On Reading & How Reading Handke has Affected Me & On the Experience of Reading Handke on the Dreamscreen.
Notes Toward a Psychoanalysis of Reading.
For Maria Sivec
First of all, who am I, who am I as a reader, when and how did I start to read written words? I must have seen parents and grandparents and others reading, it was called “lesen” in German, that is what they did and I seem to have been curiosity itself, I still have photos of my mother leading a pudgy two to three year old, by his harness, strapped over his upper body, like a young dog or horse being trained, from flower to flower – did a bee ever sting my nose or am I hallucinating the experience?
I was not supposed to clamber all over people’s laps while they were reading, which was done sitting on a chair or couch. The expression “Don’t disturb, Opa, don’t disturb your father… he is reading!” I must have heard. Perhaps I had even heard the word “auf-lesen” which means to pick up, referring to toys I strewed about, in lieu of leaving the task to my governess. “Lesen” was something that eyes did, they picked something up, a mystery. Mysterious black salad on white paper, could you read the lines on birch bark, too? White! Near invariably. The cheaper the grayer, towards the end of the war wood pulp seemed mixed with all kinds of paper even the toilet rolls if you didn’t use newspapers to wipe your arse. How would eyes ever decipher that black mysterious mess, what might be so fascinating about it, what gems did it hold, or pick out the gems that elicited smiles or curses from readers of newspapers: did the rapt attention, that other-worldly look of someone apparently entranced, in or by a book, keep me from molesting them, how much instinctive deference was I born with, was I born with the kind of manners one of my grandmother’s claimed you were born with, a problematic equation if you doubted that you were. Or not? Reading words was not only done sitting on a chair, or couch, but in special places, say by the big fire place nook which had two couches and a big round oaken table, lit by candle-shaped bulbs that shed a gentle brownish-yellow, brunette glow through wax mantles, a big round nicely grained oaken table on which people also played cards, Skat, people seemed to read the cards they held. Reading required light, daytimes by the veranda window. My father even had a room reserved entirely for reading, it was called “the reading room,” and was especially bright, it was a corner room on the first floor and had not just windows to the west and south, but glass bricks. It had shelves at window-sill height, behind which I found, aged ten, handsful of condoms, which I took into the living room, showed to my mother who was having tea with friends, asking what these were for, my mother blushed and lied that they were for smoking, this was the room where my father had his flings with so-called secretaries when my mother had her one and only affair, but this was after the war, and I am shooting about six years ahead of myself here.
It was at age four, Christmas, my mother gave me a wax tablet, wooden borders encasing a glistening dark grey wavy reflecting substance, a moldable mass, and showed me that if you stroked your hand or a finger over that smooth soft surface letters words, might arise out of the wax, wondrous! As she made her explanation her head cocked at the angle from which she watched what my reactions would be, an angle that my famous peripheral vision gleaned even at that early age. - I was hooked! A B C … Certain letters in combination could be pronounced, referred to objects and beings that I knew: Mutter, Vater, Omi for grandmother, Lite for the governess, Hund [hound] for the wire hair Terrier who had the odd given name “Poetter”. Something funny occurred inside your head when you had a name for an object, and the object appeared to become less mysterious once it had a name and it was even stranger when that word might arise from as mysterious a substance, as now, a computer screen.
contact me at mikerol (@) lycos.com
if you are interested in the entire piecethis is the opening to Part I.