Wednesday, August 12, 2015


The first scratchings of these, chiefly, investigation of the workings of memory & consequences of early childhood psychological wounds - for this self-analytic memoir of age one to twenty-one – my way of finding out who I am, to come face to face, face to face with myself: I try to think what motivated me, the then mid 1960s obscure sense that it might be a good thing to find out what that murk inside me was, I felt troubled, and it turns out I was so for good reason. Even within the first half dozen years in the United Stated, from age 14 in 1950 to Sophomore College year in 1956, I felt haunted by the country that I had fled - “like a black bear with Texans and their hounds at its heel” is my exorbitant analogy - yet longed for a particular place – a fir forest that was also part farm, called Fichtenhof/ Fir Place or Manor - whose initial loss - I was four years old in 1940 and taken away to avoid the bombings – was one of my first wounds, which wound - by this writing - has grown into one of my most important “screen memories,” a veritable magnet for associations of all kinds. That screen memory, together with an even richer one of six months prior, of a catastrophe when two toy railway train locomotives collide inside an Alpine tunnel, and you and I have the fractured psychogram of a young child. And if you know just these two screen memories plus my aboriginal Oedipal dream of a Billygoat chasing a four year old me up a clearing in Fir Place, you would be a seriously worried child analyst! However, there was no child analyst around! Not even anyone to wonder why I might have looked such a delighted child as my mother leads me, a harnessed toddler, through the flower beds, who then looks so miserable, like such an unhappy child, in his sandbox with his governess hovering nearby.
Fir Place kept pre-occupying me, always hovering in the back of my mind, during the first two years in the so sour experience of West Orange, New Jersey, and while at summer camp or when camping, and also at Oakwood School: on graduating from high school I was meant to spend a summer as a lumber jack in the Quebec north woods. I was pretty “woodsy” and had started to become so during early childhood.
Subsequent to coming to the U.S. in 1950, – - I returned twice to Fir Place, during a Junior Year abroad in 1957 and in 1964, a year spent literary scouting and translating. Both times I paid brief, memorial, walk-about visits to a place and its village that evidently occupied a paradisiacal spot in my experience.
Paradise lost, the reasons why were discernable, were clear to me. But I can visit any time, virtually, courtesy of Google Earth! Although Fir Place is much changed, the surrounding farming area not so much. As a matter of fact, the surround is much spruced up since the end of World War II in 1945. The Fachwerk (wood-reinforced walls of the) farm houses look freshly painted, the huge clump of a Chateau looks glazed – in my recollection it is filled with refugees who have hung ragged laundry out of the windows.
The one good story I wrote in college – Sandro – also features Fir Place. I had the idea for the story – after just having written a truly dreadful, forced something - outlined it for a toughy, for Professor John Ashmead, discussed it and had it in two drafts. An F was succeeded by an A+. Everyone loved it, Bill Packard published it in the Haverford-Bryn Mawr review prior to a breakdown as editor of the campus paper. Sandro (see Appendix) came as no other story had so far in English, it welled up, formed like a fairy tale, sort of wrote itself, the way I had started to write shortly before emigrating. It is a lyrical story of death and loss, set in Fir Place. I was astounded at what one Bryn Mawr girl brought to, found in it – and I suppose ought to have married, entrusted myself to someone who had such deep insight, ways of seeing into matters of which I was unconscious.
Thus the first scratchings were made in the mid-1960s & I showed them to Aaron Ascher, an editor at my publisher, Viking Press, and I think I showed them to Aaron because Aaron was my then best friend Frank Conroy's editor for Frank's famous-to-be memoir Stop Time. Frank had found his voice. I read chapters as he was completing his childhood (the then too hurried) memoir in his shoebox of a studio on Ann Street, vis-a-vis City Hall Manhattan - and suggested to a Partisan Review editor to do a section, as they then did. Were Frank and I in competition with each other? I am uncertain, which may means that in some respects the answer may be yes even though I had no intention of emulating his way of sinking mine shafts into childhood for a series of them to form a spectrum of the whole of it. I realized that I would have to go about it very differently. I can't really find too many other signs of competitiveness in my relationship with that friend (but of his with me in a # of matters, see the Conroy portrait in the Appendix): we played even-steven at chess for thousands of miles & months of summers!, and Frank was, I knew early on, brighter than I, who, however, knew that he was the deeper and slower of the two. Aaron said that he found the material utterly fascinating, a reaction that both surprised and intrigued, and thus encouraged me over the years to keep scratching away while I was in the world of N.Y. publishing and had a contract with Viking, and a different editor, dear Alan Williams, for a very different book - on an important figure in the German resistance to Hitler - that yet related in many ways to the material of what is now called Screen Memories. That book, on Colonel Kurt Grosskurt of Canaris's Abwehr,(German Counter Intelligence)
had been suggested by Ladislas Farago a code cracker & historian of espionage.
