22 MAY 1905, 1905年5月22日

Dawn. A salmon fog floats through the city, carried on the breath of the river. The sun waits beyond the Nydegg Bridge, throws its long, reddened spikes along Kramgasse to the giant clock that measures time, illuminates the underside of balconies. Sounds of morning drift through the streets like the smell of bread. A child wakes and cries for her mother. An awning creaks quietly as the milliner arrives at his shop on Marktgasse. An engine whines on the river. Two women talk softly beneath an arcade.

As the city melts through fog and the night, one sees a strange sight. Here an old bridge is half-finished. There, a house has been removed from its foundations. Here, a street veers east for no obvious reason. There, a bank sits in the middle of the grocery market. The lower stained-glass windows of St. Vincent’s portray religious themes, the uppers switch abruptly to a picture of the Alps in spring. A man walks briskly toward the Bundeshaus, stops suddenly, puts his hands to his head, shouts excitedly, turns, and hurries in the opposite direction.

This is a world of changed plans, of sudden opportunities, of unexpected visions. For in this world, time flows not evenly but fitfully and, as consequence, people receive fitful glimpses of the future.

When a mother receives a sudden vision of where her son will live, she moves her house to be near him. When a builder sees the place of commerce in the future, he twists his road in that direction. When a child briefly glimpses herself as a florist, she decides not to attend university. When a young man gets a vision of the woman he will marry, he waits for her. When a solicitor catches sight of himself in the robes of a judge in Zurich, he abandons his job in Berne. Indeed, what sense is there in continuing the present when one has seen the future?

For those who have had their vision, this is a world of guaranteed success. Few projects are started that do not advance a career. Few trips are taken that do not lead to the city of destiny. Few friends are made who will not be friends in the future. Few passions are wasted.

For those who have not had their vision, this is a world of inactive suspense. How can one enroll in university without knowing one’s future occupation? How can one set up an apothecary on Marktgasse when a similar shop might do better on Spitalgasse? How can one make love to a man when he may not remain faithful? Such people sleep most of the day and wait for their vision to come.

Thus, in this world of brief scenes from the future, few risks are taken. Those who have seen the future do not need to take risks, and those who have not yet seen the future wait for their vision without taking risks.

Some few who have witnessed the future do all they can to refute it. A man goes to tend the museum gardens in Neuchatel after he has seen himself a barrister in Lucerne. A youth embarks on a vigorous sailing voyage with his father after a vision that his father will die soon of heart trouble. A young woman allows herself to fall in love with one man even though she has seen that she will marry another. Such people stand on their balconies at twilight and shout that the future can be changed, that thousands of futures are possible. In time, the gardener in Neuchatel gets tired of his low wages, becomes a barrister in Lucerne. The father dies of his heart, and his son hates himself for not forcing his father to keep to his bed. The young woman is deserted by her lover, marries a man who will let her have solitude with her pain.

Who would fare better in this world of fitful time? Those who have seen the future and live only one life? Or those who have not seen the future and wait to live life? Or those who deny the future and live two lives?

清晨。粉红的雾带着河的气息飘过城市。等候在努代克那边的太阳沿着克拉姆街,把长长、红红的光投向那测量时间的大钟,将阳台的底部照亮。早晨的声音像面包的气味飘浮在街上。孩子醒了,哭着要妈妈。帽店老板来到马克特街上的铺子,阳篷哗啦哗啦。河上轮船呜呜咽咽。两个女人窃窃私语在拱廊下。

雾气和夜色从城市散去,露出一派奇异的景象。这边一座桥只搭了半截,那头的房子拆得剩了房基,这条街道毫无道理地朝东,那个银行坐落在食品市场中央。圣文森大教堂下面的玻璃彩画全是宗教题材,往上陡然变作阿尔卑斯春色。一个男子朝议会大楼疾走,猛地站住,摸摸头,兴奋地一叫,转身往相反的方向奔去。

这是一个主意总变、机会突现、幻象无常的世界。在这个世界里,时间不是平顺地流过而是忽进忽止。因此,未来也乍隐乍现。

母亲突然看到儿子将住在某地,于是也搬了过去。建筑商发现了未来的商业区,忙调头把路往那边铺。儿童瞅见自己开花店,就决定不上什么大学。小伙子见着未来的妻子,于是一心等她。推销员发现自己竟然在苏黎世披挂法官的袍子,便扔了伯尔尼的这份差事。也是,如果已窥见未来,又何必维持现在?

对于有幸一睹未来的人,这是一个成功在握的世界。成不了事的预算没人做,不达目的的道路没人走,将来不够朋友的朋友没人交。没人浪费感情。

对于无缘得见未来的人,这是一个悬而未决的世界。如果不知道将来干什么,还读哪门子大学?药铺干吗开在马克特街上?斯皮塔尔街上也许能更红火?既然拿不准这男人日后是否变心,干吗要跟他睡觉?这些人白天基本卧床,等见了未来才起身。

在这个未来稍现一二的世界里,不大有冒险这回事。见了未来的人无需冒险。尚未见到的等着瞧就是了,没必要轻举妄动。

个别人见到了未来却一味抵抗。某人知道自己要在卢塞恩做律师,却还是到纳沙泰尔的博物馆收拾花园。某个男青年清楚父亲不久将死于心脏病,却依然带他去扬帆。某个女青年发现自己将嫁给那一个,却听任自己爱上这一个。暮色中这些人站在阳台上大叫未来可以改变,未来可以有千千万。到后来,纳沙泰尔的花匠嫌工钱低,跑到卢塞恩当了律师。那位父亲死于心脏病,儿子悔不当初把他拦在床上。女青年被恋人抛弃,后来嫁的那位倒也由着她一个人郁郁不乐。

哪种人能在时间忽进忽止的世界活得好些?是见到未来,只活一样的人?还是未见未来,等着活的人?还是拒绝未来,要活出两样的人?


2 Comments on “22 MAY 1905, 1905年5月22日”

  1. xuechu says:

    the English version seems much better…I need that vision.ha

  2. Bill says:

    @xuechu actually i am considering blogging only english ver. of this novel…there are two chinese translations, one by Huang and the other by Tong. but either is not so "perfect". i even once found a paper of translatology comparing this two translation to illustrate a typical phenomenon in translation. comparatively speaking i think Huang\’s is much better, and that was why i chose Huang\’s.haha anyway.. surely original one is best…


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