The Speed of Angels - Manu Bazzano - ebook

"Truthful and full of passion." Eva Hoffman"During one sleepless night, the night of All Saints Day, the protagonist of this powerful novella wrestles with a cast of inner demons. The ghosts of the dead are never far away – whether dead relatives or dead philosophers. How far they can help him resolve the existential pain occasioned by lost love we find out, as we go through the night with him, witnessing his struggle to understand his experience. This is a beautifully written, uncompromising piece of fiction, in the best European tradition." Carole SatyamurtiI look for you through the mazes of the virtual world, through the hyper-active, desolate hysteria of second life. I look for your avatar and mourn the loss of the human face. I am in mourning for the disappearance of the human face in relationships. I weep for the concealment of the body, this inconvenient, late-Romantic artifact, once sovereign of love before the advent of global capitalism.

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Manu Bazzano

The Speed of Angels 

Copyright © 2011 IPOC di Pietro Condemi Milan Italy 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher at the address below: 

IPOC di Pietro Condemi 

159, Viale Martesana 

I – 20090 Vimodrone MI 

Ph.: +39-0236550461 

Fax.: +39-0236550461 

[email protected] 

ISBN: 978-88-95145-99-0 

Front cover: Elena Monistier, Notturno, 2003, 

Manu Bazzano is a lecturer in existential psychotherapy at the New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling and Thames Valley University. A counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice, has published numerous papers in psychology magazines. He practiced meditation since 1978 and in 2004 has received monk ordination in the Soto and Rinzai schools of Zen. From 1996 to 2006 has been editor of Hazy Moon the Zen review. Among his pubblications are Zen Poems 2002; Haiku for Lovers, 2003; The Way of Awakening, a translation of Geshe Yeshe Tobden’s text co-translated with Sarita Doveton; Buddha is Dead: Nietzsche and the Dawn of European Zen, 2006; La velocità degli angeli, 2009; Buddha è morto, 2009; Chi ama lo straniero, 2011.

For Nigel 

O Lord, 

Nourish me not with love 

But with the longing of love. 

Ibn al-‘Arabi 

They say the darkest hour 

is right before the dawn. 

Bob Dylan 


Wide awake in the dead of night, I call an avatar who does not answer. Genet was right: we converse with the dead. We write for the dead in the theatre of memory, the soul’s irrelevant domain. For the dead I lie awake at night, for a handful of sardonic shadows on the shores of the river Styx. For a mirage, for a dream I dream up this wounded speech in the dark.

Awake at night, I stare at the ceiling and dig up a primal verse: The triumphant athlete defeated his opponents at Olympia and was then floored by the gaze of a young woman – read long ago to my father who was alive then, and who, alive, smiled the smile of the accomplice.

I remember the dream I just had: walking up and up through Trastevere in a heart-drenching drizzle, then getting lost in Piazzale Garibaldi, insolent with the vanity of victory and with a lover’s despairing graffiti on the wall. I was going over in my head what I’d say to you, Life is but a shudder of eyelids, don’t you think? You’d understand. Summer would come back on earth.

Is this what insomnia is, not leaning on anything? Insomnia as the cure from metaphysical slumber, from the placebo of theories and the credulity of action, from the vanity of happiness and the alleged superiority of ataraxia. Before it became a drawback, philosophy was this for me once: refusal to rely on anodynes, not wanting to sleep on it.

Awake at night, loitering with intent in the land of the shadow, I seriously consider if I should rent a semi-detached in hell: is this what insomnia is?

My partner sleeps besides me, Judas. From love I’m learning the vital lesson of betrayal, for only one who loves can betray. Loyalty belongs after all to patriots, to those who trade the blessed earth for a nasty soil, and brandish in a rowdy wind faded banners made with the discarded shirts of some rich bastard. They love their soil, patriots: hear them spluttering drunken tunes to Gaia, foolish goddess, benign Theilardian and Lovelockian organism magically rising one day (so they say) from her stony slumber, opening herself up at last to Spirit after centuries of ethnic cleansings, wars, gang rapes and shallow graves offered to the volcanic sun of the future.

Gaia? No thanks. Mother-earth love? Fuck off. The earth is vertigo, wide expanse scattered with exiles, fateful locus where you can’t build a dwelling, let alone call anything mine – the blue planet whose strange sweetness tricks the blood and every summer makes us sick with yearning.

I turn the pillow. Sleep has vanished: Judas’ endless night. At dawn he will put love up for sale and then hurl his body into a ravine.

