Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Your Life Is An Impossibility is of the general opinion that the pleasanter the climate, the less productive the race, something that has been neither proved nor disproved during six years in Brazil. What is unquestionably true is that the baking swelter of the midwestern flatlands is not encouraging of great industry. At times, in fact, it is all this Oblomov of the centro-oeste can do to crawl out bed.

Not having very much to do, of course, breeds not doing very much. Oblomov rises early enough, mainly because he doesn`t have much choice, what with the traffic frantically racing by outside the window and the Lord Of The Flies style pre-class ritual beheadings going on in the public school next door.

Though rises is perhaps the wrong word. Oblomov, of course, has no job and no friends in the centro-oeste, and is, like our original Russian hero, entirely free to do as he pleases. So Oblomov of the centro-oeste wakes and stares at the ceiling for a time. His companions, Francis Begbie and Flap*, a Pekinese with severe learning difficulties, slumber on. Eventually Flap stirs and begins to snuffle at the door. Oblomov props himself up on his elbows for a while and surveys the room from this new, encouraging perspective. Then, however, he starts to feel drowsy again and lies back down.

Launch attempt number 2 at least sees Oblomov sitting up. He dangles his feet languorously over the side of the bed, feeling for his slippers (flip-flops, if truth be told). Said slippers are nowhere to be found. The exertion has made Oblomov perspire slightly. Another lie down may be in order.

Eventually, Oblomov rises, perhaps even semi-permanently, this time. He makes his way to the bathroom, feeling sluggish, and bathes, even more sluggishly. Afterwards he sits on the bed for another few minutes, thinking about what clothes he should wear (such intense mental activity can be taxing, and so occasionally an additional few minutes of rest will be required).

With enough concentration, breakfast can be stretched out to an hour or so. Breakfast is a very Oblomovian sort of meal, prolonging, and even avoiding, as it does that terrible moment when the day must truly begin. So Oblomov cuts no corners – coffee, juice, fruit, toast, honey, cheese and ham are all on the menu. Oblomov probably expends more energy preparing his breakfast than he does doing anything else.

After that, perhaps Oblomov will partake in a few desultory rounds of the block with Flap. It should be pointed out that Flap is not a bad dog by any means, and in fact the pooch`s complete lack of vitality or mental spark makes him just the kind of sluggish partner-in-crime that Oblomov requires.

Such tasks, all told, should bring us to almost midmorning. At which point arise the great questions of the day. What should Oblomov do? Should he read? Write? Seek gainful employment? He considers his options.

Reading is pleasant enough, but what good can a man get out of reading, at the end of the day? For the problem with reading is that there are always more books to be read. There is no end of sight. Reading one book means embarking on a task that will last a lifetime. Reading one book means there will forever be a book lurking somewhere, on a shelf or on a table, casting reproachful looks at Oblomov, making Oblomov feel guilty. All in all, in this smothering heat (midday is approaching and the centro-oeste is growing hotter still), reading feels far too much like hard work.  

Which makes writing even more of a chore. As the original Oblomov said - to think of being continually engaged in writing, in wasting one`s intellect upon trifles, in changing one`s opinions, in offering one`s brain and one`s imagination for sale, in doing violence to one`s own nature, in giving way to ebullitions of enthusiasm, and of being forced to go on writing, writing, like the wheel of a machine – writing tomorrow, writing the day after! Just reading such a paragraph has exhausted our Oblomov. Imagine, then, what it would be like to write such a beast!

A nap before lunch then, seems like the safest option. But going back to bed at 11am is surely wrong, even for Oblomov, so he instead decamps to the sofa. In a few minutes Francis Begbie will rise. Perhaps she will bring Oblomov a drink or a snack. Perhaps she will amuse Oblomov with some of her observations on life, such as, What`s the point of making the bed? You`re only going to get back into it later on (in its own way expressing a very Oblomovian sentiment), or, He`s from somewhere in Africa, I think, Jamaica, or somewhere like that.*

But Francis Begbie must work, such is her lot, so Oblomov will be deprived of her company soon enough. And Flap is not much of a conversationalist. After lunch, which can realistically only be stretched out to last an hour, what will become of Oblomov then?

Oblomov feels the need to do something. To not waste the day entirely. Correction - to not waste yet another day entirely. What passes for a burst of energy, of vigour, courses through his veins. Sweat breaks upon his brow. A limpid battle for the Oblomovian soul commences. Perhaps a few pages of a book could be read? Perhaps a paragraph of a little piece for some blog or other could be scribbled out?

Yes! Oblomov rises. He seeks out his book. On his way to the bookshelf, he catches a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror. His colour is palid and unhealthy. His skin sags. He has become flabby and heavy jowled. He sighs.

Eventually - and it is quite a struggle - he finds his book, Italo Calvino`s If One Night A Traveller. Realising he is closer to the bed than the sofa, he observes that the return journey would be entirely wasteful. He slumps upon the comforts of his bed, still warm from the nocturnal stirrings of Francis Begbie. To the womb, again, Oblomov!

It has been sometime since Oblomov last picked up If One Night A Traveller. He reads a few pages. But he finds he can no longer recall which book he is supposed to be following – is it the book within the book, or the book within the book within the book? And even worse, it appears that he, the reader, has somehow become a character in the book. You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino`s new novel, If One Night A Traveller, runs the first line. Oblomov is appalled. He did not ask to be a character in a book! Being a character in a book surely involves work, effort, movement, force, the expending of energy of some kind, all anathema to the Oblomovian soul. 

But Oblomov, undaunted, stoic, reads on. The book improves greatly. Relax. Concentrate. Let the world around you fade. Outside the window the heat builds, as though a thunderstorm is approaching. The trees feebly rattle their leaves. Sweat breaks once more upon Oblomov`s brow. But the thunderstorm never comes. Instead it just gets hotter. Oblomov reads a few more lines. He feels the most incredible weariness come over him. The book drops onto his chest. Oblomov`s mouth falls open. His eyelids creep shut, with imperceptible slowness… 

* Names have been changed to protect innocent pekineses with learning difficulties.

** This is not of course to imply that Francis Begbie, who is probably a genius and can pick out a Mondrian inspired book cover at a 100 paces, suffers from the same learning difficulties as her dog. Rather, it is that things as concrete, real and unmoving as maps and geographical location are far too unimaginative and tedious to be paid much attention. And who`s to argue with that?   

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