Peter Handke offers three intimate, eloquent meditations that map a self-reflexive journey from Alaska to the Austria of his childhood, while illuminating the act of writing itself.
In his "Essay on Tiredness," Handke transforms an everyday experience--often precipitated by boredom--into a fascinating exploration of the world of slow motion, differentiating degrees of fatigue, the types of weariness, its rejuvenating effects, as well as its erotic, cultural, and political implications.
The title essay is Handke's attempt to understand the significance of the jukebox, a quest which leads him, while on a trip in Spain, into the literature of the jukebox, the history of the music box, and memories of the Beatles' music, in turn elucidating various stages of his own life.
And in his "Essay on the Successful Day," for which there is no prescription, Handke invents a picture of tranquility, using a self-portrait by Hogarth as his point of departure to describe a state of being at peace.
Playful, reflective, insightful, and entertaining, The Jukebox and Other Essays on Storytelling constitutes a literary triptych that redefines the art of the essay and challenges the form of the short story, confirming Peter Handke's stature as "one of the most original and provocative of contemporary writers" (Lawrence Graver, The New York Times Book Review).
PETER HANDKE was born in Griffen, Austria, in 1942. His many works include The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, My Year in No-Man’s Bay, On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House, and Crossing the Sierra de Gredos, all published by FSG.
The Jukebox and Other Essays on Storytelling ESSAY ON TIREDNESSTranslated by Ralph Manheim
In the past I knew tiredness only as something to be feared.
When in the past?
In my childhood, in my so-called student days, in the years of my first loves, then more than ever. Once during midnight Mass, sitting with his family in the densely crowded, dazzlingly bright village church, the child breathed in the smell of wax and woolen cloth and was overcome by a tiredness that struck with the force of a sickness.
What kind of sickness?
The kind that is said to be "nasty" or "insidious"--for this was a nasty, insidious tiredness. It denatured the world around me, transforming my fellow churchgoers into felt-and-loden dolls that were hemming me in, transforming the resplendently decorated altar in the hazy distance into a torture chamber enhanced by the confused rituals and formulas of the servers, and the sick, tired child himself into a grotesque elephant-headed figure, as heavy and dry-eyed and thick-skinned as that animal. Mytiredness removed me from the substance of the world, in the event the winter world of snowy air and solitary sled rides under the stars at night, after the other children had gradually disappeared into their houses, far beyond the fringes of the village, alone, winged with enthusiasm: utterly present, in the stillness, in the whirring of the air, in the blueness of the ice that was forming on the road --"it tingles" is what we used to say of that pleasant cold. But there in the church the child, held fast by tiredness as in the grip of an Iron Maiden, experienced a very different kind of cold, so much so that in the very midst of the Mass he begged to go home, which just then meant no more than "out." Once again I had spoiled one of my parents' rare opportunities, becoming rarer as the old customs died out, for social contact with the neighbors.
Why must you always accuse yourself?
Because even in those days my tiredness was associated with a feeling of guilt, which intensified it and made it acutely painful. Once again I had failed my family: one more steel band tightened around my temples, a little more blood drained from my heart. Decades later, a feeling of shame comes back to me at the thought of that tiredness; but strangely enough, though my parents later reproached me with one thing and another, they never mentioned my attacks of tiredness.
Was the tiredness of your student days similar?
No. The guilt feelings were gone. In lecture halls, on the contrary, my tiredness made me angry and rebellious. Ordinarily, it was not so much the foul air, or being cooped up with hundreds of other students, as the lecturers' lack of interest in what was supposed to be their subject. Never since then have I encountered a group of people so uninspired by what they were doing as those university professors and instructors; any bank teller counting out notes that don't even belong to him, any road repairer working in the overheated air between the sun overhead and the tar boiler down below seemed more inspired. Stuffed shirts, whose voices never vibrated with the astonishment (that a good teacher's subject arouses in him), with enthusiasm, with tenderness, with self-doubt, anger, indignation, or awareness of their own ignorance, but droned incessantly on, intoned--needless to say not in the deep chest tones of Homer, but in tones of examination-oriented pedantry, interspersed now and then with a facetious undercurrent or a malicious allusion addressed to those in the know, while outside the windows green went blue and finally darkened, until the student's tiredness turned to irritation and his irritation to rage. And again as in childhood that feeling of "Let me out! Away from the lot of you in here!" But where to? Home, as in childhood? But there in my rented room, a new tiredness unknown in my childhood was to be dreaded: the tiredness of being alone in a rented room on the outskirts; solitary tiredness.
But what was to be dreaded about that? Wasn't there a bed right there in your room, along with the chair and the table?
An escape into sleep was out of the question. For one thing, that sort of tiredness brought on a paralysis in which it became virtually impossible to bend my little finger or even to bat an eyelid; my breathing seemed to stop and I froze inside and out into a pillar of tiredness. In the end, I dragged myself into bed, but after a quick fainting away from wakefulness--with no sensation of sleep--my first attempt to turn over shook me into a sleeplessness that usually went on all night. For, in my room alone, tiredness always set in late in the day, at dusk. Many others have spoken of insomnia, how it comes to dominate the insomniac's view of the world until, try as he may, he cannot help regarding existence as a calamity, all activity as pointless, and all love as absurd. The insomniac lies there waiting for the gray of dawn, which to him signifies the damnation not only of him alone in his insomniac hell but of all misbegotten humanity relegated to the wrong planet ... I, too, have been in the world of the sleepless (and even today I still am). In early spring the first birds are heard before dawn--often enough bearing a message of Easter--but today they screech derisively at me in my cell-bed: "One-more-sleepless-night." The striking of the church clocks every quarter of an hour--even the most distant ones are quite audible--gives notice of another bad day. The bestiality at the heart of ourworld is manifested by the hissing and yowling of two battling tomcats. A woman's sighs or screams of so-called passion start up suddenly in the stagnant air, as though a button had been pressed, setting some mass-produced machine in motion directly above the insomniac's head, as though all our masks of affection had fallen, giving way to panic egoism (that's no loving couple, only two individuals, each bellowing his self-love) and vileness. To those frequently afflicted by episodic states of sleeplessness, if I understand their stories right, such states may form a chain of continuity and come to be regarded as permanent.
