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You are on a train now, sleeping, on your way to Vienna. You will spend the week there, then travel on to Berlin. You’ve booked a hotel room for two, in both our names. I will arrive at reception and ask for the key. What is the best way for us to meet? Should I come earlier than you, undress, and slip under the crisp white duvet cover? Or should I sit in a corner with my knees drawn up to my chin?

An email from V. arrived in my inbox last night, and I sat at my desk and gazed at his name in a fog of befuddled senses. A first name, a last name, the mere sight of which made my heart beat faster only a year ago, still familiar, but distant now in a nearly amnesiac way. I see it, recognize it, yet I feel nothing—and at the same time my skin prickles at the fact that I feel nothing; I mistrust it, suspect that this name could all of a sudden act in some unexpected way and catch me by surprise, lash out and sting me when my back is turned. Between his mail and your mail is a message from another friend; I’m glad the two are not touching, that W. has wedged himself in between.

V. wants to know how L. is doing. I thought it was okay to write to you about this, he adds. I’d told him I no longer wished to hear from him, then broke the silence a few months later by asking him for information on behalf of L., a friend who was suffering from a dangerous and unpredictable illness. L. is as powerfully anchored to life as any one of us, yet I still found myself consciously refraining from the concerned looks and philosophical platitudes, the “any one of us could just as easily get hit by a car tomorrow” nonsense people resort to when they can’t wrap their minds around the fact that the person they are talking to has looked oblivion square in the eye and stared it down, determined to live. I stayed up entire nights researching alternative treatment methods, learned the medical names, was able to rattle off the procedural strategies; I held onto them fiercely, like strong, well-secured ropes dangling from the side of a cliff I could hoist the two of us up on, to safety. There was promising research being done in Canada, a generic drug that somehow switches off the aberrant mechanism in the tumor cell that prevents it from destroying itself, as it does when the body is functioning properly. How elegant: somewhere, in a parallel universe, cancer is something that self-destructs by virtue of its own corruption. The idea sounds pre-Biblical; I catch myself wondering, like a child, why all the evil in the world can’t self-destruct by virtue of its own corruption. There must be some way to get her into a clinical trial there. Would the insurance matter if they could see the important work she’s been doing, read her remarkable words? I could charter a Cessna and fly her there myself, through a blizzard if necessary.

But I didn’t write to V. about my ineffectual fantasies: what it felt like all those months to live with a death sentence that was not my own. L. was condemned and I was not—how are two people supposed to negotiate that divide? Like speaking to one another through a glass partition in a prison, or in quarantine, fingertips pressed against two sides of a transparent wall, aligned at the fingertips, but with an unbridgeable gap in between. I’d spoken to L. about V. one afternoon, walking up Tenth Avenue after seeing her exhibition in Chelsea. She knew the feelings one can have for a man incapable of embracing emotion himself in all its intensity and dizzying confusion and basic, unshakable knowledge—but how can you reach a person like that, tell him all the things you see, unravel the puzzle and hand him the key? In the end, you can’t tell him that it’s not the emotion, but the idea of a life he’s been clinging to that is the illusion; that the only thing real beyond the fear and the guilt is the inopportune, irksome fact that he loves you.

L. waited for years for her lover to come back, endured a communication by proxy, learned to read the signs he put out into the world for her, oblique answers in the form of a Facebook post or analogies in articles he published that he knew she’d understand; in this way they kept up a kind of dialogue with one another, a secret language that was strong enough to retain a hold over her, that prevented her from opening herself up to anyone else. But then her illness cast everything in a stark and burning brilliance, and she used this shocking new clarity to separate light from shadow, and her heart became a sacred place again, a place called Miraculous Remission, where one enters in reverent silence and with bowed countenance, where there’s no room for her lover lout, her boorish brute and churlish cad, for the shoes he plodded in with that he’d forgotten to take off and leave at the door every time. I was in a different place, but I didn’t wait for V. to trample in on me again, I could see where it would lead and I ended it, but it led me there anyway, I who have not yet learned to stop in time, who always carries things to conclusion.

This name: how it branded itself on my mind in such a way that any name beginning with the same two initials made me look twice, any pair of words beginning with the initials leaped out at me from the page. And now, an automatism that is already fading: how quickly it happens, just when you think you’re lost forever. I think of him, someone on whose account I nearly went mad, and draw a blank, like a form of amnesia. Perhaps the mind is protecting itself from the memory, which I feel quivering just beyond that skin-thin, unbridgeable divide.

