Monthly Archives: February 2013



clock london


The beating of your heart inside your chest; the gradual progression of a shadow across a wall. And each moment unique: not an infinity of heartbeats and shadows, but a calculable quantity. The repetition of a thing lulls us to sleep, gives rise to the illusion that it will endure without end, that each instance is identical to the next, like units of measurement. But what about this particular heartbeat, now: not a pedantic exercise, but an understanding of location in time and space, a sudden awareness of one’s coordinates. And already I have lost the thread of what I wanted to say, already I have been led astray by a metaphor, by language itself, distracted by a cat playing with a bit of string, by the creaky-hinge sounds of a bird outside my window. The cat sits on the windowsill, quiet and alert. I watch him make jerky little movements with his head and will myself into his point of view; I speculate on his perception of time, but then again, I haven’t even come close to understanding my own.

What matter that time becomes relative once it leaves the framework of human experience—it has no bearing on my life, or on yours. Just as it seems to slow down to a standstill, just as the coexistence of past and future gels and the moment takes on an auratic glow, minutes and hours have slipped by unnoticed. Ekstasis, the state of being or standing outside oneself, is also a stepping out of time—in other words, ecstasy, the highest state of intense joy, arises out of a suspension of the temporal, a momentary liberation from the tick-tock of the continuum, its slow slippage.

The cat sits on the windowsill, satisfied to observe, to play, to merely be. Is there a way to live without yearning, without the will to change things, impose oneself, create conditions perceived to be more conducive to a better life? If you were here, now, and I no longer felt the vacuum of your absence, would my mind turn to something else that is missing? Would we yearn together, or would we be satisfied to sit on the windowsill, alert to everything around us: the invisible stirrings in brittle branches preparing for spring, the anticipation of change chirped from trees, the quiet comfort of the cyclical. The garbage is collected on Thursdays; the rent is due tomorrow. These too are the cycles of our existence: around and around and around, without respite.

Excerpt from the article in The American Reader:

This year, apocalyptic books seemed to have touched upon a collective nerve. In an introductory clip, festival curators Susan Bernofsky (author, teacher, and acclaimed translator of Robert Walser and numerous other German-language authors) and Claudia Steinberg (author, journalist, and co-star of Rosa von Praunheim’s celebrated films “Survival in New York” (1989) and “New York Memories” (2010)) talk about the various dynamics dystopian and apocalyptic thinking adopt in contemporary literature—ranging from the disturbed relationship between the individual and society and between the individual and the self to the manner in which impending catastrophe creeps into and poisons even the closest and most intimate human relationships.

This is how Bernofsky described Austrian author Clemens J. Setz’s novel Indigo (2012): “You have an illness, and this is what the illness is: you walk around, and everyone around you gets sick. Like, very sick.” As it turns out, children born with a mysterious syndrome are sent off to an Austrian institute, where their “indigo potential” is exploited for shady purposes. When a protagonist with the author’s name, a former tutor to the children, begins researching their disappearance, he stumbles upon a secret subterranean world. Setz’s novel was shortlisted for the German Book Prize; his collection from 2011, Love in Times of the Mahlstadt Child, won the 2011 Leipzig Book Fair Prize and prompted comparisons to Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace. It is a kind of spooky-smart science fiction novel, a post-modern montage of reality and fiction based on existing phenomena and trends in which illness becomes the metaphoric obsidian mirror held up to a society plagued by its own darker forces.




Ulrike Ulrich, author of Staying Gone, 2010



wall shadows london


This must be fiction, you say, because you’ve never grown impatient. But I’ve left out entire episodes: long days spent in a hotel room, hours of lovemaking, of talking, lying together in silence in the dimming light as time seemed to stand still. The moment I arrived and saw you through the plate glass window; the way we sat and held hands and took each other in without a word. The moment I arrived at Gatwick. It’s all mixed up in my mind now, there’s no longer any sequence or story. Only a few weeks later, but already another kind of intimacy, a yearning all the more specific because it knows things now: a certain flavor of toast, the quiet pleasure of drinking Turkish coffee and watching the day go by through the huge windows of your mother’s apartment. It was like living in a time capsule, a curious apartment complex that reminded me of vintage James Bond, a movie set waiting for a movie, an address posh enough to flaunt at the time and still somehow grand, though the cement arches are crumbling and the paint flaking from the balconies. I want to make time stand still; I want to lie on your mother’s couch with my laptop. I want to let days slip by, wondering lazily if we should go to the theater, to the Tate, if we should cook at home or go out, wondering lazily if we should take a nap, or make love. It almost felt as though life could be like that: long stretches of peace and silence, a sun pursuing its gradual course across the sky as shifting clouds give rise to a corona of brilliant rays that light up the wallpaper and knickknacks in an other-worldly glow. A maid, a snoring dog; nothing alarming to intrude from the outside. Is it possible to feel that safe, with you? I am hounded by catastrophe and ruin; it is the poisonous underworld of my imagination, the dungeon of my worst fears. Time should be made to stand still—it moves too quickly for me, I can’t possibly do the things I need to, I want to rest, to be silent, to watch the sky in silence, with you next to me.

coffee cup



And V.? What was it like for V.? You grow impatient with me, want me to leave behind the past, but it’s not the past I’m troubled by, no, it’s some kind of potent distillate which permeated me and charted labyrinthine maps in my neural pathways and lined the slippery, bubble-like walls of my cells with its sticky gook. The past can never be left behind, it’s not even passed, its substance has seeped into mine and commingled with it and here I am, thinking I’m making a fresh start and finally letting go and all the while my own invisible homunculus is trapped a million times over, stuck in the oozing muck of everything that has happened to it, in the condensed slime of experience.

