Monologue: Reading Material
August 10, 2013 1 Comment
Yes, I know it’s been a while. I’ve been moving continents, getting into a new rhythm, spending time writing other things for work and play. To my previous readers, I hope you’re still out there. To anyone new, I hope to be out there too.
— Robin: You’ve just moved to Brazil, isn’t that right? So why aren’t you reading Machado de Assis, Jorge Amado or Carlos Drummond de Andrade, but Walter Benjamin instead?
— Rob: Curiosity and opportunity.
— R: Would you care to elaborate?
— R: Curiosity from the walks across the square and under the flyover, in the early dusks of the Pope’s visit, umbrella in front of me, searching for films or for books in the rain. There was a chill outside, like dark evenings in Central European autumn—it must have put me in mind of Europe.
— R: And Benjamin?
— R: Well, the films didn’t have much to do with him. It was more classics of European cinema, you know, Theorem, Solaris, La grande illusion, Z… The type of films you’ve always wanted to see and never got around to.
— R: I’m afraid I can’t see…
— R: It wasn’t the films. It was the book by the counter in the videotheque. Essays—in Portuguese, of course—on Elective Affinities, I think Kafka and Hölderlin were in there too.
— R: So you bought it?
— R: No, I’m not sure I could read German in Portuguese. The tensions would be all wrong, or differently valent at least. But I think I’d also want to dissect it, the words I mean, get behind them and find out what they really were. In the original.
— R: And Portuguese can’t do that?
— R: Of course it can, but I’d be concentrating on the spaces between and behind the words. Not on them themselves.
— R: And the opportunity?
— R: Economy.
— R: I’m not sure I follow.
— R: Economizing. There are only so many books you can have in a foreign country.
— R: I’m sure you’re right there.
— R: Not ones you can carry on your back. But foreign books are expensive and rare, and e-books are missing the “aura” of paper that can sit on your sofa or bed, and look at you. Then I found there was a German library in Rio, so I went to look.
— R: And what did you see and what did you feel?
— R: Strangeness. Nostalgia. The monotone sobriety of books from Germany. All those Werkausgaben. I don’t think I’ve seen so many since I was twenty and at university. Those thick books, those Wälzer, weighing in the shelves—Thomas Mann, Goethe, Kafka, Max Frisch, Kleist. At university they all seemed such stern figures in the stacks, all so voluminous and I could barely get out four pages for an essay. And then I read them. Those ones especially moved me intensely. And Frisch moved me physically, put me on the crossriver road from Mexico to Guatemala.
— R: And Benjamin?
— R: Not so much. I was always scared of him, like I was of all the philosophers. Or maybe it was the same fear of what they might know about me…
— R: Pardon?
— R: There’s essay of Benjamin where he writes that people who are scared of animals are because they’re scared the animals will recognise something in them by touching them. Perhaps the same thing happened with the philosophers. Or maybe I knew that their language was difficult.
— R: And is it?
— R: Ten years ago. It’s hard to say. I still find it difficult in places. My German isn’t what it was. There are other languages in here, on their own individual wavelengths. Sometimes it feels like one of those tanks in a physics class where the different waves multiply or cancel each other out.
— R: Please stay on topic.
— R: I found it parts of it beautiful though. Hard, perhaps like a difficult maze for a child. There are some vivid images of walking in an Italian village, pockets and hands stuffed with fresh figs, bathing and filling him with juice. Or a section on memory and archaeology, how they exist in layers and what’s around an artefact is as important as the artefact itself.
— R: Doesn’t it strike you all as a bit perverse?
— R: Pardon?
— R: I mean, shouldn’t be spending more time on the beach?
— R: Perhaps, I have been trying.
— R: Thank you, Mr Packer. You’re free to go.