But you, who are not a sufferer from chronic insomnia: are you planning to tell us about the insomniac view of the world or that engendered by tiredness?
As might have been expected, I've started with insomnia and shall go on to the view resulting from tiredness, or rather, in the plural, I shall talk about the divergent views of the world engendered by different kinds of tiredness. How terrifying, for example, at one time, was the kind of tiredness that could crop up in the company of a woman. No, this tiredness did not crop up, it erupted like a physical cataclysm, a phenomenon of fission. And, as a matter of fact, it never confined itself to me alone, but invariably struck the woman at the same time, as though coming, like a change in the weather, from outside, from the atmosphere or from space. There we lay, stood, or sat, as though our being together were the most naturalthing in the world, and then before we knew it, we were irrevocably sundered. Such a moment was always one of fright, even of horror, as in falling: "Stop! No! Don't let it happen!" But there was no help; already the two of us were irresistibly recoiling, each into his own private tiredness, not ours, but mine over here and yours over there. In this case, tiredness may have been only another name for insensibility or estrangement--but for the pressure it exerted, its effect on the environment, tiredness was the appropriate word. Even if the phenomenon occurred in a large, air-conditioned cinema. The cinema became hot and cramped. The rows of seats became crooked. The colors and the screen itself took on a sulfurous hue, then paled. When we chanced to touch each other, both our hands recoiled as from an electric shock. "In the late afternoon of the------, a catastrophic tiredness descended out of a clear sky on the Apollo Cinema. The victims were a young couple sitting shoulder to shoulder, who were catapulted apart by a blast of tiredness. At the end of the film, which, incidentally, was entitled About Love, they went their separate ways without so much as a word or a glance for each other." Yes, divisive tiredness of this kind struck one mute and blind. Never in all the world could I have said to her: "I'm tired of you"--I could never have uttered the simple word "tired" (which, if we had both shouted it at once, might have set us free from our individual hells). Such tiredness destroyed our power to speak, our souls. If at least we had been able to go our separate ways. No, the effect of such tiredness was that having separated in spirit we were constrained to staytogether in body. And it is quite possible that those two, possessed by the devil of tiredness, came to inspire fear.
In each other, for one thing. Doomed to remain speechless, that sort of tiredness drove us to violence. A violence that may have expressed itself only in our manner of seeing, which distorted the other, not only as an individual, but also as a member of the other sex. Those ugly, ridiculous females (or males), with that innate female waddle or those incorrigible male poses. Or the violence was covert, indirect, the routine swatting of a fly, the half-absentminded rending of a flower. Or we might do something to hurt ourselves; one might chew her fingertips, the other thrust his finger into a lighted flame or punch himself in the face, while she threw herself on the ground like a baby, but without the baby's layers of protective fat. Occasionally, one of these tired individuals would indulge in physical aggression, try to shove his/her enemy or fellow prisoner out of the way, or deliver himself from her with sputtered insults. This violence seemed to be the only escape from the tiredness-couple, for once it was over, they usually managed to separate for the time being. Or tiredness gave way to exhaustion, and then at last they were able to catch their breaths and think things over. Sometimes one would come back to the other and they would stare at each other in amazement, still shaken by what had just happened, yet unable to understand it. At that point they might be able to look at each other, butwith new eyes: "What could have come over us in the cinema, on the street, on the bridge?" (Once again we found a voice with which to say that, the two of us together in spite of ourselves, or the young man might speak for the young woman, or the other way around.) To that extent, a tiredness imposed on two young people might even augur a transformation--from the carefree love of the beginnings to something serious. Neither of us would have dreamed of reproaching the other with what he had just done; instead, we simultaneously opened our eyes to one of the drawbacks (irrespective of personalities) of life à deux, of a man's and woman's "growing" together, a drawback formerly diagnosed as "a consequence of original sin" and today as God knows what. If both succeed in escaping from this tiredness, it is to be hoped that this realization, accessible to couples who have survived a catastrophe, will enable them to stay together for the rest of their lives, and that such a tiredness will never happen to them again. And they lived together happy and contented until something else, something much less puzzling, much less to be feared, much less astonishing than that tiredness, came between them: habits, the humdrum, day-to-day business of living. But is this divisive tiredness confined to relationships between a man and a woman? Doesn't it also intervene between friends?
