Friday, February 1, 2013

The Very Best of Firmin Graf Salwàr dej Striës


Ach, until then!” yelled Firmin, as if it were a matter of a half century, and you could clearly see how he was calculating in despair the weeks and months that he’d have to struggle with this difficult birth (i.e., his “Alexander” play) . . . “The odious part of it is,” he groaned, “that I always have to think about this thing, as long as I’m not finished with it. It never ceases, even when I put it aside and don’t really work on it for days. It grows – but not like grass that you can let grow until it’s ready to be mowed. It’s like having cancer.” “Pfui,” yelled Magdalena and smacked him in the mouth with her napkin. “It could be,” I said “that every creative process has something of a pathological growth. But it definitely has an equal amount of natural ripening and a methodological, compulsive and relieving birth. “Giving birth is pathological,” said Firmin maliciously, and The Cow released a deep primal sound of indignation. “You ass,” she said, without irritation, “maybe procreating too?” . . . “No,” said Firmin with the same calmness and equally amiably, “you’re the ass if you use an expression like ‘natural’ in opposition to pathological. Everything is natural, both the consuming cancer cell and the impregnating sperm. And everything grows and decays in a periodical rhythm. The only thing important is the fundamental matter behind it all, which is substantial only during its intervals of physical manifestation.”

Of course that type of laws exists,” Firmin replied [to my assertion that such natural phenomena are subject to laws which we're not necessarily aware of] in a bored tone, “although they’re not invariable; growth and decay or periodicity, as I’ve just called it, or however you like. But my law is advance pay.” “So,” I said irritated, “you have the nerve to claim that you write just because you’ve been paid to. And you couldn’t produce a single word – if you didn’t have to. “Of course I have to,” Firmin interjected,“in particular because I have 20,000 marks in advance.” “And if someone laid that much on the table, and then doubled if for you”, I yelled, “then you’d quit writing your ‘Alexander’ play?” “No one’s going to lay it on the table,” said Firmin and grimaced in ridicule, “without asking for reciprocation. So of course I have to write – in particular because I’m no longer free. That used to be the occupation of educated slaves, and even they had it better, relatively speaking, than we do.”



Anyway,” Firmin picked up the briefly interrupted conversation again, “Luna has very little of the good-natured aunt in her, despite her work caring for the hotbeds. She’s actually more of a malicious, vain and dangerous woman. She can’t stand small children. The peasants push the cribs into the corners where she can’t shine in, so the babies won’t catch wasting diseases . . . Also for grown-ups,” Firmin began again, “it’s supposedly not good to stare at the moon too long.” “Especially for poets,” I said. “Think about Kleist, Novalis, Lenau – “Shut up,” Firmin said in a friendly tone, and I did, because I couldn’t think of more poets anyway.


Suddenly we heard Firmin’s voice – he sat leaned so far back in his chair that you couldn’t see his face, and he spoke as if to himself. “I have to say something,” he began, “that doesn’t have anything to do with the war – but it keeps coming back to me, and I also dream of it often. – It was – when pushed down into Italian territory after the second Isonzo breakthrough,” – his hand briefly appeared out from behind the back of the armchair and drew an indefinite semicircle, followed by all of our gazes, towards the South and the thickening dusk, “we had come out of the mountain winter, it was raw and hungry, and we flooded down like melting snow and practically poured ourselves into the plains full of fruit and wine and bread and crops, and in the cellars we waded sometimes up to our knees in wine. Olive oil and corn and milk and fish from the rivers and from the Mediterranean. It was a timeless reveling and indulgence in the lap full of southern abundance – and we rolled over it – no different than the Goths and the Lombards, the Cimbri, Teutons and Normans -, the same way that the North, full of violence and greed, has always hurled itself onto the vulnerable South – only to become exhausted and succumb to it.” He was silent for a moment, then he added, “That’s what - Isonzo – means to me, and that really has nothing to do with the war.”. . . We were all cast into something like a cosmic intoxication from the few words spoken by Firmin and the oddly resonating emphasis with which he spoke the word “Isonzo” – into an elemental flurry, a dawn of the migration of populations, which descended on us with the growing darkness and sent shivers of the primeval world through our hair.



God is sending telegrams. Now at least I have a reason to be nervous, and to not be able to work,” said Firmin. “If you make yourself dependent on such foolishness,” growled Magdalena furiously. “Without this dependence, there still wouldn’t be a single word written,” he said. “I don’t know what’s been written,” she yelled, “no one hears anything about it anymore!” “One is otherwise occupied,” said Firmin with a casual gesture . . . “The telegram is from the actress that’s going to play the leading role in Firmin’s new play,” explained The Cow [to Mario]. “If it ever gets performed,” Firmin added with an apathetic tone, “that is: if I ever finish it. Maybe my tendency to be fragmentary is actually stronger than my dependency on the foolishness of the theater industry in this case.” He accompanied the word “foolishness” with finger quotation-marks, but it was obvious that he was actually conceding that his sister was right. 



