I was about to give an irritated reply and turn over on my side when I heard it. I jumped out of bed and ran barefoot out of the house, into this sound that hovered like an oppressive weight between the clear constellations and the dark earth, not here and not there but everywhere in space; there was no escaping it.
One didn’t dare to inhale for fear of breathing it in. It was the sound of eighteen hundred airplanes approaching Hamburg from the south at an unimaginable height. We had already experienced two hundred or even more air raids, among them some very heavy ones, but this was something completely new. And yet there was an immediate recognition: this was what everyone had been waiting for, what had hung for months like a shadow over everything we did, making us weary. It was the end. […]
The sound immediately drove me back into the house. It is possible that Misi called out to me from above, and that I answered something or other—I no longer remember. It wouldn’t have been more than a few words; for this sound made a lie of all talk, it disarmed every word and pressed it to the ground. […]
— Hans Erich Nossack, from The End: Hamburg 1943, trans. Joel Agee
By my violet-eyed little sister
I sent home, saying I’d be coming,
that I’d do some work on the fences
and put the rose-bushes to bed.
I heard that my mother baked some cakes,
sieving flour for them from
the bottom of the sack, the drawer’s corners,
and dusted off her floury apron.
She laid the table with a clean cloth,
warm goat’s milk was in the mug,
my white shirt, spread out freshly ironed
shone waiting for me on the bed.
My father sliced tobacco leaves
for me to blow smoke-rings; he’d gathered up
a basketful of dry stalks and shavings
and lit a fire, so I wouldn’t shiver:
white paper won’t keep out the cold.
From early morning they stood at the gate,
shuffling their feet, coughing now and then,
looking up at the sky, then down the street,
they smiled at the boy herding the cattle,
they’d picked a bouquet of numb Michaelmas daisies.
As I didn’t come, they stood there felled
by frost, only their sighs rustling;
the autumn wind was breaking loose
scattering thick rime down their heads.
— Ferenc Juhász, “Violet-eyed little sister”, trans. Kenneth McRobbie & Ilona Duczynska
Physical love is a sin because there, and not in the arguments of atheists, god has been rendered unnecessary: in the centre of the ovum is the atheistical void. To redeem our immersion in this void we are destined to beget a second generation of victims and sufferers. Thus the purpose of the suffering in life is to redeem the blasphemy of two lovers, at that mutually sufficient moment of consummated love, when god, standing in the corner of the room, knows that, at that kiss, he is unnecessary, this is the blasphemy that drives him, no matter how briefly, out of our house.
I have a story to relate which proves that Love, with no blood on its knife, does not sleep easily, if it sleeps at all, until every one of its devotees lies dead. The great destroyer. In every bed. In every single bed. In every double bed. No, it is nothing new. It has a more formidable virtue than novelty. It is inevitable. Its virtue is that of divine volitional victimisation. I warn you that as you lie in your bed and feel the determination of your lover slipping its blade between your ribs, this is the real consummation. “Kill me, kill me,” you murmur. But it always surprises you when you die.
My vengeance will catch up with him, however. It will be noble revenge but he will suffer like a dog. I will dedicate a short novel to his Napoleonically conceived life, to the description of his character and the proper representation of the dirty work done at the clinic. This novel must awaken nationwide interest.
It was once asked, in my hearing, what was the greatest pleasure in Love? Someone, of course, answered: To receive, and someone else: To give oneself — The former said: The pleasure of pride, and the latter: The voluptuousness of humility. All those swine talked like The Imitation of Jesus Christ. Finally, there was a shameless Utopian who affirmed that the greatest pleasure in Love was to beget citizens for the State. For my part, I say: the sole and supreme pleasure in Love lies in the absolute knowledge of doing evil. And man and woman know, from birth, that in Evil is to be found all voluptuousness.
— Baudelaire, Intimate Journals, trans. Christopher Isherwood.
We cling to every word as if to handholds in a rock face, because at every moment we have no idea what to expect. In the absence of conventionally established expectations, anything is possible. Every word defers the promise of sense; in fact this creeping progress is Savitzkaya’s narrative drive. Story lies in smithereens. This is narrative atomized, moving forward by crumbs; we can see no further than the next word, focus yoked to this infinitesimal progress, like a tile in a vast mosaic, a scrutiny of minutiae, while all around us is a spreading sensation of alarm that the bigger picture, could we but see it, is quite terrifying.
Inside there were two of them, one a short specimen with heavy legs, his eyes like the horns of a bull tossing the patients up, the other extremely thin with lips like sparkling scissors, a nose like a blade—it was the same man who … I ran to him as to a dear friend, straight over close to the blade, and muttered something about insomnia, dreams, shadows, yellow sand. The scissors lips sparkled and smiled.
"Yes, it is too bad. Apparently a soul has formed in you.”
A soul? That strange, ancient word that was forgotten long ago…
"Is it … v-very dangerous?" I stuttered.
"Incurable," was the cut of the scissors.
"But more specifically, what is it? Somehow I cannot imagine—"
"You see … how shall I put it? Are you a mathematician?"
