04.09.2018. These Notes, and this is a strangely – for a generic name ON THE INTERNET – fitting term for what is not intended for writing, point to sound and light variations more than to what is made of words and what, allegedly, carries meanings. Notes are not blogs, slogs or frogs. Notes do not jump on you. They are indeed points that aim to fix. They also are what one whispers in awe or frustration, they are those hostages of emotion that are not at all about expression; yet, they are to be expressed, if only under the breath in the ear of THE lover, these intimations, imitations, incidentals.
Born out of a long and by now more complicated life than the author has ever desired, these Notes are nonetheless too fleeting to carry any wisdom, to connote in general. They are beyond and aside of a directed gaze, or any direction to that matter. They are not directionals that blink (blinkers). Too soft, too weak, too… ah, occasional and too soon to matter. They are written, yes, still written, but for no particular audience in mind and without any particular purpose. Just so.
06.09.2018. The beginning of a story. It always comes after the light is off and the eyes are firmly closed and not aching any more from too much seeing during the day. Like in when staring outside shifts to staring inside and the inner space gets illuminated. What a show! A pity it is missed by all but the Self and Another Self, a presence on stage and a presence offstage, sitting leisurely in the first row directing the incoming dreams. The title of the story is A Man Who Burnt Hitler. His name is Antoine Swartz. He likes his name. It makes him think that it matches his SS uniform and his darker skin to a ‘T’ (no, of course, he is still very Arian, he passed all the checks, but he comes from the North Eastern German stock (G. Grass’ geography of Flounder comes to mind); hence, his thick black hair, merry freckles around the eyes, and a long lanky figure, you know, the one that is so good for goosestepping – alas, another trite allusion). His parents named him after obscure French politician Antoine Plissart. Like many Germans, they were in love with France. Well, perhaps, but, certainly, not for long. When meeting women, he would introduce himself by saying ‘an-tu-ann,’ stressing the last syllable, only to watch one more fair-haired Fräulein melt and become one less.
Speaking of the Nazis, the daughter of a friend from Boston I used to know years ago (most of the people I used to know qualify nowadays to be called ‘used to know,’ ‘some time,’ ‘former this or that,’ or just ‘ex,’ them being somehow gone as if pushed out of circulation by some relational expiration date), well, this young woman called BMW cars ‘fascist.’ There is something to it if you place the front of the car, its (in)famous two eyed grid, underneath the vanity curl of Antoine’s SS hat in the very spot where the Totenkopf emblem would shine with unambiguous menace. Speaking of which, me digressing again (no wonder my students in the European Far North where I taught the Russian language, gave me the nickname ‘digressor’), I am quite in awe with the collectors of Nazi symbolics: uniforms, war decorations, documents, domestic objects. Why anyone wishes to find, pay, and keep all this morbidity, and in secret mostly? I can see how an otherwise decent person caresses this stuff when alone, daring not to show it to strangers. An acquaintance in Russia I am thinking defined his gruesome interest in ‘all that’ in terms of ‘aesthetics.’ ‘The aesthetics of death,’ I added then. He did not accept. ‘The aesthetics of history,’ he said. ‘Too general,’ I said, and we left it at that, but I still wonder looking at all the books translated and written on the subject in so very many languages occupying (yes, a very proper word for the occasion) two whole shelves at my late father’s dacha (he too was bewitched). I keep the books, but I don’t want to see the titles, and so I turn these books around in such a way as have them face the walls when I am there. In this way I have collection blend into a single discourse, a discourse that still begs the question.
09.09.2018. My partner, who is German, got somewhat perturbed by me starting the Notes with a story about a Nazi. ‘Why do you want to write on this topic?,’ she asked. ‘Why indeed?’ Well, the reasons are several. On the one hand, my protagonist is a generic type of person: quiet, patient, differential, his lookalike exists in every culture, he speaks dozens of different languages and is still recognizable as Antoine. His demeanor – self-assured but unimposing – attracts people, especially people like myself, people who have little patience and run ahead of the train on most personal and formal occasions, quite an unattractive sight, I keep on reminding myself. As a German, I would have been a neurotic German, a German, who wanders looking hunted down, painfully sensitive, unable to deal, faltering under fire. The type is much more pervasive, but much less interesting (I too am much less interesting to myself, but that is also a property of being unable to assume an outside perspective on oneself past the first order of separation – I cannot experience my experience of myself, only that of the Other is available for any in-depth scrutiny, like it always takes me by surprise to be hearing my own voice in a recording).
