Remembering Gert Jonke (1946 – 2009) by Vincent Kling

Seven Years of Good Luck

David Foster Wallace and Gert Jonke died a few months apart, at different ages and in different ways, but the grief beyond sadness and the personal impact of the loss in both cases make it clear that something more valuable than even their distinguished writing alone had ceased. As with Wallace, Jonke’s audiences, readers, admirers, and friends are acting six months later as if their compass weren’t working quite so reliably any more, as though they were slightly adrift in a world that needed not just the order and affirmation of their technical virtuosity but their visions of hope and compassion in the teeth of a human isolation rampant consumerism and waste can only intensify. Simply by being the artists and men they were, both Wallace and Jonke revived the old-fashioned ethos of the good writer as a good person advancing good aims.

Readers over forty will recall how John Gardner was ridiculed ­­in the late 1970s for advocating moral fiction, but literature has moved back to the return of the author with its attendant ethical positions and affective appeals, as Vivian Laska observed in an essay accounting for the recent renewal of interest in Stefan Zweig. Far from objecting, then, readers revered Wallace for his efforts, more and more pronounced in his last years, “[. . .] to show readers how to live a fulfilled, meaningful life,” quoting D. T. Max in the New Yorker in March 2009. Good writing, said Wallace, should help readers “‘to become less alone inside,’” and his explicit desire was to “‘write morally passionate, passionately moral fiction,’ as he put it in a 1996 essay on Dostoyevsky.” Dying for the reader sounds like an act of grandiosity or drastic masochism, but it formed a stated movitation for Wallace from which many readers have come away the better.

Jonke followed a zanier path to ethical integrity, depicting with grace and mad humor what his fellow Austrian Hermann Broch once called the “jolly apocalypse” (“die fröhliche Apokalypse”) that accompanied the collapse of Europe from 1914 to 1945 and that’s anything but past and gone in the era of the European Union. Armed attacks on Roma and Sinti, a renewed romance with fascistoid ideologies, demagogic appeals to hatred of foreigners, rampant capitalism as the third wave of totalitarianism – even or especially after the financial crises of the past year – are being confronted seriously and conscientiously throughout Europe, but the Austrian weapon is often deceptively absurd comedy or humor. 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.

Jonke’s coding this or that specific piece of corruption with droll inventiveness was one part of a broader moral vision grounded in hope. His attitude illustrates a famous proverbial difference between Germans and Austrians; war news from Berlin supposedly often used the phrase, “The situation is serious but not hopeless,” while the broadcasts from Vienna allegedly were summed up with, “The situation is hopeless but not serious.” Joachim Lux wrote when Jonke died this past January, “We have him and his work to thank for the greatest of gifts: the illusion that we can fly, can overcome death and every other adversity,” and a few months earlier, in November 2008, as he conferred the much-coveted Nestroy Prize on Jonke for the third time, Lux had addressed him as an especially deserving laureate, “[. . .] because you go on dreaming the dream of flying. You give us glimpses of a freedom that perhaps may never have existed but that we cannot live without.” Jonke had the full measure of this world, but he loved it anyway and taught us to do the same, as Lux further stated. Memorial tributes by artists like Elfriede Jelinek and Friederike Mayröcker referred to Jonke as a great magician of language, the last-ever Don Quixote, a virtuosic jazz-like improviser, but this true original might have been even more touched by the many memories of him as a kind, modest, and genuinely good man who, like Wallace, was never known to be anything other than gracious and considerate to students, readers, fellow writers, editors, and scholars. A man whose constant advice to the students in his writing classes was that they had to let themselves go crazy was also the sweetest of human beings.

The five short works here are a farewell tribute meant to show various related aspects of Jonke’s art. The writing is a much more enduring monument than anything said about it, but since Jonke is pretty much unknown outside the German-speaking world still (reader, please note: Dalkey Archive Press and Ariadne Press have been publishing him in translation, and there’s an extensive article about him in Review of Contemporary Fiction), some discussion of these pieces might help. With one exception, the “Letter to Hans,” they are taken from the volume of all his plays published in August 2008. The title of that handsome book, Alle Stücke, was meant to be read as meaning all the plays up to that time, but it became sadly, inadvertently prophetic in including all the plays Jonke was ever to write – unless, as appears unlikely, posthumous work shows up.