…not even a ruler, a compass and a protractor were lacking, which especially surprised me. I would’ve never imagined such things would be needed for writing. “If you’re going to write, do it right,” said Firmin, who seemed to sense my thoughts, “a table with flowers, Etruscan bronzes and handmade paper won’t cut it for working. And it is work – just like calculating surface areas or bridge arches. Nothing more.” . . . “Why do you need a protractor?” I finally asked, just to say something. He laughed slightly and opened a drawer. “Look at this,” he said. He took out an elevation fastened to a drawing board – like the draft of a multi-storied building with all kinds of branches and intersections. “This was once the plan for this play,” he said. “But I can’t complete it. It’ll remain a fragment.” . . . “Do you think Weger can play the part?” Firmin asked me. “No, actually,” I said – “but that’s probably not so important. Ultimately she can read the text like anyone else, and the content speaks for itself. You shouldn’t place so much value on the nuances of the performance when poetry is the essential point.” . . .“That’s true,” Firmin said “but I no longer believe that I should create something like this for the theater. Of course the play wouldn’t be performed in such elevated language. For the actual dialog scenes, I had created a particular flexible, very flowing prose. And even carved out a certain sculptural form for the figures – so they’d become real and wouldn’t move around artificially in shapeless costumes – Still, it won’t work.” “Writers probably just have to go through this with all great works,” I said, “this bottom-out of doubt. It’s from this process that the real creative fury arises.” “This time it’s different,” he said calmly, “my model has died.” I didn’t know what he meant, and stared at him questioningly. “I don’t feel any more resonance,” he continued hastily, “and I’ve gradually lost the inner vision.” “Leave it alone for a few days,” I said, “don’t think about it, do something else, anything. Then it’ll come along on its own accord. Just don’t force it so hard.” “I really appreciate it,” he said with an absent smile, “and I don’t want to bother you with it anymore.”



At that time Firmin coined the somewhat arrogant term “Isolatio Majestatis”, which he established as a postulate for any worthwhile existence



Dr. Schramek is completely right,” said Firmin. “We’re really living in a genius-poor epoch, at least as far as the artistic and intellectual areas are concerned. As for the reason,” he added in a bored tone, “it’s safe to assume that we can set it aside as unresolved.” 



Why are you only rhyming the 1st and 3rd lines, you lazy ass?” asked Firmin. “Even that was hard enough for me,” I said, “I’m not a poet, you know.” - “that’s precisely why you should rhyme properly,” said Firmin, “only a real poet can get away with that occasionally, and even then it’s usually laziness!”



Order and formation,” said Firmin after a while, “are completely separate disciplines. The powers creating order, who today are caught up in struggle and restructuring, represent different laws than the law of those occupied with formation, to which the human intellect is always committed. Formation – I could also say: growth or self-structuring – exists outside of the world subject to organization. Only there where organization ceases – that’s where the organic emerges.” “But what, other than this, is the military,” cried Mario, “what does it express other than the drive towards formed life? What else drives the young people into the armies – the Black, the Brown, even the Red Army? Even you – you who don’t take part – can’t avoid that. Also your sense of life is a military life – particularly yours, - and I think, among the best.” “Could be”, answered Firmin and it seemed that something invisible tensed up in his face – “and still, we stand alone – at an advanced outpost, if you will. Because in the masses there is no formed life. Where the masses undergo movement, they form themselves for death. Life is always structure – Death is eternal lack of structure.” “But you’re digging your own grave,” said Mario after awhile “your situating yourself outside of elemental occurrence!” Firmin shrugged his shoulders. “What is elemental occurrence?” he said, “a word that confuses. The farther people are separated from the actual elements of life, the louder they scream for the elemental. The more substantially conscious their world becomes, the more frantically they try to absolve themselves through apathy. But intellect and soul are elemental forces just like fire, water, air and earth, it's just that we apply the term elemental forces to the former because we don’t know what they are, any more than we know what the latter are. We’re only beginning to notice – what the great formers and creators have already known – where the sources of those forces originate, which we call supernatural and from whose secret parallelogram our entire world of existence is sustained and carried, along with the dead, the unborn, the plasma and the demons. Our knowledge is pure darkness; at best, it can spot small dancing sparks, without being able to determine whether they’re primeval lights or insubstantial delusions.”

Cause you see,” said Firmin to Mario late that night, “we’re not standing apart from our time any more than you or than your enemies, who are proceeding to create new order for the world in different, perhaps more promising ways than you. It’s just that today, we’re likely finally cured of the delusions of the progress story and know that reality isn’t succession, but rather a self-complementing simultaneity of growth – and that the imperative of the world’s rulers and renewers to box everything into a short sighted “first – next – and later” creates a most fatal, i.e. fateful set of relationships.”



