14 July 09 | Chad W. Post

CALQUE has an excellent piece by translator Vincent Kling on the recent death of Austrian writer Gert Jonke. Kling’s piece and the five short pieces he translated are all worth reading, but here are a few highlights:

Parody is alive and well: a rough parallel from the 2008 election in the United States is found in the considerable part Tina Fay played on Saturday Night Live in focusing opposition to Sarah Palin – rough because Jonke was a master at making political points without such direct reference. In one of his last plays, for instance, a character laments that the national assembly has sold all the air space over the country to a monopolistic advertising agency, which will erect huge banners to blot out the sun, moon, stars, the birds in flight, and the wind. Too buffoonishly over the top? Not when people in Vienna recall that the tower of the cathedral and other landmarks were long draped by scaffolding over which advertisements for insurance companies were hung and that one firm has in fact recently been granted exclusive legal rights to all the billboards in the city. [. . .]

Ordered perceptions are a sometime thing anyway. “Hyperbole 1,” from a series of snapshots or vignettes in drama form called Insektarium, is one of several studies by Jonke showing the social origins of perception and memory. That process forms the basis of his Geometric Regional Novel. If the difference between how the human eye and the insect eye perceive their surroundings is a marvel of nature, it might be even more miraculous to ponder how different the outside world can appear to any two human observers. The man and the woman are watching the same circus performance but placing opposite meanings on the same phenomena. Even as the show is taking place, not after it, the observers are “distorting” reality by negotiating an understanding of what they’re seeing and then storing those “distortions” in their memory. [. . .]

“The Projector” is thus a shorter, funnier, but not less powerful version of stories like George Perec’s W or The Memory of Childhood, Doron Rabinovici’s The Search for M., or W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, right down to the realization that restoring memory, or being provided one in the first place, starts the process of resolution almost regardless of how dreadful the events were. Not knowing what one intuits is worse, because the horror is present in sublimated but damaging form, unavailable for processing. The spotless mind does not experience eternal sunshine, to cite another film about memory, for it isn’t spotless; its blankness is already a taint. Nor is the conferring or denying of memory unconnected here with rewarding or punishing consumer behavior; the owner of the movie theater reserves the right to make the audience happy or miserable based purely on payment, so the tensions of capitalist structures, always present in Jonke and always reduced to their logical absurdities, make up another theme.

Jonke was an amazing author, and thanks to Dalkey Archive and Ariadne Books, a number of titles are now available (or will be shortly), all of which can be ordered from Skylight Books by clicking here.


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