No. When I felt tiredness coming on in a relationship with a friend, there was nothing catastrophic about it.After all, we were together for only a limited time, and when that time was up, we went our separate ways, confident of remaining friends in spite of that one slack hour. Tiredness between friends was not a danger, while to young couples it was, especially if they hadn't been together for long. In love--or whatever we choose to call that feeling of fullness and wholeness--as opposed to friendship, tiredness suddenly threw everything off balance. Disenchantment: all at once the features vanished from his/her image of the other; at the end of a second of horror, he/she ceased to yield any image; the image that was there a second ago had been a mere mirage. Before you knew it, all might be over between two human beings. And the most terrifying part of it was that when this happened all seemed to be over with myself: as I saw it, I was as ugly, as insignificant as the woman with whom only a short while before I had visibly embodied a way of life ("one body and one soul"); each of us wanted him/herself as well as the accursed opposite to be demolished and wiped out on the spot. Even the things around us disintegrated into futilities: "How tired and unlived-in the express train blows by" (recollection of a line in a poem by a friend); and there was reason to fear that couple-tiredness would expand into the world-weariness, not of any particular individual, but of the universe, of the flabby leaves on the trees, of the river's suddenly sluggish flow, of the paling sky. But since such things happened only when a woman and a man were alone together, I became more and more careful as the years went by to avoid prolonged tête-à-têtesituations (which was no solution, or at best a cowardly one).
But now it's time for a very different question. Isn't it just your sense of duty--because they are part of your subject--that makes you speak of the insidious, frightening varieties of tiredness--and isn't that why you seem to speak of them so clumsily, long-windedly, and, for all the exaggeration--because I can't help thinking that your story about "violent tiredness" was exaggerated if not invented--halfheartedly.
My way of speaking about malignant tiredness was worse than halfhearted; it was heartless (no, this is not a mere pun, of the kind that for its own amusement betrays an idea). But in this case I don't regard the heartlessness of my discourse as a fault. (And what's more, tiredness isn't my subject; it's my problem, a reproach that I am prepared to incur.) And in dealing with the remaining varieties of tiredness, the non-malignant, the pleasant, the delightful, which have prompted me to write this essay, I shall try to remain equally heartless, to content myself with investigating the pictures, or images, that my problem engenders in me, with making myself at home in each picture and translating it as heartlessly as possible into language with all its twists and turns and overtones. To be "in the picture" is enough for my feeling. If I dare wish for something more to help me carry on with my essay on tiredness, it will probably be a sensation: the sensation of the sun and the spring wind on Andalusianmornings in the open country outside Linares. I should like to hold it between my fingers before sitting down in my room, in the hope that this marvelous sensation between my fingers, enhanced by gusts of wind scented with wild chamomile, may carry over to the coming sentences about good tiredness, do them justice, and, above all, make them easier and lighter than the preceding ones. But even now I am pretty sure that tiredness is difficult. Morning after morning, the gusts of wild chamomile are more denatured by the pervasive stench of carrion; still, I shall continue, as always, to cede my right to complain about the smell to the vultures, who feed so well on the carrion. --Very well, then, on this new morning, let us rise and proceed, with more light and air between the lines, as there should be, but always close to the ground, close to the rubble between the yellowish-white chamomile flowers, with the help of the symmetry of the pictures I have known.--It is not entirely true that the only tiredness I experienced in the past was of the frightening variety. During my childhood in the late forties and fifties, the arrival of the threshing machine was still an event. The grain was not harvested automatically in the fields--by a combine that takes in the sheaves on one side, while sacks of grain all ready for the miller tumble out on the other side. No, the threshing was done in our home barn by a rented machine that went from farm to farm at harvest time. Its use required a whole chain of helpers. One of these would lift a sheaf of grain out of the farm wagon, which remained in the open because it was much too wide and piled much too high to get into the barn;he would toss it down to the next, who would pass it on, avoiding as far as possible to lead with the "wrong," "hard-to-handle," or "ear" end, to the "big man" in the great rumbling machine which, making the entire barn tremble with its vibrations, would swing the sheaf around and push it gently between the threshing cylinders. Straw came pouring out at the back of the machine, where it formed a pile which the next helper, with a long wooden pitchfork, would pass on to the last links in the chain, the village children, as a rule all present and accounted for, who, having taken their positions in the hayloft, moved the straw into the farthermost corners, thrusting and kicking it into the last open spaces they could find, working more and more in the dark as the straw piled up around them. All this--it grew lighter in the barn as the unloading and threshing proceeded--went on without a break in a smoothly coordinated process (which, however, the slightest false move could halt or disrupt) until the wagon was empty. Even the very last link in the chain, often on the verge of suffocation toward the end of the threshing operation, wedged between two mountains of straw and unable to find room in the dark for the last handfuls thrust at him, could disrupt the whole chain by slipping away from his post. But once the threshing was happily over and the deafening machine--impossible to make yourself understood, even by shouting directly into someone's ear--switched off: What silence, not only in the barn, but throughout the countryside; and what light, enfolding rather than blinding you. While the clouds of dust settled, we gathered in the farmyard onshaking knees, reeling and staggering, partly in fun. Our legs and arms were covered with scratches; we had straw in our hair, between our fingers and toes. And perhaps the most lasting effect of the day's work: the nostrils of men, women, and children alike were black, not just gray, with dust. Thus we sat--in my recollection always out of doors in the afternoon sun--savoring our common tiredness whether or not we were talking, some sitting on a bench, some on a wagon shaft, still others off on the grass of the bleaching field--the inhabitants of the whole neighborhood, regardless of generation, gathered in episodic harmony by our tiredness. A cloud of tiredness, an ethereal tiredness, held us together (while awaiting the next wagonload of sheaves). And my village childhood provided me with still other pictures of "we-tiredness."
But isn't it the past that transfigures?
If the past was of the kind that transfigures, it's all right with me. I believe in that sort of transfiguration. I know that those years were holy.
But isn't the contrast you suggest between manual work in common and solitary work on a harvest combine mere opinion and therefore suspect?