The letter to his baby son Hans, who died suddenly at age four months, is taken from a book that mingles fiction, autobiography, reminiscences, tributes to friends, and brilliant essays on music. It might be a good place to start for anyone who doubts that the exaggerations of comedy can dwell with and augment understated poignancy. Jonke’s wild fantasy projections are always transforming documentary reality into something rich and strange. He owed a good deal of his fantasy to the Romantic movement, but for its tendency to solipsism, with attendant isolation, he substituted a faith in the ability of the perceptual act to apprehend a real world outside of us, only to ring changes on that world rooted in synesthesia, the displaced perception of one sense through the organs of another, a favorite device of mystical Romanticism for heightening reality by blurring its contours. Dozing with the baby at noon, he hears midday bells that sweep sunlight into the room and wash sleep away from him. Alarmed at the onset of Hans’s seizures, he thinks the ceiling is casting mortar down on him and frowning at him in hatred. It isn’t that the tenderness and the sorrow emerge despite the disconcerting jumble of mixed sense impressions but because of it. Everywhere in Jonke, streetcar tracks get fed up with immobility and leap into the air, statues take it upon themselves to stride back to the quarries from which their stone came, buildings expand or contract by whole floors depending on their mood. Reality as we live it is much deeper and richer, even when it hurts, as in the baby’s passing, than conventionally ordered perceptions can account for.

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. Almost all the famous investigations of recovered memory (Elizabeth Loftus, “Remembering Dangeously”; Maryanne Garry, “A Few Seemingly Harmless Routes to a False Memory”; or the classic David Rapaport, “Organization and Pathology of Thought”) make exactly the point that emotion plays a major part in shaping memory, especially the desire to accommodate what others are suggesting is the reality they see. Jonke shows us that process from a you-are-there standpoint, intuiting through art what psychologists ascertain through research (as Freud once wrote to Schnitzler about their pursuits). There’s no harm done in the Jonke piece, unlike some of the more sensational real-life cases of people’s lives being destroyed through false memories, but the volatility and uncertainty of the memory being formed even as the action forming it is still occurring, the very factual basis of the memory being transformed by commenting on it, give this two-minute playlet its dynamic.

Preserving or fortifying memory is also a theme of “The Projector,” a piece holding more than its brevity would seem to make possible. It was most recently published as the preface to Jonke’s last play, Freier Fall (Free Fall). The sci-fi, fantasy premise of erasing memory of a film by showing it backwards seems a comical variation on popular stories and films about “brainwashing,”so we have here a kind of domestic, trivial Manchurian Candidate in clowning mode, except that the migraine-inducing hollows where the memories were call to mind all too effectively the paralysis, grief, and bewilderment recorded by children of Holocaust victims who are partly or fully deprived by traumatized relatives of memory or even basic information. “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. Finally, “The Projector” encompasses a subtlely found often in Jonke, one that places the reliability of narration into further playful but searching doubt. The piece begins as a personal recollection, a realistically documented memory vouched for as accurate by the presence of the narrator at the events he’s describing. “I was there; I saw this with my own eyes” is the tone and stance of the first part, but just when we’ve settled into taking the narrator’s account fully for granted – if we ever called it into question to begin with – we stumble over the qualifier “They say” toward the end, so the unshakable eyewitness quality of the account turns out to be perhaps not quite so certain after all. Again, Geometric Regional Novel, published by Dalkey Archive, is a book-length study in the relativity of perception and memory, as participants in various actions are never quite able to pin down whether they were in fact present, or just heard about the events, or read an account of them in a book, or all or none of the above.

