5.1. Literary Symbols: the Ghost
The atmosphere in the story corresponds with the traditional setting: the period of the day is dusk (the light is weak and the objects are obscure), the waters of the lake near which the main character, Ivan, is sitting and resting are becoming “darker and darker” (the light gives way to darkness, intransparency and somberness), suddenly “large waves” appear as a result to the “unexpected wind” (the tranquil nature has for some reason fallen into disharmony), there is not a “living soul” by the shore around Ivan (no witness of the events), it is a place of loneliness, separateness, “the nature is tense” expecting rain.
The literary symbols are most frequently set petrified means by which the literary events “are justified”. Wayne Booth in his book “The Rhethorics of Prose” speaks about the banality of the motive of turtle on the highway in American literature: the same function in fantastics is assumed by murder in midnight, in tragedy – murder during storm, etc. Although literary scene is sometimes stereotypical, it might be unskillful to innovate it. In his “Hamburg Drama” Lessing attacked Voltaire’s play “Zaira” because of Voltaire’s rough attempt to create a character of a ghost lead by the example of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. The ghost of Hamlet’s father appears in the night, while the others are preparing for a party, and after the clock had stricken midnight, whereas the ghost in Voltaire’s play appears in the middle of a crowd of people, in daytime, in the middle of the village! Lessing bitterly comments that Voltaire hasn’t heard from the old women that ghosts avoid overpopulated places, hide from daylight and that, according to any piece of evidence, do not appear the way Voltaire presented them, but rather, if they appear at all, it would be the way Shakespeare presented them.
All signals in the story “A Woman” – darkening, sudden disharmony, lonely place and tense atmosphere – are part of that petrified literary symbol whose task is to prepare us for the unusual event.
5.2. Negotiation, Bargaining Character of Love
In the dusk, while Ivan is sitting by the lake, there is a woman in a boat approaching from the lake. The conversation that takes place between them leaves us a possibility to consider Ivan a playboy and the woman a prostitute of Ivan’s (love) favours.
After she arrives they introduce each other and Ivan uses the word – favour. When the woman says: “I have got a husband… an older man”, Ivan asks her if she needs “someone’s favour”, but she says: “I have heard of your kind-heartedness”, making him aware that she has no intention of paying him for what he is prepared to offer. Yet, for the kind-heartedness he offers she agrees to pay back with – beauty! “I am not ugly” – she says, and undresses herself to prove that she will pay for Ivan’s favour with her own “beauty”. The woman, obviously, does not wish to buy a lover, intending to avoid bargaining. Offering her characteristics in return of his, however, she practically confirms the market price of love she searches for on a more sophisticated level.
Erich Fromm in his book “The Art of Love” speaks of the purchasing/selling aspect of love in contemporary culture based on the appetite to buy. This appetite is reflected in the selection of a partner, i.e. when we give our love to someone. The essential thing for us is to find an attractive person, i.e. a package of features searched for in the market, and which are adequate to the features that the searcher is ready to offer. According to From disillusionment is a property of modern (market) love: two people feel they are in love with each other when they believe they have found the best, free “persons for exchange” on the market.
The woman from the story takes off her clothes in order to confirm her statement: “I am not ugly”: to prove that in the kind-heartedness–beauty bargain, she will not lye to Ivan about her beauty and therefore will immediately offer evidence. (His kind-heartedness is well known and thus in no need of evidence.)
Ivan, however, does not like the deal. He does not have any objections to the woman’s beauty, he is not even bothered by the fact that he will not receive any money for the “favour”, but what he does mind is the explicitness of the request, the sincerity, i.e. the undressing. “… Wherefore are you so sudden and sincere? You ought to have been a little more restrained, then, of course, all would have been different. This way… truly impossible” – this is his answer.
He senses the bargain established the moment the relation is void of mystery, the moment things are presented the way they truly are: lies are alluring, truth – bitter. Ivan has the opportunity to get the unknown woman the way she is – perhaps he respects her honesty, but, paradoxically, the more he respects her, the less he loves her. The unknown woman reacts instinctively: when she eventually finds what she had been looking for, she can not retain her calmness: she cannot hide her desire.
5.3. Love Triangle: Anthropological and Ideological Paradigm
Until this point in the story there is no fantastic element. Then, in the moment Ivan refuses the offer of the naked woman, the second part of the story, the fantastic-symbolic one, begins.
The woman comments creepingly: “That is not nice of you, that is not good. The weather will worsen.” In the next moment the lake freezes. This element, or sign, of snow represents an allegorical relation between the woman and the climate. If the rejected woman has got a “frozen” heart, or “frozen” love, then we can easily draw a parallel between them and the frozen lake. The snowy (fantastic) paradigm continues with the arrival of the woman’s husband on a luxury sleigh pulled by two white horses, who covers her in a precious fur. Just before that there is an indicative, though a short scene. When the weather gets colder, Ivan approaches the woman to embrace her, in order that he protects her from the cold. Later on, her husband does the same thing, only, in stead of embracing her, he approaches her with a beautiful fur in his hands.
