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Translated by Andrea Scrima from the original German edition Am Fenster, wo die Nacht einbricht: Aufzeichnungen (At the window, where night breaks: Notations), Limmat Verlag, Zurich, Switzerland 2013

 

Read the full selection on Statorec.

EXISTENCE 22 / MOMENTS OF BEING TOUCHED

What one lives from. The brief moments of happiness when one encounters something, a person, a plant, an animal, a phenomenon that touches one in the most profound way, speaks to one, captures, delights one, like chemical elements that attract one another, do not wish to separate. A moment of this kind can be triggered by a musical modulation (Mozart, Chopin, Wagner…) that “strikes” like lightning, pierces the heart so deeply that one never forgets this moment, brief as it might be.—Leafing through an encyclopedia, we are taken by the portrait photo of someone long since deceased, as fierce as love at first sight; the gesticulation of a tree branch catches our eye and, it seems to the viewer, is directed at him; the particular hue of a pond in a watercolor is perceived as a “soul color,” a butterfly as messenger, a lonely cloud as a being that was waiting for one to finally see it; the sudden comprehension of another being; an elective affinity, entered into in a trice with creatures or things of an entirely different provenance. These magical connections between things ordinarily foreign to one another can be induced by works of art, in moments when we are completely open to the point of endangerment, or physically weakened by an ailment; the nerves are raw, the mind is wide awake, perceives, draws connections it would not have in a stronger state.—Spoke to Jannis Zinniker yesterday about these redemptive moments.

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I wish I hadn’t been made this way, I wish I perceived a little less, less of everything, in fact—it would make things easier. But doesn’t each of us feel there’s something fundamentally wrong with us, something we devise ways to hide from the world, that sets us apart from everyone else, because everyone else seems quite “normal,” while we, glaringly, are not? There are days I wake up from confused dreams that in their very shifting shapelessness seem to hit the nail right on the head, to encapsulate the peculiar awfulness of me, the unique wrongness of everything about me, everything I’ve ever thought and felt since childhood, from the very moment of my birth and even further back than that, who knows. The peculiar awfulness that only I really know in full, that others catch a glimpse of now and again and more often than not keep to themselves, that peeks out on occasion but that I otherwise succeed in concealing, more or less (unless I am the victim of a colossal illusion), the awful private awfulness of thinking my thoughts and remembering my memories and, in general, being forced to be me, for an entire lifetime. But who hasn’t felt this?

You haven’t? Then you haven’t looked hard enough, dived deep enough. An entire treasure trove of infamy awaits you, my love. We have the Oedipus Complex, the Electra Complex, and if neither of those fit quite right we have the Messianic Complex, the Inferiority Complex, the Ego Complex. Take your pick! There’s the widely popular Guilt Complex, there’s even a Complex of Non-Love to Oneself. Personally, I am drawn to the Cassandra Complex, in which the subject suffers disproportionately from the grief, ignorance, and transgressions of others, but perhaps I am suffering from Grandiosity, who knows. We can certainly tailor a new one just for you, if need be.

But who cares about all that, and anyway, don’t they get it all wrong, these professionals of the private mind, of the human malaise, these self-appointed experts with their own dirty little neuroses and the clever little ways they keep them carefully under wraps. They have taken the poetry out of melancholy, the painful beauty out of lost love, the aching, eternal truth out of grief. Their mission is to level the very excesses of emotion that make us human, to medicate them straight out of us. I say give me your odd and idiosyncratic, give me the irrational impulses with which you hoard your pearl-like truths, give me your longing to die one day and your exuberant, brilliant joy the next. Meet me in that unnamable place where you’ve lost your coordinates, or your will to live, where you fail to uphold the veneer, to play the game, where you stumble over your good manners and blurt something out that is embarrassing for what it reveals. Where your adult voice is unexpectedly, disturbingly usurped by an adolescent fury and frustration, where your nerves are raw and your feelings have run haywire. This is the dungeon where our unprotected selves will make love; this is where we will inhale the sulphurous breath of a dragon we will never slay—before we rise to escape to a beautiful, new freedom.

Now online at Hyperion: On the Future of Aesthetics: 

“Fragments, Shards and Visions” — on the Swiss poet Erika Burkart

Introductory essay by Marc Vincenz and interview with Ernst Halter, Burkart’s widower.

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The following prose by Erika Burkart is translated from the German by Andrea Scrima from Am Fenster, wo die Nacht einbricht. Erika Burkart, Aufzeichnungen, ed. Ernst Halter, Zürich: Limmat Verlag. 