The subject of the German opposition interested me because my parents, since the mid-30s, as well as other family members had been in that opposition (other family member had been in the SS!) and then became involved in the the 20th of July plot to assassinate Hitler, were arrested,
spent time in Gestapo prisons, were strung up or had heir heads cut off, and the fact that the parents, especially my grandfather,
survived - while I as a child was in debilitating "protective custody" - was the kind of improbable event that is then termed miraculous. Or as the street has it: "That is the way the cookie crumbles!" Well, in instances it is possible to look at cookie crumbs crumb by crumb. E.g. Why was my grandfather not executed after being condemned to death after he had been so fortunate to have a most dubious friend (Count von Helldorf)
suggest that he spend the night of the "Long Knives" in 1934
at his hunting lodge? After all, he had ridiculed Hitler at a famous lunch (his wife, my grandmother, famously said that she'd just as soon "not have that gentleman for lunch again."!), Hitler had accused Opa A. of being the "certain Herr von A." who had been about to launch a coup that the "Night of Long Knives" had allegedly averted & had made the threat (it was a joke and justifiably paranoid Hitler had taken it seriously) to call out the Potsdam garrison to have Hitler arrested - something that my grandfather's superior, General Schleicher,
Hitler's predecessor as Chancellor, had indeed been in a position to do, but didn't, just as little as Opa had the good sense to kill a man he knew to be the head of a murderous & mad organization; and so Opa A. instead spent time in four different concentration camps, was liberated at Buchenwald, but occasionally was on vacation (!), during one of which, Christmas 1940, he figures significantly in my so all-important first screen memory, as a displacement for a threatening disliked father. Cockie crumbs become boulders. What would that screen memory look like without him, what would have replaced the metaphor of two toy train locs that collide catastrophically inside a make-believe papier mache tunnel?
That I was born into Hitler's world therefore had all kinds of quite personal consequences of which you/ I become (gradually) aware, awake as your historical awareness wakens, becomes conscious.
Research on Grosskurt was bound to deepen my background on that subject, but a book on Grosskurt, at that time, in the 60s, also, I hoped, would serve as model for military opposition to the Vietnam war. Grosskurt, initially, seemed a fine prospect for such an undertaking. As compared to the Junker Military caste's often belated nationalist opposition to Hitler, Grosskurt's origin as Protestant Pastor's son, in Bremen, pointed to opposition for reasons of conscience.
One of my favorite reading moments was coming on darling Jean Genet realizing, in his Thief's Journal, that as he worked his way back from Poland through Germany to France that in Germany the police and the criminals were one and the same - how this appalled his French sense of how the world was constituted!
And it was not just my parents' role, but my grandfather - who in that astonishingly brief Christmas time - became especially dear to me, that played into my interest in that past; that is, even initially, the interest was historical and political. That it lacked psychological self-understanding was remedied, at least roughly, with a psycho-analysis that I undertook in the 1980s. Yet from early on the family configuration, and as it existed in my psyche - exquisitely Oedipal - and in some respects contradictorily - seemed determinative, and interest in the determinative aspects of the past became intimate once I regarded it from the perspective of the long term effects of a child's psychic wounds.
