A couple is happily married, and yet . . . the husband is irritated. The wife makes innocent comments, asks ordinary questions, but he feels “as if words were interposing themselves” between him and the night, the glorious day. And then suddenly it isn’t just his wife’s words that get in the way, not irritation “but a kind of nervousness.” He feels something is happening to him and he’s afraid. Words are a problem for him, anything familiar is a problem. He takes a vow of silence in order “to renew the world,” to make it come alive again. He is convinced that words are “instruments of precision” that “devour the world, leaving nothing in its place.” But of course his wife doesn’t understand. How could she? But he thinks the day will come when she’ll feel the same disturbance that has come to him. Yes. Well. Hmm. I’m not sure what to make of this. It’s an intriguing conceit, and Millhauser accounts for the fact that the narrator is using words to try to convince his wife to abandon words (it’s a strain for him, like “returning to the house of one’s childhood), but he wants her to join him in the “unborn world.” It’s a strange but stimulating story. I think I need to think about it more.
March 5, 2007: “History of a Disturbance” by Steven Millhauser