When I told you all that, it wasn't for the sake of the contrast, but of the pure picture; if such a contrast nevertheless forces itself on the reader's attention, it must mean that I haven't succeeded in communicating a pure picture.In the following, I shall have to take greater care than ever to avoid playing one thing off, even tacitly, against another or magnifying one thing at the expense of something else, in line with the Manichaean all-good or all-bad system, which is dominant nowadays even in what used to be the most open-minded, opinion-free mode of discourse, namely storytelling: Now I'm going to tell you about the good gardeners, but only to prepare you for what I shall have to say about the wicked hunters later on. The fact is, however, that I have affecting, communicable pictures of manual workers' tiredness, but none (thus far) of a combine operator's. Then, in our shared tiredness after threshing, I saw myself for once sitting in the midst of something resembling a "people," such as I later looked for time and time again in my native Austria, and time and again failed to find. I am referring, not to the "tiredness of whole peoples," not to the tiredness that weighs on the eyelids of one late-born individual, but to the ideal tiredness that I would like to see descending on one particular small segment of the second postwar Austrian Republic, in the hope that all its groups, classes, associations, corps, and cathedral chapters may at last sit there as honestly tired as we villagers were then, all equals in our shared tiredness, united and above all purified by it. A French friend, a Jew, who was obliged to live in hiding during the German occupation, once told me, all the more movingly because his memories were transfigured by distance, that for weeks after the Liberation the whole country had been bathed in radiance, and that is how I should imagine an Austrian work-tiredness, sharedby all. A criminal who has escaped scot-free may often manage to doze off, whether in a sitting or a standing position. His sleep, like that of many a fugitive, may be prolonged, deep, and stertorous, but tiredness, not to mention the tiredness that knits people together, is unknown to him; until the day when he snores his last, nothing in all the world will succeed in making him tired, unless perhaps his final punishment, for which he himself may secretly yearn. My entire country is alive with bouncy indefatigables of this breed, among them its so-called leaders; instead of joining the army of tiredness for so much as one moment, a swarming mob of habitual criminals and their accomplices, very different from those described above, of elderly but untiring mass murderers of both sexes, who throughout the country have secreted a new generation of equally tireless young fellows, who even now are training the grandchildren of the senior murderers to be secret-police agents, with the result that in this contemptible majority-country the many minorities will never be able to join forces in a community of tiredness; in this country, everyone will remain alone with his tiredness until the end of our political history. There was a time when I actually believed in the International Court of Justice, when I thought it could do something about my country (I'm not obliged to tell you how long ago that was). But that International Court seems to have gone out of existence; or, to say it in a different way: its decisions have not been put into effect within the borders of Austria and--as I have been forced to recognize since my brief moment of hope--never will be. There is no InternationalCourt of Justice and the Austrians, I am obliged to go on believing, are the first hopelessly corrupt, totally incorrigible people in history, forever incapable of repentance or conversion.
Isn't that last assertion a mere opinion?
It is not an opinion but a picture. For what I thought I also saw. What may be opinion and therefore untrue is the word "people," for what I saw in my picture was not a "people" but the unrepentant "gang of the untired." True, this picture is contradicted by other pictures, which in the interest of fairness demand attention; but they do not penetrate as deep as the others; at the most, they offer a counterweight. My ancestors, as far back as I can trace them, were Keuschler, small, landless peasants; if any of them were skilled in a craft, it was carpentry. Time and again, I saw the carpenters of the region grouped together as a people of tiredness. That was in the days of the first rebuilding after the war. As the oldest of the children, I was often sent by the women of the family, my mother, my grandmother, and my sister-in-law, to deliver warm lunch pails to the construction workers in the area. All the men in the family who had not been killed in the war, even for a time my sixty-year-old grandfather, worked there with other carpenters putting up roofs. In my picture they sit eating their lunch not far from the frame of a house--once again that special way of sitting!--on rough-hewn beams or on peeled but not yet planed tree trunks. They have taken their hats off, andtheir foreheads with the hair plastered to them look milky white in contrast to their dark faces. All seem sinewy, fine-boned, and sparely built, I can't recall a single potbellied carpenter. They eat slowly and in silence; even my German stepfather, the "carpenter's helper," who could only hold his own in the strange country and the unfamiliar village environment with the help of his big-city bluster (may he rest in peace). After the meal they sat awhile, gently tired, talking, without jokes, without complaining, without raising their voices, mostly about their families, sometimes quietly about the weather, until in the end their work arrangements for the afternoon crowded out all other topics. Though there actually was a foreman, I had the impression that none of these workers dominated or commanded; this in a way was part of their tiredness. And yet, despite their heavy, inflamed eyelids --typical of that kind of tiredness--all were wide awake, each one of them was presence of mind personified ("Here it comes!" An apple is tossed. "Got it!") and lively (time and again, several at once would spontaneously burst into a telling of stories: "Before the war, when Mother was still alive, we'd go and see her at the hospital in Sankt Veit, and that night we'd hike back home, a good fifty kilometers, by way of the Trixen Valley ..."). The colors and shapes of my pictures of the fragmentary community of tiredness are the blue of work denims, the straight red marks that the guideline slaps on the beams, the red-and-violet of oval-shaped carpenter's pencils, the yellow of yardsticks, the oval of the air bubble in the spirit level. By now the sweaty hair on our temples had dried andfluffed up; the hats, which have been put back on, are free from badges, and pencils rather than chamois beards have been stuck in the bands. If transistor radios had existed in those days, I'm pretty certain they'd have stayed away from those building sites. Yet a kind of music seems to reach me from there--the music of clairaudient tiredness. Not to forget the way those places looked; again I say: it was a holy time--episodes of holiness. I myself, of course, was not one of those tired people (as I had been one among the servants of the threshing machine) and I envy them. But when later, in my adolescence, I might have