On the other hand, Antoine is decidedly a cultural subject. He is friendly and open as many young German men I used to know during my almost eight years of living in that country. He is thoughtful and efficient. He does not complain. He stands his ground, but he is not forceful. And not violent. And this is the reason he was noticed by Hitler and was chosen to serve him. Antoine is a person one can rely on. Not in terms of loyalty – no public figure should expect loyalty – but on an everyday level. He would not judge and even his vanity is of a subdued kind. ‘Is he earnest then?,’ my partner asked. ‘I think so.’ I conjure up his image. I am surprised to see that, again, Antoine is very handsome, like Falco is handsome, all these cheek dimples, sleek long hair (I am thinking the younger Falco before drugs and alcohol got under his skin, making him pear-shaped and bedraggled – still a pity, a PITY!) and long seeking fingers of a striptease dancer (Oops, a ‘no’ here: Antoine is sleek, but not seedy; he is a stage presence all right, but only as a second – that is why Hitler chose him from the line of his SS piers; it especially appealed to the Führer that Antoine was not eager to be chosen. Does it mean that he did not care? I don’t know. The story has just begun. He isn’t vain, right. Let’s just wait and see). ‘Is he ambitious?’ ‘No. I don’t think so.’ My favorite Hannah Arendt’s work is ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.’ Like his master, Antoine was banal but he was not evil. He was just there, the right man at the wrong turn of his country’s history. Consider this: He discharged his gun at a human being only once, and that human being was Hitler.
I have come to realize that dating my entries is redundant because I edit what has already been written all the time (‘Revisator!’) building on the earlier bits by way of footnoting them internally, like in the continuous act of inserting loose change in the premade slot in order to give the whole thing more weight which does not mean more substance. Gambling is never about winning. Sex is never about making children. Revising is a habit, a gesture. Do you think that laws of physics apply to writing?
It has been a long time, writing here: moving between countries helps collect impressions, no doubt, but they are as fleeting as the distances overcame, left behind, forgotten. It is a bit ironic, for most of all my notes belong to small genre; they are not much different than a piece of paper you have just put yourself into by scribbling a few ineligible words. Subsequently, I have tons of constantly disappearing ‘wrotes,’ as I wish to call them. Somewhat derogatory, for organizing my texts happens only on the macro level, they are folk fictions. I cannot go deeper: the foreign language stops me. I should be writing in Russian as well. At home, with my partner and my children, we speak English. Each child knows 5-6 Russian words used perfunctorily in their ‘Okay, I will say something’ manner when I put them on the phone with my mother, who they call ‘babushka’, stressing the middle syllable, and that is all my native tongue means to them. When heard some stranger speak Russian, they say – Hungarian. I don’t mind the association – often, when someone eager for communication here in England would ask me where I am from, I used to say – Hungarian to avoid unnecessary complications, trying to make it easy for myself and for my native interlocutors, but now when England has a fair bit of Hungarians, I decided to switch for a more complex and perhaps confusing identity: Kyrgyz. What? What? Where is it? Is it a language even? Sounds like something that belongs to carpentry: After you are done with Kyrgyz, you can do the first paint of the wall.
As it always happens to digressors, they tend to digress in multiple directions. For example, I would like to present a haiku, the first one I have written since 1994. Moreover, and perhaps a bigger digression deals with the language. The analytic order of the English language makes it easier to write a haiku, but the synthetic Russian cannot be capped when thinking or translating it: the free word order spells out semantic flexibility as well. This is to say, the English translation of haiku has less ability to express its nuances. Without further ado: Oops, – WordPress does not seem to let its publications to appear in other languages.
Then: The sun of March is bright, and the road is mud. The little girl and the old woman, holding hands, venturing out into the unknown. Will they make it?