I took a few stabs at the book as the years wore on, however became ever busier with translating and entry into editing, book publishing. The Grosskurt project itself was abandoned in the mid-70s because Grosskurt had, for one, been unable to overthrow the government or prevent the outbreak of WW II (pathetically, in frustration, he had tossed a rock at the Reich's chancellory in 1938, the kind of detail that will stick) but - the Hitler government receiving intimations of disloyalty - shipped him off to the Eastern Front; taken prisoner of war at the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943 he died a Russian p.o.w.: there was no book there, certainly not of the kind I envisioned, although the research on it, in the Gestapo trove that the U.S. had schlepped to Washington, D.C. and at the IFZ, Institute for Contemporary History, Munich, proved invaluable.
For example, I found out that dear old philandering Dad had had one of his numerous affairs with Colonel Grosskurt's secretary – no matter how dire the life or death situation, all kinds of hanky-panky flourishes, in the underground of the opposition as well, and rarely is it of the Casablanca high romance kind. And that my mother saying "the police always know less than you think they do" proved correct. What had the Gestapo had on my father when they arrested him immediately after the failed 20th of July coup? That, as the head of the Unilever-owned German fishing concern Nordsee Deutsche Hochsee Fischerei, he had supplied the conspirators with fish! That was one matter for which you were not strung up! At least not in advance! But you'd keep you eyes on the guy! A discovery from a house search in 1943. My mother's links to the Rote Kappelle
must have shown up when that conspiracy was decimated.
In the early years of the new millennium I wrote up the analysis as A Patient's Experience of his Analysis. Screen Memories (including its title) would be inconceivable without having done that work.
At that point, 2003, I could look back and see someone like myself born in the mid-30s to parents who turn the child over to a governess because they are too busy, also with conspiratorial work that invariably overlaps with social life, and for class reasons, and which child's earliest years are shaped by the experience of war, that for reasons of the village culture and for reasons of reading lots of fairy tales, acquires a dark fairy tale quality - B-17teens become mythical birds of prey, moths in the night-time sky that searchlights spot with puffs of smoke going off near them, dragons teeth are sowed, a nearby camp becomes the place where lives the man who eats children, and is to be avoided.
You could scarcely call my early life typical of a German boy my generation, yet via the media - radio, newspapers - I became absorbed by and in war, and a militant nationalist by age six, so it appears! Parents of course utterly appalled, Guenter Grass then 14 and living in Gdansk cheers me on as I sing "We Lay off-shore Madagascar and had the Plague on board" to my parent's Christmas telephone call in 1942.
I was raised chiefly in rural environs; kids in the cities had a much harder time of it. I imagine I can be said to have been privileged with that unfortunate governess protector jailer Ms. No who kept me in emasculating protective custody & neglected in not that atypical a fashion; yet it was the kind of neglect that allowed for time to read and to dream. A streak of sheer orneriness (and perhaps the example of the negative role model uncle) kept me alive and not totally goodified, and then linked up with what I call "My Idyllic years" (1945-1950} with its inception with the arrival of refugee cousins at our place in the vilage of Schönebeck {Prettybrook) outside Bremen - "Idyllic years" was one initial title for the book, the most favorable memories had displaced the grimmest. Peter Weiss's Abschied von den Eltern (Farewell to my Parents) played a role, also because Peter had become a friend.
Perhaps my experience as an emigrant who has to make his way in the demos is somewhat more typical.
In 1991, sick of Bush I, of the savings and loan debacle and a Malibu where every home owner had a real estate license and tried to sell the neighbor's house, I went to Mexico, supposedly for six months, to complete the book. I had in mind something called "Hotel Franscesca" in the former French copper-mining town of Santa Rosalia, opposite mainland Guaymas in Baja Sur - seven pesos a day for a room and breakfast and a view of the Sea of Cortez/ of California. Already on my way down Mex I, on the elongated peninsula, rumors abounded that Hotel Franscesca was closed down or had become a whore house.
Initially, traveling alongside the Pacific and its cold Japanese current and lacking for warm water, I headed for Bahia de los Angeles, of Steinbeck's American Flyer fame, and seriously considered putting up in a trailer in Tony Resendiz camp (Tony the Turtleman who was bringing the turtles back, a descendent of Steinbeck's Doc marine biologist) & converting my computer to D.C. electricity, but chance would have it that - retrieving mail in Santa Rosalia - I encountered someone who sang the praises of Mulege (Moo-lay-hay) a town a few miles further south, that proved a semi-tropical rural haven as compared to Bahia de los Angeles and Tony the Turtleman's exceedingly ascetic frugal semi-desert ways. And indeed the Hotel Franscesca was closed: climbing the northern bluff of Santa Rosalia (a town of three avenidas thrust into a copper canyon) to check on a splendid wooden structure, it happened to be open house for hombre de nogotacion who would resuscitate the hotel's commercial viability. The gentelmen asked me if I was a prospective Norte Americano hotelier.