Male-female conflict doesn’t end quite so harmoniously in “Praying Mantis” as in “Hyperbole 1,” likewise from Insektarium. Jonke wouldn’t be a good citizen of Freud country if he weren’t keenly aware of the battle of the sexes or, more generally, of the roots of all social interaction in more or less sublimated hostility. And if a smile, accompanied by a thin veneer of courtesy, can both mitigate and advance the aggression growing out of the hosility, all the more validly is the experience captured in art. Jonke never worried about being politically correct, but he was too much a realist in his fantasy not to give equal opportunity to the primal fury of devouring rapacity through the need for dominance. Nature books and TV shows tell us that it’s always the female praying mantis who bites the head off the male – after sex, by the way – but “Praying Mantis” (and the word itself if feminine in German – “Gottesanbeterin”) makes it purposely, skillfully unclear which partner is attacking the other, for the instinct to devour is not a confined to one gender, at least not once we reach a certain level of biological organization. Jonke exploits the discrepancy between a relatively “primitive” organic structure and an all-too-sophisticated psychological makeup. What emerges is an encounter as formally polite as a conventionalized “limits-respecting” S-M negotiation guaranteeing a pleasurable encounter. After all, Jonke came from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch territory as well.

In his last few years, “Leavetaking” became Jonke’s much-anticipated signature piece. Like so much of his work, it has appeared in different contexts and configurations, last seen as another vignette in Insektarium, but Jonke had long since made it a practice to end his energetic, madcap readings with some improvisation on the published text, changing it up like a fine jazz musician on the spur of the moment, the audience, and the mood. Klaus Amann was the host at a reading Jonke did in November 2008 at the Musil House in Klagenfurt. It was his last appearance ever, and Amann reminisced with me at a conference in Linz in early June 2009. Much marked by the pancreatic cancer that took him mercifully fast, Jonke glowed with happiness at once more, to the audience’s joy, closing with “Leavetaking,” adding even more outrageous contrasts of phony cordiality and control needs. The pompous, bloated rhetoric, the fake, manipulative warmth, the wallowing in cliché, overstatement, and compulsive repetition work brilliantly to create a portrait of smarmy monstrosity and the self-satisfied insanity of loving humanity but hating humans. It would be hard to imagine any way of abusing of language by people seeking power through crass, demagogically motivated camaraderie – from the “down-to-earth” CEO to the nicknamed politician in shirt sleeves, from the “understanding” teacher to the falsely “open” social worker, from the reactionary “graciously condescending” to the lower orders to the smiling liberal who’s good friends with all the downtrodden – that isn’t skewered by Jonke’s brilliant exploitation of the discrepancies between the rhetoric and the reality. And when the reciter or speaker of “Leavetaking” is a good performer – Jonke himself knew how to put on a show – then the growing nastiness, the sneaking insistence, the increasing shrillness and tightness of the voice make the whole conflict in the speaker unforgettably urgent, all the more when the whole series of donts and prohibitions and threats gives way to the revolting oiliness of happiness at the next gathering. The speaker is disgusting and frightening, but not more so, as exaggerated to transparent insanity here, than many a demagogue only a shade more subtle.

I met Jonke in Vienna in 2002, after I’d agreed to edit a casebook of essays about him. As if in a story by him, he got onto a bus I was on just as I was trying to figure out how I could meet him. The rest was history, a seven-year history of admiration, respect, and joy at the work it has been my privilege to translate and that has deepened my understanding of what literature is. That joy was only increased as I got to know Jonke the man as well and found in him a gentleness and a gentlemanliness anyone would benefit from emulating, a complete refusal to indulge the gossip and buzz of literary show-biz, a generous, open demeanor toward everyone, an emotional discipline that spoke only positives, and a spiritual alertness that saw the bad but prized the good, calling this broken world to heal itself through the repentance of laughter and comedy. The man is gone, but the work endures, and many of us are very grateful for both.