…since none of us had slept last night, one after another went to bed . . . until it was just Firmin and I left awake. We went to the bay-window room to drink one more whiskey. Firmin looked exhausted and grey. But he seemed to me to be in a happy, favorably fading mood. “Now they’re all leaving tomorrow,” he said, with an almost mischievous expression, “and they’ve totally forgotten my play, which is the reason they came here. Thank God they were too well entertained here to bother me with it. But I’m curious,” he said imitating the well-known archducal style of speech, “about when, now that they’re all gone, the first inflammatory telegrams will arrive. Whatever – let them keep waiting.” He laughed to himself, as if he had just successfully played a prank on someone. Then he sat against the back of a chair and flipped through the leather-bound Hölderlin book that was still lying there from earlier. “This is for me”, he finally said, “Listen! -

The pleasures of this world, I have tasted in full
The hours of youth, flown by so long!, so long! ago
April, May, and June are far behind,
I’m nothing anymore, no longer wish to be alive



“…It’s from the book of Job, and it’s carved on a tree, which had been split by lightning without being permanently destroyed, somewhere near Salzburg….back then I drew this tree, it’s entire fate in a wreath around it, how it first grew…became full-sized, how the lightning bolt hit it, almost destroyed it, and then how it began to sprout again. Firmin shook his head. “To me, that’s too euphemistic,” he said after a pause, “and painted far too pretty. It could’ve just as easily been destroyed. No, I’ll stick with the only person who has the last word – with the most optimistic pessimist there’s ever been, Solomon of Ecclesiastes.” With a few flips he found the page in the Bible. “Because everything that’s living has what one wants: hope. For a living dog is better off than a dead lion.”



Symbiosis”, said Firmin suddenly and made a broad movement with his arm across water and land, “Symbiosis!” he repeated with an almost gentle tone, as if he were reciting a poem “I love this word, and it’s meaning”, he continued, “it conveys everything essential in nature and life. Here in these parts, such a jumbled blend of growth pervades – water and forest, marshland and barren rock cliffs, fruit, wine, grain, pasture grass – and all kinds of tree species stand there wherever they happen to have been planted, apple, plum, sour-cherry and apricot trees – underneath, clover proliferates, bushes bloom, oats and barley are sowed – nothing exists in isolation – nothing grows completely according to plan – there’s always room left for for error, the arbitrary and unforeseen. That’s why everything grows so well.In America, they keep planting the same fruit over enormous stretches – they stimulate the soil with their artificial fertilizers and chemicals – harvest apples and peaches as big as childrens’ heads – but the fruit doesn’t have any taste, and in a few decades the soil will be depleted and dead. Well, they do have quite a bit of room to spoil, and of course they’re too young to be wary of this. Here we’re old and young at once. Here we can sleep easy”, he said to himself, “everything already runs on its own accord.” “What brings up America?” I asked him. “Ritschelbei’s traveling over today,” he laughed “and he’s bombarded me with letters and telegrams telling me I should come with him. Yesterday morning I got a wireless message; it contained the fight connections with which I could catch the Bremen in the last moment before it left. He wants to show one of my plays on Broadway, and said I should be there and adapt the material for film. ‘Guaranteed doubled chances with personal participation', he says, 'all expenses guaranteed'” – He shook his head and laughed. “Listen up,” I said, “You really shouldn’t have let that slip away so flippantly. Sooner or later we’re all going to have to make the big leap across the ocean, and sooner is better than later. There’s still space and air over there – we’re being deprived of both here, slowly of course, but definitely – at least there, there’s still an overabundance of space – enough to waste, as you said before – therefore also enough space to thrive. And it’s precisely the superfluous -- our specialty – which could be fitting there, where so much bulging healthy reality is occupied with the tangible and present – and where the spiritual raw materials still spring from the earth like oil fountains. There, formation might be a fundamental necessity again, instead of a flaunt or embellishment. There there’s still vast hope. “Not for me,” said Firmin, “people like me are superfluous.” And before I could disagree with him, he cut me off: “I don’t mean those who write poetry, create form, or sculpt! Such people are more indispensable than ever – definitely, things can’t go any further without them. Whole generations of poets have to come along, just to make the unshaped material of the new earth visible – to breathe life into the new ‘men of clay’ and those who emerge from the seeds of the dragons’ teeth. Because here like there, this side the same as the other side of the ocean, only one thing’s important: filling the sky with gods again, - reconnecting the earth to enduring significance – saving the earth from the idle course of the senseless machines. That’s a great, straight-forward task - however convoluted the path to it might be – there’s nothing else to discuss about it. But to be part of it – you need either the unaffectedness of children or the strength of titans. I don’t have either.” I wanted to reply, but he just threatened with his fist, “You,” he said and shoved in a longer pause, “you, get to work! – And see to it that you get away from here soon,” he added in a friendly tone, “we’re bad company for you.”