been one of them, it became a very different matter from what it had been in the imagination of the lunch-pail carrier. When my grandmother died and my grandfather was pensioned and gave up farming, the great household community of the generations--others in the village as well as ours--went out of existence. My parents built a house of their own, and everyone in the family, down to the smallest child, had to help with the building. For me, too, a job was found, and I learned an entirely new kind of tiredness. My work in the early stages consisted largely of pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with stone blocks uphill to the building site, which was inaccessible to trucks, over a plank walk that had been laid over mud. I no longer saw it as work done by us all in common, but as sheer drudgery. The effort of pushing those loads uphill from morning till night took so much out of me that I no longer had eyes for the things around me, and could only stare straight ahead at the jagged gray stones I was hauling, at the gray streams of cement that camerolling down the path, and above all at the joints between planks, which regularly forced me to lift or tilt the barrow slightly on the corners and curves. Often enough, when we came to these gaps, my wheelbarrow capsized, and I with it. Those weeks taught me what forced labor or slavery might be. At the end of the day, I was "wrecked," as the peasants put it; my hands were bruised and my toes burned by the concrete that had oozed between them. Destroyed by tiredness, I would flop (rather than sit) down. Unable to swallow, I could neither eat nor speak. This particular tiredness--and that may have been its special characteristic--seemed to be terminal; one would never get over it. I fell asleep the moment I lay down, and awoke in the gray of dawn, when it was almost time for work, more exhausted than ever, as though the cruel drudgery had cleaned me out of everything that might have contributed to the most elementary sense of being alive--the feel of the early light, the wind on my temples--as though there would never be an end to this living death. Until then, when confronted by unpleasant chores, I had always been quick to think up dodges and evasions. Now I was even too worn out to shirk in my old familiar ways: "I have to study; there's an exam coming up"; "I'm going to the woods to gather mushrooms for all of you." In any case, nothing I could say would do a particle of good. Though, come to think of it, I was working for my own benefit--our house--my tiredness was invariably that of a hired hand, an isolating tiredness. Of course there were other jobs that were equally dreaded by just about everyone, such as digging ditches for waterpipes: "This job is a bitch, a devil!" But oddly enough, my dead-tiredness lifted in time, giving way, to "carpenter-tiredness"? No, to a feeling of sportsmanship, to a Stakhanovite ambition, combined with a kind of gallows humor. I experienced still another kind of tiredness in my student days while working the morning shift--from early morning to early afternoon--in the shipping room of a department store during the Christmas and Easter rush, to make a little money. I'd get up at four to catch the first streetcar, urinate into an empty jam jar in my room so as not to disturb the landlady, and leave the house unwashed. The work was done by artificial light on the top floor of the building; it consisted of dismembering old cartons and with a gigantic guillotine cutting out enormous rectangles that would be used to reinforce the new cartons being packed in the adjoining room. In the long run, this activity, like chopping or sawing wood at home, did me good by leaving my thoughts free but, thanks to the steady rhythm, not too free. The new tiredness made itself felt when we stepped out into the street and separated after the shift. Alone in my tiredness, blinking, my glasses coated with dust, my open shirt collar soiled and rumpled, I suddenly had new eyes for the familiar street scene. I no longer saw myself as one with all these people who were going somewhere--to the stores, the railroad station, the movies, the university. Though wakefully tired, neither sleepy nor self-absorbed, I felt excluded from society--an eerie feeling. Moving in the opposite direction from all these other people, I was headed nowhere. I entered a lecturehall with the feeling that this was a forbidden room, and I found it even harder than usual to listen to that droning voice; what was being said wasn't meant for me, I hadn't even the status of a "special student." Every day I longed more and more to be back with the tired little group of morning-shift workers up in the loft, and today, when I try to recapture the picture, I realize that even then, when I was very young, only nineteen or twenty, long before I seriously took up writing, I ceased to feel like a student among students--an unpleasant, rather frightening feeling.
But isn't there something vaguely romantic about the way you derive all your pictures of tiredness from farmhands and manual laborers, and never from the upper or lower middle class?
I've never come in contact with a picturable tiredness among the middle class.
Can't you at least imagine one?
No. It seems to me that tiredness just isn't right for them; they regard it as a kind of misbehavior, like going barefoot. What's more, they can't supply an image of tiredness, because their activities don't lend themselves to that kind of thing. The most they can do is look "weary unto death" at the end, but we can all manage that, I hope. Nor am I able to visualize the tiredness of the rich and powerful, with the possible exception of deposed kings, such asOedipus and Lear. On the other hand, I can't conceive of fully automated factories disgorging tired workers at closing time. I see only big, imperious-looking louts with smug faces and great flabby hands, who will hurry off to the nearest slot-machine establishment and carry on with their blissfully mindless manipulations. (I know what you're going to say now: "Before talking like that, you yourself should get good and tired, just for the sake of fairness." But there are times when I have to be unfair, when I want to be unfair. Anyway, I'm good and tired already from chasing after images, as you accuse me of doing.) Later on, I came to know still another kind of tiredness, comparable to what I experienced in the shipping room; that was when I finally started writing in earnest, day after day for months at a time--there was no other way out. Once again, when I went out into the city streets after the day's work, it seemed to me that I had lost my connection with all the people around me. But the way I felt about this loss of connection wasn't the same anymore. It no longer mattered to me that I had ceased to be a participant in normal everyday life; on the contrary, in my tiredness verging on exhaustion, my nonparticipation gave me an altogether pleasant feeling. No longer was society inaccessible to me; I, on the contrary, was now inaccessible to society and everyone in it. What are your entertainments, your festivities, your hugging and kissing to me? I had the trees, the grass, the movie screen on which Robert Mitchum displayed his inscrutable pantomime for me alone, and I had the jukebox on which, for me alone, Bob Dylan sang his "Sad-eyed Lady of theLowlands," or Ray Davies his and my "I'm Not Like Everybody Else."
