- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Gretchen Holbrook GarzinaFranz Kafka meets Italo Calvino....[A] haunting and sparely told investigation into moral bankruptcy.
— The New York Times Book Review
The Film of My Birth
My father, a builder in San Saba County, had several hobbies that he pursued with an enthusiasm bordering on fanaticism.
One of them was 16mm cinematography.
I don't know how many cameras and projectors and cutting boards we found after he died. We sold most of them or gave them away. But I still have the films and one of the projectors. The films take up an entire cardboard box right at the back of the capacious wardrobe in the bedroom. There must be at least a hundred, depicting every possible occasion. Myself at seven and my — as far as I can see — happy three-year-old brother at his birthday party. My brother riding on ponies, on round-abouts, myself on the way to my first day at school.
I have to say that quite a few of the films look rather silly. They are dreadfully repetitive, almost as if the filming had been a kind of ritual, an attempt to preserve the memory of a contented family life in all its detail in a rather impersonal fashion. But then there are others that are particularly interesting. In fact I even have access to a film of my own birth. This record of my birth really is especially important to me. I keep it in a separate little container in the big cardboard box. I sometimes project it down in the kitchen when I can't sleep between three and five in the morning. It's much more fun than watching television (the horror films that some channels show at that hour just upset and depress me) or pacing all over the house, looking at a book hereand a book there, rubbing at a real or imagined spot on the mahogany table in the living room. The film of my birth is quite short and has a lot of technical faults. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that a father-to-be was actually allowed to bring photographic floodlights and tripods and the rest of his equipment into a delivery room as early as 1936. Normally fathers were extremely unwelcome in delivery rooms in those days. Most probably my father was a good friend to several of the doctors at the Fredricksburg Centennial Hospital: he used to go fishing with some of them. Fishing was another of his many hobbies.
The pictures of the birth are a very flickering sequence with amateurish lighting, where all the interesting bits are repeatedly hidden by the midwife's back. You can see her white dress, the straps and the belt, everything rather too brightly lit. But then my mother's splayed legs come into view, with my head suddenly starting to push its way out. And the midwife holding me up for my mother to see, still with the umbilical cord attached. And then anonymous hands cutting it.
The whole thing is obscene, frightening and strangely fascinating. I avoid watching it too often, simply because I'm afraid of wearing it out. It's precious to me.
This film is literally the only answer I have to the question: Who am I? Or perhaps I'm mistaken. Perhaps it only tells me where I come from, not who I am. I sometimes ask myself whether it can be about me at all. You never see yourself from the outside to the same extent as when you see your own birth. (I sometimes even ask myself whether my own life is actually about me, and that, as you will realise, is a factor which has left its mark on my story; this tale of a dog, for instance, is not really about me in the slightest. And there is much else too, in the story that follows, that has nothing to do with me whatsoever.)
It would never occur to me to show the film of my birth to anyone else; not to my wife Claire (who doesn't even know it exists), nor to my children (who would be certain to laugh at it: there is no corresponding documentation of their own births). In itself it's absolutely trivial: masses of children are born all the time, every second in fact. But this is very special. It's a statement about myself. That I exist? Maybe.
No. It's also about something else, a mixture of terror and fascination, a terror that is reminiscent of how one felt in boyhood about sex. Something determined that I should exist, something that may have just been chance; something compelled me to be the person I am, to be one specific individual. If my parents hadn't met, that compulsion wouldn't have existed either.
How carefully I try not to fulfil this responsibility that I never sought! And how odd that I identify myself with it! It's not that I would prefer to be dead, I don't mean that. But I would prefer not to have to be a specific individual.
The strange thing is that despite all this the old film of my birth often makes me feel relaxed. I go back up to the main part of the house and on the way to my bed I look into my wife's bedroom and see her now rather overweight body (which nevertheless belongs to me) as a more solid shadow in the encroaching dawn. Wrapped up again in the warmth of my blankets, I turn on to my side and fall asleep like a child.
|Letters to the Drowning||3|
|1. The Film of My Birth||5|
|2. The Lady in the Bookshop||8|
|3. Whole Foods||11|
|4. Like a Very Watchful Bird||16|
|5. The Conflagration||21|
|6. Vegetarian Journey||26|
|7. Windy's Story||36|
|8. Conscience Has Many Grey Days||43|
|9. The One Hundred and Fifty Articles||52|
|10. Conversations with a Pool-Cleaner||60|
|The Discreet Resources of the Afternoons||67|
|11. The Discreet Resources of the Afternoons||69|
|12. Clause 11 Rescheduling||74|
|13. The Tale of a Dog||78|
|14. Amicus Curiae||81|
|15. In the Shade of the Royal Forest||83|
|16. An Unexpected Outcome||89|
|Go Quietly! Don't Talk to the Flies!||93|
|17. Volleyball — The Immortal Game||95|
|18. The Elephant ofLockhart||104|
|19. Nancy's Return||114|
|20. News from Harvard Square||119|
|21. The Skaters||125|
|22. Pet Shop: The Tortoise||132|
|23. America's Most Intelligent Man||137|
|24. The Old Lady and the Dolls||148|
|25. Recollections from the Time of the Second Flood||151|
|26. Diluvium by Unknown Artist||155|
|27. Science Fiction||161|
|28. The Evil Magician||166|
|29. A Card Laid Is a Card Played||172|
|30. The End of the Argument||175|
|31. The Tortoise Always Arrives Before Achilles||179|