It’s All Souls night, before the dawn of the Day of the Dead. Darkness came down on our privileged hemisphere, our vision darkened by pain, by a heartache that dissolves the human face into a virtual avatar. I am thirsty, thirsty for summer springs. In the thick suburban silence where slumber weaves the dense chimeras of progress and history for the sole benefit of sleepers, I drag my feet, looking for a glass of water.

I remember it now: I had set myself the task of telling what I had learned, of clarifying sottovoce at the edge of a bed the compendium of my traveling years, an abstract of fictional philosophy woven between theory and biography. Maybe that’s what I’ll do. The night is long. I’ll do it in our Vulgar Latin, I’ll do it in this rented tongue, stepmother tongue, forgotten tongue. I’ll do it in this Madonna/ whore tongue, plum juice dripping from dark skin, a fruit worshipped to silent ecstasy. I’ll give it a try, just to kill time: it will be the distillation of the error that was this wayward life; a bundle of fragments between despair and the vain hope of the world becoming a musical room, as envisioned by that young rogue from Charleville.

A great part of my sleep-walking compendium will be mere theory, I’m afraid. Yet theory is for me play, not foundation: maybe a dance, interrupted by your hand-written words, the only ones in this electronic liaison: I’d like to be alone with you, shrouded in silence here and now… as slipping slowly underwater… the sound of your voice is supreme. I was touched, and forgave the cheap mysticism in that ‘here and now’, and in that exaggerated ‘supreme’ I fastidiously perceived the ruinous fall that always follows the hyperboles of love. I answered as a scheming school-boy: your bite on my lower lip, the brush of a flower.

I’m thirsty. My chest aches. I’m thirsty for summer springs. I remember it well now: it’s a daring feat for a client of mine to simply get out of the house and drag himself to the park in the pale sun and remain there seated on a bench to observe the to and fro of the cheerful shipwrecked in the quiet desperation of a London afternoon.

Never before had I been met at the airport by someone holding a sign with my name on it. Didn’t notice at first. Went here and there, shocked by the heat. Then with our greeting we reassembled an androgynous creature. My friend Stephen told me months later that on his arrival in Korea he too had been met by a woman whom he later married and with whom he lives after thirty years.


Last Wednesday in a crowded tube at six in the afternoon in the belly of my city I already seemed not to feel anymore the pain that made its home in my chest (how could we, darling, and why?). I am grateful to work, I am thankful to Ananke goddess of necessity whom Freud believed antithetical to Eros and the pleasure principle. I perceive in my love of work the scent of salvation, a hope born out of the union of love and necessity, Eros and Ananke, pleasure and reality. Or you can make art out of life, summoning private, transient deities to your rescue: young Mahler, whose piece in D minor for string quartet mercifully filters in my memory; Oscar Wilde, because like him we all are brokenhearted clowns.

Transferred from one prison to another on 13th November 1895, and kept there waiting at the central platform at Clapham Junction (where I find myself every Wednesday on my way to work), Wilde was handcuffed and in tatters, poor Oscar, brought there suddenly from the infirmary and without warning. When people saw him, they just laughed, and when they recognized him, they laughed louder. From two to half past two he was held there waiting for a train next to two policemen.

Wide awake in the dead of night I prostrate one hundred and eight times towards the East, to Quan-Yin who aids sea travelers in the storm, appears as a maiden to those thirsty for love and also as sister death to terminal patients in overcrowded hospital corridors. I prostrate to the South to my dead parents who conceived me on a night in June (fatal, hermaphrodite month, month of Hermes and Aphrodite).

I prostrate to friends and foes of my hometown, to past loves of whom I ask forgiveness for having thought that this last craze was a first love. I prostrate to you, dream creature whose teachings now obscured by pain, I will no doubt decode one day. It doesn’t matter if it’ll be too late, if a cruel twist will have had the upper hand, as in a badly written novel. You see, monsieur Genet, just like you I converse with the dead, I call them to behold this fragile life exposed to the vagaries of fate, since there never ever was on the blue planet a more diaphanous existence than the life of philosophers…

At times I find solace in the melancholy of absence. The heart decelerates after the fury and the heat.

And how strange that everyone, from self-righteous blasphemes to court poets, all grow silent when they listen to Bach or smell fresh bread. The angel becomes human, gladly decelerates his flight to a standstill and burns his lips with hot coffee on a winter morning. Humans amuse him – he is moved by our plight as Buddhas asleep on a bed of roses and thorns.

