Book//mark - The Tunnel | Ernesto Sabato, 1948


 El Túnel, 1948                                                                                                     Ernesto Sabato, 1937



“It should be sufficient to say that I am Juan Pablo Castel, the painter who killed María Irbane. I imagine that the trial is still in everyone's mind and that no further information about myself is necessary.”

“I am seeing that woman for the first and last time. I will never in my lifetime see her again.’ My thoughts floated aimlessly, like a cork down an uncharted river. For a moment they bobbed around the woman beneath the thatch. What did she matter to me? But I could not rid myself of the thought that, for an instant, she was a part of my life that would never be repeated; from my point of view it was as if she were already dead: a brief delay of the train, a call from inside the house, and that woman would never have existed in my life.
Everything seemed fleeting, transitory, futile, nebulous. My brain was not functioning well, but María was a recurring vision, something hazy and melancholy.”

“I sensed that we were alike, you and I, and that you, too, were searching blindly for someone, a kind of companion in silence. From that day I have thought of nothing but you.”

“You're blushing because you recognise me. And you think this is a coincidence, but it isn't. There are no coincidences. I have been thinking about you for months. Today I saw you on the street and followed you. I have something important to ask you, something about the small window, do you understand?”

“Martin looked at Alejandra with a pained expression. How he detested that face of hers, her boutique-face, the one that she seemed to put on deliberately in order to play her role in that frivolous world; a face that seemed to linger on once she found herself alone with him, its abominable features fading away only very slowly, as there gradually emerged one or another of the faces that belonged to him alone, a face he waited for as one awaits a beloved traveler amid a repulsive crowd. But as Bruno said, the word person means "mask", and each of us has many masks; that of father, professor, lover....But which is the real one? And is there in fact one that is the real one? At certain moments Martin thought that the Alejandra that he was now seeing there before him, laughing at Bobby's jokes, was not, could not be the same Alejandra that he knew, and above all could not be the more profound, the marvelous and fearsome Alejandra that he loved. But at other times (and as the weeks went by the more he began to be convinced of it), he was inclined to think, as Bruno did, that all these Alejandras were real and that that boutique-face was genuine too and in some way or other expressed a sort of reality inherent in Alejandra's soul: a reality--and heaven only knew how many others there were!---that was foreign to him, that did not belong to him and never would. And then, when she came to him still bearing the faint traces of those other personalities, as though she had not had the time (or the desire?) to transform herself, Martin discovered--in a certain sarcastic grin on her lips, in a certain way of moving her hands, in a certain glint in her eyes--the lingering signs of a strange existence: like someone who has been around a garbage dump and still retains something of its foul stench in our presence.”

“My brain was in pandemonium: swarming ideas, emotions of love and loathing, questions, resentment, and memories all blended together or flashed by in rapid succession.”

“Swung between the purest love and the wildest hatred. In spite of the fact that she gave herself to me without reservation, I would suddenly be overcome with the feeling it was all a sham. For a while she would seem as innocent as a young girl, but suddenly I would be convinced she was a bitch, and then a long parade of doubts would file through my mind: where? how? how many? when?”

“But far from making me happy, this new María depressed and saddened me, because I knew this aspect of the woman I loved was alien to me and must somehow belong to Hunter or some other man.”

“Throughout the months that followed I thought only of her and of the possibility that I might see her again. And in a way I painted only for her. It was as if the tiny scene of that window had begun to expand, to swallow up that canvas and all the rest of my work.”

“Usually the feeling of being alone in the world is accompanied by a condescending sense of superiority. I scorn all humankind; people around me seem vile, sordid, stupid, greedy, gross, niggardly. I do not fear solitude; it is almost Olympian.”

“I envisioned scenes in which she spoke to me–for example, to ask about an address, or where to catch a bus–and from that opening, during months of reflection and melancholy, of rage, of abandon, and hope, I constructed an endless series of variations. In one I was talkative, witty (something in fact I never am); in another I was taciturn; in still another, sunny and smiling. At times, though it seems incredible, I answered rudely, even with ill-concealed rage. It happened (in one of those imaginary meetings) that our exchange broke off abruptly because of an absurd irritability on my part, or because I rebuked her, almost crudely for some comment I found pointless or ill-thought out. I felt bitter after these frustrated encounters, and for several days I would reproach myself for the clumsiness that had caused me to lose my one opportunity to establish a relationship with her. Fortunately, I would realize that everything was imaginary, and the actual possibility still existed.”

