You may remember talk of the Sardinian Viceroy Saint-Rémy's nightmare of pestilence and of Antonin Artaud's description in 1938 of how a plague thrusts "inflammatory images" into "our unexpectedly alert minds"? – well, the story continues with somebody studying the minutiae of a woman's appearance on a tram. Overcome by the sight of her right ear the observer cannot accept that such incredible qualities do not have a voice of their own. With so much to proclaim, how can they keep it to themselves? But how could they do otherwise? the reader will ask. It is quite enough that the woman is whatever she is. If the details of her appearance or composure really were to find the right words, her shoe or a loose strand of her plaited hair would need to utter them. But that was more than a hundred years ago. Today we have learned that all things speak when the time is right.
Meanwhile, as the tram passes, I pull the curtain aside and look again into the street below, where the intensity of extraction has risen to an intolerable pitch. The window is open and while I am watching, a man appears with a gun and forces the workers to form a line in front of a ditch. They look at the ground. The man demands they explain to him why they are digging. The road has been dug up 17 times in the last 5 years and he cannot tolerate it any longer. (I know him, a neighbour who lives two houses down on the left. The noise drives him round the bend, so he tells me, but this is the only time I have seen a gun in his hands).
Only one of the workers can speak the language. He doesn't know the answer. The man should ask the foreman who gives them their orders, but he is not here now. They only do what they are told. They drill and dig and fill. About 30 yards down the road a young man sits slumped on a chair. What's with him? The worker replies that he has been like that since yesterday, and has not lifted a finger. Blue lights flash, the police restrain the gunman, the ambulance removes the young man, the foreman, back at the site now, cautions the workers to continue filling the ditch.
They fill. They do not speak. When the earth was young and studded with volcanoes, pieces of rock the size of Mont Blanc might fall into the lava and form a plug. It must have been a sight to behold. The unfathomable pressure that formed the volcanoes did not diminish then, but could spread for hundreds of miles before finding another outlet. That distance has grown shorter ever since, which lends evidence to what science already knows: the planet's crust, which once had an insulating function, has grown significantly thinner.