Recently Read…December 11, 2013
Therein was to be sought the reason and the cause why things are sometimes, mostly sometimes, rather often, sometimes rather often, mostly rather often, sometimes mostly mostly, mostly mostly not as they should be.
By sheer accident, the narrator Gert Jonke’s The System of Vienna: From Heaven Street to Earth Mound Square becomes the one hundred thousandth visitor to the Vienna Furniture Show and is thereby awarded by the personal representative of the Chancellor a copy of a book called The System of Vienna, which he promptly tosses in the garbage. In Jonke’s version of The System of Vienna, the city is full of frauds and people operating under their own personal delusion, including the narrator, a lowly teaching assistant in the musicology department of the university, who sees himself as a “fantastic fraud.”
Through a series of short vignettes, we met an odd assortment of Viennese characters, including the Chancellor who often mistakenly believes he is not the Chancellor, the philatelist who thinks he deserves a university professorship in “philatelistics,” and the fish-monger who is convinced he is the real politician telling the Chancellor what to do. Even the tram cars seem fraudulent, appearing ready to hunch over right in the middle of the street and “roll straight onto some pile of scrap metal.” Translator Vincent Kling describes The System of Vienna as “a parody-tribute to the art of autobiography” and Jonke’s”search for a system informing his journeys from boy to man, from country to city…”
The System of Vienna (Dalkey Archive Press, 2009) was originally published in German in 1999, but Jonke tells us in his brief “Author’s Note on Provenance” that it is based upon stories published in the 1970s and 1980s. Furthermore, the longest story in System – “Caryatids and Atlantes – Vienna’s First Guest Workers” becomes the stating point for his 1982 novel, which was recently translated as Awakening to the Great Sleep War,which I recently wrote about.
Towards Re-enchantment: Place and Its Meaning (London: Artevents, 2013) is a very welcome reissue of a 2010 book that seemed to go rapidly out of print. Editors Gareth Evans and Di Robson pulled together some great content (mostly photographs, poems & essays) in association with the year-long project The Re-enchantment, held in 2010-2011. My favorites: Iain Sinclair’s “Water Walks,” Jane Rendell’s “May Morn,” and Kathleen Jamie’s “On Rona.” Currently uninhabited, Rona is an island a scant mile and a half long and partway between Scotland and Iceland. It is home to rare birds and medieval ruins.
Daily, our sense of time slowed, days expanded like a wing. The days were long in the best, high-summer sense; at night we put up storm shutters on the bothy to make it dark enough to sleep. Time was clouds passing, a sudden quall, a shift in the wind. Often we wondered what it would do to your mind if you were born here, and lived your whole life within this small compass. To be named for the sky or the rainbow, and live in constant sight and sound of the sea. After a mere fortnight I felt lighter inside, as though my bones were turning to flutes.