The Twelve Nights of Christmas, Night Eleven: Nevermore …

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore …


I couldn’t make this the twelfth night theme. “Nevermore” is not the note I’d choose to conclude this season’s “Twelve Nights”. But on the eleventh night it brings together further elements of reading, words, images evoking coherent comprehension beyond words, night time, magic realism, dreams, illusions, delusions, sleep deprivation, time, meditation, past, progression,automatons, determinism, choice, knowledge, intuition, desperation, endurance …

Two weeks ago  I listened to a musician on DRKultur (radio) talking about time and about the experience of time during extemporaneous composition and performance  on the piano. He talked about experiencing eternity not as an endless repetition of events in a space of time never ending but about as an experience of time being suspended. I think about art  – writing, painting and illustrating – as taking place in just that space of time being suspended, a space that I can enter and where I can linger at will.

the nonsense dictionary of lifeforms on Helium-3 and other insignificant by-products of music-poisoning

English: Spectrum of helium

English: Spectrum of helium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

or: when will we start to harvest the moon …

surprising studies show that if the anti-venom of bureaucratic correctness  is not injected in time and the victim instead continues to breathe slowly through the nose, the seemingly alarming condition develops from a hallucinatory episode to a temporal ability to find one of the hidden doors into the helium-3 universe. the first sign of this conversion from the three-dimensional limitation into a full comprehension of the “it” including helium-3 is a steady stream of blue light from the nostrils. this oscillating string of conscious matter should not alarm the victim nor bystanders as it is not a loss of matter but a reconfiguration of the same. slightly nasal intonation after readjustment not uncommon but overall harmless. for reassurance the progress of the victim’s condition can be  measured at a frequency of 8.665 GHz (3.46 cm), which is emitted naturally by ionized helium-3. the comprehension of the fact that most of the matter in the universe is non-baryonic, that is to say not made of any subatomic particle that include neutrons and protons, and that this matter is thought to be the primary source of gravity recording the constellation of the universe like the grooves on a record record a song, allows the observer to deduct from the state of rapture that the poisoned mind is – for a moment – privy to nothing less than a fusion of dark matter with consciousness, the first music of time.

an intervention at this point seems not indicated.

from: the dictionary of lifeforms on Helium-3 and other insignificant by-products of music-poisoning

The woods are lovely …

Robert Frost, 1913.

Robert Frost, 1913. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It might just be true that there are some words that own us before we even truly know them.

A long time ago, I was a kid still, I watched a spy movie. I don’t even know the title of that movie now nor do I remember the plot.  I seem to remember the face of the main actress but do not know her name. I just recall that the story unfolded around a group of so called “sleepers”, people who were leading normal average US citizen lives until they were called – by phone – by a contact person who then “woke” them to perform a certain task by reciting a single line from a poem to them. And this single line from a very famous poem  stayed with me for years. Alas, neither did I know it was famous, nor did I initially know that it would haunt me for many years.

To make things more difficult, the movie was American synchronized to German. The time must have been late Seventies, I guess. None of these fragments of information enabled me to identify the movie.

The line as that came to haunt me was: “Des Waldes Dunkel zieht mich an, doch muss zu meinem Wort ich stehn und Meilen gehn’ bevor ich schlafen kann, und Meilen gehn, bevor ich schlafen kann.” I was immediately electrified. It was as if I had been woken up. The line stuck. After a few days I knew that I longed to  learn the whole poem.Eventually, and maybe only a lover of poetry gets this, I longed for the poem the line was taken from like I would learn to long for a certain person much later on – but just not quite then.

Alas, there was no mentioning of the title of the poem. Nor of the author. I didn’t know what it was that electrified me. It was well before one could start an internet search. So I had to nurse that longing. And marvelously I did. For years actually. I never forgot those lines. Even though they might be among the most famous last lines of any poem ever written, I didn’t find them for a long time. It might have been easier had they been first lines though.

The translation of these lines, of course, is: The wood are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.

We finally found each other, that poem and I, some twenty years later. And I was as happy as if someone had revealed my fate to me. And the revelation of that fate would have been to know the poem. The woods are lovely. It took about three minutes to learn the rest of the poem when I found it. I knew I had known it before I had known it. I knew it when I found it.

