‘The Gentleman and the Lizard’ by Fleur Jaeggy

— Lyrik Courtney

‘The Gentleman and the Lizard’ is the fourth story in Fleur Jaeggy’s most recent collection, I Am the Brother of XX, translated into English in 2017 by Gini Alhadeff. Here, as in much of Jaeggy’s fiction, subtlety is a shapeshifting creature of many contradictory aims. Regula, more condensed matter with interrogatory aims than tempestuous heroine, has an obsession with emptiness, the void, and all the latter’s intricacies. In only three pages, “The Gentleman…” offers up a detailed sketch of Regula’s concerning interest in a young man’s portrait and its measured unseeing. Understated horrors, here, the sort that cannot be avoided by turning the page, are perhaps what Jaeggy crafts best—by reminding us that they are only frightening because we force them to be so. “Despair,” Jaeggy writes with frosty precision, “has a visual quality…like an optical illusion,” only seconds before she forces us to see without seeing. The darkness, for all its measured graces, is only a mirage summoned by our desire to rationalize the longing for nothingness, like the weight of a hand we have imagined on our shoulders, fluttering past in the instant that we open our watering eyes. The portrait is merely a chimerical reflection of self, for whom space—that benevolent third party—steps into the foreground for the sake of widening, whitening, and reformation, taking stock of an endlessness that we can only move toward.

New Directions