Letter to Hans

You probably don’t remember much about when you went away, took “French leave,” as they call it. Who could have even explained to you then, in any way that would have fit inside your head, that you’re really not supposed to do it like that? Besides, it wouldn’t have been worth asking about, and the question wouldn’t have deserved an answer, if you had reached the age where you could have slowly learned to read these few belated lines, the first and last ones ever addressed to you; be happy, though, that the people who know everything and have all the answers never got you into their clutches and started trying to get you to answer questions you would find completely incomprehensible – not because these people were looking forward to your answers with burning anticipation but only because they were demanding you should be burned – burned up or burned out – by their highly drilled activity of rote memorization and constant repetition, parroting material in every one of their mandatory school subjects for endless hours and weeks until all the imagination is burned out of children’s heads. You were spared that, anyway, along with everything inevitably following from it, when you were four months old and began moving away from us, something all of us around you at first very steadfastly tried to prevent. And oh yes, it was a true liftoff of your little body, good and slow – not from the floor, no, not from the ground, but directly away from me; the time was noon, because I remember the bells being shaken through the window into the room by the sun at the height of summer and their washing the remains of the drowsy morning from my temples; I remember the hollows behind the walls of my sinuses suddenly being rinsed clear so that my skull bolted upright into the midst of the hollow room, from the highest corners of which the walls began flinging down on me a glittering, moist storm of mortar with all the crumbling ridicule of its wallpaper tatters loosened by laughter; that was when I first saw how you had lifted yourself off me and were trying ­­to get completely away from me. You had slept next to me all morning, on me, really, lying on my chest, which you liked; you always did like it, except that day – apparently not any more, at least not that day, anyway, and then all I saw was how you had lifted yourself quite far off me by now, how you’d raised yourself really high and had drifted up, the distance growing and growing until your little body had practically soared up to the ceiling, fled away as if dissolving into the air of the room, become as good as “transparent,” though I succeeded at the very last minute, seemingly at least, in bringing you back down, getting hold of you again, intercepting you in flight, retrieving you, and so then I had you again and was holding you fast before you could slip away completely – no wonder, either, for the storm that had broken loose in the room had probably frightened you very much, and the whole room still had a totally frowning, wrinkled, furrowed, creased, beetle-browed, furiously enraged-looking ceiling! Anyone would become afraid! Still, I had been able to get you back at the last minute and hold you fast, as I said, and so it seemed things were turning out at least halfway right in the end. But then when I tried to wake you, your head started falling back and kept on just hanging down – for such a long time; it’s still going on today – even though I was trying to feed you some warm broth so you’d gain strength. Things kept on like this for some time, though, and that’s when I got scared. I called a taxi and dashed off with you to the nearest hospital, where I asked them to take us both into their care. The only thing they knew to do was to wrap you up in a tangle of tubes, because they thought you must be cold. Or did they want you confined in a labyrinth like that because they were thinking they could resolutely prevent your going away, your lifting off from the globe in this way? Dear Hans! It’s already frightening enough to see an adult locked inside one of those heart-lung machines, but when it’s an infant – I only hope you didn’t even notice what was happening, and I’m assuming that in the course of the thunderstorm inside the room earlier a couple of lightning bolts hit you hard enough that you never felt a thing after that. Later on they requested me to bring some decent clothes for you, and when I gave the morgue official the overalls you’d embellished a few weeks before with a huge strawberry stain, his deeply reproachful look – it stayed with me for a long time – held a strong reprimand after the fact for your untidy manners . . .

Later, at the grave, a very sweet, very aged clergyman said I shouldn’t be too sad about your untimely disappearance, because in all probably you hadn’t really and truly disappeared at all. For the fact was that in times to come, in future days and years, you would be with me, even though I wouldn’t be able to notice it very clearly – and, he went on, the way I’d see that you were with me is in how you would sometimes help my eyes to go flying very swiftly out of my head like a pair of darting wrens, circling the globe once and then telling me all about the world in great detail without my having to take the trip myself. And how nothing bad would happen to my eyebirds on their travels; they wouldn’t go and drown in the very first waterfall of light they came to, if maybe you’d look after them, keep an eye on them a little so they’d come back safe and sound and able to give dependable reports on all the latest going on in the world; you’d see to it and you’d help in many other ways as well – is this what he meant, that aged clergyman? Anyway, you can believe me when I tell you my eyesight has grown much sharper since then. Because I trust my eyes more and more since then, entrust more and more to them, so that their absence from my head is more frequent. Even so, I’m not anywhere nearly as blind as I was then, because the memories of the stories my eyes tell during their moments of absence convey so keen a sense of things to me that I can never again allow this globe, this earth of ours, simply to drift into forgetfulness.

Thank you so much for everything.

