Feb 26th 2009
From The Economist print edition
Christopher Nolan, the voice of the crippled, died on February 20th, aged 43
YOU wouldn’t have wanted to be Christy Nolan. His two arms looked normal, but they would fly out randomly, like a clockwork doll’s. “Dreadful deadly spasms” of cerebral palsy shot their way from his cranium to his spine and into his feet. He needed carrying to the bath, to the toilet, to bed; his long legs were good for nothing, collapsing under him like a deck of cards. When he tried to talk, nothing came out but “dull looks, dribbles and senseless sounds”. He could not even wipe the saliva from his own face.
In bed at night, when he was as able-bodied as anyone, he would rehearse what his “drunken, drooling body” could do, and what it couldn’t:
Can’t chew, can’t swallow, so why chew? Can’t call—can call, a famished moan maybe yet it suffices…can’t cry—can cry, can cry, can cry wet pillows full but who cares…can’t laugh—can laugh, can can can
At birth, at the County Hospital at Mullingar in Ireland, he had been deprived of oxygen for two hours. He should have died, but instead “sagaciously he dolefully held on”. People pitied him, stroked his head and said God was good, but even as a boy he was not so sure. The “closeted cossetted certainty of Christ” could always calm him, as could communion when Father Flynn was able to sneak the host between his spasming, locking jaws. But once, in St John the Baptist’s, he had himself wheeled to the life-size crucifix with its grey bloodied face and threw out his left arm in a great arc to give Christ two fingers, because he was to blame.
在爱尔兰穆林加尔（Mullingar）市郡医院出生时，他大脑缺氧长达2小时。他本该就此“告别”这个世界的，可偏又“聪敏而悲伤地挺了过来”。人们纷纷怜悯他，抚摸着他的小脑袋说上帝真好———然而，即便到他长大成人，这句赞美仍令他将信将疑。那种“深藏密室已被宠坏了的对基督的笃信”总会使他复归平静，就如在圣餐仪式时，弗林神父（Father Flynn）能够不失时机地将祭饼塞进他不断抽搐、牙根紧咬的嘴中那样。然而，有一回在施洗者圣约翰教堂（St John the Baptist’s），他自己滚着轮椅溜到与真人相仿佛且血迹斑斑面容苍白的耶稣受难像面前，挥动左臂呈大弧状，试图给十字架上的基督插上两根手指，他觉得主有愧于他。
And yet, despite it all, he could use words. At the age of 13, he could write this:
Among firs, a cone high-flown,
Hied, foraying, embalming,
Among coy, conged fir needles,
A migratory off-spring
Embarks on life’s green film.
For a long time, no one knew. He could communicate: yes with upshot eyes, a neck-bow for affirmation, a drubbing of feet on his wheelchair for attention. The IQ tests always went well, well enough for him to go to “ordinary” school at Mount Temple in Dublin. His blue eyes blazed with intelligence. But no one suspected that in his head were stored millions of words, “nutshelled” and ready. They included all the songs and stories he had heard from his father, the poems recited by his teachers, the alphabet-words stuck up round the kitchen by his mother, glittering fragments of Hopkins and Joyce and Yeats. His overriding ambition was how to “best his body” and get them out.
At the age of 11 he learned how. With a rubber-tipped stick strapped like a unicorn’s horn to his forehead, and dosed with a new pill that calmed his neck muscles a little, he picked out one letter, then another, on a typewriter, “by a bent, nursed, and crudely given nod of his stubborn head”:
His own mother cradled his head but he mentally gadded here and there in fields of swishing grass and pursed wildness. His mind was darting under beech copper-mulled, along streams calling out his name, he hised and frolicked but his mother called it spasms. Delirious with the words plopping onto his path he made youth reel where youth was meant to stagnate. Such were [his] powers as he gimleted his words onto white sheets of life.
Sometimes one word would take 15 minutes to write. It never got faster; his last work, “The Banyan Tree”, a novel based on his family’s farming history in Westmeath, took a decade. But as soon as he began to get the “beautiful words” on paper, he won competitions. Weidenfeld & Nicholson published his poems and writings when he was 15. The book was called “Dam-Burst of Dreams”, as it was. He could speak, and not just for himself, but for all the other, silent, damaged boys of the world.
有时他要花上15分钟才能敲出一个词。这速度从来没变快过。诺兰的临终之作，即据其家族在韦斯特米斯郡（Westmeath）的一段农耕史而写就的小说———《菩提树》（The Banyan Tree）花了他整整十年的工夫。然而，一当那些“美丽的词语”化作文字时，各式各样的文学竞赛就会被他一网打尽。15岁那年，他的诗作与文章在威登菲尔&尼克尔森出版社（Weidenfeld & Nicholson）得以出版。集子叫《梦海泛滥》（Dam-Burst of Dreams），这书名真是名副其实。他不仅能自我代言，更能为这世上其他那些静默着的残障儿童一吐心声。
Insults ran off him. Forgetfulness, he wrote, “fugues tongues and balms words”. He called himself a cripple unsparingly in his autobiography, “Under the Eye of the Clock”, which won the 1988 Whitbread Book of the Year. Some said disability got the prize for him, but what won it was the language, uncorralled and fresh as though the words had never been tried before. He made words do everything his body could not. Among his favourites were “frolicking” and “rollicking”; “hollyberries”, meaning compensations among the sharp things of life; and “crested”, meaning glorious, as though he lifted his head to say it.
Nothing could have happened without his parents. To the end, his mother gripped his chin as he wrote. They carried him on their shoulders, held him, one on each side, to let him ride a pony, steadied him in a stream to feel the icy water on the rocks beneath his feet. His mother had told him, when he was three and crying with frustration, that she liked him just as he was. From that point, “he [fanned] the only spark he saw, his being alive”.
Once, on holiday on the Burren, his family buried him standing up in sand, just his head and shoulders showing. He knew then what it felt like to be able-bodied and straight. But his head was at the level of people’s feet; so he asked to be returned to his wheelchair. He might loll and flop in it, “zoo-caged” as he was. But it was also his proud podium and his throne.