Provided that there is an opposing system: winter – love, then love will be received by him who defeats winter. Ivan feels the love impulse only after he had known the “unlove” – winter, meaning that together with the husband he, too, is now interested in defeating winter. Both, however, use different means: Ivan – a hug, her husband – the precious fur. The woman, who at the beginning of the story wears summer clothes, has got a husband equipped with winter clothes.
The end of the story receives a dimension of a love triangle, with the variant: a woman between two men. All three of them mount the sleigh, the ice breaks, and the lake defrosts.
This triangle, however, depicts a double paradigm: one, Ivan is the representative of the anthropological paradigm (hug), whereas the other, her husband, is the representative of the ideological paradigm (expensive furs). As in the Russian stories of Ivan and the princess, Ivan is the prince: when he rejects the princess she is threatened by snow and everlasting winter. Her husband is old and rich, Ivan is young and good (his kindheartedness is heard of). Youth, as well as love and anthropological qualities: fortune is ideological quality.
Unlike the stories of Ivan and the princess, the woman here does not choose any of the men, or, rather, chooses them both. The princess from the fairy-tales would choose the young, beautiful and good person: she would refuse the old and rich (often the evil) one. Here, nonetheless, that norm is distracted, the discourse is parodied. The princess in our story needs youth and beauty, but would not give up fortune either.
The love triangles usually end unsuccessfully. The author can decide to make one couple remain (the third person leaves), or can create two couples (by adding a fourth member). P. Jeanestillé says: “… the even number – it is the only satisfying number in our civilisation based on monogamy and monoandry.” (N. Petkovska, 1996: 42). That norm, as we said, is deviated and parodied in this story.
6. Fifth Story: Castration
The story “Averoes’ Mistake” by Venko Andonovski (1964) was published in 1993.
The main character in the story is the eastern philosopher Averoes of Arabia, who lives in a luxurious palace with a lot of women. Instead of offering his love to one of them, he is obsessed by the Bible, which he received as a present from a merchant from the west. The real, historical Averoes had been an interpreter of Aristotle’s “Poetics”, especially the controversial definition of the tragedy, and he lived in the 10th century. In this story, too, Averoes is presented as a fervent interpreter of books, this time of the Bible.
6.1. Obsession by Mistakes
The history of Aristotle’s “Poetics”, the book the real Averoes who lived in the 10th century, among many other philologists from different centuries, was concerned with, shows how much trouble a mistake in copying a book can cause. Aristotle’s poetics, as is well known, contains a description of the structure of tragedy and its definition. There are only two copies of the “Poetics” preserved to our days (Parinisius I and II), but in one of them there is the word ‘patheton’ – suffering in the definition of tragedy, whereas in the other the word ‘matheton’ – instructing. These two words bring completely different meanings in the interpretation of the definition, and until today it is practically unknown how Aristotle wrote his definition of the tragedy, i.e. which one of the transcribers wrote the correct word. This example accounts for the fact that Averoes’s obsession with mistakes has, historically, a profound meaning.
The interesting issue here is – how this obsession comes into existence in him? The first reason can be traced in the conditions in which Averoes lived: it is the age of Gutenberg, when a transcribers took many years to transcript a new copy of an important book. Averoes, therefore, had no confidence in the authenticity of the books he received. In time, from a reader he turned to an observer lurking for the mistakes of the transcribers, with the intent to preserve pure information and knowledge for the future generations.
The send and, in the same time, more important reason lies within his own nature.
The witnesses from the palace left the following testimony of his sexual life of their master: “the good old erudite was seldom found in bed, and (…) probably, had a missing bone in his body.” (60)
That Averoes was seldom in bed becomes clear throughout the story. When he received the Bible as a present, Averoes enclosed himself in the room for contemplation for a month and four days. Not even the persuasion of his youngest wife all naked who was calling him to her chamber helped. When he eventually did go to her, instead of the long awaited love night, he left only after half an hour, and went in his room to stay there alone for another 11 days and 11 nights. Then he committed suicide, but before that he went in his wife’s room for one last time.
It is interesting that while we are given the information about Averoes’s scanty sexual life and his obsession with the Bible, there is no fantastic element in the story. The first such event happens when Averoes in his wife’s chamber finds the unknown western merchant, and flies away in the shape of an angel, confusing the frightened servants.
His transformation into an angel is not accidental. The angel is neither of male nor of female sex, and is a representative of innocence and impeccability. The sexual activity of Averoes is practically reduced to biblical impeccability. Thus, we get the idea that he who is obsessed by mistakes is in sexual sense impeccable, or an angel.
Here, there is another significant sentence, and that is about the day Averoes receives the Bible, from which day his life changes: “From that day his life became hell” (55). This hell is not in opposition to the earlier mentioned transformation of Averoes into an angel – a resident of paradise. It is a matter of hell, brought about by knowledge: he who lives the life of an angel, becomes aware of the reasons of his own innocence through the Bible, and his life becomes – hell. Not only that, but after the discovery he commits suicide, so the impeccable one eventually commits a sin and in a religious sense – according to religion, namely, suicide is a sin in the eyes of God. Thus, impeccability is neutralized with the ultimate sin.