:: Article

Beyond the visible plane

By Colin Torre.

Adventures in Immediate Irreality

Max Blecher, Adventures in Immediate Irreality, trans. Michael Henry Heim (New Directions, 2015)

The first thing to say about Max Blecher’s Adventures in Immediate Irreality, given the circumstances of its creation, is that it seems not to be a real book with a real history and readership but rather something fictionalized and brought into being by an authorial sleight of hand. It is the sort of book one imagines being carried around in years gone by in the coat pockets of eager students, dog-eared past recognition. Which is to say the book is one of those works that comes prefigured by a legend, and in this case the legend seems to have been started even before its author, Blecher, a Romanian Jew, had died at the age of twenty-eight.

Blecher was killed by a form of tuberculosis that slowly crippled him; he was nineteen when he received his diagnosis, and passed the majority of his adult life between bouts of illness and residencies at a sanatorium in the town of Roman. Adventures, his only full-length work to survive, has been lost and rediscovered more than once since 1936 (this — by Michael Henry Heim — is its third translation into English); as Herta Müller writes in an essay here by way of introduction, “few books published in Germany since 1990 could compare with Blecher’s novel for sheer literary intensity. But perhaps that’s why the book never attracted a wider audience?”

What are we to make of such a legacy? Blecher’s book is being compared to those of Kafka and Bruno Schulz, authors whose work is similarly attended by a kind of extratextual loss and impossibility — which would be an unfair comparison if Blecher did not so clearly share their preoccupation with the limits of substance, and even more, their skillfulness in rendering the uncanny into prose. Here no less than in Schulz’s cinnamon shops the writing is precise and thrilling, and the reader feels even from the first that he has been put in the hands of one who knows the effects his rhythms and representation will have on his reader’s imagination.

“Staring at a fixed point on the wall,” he begins, “I occasionally have the feeling I no longer know who or where I am. At such times, I experience the loss of my identity from a distance: I feel for a moment that I have become a complete stranger, this abstract personage and my real self vying for authenticity with equal strength.”

These losses of identity form the basis of the plot. It is a vaguely peripatetic story in which a young, male narrator, of indistinct bourgeois origin, recounts the wanderings that led to the loss of his self and world. But if in this description Adventures would seem already derivative, the reader will find that the narrator’s adventures are not the end-point of the investigation; indeed, beginning from a familiar premise, he extends outward into numerous layers of possibility. Again and again, in each of the chapter-length episodes, the narrator recollects an incident in which some aspect of his world — an acquaintance, a home, a setting — is suddenly transformed into a new existence.

Once during a crisis the sun sent a small cascade of rays onto the wall like a golden artificial lake dappled with glittering waves. I also saw the corner of a bookcase of large, leather-bound volumes behind glass. And in the end these true-to-life details, perceived from the distance of my swoon, stupefied and stunned me like a last gulp of chloroform.


I experienced this sort of mental shift often and in the most varied circumstances. It would sneak up on me and make an abrupt turnabout in my inner state. I would, say, happen upon an accident and stand about gawking for a time like the rest of the spectators when all at once my perspective would change — it was like a game I used to play: I would make a strange animal in the paint on my wall and then one day I was unable to find it, its place having been taken by a statue or a woman or a landscape composed of the same decorative elements — and although everything about the accident remained the same, I suddenly saw the people and objects around me from the point of view of the victim, as if I were the one lying there, viewing the whole thing up from below and out from the center and feeling the blood pouring down my body.

A good portion of the book seems to be unreal or dreamed. But unlike actual dreams, which are always tedious, Blecher carefully staggers his incidents so that the levels of reality never clearly distinguish themselves and slip away before one’s very eyes. This quality may be the part of Blecher’s talent that is most comparable to Kafka in that both convey their dreams so intuitively that the reader begins to believe that he is now the dreamer.

Max Blecher

In this way, over the course of the novel, Blecher’s narrator undergoes a number of transformations. Each time, as he writes, “the moment [of] identity returns… a stereoscopic slide in which the two images, separated by mistake, suddenly give the illusion of three dimensionality once the projectionist brings them back together. My room seems fresher than ever. It reverts to its former consistency, its objects finding their proper places, as when a crushed lump of earth in a glass of water settles in layers of various well-defined and parti-colored elements.” 

Thus, as if life were no longer restricted to the living, the objects in his home and environs are by turns dissolved and reformed, reconstituted in other bodies, combined with natural elements, and placed side-by-side with themselves in dual existence. In her essay, Müller describes these metamorphoses in erotic terms; and while it is true that a deeply, at times explicitly, sexual quality runs throughout the book, sexuality itself is but one of the numerous sensations which seem possible at any given time. At all times the landscape of the book is one that expands past our expectations, far beyond the visible plane, into a realm in which nothing is impossible or incredible, only more or less unlikely.

Gradually, by turns, developed and destroyed, it seems the narrator will begin to approach a point of revelation. Such a point is brought about by his attachment to a girl named Edda; and when it crumbles, when she dissolves, it is not because of the narrator’s love but rather his fixation. “In not one of my walks,” he realizes, “not one of my meetings, had I thought of anything but myself. It was impossible for me to conceive of another’s sufferings or even another’s existence. The people I saw around me were purely decorative, ephemeral, and as material as any object, as houses or trees. But in Edda’s presence I felt for the first time that my concerns could move beyond me, resonate in new depths and a new existence, to return in disturbing and enigmatic echoes.”

Such is the restless state of youth.

In 1936 Blecher was visited at the sanatorium in Roman by his friend Mihail Sebastian. He talked to Sebastian of the difficulty he had anticipating his death. “’I tell myself that Jules Renard died in 1911,’ he said. ‘At a distance, death becomes so inconsequential. I just have to imagine that I too died a long time ago, in 1911. I’m not scared of death. Then I’ll rest and sleep. Ah, how well I’ll stretch out, how well I’ll sleep! Listen, I’ve begun to write a novel. But I don’t feel that I absolutely must complete it. If I die first, I don’t think I’ll even regret not having finished it. What a minor thing literature is for me, and how little of my time it takes up!’”

While reading of this distance, it is difficult not to think of Keats, who, in a 27 October 1818 letter wrote to Richard Woodhouse of the poet’s negative capability. “He has no Identity,” says Keats, “he is continually in for — and filling some other Body — The Sun, the Moon, the Sea and Men and Women who are creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them an unchangeable attribute — the poet has none…” And he concludes that, “If then he has no self, and if I am a Poet, where is the Wonder that I should say I would write no more?”

According to Sebastian, at one point Blecher decided to commit suicide. He tore up all his papers and manuscripts, consisting of eighty pages of a novel and seventy pages of a journal, but could not bring himself to act. He was forced to wait another year until the final end.


Colin James Torre works as an archivist. He lives in New York.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, February 24th, 2015.