Sounds like it has no heart, this haiku, in English,. Well, I should try better next time. This little piece comes from Vasiljev’s painting ‘On the Road.’ It reminds me me of my mother who is a lonely soul and who would like to take the road as an opportunity to become the little girl, a favorite grand-daughter for a big family. Now, she is more like the mother of Grendel from John Gardner’s novel. She is trying hard to DO something, anything, for her children, but all she needs to do is to try and UNDERSTAND them in all their difference. Alas!
Speaking of children, I have three of them. The middle one looks just like myself. But I understand him the least. He is an astoundingly handsome boy (here: not necessarily like me), but, like myself, he is strangely detached, a ‘thing of his own,’ as my former friend said about me when I was in my twenties. He is an enigma, reminding of Fowls and his ‘Enigma,’ a story about a strange disappearance of a well-to-do businessman, who, already in his fifties, didn’t come home one day. Gone for good in a flash. I read the story thirty years ago, but it still resonates with me.
When one is living through their fifties, he often has to face one or another existential crisis, which reminds me the character of Otto-the-postman from Tarkovsky’s ‘Nostalgia’ speaks about waiting for something to happen in the opening scene. Waiting for something. When it doesn’t come, this something, this event, warrants a disappearance, and myself, one of many of that age, who cannot help but wait for an event that would justify their entire life, their living, to be more exact, when tired of waiting, go some place. I yearn to know about this place. I imagine it to be deeply covered in snow, a remote place. I see a dog, a big German shephard, an old Russian hut in need of much repair, but most of all, it has to be so remote, so lonely, that that the very idea of loneliness would dissipate at the moment of the inability to stand up and proceed.
There is no duty, no hardship, even love in this place. It is entirely white, empty of human presence, and even a dog is more of a decoration.
When you old, and at 55 I feel old, decorations, more precisely things, become burdensome as if all you want is an colorless expanse that will eventually devour you, making you one with them. The question that leads to this imaginary place is the fundamental one: Why should or rather ought to continue living? Or, more technically, how can one turn into snow, wind, earth? How can one become an elemental?
This digression does not mean that I forgot about my character and his short but dutiful life. After all, it is him, at not so advanced age, set fire on the most hated man on earth. But these notes will not reveal the reasons – there are none – for that deed. He too disappeared like a dark angle whose only purpose was to eliminate a monster. In the meantime, he polishing his beautiful long boots, ready to assume his duty as Hitler’s adjutant, just appointed in the lowest rank, whistling, as was his habit, Polka, and looking forward to appear in all his orderly immpecable self. As I wrote before, he had no fear, no morals of the usual kind. A blank slate, one could see him already gone, as he will be very soon.
When I tam thinking of Antoine, and I am doing it fairly often, I wonder if he traveled a lot, or even some. I am sure he was confined to Germany, to Berlin throughout most of his life. I also think he was not particularly unhappy about it, given how he was in the world. Myself, I consider myself a seasoned traveler, but I am still excited at the prospect of taking a journey. Journey is movement and movement makes me think. Shukshin’s story ‘ comes to mind: ‘. I always take a book with me, but I rarely engross myself in reading when I travel: the print serves as a distraction a way to channel my thoughts which tend to run amok against the perceptual overload of smells, sights, and people. Flight 2583 London Heathrow to Moscow Sheremetyevo. I have flown to Moscow hundreds of times from the United States and Europe. I am travelling from Brighton, a ‘relaxed’ place, a place, where people wear shorts and sandals to departmental meetings, and where everyone, who is not gay, looks like gay, and gays sport their looks to the extreme. The weather (Oh, no, I am talking about the weather again, but how can one not talk about the weather if it is so very dismal that you either bitch about it all the time, a legitimate topic to complain about is a country, where people think it is bad taste to complain to begin with, or pretend that it is not there: wearing nothing but a T-short is an expected sight at all times, – rain, storm, and slit, tornado and Tsunamis included) is a mix of the sun and strong cold wind coming from the English Channel. I arrive early and have to stand for a while at the bus stop, slowly freezing my extremities. The stop consists of a single pole with a picture a bus and a few glass panels thrown together in a manner which does not really protect travellers from the elements but creates an impression of doing so. A thoughtfully designed – so as to dissuade the homeless – narrow, very narrow and uncomfortable to sit on bench is sticking out in the middle. They call it Pull Valley Coach Station, but there is no food stand or coffee machine or any of the usual amenities that a station would presuppose. An elderly English couple is standing next to me, apparently freezing as well, trying to smile, mumbling about their discomfort through their bad teeth. Their complaints are barely audible; they are not meant for others (unless they are already in a conversation – then, it is legit). The bus to Heathrow is already there. It is sitting at the station saying Out of