Hyperbole 1

He and She are sitting as if on raised audience benches and looking out into the auditorium, as if they were watching a circus performance.

He: Now comes the standard tightrope walk. I don’t envy the man doing it.

She: He’s already reached the middle of the rope. How daring! It’s amazing that some eyes are tossing blank looks of contempt right between his legs to make him stumble and falter. But he’s defending himself tooth and nail, or arm and leg anyway; he’s making every effort to thrust away the air behind him like a mule kicking backwards.

He: No he’s not, he’s giving a sign, a forceful slipping and sliding backwards with both his heels; he’d doing it on purpose to give his assistant down below a very specific sign. Do you understand?

She: Yes, because this sign results in both rope walkers’ freeing themselves altogether unexpectedly, suddenly, and simulaneously, so that the rope, even without being attached, nonetheless hangs in air like a straight line that can bear the weight of the one artist still traversing it, like a horizontal pole, without his plunging to the ground at once.

He: Now the rope has turned into a gigantic snake and is wrapping itself around the artist’s body, preparing to squeeze him to death.

She: No, you’re mistaken. Don’t you see that the rope is wrapping itself in a loving embrace around the body of the dancer in air and trying to protect him, to help cushion his body from the plunge down to the ring, no doubt left filthy on purpose, that’s now about to take place; do you see?

He: You’re right. I bet he won’t even mess up his hair.

She: But where’s the artist now? He probably wanted to do nothing but just slip away with his failure.

He: No, no, this is something different now. This next act is what’s known as the “escape number.”

She: It looks now as if he’s trying with all his heart to work free of his entanglement in that cumbersome, gigantic mass of colossally piled-up, coiled ship-towing cable. And in fact, he’s becoming more and more visible all the time, as if he were an emerging pupa. But no, not quite yet, but still you can see him, yes, there he is; maybe he’s being just a little too brash now, simply popping out that way right in front of our eyes so he can complete his transformation within full sight of us, just like that.

He: Yes, exactly like a sphinx moth coming out of its cocoon, isn’t he?

She: The audience doesn’t know what to think. No real tightrope walking, no dancing in air. Not even a botched act or an injured artist. The audience is finding this escape number pretty feeble, even if it is placed on purpose under the guise of a botched tightrope walk, because he wasn’t even the one who untied the knots.

He: There he is, the artist. Listen to the ovations! He’s simply allowing all the laughter to enter the arena of his face and then to exit, and then bowing once more, then exiting again and making another entrance and radiantly bowing to the audience. If we weren’t to tear ourselves away, if we were to keep looking on to this laughter he’s conjuring up so artfully, well, for the next few hours or maybe even all night or for days and days after this we’d . . .

She: But isn’t that why we came here in the first place?

He: Yes, of course. And now all of a sudden the audience is really thrilled and is starting to go berserk. And even if you’d never in your life seen all these smiles before, you’d think right away you were seeing them again and are being recognized on a personal basis. Fantastic! Amazing.

She: Come on. Let’s go down to see the artist and request his autograph. Then maybe we can bask in his smile from close up. Like a little sun. Come quick.

The Projector

I was just about thirteen or fourteen when I first started wanting to go to the movies on a regular basis. That wasn’t easy, because either I didn’t have the money to buy a ticket or the film was prohibited for young people.

The owner of the movie theater had a certain quirk – he couldn’t stand it when somebody would sneak into the theater behind his back without paying.

After the main feature started, he would vanish from the theater into the lobby, to the ticket seller’s glass booth, so he could compare the number of people sitting in the audience with the number of tickets sold. For the rest of the show he would take a seat up in the projection room behind the projectionist, who would be standing next to the projector.

It sometimes happened, when the movie was over, that the projectionist would immediately rewind the rolls of film, this reverse motion replaying the whole film within a few seconds at an immensely speeded up rate and creating an ear-splitting racket from the dirty, flickering screen. Everybody would then feel gloomy and empty, as if they hadn’t even been to the movies in the first place.

