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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Guy De Maupassant's Superstition...

I was searching for an essay Sidonie Gabrielle Colette wrote, called The Hand, and came across a story from De Maupassant. Aptly called, The Hand. And I suppose this story will persist and consist itself in this very brief blog. For, I must write about superstition.

I've liked Poe. Lovecraft. Ligotti. Ligotti has a way of inserting some profound philosophy into his words, which isn't even written, is, in fact suggested. Much like Poe, I'd say. Even so, in The Hand, a judge is telling these ladies about something he would call... inexplicable. It was in Corsica. A place where vendettas run deep, from ancestral enmities and so-forth. For some time, the people there were intrigued by this Englishman. Sir John Rowell. The judge went by the name M. Bermutier, by the by. And, by the by, after the judge had happened upon Rowell, after a hunting incident, he got to know the man better. He was invited into his (Rowell's) villa. The parlor of which was black draped. Draped in black with gold encased embroidery. And, other than the busts of animals, there was, much to the judge's shock, a strange thing that attracted his attention. In fact, a:

"strange thing attracted my attention. A black object stood out against a square of red velvet. I went up to it; it was a hand, a human hand. Not the clean white hand of a skeleton, but a dried black hand, with yellow nails, the muscles exposed and traces of old blood on the bones, which were cut off as clean as though it had been chopped off with an axe, near the middle of the forearm."

A chain surrounds it. Which the judge cannot for the best of him decipher. He doesn't see why a "decayed" hand should be chained. But, Rowell affirms it is necessary; that the hand is quite strong. And, a bit later in the story, the Englishman is found dead, with what looks like a finger from the hand in his mouth. When Rowell's servant gives his testament, he says that Rowell had had a fit, after receiving some letters from America. After the "crime," Rowell's murder had happened, the servant noted the hand had disappeared, and it was found on Rowell's grave in Corsica, with a finger missing upon it.

In describing his reaction to this to the women he's telling the story (to), the judge says:

"Oh! Ladies, I shall certainly spoil your terrible dreams. I simply believe that the legitimate owner of the hand was not dead, that he came to get it with his remaining one. But I don't know how. It was a kind of vendetta."

Of course, this doesn't appease the women. And the judge gives the line that makes this story work. He says, Didn't I tell you that my explanation would not satisfy you?

I think I picked this story out for tonight's blog, and superstition in general, because it seems we need it. And not for the obvious reasons. Yes, we require escape, etc., etc., But, if you note, every fantastical story you read, every bit of horror, is made all the more horrible by the fact real human motivations are involved. In this story, the ingenuity is in the way the women react. Bothered there is no climax, or as I would imagine, denouement. It is simply left to their imaginations. And by proxy of this, to the imagination of the reader, to devise.

In many ways, then, I think superstition works to highlight the re-creative capacities of language and all art. It makes us invent. Requires us to mine our imagination and fear, to find here something akin to a relic. A relic of a mask of our core; I should say, a relic of a mask hiding our core. We put up so many affronts. So many affronts of worth and bravado, one of the hardest things is to be brought to ourselves. And I must admit, this little story from tonight, made me realize how real such stories are, because they do just that. They bring us to ourselves by making ourselves imagine what happened. And, once we put the heebie jeebies of superstition beyond us, we're left with what?

A soul that cannot be seen, but a personality (of it) that will, unfortunately, be gleaned.

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