Service. The bus driver is inside. We all, about ten of twelve of us, know it, but patience is a virtue in the UK. We are waiting. Five minutes before the departure time, I move back and start pacing. As a foreigner, I am allowed not to be patient. At some point I line up with a short black man who sees my impatience and start talking to me. He speaks with a strong Nigerian accent, – another foreigner. I tone down my artificial English and start speaking with a generic American accent. He gladly responds. In a fast and irritated voice he tells me about him having to stand where he is standing, in ‘the dumm carner,’ while the bus-driver is sitting comfortably in the bus and so on and so forth. I give him the usual, trying not to cross the invisible boundary of criticizing the native, using the generic ‘these people,’ ‘the guy’, etc. ‘These people burn me up,’ I say. From a stock of set responses, this one works very well, giving the other person an opportunity to blast ‘these people’ out of their comfort zone. I purse my lips the Obama style and nod and nod and nod. We are revelling in our ‘alien’ togetherness. We are ranting at will, happily ignoring the rules of appropriateness, forgetting about ‘good manners’ and stock behavioural patterns in the country which used to set the highest standards of politeness and good will for all. We are having a ball, the Nigerian, who is by now speaking so fast that I can barely understand him and myself, the Russian, who has happily given up on pretending that he participates by taking his turn. It is enough for me to attend to him, and, in this way, to share the comradership of bitching, that commonness that only the natural born outsiders know. A fat girl and a nerd boy, back in school. Remember? Finally, on the dot of the departure time, the driver walks out. He smiles and tells us in a pretend apology that he arrived late (too much traffic) and had only 20 minutes to rest instead of 45 minutes that he is entitled to take, but he is ready to go and will not compromise the schedule. He says all that as he is taking our luggage, checking our tickets, chatting about Swansea, greeting the familiars. The Nigerian guy and myself are standing aside when we hear all that, and as we do, a transformation occurs in both of us. Our embarrassment is such that it immediately divides us. We are no longer looking at each other and instead of playing out a distinct possibility of sitting together, we go our separate ways: he rushes into the bus and I linger to let him settle. Then I walk in, passing by him without saying a word. Every alien for himself, I am thinking. Once on the bus, I buckle up to show my good will to driver and remain buckled for the two hour plus trip, feeling like I am making amends for my hasty judgement of a nice English man.
A bad taste still in my mouth, I walk inside the airport only to feel that my irritation thermometer begins to climb. The English may not be xenophobic, but they are decidedly not interested in a cultural other. They go on their five week-long vacations a year to have the sun and the sea and almost never a culture, a museum, a trip to the opera. Food (being so very palate numbed after a life-long diet of fish and chips and god knows what other deep fried shit that they eat, the English care less about food than any other nation I personally know – the Russians, the Belgians, the French, the Italians, the Americans, and the whole East European schmogarsboard), but mostly pubs where they guzzle pints of bear on regular days and weekends alike, arranging their entire life and work schedules around a pint. Occasionally, they ask you about your accent, but they are not taking the info you give them anywhere. Unlike the Americans (I know, I know, – I am dangerously stereotypical, but I do believe and I did argue for cultural stereotypes to be inalienable from one’s everyday existence), the English do not pick up on what you give them, not even with ‘I was in Russia in 1971,’ or ‘What do you think about Putin?’ as would be an expected response from an American. They do not pretend to try and affiliate with you. ‘Oh, Russian. That’s all right’ is the most common response I have heard in my five years of living in that country. ‘Of course it is all right,’ I want to say, but say nothing. Silence is the foreigner’s best friend. Yet, I am not irritated by the English. I am irritated by the sheer diversity without diversity that I see. The English are just the background
On the plane, which is surprisingly empty (long live the Russian-English collapse of mutual good will!), I start looking forward to my entitlement, my miniature dinner. ‘What is it going to be?,’ I am musing to myself. ‘Lamb? Chicken? Fish?’ Whatever it is, I know I deserved it. After I washed down my entire take-in (a hard-boiled egg, half of banana and a free apple from a posh restaurant I took my family for my oldest son’s 12 year birthday) at the Indian-run Nero) before going through the gate, I am ready, baby ,for my tiny white bun and a slice of Russian black bread with cheese and butter and a mystery entre. The joys of miniaturism…(oh, well, later about that and ‘no’, it is not going to something straight from The Fight Club). So, I am thinking about my meal, I do have a distinct difficulty concentrating. Right behind me, two clever Moscow ‘boys’ (for my age; in fact they are well in their twenties) are conducting that very familiar kind of banter that would often make me feel lost in college. I am neither fast nor clever. I tend to fall hopelessly behind. That is why I do not do banter, I say to myself. I write banter. It is not what they say to each other however, but how they do it that is getting to me, making my skin crawl in irritation.
