a profound wakefulness

Kafka: The Decisive Years“Kafka missed nothing, forgot nothing. There is little evidence of the absentmindedness and boredom he always complained about; on the contrary, his incessant presence of mind is almost painful to witness, because it renders him unapproachable. Someone must stay awake, but this wakefulness deprived him of a sense of home and alienated him from the world and from people, in a mundane and sometimes comical sense. Nabokov’s novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, which highlights the impossibility of writing an adequate biography, expresses the suffering associated with profound wakefulness from the point of view of someone experiencing it:

[…] in my case all the shutters and lids and doors of the mind would be open at once at all times of the day. Most brains have their Sundays, mine was even refused a half-holiday. That state of constant wakefulness was extremely painful not only in itself, but in its direct results. Every ordinary act which, as a matter of course, I had to perform, took on such a complicated appearance, provoked such a multitude of associative ideas in my mind, and these associations were so tricky and obscure, so utterly useless for practical application, that I would either shirk the business at hand or else make a mess of it out of sheer nervousness.

This statement applies to Kafka word for word. It is astonishing how little he ‘made a mess of’ in spite of everything: wherever his life took him, he stood the test, as a pupil, student, and official. But nothing came easily to him; every decision, even the most trivial, had to be wrenched from that stream of associations. He once wrote, ‘Everything sets me thinking’. Everything set him writing. But first he had to translate life.”

Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Decisive Years

field report 1

Each morning the elevator guys gather in a circle on the sidewalk in front of the building, sort of like a team huddle in organized sports except they don’t all put their hands in the middle and shout “Break!” (unfortunately). They are upgrading the elevators one at a time, a project which is slated to continue into 2015. The “new” elevators talk to the passengers in an electronic woman’s voice, announcing each floor as it is reached. They look sleek and modern, and the exterior light is red instead of the previous green. (At the library the other day, it was observed that the elevator inspection certificate had expired over a year ago. As a precautionary measure, the stairs were taken on the return trip to the first floor.)

The humidity is ridiculous. How can weather be such an affliction. Days of high humidity oppress, while days of low humidity, perhaps with a slight breeze, uplift and rejuvenate. The city has acquired its summer bouquetreminiscent of a rancid, bloated dead thing dragging its entrails down the center of these hot asphalt strips known as streets and roads. Holding one’s breath in certain areas is advisable. Downtown recalls arrival day at an abattoir, as sweating, panicky beings stumble down the sidewalks, pursued by an unseen assailant (presumably the Humidity God), in desperate search of calm, air-conditioned respite. But such respite offers a false sense of relief, lulling one into a settled state that is immediately shattered upon re-entry into the outside world.

Anthropological studies remain on hold, thus leaving a dearth of source material. One sighting was recorded of the now-elusive cigar-smoking man, though the GISS (a common birding term short for General Impression, Size and Shape [also spelled as ‘jizz’, particularly among Brits) was not quite right. Could there be another cigar-smoking man? Unlikely. He was unaccompanied and bicycle-less. His fleeting appearance triggers a meditation on change, the constant flux of life, and the acute twinge of feeling left behind. It is not so much resistance to forward motion as it is a relentless cycle of stepping forward only to be overcome by a sensation best described in visual terms as Homer receding into the bushes.

Nothing is so elusive as place. In the bushes, the branches are closed in around the body, waxy leaves brushing the arms, feet rooted in the loamy soil. The eyes might be able to glimpse out, a partially obscured view akin to tunnel vision. Maybe no one can see in. Regardless, the body does not know if it can be seen. It may assume as such or not, but either way it won’t ever know what, if any of it, is actually seen. And where is the bush situated. Does that matter, and if so, how much? When the body leaves the home place (and/or the bush?), never to return again, what effect does this have. Does this severance yield a wound that cannot be healed, no matter how many salves are applied, no matter how many times a fresh bandage is wrapped around it. Is this the reason the other bodies around the body always appear distant, blurred, out of reach and alien. Is this why even familiar landscapes do not ever fully conform to the feet.

As usual, more questions than answers…

the town

The highest point of the town held a water tower and once I rode down that hill on my scooter using my new shoe as a brake and when I reached the bottom I found the scooter’s tire had burned a big gash into the heel of my shoe.

The lowest point of the town held a lake and once I stubbed my toe in its silty bottom resulting in a trip to the doctor who poked holes in my toenail to relieve the pressure.

The town took away and it gave and it took away and it gave, sometimes it left parts of itself in me, parts that had to be removed, other times the parts remained encysted and grew into hard black stones that never went away.

The town visits me now, frequently, in my dreams. It is the setting for all types of absurd scenarios, completely unrelated to actual events, only tapping memory for details of setting, and even then playing sly with the facts, bending and shaping, but always leaving things just recognizable enough.

I find this unsettling as the town means nothing to me in my present life and I have not been there in many years. There is nothing there for me now. And yet it is the skeleton of my early life. The streets are the bones. There is a house somewhere that serves as the skull, with windows like eyeholes, looking out onto a world I was seeing for the first time.

I feel a pull toward the town and I don’t know why. I think it is the aching for a home, a place I know so well it is a part of me, inseparable from who I am and what I do. A known setting for my life, however I choose to live it, with scenery grown like vines through my blood and bones. The place where it all starts and ends. Home.

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