Wasn't that sort of tiredness likely to degenerate into arrogance?
Yes, I'd often, in looking myself over, surprise a cold, misanthropic arrogance or, worse, a condescending pity for all the commonplace occupations that could never in all the world lead to a royal tiredness such as mine. In the hours after writing, I was an "untouchable," enthroned, so to speak, regardless of where I happened to be: "Don't touch me!" And if in the pride of my tiredness I nevertheless let myself be touched, it might just as well have never happened. It wasn't until much later that I came to know tiredness as a becoming-accessible, as the possibility of being touched and of being able to touch in turn. This happened very rarely--only great events can happen so rarely--and hasn't recurred for a long while, as though such miracles were confined to a certain segment of human existence and could be repeated only in exceptional situations, a war, a natural catastrophe, or some other time of trouble. On the few occasions when I have been--but what verb goes with it?--"favored"? "struck?" with such tiredness, I was indeed going through a period of personal distress, during which, fortunately for me, I met someone who was in a similar state. This other person always proved to be a woman. Our distress was not enough to bind us; it also took an erotic tiredness after a hardship suffered together. There seems to be arule that before a man and a woman can become a dream couple for some hours at a time they must have a long, arduous journey behind them, must have met in a place foreign to them both and as far as possible from any sort of home or hominess, and must have confronted a danger, or perhaps only a long period of bewilderment in the midst of the enemy country, which can also be one's own. This tiredness, in a place of refuge that has suddenly become quiet, may suddenly give these two, a man and a woman, to each other with a naturalness and fervor unknown in other unions, however loving; what happens then is "like an exchange of bread and wine," as another friend put it. Sometimes when I try to communicate the feeling of such a union in tiredness, a line from a poem comes to mind: "Words of love--each one of them laughing ..." which isn't far from the "one body and one soul" cited above, though in that case both bodies were steeped in silence; or I would simply vary the words spoken in a Hitchcock film by a tipsy Ingrid Bergman while fondling the tired and (still) rather remote Cary Grant: "Forget it--a tired man and a drunken woman--that won't add up to much of a couple." My variation: "A tired man and a tired woman--what a glorious couple that will be." Or "with you" appears as a single word, like the Spanish contigo ... or in German (or English), perhaps instead of saying: "I'm tired of you," one might say: "I'm tired with you." In the light of these extraordinary findings, I see Don Juan not as a seducer but as a perpetually tired hero who can be counted on to be overcome by tiredness at the right time in the company of a tired woman, theconsequence being that all women fall into his arms, but never waste a tear on him once the mysteries of erotic tiredness have been enacted; for what has happened between those two will have been for all time: two such people know of nothing more enduring than this one entwinement, neither feels the need of a repetition; in fact, both dread the thought. That's all very well, but how does this Don Juan bring on his forever new tiredness, which makes him and his mistress so wonderfully ready to succumb? Not only one or two but a thousand and three such simultaneities which, down to the tiniest patch of skin, engrave themselves forever on this pair of bodies, each and every impulse being genuine, unmistakable, congruent, and of course spontaneous. In any case, you and I, after such ecstasies of tiredness, would be lost to the usual bodily fuss and bother.
What did you have left when it was over?
Even greater tirednesses.
Are there, in your opinion, even greater tirednesses than those already referred to?
More than ten years ago, I took a night flight from Anchorage, Alaska, to New York. It was a long haul from Cook Inlet, great ice floes rushing in at low tide and galloping back into the ocean at low tide, a stopover amid snow flurries in the gray of dawn in Edmonton, Canada, another in Chicago after much circling around the airfieldand waiting in line on the runway under the harsh morning sun, to the final landing in the sultry afternoon, miles out of New York. Arriving at the hotel, I felt ill, cut off from the world after a night without sleep, air, or exercise, and wanted to go straight to bed. But then I saw the streets along Central Park in the early-autumn sunlight. People seemed to be strolling about, as though on a holiday. I wanted to be with them and felt I'd be missing something if I stayed in my room. Still dazed and alarmingly wobbly from loss of sleep, I found a place on a sunlit café terrace, with clamor and gasoline fumes all around me. But then, I don't remember how, whether little by little or all at once, came transformation. I once read that depressives can be cured by being kept awake night after night; this "treatment" seemed to stabilize the fearsomely swaying "suspension bridge of the ego." I had that image before me when the torment of my tiredness began to lift. This tiredness had something of a recovery about it. Hadn't I heard people talk about "fighting off tiredness"? For me the fight was over. Now tiredness was my friend. I was back in the world again and even--though not because this was Manhattan--in its center. But there were other things, many, in fact, one more enchanting than the last. Until late that night I did nothing but sit and look; it was almost as if I had no need to draw breath. No spectacular breathing exercises or yoga contortions. You just sit and breathe more or less correctly in the light of your tiredness. Lots of beautiful women passed, sometimes an incredible number, from time to time their beauty brought tears to my eyes--and all, as they passed, tooknotice of me. I existed. (Strange that my look of tiredness was especially acknowledged by the beautiful women, but also by children and a few old men.) Neither they nor I thought of going any further and trying to strike up an acquaintance. I wanted nothing from them; just being able to look at them was enough for me. My gaze was indeed that of a good spectator at a game that cannot be successful without at least one such onlooker. This tired man's looking-on was an activity, it did something, it played a part; because of it, the actors in the play became better, more beautiful than ever--for one thing because while being looked at by eyes such as mine they took their time. As by a miracle, the tiredness of such an onlooker nullified his ego, that eternal creator of unrest, and with it all other distortions, quirks, and frowns; nothing remained but his candid eyes, at least as inscrutable as Robert Mitchum's. The action of this selfless onlooker encompassed far more than the beautiful female passersby and drew everything that lived and moved into its world-center. My tiredness articulated the muddle of crude perception, not by breaking it up, but by making its components recognizable, and with the help of rhythms endowed it with form--form as far as the eye could see--a vast horizon of tiredness.