Why this capacity for pain? Take a look at V., he’s built to survive; he forgets, deletes entire episodes, leaves people behind like vagabonds on the side of the road hoping to hitch a ride in his streamlined, gleaming life. It’s equipped with all the latest safety features, but even still: hitchhikers present unknown dangers. They can steal from you, abduct you, they can seduce you and then, touching up their lipstick in the rear-view mirror, ask to be let out on the next corner. They can bring peril and disease into your life; they can blackmail you. This was how V. saw me: not as a promise that might have been, a shooting star in the black of night sent to announce its augured miracle, but as a potential threat to his otherwise perfect life, its possible downfall. But disappointment is not a part of V.’s universe; failure, insecurity, fear, doubt: all words that do not apply. Alarmed, and then industrious as ever, his mind paved over whatever connecting lines our encounter might have momentarily redrawn. No room for renewal—not now. He has done everything right, he strides resolutely forwards, has built a life so enviable that even he is almost convinced he’s happy. But then he cracks open the veneer just enough to offer a peek inside, and he will do this again and again: give in to the temptation, recite his troubles like an air-tight case against himself, ask to be shown the way out of the rigid diagram of his life, and what is there to do but believe him, fall through that crack.

And what about you? The cups of Turkish coffee I turned over in their saucers in your mother’s apartment: you search the lines etched into their hardened grinds, examine the squiggles and trembling, dream-like shapes for signs that presage fortune, presage a life together: something more than the disaster and betrayal and loss of love you’ve known until now. A life between cities, between boxes in storage: is it a type of freedom, or has it become its own settled way? What are our chances for anything more than this: a trip to Berlin, to London, maybe Paris—we’ll see. Like me, I fear you are trapped in your own personal quagmire. The blind leap of faith required to let go of the past, the childlike belief to proclaim: these are my limitations, my scars, I will conquer them now as I’ve always known I could, I will take a chance that my future self has already made this decision somewhere in the space-time continuum, already knows what will come to be—can either of us jump that far? We run and holler in joy. We whoop up a racket, resolute as warriors with cardboard and tinfoil swords in hand; we plant ourselves firmly on the peaks of our own little hills. And each of us hindered by responsibility and the far sturdier binds of habit, by a dizzying oscillation between a belief in the beauty and inevitability of happiness and a fear of failure and self-delusion.

And each day away from him its own unique ordeal. The weeks I waited: one two, buckle my shoe; three four, close the door; five six seven eight before it dawned on me that it might be too late, that he might not be coming. The shock of that; the moment it sank in. Had I been in his place: I would have thought the words we’d said to one another, the promises we’d made were binding, would have felt compelled to explain, to insure that the disappointment was merely a deferral. I will come, V., just not now. But what did V. do? I actually said the words to myself out loud in order to understand them: V. is forcing me to write to him to ask if he’s still coming. How can he do this? How can anyone do something like this, behave in a manner so brusque? The shock. The word “shock.” The words “stun” and “benumb.” The inadequacy of language to convey subjective experience. No matter; I stand outside the memory now, but when I recall it, even a sliver of it, it is like watching an atrocity without the power of intervention. Like gazing at a photograph and into the eyes of someone doomed.

I remember moments in which the pain coalesced and acquired form. I remember tunes, I remember snow. At least a foot of snow, and my own hot breath on the inside of my fur-lined hood as I brought my laptop in for repair. The muffled way things sounded. And each tune I remember associated with a bodily sensation, like an essence preserved in a canopic jar. No words to describe this, no words to describe my longing, my horror—my crazy, exalted, euphoric collusion in my own demise.

What V. also wrote in the mail: he was curious to see what I was up to, found my blog, and read the entire thing from beginning to end. I stared at the computer screen. He used the word “devastating.” My ears felt the way they do when an airplane drops in altitude; there was a fist in my stomach, or the beginnings of an implosion. He wrote that while he knew that V. was fictitious, if he existed he’d surely throw up in his wastepaper basket, he’d fall to his knees with tears streaming down his face. He’d beg for forgiveness. I would have cried if the shock hadn’t rendered me immobile. You read my blog, I thought, my God, you read everything I wrote.

Come join us at the "Polish Failures' Club" in Berlin Mitte! Readings, live music, and drinks to celebrate a love for great literature, translation, and literary criticism. Saturday, Feb. 23 starting at 7:30 p.m. Club der Polnischen Versager, Ackerstrasse 168, Berlin Mitte JOIN US THIS SATURDAY IN BERLIN! At our SOIREE for the ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY of Contra Mundum Press & the RETURN of HYPERION: ON THE FUTURE OF AESTHETICS — RARE VIDEOS of GHERASIM LUCA — RECITATIONS OF ERIKA BURKART, RAINALD GOETZ, RENE CHAR, SZENTKUTHY & MORE by Lance Olsen, Andrea Scrima, Marc Vincenz and others. — LIVE MUSIC by FUASI & CHRISTIAN VON DER GOLTZ — NEW BOOKS! ... and Andrea Scrima's first issue as senior editor of Hyperion: On the Future of Aesthetics.