All impulses of the kind needed for the completion of any of my several major projects faded in the idyllic pastoral rural, if occasionally exceedingly hot and amoeba-rife Mulege environment. I produced one long very shaggy dog screenplay (amusing the hell out of myself!), translated an Erich Wolfgang Skwara novel and did a few Handke essays for an annual Austrian lit conference at U.C. Riverside. Who wants to dwell on the "Third Reich" with Mangoes falling ripe off the trees into your mouth! Shuffling through the mucho pulvo rural paths, or a burro as transport for longer forays into a wonderful back country. And you could probably make a mint selling something called "Hitler Cola" to anti-American Mexican sheeples? If the small stipend on which I lived, that and some royalties, or if Roger Straus had not bilked me out of three quarters of my royalties - I had the fantasy of moving to Michoacan to live in a tropical high altitude (cool!) pine forest with the tribe that worships the Monarch butterfly!
With my Handke project in pretty good shape around 2013, and several other entirely unanticipated books completed (1) but, but for many fine sections, a huge novel, Darlings & Monsters unlikely to be completed in this lifetime, I set to serious work on Screen Memories - that I could get done in a few years, and for once complete it I did, without indulging in too over-optimistic a fantasy. The minutae keep flooding in from an aroused deeply ploughed memory!
Initially, I wrote a section, a very contemplative one (since eliminated) for the morning that 14 year old me is about to step ashore the U.S.N.S General Maurice Rose at the Brooklyn Port of Embarkation in October 1950. In that section, which coursed over the major events of my young life, I toggled between calling myself Gabriel & I [Gabriel/ I is how that looked] a combined first and third person!] which contained the truth of uncertainty; how well did I actually know myself, recall who I had been at that time; even with a psychoanalysis and subsequent working through. This was a time that I sought to objectify my casenes as it were & Screen Memories was meant to become “objectified” & I called myself Gabriel Orloff, but in the process seemed to lose all intimacy, and not really gain anything, rather the opposite: a not fruitful constraint, not the wished for novelistic freedom - yet, though abandoned, that perspective will not have entirely disappeared, and I regard it, retrospectively, as a valid step in acquiring an outside perspective on myself. The idea of a Gabriel Orloff had seemed to permit the introduction of fantasy – I was hoping that some kind of transfiguration might transpire, into a Farbrizio!, as it had with the Sandro story during freshman year: unconscious dreamwork could be trusted to do that work - after all, though I find memory to be untrustworthy, dreams are not, nor are Screen Memories which are a species of historical dream (2).
However, I was forced to give up on novelistic temptation which would also have meant the sacrifice of certain journalistic truth values. So what was it going to be?

The book, as it developed, changed titles from Irretrievable Losses, to Losses to The Idyllic Years [for the transitional years 1944-1950 having been the best of them] to Screen Memories for the importance of the major traumas and how they were remembered & transfigured, how they figured in my life.
My objective in writing, as I proceeded, with numerous unearthings along the way, then became to investigate the long-term effect of a series of early childhood traumas, which manifest themselves in a series of major screen memories of age 4 - evidently the most exciting and eventful year - 1939-1940 - of my life, I kid thee not!
To that end I went over the first 21 years of my life sometime in great detail (and could go over the rest, especially its major turning points) to discover the unconscious as well as conscious effect of these traumas - that elicited what you might call automatic passive compliance or active semi-compelled decisions with existential consequence; and in that process became engaged with my memory and its workings. E.g. I became puzzled why I had no recollection whatsoever how I came from Fairbanks to the forest fire I had started to fight outside Galena, at the Yukon, in Summer 1960, why I drew a total blank where I had anticipated memory to speak, as it had in nearly every other instance: I had gone 24 hours without sleep, and the memory that was laid down during my next sleep session, however, starts with my being on the fire line, and a P-38 above showering me with fire retardant. What immediately precedes it is forgotten, has in fact never had the opportunity to be remembered. The initially discovery of this lacuna proved to be a very disturbing experience, it cast doubt not so much on the experiences that I seemed to recollect with considerable certainty but on the overall record: where I had been able to say that “the body does not forget” - however its many ways of remembering - and be in a position to prove it, doubt was suddenly cast on that certainty.
