:: Article

Excerpt: Agnómia

By Róbert Gál.

Three young female artists present their projects. One of them, a famous photographer of the rediscovered theme of female bodies, comes with a project of paper boxes in which some idea is always intricately glued in, such as a jack-in-the-box or cuckoo clock. I sit at a table with this photographer in the timeless space of a cafe and I let her spill waves of mass anxiety on me, stemming from the fact that one of her colleagues is nearly identical with her. She describes her step-by-step and is most concerned. “Young, beautiful, passionate. A tough one in pursuing her goals.” “Just like you,” I say. “Yes, you are right,” she answers and breathes out slightly. I move to the old dingy building of a former train station. I enter a pub of fourth rate category. Right at the entry there are a few steps down, which must be ritually taken as every newcomer is thoroughly and silently measured by watchful pairs of eyes. The tension between the regulars and me is nearly unbearable and yet I continue straight to the bar. I ask for a beer and sit down at a little table right behind the bar, strategically protected from possible attacks of invisible regulars. They are slowly becoming visible. They are heavy-faced people with the deep eyes of old men. The first one my eyes fixate on is seemingly an identical copy of Samuel Beckett in his old age. Quiet and photogenic, with an elegant worker’s leader cap on his head. I see the other guests as well – each is like a living monument, sitting at his own massive table – they all have the exact same caps on their heads. One of them opens newspaper pages in front of him and looks at them, focused. I find myself in this place in the midst of a discussion. The patrons are trying to convince the pub owner about the necessity of some step, but the man behind the beer-tap looks bulletproof. Instead of an answer to a direct question by one of the guests, who is pointing a finger at him as the only suitable addressee, the barman suddenly picks up newspapers from a table, opens them and the paper covers his entire face. The newspapers are black as soot. Even that must have a reason. I read that the first Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, is dead. And then I dreamt that I was passing through the reception of a dormitory, under some female name. One of the girls went to see her parents and so she let me be placed right in her bed. In the morning, I quietly got up and told the two joyfully talking young men on the other beds my name – this time it’s my actual name. Then I ask them whether I can stay here for a week, as this was the deal we made with the girl. They say it’s OK. We’re outside on a lawn and birds of heavens twitter nicely. I say to the fellows: “Look, I have a total bomb here! Perhaps we could organize some show.” I pull out of my bag a precious contraband in the form of a musical composition Six Litanies for Heliogabalus. I put it on. Suddenly a political activist and goat breeder Standa P. shows up. The music starts ritualistically from the first beat at full throttle. I realize that in the moment of the composition when the regular thundering of drums sets in (constantly fired up by the throat shrieks of the singer), there is already a merry dancing on the meadow. A surrealistic painter watching it and keeping his distance writes in his diary: “This goddamned vermin is spinning since the morning.” Standa P. is leaving. Stay a while, I say. A smaller group of dancers is like a wiggling caterpillar moving to the hill. That’s where the real authentic “voodoo part” of the composition comes in. And there is some sort of totem being prepared. ‘Won’t they chop someone in quarters alive?’ voices from the plenum can be heard. To come with objectiveness, waves, in which objectiveness comes. Objectiveness is never objective. On the subject of one of Hegel’s books, Kierkegaard stated that, if the author noted in the preface that his book is a mere thought experiment, it would be an interesting piece of work. But Hegel did not make such a note and thus his thoughts are ridiculous. This had also reminded me of an extracted fragment from my relationship with L. One time, before leaving for someplace, I pulled a condom out of my bag in her presence, so that I could put it into a secret jacket pocket. And she immediately started complaining, not understanding, why I need a condom in a secret pocket when I’m with her. I didn’t know what to tell her. That the condom is something of a good luck charm, the one that continually fortifies me with the hope for something better? In the times of his studies in New York, the author of these notes, if his memory doesn’t fool him, was still a virgin. He opens the diary with a note attempting to capture this fact in a relevant way. He concludes that “long-kept virginity has no doubt some relation to a future openness toward the young.” And adds that this note is on account of the mention of Kundera’s Immortality, establishing the fact the famous Goethe had lost his virginity at the blessed age of forty. Yesterday I met Ben after two years at one literary evening. I asked him whether he came back to Prague or whether he is here only for a visit and intends to return to Japan. He says living in Japan is impossible. Two years ago, he said the same thing about Prague. “Tell me something about Berlin,” he says. “My wife just applied for school there.” To date, I still don’t know his wife’s name, because every time Ben talks about his wife, he uses the expression “my wife.” In my interpretation this means some sort of balance between the two words, which are equally serious. First of all, to point out the fact of ownership and secondly to point out the fact of object of the ownership, which is socially specifically defined as wife. He spoke of her psychological anomaly, which he discovered only recently after many years of their relationship. I told him, that when I first met his wife, she seemed to me … hypersensitive. I called it that for a lack of words and perhaps because of a certain tact. The evening continued by a reading (in English), which flooded the entire inside of the somewhat humanized industrial metal organism of the pub. I ask a friend of mine, a Slovak sitting