One tries to project oneself into the mind of the failed artist. Oh that should not be hard for him, one can hear one's readers say. But the failed artist can never be sure there is a reader, there is an audience. For the failed artist the sound of one hand clapping can come to have the familiar ring of a theme song.
Times are hard in the large city, one's savings exhausted. One moves into shabbier accommodations. Perhaps the verb should be not moves but slinks, as an animal expelled from the pack makes its way as it can, its eyes close to the ground, searching for a site of resettlement, however imperfect, merely a place to find food, a place to lay down the weary head. Shifting from room to room, departing, after only a month or two, without paying the rent or leaving a forwarding address. This is the "endlessly bitter time" for the failed artist, a time in which he incurs wounds which, should he be able to survive it, must some day, in some way not yet fathomed, be redressed.
The failed artist now learns the meaning of poverty. The remnants of his orphan's pension will not support him. Unable to hold body and soul together, he goes on merely as body, abandoning the soul as an animal sheds a no longer useful integument. He becomes accustomed to rough sleeping. Winter is coming on. He has not washed or shaved for weeks, his hair and clothing, the same filthy collar, the same rumpled blue check suit, are infested with lice, there are holes in the soles of his shoes from shuffling restlessly, driven, over the darkened pavements, and from these holes, when he pauses for a furtive moment's rest on a park bench, he notices, one day, there appears to be a trickle of red emerging. He feels nothing, he is numb, but cannot help concluding this must be blood.
Groups of men in similarly inconvenienced condition can be seen proceeding slowly from stop to stop across the city, never out of sight of the watchful police, who remain ever vigilant to detect small violations of civic order, petty misdemeanours. Soup kitchens, public warming-rooms, stations of a cross of iron thorns. The best available port of call is the city hostel, a doss-house for the homeless. There one might bathe, have disinfectant powder dusted upon one's body, and scattered inside one's clothes. A dormitory bed for the night, then out again into the icy cold with the grey coming of another unwelcoming dawn.
There is little work to be had, one might shovel snow from the sidewalks, but one does not possess an overcoat, and in any case no longer has the strength for physical labour; one might carry bags at the railway station, but there again, the custom goes to those who are stronger; as in a dream, one sees a woman in an expensive fur coat struggling to retrieve her luggage from a porter, clearly she is in need of assistance, yet, even as one helplessly watches, another candidate rushes forward, wrests the cases from her small white hands, trundles them along the platform, through the gate, and across the vaulted lobby to the terminal portal, where she turns and places some coins in the outstretched palm.
Through an intermediary, a shadowy figure of this transitory underworld, who recognizes the opportunity to take advantage of the situation, the failed artist sends a message to his family that he is in need, and -- as the canny intermediary relays the message -- might be able to extricate himself from these depths of misery, and have a go at making a living for himself, if only he could acquire some basic artist's supplies, with which he might put to use the only skill he is able to claim, that is, a certain elementary talent for drawing. A small sum duly arrives, and with this the failed artist purchases an overcoat from the government pawn shop, some paints and brushes. Though he has boasted to the intermediary of holding an Academy degree in art, in fact he has failed the Academy entrance examination.
With the intermediary now acting as an agent, eager to claim a percentage of any possible artistic earnings, the failed artist leaves the doss-house behind and takes a modest private room in a Men's Home in the north of the city. Again here, room-residency is strictly nocturnal, and the days throw one back upon one's resources, if any; but there is now a bit of privacy, in one's tiny night-cubicle; and there are kitchen and laundry facilities, washrooms and baths, and even a reading room, where one may inspect newspapers; and, crucially, there is also a room in the Home designated for working and writing; and it is in this room that the failed artist begins to turn out his small, insipid copy-paintings, imitations of paintings by other people; slavishly, yet with a certain facility that will soon prove the enterprise lucrative in a minor way, reproducing his own reproductions of reproductions, serviceable replications of stock images of pleasant scenes, executed with a competence that suggests it is the genre of kitsch that speaks most clearly to his meagre, already-embittered failed-artist's heart.
His natural idleness continually haunts him, but his partner industriously chivvies him along. He works through the days in the writing-room of the Men's Home, daubing and glancing, daydreaming, pausing at intervals for recreational visits to the reading-room, where his views on politics and the music of Wagner are contributed to the stale air breathed by some dozen or two of his fellow inmates. By the end of each day he has accomplished a new copy-painting. As quickly as these are made, they are sold, by the enterprising colleague, to frame-makers and furnishing entrepreneurs, and to further intermediaries, dealers in popular art, most of them Jews. One of the latter puts it into the failed artist's head that he has been and is being cheated by his original partner. He is furious. The police are brought in. He is never paid what he is owed. The guilty former accomplice spends a few nights in jail, on the charge of using a false name.