“You always twist my words, and pervert my meaning,” Maria protested. “When I said I had married him because I loved him, I didn’t mean I don’t love him now.”
“Ah, then you do love him.” I parried swiftly, as if hoping to prove she had lied in answer to earlier questions.
Maria was subdued and unresponsive.
“Why don’t you answer?”
“Because there doesn’t seem any point. We’ve had this same conversation too many times before.”

“No, this is different from the other times. I asked you whether you loved Allende now, and you told me yes. But I seem to remember that not too long ago, at the port, you told me I was the first person you ever loved.”

Again Maria did not answer. What irritated me about her was not only that she contradicted herself but that it was almost impossible to get her to say anything at all.”

“The hardness in her face and eyes disturbed me. “Why is she so cold?” I asked myself. “Why?” Perhaps she sensed my anxiety, my hunger to communicate, because for an instant her expression softened, and she seemed to offer a bridge between us. But I felt that it was a temporary and fragile bridge swaying high above an abyss. Her voice was different when she added: “But I don’t know what you will gain by seeing me. I hurt everyone who comes near me.” “And yet she knew that in that very same moment she was enjoying so calmly, I was suffering the tortures of the damned in my personal hell of analyzing and imagining.”
There are times I feel that nothing has meaning. On a tiny planet that has been racing towards oblivion for millions of years, we are born amid sorrow; we grow, we struggle, we grow ill, we suffer, we make others suffer, we cry out, we die, others die, and new beings are born to begin the senseless comedy all over again.
 Was that really it? I sat pondering the idea of the absence of meaning. Was our life nothing more than a sequence of anonymous screams in a desert of indifferent stars? On a tiny planet that has been racing toward oblivion for millions of years, we are born amid sorrow; we grow, we struggle, we grow ill, we suffer, we make others suffer, we cry out, we die, others die, and new beings are born to begin the senseless comedy all over again. Was our life nothing more than a sequence of anonymous screams in a desert of indifferent stars? I scorn all humankind; people around me are vile, sordid, stupid, greedy, gross, niggardly. I do not fear solitude; it is almost Olympian “It also happens that when we have reached the limits of despair that precede suicide, when we have exhausted the inventory of every evil and reached the point where evil is invincible, then any sign of goodness, however infinitesimal, becomes momentous, and we grasp for it as we would claw for a tree root to keep from hurtling into an abyss.”

“The expression 'there is nothing like the good old days' does not mean that fewer bad things happened before, but fortunately, that people tend to forget about them.”

“That after all there was only one tunnel, dark and solitary: mine, the tunnel in which I had spent my childhood, my youth, my entire life. And in one of those transparent sections of the stone wall I had seen this girl and naively believed that she was moving in a tunnel parallel to mine, when in fact she belonged to the wide world, the unbounded world of those who did not live in tunnels; and perhaps out of curiosity she had approached one of my strange windows, and had glimpsed the spectacle of my unredeemable solitude, or had been intrigued by the mute message, the key, of my painting. And then, while I kept moving through my passageway, she lived her normal life outside, the exciting life of people who live outside, that curious and absurd life in which there are dances and parties and gaiety, and frivolity.”

“Vanity is found in the most unlikely places: in combination with kindness, and selflessness, and generosity.”

“It is a terrible world, that truism demands no demonstration.”

“I would characterize myself as a person who prefers to remember the bad things...I remember so many catastrophes, so many cynical and cruel faces, so many inhumane actions, that for me memory is a glaring light illuminating a sordid museum of shame.”

“Dear God, how can you have faith in human nature when you think that a sewer and certain moment of Schumann or Brahms are connected by secret, shadowy, subterranean passageways.”

“I am animated by the faint hope that someone will understand me – even if it is only one person.”

“There was one person who could have understood me. But she was the very person I killed.”


The Tunnel, Ernesto Sabato, 1948
 El Túnel, tr. Margaret Sayers


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