This happened because the projectionist had somehow found a way, while rewinding the rolls of film, not only to play them in reverse at that insanely rapid pace, but also, as aided by the projector now running the movie backwards in full length on the screen, to edit out the entire film from the minds of the audience that had just finished watching it, to draw it right back out of their brains completely, and in the minds of the audience, which should have been occupied by the memory of the film that had ended just a moment before, there opened up instead a migraine-inducing cavern. All because someone hadn’t paid, and this was the theater owner’s revenge, his way of taking it out on everybody.

They say that almost always, however, the guilty party – or someone else in his stead, someone who hadn’t done anything wrong – would then voluntarily step up and offer to pay, even after the damage was done, whereupon the owner would cheerfully request the audience to resume their seats and the projectionist to show the entire film at full length once more, from beginning to end, but in that insanely rapid span of only a few seconds, thereby propelling it back into the people’s heads.

They would then go home, or to the coffee house next door, or to a bar – whatever they ordinarily did – very much happier than usual, as if they’d seen an especially fine film. And it made no difference whether they’d just seen the worst trash ever or a really wonderful movie.

The Praying Mantis

As He and She draw closer, either He with His mandibles, or She with Hers, both at the same time or one after the other, lunges at the other’s neck, wrenching the other’s head up and back, toward the sky, or at least in that general direction, either simultaneously or in succession or several times or only once, thereby practically choking off the following sentences.

She or He (to Him or Her): I’m so sorry, but just now I have to bite your head off, you know, but don’t be afraid, because it won’t hurt a bit, so please just hold still now!

He or She (to Her or Him): Yes, you’re absolutely right, because I do notice that right now my head is being bitten off by you – but it’s so exciting and wonderful, and I can tell it will now and forevermore, as time goes by, remain everpresent as the most wonderful event I will ever have experienced.


Farewell Speaker: Now before we arrive at the point of general dispersal, I would very much like to convey to all of you, to each and every one of you, that is, meaning all and sundry without exception, my express admiration at how you all – “all” referring to an entirety, a collective entity – have borne with me for so long, right up to this present moment, that is. You see, I ordinarily, which is to say as a general rule, can’t bear with anyone for very long, certainly not as long as you, each and every one of you, have borne with me. In the place of any and all of you I would normally have long since been up and gone by now. In the place of any or all of you, I would normally not even have turned up here to begin with, in fact, all the more not had I known that I were to be in any way involved in any of the present proceedings. But while sharing this time together amongst or amidst – that is simply to say with – each and every one of you, I have felt so very happy as to be entirely unable to tell you, at least not at this point, the last time I felt so happy being together with anyone – whether it be one person or several people, or animals, vegetables, or minerals – as I now feel with you.

It strikes me as totally absurd that you and I – you as a communal or collective entity, encompassing all and sundry – should have gathered together for the first time only today and hence not have made one another’s acquaintance until just now.

It quite simply surpasses my powers of comprehension that I should never have gathered together with you, all and sundry considered collectively, at any point in time before today’s date, as of which moment – the present one, of course – we are indeed and in fact gathered together, “we” meaning I with you, aggregately and collectively! It’s my stated belief that we – you as a collective aggregation and I – would have had no need to gather together for any such thing as a “first time” with a view toward establishing mutual acquaintance.

As of now, however, we’ve been sitting together for quite a long while.

We really must meet again soon.

For the time being, let’s say that we, taken all together – you in the collective or aggregate and I – will meet once every two weeks. All of you together with me. My hearing is very sharp, incidentally, and it’s telling me now that there is no desire you – meaning each and every one of you – harbor more keenly than to meet and gather together with me.

Let’s say once a week at the tavern here, where your association convenes, and why not right away next week, as I’ve said, whereupon, having proposed which, I would like now to extend an invitation for you all to come – for each and every one of you, that is – to come visit me at home. Please come and enjoy my hospitality, but you all need to come, all and sundry, without exception, and everyone please needs to be on time!

Only if all of you, excluding not one single soul, shall have assembled not only on time but all together, as a complete contingent, without one single person being absent, as you have done today in this hall, would I be in a position to put in my own appearance, as I have done today, so that all of us, you and I considered as a collective and aggregate assemblage, might meet once again.