Childhood / Ninepins and a Thunderstorm

Ninepins. They’re playing ninepins, said my father, as above us the sky’s protective vault shook with the muffled rumblings of thunder. Who dared to hold a game of ninepins in the House of Angels? They did, blithely unconcerned about turning the cathedral into a wooden heaven. Elfi, our waitress, said a wooden heaven was just a room full of drunken men.

The ninepin lane took up the northeast corner of the garden terrace: because of their finger holes, in which I saw eye sockets, the solid wooden balls reminded me of skulls as they rolled down a splintering, tree-length plank of fir. No one played on workdays; ninepins was a Sunday game. In the morning the bells rang out, in the afternoon the glasses clinked and the balls rolled. The men, made jolly by the beer, played with passion. They’d laid their dark Sunday vests, called smocks, on the backless wooden banks; they rolled up their white shirtsleeves. Starting in the meadow of the pub garden, their eyes fixed on the goal, they picked up speed before dropping to one knee and letting the ball leave their outstretched fist, letting it roll as they followed its course, still in a bent-over position. Rumbling, the ball shot down the lane; as the man stood up the pins fell down, nine of them, rapidly, one after another like dominos, or, if it was a champ shooting, all at the same time as the fellow wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand.

After the ball bounced back from the low earthen wall surrounding the platform the pins were positioned on, I helped Hans, the pin boy, to set them up again, which had to happen quickly. It was already the next player’s turn, and his dismissive gesture signaled for us to stand aside.

Nearly every Sunday, unnoticed in the heat of the play, a thunderstorm that had been brewing all afternoon in the southwest put an end to the game of ninepins. Literally bowled over by the rumbling balls, the boastful cries, the cursing and swearing when a ball swerved out of the lane and strayed off into the grass, they hadn’t heard the faraway rolling thunder. It was a stroke of lightning that brought an abrupt end to the match; in no time, the players were gone, scattered up the garden steps and into the pub. One lightning bolt followed another, and the pin boy and I crept beneath the steps. Our chins propped on our bare knees, we crouched in the cave and listened, keeping our heads down and ducking at the claps of thunder, which were now coming in shorter and shorter intervals. The lightning’s flare reached all the way into our dark cavern; there was no time left to count the seconds in between. Hans, poking his head out, said that the strokes of lightning would tear the world apart. I drew closer to his side and saw, momentarily blinded, fiery zigzag snakes shooting straight down from the sky. The rain hadn’t yet begun to fall. Then, a capital peal of thunder knocked us into a heap and released the flood, which then pelted onto the slab of concrete in front of our bunker. After a time, which dissolved into a rushing, timeless sound, there came the rattling of machine guns. The clamorous clattering echoes sounded like the rumbling wheels of a hay wagon driven by trolls over a bridge in Hell. — We’d left the pins where they were. Twenty steps away, they lay there every which way, felled, fallen ones staring with a frozen gaze into the flashes of lightning as the rain trickled into their gaping mouths.

No one had looked for us in the excitement. From one moment to the next, the host and hostess were faced with the task of finding room for twenty new men flushed from the match, all of them crowded around the door with their jackets tossed over their shoulders; tables were pushed into place and chairs moved as Elfi balanced the serving board above their heads. The pub was small; lightning flashed in each of its four windows. They knew the situation, and feared it. Squeezed into a corner of the stairwell, both curious and anxious, they had been watching the events that recurred every Sunday in fair weather.

Removed from the chaos, in the smell of damp mortar, Hans and I waited for the thunderstorm to end. The white of my Sunday shoes radiated marvelously against the fresh green of the dripping grass in the meadow, where a pale gleam shone from the long wet planks of the tables. Sparkling behind the clouds, it found its way through the rifts and into the empty pub garden and, in the bush-enclosed northeastern corner, to the fallen ones, which in this light were nothing more than ordinary, rain-drenched pins that bore a strange resemblance to the beer bottles that had been left behind on the tables: these, too, were childhood plunder, the way it crawls out of the box of tricks at night when the summer lightning flashes in the east to rehearse a scene from the ghost game of a life whose images are pieced together differently in each epoch. Bewildering end game. Blindly, we relinquish.

 

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Follow the link to issue 7–1 of Hyperion: On the Future of Aesthetics. 

Senior Editors: Andrea Scrima and Carole Viers-Andronico.

Essay and interview begin on page 25 of the full-issue PDF, followed by a selection of Marc Vincenz’s translations of Burkart’s poems and my translations of the Aufzeichnungen, which begin on page 58.

http://contramundum.net/2016/02/27/hyperion-vol-7-1/

Or open the PDF extract: Hyperion Burkart 2013