Monday, April 5, 2010

What?

Ergo
By Jakov Lind
Translated by Ralph Manheim
Open Letter Press
150 pages
January 15, 2010





For you my dear Würz comma I will empty every bucket period. You have understood what it's all about period. Now we are going to talk about politics this is the last period. For our aim is the renewal of a literary gift as boundless as it is aimless as uneven as your mental capacities of adroit helplessness of the momentary inconveniences of broad sections unmistakable resistance regardless if the desires for homogeneity of views the task of individuals in their mode of thought. . .

I'm not dumb. Seriously. I like books that make you think.

But I don't even know where to begin with this one. Ergo, first published in 1966, is my second Jakov Lind book after Landscape in Concrete, which I reviewed for Open Letter Press last year. It wasn't the greatest book I ever read but I liked it well enough. Had a very Catch-22 feel to it. But Ergo. . .

To put it simply: this guy Wacholder is obsessed with this other guy Würz who hasn't left his house in seventeen years. He has obvious symptoms of what we would recognize today as severe OCD (he's obsessed with germs, cleanliness, and order). Convinced that Würz is a menace to society, Wacholder has been trying to "smoke him out" through a series of annoying, threatening, or otherwise obnoxious letters, some 74 in total over the years. Wacholder, meanwhile, lives in a pile of paper in the dilapidated Custom House No. 8 with his son Aslan and a bedridden philosopher named Leo. He then gets a bunch of government workers together for dinner and an orgy, following which he will hold a rally to collectively declare Würz's non-being, pursuant to Leo's placental theory of existence.

Now, um, I guess there is some obvious comedic source material here. But my reaction from practically page one is that this novel is not dissimilar to one of Wacholder's own letters:
Dear Würz, although dominant inclinations might have permitted another step forward and the pertinent instrumental suggestion and advance of effective knowledge, it cannot be denied that not always before we take such a step, I, in this connection, ask someone who is above all doubt to develop his theory superficially but thoroughly and unintelligibly, especially to the scientist, that what has actually happened and is universally known simply cannot, that the contemplation and opportunity for experiments have assumed enormous proportions in connection with statistical truth, where concepts are not, that in many cases blood-pressure readings and stool samples often no longer or even conversely produce deleterious effects if the greatest danger is eliminated and really worthwhile ailments are cured by the incomprehension of the psychiatrist. . .
I am not sure if this Ergo is meant to be quite this ironic or not, mostly because I'm not even sure if Wacholder's letters are really supposed to be nonsense or not. Part of what Lind is trying to get at is that people are insane and that civilization is insane. (I don't know what the other part is.) So is this book supposed to be completely confusing? Is this, like, some kind of reflection of Lind's argument as to the innate incongruity of various aspects of German-Austrian small-town life in the 1960s?

Plus, there are some pretty crude moments in the narrative that give the whole thing a really icky feel that I just could not shake off the entire time I was reading it.

So. . . I hate to be really lame but is there anyone who can explain this to me?







Review Copy





4 comments:

Valerie said...

Wow, I don't know what to think either. My first thought was whether there is another translation of this book that would be more accessible!

And, I don't know how to explain that picture, either. Maybe the guy made his tuxedo himself?!

Emily said...

Well, sometimes difficult/experimental/weird books turn out to be brilliant and rewarding, and other times they just turn out to be pointlessly wacky, and it sounds like this was one of the second type. Hey, sounds like Cioran & Lind should possibly get together! :-D

Diane said...

LOL....the UPS truck had an accident? The groom is carrying a sewing machine, but WHY?? LOL

Unexplainable for sure.

E. L. Fay said...

Valerie: I doubt it - the translation wasn't the problem. The problem was, Lind tried to discuss some pretty high-level abstract ideas through use of a bizarre plot and highly experimentalist prose. Like Emily says, sometimes experimentalist literature works, sometimes it doesn't.

Emily: Yes! Exactly! And Lind and Cioran - I don't know. Cioran sounds a lot more coherent than Lind.

Diana: There's another picture floating around the Internet with a similar caption. It shows Darth Vader standing in a frozen wasteland pouring water from a pitcher into a cup. "Sense: This Picture Makes None."

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