And when you come to visit me in my penthouse apartment, to which, as I’ve said, I am herewith inviting you, aggregately and in your full number, to gather together on my roof terrace – on which there is more or less room for just about as many people as you are when all present and accounted for in full contingent without anyone falling over the edge, or at least not very often – when you come to visit me, at any rate, all and sundry fully assembled, I must insist that you all arrive at the same time, all together as a full contingent. If you should wish to come visit me and should not be able to come as a numerically complete contingent, I simply will not be able to admit you. You can also at any time, whenever you wish, come to pay me a visit on the terrace of my penthouse, and you needn’t give any notice in advance; feel free to come at any hour of the day or night, at four in the morning or any other time, as far as I’m concerned, but only under the proviso that you all arrive and present yourselves, collectively and aggregately assembled, all present and accounted for, as a full contingent.

For that matter, moreover, we can gather together at any time or any place, in any location anywhere, for as long as you like, and all of you – each and every one, all and sundry – and myself, could stay together throughout the complete span of the remainder of our lives, anywhere at all, if you taken all together and I should happen to want it that way, but then only if you are always all together in your entirety. For if even one of you is absent, then we – you and I considered as an aggregation – would simply no longer be what we now are.

My wish, then, is always and ever to engage with all of you only as a corporate, collective entity and aggregate assemblage.

All of you – meaning each and every one, all and sundry, said collective entity – are most heartily and cordially welcome to come visit me at any time, always and everyone, but there is at no time ever to be any engaging with any single one of you separately, as an individual.

For various reasons I simply cannot do that.

In addition, I would not recognize or acknowledge any single, individual one of you by yourselves, as a distinct and separate entity, should I happen to encounter you on the street, and why indeed should I, since I know you all as a complete assemblage, not on any isolated, single, separate, individual basis.

Accordingly, I take no interest whatever in any individual one of you viewed as a single or separate entity, meaning that I am altogether indifferent to any or each one of you considered singly or individually, which is, furthermore, how it must be.

Only if all of you, the collective entity or assembled communality, should happen to encounter me on the street would I be able to acknowledge you. All of you together, in your entirety, the aggregate assemblage, you understand. That should be clear, I think. Were any individual one of you to come visit me alone, singly, on an isolated or separate basis, I would be entirely unable to place you, the individual, single visitor, into anything even approaching the context of “us,” meaning the aggregate assemblage of the collective, communal entity. You do understand me, I hope?

After all, I have always understood all of you perfectly well, even though not a single one of you has ever uttered one single word.

Accordingly, I would therefore advise every single one of you not to turn up under any circumstances on a separate or individual basis at my place of residence. I would have to slam the door right in the face of any stranger, which is of course what you would be, or would have to have such a person thrown out like a panhandler or peddler before a single word could be uttered. I also feel constrained to recommend to each and every one of you that no individual, separately or in isolation, make any solitary effort, in any manner, shape, or form, even to think of growing argumentative or pugnacious with me.

I simply cannot allow rumors to begin spreading to the effect that I at any time ever went cow-tipping with any individual one of you as a solitary or separate entity. I would not at all mind, on the other hand, if rumors were to be bruited abroad that it’s long been my practice to go cow-tipping with all of you as an aggregate or collective assemblage, whether occasionally or fairly often, or very often, or even constantly, for that matter, provided rumor has it that I’ve been doing it with all and sundry, communally; nay, I would even relish the spread of a rumor – so what if just as a matter of idle gossip or on the basis of common hearsay? – to the effect that I have never preferred to do anything more with all of you as an aggregate communality, that I indeed have never in fact done anything other than engage with all of you taken together and collectively in the activity of cow-tipping.

All of you together, the whole aggregation, and myself.

I’m prepared at any time to do anything whatsoever for you all as a collective entity, a group taken together, whereas for any single or individual one of you in isolation I would quite unable even to lift my little finger.

So now we can begin meeting fairly often and on a regular basis.

We’ll proceed from gathering once every two weeks to gathering once a week.

Then we’ll start meeting several times a week.

And every now and then perhaps even every day.

Sometimes here, sometimes there, sometimes here where you all are now, all and sundry in full aggregate assemblage and sometimes up on the terrace in my penthouse. I know we’re all looking forward to it a great deal.

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