I also wonder, to move to a different subject matter concerning Antoine, if my character was a quiet child. Yes, in fact, he was. Not just quiet but introspective, focusing on small things, on the things at hand. It is for that reason that he did not have many friends and none imaginary ones. He was entirely self-sufficient in his observing mode: neither good nor bad but precisely self-sufficient as in being independent from others. This does not mean however that he was independent from everything. As I have said, he was dependent on his environment to an extent that made him appear detached as he was but only from his socium. I was also detached as a child and also was attached to my environment, but, unlike Antoine, I loved my little toys, especially Playmobil figurines, which came into my life just at the right time. These figurines were not imaginary but their lives were that. Miniature worlds became me. Even when I walked, I walked with my head down, looking the ground, seeking out tiny little things that I would collect and use for my worlds. None of this was happening to my sons who, if anything, are very outword-bound and totally uninterested in anything miniature, including collections.
Telephone for Speaking with God
There is a certain awe one experiences when he sees a red phone on the table of a head of state. A direct line to another head of state, which I presume not any state but the one whose head has the red button and a bunch of nuclear arms in his possession. What can possibly surpass the power of this kind of communication. Well, my son Luka has recently found himself a relic. Of course, nobody could expect a relic to be a pice of wood of approximately size of a small brick: 10x3x4 cm. It was peculiar: it looked like a piece of an old ship that got shipwrecked centuries ago: well-polished by the elements, it was both smooth and porous. Its original purpose was unknown. Against our rule – no stones, sticks, seagull feathers–to be brought in the house, we felt differently about this object. It appeared to be harmless and hygienwise—passable, so it was all right for Luka to bring it home. It was a mysterious object nonetheless, and we wondered about its use, talked about it; yet, we quickly forgot about it until one day, a week or so later, we caught Luka upstairs in his big brother’s bedroom talking to someone holding the piece of wood next to his ear, just like a cellphone. It was at this point that we realized that he indeed uses it as a phone, talking, as the title of this note has already given away, to–God. We did not know at first, thinking an imaginary friend, but Luka’s confidence and his continuation of talking despite our presence, made us ask after he was done with the common phone talk closure, as in Okay. Buy buy. Who it was that was on the other end of the phone, Luka, we asked, expecting a response pointing to a Marvel hero or another such character. It was not such a character, however. As soon as we found out, we became flabbergasted. Neither one of us is religious and neither one of us likes to discuss God unless it is for academic purposes. Two things stood out immediately: God is not an imaginary friend, therefore how come? Second, Luka’s confidence and his sense of privacy were of the level we have been unfamiliar with before. Our investigation yielded the following: God was Luka’s personal friend. So, our original suggestion that God cannot be such was simply overthrown. Second, as for the content of Luka’s conversations, Luka simply said that it was his business. Even more flabbergasted, we suggested that perhaps we can improve his phone: I thought that panting buttons and a screen would be god, and maybe a soft plastic antenna could be also good. To this, Luka esponded that the phone must remain as is, throwing us back in another wondering spin, but nothing much happened since then. A year later, Luka still talks to God and the ‘phone’ is still there, resting on his shelf in the little ones’ bedroom.
