By Harold Jaffe

All rights reserved.

(The Sacrifice directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, 1986)

     Barren windswept island off the south coast of Sweden. Ingmar Bergman landscape.

     Bergman’s old colleague, Erland Josephson, plays Alexander, pensioner, former writer with an unfaithful wife and young child, who is compelled to sacrifice.

     His wife and child?


     His sole option.

     The diseased earth is in the throes of dying. Retreat or immersion. No half-measures.

     Retreat is illusory, immersion is sacrifice.

     Does his sacrifice bear fruit?

     He lies with the good “witch,” devotee of Mother Mary. He sets fire to his house. He is forcibly restrained.

     Transported to the institution where suffering is imposed. Legislated torment.

     But the war that would holocaust the diseased earth is nullified. Time backs up. Literally.

     Temporary reprieve.

     Why “temporary?”

     Open your eyes.

     Does it matter that Alexander is a failed writer?

     Not failed. Ceased to write.

     The joy—where there is joy—is in the art-making. If that dies nothing remains but retreat or sacrifice.

     Sacrifice imitates Christ whether or not it is fruitful?

     Didn’t Artaud, Sade, even Hitler, sacrifice in their own ways?

     Not Hitler.

     The other two—arguably.

     Is the diseased earth irreparable?

     You ask me or Tarkovsky?


     Man and his institutions will not cease to filthy o’er the earth. Profiting all the while.

     The diseased earth can be cleansed solely by God’s grace.


     Though not animals, not trees.

     Not humans, unless the sacrifice is willed, chosen.

     Did the “chosen people” will their “sacrifice”?

     Their holocaust?

     The Jews?

     The Jews.

I think of Mahler, Jew despite his baptism.

     Mahler had the birds killed outside his dacha to claim the silence he needed to compose Song of the Earth.

     That was the rumor.

     Why bring up Mahler?

     He comes to me.

     What happens if one’s sacrifice amounts to nothing?

     Nothing happens.

     It is the gesture that vibrates irrespective of results.

     Even if the gesture costs your life.

     But what if it costs the lives of others?

     I think of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry—two of his sons killed. Brown hanged for treason.

     Weird John Brown.

     “Weird” is Melville’s word, meaning fated.

     In Melville’s poem the hanging shroud covers John Brown’s face but not his ”streaming beard” which juts sideways foretelling the meteoric energy of the anti- slave movement to come.

     Slavery has not been abolished. It is everywhere in numberless guises.


     It is the process not the result we are discussing.

     Yours is a bleak view of the world.

     Made world.

     The world itself—what remains of it—is a blessing reviled.

     Old Testament.

     You sound like weird John Brown.

     Without sacrifice.

     Why without?

     I could have made my opportunity but hesitated.

     Back in the day you considered joining the Weather Underground.

     Considered becoming a “human shield” in the Palestinian territories.

     Considered joining the flotilla delivering supplies to blockaded Gaza.

     I grieved from a safe distance.

     You know about Pasolini’s homosexual relations with rough young boys in the Rome ghettos.

     Maybe you heard the odd story?

     That he deliberately provoked the boys to beat and murder him so that the debased photo with his face battered, trousers at his knees, sex exposed, would testify to our squalid globe.

     Presumably he envisioned it as a sacrificial, or better, shamanic act. Weird story, but in Pasolini’s instance, not implausible.

     I admire Pasolini however he choreographed his death—if that’s what he did.

     How does one distinguish narcissism from sacrifice?

     They can be indistinguishable.

     You are a writer sans frontiere.

     Doesn’t your writing count?


     As a species of sacrifice?

     I don’t know.

Harold Jaffe has published 20 books of fiction, docufiction, novels, and essays. His most recent volume is a collection of essays and quasi-essays called Revolutionary Brain.

This story is included in Issue #45: About Seeing. Copyright © 2012 by Fiction International. Authors of individual works retain copyright, with the restriction that subsequent publication of any text be accompanied by notice of prior publication in Fiction International. Please contact the editor for reprinting information.

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