Bernhard, on the observer

I was copying quotes about the observer from the novels I read, here, in Turkish. This one is the first attempt in English. The friend here is Paul, Wittgenstein’s Nephew, the one in the psychiatric hospital. As Bernhard informs, he’s a restless observer, like Thomas. I hadn’t noticed that the accusations were the integral part of the observer. That makes the figure less naive than I imagined.

Finally, toward the end of his life, when he was under extreme pressure as a writer and obviously found that verse came more easily to him than prose, he wrote a number of poems—with the left hand, as it were— which were really amusing, full of madness and wit. Just before being readmitted to one of his madness and wit. Just before being readmitted to one of his madhouses, he would read out the longest of them to anyone willing to listen. There is a tape recording of this poem, which centers upon himself and Goethe’s Faust; listening to it, one is highly amused and at the same time deeply disturbed. I could recount not just hundreds, but thousands of Paul’s anecdotes in which he is the central figure; they are famous in the so-called upper reaches of Viennese society, to which he belonged and which, as everybody knows, have lived on such anecdotes for centuries; but I will refrain from doing so. He was a restless character who always lived on his nerves and was perpetually out of control. He was a brooder, endlessly philosophizing and endlessly accusing. He was also an incredibly well-trained observer, and over the years he developed his gift for observation to a fine art. He was the most ruthless observer and constantly found occasion to accuse. Nothing escaped his accusing tongue. Those who came under his scrutiny survived only a very short time before being savaged; once they had drawn suspicion upon themselves and become guilty of some crime, or at least of some misdemeanor, he would lambaste them with the same words that I myself employ when I am roused to indignation, when I am forced to defend myself and take action against the insolence of the world in order not to be put down and annilihilated by it. In the summer we had our regular places on the terrace of the Sacher, where we spent most of our time in accusations. Whatever came within range became a target for fresh accusations. We would sit on the terrace for hourse over a cup of coffee, accusing the whole world, root and branch. Having taken our places on the terrace of the Sacher, we would switch on our well-tried accusation mechanism behind what Pau, called the arse of the opera. (If one sits on the terrace in front of the Sacher and looks straight ahead, one has a rear view of the opera house.) He took pleasure in such formulations as the arse of the opera, even though this one denoted the rear elevation of the house on the Ring which he loved more than anything else in the world and from which he had for so many decades drawn virtually everything requisite to his existence. We would sit on the terrace for hours and watch the passerby. I still know of no greater pleasure—in Vienna—than to sit on the terrace of the Sacher in summer, watching the world go by. Indeed, I know no greater pleasure than observing people, and to observe them while sitting in front of the Sacher is a particular delight that Paul and I often shared.

Thomas Bernhard, Wittgenstein’s Nephew, translated by David McLintock, Faber & Faber, 2013 [1982], p. 60-1.

the art of hangover

There were a lot of beautiful, practical examples in the book about paying attention to the little details of life, but I wanted to keep this one as a reminder as a drinker. A random French philosopher would have conceptualize this state as a ‘liminal’ one. I’ll filter the pieces from the book I might enjoy and start experimenting, especially the playful urban interactions and the forever-alone activities. Thanks to M. for recommending this.

“DRINKING TOO MUCH is a bad idea, and I’m not here to endorse it.

Some of you, however, will do it anyway, perhaps in part to experience the curious effects that alcohol can have on perception—heightening some feelings while suppressing others. That’s really none of my business. But I will pass along one piece of surprising advice, from my friend Josh Glenn: When the morning after rolls around, don’t try to squelch your hangover. Because it’s not a problem, he argues. It’s an opportunity.

“So what’s good about a hangover?” Glenn has written. “The hungover person is abnormally aware of sights, sounds (everything seems TOO LOUD!), tastes, odors, and textures which normally would go unremarked. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing. The hungover eye, for instance, because it is neither obstructed by the blinders of our everyday biases, nor deceived by intoxicated hallucinations, is magnetically attracted to seemingly ordinary objects which take on an incredible, luminous significance: anyone who has ever experienced the ‘stares’ when hungover knows exactly what I mean.”

Glenn compares the hungover state to conditions of nirvana or grace.

You may or may not take his thinking seriously here—and I certainly don’t recommend a drunken binge for the sole purpose of obtaining a hangover. But should you find yourself in an altered state, you ought to inhabit it fully rather than struggle to find a shortcut out. Embrace it instead “as a form of reaggregation from the extraordinary into the ordinary, as a ‘middle state’ of perception in which one can for a brief time see the usual in an unusual manner.”

And if you conclude that this unusual manner isn’t one you enjoy, perhaps you’ll remember that the next time you start drinking.”

Rob Walker, The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday, Knopf Publishing Group, 2019

Volckmer, conversations with strangers

“My legs are starting to feel quite tired; it’s been such a long time since I spread them like this for anyone, Dr Seligman, but I think that this new friendship of ours is remarkable in so many ways and I never thought I could talk like this to someone I know. K and I always agreed that that the only real conversations you can have in life are those with strangers at night. During the day, there is no anonymity, and if you just start talking to people, you are a freak, most likely one of those Bible wierdos, but there comes an hour every night when Jesus’s disciples are safely tucked away and the differences don’t matter anymore. For me this has always been the only real intimacy; those were the only people I could share things with. The people I met at the bus stop at night, the people sitting on empty benches, or the sad women selling sweets and cosmetics outside the toilets of clubs and bars. Those were the only real people I ever met in this city where everyone is wrapped in impenetrable layers of fear and ambition, and all our attempts at communication end in loneliness. With people that seem so empty they must have sucked up all the air that was left, crippling out lungs with their meaningless existence. But with strangers it’s different; you can be sad in front of them. Do you have that as well, Dr Seligman? I can never be sad in front of people I know; there is a mechanism that always allows me to function, and you have to believe me when I say that I usually act out of a profound sense of sadness and despair. If we were to wait until the soft darkness of the early morning, somewhere between three and four, you would be able to see it shining through, Dr Seligman – that face that is buried underneath all the jokes. And K always loved the idea that there were a few strangers in the city who knew it all, who knew why he sometimes cried like a child and which drawer in his life this alphabet of fear came from. That without revealing our faces and names we carry each other’s secrets and guard them through the night like other’s secrets and guard them through the night like they were luminaries, precarious pieces that bind us together, make us recognise each other as human, in those fleeting moments that have become so rare. And as we come home from our nocturnal walks, Dr Seligman, those secrets are glowing in our hands, fragile little creatures that we will nurture back to life. I wish K and I could have remained strangers; I wish I could call one of his secrets my own and feel it glowing next to me in the dark.

Katharina Volckmer, The Appointment (Or, The Story of a Cock), Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2020, p. 79-80