Why Tarkovsky? Why is it that I am laboring so much over a book that is doomed to be complicated and hardly unique. Perhaps the reason for this is the same reason that made me cry when I watched ‘Mirror’ for the first time at the age of fifty five. My childhood, my family, my life passed before my eyes zeroing in on the last scene: the field, the twilight, the cross, the passing. Now that I am looking back, I remember how I encountered Tarkovsky for the first time in 1980 at a closed viewing of his Stalker in the House of Cinema in Moscow. The film produced a strong and lasting impression on myself, a young adult, who was in a continuous search for new sources of self-betterment. Tarkovsky’s cinema appeared to offer such a source. My preliminary research thirty years ago (confined mostly to Soviet journal Iskusstvo Kino [Cinema Art]) yielded only several publications by Tarkovsky and about him. The latter were largely negative, creating a strong dissonance to my experience. I saw Solaris in 1985, in the early days of ‘perestrojka,’ when many ‘shelved’ films started making it out from film archives into the open. I found Solaris as captivating; moreover, I found it deeply ‘philosophical,’ although then I understood the term in the mundane sense.
A new rubric for these notes. I have abstained from using it, for it is a diaries rubric: I have it in all my little notebooks, some of which were purchased and others – given to me as gifts. I will try and move those proper diary notes in here, with much editing of course. In the meantime, the new rubric is better be called ‘projects.’ There are so many. And this is one thing that differs me from Antoine. He hardly had projects. He was certainly clever and pensive, a good observer in a primitive, that is, more advanced than an intellectual could ever be, way. Yet, he harbored no projects. Hitler felt it and chose him intuitively, as a doer, an actor without a role. Babylon Berlin is a German series whose lead actor (name) is precisely like Antoine. Oh, yeah, the project I need to put down here is a linguistic one. It is inspire by W. Saphire’s rubric on language (more). This one is about the marketing diminution of those names that came to associate not just with a particular product but because of their uniqueness at the time – with a whole of products – Xerox, Hoover, WhatsApp. Now that WhatsApp is rethinking its name, it became clear that none cares the company that begot the name. Moreover, it became less than it ‘should’ be. How come? Well, this is what the project is about. There are also words that sound ‘yeam’ and thus they travel into the other’s tongue. For example, foreignisms ‘komponent’ or ‘platforma.’ Put’ is an endemic Russian word that is also one way of putting it, but the foreignisms somehow make a difference in the vocal or phonetic quality as to stay within a foreign language as a host.
Another rubric. This one deals with the intercultural component of my being. This time the most present foreign culture for me, my immediate xenos, the English (mind you – Antoine, despite all their efforts, his frankophilic parents did not make him international, that is, he remained essentially a German, a local. TA deficit turned proficit: there was some purity about him, some innocence), and so I will now and then throw in my observations of this very alien culture. I would like to begin however with a strange similarity between the Russians and the English (the Anglo-Saxons) – their interest in the existential question. They are essentially, and the Germans join in here, existential cultures. One does not have to go too far to find non-existential ones in contrast. I shall explain.
Thinking of a friend of mine who built her entire life on someone else’s privilege. How can one possibly do that and remain a good human being at the same time?
The British journalism has not changed its key modality (tonality, stylistics), so much laughed at and mimicked by Monty Python, in the last fifty years.
Antoine was enjoying his bath. Hot and fluffy from the French soap the water gave him immense pleasure. it also covered him fully. He felt dressed. He liked to be dressed at all times. A man of pleasure is a man of good measure, repeated Antoine. Who was that man, that philosopher who said that? Khm. Difficult to tell if you had only a secondary school education and even that of a highly reductive kind.
Antoine’s best friend was a woman. This shall not be surprising given that barely perceptible effeminate trait about him. Less surprising was that his friend, Christina, was slightly older and somewhat crude. If she lived in this day and age, she would have been wearing unlaced boots under a long heavy skirt over wide hips. Short legged, flat chested with long thin disheveled brown hair, she looked like a poor fit to Antoine’s smooth and gaunt demeanor, his blue eyes (hers were light hazel). When Antoine’s colleague saw for the first time in a small cafe in Steglitz, he mistook her for a cheap prostitute who came up to their table looking for some action. Worn out shoes, unfresh nylons, and even her smell (strawberry soap) would easily explain his mistake. He was so stunned, that poor chapr when he found out that she was Antoine’s ‘woman friend’ that he forgot to fake embarassement but kept on staring at her in sheer disbelief.