Sleeping on events to lay down, inscribe memories suddenly became very important. When had I not slept for extended periods of time, and thus not be able to remember possibly crucial events in my life? - For the first two major screen memories and the preceding first nightmare evidently well enough. Subsequently there were stretches upon stretches of nighttime bombing attacks and nights spent awake.
The date of the first bombing attack on Bremen coincides with the second screen memory, that becomes that of a tearful expulsion from paradisaical Fir Place. Yet was I really in Berlin when the Zoo was bombed and the animals screamed or did I only hear of that attack and fantasized, projected their screams into my memory and into a 1955 story: after all, I recall very distinctly being in an above-ground reinforced beton bunker in Spring 1944 as a physician was preparing to remove my tonsils and I was drifting off into the land of anesthesia as the bunker shook and the mirror trembled. In other words: whether or not I actually heard the screams of the animals from my parents apartment in the Budapester Strasse in Berlin, if Zoo animals screams were even audible there!, what the recollection shares with that of the first bombing attack in Spring 1940 is my hysteria, which was induced much earlier, by my governess; my Oedipal dream, also at age four, provides ample evidence.
The memoir ends with that mad resolve in November 1960, at a McCabe & Mrs. Miller (the Altman film) type party on Chena Ridge, Fairbanks Alaska - a resolve that apparently shook me physically so that fire-fighting friend Carlson could not but help comment that I had just reached a major resolve... it happened to be to follow the path of Pound's ABC OF READING: that being the adventure I was going to be on instead of the variety of anything but artistic ones I had been contemplating, and of which the ABC OF READING route had not been one but, evidently, surfaced unconsciously; where what seemed to matter most asserted itself: yet without the kind of realistic preparatory assessment to which I was subjecting the other adventures: I had already ruled out driving nitroglycerine trucks in Venezuelan oilfields (I had evidently seen one too many films!), not yet entirely the fantasy of diving for conch shells (The Moon and Six Pence - I was not going to be poor in the South Seas!). As I mention: if I had known that the negative role model of my youth, an uncle in Mozambique, had been a big game hunter & enforcer of the poaching laws in a territory the size of Switzerland, and no longer ship-chandlering in Lorenco Marquez, I would have joined him. I was a good enough shot, I was sure healthy after nine months in Alaska. I would learn Portuguese. Although Werner had lived fairly crazily as a young man, by the time Frelimo got him to leave his game preserve fastness in the 1980s (they tied him to a Baobab tree and fried one of his now beloved animals to death before his eyes, as they knew it would break his heart - but, after all, they did not kill him the former enforcer of the poaching laws!), he'd become quite wise: he only did photo safaris & confessed that everything important he knew he had learned from his friends in the bush, and, nearly albino white blonde, had adopted the facial physiognomies of a black chieftain. With my ideological convictions I can see myself joining Freelimo & might have been shot dead by Portuguese colonialists if not by an adder that wrapped around a front axel and stung through the brake pedal opening & I imagine I would not have stayed forever in P.E.A.

What to do with your analysis is the question, now that you have at least an inkling, perhaps more of self understanding, existentially in your context & time and place.

1) LIST OF BOOKS/ Write Some Numb's Bitch, The Developing Account of Time in the Baja Part I, Steeped in Seattle (Prose Poems), the Handke essays

2) Screen Memory definition/

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MICHAEL ROLOFF exMember Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society this LYNX will LEAP you to all my HANDKE project sites and BLOGS: "MAY THE FOGGY DEW BEDIAMONDIZE YOUR HOOSPRINGS!" {J. Joyce} "Sryde Lyde Myde Vorworde Vorhorde Vorborde" [von Alvensleben] contact via my website


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