Now in the January 2013 issue of Hyperion: On the Future of Aesthetics

“Every lover of Bernhard’s writing becomes, at some point, a missionary. We want to convert people to his circular logic, infect them with the bruised beauty of his mordantly comic rant; we want everyone to comprehend that Bernhard is not only dark, but deeply human and irresistibly funny; that he’s not a pessimist, a cynic, or a misanthrope, but a relentless observer whose tender heart is encased in a prickly shell of invective: against hypocrisy, against stupidity, against duplicity in all its forms. We zealous lovers of Bernhard want to tell you all about the hypnotic pull of a passionate mind navigating whirlpools of obsessive repetition as it revolves around and around what cannot be expressed in words; we want to describe to you, in detail, how this mind finally succeeds in articulating the most elusive and elementary truths of the human condition. How the syntactical force of his prose conjures the compulsive patterns — evasion, self-deception, internalization, projection, idealization — thought undergoes as it seeks to conceal from itself what it already, all too well, knows.”

 

Bernhard

To read the article:

http://www.contramundum.net/Hyperion/Documents/Scrima-Bernhard.pdf

To read the rest of the January 2013 issue of Hyperion: 

http://contramundum.net/hyperion/

Like him, you appeared out of nowhere, polite and well-behaved, quietly insistent, self-deprecatingly funny. Like him, you began confiding your story, a barbed web of lost love, obligation, compromise. Like him, you began inserting little hints into your messages, playful asides and double-entendres I blithely overlooked. And, like him, you were suddenly troubled by your receding hairline, aware of the extra poundage; you peered in the mirror and wondered whether the man staring back at you still had the power to make a woman look twice.

Unlike him in every other way, you hold out your hand and show me the magic sign inscribed in your palm that perfectly matches mine. Not a blind date with a stranger who has answered a lonely-hearts ad, responded to its taxonomy of attributes, projections, and yearnings, but imagine what that must be like: I attach the bait to a hook and cast out my line; fifty responses arrive in the mail addressed to a self-described workaholic capable of experiencing moments of luminous intensity. The first letter will contain a photograph of a young man with his hair carefully parted to the side, wearing a V-neck sweater with a blue and green zigzag pattern over a white shirt buttoned up to the neck. Dear Lonely Unknown Woman, the letter will begin. I will lay it carefully on the table in front of me and place his photograph on top. Then I will open another, and a picture of a dark-haired man sitting spread-eagle on a sauna bench and holding his cock in his fist will slip out. Dear Hysterical, the letter will begin, and I will lay it down next to the first and place Sauna Man on top of it.

Who are we searching for, and how do we know? In the end there’s never more than a handful of possibilities, but what do we have to go on, really? Narrowing down my options, I spread seven letters out on the table; six photographs (and a letter from someone named K. who explained that he didn’t like the idea of relinquishing his anonymity before I was ready to relinquish mine) stare back at me. I like K.’s quirky handwriting, his concern for symmetry, his insistence that we should both be seeing each other for the first time when we meet. A week later I am leaving the subway station to meet him. As I walk down the street in nervous anticipation, I gradually slow down until I finally come to a dismayed halt. Passersby stream past on both sides as I finally decide to wait at a newspaper kiosk where I can watch people enter the café and study them through the plate glass window. A dark-haired man in a woolen coat stops in front of the café, peers up at the sign, walks in uncertainly, and stands in the middle of the room, looking around with an air of indecision. His profile is finely chiseled, but when he glances in my direction, I see a different expression altogether, one whose lines will eventually engrave themselves into his face. That’s him, I think, but then a woman comes up from behind and slips her arm around his waist and his eyes grow warm as his expression softens into a smile. It’s strange how much more attractive he instantly becomes the moment I realize I can’t have him—and already I begin to mourn this first lost K.

Enter K. Numbers Two and Three: a large man with graying hair and a small dog on a leash walks in, glances around, and spies an empty table; immediately afterwards, a muscular type in a leather jacket appears, pulls up a stool at the bar, and perches himself squarely on it, facing into the room. K. Number Two rummages through a bag, pulls out a slightly crumpled newspaper, and begins reading as the dog lies down at his feet. That’s not a man anxious to make a first impression on a woman, I decide. For a moment my view is blocked; a few people are leaving the café now, and K. Number Three moves to a table by the window, not far from K. Number Two. A little while later, a woman in tight pants and high heels is standing in front of him; she points to her wrist and smiles. K. Number Two glances up at her distractedly and returns to his newspaper as K. Number Three checks his watch, mouths something I can’t hear, and with a jerk of the head towards an empty chair indicates that she should sit down and join him. The woman points to the bar, where two of her friends are waiting, dips to one side apologetically, and walks away again, clack-clack-clack. Not K. either, unless he thought for a moment that she might have been me.

