retrospective [extract]

by Péter Farkas

It was exactly sixteen years later, at the flee market in Klettenberg, that he first thought about writing Josef’s story. Another twelve years passed, and still he only knew that the story will be about an exhibition. His fragmented notes taken in the past twenty-eight years resulted in a collection of fifteenthousand-fourhundred-fortyeight words. This is an astonishing feat if we consider his remarks written shortly before the text: ‘I don’t remember when I turned speechless. Was it when Cain slayed Abel? Certainly much before, probably before I started to speak, caught in one of the cataclysms of being, ten, hundreds or thousands of years ago. I could only stutter or stay silent ever since. And it is the scripted or oral variant of this silence that I consider literature, the way I try to write or pull myself through the stages of speechlessness or aphasia, dragging my numb limbs, a cripple falling out of his wheelchair. Literature can be completely different, of course, but not for me, as I cannot entertain and have never wished to teach. This is not showing off or posing in a tragic light – there is no tragedy involved. For tragedy implies that things could take a different turn and still they lead to catastrophe. Anyway, tragedy is for entertaining ourselves and others, and, as I have mentioned previously, I am not very good at it. However, drama is present in every lifeline. Literature that has its origin in stuttering and speechlessness is dramatic in nature, and the fate behind it is also dramatic. I had intimations about this by the end of the eighties, already, but – as I see it now – the intimations had not yet consolidated into knowledge, therefore the understanding and acceptance of some givens determining my life came later. Or, formulating it in a self-ironic way, I was in the pre-romantic stage of my life. It was at this moment that Josef appeared and became part of my everydays. It was a troubled, dangerous period, hysterical and self-destructive.’ It was indeed a dramatic period. Writing became impossible for him again and the everydays turned into a life-death struggle in the most existential sense. He fled to the basement and hid among the frosty walls in his aeruginous ski overall for days. ‘I could neither live, nor kill myself,’ he read. But he went on living, while slaying himself every hour. His existence was unconsciously but infallibly perpetuated by others, as they did not know about his deaths. This is when Josef visited him for the first time. Otherwise, he himself was not a person of peculiar interest. His being was utterly boring, as he considered everything with a tired disinterestedness; gratuitous and aimless hysteria determined his inner life. As for his outside appearance, he certainly had some funny features: his green ski overall, for example, that made others think of him as a fascinating person. Josef was completely drunk, ‘intoxicated’, as he said later. He could hardly speak any German, but despite or perhaps because of this they could understand each other perfectly. For a while they were sitting in the ice-cold flat, then he asked him what he was doing. ‘There is the three of us,’ said Josef and smiled. ‘Maria, Josef and me.’ ‘Do you give performances together?’ he asked. ‘No, we do not perform,’ he said. Sixteen years later (18 September 2005, 9.35 am – he has never been so accurate about his notes before), leaning against a bin at the flee market in Klettenberg, he wrote about this event in a much sober state. He recorded that it was the first time he thought about writing Josef’s story. This statement was in fact not true, but we are not going into details now.
* * *
This time, there was a parking spot in front of the house, but he had to reverse slightly to take the curve in the narrow space between the two cars. He stopped the engine, pulled the key out of the ignition, fetched his mobile from the car seat, but did not get out of the car immediately. He stared dreamily at the gate of the house that was at eye-level, and for a while he had the feeling that he was standing in front of him, on the middle step. He smiled at his own triviality; he did not know yet about the existential role of that very step in his life. He got out of his car and went down to the basement, with no apparent goal. It was in the room downstairs that he decided to take the used bedclothes upstairs. He pulled them off the blankets and pillows, tied them in a sheet and started back when he glimpsed the handwritten note on the table. It was Josef’s handwriting: he recognised the hastily written rather than calligraphic letters. He put down the bundle with the bedsheets and started to read. Past the first lines he did not expect sentences addressing anyone. The text that covered some two-thirds of the page, ended with a coda: ‘If you have time and strength, finish it. I have to go now.’

Translated from Hungarian by Éva Zsizsmann

* der vollständige Bericht „Retrospective“ wird voraussichtlich in 2019 veröffentlicht