Saturday, 14 February 2009

One hundred pages of Hourglass read tonight, initially as respite from the white glare of the blank text document, but this small act of reading (the first in how long? what is it to forget how to read?) was continued not as an avoidance but through an impossibility to tear myself away. The lists, of course, are everywhere, and only tonight was I reminded of a visit Cara and I paid to Sachsenhausen, Berlin's former concentration camp.

That day last summer it was raining miserably and we trudged around an odd suburban German town for hours looking for something it would seem impossible to hide. It was in this place, my memories of which now consist of endless rain and a oppressive, bleak set of geometries, that Cara and I spoke of the Nazi predilection for lists, the haunting bureaucracy that accompanied the crimes carried out in Sachsenhausen and the countless other camps.

Kis' enumerating prose therefore works towards this, using this process of numbering and filing that the National Socialists used as a mechanism against humanity, to offer the reverse. By offering these endless lists, the judgements stack up, as each list is a remainder towards humanity, characterisation and personality. Each semi-colon precedes another fact of life, another irrelevant but humanising anecdote, belief or fact. It is an act of reclamation, clawing back the lost details of those murdered by employing, through literature, through those same techniques that helped the perpetrators mechanise their killing.

By offering plausible scenarios of death, sometimes idly carrying characters through to funeral situations and then retrieving them at the last moment, claiming an act of fantasy, Kis again defies the inevitability written indelibly into history.

Each circumstance and each possible death, once enacted and then recovered, becomes a site of dissidence for the protagonist E.S.. Each moment also becomes an illustration of horrific control, the complete power of a regime that could enforce its will at any moment and wipe out any number of brilliant scientists, artists or doctors.

Chance is explicitly ruled out as a plausibility or device – the forces at play here are will, circumstance and defiance. The principles of causality underline everything that is written. Every death follows a deterministic path; the horror arrives with the senseless triviality of the causes. A building collapses at the sight of a rat, or perhaps because of the attempt of someone to interpret the spots of grease on the walls of an apartment, or indeed maybe as the absurd result of a curse invoked by someone simply stirring milk with a hot poker.

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