I know that I’m conjuring up clichés; nonetheless, I try to imagine being the woman in the tight pants and high heels, and for a moment, I can almost see how she’d be interested in K. Number Three. How much of our lives do we waste with strangers? You with your Juliette, your Kathleen, your Jennifer. Your airline stewardess and your Severin; me with my litany of equally mismatched stories. But then, a few minutes later, a hectic-looking man with curly brown hair will stride to the café door, fling it open, and rush headlong inside; when he arrives in the middle of the room, he will screech to a halt, and in a flash, something in the handwriting, something in the way the penned curves pinch up into a kind of frenetic point will remind me of the movement of his limbs, and I will know it’s him. K. will look around expectantly, smoothen his jacket, and finally, in a gesture reminiscent of a rubber tire having a little bit of its air let out—he will shrink slightly, take a seat, and resign himself to waiting, his head cocked to one side.

Each time a woman enters the café, K. will look up expectantly: sometimes with an air of disapproval, and sometimes with eyes widening, ready to forgive the tardiness. I will watch his features fall each time the woman walks past him to meet someone else; in between, he will tap his middle finger on the table, now and again throwing an impatient glance out the window. Gradually, I start to understand what kind of women K. is interested in; I start to like him a little, the way his hair curls over his ears and the collar of his jacket. A half hour goes by in this way, and while I wonder how much longer he can hold out, all at once he stands up and pays for his beer. When K. finally arrives outside, I approach him on an impulse and ask him if he can give me change for a euro as the voice inside me asks incredulously, are you serious? I’ve forgotten my cell phone and need to make a telephone call, I explain, searching his face in glaring contradiction to my instinct. No, he answers, I don’t have any change, sorry. Apparently, even K. has his magical sign, has put out his antennae to search for its mirror image, and can see in a flash that I do not fit his bill. He turns to go, and I notice for the first time that he has little blond highlights applied to the tips of his brown curls. I remain there, on the broad Berlin sidewalk, and shut my eyes tightly, listening to the sound of the traffic from the square and considering how far things have come that I nearly set myself up to be rejected by this yuppie twerp.

I close my eyes and whisper into the crackling ether of my mind: but who were you, K. Number Two? Could you put down your newspaper for a moment and look at me? The dog’s tail is wagging now, its mouth trembling; it snorts and shakes it head once, then it sits, immobile, with its gaze fixed on K. Number Two’s croissant. One paw appears on K. Number Two’s knee. K. Number Two can no longer concentrate on reading; he puts down the newspaper and gives the dog a morsel, which the dog snaps at and wolfs down, snorting and wagging its tail happily. Then a paw appears on K. Number Two’s knee once again. Would you bruise yourself on what’s gone all brambly about me and love me for as long as it takes to open my shriveled soul? Can you cry over this shrunken heart long enough, laugh over it, drench it with the flood of your own being long enough to bring it miraculously back to life, like a Jericho rose? How long will I have to wait, and what if I don’t know it’s you?

andrea scrima

And what about that almost violent urge to be alone, to have all one’s things about one, and not someone else’s, no one else’s socks on the floor, or clothes draped over chairs, an urge experienced only by those who have stayed too long, or those too long alone. It haunts me still, follows me into my dreams, and again I am sifting through things, finding shirts that do not belong to me and resolutely placing them in a pile with all of the other things that do not belong to me for the purpose of being hauled away. A reminder to maintain vigilance, a warning not to glance backwards and tumble down the slope before I’ve reached the other side.

How hard it is to separate: like prying apart magnets. How two people grow into one another over time, bring about a blurring of boundaries, a force field of…

View original post 355 more words

And what about that almost violent urge to be alone, to have all one’s things about one, and not someone else’s, no one else’s socks on the floor, or clothes draped over chairs, an urge experienced only by those who have stayed too long, or those too long alone. It haunts me still, follows me into my dreams, and again I am sifting through things, finding shirts that do not belong to me and resolutely placing them in a pile with all of the other things that do not belong to me for the purpose of being hauled away. A reminder to maintain vigilance, a warning not to glance backwards and tumble down the slope before I’ve reached the other side.

How hard it is to separate: like prying apart magnets. How two people grow into one another over time, bring about a blurring of boundaries, a force field of shared atomic particles buzzing between them. And despite that, a current of resistance, too, or a river of molten movement churning beneath the surface. And then, one day, you look in a mirror and see a stranger looking back, and all at once you know it’s over.

For months, V. described in exacting detail why he had to leave. He had thought it over with scientific precision. I challenged him, reasoned that he might have lost sight of the person he loved the most. The reasons were legion, he countered, it would take all of Google’s memory to list them. Her lack of interest in people outside the family; lack of interest in politics; lack of interest in sex, lack of interest in traveling, lack of interest and curiosity in film, lack of interest, curiosity, and general knowledge in art or literature or anything, for that matter, that was intellectually challenging. Life with her was like being locked inside a box, he said; he felt coiled as tight as a spring, waiting for an opportunity to escape and afraid it would never come. And then it did, and like an animal locked too long in a cage, he stared at the open door, transfixed by the promise of freedom and unable to make a move until the door to his cage was safely shut and locked again.

I remember standing and staring at a bookshelf for an hour in a compulsive state of imagining it cleared of the things it contained—his things—and replaced by others. I remember my mind fixating on objects: the way a pair of shoes was left sprawled on the floor, recalling the exact gesture of one foot prying a shoe off the other; telephone numbers and other notations scrawled in the margins of papers I wanted to file away telephone-numberless, notationless. Small things that become unbearable: the sound of a wooden cooking ladle against a pot, tap tap tap; a certain phrase repeated incessantly, inappropriately. You, on the other hand, were asked to leave. Can you read this without having to wince at my cruelty, you who never stopped loving her?

andrea scrima

You are faintly indignant at the superhero image. You offer an alternative: you wouldn’t crash through the hotel window in a superhero suit, but enter through the door with a pass key and cross over to the armchair where V. threw his clothes. Just as he begins shouting for you to get out, you’d pick up his clothes, regard them with an air of amusement, turn around to allow him to finish yelling, and then you’d unbutton your jacket to show him a Saville Row label stitched over the inside pocket. “Shaddap,” you’d say.  “This is what I call a tailor-made suit. What’s that stuff you wear?”  And then you’d walk over to the bed, grab his ear lobe, pull him out from under the sheets, stuff his rolled-up clothes in his arms while he’s wincing in pain, and, still pinching his ear, you’d lead him slowly but firmly out…

View original post 320 more words

You are faintly indignant at the superhero image. You offer an alternative: you wouldn’t crash through the hotel window in a superhero suit, but enter through the door with a pass key and cross over to the armchair where V. threw his clothes. Just as he begins shouting for you to get out, you’d pick up his clothes, regard them with an air of amusement, turn around to allow him to finish yelling, and then you’d unbutton your jacket to show him a Saville Row label stitched over the inside pocket. “Shaddap,” you’d say.  “This is what I call a tailor-made suit. What’s that stuff you wear?”  And then you’d walk over to the bed, grab his ear lobe, pull him out from under the sheets, stuff his rolled-up clothes in his arms while he’s wincing in pain, and, still pinching his ear, you’d lead him slowly but firmly out the door.

We now speak to each other on the phone nearly every day now; what you don’t see is that I am smiling throughout. All I want to do is laugh with you, laugh at everything: your mother; the neurological details of transsexual orgasm; the Swiss; the way you gallantly beat up on all my old boyfriends, in retrospect, to teach them a lesson; the scientific demystification of déjà vu as an anomaly of the memory apparatus; literary fans; the French; the size of my feet. I have drawn you into my book, which is not quite like dropping a live creature into a bubbling pot, but is sticky nonetheless, would scare any sensible person away. Yet you play along; you’ve pulled up the chair opposite mine and laid your elbows on the table and we’ve settled down into a very serious match of—what can we call it? Ludic love? Who was it that wrote of Huizinga’s Homo ludens that play is similar to aesthetics in that it is essentially irreducible? This is not about something; it is the thing.

I return to the work at hand, my English translations of the German writer Rainald Goetz, fragments that address the limitations of language: “The mission of writing is to walk away from it. To lead a life, namely in the best way and as rich in everything as possible, one that breaks open the isolationism inherent in writing, debunks it, makes it impossible, but at the same time retains it in the stillness of the texts as a longing for a true life, a better life, thus inducing one to move in this direction over and over again. The experiment ‘to live and to write’ is meant as an absurd, lifelong attempt with an ongoing succession of texts to remain subjected to both, to maintain one’s attention to both and not let oneself be torn between these conflicting powers.”