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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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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

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.

 

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Ulrike Ulrich, author of Staying Gone, 2010

 

Read the full article in The American Reader:

http://theamericanreader.com/festival-neue-literatur-spotlight-on-new-writing-from-austria-germany-and-switzerland/

I recently wrote an essay on a new English translation of Robert Walser’s The Walk, which was first published in The Rumpus

http://therumpus.net/2012/07/the-walk-by-robert-walser/

And a short time later in The Brooklyn Rail:

http://www.brooklynrail.org/2012/10/books/kafkas-closest-twin-brother

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Walser’s “walk” is many things at once: the walk of life as in Dante’s cammin di nostra vita; the fusion of a Romantic’s celebration of nature as the source of all knowledge and inspiration with a Modernist’s playful intertextuality and layering of language; the artistic process in conflict with the conditions of material existence. Palpable throughout the story are echoes of wanderers and outsiders that have always been suspect to settled society: the vagabonds, artisans, circus performers, journeymen, and nomads who were exempt from the duties and moral codes that order, tame, and impose limitations on human coexistence.