"Then you see … imagine a plane, let us say this mirror. You and I are on its surface. You see? There we are, squinting our eyes to protect ourselves from the sunlight, or here is the bluish electric spark in that tube, there the shadow of that aero that just passed. All this is on the surface, is momentary only. Now imagine this very same surface softened by a flame so that nothing can glide over it any longer, so everything will instead penetrate into that mirror world, which excites such curiosity in children. I assure you, children are not so foolish as we think they are! The surface becomes a volume, a body, a world. And inside the mirror—within you—there is the sunshine, and the whirlwind caused by the aero propeller, and your trembling lips and someone else’s trembling lips also. You see, the cold mirror reflects, throws out, while this one absorbs; it keeps forever a trace of everything that touches it. Once you saw an imperceptible wrinkle on someone’s face, and this wrinkle is forever preserved within you. You may happen to hear in the silence a drop of water falling—and you will hear it forever!"
— Yevgeny Zamyatin, from We, trans. Gregory Zilboorg.
Bright moments is like seeing something that you ain’t never seen in your life and you don’t have to see it because you know how it looks. Bright moments is like hearing some music and ain’t nobody else heard and if they heard it they wouldn’t even recognize it if they heard it because they been hearing it all they life, so when you hear it and start popping your feet and jumping up and down they get mad because you are enjoying yourself but those are bright moments they can’t share with you because they don’t know even how to go about listening to what you are listening to and when you try to tell them about it they don’t know a damn thing about what you talking about.
Today I wore a
warm red blood
today men love me
a woman smiled at me
a girl gave me a seashell
a boy gave me a hammer
Today I kneel on the sidewalk
and nail the naked white feet of the passers-by
to the pavement tiles
they are all in tears
but no one is frightened
all remain in the places to which I had come in time
they are all in tears
but they gaze at the celestial advertisements
and at a beggar who sells hot cross buns
in the sky
Two men whisper
what is he doing is he nailing our hearts?
yes he is nailing our hearts
well then he is a poet
"For the beast voids a great deal of such excrement", indeed.
In Paeonia they say that in the mountain called Hesaenus, which divides Paeonia from Maedice, there is a wild beast called “bolinthus,” which the Paeonians call “monaepus.” They say that the beast is in general character like an ox, but that it is larger and stronger, and also more hairy; for it has a mane on its neck like a horse, stretching down very thickly, and spreading from its brow to its eyes. Its horns are not like those of oxen, but are turned downwards, and come to a sharp point by the ears; each of these holds more than three pints and is pitch black, but they shine as though they were peeled. But when the hide is skinned it covers the space of eight couches. But when the beast is hit it flees, and even if incapacitated continues to do so; its flesh is sweet. It protects itself by kicking and voiding excrement over a distance of forty feet; it easily and often employs this form of defense, which scorches so fiercely that it will scrape off a dog’s hair. They say that it has this effect when the animal is disturbed, but that it does not scorch when it is undisturbed. When they bring forth their young they meet in large numbers, and collecting in a herd all the biggest bring forth young and void excrement in a circle. For the beast voids a great deal of such excrement.
— from De Mirabilibus Auscultationibus (On Marvellous Things Heard), found in Aristotle - Minor Works, trans. W. S. Hett.
Poetry is the weeping eye
it is the weeping shoulder
the weeping eye of the shoulder
it is the weeping hand
the weeping eye of the hand
it is the weeping soul
the weeping eye of the heel.
Oh, you friends,
poetry is not a tear
it is the weeping itself
— Nichita Stănescu, from “Poetry”, Bas-Relief with Heroes, trans. Thomas Carlson
Nobody knows why everything around here is so placental, but everybody realizes that it’s normal, because here everything is normal. This is my town.
A town made of Liptauer cream cheese, Lipizzaner horses and Lilliputians of roast chicken, bauernschmaus, liver dumplings and liver sausage, a rhyme, a phrase, a proverb and perhaps not even that but only a waistline, a shoe size, a collar size, a hat size and perhaps not even that but only the family vault of Maria Theresa and Franz Josef and the children Kalifati, Rübezahl, Krampus, and Nikolo Christkindl and Andreas Hofer, who died of scarlet fever, whooping cough, measles, chicken pox and Basedow’s disease.
In the municipal hospital, where the saviour was born into the world, the saviour of Kahlenberg, who went upstream to Kriau to free Richard Lowenherz from Mauthausen, but now he too is dead and buried at the central cemetry, to sleep forever side by side with Lueger and Seitz Kaltenbrunner and Mozart. There he lies with Dollfuss and Fey and Robert Stricker of the Zionist league, and Prince Eugene, who freed Vienna from the Turks, and the heroes of the Karlmarxhof and the heroes of the Heimwehr, and nobody knows how there can conceivably be such a city.
Which calls itself the teat of the occident and has suckled nothing but madness.