And I have no answer as to how it can be that a poem, a poem not even in my then native language came to claim my allegiance. Came to claim me.

The poem was written by Robert Frost. I am a sober person but this poem was written into my genetic make-up. It seems that I had always known it, that it had been waiting for me, patiently, all these years, even testing me.

This is a kind of respectless approach to the great poet, forgive me, Mr. Robert Frost, respect less in the sense that, of course, this poem is not individual, and that is where its true beauty lies.

Robert Frost, a poet who died before I was even born. But not long after, in a small book store in the Upper, upper east side, around 95th street and Lex, I  had discovered a kid’s illustrated version of “Stopping by the woods”, stumbling upon it, virtually, I met an old photographer, a neighbor of mine on 95th Street and Columbus, Jacob Lofman. In his apartment there was a beautiful picture of Robert Frost that Jacob Lofman had taken years before. I know now that the picture was well known by the time I spotted it on the walls of the humble apartment in the Upper West Side when Jacob had invited me for tea.

Well known that foto might have been and still is, but it wasn’t to me back then. It was still not part of my culture. Robert Frost in New England. And so it came that I had the great pleasure to discover this image, the image of Robert Frost, in the apartment of a photographer who knew how to look at a man who by the time he met him was already legend and still to show something deeply personal about him.

I kept looking at the picture for a long time. Jacob made tea and I looked at the picture. I still can hear the water boiling, the tea cups cluttering. It made me happy to just look at the picture hanging on a wall in an apartment in the Upper West Side. In my ignorance I didn’t know that the man in the picture was famous. I knew by then, just for a few days, that he had written the poem I had searched for ever so many years. I don’t know why it was that poem by Robert Frost any more than you could answer why you love a certain person and not another.

I still don’t know why words have that kind of power. I just know by fortunate experience now that they do. I have rarely been as happy in my life as when I discovered those fragile bonds to a poem that had claimed me so many years ago. I know now, of course, that EVERBODY and their neighbors love “Stopping by the woods”. I guess that’s how it ended up in a spy movie. But without any cultural context, even without the context of the poem, just by a few lines in translation, spoken a few times, these lines had been truly powerful.

Life is strange, complex, opaque, but  still we can establish part of its truth. We just know it when we see it. Truth claims us. Words have that kind of sober, relentless, inconsequential power. They are an end in themselves, no further salvation promised or needed.

disobeying the categorical imperative or: the shimmering beauty of ordinary lies

Imagethe third night was bitter cold. eliminating useful words seemed an appropriate strategy to survive the moments that passed with uninterpreted certainty until about five minutes after midnight when the terror of the imaginative mind took over with an ease that betrayed its uncontested reign held even when the discipline of the mind seemed to have hold at bay the monsters lurking in the dark. the useless words i was left with after having eliminated the useful ones had painted beautiful, inconsequential shadows into meaningless days but the reign of the imaginative mind illuminated just a stretch of the way into the darkness, far enough to lead me further astray. but why should i have obeyed the categorical imperative and follow a chilling truth dedicated to a purpose i did not condone even if i couldn’t escape its gravity, a truth i won’t deny, not even now, a truth that with precision etches letters of sober inquiry into my mind but does not not compare to the shimmering beauty of my ordinary lies five minutes after midnight.

English: Immanuel Kant Deutsch: Immanuel Kant

English: Immanuel Kant Deutsch: Immanuel Kant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


IMG_3109When did we forget to spin the dream, when did our world cease to hold small promises of meaning and adventure, a life time of stories still to be told? How did we grow up to forget the sensual richness of the world, the intense pleasure we can find only in simple things and moments? When did we cease to live today in order to reach for a tomorrow that we never truly know will exist – and if it does, it comes only to be given up and traded in for yet another tomorrow until there is no tomorrow left? When did we start squandering our present moments for squalid projections of who we could be if only? When did we tire of that what we have , right here and right now, the word, the discovery of nothing and everything, the breath of boredom and adventure alike?

Art and me, or: The crowd at my breakfast table

Wer guckt da durch?

