For Mark Shackleton

Although in Helsinki this week, I talked to people from afar. The feel of the highland of Tromsø, the light and its air is strongly with me. “Beckett depresses me” – people say, upon hearing that I do Beckett. “What an amazing performance of Gertrude Stein!” – people also say after my reading. The Finns who are close to me know better. “Would you say I have dimensions?” - one who wants to use my radar wants to know. “If you didn't, I wouldn't be here talking to you.” “I often wonder about yours,” the one who's English is the Queen's also wants to know. “You have such a continuous flow of up-frontedness.” "I don't waste my time," I say, while having mathematical thoughts. But instead of calculations, I offer info on my methods: “I read the pain of others.” Then I offer my hands close to his face. He offers the face close to hearing and touch, and a moment out of time takes place. “Gertrude Stein was here, Gertrude Stein was here”, another Finn who gets it says. “Oh, she was really here,” he insists. And I believe him. I don't argue with the picture in his head. That of music. “God, as you were reading,” he tells me, “I got Kafka in my head.” “No kidding,” I said. “Yes, and more. György Kurtág's composition.” And then he goes in German, sounding Kafka in Hungarian rendition: “Ich kann...nicht eigentlich erzählen, ja fast nicht einmal reden.” [I can’t actually...tell a story, in fact I am almost unable even to speak]. "Thank you, thank you," he says, leaving me speechless. Another one approaches me and says: “You're the answer to my prayers.” “I am,” I go? “Yes, you have to come and guest our upcoming major event on writing at the school where all the serious Finnish writers go.” “Seriously?” I go, while pledging to do it. This being Finland, I say yes to everything. I'll be back in Finland in two weeks already, up north in Oulu, to do some serious Beckett. This talk will be decisive, for I'll be willing to call myself a Beckett scholar after it's done. The title is “My Breath in Brackets.” Beckett was interested in tenacious faces and traces. “Grace to breathe that void. Know happiness,” he says, as the last word in “Ill seen Ill said.” I take a deep breath, as Kafka's fragment, written on my birthday, the 22nd of October 1913 interferes with my bracketed thoughts about omens. “Zu spät. Die Süssigkeit der Trauer und der Liebe. Von ihr angelächelt werden im Boot. Das war das Allerschönste. Immer nur das Verlangen, zu sterben und das Sich-noch- Halten, das allein ist Liebe." [Too late. The sweetness of sorrow and of love. To be smiled at by her in a row-boat. That was the most wonderful of all. Always just the yearning to die and the surviving, that alone is love.]

And so we know why we love fragments. The ones that can take everything in the corners of their eyes. The ones that are brazen, and glowing, like faces and traces. Says Beckett: “Absence supreme good and yet. Illumination then go again and on return no more trace. On earth's face. Of what was never. And if by mishap some left then go again. For good again. So on. Till no more trace. On earth's face. Instead of always the same place. Slaving away forever in the same place. At this and that trace. And what if the eye could not? No more tear itself away from the remains of trace. Of what was never. Quick say it suddenly can and farewell say say farewell. If only to the face. Of her tenacious trace.” Camelia Elias and Eino Leino. On the grass alas, exploring the omen in the nomen.

For another beautiful staging see Vivian Cruz's mise-en-scene here

(P.S. Kurtag, who was born in Lugoj, Romania, is as belated in his preferences for writers for whom he writes as I am. For those interested, he also did Beckett, Hölderlin, and Lichtenberg, all good writers of fragments and aphorisms.)


Mark said…
A Martian Sends a Postcard Home

Craig Raine, 1979

Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings
and some are treasured for their markings--
they cause the eyes to melt
or the body to shriek without pain.

I have never seen one fly, but
sometimes they perch on the hand.

Mist is when the sky is tired of flight
and rests its soft machine on the ground:

then the world is dim and bookish
like engravings under tissue paper.

Rain is when the earth is television.
It has the properites of making colours darker.

Model T is a room with the lock inside -- a key is turned to free the world

for movement, so quick there is a film
to watch for anything missed.

But time is tied to the wrist
or kept in a box, ticking with impatience.

In homes, a haunted apparatus sleeps,
that snores when you pick it up.

If the ghost cries, they carry it
to their lips and soothe it to sleep

with sounds. And yet, they wake it up
deliberately, by tickling with a finger.

Only the young are allowed to suffer
openly. Adults go to a punishment room

with water but nothing to eat.
They lock the door and suffer the noises

alone. No one is exempt
and everyone's pain has a different smell.

At night, when all the colours die,
they hide in pairs

and read about themselves -- in colour, with their eyelids shut.

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