But the scenes of violence, the clashes, the screams--did they become friendly forms on the vast horizon?
I have been speaking here of tiredness in peacetime, in the present interim period. In those hours there was peace,in the Central Park area as elsewhere. And the astonishing part of it was that my tiredness seemed to participate in this momentary peace, for my gaze disarmed every intimation of a violent gesture, a conflict, or even of an unfriendly attitude, before it could get started--this by virtue of a compassion very different from the occasional contemptuous pity that comes of creative tiredness: call it sympathy as understanding.
But what was so unusual about that gaze? Its special character?
I saw--and the other saw that I saw--his object at the same time as he did: the trees under which he was walking, the book he held in his hand, the light in which he was standing, even if it was the artificial light of a store; the old fop along with this light-colored suit and the carnation he was holding; the salesman along with his heavy suitcase; the giant along with the invisible child on his shoulders; myself along with the leaves blowing out of the park; and every one of us along with the sky overhead.
Suppose there was no such object?
Then my tiredness created it, and in a twinkling the other, who a moment ago had still been wandering about in the void, felt surrounded by the aura of his object ... And that's not all. Because of my tiredness, the thousands of unconnected happenings all about me arranged themselves into an order that was more than form; each oneentered into me as the precisely fitting part of a finely attuned, light-textured story; and its events told themselves without the mediation of words. Thanks to my tiredness, the world cast off its names and became great. I have a rough picture of four possible attitudes of my linguistic self to the world: in the first, I am mute, cruelly excluded from events; in the second, the confusion of voices, of talk, passes from outside into my inner self, though I am still as mute as before, capable at the most of screaming; in the third, finally, life enters into me by beginning spontaneously, sentence for sentence, to tell stories, usually to a definite person, a child, a friend; and finally, in the fourth, which I experienced most lastingly in that day's clear-sighted tiredness, the world tells its own story without words, in utter silence, to me as well as to that gray-haired onlooker over there and to that magnificent woman who is striding by; all peaceable happening was itself a story, and unlike wars and battles, which need a poet or a chronicler before they can take shape, these stories shaped themselves in my tired eyes into an epic and, moreover, as then became apparent to me, an ideal epic. The images of the fugitive world meshed one with another, and took form.
Yes, ideal: because in this epic everything that happened was right; things kept happening, yet there was not too much or too little of anything. All that's needed for an epic is a world, a history of mankind, that tells itself asit should be. Utopian? The other day I read here on a poster: "La utopia no existe," which might be translated as "The no-place does not exist." Just give that a thought and history will start moving. In any case, my utopian tiredness of that day was connected with at least one place. That day I felt much more sense of place than usual. It was as though, no sooner arrived, I in my tiredness had taken on the smell of the place; I was an old inhabitant. And in similar spells of tiredness during the years that followed, still more associations attached themselves to that place. Total strangers spoke to me, perhaps because I looked familiar to them, or perhaps for no particular reason. In Edinburgh, where after looking for hours at Poussin's Seven Sacraments, which at last showed Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and the rest in the proper perspective, I sat radiant with tiredness in an Italian restaurant, feeling self-conscious about being waited on--an exceptional state related to my tiredness; all the waiters agreed that they had seen me before, though each in a different place, one in Santorin (where I have never been), another last summer with a sleeping bag on Lake Garda--neither the sleeping bag nor the lake was right. In the train from Zurich to Biel after staying up all night celebrating the end of the children's school year, I was sitting opposite a young woman who had spent an equally sleepless night at a party celebrating the end of the Tour de Suisse bicycle race. On the instructions of the bank she worked for, which had co-sponsored the Tour, she had performed the duties of a hostess, distributing flowers and kisses to each prizewinner as he stepped forward ... Her story cametumbling out of the tired woman as spontaneously as if we had known everything else about each other. One racer, who had won twice in a row and was rewarded with a second kiss, was so engrossed in his sporting prowess that he no longer recognized her, as she told me cheerfully, admiringly, and without a trace of disappointment. In addition to being tired, she was hungry, and she wasn't going to bed, she was going to eat lunch with her girlfriend in Biel. There, I realized, was another explanation for her unsuspecting trustfulness: in addition to her tiredness, her hunger. The tiredness of the well fed can't manage that. "We were hungry and tired," says the young woman in Dashiell Hammett's The Glass Key in telling Sam Spade her dream about the two of them: what brought them together, then and later, was hunger and tiredness. It seems to me that apart from children--the way they turn around and stare expectantly at the man sitting there--and other tired people, idiots and animals are most receptive to such tiredness. A few days ago an idiot here in Linares, hopping along absently hand in hand with a member of his family, seemed as startled at the sight of me, sitting on a bench exhausted by my literary efforts of the morning and afternoon, as if he had taken me for a fellow idiot or something even more amazing. Not only his Mongoloid eyes but his whole face beamed at me; he stopped still and had to be literally dragged away--his features expressing pure pleasure, simply because someone had seen him and acknowledged