Art and me, we have a strange and very complicated relationship. I have been chasing it with determination and desperation, and it has cold-heartedly denied me. The pain of rejected love is cruel, but I submitted to it only so long. I retreated, admitting defeat was the most dignified thing to do in this situation, I thought, and I became a lawyer. But then, surprise, instead of going its own way, art took up a habit of following me instead, never quite disappearing out of sight, yes, I would say, teasing me, challenging me.

Eventually, we made up, kind of, since then I have been treating it with respectful nonchalance,and it has been faithfully and annoyingly waiting for me ever since at the breakfast table, casually asking me: “So, what are you up to today?”, not being offended by my silence while I am hiding behind my crucially important notes for the day, while I am all business, anticipating legal arguments and dictating the first legal brief in my mind, instead asking again, equally casually: “Mind, if I tag along?”, and I – with an air of studied indifference respond: “Sure, why not?”, and out the door we rush.

And when I come home in the evening and I open my very important briefcase out tumble bits of this and that, drawings on note paper, done while I was on the phone, creatures with big eyes while I was thinking about security of data transmission, one of my new wooden drawings “Watch out while you are being watched” over a quick coffee break. At home I don’t know how to archive the mass of these  bits and pieces anymore, nor where to store the heap of casual paintings done at night, JUST because, and during every free moment and I feel like I imagine the husband must be feeling who doesn’t quite know whether he is cheating on his wife when he spends time with a female friend his wife is well aware of or whether he is cheating on said female friend when spending quality time with his wife.

Garbriel Lorca, the beautiful Spanish poet who was murdered by the Nationalist Forces shortly after the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 – who really was a much better poet than an artist expressed it very much the same way, because he loved drawing, tenderly calling it his “mistress” while he stayed married, of course he did, to his writing. I remember reading in a small, illustrated Lorca volume I had bought at the Heinrich Heine Buchhandlung at the main train station of the Berlin Zoo station – a book store that was as great and complicated and deep and full of books and ideas about books as it could possibly get, probably a dependance of Borges library. I was twenty and attending classes by Prof. Robert Kudielka at the HdK, the University of Fine Arts in then still Westberlin – while actually meaning to study law at the Free University. You see, from the beginning this was a complicated thing and the small Lorca volume seem to me like an announcement of something I was not ready to grasp yet. I still own it.

I got constantly side-tracked during those years because of places like the Heinrich-Heine book store where they absolutely supported the idea of spending your entire cash worth a month of earnings at  some student’s job on a heap of books you could just so carry to the register – after first staying for what seemed like days in the sacred railway catacombs, resembling a labyrinth of overpacked shelves. You’d come out with marvelous finds, books that had been hiding for decades, books unknown even to the book seller, and you and the book seller would jointly rejoice in the find, and the book seller would come up with a fantasy price for the book because the one displayed on the inside of the cover seemed – unreal. 51 cents, Pfennige, or something like this. So, you’d pay 2,50 DM, and it wasn’t a used book, it was a book that had been waiting for you to be the first owner patiently since about 1953, well over a decade before you had been born and even more time before you became literate and then some more.

I got constantly side-tracked because there were the collections of old masters in Dahlem, one S-Bahn station before Thielplatz, my law school station, and you’d only guess that I must be a somewhat decent lawyer for passing my exams besides the fact that getting off the train in Dahlem to for a small detour through the beautiful tree-lines streets of Dahlem as often as not ended up with an entire day in the collections, studying Rembrandt and Baehr and flemish artists instead or, if I made it to class in the morning, not returning from the university’s cafeteria at lunch time because it was located pretty much right next to the collections.

I am actually now practicing law, specializing, surprise, on art and law, and art still has a very sly way of side-tracking me. Maybe it has something to do with the fourteen years I spent in New York, idling away time at the MoMA and the Met, and at Crawford Doyle booksellers. Art has always influenced the Why and Where, has seduced me to accept situations I would not have dreamed of for the sake of studying a Vermeer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Calder’s Circus at the Whitney, or rough Miro drawings at MoMA or Gerhard Richter‘s black and white paintings at MoMA, Odilon Redon, Armando Reverón, Richard Serra, Lucian Freud, Swoon, Kiki Smith, Marina Abramović, Nancy Spero, my appetite may have been more voracious than discerning, but it found nourishment as I found distraction from more pressing questions and challenges and time passed swiftly as I was holding still, holding still and just looking and looking.At times that seems my main occupation. Looking. Thinking. Understanding. Reversing. Looking again.

