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.” Read more
Yes, they had turned up in these rooms, which had now at last become the rooms of their story, had now been conquered by their story, taken prisoner as in a narrative war…
Everything is alive in Gert Jonke’s Awakening to the Great Sleep War– buildings, cities, landscapes, the weather. The world has been remade in strange, yet often comforting ways. Caryatids speak, buildings breathe.
In the morning, the walls blow their noses, hanging their bleary-eyed bedding out the windows, the roof trusses cough through asthmatic chimneys, and some buildings sneeze through their opened skylights; now and then an entryway shoves its stairwell, bursting with stairs, out into the street, and sometimes entire suites of rooms are pushed out through their walls into public places, while cellars press down on their heaps of potatoes, preventing them from rising up in rebellion when the countless coal sacks, filled to bursting, blow gobs of smog into the public transit system through the bars on the window. Read more
Two paragraphs, separated by many pages, from Gert Jonke’s “Individual and Metamorphosis” (The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 2012, volume XXXII).
I am an invention of my own self. Since coming upon myself facing myself I’ve been faced the whole time with the problem of how to place myself somewhere, in some place where I would be able either to find or somehow cobble together on my own, through hints and hunches at least, something like a roof, a lodging, a shelter for me and my head. In my case it was clear soon enough that this would be most feasible if I came to settle in a region of my own arranging, a plot of land in the realm of language, or narration.
How, nonetheless, from a purely technical standpoint, can language express what has always been inexpressible, grow literate enough to produce literature? Allow me to try illustrating it for you through an image. Picture language as a fence you’re erecting: letters and words as fence posts, sentences as fences put up around an area itself unknown, intangible, unmeasured, perhaps not even really accessible; but my fencing it in with language delineates its outlines to me, allows me to see its contours, even though I cannot gain access or perhaps do not even need to enter this area…
Jonke’s essay is fascinating and thought provoking. However, I’m halfway through his Awakening to the Great Sleep War (published by Dalkey Archive Press in 2012), and, to paraphrase Jonke, I’m not gaining much access yet.