But you cannot, oh no, hear me, you can’t go smoothly into that dark night, you can’t with a light heart go and meet the dark dark night, you cannot with a gentle heart go and meet the dark death that at every tolling of the bell, at every toll comes nearer. Can’t hear no bells, your voice on the phone from the warmth of your kitchen and I heard mockery in your voice as I stood on the bridge stunned by love and a gust of wind listening to Big Ben at seven pm, cut in two by contrapuntal memory – in two places at once and the icy wind feeding on my cheeks. I just stayed there as a biblical stone listening to Big Ben, listening to time itself as Heidegger did, listening to time like the old mother in my client’s tale: “I gathered from our conversation with my mother that she had spent most of her day just staring at the clock! So I thought, ‘she just stays there, resigned, waiting for death’. And my son on our way out whispered to me ‘You know mom, grandma’s breath smelled like grandpa’s before he died’”.

I silently return to bed and listen to her breathing, her whom I betray every minute with my thoughts. I listen to the breath of the one who truly loves me with a love I cannot match because more than anything I love this longing to which I stupidly gave a name and a face, rather than loving its pure song as it’s done among authentic troubadours. Can’t sleep, that’s what it boils down to, and tomorrow having sold love to the Pharisees I’ll run breathlessly along the river, a condemned man, and hang myself before the seven o’clock news because it is written in the scriptures.

A flower bloomed in our breast on a day of iridescent calamity (Friday 13 in the Anglo-Saxon world is bad luck but not in the Bel Paese, once cradle of the Renaissance and now dazed in front of government TV channels). This transient blooming of ours wasn’t conceived in divine screenplays, karmic laws or Akashic records, oh no, nor was it a fruit of Turkish, Chinese and Sicilian fatalism. I’ll tell you where our ridiculous encounter was written: in the disorderly classifieds of blind biology, in the blind Darwinian wallowing of blood pursuing its inane course in the wheel of living-and-dying. In the pages of airport bookshops good reads, that’s where our beatific/ idiotic encounter was foretold, my ex-darling. Mustn’t give in though to the pull of cynicism which from Socrates onwards has been the weapon of the mediocre and embellishing today the new evolutionist Oxonian creed in a world bereft of God, Buddha and crystal gazers.

A philosophy compendium? The journal of a postmodern sailor? You must be kidding…

I shiver at the sight of two nineteenth-century silhouettes in the room where I came to sit so as not to disturb my partner’s sleep. In the frail shadow before the Day of the Dead, sipping Courvoisier in the plain delirium of this prolonged wake, I recognize Lou and Fritz sitting on the sofa, shrouded in the darkness of this interminable night.

They caution me with their silence. They tell me that a love chained with knowledge and discipleship is doomed from the very start. Lou admired Fritz but ended up mistaking the thought of the eternal recurrence for the accidental revival of metaphysics, the muddled discovery of a myopic Columbus. The beautiful Lou was running away from love (run baby run) and from her prescribed role as Zarathustra’s disciple and companion.

There is no peace anywhere in this endless night. I take my leave from the eighteen-century pair and walk towards the bedroom. On the staircase, I stop. A scene seizes me, cruel and clear. I see a bookshop in Lucca on a distant summer evening; I see a copy of When Nietzsche Wept by Irvin Yalom. I dry my eyes (no more brandy, for heaven’s sake), and recall with a grimace that I had not forgiven Irv (and had told him so during a brief correspondence) the reduction of a genially perverse thought to the rank of psychoanalytic noir. But on this night where nothing escapes the clutch of darkness I make amends and bow to his perseverance, to his existential rendering (in our era of philistine pragmatism) of the irreducibility of the Joyful Science’s great jester.

Motionless on the stairs, shrouded in autumn darkness I incongruously recall the laughter and sadness evoked in me when I read The Schopenhauer Cure, the other philosophical novel by good old Irv Yalom. But here, you see, things get sticky. Because he’s writing about sex addiction. Now lying on the bed I pull up the blanket and a shiver hits my lower belly… The prince claims your lips, your mouth, your hands. Above all it claims the velvet lady, the slow entry right inside the gate. Uncensored and cold to my entreaties he proclaims: I want to surge inside her mouth like a spring from a Buonarroti statue.

This fire inside made me dance when walking through the summer avenues. Here too is summer at last I recited, a poetaster in shorts, dreaming oat flakes for breakfast and the caressing voice of one born in the afternoon of a spring day in the island pillaged by Saracens and Turks and never surrendered to eruptions. Life comes back every spring; soldiers die and are buried; on the third day new loves spring up with the anemones and the scent of caponata and the stubborn gaiety of genistas.