his existence. And this was not a unique occurrence. In many a time and place the idiots of the world, European, Arab,Japanese, presenting the drama of themselves with childlike pleasure, have been drawn into this tired idiot's field of vision. Once in Friuli, not far from the village of Medea, when exhausted after completing a piece of work and walking for hours across the treeless plain, I came to the edge of a forest and saw two ducks, a deer, and a hare lying together in the grass. Catching sight of me, they seemed about to take flight, but then resumed their even rhythm; pulling up grass, browsing, waddling about. On the road near the Poblet monastery in Catalonia I fell in with two dogs, a big one and a small one, who may have been father and son. They joined up with me, sometimes following me, sometimes running on ahead. I was so tired that I forgot my usual fear of dogs, and besides, or so I imagined, my long wanderings in the region must have steeped me in its smell, so the dogs took me for granted. True enough, they began to play, the "father" describing circles around me and the "son" chasing him between my legs. Great, I thought. Here I have an image of true human tiredness: it creates openings, making room for an epic that will encompass all beings, now including the animals. Here perhaps a digression may be in order. In the chamomile-scented rubble outside Linares, where I go for a walk each day, I have observed very different interactions among human beings and animals. I can speak of them only in shorthand. Those scattered forms apparently resting in the shadows of the ruins or stone blocks but actually lying in ambush, within gunshot of the little cages fastened to flexible poles planted in the rubble. Cages so tiny that the fluttering of the inmates makes them sway,thus offering larger birds an alluring mobile bait. (But the shadow of the eagle is far away, sweeping across my paper as I sit in my eerily quiet eucalyptus grove hard by the ruins of the lead mine, my open-air studio during the ecstatic bellowing and trumpeting of the Spanish Easter Week);--or those excited children running out of the gypsy encampment on the heath, a sleek noble-headed dog frolicking around them, yelping with eagerness at the sight of the spectacle organized by a boy-almost-man: hare let loose on the savanna, dog speeding in pursuit, hare twisting, turning, and doubling back, but soon caught, dropped, caught again more quickly than before, flung this way and that in the dog's jaws. Dog racing across field, hare squeaking interminably, show ending with return of children to camp, dog jumping up, ringleader boy holding out hand, grabbing hare by ears; the hare wet with blood, still twitching a little, its paws go limp; its little face, seen in profile, held high above the children's heads, utterly helpless and forlorn, more sublime than the face of any animal or human being, leads the procession into the sunset.--Or only the other day, as I was on my way home to town from writing in the eucalyptus grove, a crowd of teenagers by the stone wall around the olive field, brandishing olive branches and reeds, shouting, running forward and back, pushing and kicking at a pile of stones, and from under the stones, now visible in the sunlight, a long, thick, coiled snake, at first barely moving, just the twitching of the head and the darting of the tongue--still heavy with winter sleep? Reeds raining down from all sides, splintering yet lethal;the assailants, hardly more than children, myself among them as I remember it, still howling and rushing back and forth; at last the snake rearing to full height yet cutting a pathetic figure, in no position to attack, not even threatening, just mechanically executing the hereditary gesture of the snake, and thus upraised in profile, with head crushed and blood flowing from its mouth, suddenly, just before collapsing under the shower of stones like the hare, a third figure, something like the one that appears for a moment at the back of the stage while the curtain, painted with the usual human and animal forms, rises. But why do I persist in telling and retelling such horrors, which communicate no story but at the most lend confirmation, while what my unifying tirednesses have to tell me calls forth again and again a natural stretching out which induces an epic breathing.
That's all very well, but don't you realize that those horrors were not mere horrors. Look at it this way. You were just going to record them, but in spite of yourself you were very nearly drawn into storytelling, and if in the end you avoided its verb form, the historical past, it was only by a deliberate trick. And besides, your horror stories are more colorful, or in any case more suggestive, than the infinitely peaceful incidents of your epic tiredness?
But I'm not interested in suggestiveness. I have no desire to persuade, not even with images. I only want to remind each one of you of his own very narrative tiredness. Andits visual quality will soon become apparent, at the end of this essay--right now if I've become tired enough in the meantime.
But quite aside from your anecdotes and fragmentary glimpses, what is the essence of the ultimate tiredness? How does it work? What good is it? Does it enable a tired person to act?
It is itself the best action, because it is in itself a beginning, a doing, a getting under way, so to speak. This getting under way is a lesson. Tiredness provides teachings that can be applied. What, you may ask, does it teach? The history of ideas used to operate with the concept of the "Thing in itself"; no longer, for an object can never be manifested "in itself," but only in relation to me. But the tirednesses that I have in mind renew the old concept and give it meaning for me. What's more: they give me the idea along with the concept. And better still, with the idea of the thing, I possess, almost palpably, a law: The thing not only is, but should be just as it appears at the moment. And furthermore: in such fundamental tiredness, the thing is never manifested alone but always in conjunction with other things, and even if there are not very many, they will all be together in the end. "And now even the dog with its barking says: All together!" And in conclusion: such tirednesses demand to be shared.
Why so philosophical all of a sudden?