I had hoped to talk to you as if to my dearest friend since my words are limited and there is little time in which to attach to this face a past. I wish you were not a stranger, but indeed you are, and I must make haste. I must pretend there is a common understanding of words, worlds, wars, infinite wars. I can see in your eyes that you are eager for me to continue, so I will not disappoint you and will give you the latitude of the event. Latitude? Yes, this is a particularly striking quantity due to the extreme heat that summer, a perpetual state of so-called “tropical night” when, throughout the twenty-four hours that constitutes a day, the temperature does not once drop below twenty-five degrees Celsius, not at all matching the northern locus of X degrees. Anyhow, it was in the latter part of the summer, August or September, I cannot remember, but the forest was brimming with mushrooms in abnormal sizes and colors, the lichen seemed more fluorescent than ever and the fishes in the rivers were jumping straight into the frying pan, I swear, out of their own free will. Yes, things certainly did seem out of joint; some neighboring realms had recently proclaimed a “state of exception” and potentiality was no longer a mere projection but in the best case a curse, in the worst case a prophecy. I took the train from the city and rode all the way to the last station that if directly translated would read something like “Suffer Hill” or “Mountain of Affliction.” Already here, to my great pleasure, chills were sending cold fingers down my spine. I walked the last part, among bleating sheep, avoiding the snails in the gravel onto which I laid my bare but hardened soles. She greeted me (I have now already wasted too much time describing to you how I arrived at the house; not much time remains in which to tell the story) and exclaimed: “Ah, there’s the artiste! You glide as if you have no feet.” How she forced me to debauch myself! I often wondered how many of my not-so-constructive actions, how many of my bestial bawls that occasionally ended up in print, were because of her. I started my first sentence with “no,” as if accused, and their dog showed me some affection. She led me into their garden, where frenzied hens were picking worms fleeing the boiling underground, into a clearing where a grilled rooster stood on a wooden table under an old apple tree, abundance in glaze (time to be spent, not saved). Never had I seen such a chicken fest! Not to dwell on food — but only to say it was the greatest that nature could muster (and after a summer of hubris like this, the apples, more the size of a child’s head than the fist of a grown man, seemed like one of those rare mutations that spontaneously propels evolution without meaning or direction, little spurts granting us our own very existence, its deadlines and wordy restrictions) — let me instead tell you about the dinner guests, and one in particular. I had met this mysterious guest before, once, and up until our first encounter I had firmly believed that the only reason to publish was to slander a friend, and that the single critical moment of the artwork was in the moment of transaction. How wrong I was! And how well he had proven me wrong, making me roam barefoot ever since. He had not aged a bit, I noticed, and even though it had been more than ten years and thousands of miles, the old rules had changed and, as in a miracle, his cheeks were still as red as the apples adorning his face. She showed me to a seat opposite his where I sat down, meeting his eyes over a flashing rooster’s comb, a toothless smile turned upside down — his actual age mirrored in glaze, as dull as crusty gum sucking for juice. “HALLO JOSEF!” he said and turned all serious again, dropping his just-flowering cheeks stone flat as he abruptly but courtly stood up to shake my hand. Now who is this man (who actually acknowledges me) you must wonder? I realize there is no time to circumscribe all of his charming manners, his seductive surface, but rather, I must cut straight to the ambiguous core! Well, I suspect, and I have many times returned to this supposition, that he is a man of freedom — freedom by restriction. This assumption stems from the time where most of us lived by the opinion that whatever he was engaged in should be for everyone (“include me”), and where some of us were convinced of the contrary, that whatever he was engaged in should not be for everyone (“exclude me”); regardless, both approaches originated in a sort of hate-love for whatever could be for everyone (“I’m special”). There was perhaps a third way, perversion, “a way out of the double bind,” as one might have said, but this we cannot talk about (conveniently). Here I might need to bring up his past, at least to clarify that it unfolded in a time and place where the “bourge” still existed (not just islands and havens), which indirectly raised the question of whatever he could be doing at this remote house, and now? And even more urgent: What was I doing here? As explanation, in retrospect, I can only add that I actually did live for some years inside a white cube; I knew the non-meditative aspects of abstraction becoming concrete. Well! Back to the freedom aspect, the free concept, or should I say, the apolitical, which would in fact be the only argument against the opinion that most lived by at that time: to transcend the “bourge” for reasons other than solidarity, for the mere reason of doubt regarding the freedom of choice. Over the rooster’s crest he was now defining choices by the laws of almost-chance but most definitely not chance: it can be this, this, this… as long as it is not that: cutting the tops off the incredible coincidences that probably will never occur but might, in order to not have them produce meaning, a rupture in themselves, not having the world start “talking to you” because it is no longer like it used to be (at that particular time I mentioned before); now stories are for everyone, but still, you can’t get a square peg through a round hole (this has implications)! “And in this way, we can think of realism as formalism instead of escapism.” As he said this, the strangest thing happened: one by one, at first, the large tree above and around us, began to let go of its fruit. By denser and clustered thuds, we could soon tell, as the apples kept falling to the ground, that it was literally raining fruit, blood red in the dusk! Yes, one even hit our poor guest in the head. “Exactly,” he said in a foreign language, and I was suddenly in the Old Testament and at the cinema at the same time. As the thuds became less frequent and finally came to a halt — except for the most cherished ones kept longer — I could not help but think that he was right again, that he once more had proved me wrong and that I would have to sacrifice something very dear or even almost holy to me, but this time it was the other way around; I had not been able to write in years, and, in my mind, already other shapes were being carved by the continued but very careful conversation about the weather, “truly exceptional” being the most vulgar remark made by the young streber next to our guest in question, a poor fellow with little tact, soon to be elbowed to the end of the table, possibly later straight out into the night. At some point I had given so much away that I started to become curious about what I had not said, at least this seemed graspable with one hand, and the overwhelming introspective curiosity coupled with the alarm of the first morning bird, the one whose song is both a repetition and a reminder, is what made me decide to retreat by climbing through a wide open window in their white wooden house, conveniently falling straight into a bed of fresh linen. My feet were cold and moist from the dew in the grass, yet I, me, was not cold. With my head on the pillow I could see the morning sun light up the parquet floor, radiant okras beaming through a spacious room with mirror-clad wardrobes and a small desk, all rarely austere, all pleasantly mild. Meanwhile my cold nostrils (my extremities are always cold) fluttered with joy as I inhaled the most heavenly scents one could possibly imagine… but I should not waste more time with bedtime stories! Still, I simply cannot keep myself from telling you about the dream I had, since dreams must be of some sort of significance (why else would we have them?), and I have learned that they must be interpreted in the immediacy of their time-spatial context, which is why, forgive me, that I must insert my particular dream right here: During sleep, I cannot say during the night because it was already dawn, I had the strangest dream, that the world divided itself into halves, in salt and in water. I was right at the edge, at the white banks and beaches with my feet in the sweet ocean. A great wind had swept over the land and over the people in the cities; a wind so strong that after passing, only one out of ten could remember who they were. Up until this day I found this dream strangely out of place — and perhaps therefore not — especially the dread of the storm, because at that time, for weeks, I had not experienced even the slightest sensation in my ears of a storm gathering. On the contrary, the atmosphere seemed as predictable as in a greenhouse, but surely, as mentioned before, there were some unspeakable instabilities — political, that is. Was this simply a bout of self-apocalyptic post-reflection? Who knows, though I realize while telling you this, that in the middle of a storm, how could one possibly whip up a storm? I woke up to the dog licking my feet, violently, like an addict. We observed each other for a little while, and I wondered if he or she, the dog, while licking, ever thought about how remote feet are from the supposed center of thought, how one very rarely stands face to face with one’s own soles, yet there is a suspicious etymological kinship with another word so very often connected with this center of thought, yet supposedly, at the same time, this word is to be found in all things and throughout the whole… My wandering was interrupted by her voice. “JOSEF! Come! You must see this!” All in great excitement, all shouted from the garden. Now, I have to admit that at this moment I was feeling quite blurry around the edges, in a quite receptive state one could say, entangled in some sort of thinking with her dog, so without any hesitation or further thought I obeyed her orders and looked out through the window, and the first being I saw was the apple tree. Its branches were laying heavily on the ground like two large but lifeless hands, grasping in opposite directions for lost and already partly decomposed fruit; its trunk was cracked — split in half. She was walking among the branches with a basket around her arm, collecting bottles, porcelain and napkins from underneath the leaves. “It must have known it would crack,” she said. “That’s why it let go of all its fruit! But it didn’t help.” I had no answer, not even a “no,” so I left their house not much later in the afternoon, and in agony. You see, this surely was an utterly peculiar and haunting experience to me (the splitting of the apple tree), and what I still cannot fully comprehend (which is the reason why I am telling you this, and apologies for taking so long, now that we have finally come to the end) is if this was all a matter of squares and holes or — and especially you, my remote translator, to whom I owe half of whatever I did write and all of what I didn’t — honestly, is there a story here?
Erika Landström is an artist living in Frankfurt.