Sometimes now I suspect that I do what I do – including law – because of art not despite, but I am loath to follow up on that suspicion. For now, I like the casual question in the morning, the uncertainty, the “Wow, this is still going on” and with as much determination and desperation as ever before. One could not ask for better. Want me to tag along. Sure.

By the way, above drawing is one done on the side, complementing a serious legal interest of mine. Even as I write this blog. Who is watching you? I am still married to the law. But if you made you way through to here, you realize that I as I have spoken about “art” as a single occupation I have really referred to two loves: Writing and painting. Now, that is – almost – too much for one life. definitely for one blog article that is already stretching the limits of a reasonable article’s length.  It’s a bit crowded at the breakfast table at times.

the nice king breathes the world into existence

the nice king breathes the world into existence

i don’t count the times when people ask me whether i could draw something nice for a change people ask me that a lot can’t you draw something nice for a change don’t think it offends me, it doesn’t but … Continue reading

Johari-Fenster, David Hockney, Carlos Castaneda – ein Zeitspiegel

IMGP1041Es mag sein, dass es wesentliche Diskrepanzen zwischen der Eigen- und Fremdwahrnehmung geben mag, aber das bedeutet nicht, dass die Fremdwahrnehmung notwendiger Weise eine von der Eigenwahrnehmung überhaupt unterscheidbare  Wahrnehmung einer Person ist. Joseph und Harry’s (Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham’s) Theorie, dem sogenannten Johari-Fenster (Johari-window) mangelt es an Beweglichkeit. Das “Bild eines Menschen”, gleich ob Selbstbild oder Fremdbild, eine solche Vorstellung setzt bereits sprachlogisch einen Betrachter voraus. Ein Betrachter, der Natur der Betrachtung folgend, nimmt einen spezifischen Standort ein und sein oder ihr Urteil bezieht sich auf das von dieser Perspektive aus Ersichtliche, Sichtbare. Die Diskrepanz in der Betrachtung zwischen der betrachteten Person und dem Betrachter erklärt sich bereits aus dieser Unterschiedlichkeit des Standortes, ohne dass dies logischer Weise den Schluss zulässt, dass eines der Bilder zutreffender oder umfassender wäre. Es ist interessant: wenige Zeit später begreift der Künstler David Hockney, dass die statische Abbildung eines physischen Zustandes immer illusionär bleiben muss, Spiegelspiel – und deshalb bewegt er sich um den abzubildenden Gegenstand herum, während er ihn abbildet.Das Resultat ist eine Annäherung an den gesuchten Wert, ähnlich wie die Bestimmung der Fläche eines Kreises, und die unterschiedlichen Beobachtungen von unterschiedlichen Standorten gehen in eine organische Gesamtabbildung ein, deren wesentlicher Charakter eben das eine ist: Annäherung an einen gesuchten Wert. Zu etwa der gleichen Zeit steigt Carlos Castaneda aus seiner betrachtenden, von den Erfahrungen im englischen Common Wealth ebenso wie den Reisen des Alexander von Humboldt  immer noch geprägten objektiv-imperialistischen  Menschen- und Kulturbeschreibung seines Fachbereiches Anthropologie aus und versucht sich an einer ganz neuen, kreativen Art der Menschenerforschung ebenfalls von der Idee der Beweglichkeit und Veränderbarkeit des Standortes inspiriert. Ich wiederum meine, dass es keine Unterscheidbarkeit von Fremd- und Eigenbild gibt, sondern dass das Ich, ewig fragiler, elusiver Zustand, unterschiedliche Standpunkte einnimmt, und – soweit es um das Fremdbild, das von einem außerhalb seiner selbst liegenden Standort wahrgenommene, personenbezogene Bild geht –  tatsächlich eine Art holografischer Annäherungsprojektion ist.

