage of his leisure to look round in the city. He' bought himself a bicycle of imposing dimensions and rode it around Market
Square, looking from the height of his saddle into the windows of first floor flats. Passing our house, he would elegantly lift his hat to the ladies standing in the window. He had a twirled, upturned moustache and a small pointed beard. Soon however, Uncle discovered that a bicycle could not introduce him into the deeper secrets of mechanics, that that astonishing machine was unable to provide lasting metaphysical thrills. And then the experiments began, based on the 'principium individuationis'. Uncle Edward had no objections at all to being physically reduced, for the benefit of science, to the bare principle of Neeff's hammer. He agreed without regret to a gradual shedding of all his characteristics in order to lay bare his deepest self, in harmony, as he had felt for a long time, with that very principle.

Having shut himself in his study, father began the gradual penetration into Uncle Edward's complicated essence by a tiring psychoanalysis which lasted for many days and nights. The table of the study began to fill with the isolated complexes of Edward's ego. At first Uncle, although much reduced, turned up for meals and tried to take part in our conversations. He also went once more for a ride on his bicycle, but soon gave it up as he felt rather incomplete. A kind of shame took hold of him, characteristic for the stage at which he found himself. He began to shun people. At the same time, father was getting ever nearer to his objective. He had reduced Uncle to the indispensable minimum, by removing from him one by one all the inessentials. He placed him high in a wall recess in the staircase, arranging his elements in accordance with the principle of Leclanche's reaction. The wall in that place was mouldy and white mildew showed on it. Without any scruples father took advantage of the entire stock of Uncle's enthusiasm, he spread his flex along the length of the entrance hall and the left wing of the house. Armed with a pair of steps he drove small nails into the wall of the dark passage, along the whole path of Uncle's present existence. Those smoky, yellow afternoons were almost completely dark. Father used a lighted candle with which he illuminated the mildewy wall at close quarters, inch by inch. I have heard it said that at the last moment Uncle Edward, until then heroically composed, showed a certain impatience. They say that there was even a violent, although belated, explosion which very nearly ruined the almost completed work. But the installation was ready and Uncle Edward, who all his life had been a model husband, father and businessman, eventually submitted with dignity to his final role.

Uncle functioned excellently. There was no instance of his refusal to obey. Having discarded his complicated personality, in which at one time he had lost himself, he found at last the purity of a uniform and straightforward guiding principle to, which he was subjected from now on. At the cost of his complexity, which he could manage only with difficulty, he had now achieved a simple, problem-free immortality. Was he happy? One would ask that question in vain. A question like this makes sense only when applied to creatures who are rich in alternative, possibilities, so that the actual truth can be contrasted with partly real probabilities and reflect itself in them. But Uncle Edward had no alternatives; the dichotomy 'happy/unhappy' did not exist for him because he had been completely integrated. One had to admit to a grudging approval when one saw how punctually, how accurately he was functioning. Even his wife, Aunt Teresa, who followed him to our city, could not stop herself from pressing the button quite often, in order to hear that loud and sonorous sound in which she recognised the former timbre of her husband's voice in moments of irritation. As to their daughter, Edy, one might say that she was fascinated by her father's career. Later, it is true, she took it out on me, avenging my father's action, but that is part of a different story.