Excerpt from "Anticipate Doom: The Millions Interviews László Krasznahorkai"
TM: Your contemporary Péter Esterházy writes, “The nineteenth-century sentence was long-winded, the meaning wandering through long periodic structures, and in any case the Hungarian long sentence is a dubious formation because the words do not have genders and the subordinate clauses are more uncertainly connected to the main clauses than in the reassuring rigor of a Satzbau (German sentence construction). Such sentences totter along, uncertain even of themselves, stammer a little; in short are extremely lovable.” Does Esterházy’s description fit your own conception of your long ecstatic sentences?
LK: No, I don’t think that means anything to me. Esterházy is probably thinking of certain 19th-century Hungarian writers, or of a particular kind of writer, I can’t tell, but what he says certainly doesn’t apply to Hungarian literature as a whole and not at all to the Hungarian language in general: it is particularly untrue of my own way with sentences. It seems to me that this definition reflects his own literary practice and that the generalization that follows from it is only natural. If I go on to consider my “ecstatically long sentences,” at first nothing particular comes to mind. Then, on reconsideration, I suspect that these long ecstatic sentences have no relation to theory or to any idea I might have about the Hungarian language, or indeed any language, but are the direct products of the “ecstatic” heroes of my books, that they proceed directly from them. It is not me but they who serve as narrators behind the book. I myself am silent, utterly silent in fact. And since that is the case I can hear what these heroic figures are saying, my task then being simply to transcribe them. So the sentences in question are really not mine but are uttered by those in whom some wild desire is working, the desire being that those to whom they address their sentences should understand them correctly and unconditionally. That desire lends their speeches a mad urgency. The urgency is the style. And one more thing: the speeches these heroes are so desperate to rattle off are not the book, not in the least! The book is a medium, a vehicle for their speeches. They are so convinced of the overwhelming importance of what they have to say, that their language is intended to produce a magical effect without necessarily carrying a concrete meaning: it is an embodiment of the ecstasy of persuasion by magic, the momentum of the desire for understanding.
Imagine my horror and my stupefaction when, on my return, the first thing to meet my eye was my little fellow, the playful companion of my life, hanging from the closet door! His feet were almost touching the floor; a chair, which he must have kicked from under him, was overturned at his side; his twisted head rested on one of his shoulders; his swollen face and wide-open eyes, with their frightening stare, first gave me the illusion of life. Getting him down was not so easy as you may think. He was already quite stiff, and I felt an unexplainable repugnance at the thought of making him suddenly fall to the ground. I had to hold up his whole body with one arm while with the other hand I cut the rope. But once that was done, it was not all over; the little monster had used a very thin string, which had cut in deeply; and now, in order to set his neck free, I had to pry with a pair of small scissors between the two rings of swollen flesh.
— Charles Baudelaire, from “The Rope”, trans. Pierre Schneider.
A visual poem by dsh, from Begin Again: A Book of Reflections and Reversals (with an introduction by Stefan Themerson).
Some of the other poems in the book are printed on loose translucent papers, which are housed in pages that serve as pockets. A reader has to flip and/or rotate the poems to discover their typographical revelations. For Houédard, the tactile-kinetic experience and the transition between states, from (un)intelligible to (un)intelligible, is integral to experiencing his poetry. To compensate, I took the liberty of animating the above work.
Self-development is the kernel of sagacity. Your main duty is towards yourself: you must be the bond-man of your own will. A whimpering baby, you come into the world as into an enemy’s camp: you are not wanted there; henceforth the universe will be against you. You are in the posture of a new poet who is smartly told that the world would have been never the poorer had his effusions remained incoherent. “Here is another pretender!” cries mankind, assembling against the latest comer. Remember you are not a volunteer, and it follows that you need not take a side. You are in nobody’s debt. Your makers considered their pleasure; the country of your birth is a political accident, and is perhaps the first to hand you the mud; you had no choice about accepting the cup of life. The best thanks you can offer for existence is to make your days by fair means or desperate a matter of self-portrait. Woe to him who stands in the way, whether as friend or open foe! You are to grasp your I firmly with both hands and use it as a bludgeon.
In this struggle things are not noble or base; they are merely expedient. Every man, however fair spoken, has in mind some secret advantage: he is for himself and therefore against you: you must cross Is with him. Your part is to have your I out of the scabbard before he can get his well in hand. Sweet words and actions are but brilliant parries; affection is a fatal snare; and you will be wise to regard all protests of sincerity with suspicion, since humanity tends to the vile. These are but tricks in the game, and the good player is he who is swift to use them for himself and to baffle them in others. Hold yourself in life as you would at a card-table where everyone cheats. And above all, be sure to chaunt in your heart your own Gloria. That which you do you must think fine; what other people think does not matter in the least. Patriotism we are told (chiefly by interested persons) is a virtue to which we ought to sacrifice, and it is thought decorous to slave for the public fortune; but have you not perceived, that the man who is held most in honour by his country is the man who has been most successful in referring all to himself?
I just finished reading Jakov Lind’s Landscape in Concrete—holy fuck! what a book!: as if a womb were to suddenly devour the baby in the final stage of pregnancy; as if everything was digesting everything, perpetually.
I might feature some passages, but it’s such a cascade. If you like Bernhard (e.g., Gargoyles), try this one by Lind.
(Image: 1966 Grove Press edition; no artist credit, could be Lind)