From “The Manhattan Project” by László Krasznahorkai

Ornan Rotem in BOMB:

218396762-03272017-laszlo-krasznahorkai-ornan-rotem-bomb-02I sat at the bar of the Zwiebelfisch in Berlin together with David Bell, the renowned Kant scholar; it happened to be one of his regular haunts and it was the only spot where we could have an undisturbed meeting whenever he was in Berlin. As usual, we sat in silence for a long time, inhaling the stale, timeless atmosphere of the bar, heavy with a characteristic blend of tobacco smoke and food smells. Subsequently I broke the silence and recounted how, to my greatest surprise, I had lately developed an interest in Melville, and had come across a curious connection between Melville and Malcolm Lowry. David took a sip of his beer, reflected for a moment, and came up with an old anecdote about Lowry. When he first arrived in New York, that is, when, dead drunk as usual, he disembarked from the ship at the East River pier, and confronted the customs official, he was carrying a huge old suitcase with remarkable ease. They asked him, what is in the suitcase, Mr Lowry? Lowry replied that well, he wasn't quite sure, why don't they take a look together. They had him open the suitcase, which, to the astonishment of even these seasoned customs officials, proved to be almost empty, save for a single rugby shoe and a tattered paperback edition of Moby-Dick rattling around in it. You get it, said David, his eyes twinkling, one lousy shoe, not a pair, but a single rugby shoe and a well-thumbed copy of Moby-Dick. You know, he went on, the way I see it, there was Lowry sitting at home by an open closet, the open suitcase lying on the bed, and he removes a shirt from the closet, a shirt, he eyes it mockingly, shakes his head and tosses it aside, then he pulls out a pair of pants, shakes his head again and throws them aside, and so on, same with the socks and neckties and underwear and toothbrushes and umbrellas, and all of them, for some reason comprehensible only to himself, prove to be unworthy, or not important enough, to make it into the suitcase, and only when he gets to that orphaned rugby shoe does he nod, yes, this must come, and throws it into the suitcase, and the same with the tattered edition of Moby-Dick, a rugby shoe and Moby-Dick, and he shuts the suitcase, and you know what, David said laughing, this Lowry must have been quite a guy, you can read about it in Gordon Bowker, Douglas Day, in any Lowry biography, they all mention this story, but there is one big problem, and I want to make this clear to you, before you get even more immersed in this whole thing, considering that, and here he looked at me gravely, some speak of a baseball shoe, and others of a rugby shoe, and there is even talk of this ominous object being an American football shoe, but you must keep in mind that it was without any doubt a rugby shoe and nothing else. David's look was on the point of being stern, as though for him this were no joking matter; his look said: there can be no two ways about this. He raised his tankard of beer, and as he took another swig I could see him give me a slightly mocking look over the rim. In the course of the many years of our friendship I had never once asked him whether he was the only scholar in the English-speaking world who had devoted his career to Kant's philosophy.

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