In 2010, a handsome little volume was published by the German firm, Suhrkamp Verlag. The book is called Dezember. Consistent with its theme, the slender volume has a simple white cover lettered in blue showing an image of a woods covered with snow. The book contains a short story for each day of the month of December, that is 31 tales none longer than two and a half pages. The stories are by the writer, Alexander Kluge, and they are strangely dispassionate miniature narratives presented in an objective, even icy, style. Although some of the tales take place in the remote future or distant past, most of the stories are set during World War Two or the first decade of the new millenium. Generally, Kluge’s narratives are unsentimental – he presents himself as a strict materialist, although in some of the accounts, the writer also seems critical of dogmatic materialism as well. His vignettes of the war are amoral – Kluge doesn’t focus on suffering or atrocities, although these topics receive a glance, now and then. Rather, he is interested in logistics, economic issues, machines and devices. In the first story in the book, Kluge describes a Siemens engineer on the East Front. The soldiers have encountered torsos of wooly mammoths extruding from the steppe. The engineer studies those freshly exhumed, but prehistoric, corpses to determine that the animal’s possessed a circulatory system specially evolved to keep blood warm in frigid conditions. Adapting this circulatory design to the tanks and jeeps operated by the Wehrmacht, the engineer creates a double fluid and water-pump system in these vehicles, thus, making them winter-proof. The second story in the book is set in 1991 and argues in a dry and acerbic manner that decisions made in the month of December are generally flawed – why is this? Because too many holidays, parties, and feast days are crammed into the month and politicians, like everyone else, have inadequate time to deliberate on their decisions. Thus, Kluge argues errors made by Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders in December 1991 as their empire was collapsing. (Although the design of the book is subtle, everything is linked – near the end of the book, Kluge asserts that Hitler showed poor judgment and was gelaehmt (that is, paralyzed)with respect to decisions that he made in December 1941.)
I have said that Dezember is a "handsome" little book – in fact, this is an understatement: the book is spectacularly beautiful. The volume’s beauty lies in its origin. In December 2009, Alexander Kluge, an important German filmmaker and writer, and Gerhard Richter, probably the most famous of all contemporary artists, met in Engadin, a resort own in the Canton of Sils Maria in the Swiss Alps – this was the place where Nietzsche wrote many of his books. As it happens, both men were born in February 1932 and so the same age. Engadin and Sils Maria are places famous for their snowfall – indeed, German mountain films and features about winter sports were filmed in this German-speaking region of Switzerland in the thirties (one of Kluge’s stories concerns a 1932 comedy about winter sports in Engadin). While Kluge composed his short stories, interpolated with tiny abstract essays, Richter hiked around the countryside taking photographs of the forests buried in deep, fluffy-looking snow. Thirty-nine of Richter’s pictures are printed adjacent to Kluge’s narratives. These photographs are extraordinary. Richter fills the frame with densely interlocked masses of foliage. The foliage is heavily burdened with fresh-fallen snow and so the pictures are diagrams of energy – the weight of the snow bears down on the tensile springs of the evergreen branches. At first glance, the pictures look abstract, field paintings in black and white by Jackson Pollock, a series of arcs and zigzag branches against a powdery white background. (The schematics of force and weight implicit in the pictures also reminds me of the zen-like images of Brice Marsden’s "Cold Mountain" series of paintings.) The pictures are austere but fascinating, wintry labyrinths of snow and branch, and, except for the final two photographs in the portfolio, they show no trace of human activity. At first, the reader assumes that the pictures were taken in black and white, but, then, upon closer inspection it appears that the photographs have color – they simply appear monochrome because of their subject matter. The experience of looking closely into these pictures is disorienting, puzzling – the longer you look, the more you see very subtle colors. The bark of some of trees is rust-red; there are faint amber tints in some of leaves, a haze of red sumac hovers in front of a black and white thicket. In the last picture in the book, the camera shows a road sliding black and slick downhill through a wintry forest to a barricade – no access is permitted beyond that point. And, thus the book ends.
Dezember represents a genre of book unfamiliar in the United States. The volume is a compilation of Kalendargeschichten – that is, "Calendar-stories." When I learned to read German, my grandmother, a Lutheran pastor’s wife and organist, was still alive. Among her belongings were a few old books, printed in thorny Fraktur type, that I discovered to be compilations of Kalendargeschichten. I translated a few of the stories – they were trite, simply written tales, about a page long, culminating in a short moral. The stories were pious, conventional, and not very interesting. But, apparently, these compilations of "calendar stories" were characteristic of a form of literature that flourished in Germany after the Protestant Reformation.
