Friday, May 13, 2011

Imaginary zoos with real badgers

(x-post from STOATUSblog)

From John Berryman's strange 1945 story "The Imaginary Jew" (Kenyon Review via seventydys):
Now and then I went to the zoo in lower Central Park and watched with interest the extraordinary behavior of a female badger. For a certain time she quickly paced the round of her cage. Then she would approach the sidewall from an angle in a determined, hardly perceptible, unhurried trot; suddenly, when an inch away, point her nose up it, follow her nose up over her back, turning a deft and easy somersault, from which she emerged on her feet moving swiftly and unconcernedly away, as if the action had been no affair of hers, indeed she had scarcely been present. There was another badger in the cage who never did this, and nothing else about her was remarkable; but this competent disinterested somersault she enacted once every five or ten minutes as long as I watched her,—quitting the wall, by the way, always at an angle in fixed relation to the angle at which she arrived at it. It is no longer possible to experience the pleasure I knew each time she lifted her nose and I understood again that she would not fail me, or feel the mystery of her absolute disclaimer,—she has been taken away or died.
(NB 1. "Imaginary gardens with real toads" -- Marianne Moore. 2. The rest of the story is interesting; it doesn't come off, in the way most early Berryman doesn't come off, but has a whiff of the atmosphere of the Dream Songs. 3. The outage appears to have eaten a couple of posts and comments; I shall try to reconstruct the posts from my rss feed but the comments appear to have been irrevocably aetherized. 4. Perhaps because I've been rereading Moby Dick I'm abnormally sensitive to embedded iambic pentameter; "turning a deft and easy somersault" stuck out as I was reading this passage.)

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