Academic journal article Chicago Review

From das Provisorium (the Interim)

Academic journal article Chicago Review

From das Provisorium (the Interim)

Article excerpt

For some unknown time he had experienced the world only in train stations. He moved from station to station, with rare interruptions, his mind retaining nothing but the images of train stations: they had become the very points of reference for his consciousness. Nothing in them lent you dear contours, something rapacious was at work in the stations, you were constantly guarding something you hid in your head or your breast: it was nothing you owned, it was sheer egomania. Big-city stations, especially, were the haunt of characters who changed their self-awareness like shadowy clothing; they moved as if they had eyes in the backs of their heads, always in the process of assuming a new appearance, thinking about different destinations, adopting origins that had nothing to do with their own. -In the train stations, C. thought, he was not immediately recognizable as an arrival from the East. But even that was not the reason, for even in the East he'd been magically drawn to the train stations.

Hardly was he reachable at an address in West Germany-first in the town of Hanau-than the circus of author appearances began. From the very beginning the events had struck him as a highly peculiar ritual that went on existing only because, once they had started, no one knew how or why to put an end to it. And so these readings went on and on like a bad habit for which there was no longer any occasion. But the fact was that the vast majority of West German writers earned almost their entire living from these readings, with the exception of a few stars, and perhaps the retirees. Wasn't it inevitable that a writer in this country felt like a completely useless figure, reduced to accepting handouts? Or was it just the opposite? Was it the writers' existence as itinerant play-actors that convinced them they counted as indispensable members of society?

It could be that C. had initially succumbed to a similar delusion. It flattered him when he was invited to large numbers of readings; he accepted all offers assiduously. Later he confined himself to the view that this was how he earned the money he spent...he felt reluctant to use the phrase with its customary shade of meaning: that's how I earn my money.

Few people came to the events: he found it increasingly astonishing that anyone was still interested in literary products at all...and you could count on a good part of the audience consisting of colleagues, that is, of writers who happened not to be on a reading tour themselves. Indeed, most of what was read, what the microphone spouted more or less smoothly into the air waves, whose receptivity was admittedly limited by the size of the auditorium, most of the texts dealt with the conditions of writerly existence. Writers reported on writers, more often than not with a subtle variation that has one novelist writing about another novelist who is writing on the novelizing of a third novelist...about his difficulties being a novelist, or about the circumstances that ensnared him-or both of them: the novelizing novelist and the novelized novelist-in the clutches of this profession. In the best cases, the story was about a love affair that had come about due to the fortuitous fact that at least one of the furiously smitten characters was an author; often enough, they both were.

More than a few texts revolved around the twists of fate that had made the characters into writers. Fate was the right word, for the path they took was usually described as inevitable. In fact, the implication was that one was more or less born a writer. Translated into intelligible speech, this meant nothing but: Provide for me and pay my way-it's not my fault I'm a writer!

This particular phenomenon, thought C., would have curiosity value in other professions. But of course it went along with the very nature of writing, which forced you to appeal to the public...that was the difference from the other professions. A manufacturer of cooking pots appealed to the public too, but only indirectly; he needed them only as buyers for his cooking pots. …

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