next to me, whether he understands some of it. He answers that he understands nothing but it’s obvious that he’s having a good time. He says that it reminds him of preaching in Sunday masses where his old Mother took him at the age of six or seven. The rest of the evening was ruled by magical Marketa, who, after a dosage of pot combined with plum brandy, got into such a strange spiritual state that she had the need to gesture with her body in a way similar to an ancient goddess worshiping the Sun. Her hands were like bowls of scales and her stare like fiery chains of rays shooting their crystallized magnet into the darkened space of the pub, was what these bowls were weighing. Recalling this, I perceive it as some necessary tugging of the powers of stares, during which I felt at all time that I’m able to fully absorb in me what she beams as some form of unusual, yet legitimate nourishment. And this filled me with an outright sense of victory. In the last stage of this game, at which Marketa was staring at a quartered emblem of a multiplied pussy (photographed by a Slovak photographer, Miro S., and imprinted on the background of my black tee-shirt with bright green color), she spills into the ether some sort of curse which has to do with a spider. She can’t figure out what’s photographed on my tee-shirt, but I can’t tell her, because I would break the ice that holds things together and the truth pronounced by me would in a moment gain the charge of excess. Because every reality is missing something, in order to be generalized. “So, what’s up, little one?” L. asks, now again two heads taller than me. As a child, I wondered what would a doll do if it suddenly came alive. But what does it mean to be someone’s doll from the perspective of God’s providence? Isn’t our God just a clumsy horrible child playing, watching from above, what all his toys are doing down there all the time? Let’s presume evil as an alternative option to good, good altered by evil. As is the evil of the choice of evil, when the good we belong to is understood by us as evil. For a man has the need to say something, but the words prevent him. The words don’t have the need to talk. And this is the problem. The problem of the entire field of literature. And then, there are words we instantly catch with our memory and immediately feel their importance. Mems? In the Czech lands, in the last few years the expression “to enjoy oneself” became popular. With Henry Hills we’re thinking about the possibility of making a film together, sort of live pictures to Zorn’s Six Litanies. Thematically, I see it as hard criticism of hedonism to which we are deeply tied in civilization. (Is hedonism a form of rebellion? For Artaud, for example, was Heliogabalus a rebel and not a madman? Where is the edge beyond which every hedonism is only empty?) It’s strange, but when pronouncing words which are too resonant, I run into a certain self-renunciation. As if the sound of the word would contrast its meaning, as if some sounds were not appropriate for the importance of their meanings and some the other way around. I’m especially aware of it in some Italian words like cappuccino, straciatella… The opposite cases are words like autonomy or identity. It’s as if a man were forced to follow one word by its sound and another by its meaning. In both cases, it is an unsettling feeling, because a man becomes the hostage of the word. I cannot forget little N. with her head held high and yet strangely set forward on a tiny stretched neck, as if it stayed there only by force and wished to be independent from it, so it could sooner be shown as a message built from litmus of its morality, as the head of a Medusa, whose remote functional application occurs only once it’s torn from itself in the hands of someone else. Always that automatic nodding of the head, that Yes of hers in faster tempo of some sort of marionette play. Always that sharply focused stare of the eyes which only see what they themselves beam, because the power of this beam gives them certainty in existence. A man who is in a moment sure of his Yes, simply doesn’t think. He’s merely an extended limb of his own need to have order in things and that’s entirely enough for him. But things don’t need order in things, because order doesn’t belong to things. Order is not a matter of things, but of matter-of-factness and that is the direction of preciseness. This was possible to feel from her gestic shortcut, of whose uncompromising urgency she was most likely not aware. The preciseness in relationship to things – and the entire seriousness of this weight – she was apparently perceiving as something, that is a priori valid, and which, thus, is not to be discussed. As if a goat pisses on a sheet of metal: that a free definition of her stroboscopic laughter. Actually, a sneer over his death came out of my mouth, she replies, as if the reasons for it were planned. And could reasons in case of suicide forcibly disrupt some plan? And then there are these delayers of suicides, masters of the art of suffering, whose faces are mimetically silent for years. And from the depths of their innocence the truths spilled out as lies. Because in every moment of a thought, to have a feeling of objectiveness is precisely subjective, but thoughts don’t occur any other way. A thought doesn’t think about what it thinks when it’s not yet a thought – a thought doesn’t think at all. A thought in its embryo is always necessarily impulsive and with the following widening, it weakens. Prickly touches of fingers. You hurt me invisibly, she says. As if her pain was my intention? And above this, that exceptionally developed sensitivity toward falls and fractures. (“Do not touch power drunks, even those fallen on the ground,” was never valid for her.) My defense against her feelings thus could not be aroused, but there was no sadism in it.

Translated from the Slovak by Michaela Freeman


Róbert Gál was born in 1968 in Bratislava, Slovakia. Having resided in various cities as a student (Brno, New York, Jerusalem, Berlin), he now lives in Prague. He is the author of several books of philosophical aphorisms and two novels, On Wing (2006) and Agnomia (2008).

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, November 6th, 2009.