THE MORPHOLOGY OF FEAR, 1980
For me fear has no colour - at least not in the visible spectrum, though it might be infra-red. I have felt my strongest sensations of fear in my imagination when in darkness, in jet-black darkness - but in darkness that doesn't make me invisible, instead it makes me a visible and much sought-after target. The sensation of defencelessness in the darkness, my anxiety resulting from the impossibility of hiding myself, increased when I found out about infra-red telescopes. The most terrifying darkness is that which I must enter. The darkness behind me is a space that is never empty; instead it is a space that's condensed in some way, where danger lurks at every step. It is full of precipices that I could fall from, full of ferocious beasts preparing to pounce, devils, demons and evil people who want to strangle me. The house in which I spent my childhood was an apartment block in Vrsovice. It had three floord with a staircase in the middle and dark passageways on each floor. We lived on the third floor, at the beginning of one of these dark passageways. The door of our apartment faced the passage, and ended in total darkness. Coming home, I would always edge sideways, my back glued to the wall. I couldn't rid myself of the idea that a soldier was posted to our door, with a bayonet pointed at me and which would impale me if I went down the middle of the corridor. The soldier had a red uniform.
The sound of the siren. This fear was passed on to me from my mother. I wasn't afraid of the siren because it forecast something bad (nothing serious ever happened during air raids near us, and the other 90% were false alarms) but because my mother watched each bombardment in fear, panic-stricken terror that she passed on to me. When the siren began to sound, I wasn't afraid of aeroplanes (for me, as well as carrying devastating bombs, they scattered shiny (franges) of silver paper which I collected with my friends after the attack), but I feared for my mother, whom I loved; I was afraid for her having to relive this terror and that I was unable to come to her aid. Another kind of fear I had was the state of total silence, for example in the forest, at night or whenever I was alone in the house. I was afraid to move for fear of breaking the silence, drawing attention to me, being unable to hear a sound signalling danger.
I am afraid of the cellar. For me, the cellar is something like a cemetery, and the cellar door is the magic gateway that separates the world of the living from the other side. When older, when going to fetch coal or potatoes, I identified myself with Orpheus. The worst part was to get over the first damp breath which enveloped me upon opening the cellar door. I felt it throughout my body. In vain, I held my breath, restricting my breathing to the smallest amount possible. The smell of an open grave. For my first film, I needed large black insects. One of my friends showed me a house with enormous cockroaches living in the cellar. Although they were living in a relatively new house (one of the tiled houses in Letna), whose cellar was different from the one recalled from my childhood, where, in place of the latticed division between the different cellars, there were genuine store-rooms with white lacquered doors, where the narrow passages weren't feebly lit by a bare bulb on the ceiling. But as I advanced along these wide, well-lit corridors, I nonetheless felt the same sensation of fear so well remembered from my childhood, a sensation triggered by the familiar smell of a freshly-opened grave, a sensation that after a slight delay comes just as much in modern cellars, perhaps to preserve the magical continuity of fear.
Fear has the taste of chopped onions. Even as a child I avoided whenever possible all invitations to lunch or dinner, and when I couldn't escape I trembled at the idea of chopped onions on my plate. Because of this I maintained on all visits and to the great annoyance of my parents that I wasn't hungry and I refused everything that was offered to me (including sweets). Just once my father tried to "teach" me to eat chopped onions, but the experience ended in vomiting, a smothering sensation, fever - to the extent that my mother was afraid I might die. They never again forced me to eat chopped onions, but they continued to be annoyed.
Above all, the pain. The scalpel dissecting my body - despite the fact that I never felt real physical pain until adulthood. From childhood I viewed fear as being kissed by older people, especially men. My saint's day or my birthday were often joyful events, until the time that I had to endure the kisses of my parents (and then my uncles and aunts). At this crucial moment I was nervous, silent, fearing that I wouldn't survive these kisses, that I wouldn't be able to conceal the horror and apprehension that they provoked in me. If I had to describe this sabbath of tactile horror, it would be something like this: I was tied with live snakes to a dirty bed, stained with the ejaculations of old men, sprayed alternately with chopped onions and cold vomit, cigarette ash was sprinkled in my mouth and at the same time my body was dissected. Legions of flies and wasps gather on the open wounds, and toads and mice, which drank my blood and soiled my suppurating wounds. At the same time all my relations on both my father's and my mother's side kissed me.