Posthumous Conversations

 Posted by at 12:36 pm  Atelier
Sep 202010

Visitors (we don’t get that many)! One thing our readers can be sure about is that our blog is not a work of fiction, and so, when two unexpected visitors turn up, we do have to take notice.

Now it is entirely possible that these two, who go by the name of Raymond and Giulia, blew in on the ether unintentionally, like those disembodied voices that sometimes spontaneously appear on the radio when we are listening (especially along the old analogue ‘long wave band’; will this continue, I ask myself anxiously, when all our radio is digital?). A background whine rises and falls on the radio so that we know the transmission has travelled a long way, and the voices speak to us in such emphatic and earnest tones cutting across whatever else was filling our mind at that moment so that we find ourselves listening in rapt attention to their conversation, despite it often being in a language of which we cannot understand one word, while we also try to construct the studio in which the agents of these voices are sat somewhere at this very moment, or rather the ‘just-past’ (the very recent present) to be more accurate, speaking together far away in a forest clearing under a large radio mast.

However, whatever the context for the arrival of Raymond and Giulia (and we are unlikely ever to know or be told), we cannot help ourselves listening to this intimate conversation between them, here skilfully transposed into what appear to be an exchange of letters, and simply be grateful that the two of them are speaking English and we can understand their words, while we patiently await developments. We cannot ask more of the situation, the communication is one-way, them to us.

Or is it? Can we on occasions also talk back to them? The answer is that we can. Surprised? No! As I said at the outset our blog is not a work of fiction. Take for instance the ‘posthumous conversations’ which Hans Magnus Enzensberger has in the Silences of the Hammersteins (Seagull Books 2008) with several of the dead. Enzensberger includes a long Postscript to the book under the title ‘Why this Book is not a Novel’, and it is with this passport, and in the spirit of the anecdote, that he can drop-in on and question several members of the Hammerstein family and other of the main characters involved with Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930’s (and excerpts of whose written and transcribed documentary evidence is also included in the main text).

Of course it takes practice to do this sort of thing (things like talking to the dead I mean). For a leading poet like Enzensberger, it is possible, but most people don’t develop the right skill for it, certainly not most fiction writers, nearly all of whom are lost in their ‘creative writing’ noodle heads. There are certain things you have to do in advance; much reading of the documentary evidence for a start, and then also developing a reliable method of notetaking (some prefer the historian Keith Thomas approach – see Diary for the London Review of Books 10th June 2010, others prefer the more scientific Zettelkasten system). But most of all it is about waiting. For instance, Enzensberger first heard about General von Hammerstein and his family in the 1950’s when we was young man working for German radio.

So we must learn to wait patiently to see if an opportunity to speak and question Raymond and Giulia will arise. I am encouraged to see how Raymond ends, and perhaps like secret agents (rather than the dead in this instance) they are about to flick the switch from transmit to receive –

I have made a decision: I will wait for the light to change.