huis clos

Jean-Paul Sartre (um 1950)

Jean-Paul Sartre (um 1950) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

walking up some flights of stairs in the morning, taking one step at a time, my thoughts start drifting, and i continue walking, and i keep thinking, and my feet continue climbing up the first flight of stairs, one step at a time, one step at a time, and i continue dreaming pleasantly, and my feet continue walking until i grow aware that it is taking a rather long time to climb that one flight of stairs, 13 stairs at most, and while my feet are still climbing i see that i have reached the second to last step and still i climb and my feet continue to move obediently, my thoughts retracing my steps, until finally, and i can measure that time span of the last step, i have reached the first landing.

time perception of course, by its nature is subjective, but how long a dream can one dream climbing up one flight of stairs, i wonder. on the landing the grey light filtering through the milky hall way window does not admit to time passing and i almost dread climbing the next flight of stairs.

but, of course, i do, what else is there to do, but to continue. so i focus on the steps this time, 13 at most, and i am resolved not to allow my thoughts to drift.

i focus while i am walking, and i focus on my focus, and i see myself walking up that flight of stairs, 13 steps at most, while i am concentrating so hard on not dreaming, not drifting, on almost not thinking that my brain starts feeling cold.

and my feet keep moving, climbing up the steps, and i am carefully keeping my focus, and yet when i have mastered not even half the flight of stairs, i realize that once again the time it takes to climb these steps does not correspond to the number of steps i have been climbing and i freeze in the midst of climbing, one foot on the seventh step, one still on the sixth, and i have a hard look at that staircase but there is nothing out of the ordinary to be observed.

and yet i am sure of it, it takes too long to climb these stairs, and ideas start forming, offering themselves with deceptive playfulness, but i reject them because now all i want is to  be done with climbing that staircase and so i continue.

trying to regain that coveted state of unconsciousness with with which one climbs a step of stairs, not observing the act of climbing, not synchronizing mind time with physical time, i pitifully fail.

again i step up and step up and step up as if climbing that staircase was a specific task to fulfill, as if i was not mastering some flights of stairs but was struggling up a mountain to reach a monastery carved out of the mountain side, as if i was following a pilgrim’s path to enlightening. i couldn’t be more aware of every single neuron firing to accomplish this complex daily task though all i crave is unawareness towards it. and i continue climbing.

on the next landing i hardly pause to contemplate what i must do as there is no alternative to walking, and i simply walk up the next flight of stairs, i walk and  i walk, and by now i am not struggling against the perception of the walk that does not correspond to the space though i am not accepting it either.

on to the next. i know by now that this is and is not an ordinary staircase, that i will resume life once i reach the top but as of now my life is suspended and all that is asked of me is to walk up those steps, so i keep walking.

my unimaginative mind gets bored of this existential task, even slightly amused, rather than to be terrified, never mind that for all i know this stairway might be sartre’s huis clos and gabriel, ines and estelle might be right behind me, or i might be ines or estelle, but still my mind gets bored of this task of climbing some flights of stairs as if that was all there was to do for eternity.

when i am bored of being slightly amused by my own superior outlook on the terror of eternity i start swearing silently under my breath, but still  i am climbing, and at some point i am done swearing, too, or rather i run out of entertaining curses.

so when i am done swearing , i start wondering who is going to study my briefs today, or tomorrow for that matter, who is going to review my documents, conduct my research, draft my pleadings. and after climbing another flight of stairs, i start feeling pity for myself and i  sadly ask myself who is going to comfort my children and read my books and paint my paintings while i am climbing this endless staircase. and still i am climbing.

and this i do every morning. i tell you this just because you asked me whether i believe in eternity (or anything, really). sure i do.

every morning, rejecting the elevator, i do repent of my choices by climbing that eternal staircase and, for all i know, i never leave it, for all i know, i am forever walking up one flight of stairs after the other, because i do not remember ever reaching the top of it, i do not remember opening the door to exit the hallway and entering my office even though i won’t deny either that i am indeed sitting here, at my desk, drafting my briefs, conducting my research, writing my pleadings and trying to convince you if not myself that i am more than a speck of transient dust.