Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hamburg 25.6.1998: Barlach's Wiedersehen and Perfect White Teeth

Sitting in the office provided for me at Binderstrasse 22, in the pale light of a late-June morning in Hamburg, after two days of incessant rain. When we awoke this morning, slugs had invaded our apartment, having sought the open windows in the night.

As I think about Hamburg in conjunction with the essays of Richard Rodriguez I’m reading—about San Francisco—I think what a masculine city Hamburg is, in a very masculine country. Yesterday, we were at the city art museum: such a heavy, overweening, macho experience. Columns of black faux marble with brown ceilings, dark green walls. The art collection actively repulsive: heavy, badly displayed, not honored.

Perhaps I’m out of sorts, with a cold and touch of bronchitis since Ireland. The Barlach house was, by contrast, a wonderful oasis, reverent pieces in a reverent setting. The Christ and Thomas piece is beyond belief.

+ + + + +

7 P.M. A storm has suddenly blown up. The day turned sunny and warm at noontime, and after our commitments at the university were done around 5, Steve and I took the train back here to walk by the Elbe.

But almost as soon as we set off on the walk, it began to thunder and become dark, so now we’re back at the apartment listening to the rain and feeling at loose ends.

Disspirited. I feel pulled down by the cold, insufficient sleep, the stress of getting through this course.

Insubstantial. Nothing I say or do seems to make much sense, to promise any openings for the future.

And so much goes unsaid. Dare I to speak of the lust—the active lust—I feel for some of the German men I meet? That milk-freshness they seem to have even when debauched, those eyes of glass-blue, and, my God! the teeth! The perfect teeth. Do they even begin to know the response they elicit? Is the innocence a tease? Are they all as slow as Steve always is to give in to pleasure, to know his heart? Head knowledge must be kept from heart knowledge: a key motto of German life, which must make for some very split psyches.

Faulkner says the only point of literature is to tell the story of the heart. After Ireland, I keep mulling over—or is it fantasizing?—a novel about Mullinavat, New Orleans, Shubuta, Orion. The trick would be to avoid artifice and deceit . . . .

Well, those are the words that pop into my head. What I think I mean, rather, is that’d have to avoid the artifice of the path well trod, of the conventional emigrant epic. That’s a tale that has been told, over and over. Where’s the heart in it?

No comments: