Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Diaries of Arnon Grunberg (9)

“Hey Arnon, what are you reading this time?”
She asked it with such kind sincerity, that he knew he was going to finish the book this time.

He was, he thought at least, now present here for almost five years, a lustrum, time for celebration, but more so for reflection perhaps. He was however, to say the least, as well uncertain of his time and place that he filled in it. The question of the meaning of being, his very presence, and here especially, of all places, was in question itself, not only by him self, yet until recently very much not certain to be answered. The ontology of being, that was certainly the question.

Sure, sure, there were more practical concerns, but certainly none more urgent. Like there was the question what to eat tonight, how the weekend had been, how he was doing, if he would like anything with my coffee, what was up, what the weather was going to be today and what to wear, etcetera, atcetera. All deeply relevant, sure, but honestly my friends, all trivial, no need to beat around the bush. For all we know, the only knowledge that is not in doubt it the question of being. The essence of our being is first and foremost, a question of being itself, a quest for the ontic value of our presence.

Today was a beautiful day, the winter had appeared to have been thrusted from the stage a few times already, but each time it had turned with a vengeful and moist, eastern wind on us again. More than once this temporary jostle with spring had caused Arnon to suffer from another sinus infection that left a weary sore lingering around in his head. Nature too was not accustomed to the inconsistent temperatures, and many winterdays choked the budding blossoms to fall off. But today, spring had finally revealed itself. Arnon wore a hundred percent wool and laine pair of trousers by Club Monaco, one he recently had bought at Broadway, a withered black t-shirt with a facial silhouette of Putin above the text ‘vshyo putyom,’ meaning ‘we go together’ and navy blue asics tiger sneakers, which he mainly loved for their cheap simplicity. He had gone into town around eight in the morning, ordering a large, black coffee with two sugars, no bag. He was doing fine just like the Bangladeshi coffee vendor, although a little out of breath from running up the stairs, which quite right, was normal with the subway laying so deep here, but since he looked quite young still, and the Bangladeshi vendor worked hard however, they were both going to have a nice day.

He had started reading Heigegger’s Sein und Zeit, mainly because his life had gotten clogged with trite encounters, like life does. He had become unable to resist a boredom so existential that it had to be real and his only escape was a complete abstraction from reality, he was past the simple remedy of a Cartesian doubt, of a shallow negation of the facts, he would have to grasp deep into the muddy pool of thought this time. But the pool was muddy indeed, and he only understood half of what my eyes were absorbing, being easily distracted. The first fifty pages were going to be like this, he realized this, starting in an estranging language again, even though the language of his far forefathers, and having to repolish his presence to his German self. But here lies too the answer to both the ontological question for the meaning of being and the ontic pendant of boredom that dominated Arnon’s being. He was not present here, but could only imagine he was.

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

The Diaries of Arnon Grunberg (8)

Arnon walked south on LaFayette street toward one of his favorite bars in downtown Manhattan, called Kremlin. The bar was located in the basement of a brown-stone house, its entrance bolstered by an iron-clad entrance with at the top of the staircase leading down, a red lantern with Cyrillic fonts reading kremlin. Here Arnon would sit down at the bar on one of the stools near the wall and he would have Randy the bartender shake him a random, sweet cocktail.

For Arnon it was the ideal location to read and ponder in the late afternoon transgressing into the early evening. Sometimes, he would get hungry and order some tapas, sometimes he drank his hunger surge away with a Bloody Mary. The bar was ideal to spot the crowd for the archetype New Yorker of his age, without portraying the abnoxious, overweight 30-year old ignorant male, which he had no interest for. True, that obnoxious, ignorant yet conceited male made up half the population of Manhattan, but they were not the average New Yorkers. This conceited pig was perhaps imported from New Jersey or had floated to the surface from another location out of New York where it was easy to believe you mattered, a taste of the city they would allow you not.

At the Kremlin the average, modest youth came to enjoy the air, like a climber who sits down on a rock just below the top and resuscitate from the climb. The place had an air of mediocracy, but an uplifted mediocracy, of a height reached not by a long climb or by one’s own merit, but reached by haven taken the ski-lift to half-way and enjoying the view. From such a view the wideness of the horizon is deceiving but real and it was this view of the viewers that Arnon enjoyed.

In a way the Kremlin bar was like a modern setting for Mann’s sanatorium in the Magic Mountain. Here too the exhaustive conditions of the working day and the reposes found cause the New Yorkers to develop a chronic illness of whom none know the true nature except that we all find the treatment extremely pleasant leading us to believe that the illness therefore must be really there. We cannot fight this disease, because it is intertwined in our system and we are helpless against it. Thus, Arnon ordered another cocktail.