31 July 2009

insuring life in a single sentence

4th Question:. . . . . .? (For the second time.)
Answer: Books? Yes, I read a lot, I've always read a lot. No, I'm not sure we do understand each other. I like to read best on the floor, or in bed, almost everything lying down, no, it has less to do with the books, above all it has to do with the reading, with black on white, with the letters, the syllables, lines, the signs, the setting down, this inhuman fixing, this insanity which flows from people and is frozen into expression. Believe me, expression is insanity, it arises out of our insanity. It also has to do with turning pages, with hunting from one page to the other, overflow of verse, with insuring life in a single sentence, and, in turn, with the sentences seeking insurance in life. Reading is a vice which can replace all other vices or temporarily take their place in more intensely helping people live, it is an aberration, a consuming passion. No, I don't take any drugs, I take books, of course I have certain preferences, many books don't suit me at all, some I take only in the morning, others at night, there are books I don't ever let go, I drag them around with me in the apartment, carrying them from the living room into the kitchen, I read them in the hall standing up, I don't use a bookmark, I don't move my lips while reading, early on I learned to read very well, I don't remember the method, but you ought to look into it, they must have used an excellent method in our provincial elementary schools, at least back then when I learned to read. Yes I also realized, but not until later, that there are countries where people don't know how to read, at least not quickly, but speed is important, not only concentration, can you please tell me who can keep chewing on a simple or even a complex sentence without feeling disgust, either with the eyes or the mouth, just keep on grinding away, over and over; a sentence which only consists of subject and preposition must be consumed rapidly, a sentence with many appositions must for that very reason be taken at tremendous speed, with the eyeballs performing an imperceptible slalom, since a sentence doesn't convey anything to itself, it has to "convey" something to the reader. I couldn't "work my way through" a book, that would almost be an occupation. There are people, I tell you, you come across the strangest surprises in this field of reading. . . I do profess a certain weakness for illiterates, I even know someone here who doesn't read and doesn't want to; a person who has succumbed to the vice of reading more easily understands that a state of innocence can be attained only by those truly capable of reading or by complete illiterates.
(Herr Mühlbauer has erased the tape by mistake. Herr Mühlbauer apologizes. I'd only have to repeat a few sentences.)
Yes, I read a lot, but the shocks, the things that really stay with you are merely the vision of a page, a remembrance of five words on the lower left of page 27: Nous allons à l'Espirit. Words on a poster, names on doors, titles of books left in a store window, unsold, a magazine ad discovered in the dentist's waiting room, a gravestone epitaph which struck my eye: HERE LIES. A name while flipping through the phone book: EUSEBIUS. I'll get right to the point. . . For example last year I read: "He wore a Menschikow," I don't know why, but I was immediately convinced that whoever this man might have been, this sentence meant he wore a Menschikow, indeed, that he had to wear one, and that this was important for me to know, it belongs irrevocably to my life. Something will come of it. But, to get back to the point I was trying to make, even if we were to have more sessions, day and night, I couldn't list the books which have impressed me the most or explain why they made such an impression, in which places and for how long. What is then left you will ask, but that's not the point! there are only a few sentences, a few expressions which awake inside my brain again and again, begging to be heard over the years: Der Ruhm hat keine weissen Flügel [The wings of fame aren't white]. Avec ma main brûlée, j'écris sur la nature du feu [With my burned hand I write about the nature of fire]. In fuoco l'amor mi mise, in fuoco d'amor mi mise [Love set me afire, I was set in a fire of love]. To The Onlie Begetter. . .
(I signal and blush, Herr Mühlbauer has to erase that at once, no one cares about that, I wasn't thinking, I let myself get carried away, the Viennese newspaper readers wouldn't understand Italian anyway and most of them wouldn't understand French anymore, not the younger ones, besides, it's not to the point. Herr Mühlbauer wants to think it over, he couldn't keep up entirely, he, too, doesn't know Italian or French, but he's been to America twice and never once encountered the word "begetter" in his journeys.)

Ingeborg Bachmann, Malina (1990:57-59)