Friday, November 11, 2011



"Ich atmet einen linden Duft"

Ich atmet einen linden Duft.
Im Zimmer stand
Ein Zweig der Linde,
Ein Angebinde
Von lieber Hand.
Wie lieblich war der Lindenluft!
Wir lieblich ist der Lindenluft!
Das Lindenreis
Brachst du gelinde;
Ich atme leis
Im Duft der Linde
Der Liebe linden Duft

[I breathed a gentle fragance!
In the room stood
a spring of linden,
a gift
from a dear hand.
How lovely was the fragance of linden!
How lovely is the fragance of linden!
That twig of linden
you broke off so gently!
Softly I breathe in
the fragance of linden,
the gentle fragance of love.]

Friedrich Rueckert, from the Rueckert Lieder of Gustav Mahler, No. 2

My dearest Katherina,

I had wanted to send you my last letter as soon as it was finished, so that even if it could not reach you on this "today", that at least it could have been sent on a certain "today", just for the record, yet it was not possible, because as usual, the letter was finished only in the middle of the night and then the morning after, well you can laugh now, I didn't have any money to send you this small parcel of letters, however I'm convinced that I'll be sending this to you because it's important that you receive them even if it's not today.

Just like in my previous letter, I keep fantasizing about this "O alter Duft" from mythical times. Walking backwards in history, I think about Mahler and Sweelinck and how right your observation was when you said when I described the menage-a-trois and after you laughed (remember the final section of the Star of Redemption: that life is always laughter, it is only death that keeps solemn silence after one final scream of agony. It was not even in the Star but in das Buchlein vom gesunden und kranken Menschenverstand. "Do you finally recognize me? I am your brother". Or what they said about Socrates, that at the time of the trial he laughed once and he never cried. Or was it the opposite? That life is silence and death is laughter? I no longer remember, it just doesn't matter) on how good and funny that story was, how only life writes such stories, and then how after all that, "Mein junges Leben hat ein end" sounds rather pathetic, wrong, kitsch and boring; we could say the same about "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" while you sat in the Protestant garden by Mt. Olives and drew the garden imagining all the parties you had in your previous life...after our Wirkliche Feste in Kiryat Yovel, of whiskey and vermouth all night long.

Then I think about Rueckert, who as an orientalist wrote a book with the title "Morgenlaendische Sagen und Geschichte" so that perhaps this little poem set to music by Mahler is also a Duft from Marchenzeit. Perhaps Mahler though must have been a little dead too, with the same plastic kitsch of Sweelinck. Too much renunciation of the world, finding pleasure in the solace of simple beauty; this is not what is really sinful but rather the fact that they saw this pleasure as a consolation, as a subterfuge, shelter, escape, so to say as a "safe place"; how so very mediocre this is! How so very poor this sounds when contrasted with "Ich weiss keine bessere Welt" (Bachmann) or "Ich liebe alle Dinge dieser Welt -. Ein jedes Bluetenblatt - ein jedes Haar" (Susman). There's something poetic but yet pre-artistic in the performance of Mahler because in a way he avoids all possible distance when he says that "This is scarcely music anymore; it is almost entirely sounds of nature".

I'm somewhat ambiguous about this all but I think it's almost like being dead in a way, something that art can't afford because this total conviviality with the world, the idea that art is so absolutely free and that there's no Grenz between world and art is an Aufhebung of the subject, but I'll return to this later on. About Sweelinck, let's not even go there, unless it's hypostasized with something like Kleist's piece on die heilige Caecil and the spirit of music, there's no life to be found there whatsoever, and just like you said, it is being alive the main and only thing that counts.

But let's return to our alter Duft, whether it comes from Maerchenzeit (Jerusalem) or Zweig der Linde (a passing memory of spring or summertime) it is something so absolutely essential. The young and small guy from my menage a trois, the one for whom I betrayed the incredibly talented and infinitely boring musician, had something to do with this: After that crazy Saturday night, the morning after I woke up with this vivid sensation, I had this strong particular smell, fragance, Duft, of his body and his parfume all over my hands like undeniable evidence of the crime: It was something beautiful, something to hold onto like a postcard from a Saturday night.  So that you're the alter Duft from Maerchenzeit and he's the Duft der Linde. Something so different from Jonathan and that beautiful night of in-tense (ge-Dicht) love, perhaps one of the most beautiful nights of my life; yet I was left with nothing, not a fragance, a postcard, a note on a napkin, a piece of paper with a phone number, absolutely nothing, nothing but my memory and my stories and my skin. How melancholy is this!

Just like my life in Jerusalem, nothing physical is left, not one scrap of paper, nothing... just visions! It might have never happened, I have no way to prove it, it's gone, vanished. Today's even Jon's last day in Bogota, and tomorrow he'll fly out to Germany, not to be seen again, so that not even the fear of geographical proximity is left. No Duft from alter or neuerzeit. But let's forget about me and let's go for a walk through the Pierrot Lunaire again, to have a little talk about art.

Schoenberg wrote the Pierrot Lunaire not out of his own will but commissioned by Albertine Zehme, an actress from Berlin who organized evenings of poetry readings and recitations accompanied by piano or small instrumental ensembles; because she was an actress/performer and not a singer (although she came closer to cabaret than to theatrical performance) the use of the voice as an instrument had to be significantly different than in traditional operas.

What happened here is that the music had to be narrated rather than sung, what reminds me today more of Ute Lemper performing pieces of Brecht; music was no longer only expression but also ecriture in a Derridean sense (postcards? Grittli letters?) in which both the tones of song as well as those of speech were needed, the production of a Sprachraum as such that it would bring together Zeitkunst and Raumkunst; a world constructed out of speech acts (Rosenzweig, Wittgenstein, Rosenstock) rather than mere tonal units. The use of a narrator wasn't totally new to Schoenberg for he had used it in the final movement of the Gurre-Lieder, so that we're not dealing here with just any other lied (unlike Mahler's) and then of course this shows that the radical transformation of Schoenberg was not putting poems to music (this had been done by everyone from Schubert to Mahler and Wagner - making music into a quintessentially secular performance) but rather the formal introduction of Sprechgesang into a formal composition, meeting new concepts of harmony like I had explained in my last letter.

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