Tuesday, February 24, 2009

desire to dance


Only those who know the steps can dance,
and only if you’ve learned them in your youth
can they bring back the memories of romance
that first confirmed for you the so-called truth
that you’d been taught, but never understood,
which states that love’s existence guarantees,
without God’s help, that life is very good
for those who have a lover whom we please.

The guarantee is only broken when
God’s absence from the guarantee creates
a gap that can’t be filled by dancing. Men
together with their women stand on plates
that separate tectonically sometimes,
while God, on whom men call to make repairs,
acts merely as a witness to the crimes
that cause the damage to His precious wares.

Yet men and women, like these broken dishes,
beg Him Him for reparation so that they
may dance together, and fulfill the wishes
romance inspired in them on the day
they learned o so-called truth, which is a lie,
for life is neither good nor bad, just what
we make of it––we can destroy or be
destroyed. The choice is ours and it's not
based on the steps of God that we can't see.

Inspired by an article by Susan Salter on Elie Wiesel’s 49th book, “A Mad Desire to Dance” (“Embracing memory and madness,” LA Times, February 22, 2009):

Manhattan in a winter storm seems galaxies away from Bonnard's bright interiors. I carry an exhibition catalog from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to Elie Wiesel's office in Midtown. As we talk, the bright yellow cover blinks up from the coffee table, louder than the thousands of books in his office; louder than his voice, which is soft with a strong French accent and something else. Wiesel is 81. He is modestly dressed in a blue blazer, gray pants and black shoes. His manner is a gentle combination of elegance and humility. He is not frail, but I suspect I am not the first to feel the instinct to protect him, to speak quietly, not to move suddenly, to live up to the sophistication and humanity he deserves. Wiesel's 49th book, "A Mad Desire to Dance" (Alfred A. Knopf: 274 pp., $24) is a novel that contains, like all his books, the voice of a madman. "These were the first people to be taken away," he says, thinking back to World War II. "Children, old people, madmen. I give them shelter in my books; there is always a place for them. They haunt my universe and I say, 'Come in.' " In the novel, Doriel, a middle-aged man whose parents lived through the war, believes he may be haunted by a dybbuk -- in Jewish folklore, the dislocated soul of a dead person. He seeks help from a young female therapist. The chapters follow the progress of the therapy, alternating between the therapist's and Doriel's points of view…."A Mad Desire to Dance," the author explains, is a response to his 1964 novel, "The Town Beyond the Wall," in which Michael, a Holocaust survivor, returns to the town in which he was born, is captured by communists, put in prison and tortured. The novel ends with Michael locked in a cell with a madman, a catatonic who is unable to break through his wall of silence. "He knows," Wiesel explains of Michael, "that if he does nothing he will go mad as well, so he tries to cure the madman." In "A Mad Desire to Dance," Doriel is "cured" when his therapist leads him to the realization that his mother, a prominent resistance leader, had an affair during the war. Did the new novel begin with a memory of dancing? "I've never danced in my life," Wiesel says. "I don't know how to dance or swim." Rather, the book "began with a melody. As for the structure, it offers itself from the inside. If I were to begin a novel with a preconceived structure, it would be false." Certainly the structure of "A Mad Desire to Dance" comes from Doriel's therapy: the realization of his mother's affair and his ability to forgive her. "I believe in therapy," Wiesel says, "particularly between friends. If a friend talks to another friend to relieve his suffering, that is therapy. Human beings were not born to be alone. God alone is alone. People are capable of falling in love. Illness is not being able to fall in love."

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/23/09

1 comment:

  1. I really want to read this novel. I think this blog is a good therapy. Wiesel might not be able to dance or swim but he knows the business of writing and what makes for a great story.
    I like "for life is neither good nor bad, just what we make of it".