The Drama of Our Masks

by Saint Quotes

“I was still laughing as I dressed up, and in the process I completely forgot what I had intended to represent. No matter; it was novel and exciting not to decide till afterward before the mirror. The face I fastened on had a singularly hollow smell; it lay tight over my own face, but I was able to see through it comfortably, and not till the mask sat firm did I select all sorts of materials, which I wound about my head like a turban, in such a way the edge of the mask, which reached downward into an immense yellow cloak, was almost entirely hidden also on top and at the sides. At length, when I could do no more, I considered myself sufficiently disguised. I seized in addition a large staff, which I made walk along beside me at arm’s length, and in this fashion, not without difficulty, but as it seemed to me, full of dignity, I trailed into the guest-room toward the mirror.

It was really grandiose, beyond all expectation. And the mirror gave it back instantly, it was too convincing. It would not have been at all necessary to move much; this apparition was perfect, even though it did nothing. But I wanted to discover what I actually was, so I turned a little and finally raised both arms: large, almost conjuring gestures were, as I saw immediately, the only fitting ones. But just at this solemn moment I heard quite near me, muffled by my disguise, a very complicated noise. Much frightened I lost sight of the presence in the mirror and was badly upset to perceive that I had overturned a small round table with heaven knows what, probably very fragile objects. I bent down as well as I could and found my worst fears confirmed: it looked as though everything were in pieces. The two useless green-violet porcelain parrots were of course shattered, each in a different malign fashion. A box, from which rolled bonbons that looked like insects in silken cocoons, had cast its cover far away; only half of it was to be seen, the other had totally disappeared. But most annoying of all was a scent- bottle that had been shivered into a thousand tiny fragments, from which the remainder of some sort of old essence had spurted that now formed a spot of very repulsive profile on the clear parquet. I wiped it up quickly with something or other that was hanging down about me, but it only became blacker and more unpleasant. I was indeed desperate. I picked myself up and tried to find something with which to repair the damage. But nothing was to be found. Besides I was so hampered in my vision and in my every movement, that wrath rose in me against my absurd situation, which I no longer understood. I pulled at my garments, but they clung only the tighter. The cord of the mantle strangled me and the stuff on my head pressed as though more and more were being added to it. Furthermore the atmosphere had become dim and as though misty with the oldish fume of the spilled liquid.

Hot and angry, I rushed to the mirror and with difficulty watched through the mask the working of my hands. But for this the mirror had just been waiting. Its moment of retaliation had come. While I strove in boundlessly increasing anguish to squeeze somehow out of my disguise, it forced me, by what means I do not know, to lift my eyes and imposed on me an image, no a reality, a strange unbelievable and monstrous reality, with which against my will I became permeated; For now the mirror was the stronger, and I was the mirror.  I stared at this great, terrifying unknown before me, and it seemed to me appalling to be alone with him. But at the very moment I thought this, the worst befell: I lost all sense, I simply ceased to exist. For one second I had an indescribable, painful and futile longing for myself, then there was only he: there as nothing but he.

I ran away, but now it was he that ran. He knocked against everything, he did not know the house, he had no idea where to go; he managed to get down a stairway, and in his course stumbled over someone who shouted in struggling free.

A door opened, several persons came out: oh, oh what a relief it was to know them! There was Sieversen, the good Sieversen, and the housemaids and the butler; now for a decision. But they did not spring forward to the rescue; their cruelty knew no bounds. They stood there and laughed; my God. They could stand there and laugh. I wept, but the mask did not let the tears escape; they ran down inside over my cheeks and dried at once and ran again and dried. And at last I knelt before them, as no human being ever knelt;  I knelt, and lifted up my hands, and implored them: “Take me out, if you still can, and keep me” , but they did not hear; I had no longer any voice.

Sieversen used to tell to the day of her death how I sank down and how they went on laughing, thinking that was part of it. They were used to that from me. But then I had continued to lie there and had not answered. And their fright when they finally discovered that I was unconscious and lay there like a piece of something among all those wrappings, just like a piece of something” [1].

Take from Rainer Maria Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Lauridis Brigge, pp.93-96.

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