The word "calendar" derives from the Latin for "an index or schedule of debts." In Europe (prehistoric Meso-America had completely different ideas about calendars), a calendar was initially a list of dates annotated to identify when payments were due from debtors. After the Protestant Reformation, literacy was encouraged in German-speaking countries – it was hoped that families would read the Bible together, hence, the motivation for Luther’s translation of scripture into German. Peasants were intensely interested in calendars. Calendars were printed with dates for planting marked as well as religious holidays and feasts. These farmer’s almanacs, as is the case today, also featured prognostications, compilations of proverbs, and citations to Bible texts for home study. In the mid-18th century, the publishers of farmer’s almanacs began to accompany the calendar notations with short stories, anecdotes, accounts of strange and amazing events. All of this material was presented with didactic motives – that is, to encourage literacy among peasants through publication of moralizing or educational texts.
Gradually, the concept of the Kalendargeschichte leaked into high culture. The author, Johann Peter Hebel, was famous for his collections of "calendar stories," writings for an almanac called the Rheinlaendisches Hausfreund (the Rheinland Home Companion – a tradition referred to in Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion; indeed, Keillor’s spoken monologues with their sententious morals are a part of the tradition of the "calendar story") Later, the form was adapted by another didactic German writer, Bertolt Brecht. Brecht published a book of short stories entitled Kalendargeschicten, pointing morals espousing Marxist ideals.
Here are two examples of Kalendargeschichten from Hebel’s Rheinlaendisches HausFreund published between 1807 and 1819. The translations are my work:
A Variety of Murders
The city of Naples is the capital of the Kingdom of Naples and the part of the land where this important city is located is called Terra di Lavoro. Although this city is not yet the largest in the world, nonetheless, it boasts 400,000 inhabitants of which one-tenth are without home or job, without their own bed and board, and must live and sleep, day in and day out, on the streets. In this city and the surrounding land of Terra di Lavoro, beginning about 100 yearsa ago, at least 70 murders have been committed annually, with 230 murders occurring on a yearly basis throughout the territory. Although this is terrible, the number of murders continues in increase. Indeed, this evil worsens from year to year in such an awful way that in 1780, the number of murders in the entire kingdom reached 1200. In the year 1805, however, there were 1522 murders and other offenses against the public safety. One might be tempted to believe that in such a place, only the wildest and most blind heathen could live. But, in fact, these murders occur in one of the most beautiful parts of Europe, a city that has 71 churches. In the year 1806, when a new regime assumed power in this area, the sum of such crimes reduced to 617. Thus, we learn by hearing or reading how important the protection of a virtuous nobility and wise laws are to instituting calm and order in a land.
A Death from Fright
In a tavern, where writers sat together engaged in a lively dispute, one of them pushed another from the table. "Of course, there’s no such thing!" the man said, "that is, no ghosts or apparitions." He continued: "And you’re an old woman if you let yourself be sacred by such fables." The other man took him at his word and said: "You’re wrong, Mr. Bookkeper. I’ll bet you six bottles of Burgundy wine that I can spook you. Will you take the bet?" The bookkeeper replied: "Of course." So the writer went to a doctor: "Mr. Surgeon, next time you have a corpse delivered for dissection, I want you to detach the for arm from the elbow joint. Let me know when this happens." After a some time, the surgeon told the writer: "A suicide is being brought to my surgery, he drowned himself. The miller fished him out of the millrace." And he handed him the corpse’s forearm. "Are you sure there aren’t any apparitions, Mr. Bookkeeper?" "No, of course not." So the writer secretly crept into the accountant’s bedroom and hid under his bed and, when the bookkeeper laid himself down and fell asleep, the writer touched him with his own warm hand on his face. The bookkeeper woke up and said, since he was, indeed, a rational and brave man: "What kind of a trick is this? Do you think, you’re going to win this bet so easily." The writer was a quiet as a mouse. When the bookkeeper fell asleep again, the writer tapped him on the face again. The bookkeeper said: "Now, this is enough. You better get out of here or you’ll see how your served." The third time the writer ran his fingers across the bookkeeper’s face and, this time, the man grabbed for him. And, just as he was about to say: "I’ve got you now," he found that he was clutching a cold, dead hand and an amputated arm in his hands and a cold, deadly fear pierced him through the heart so that he felt his life abandoning him. When he regained his composure, he said in a weak voice: "You’ve won the god-forsaken bet!" The writer laughed merrily and said: "On Sunday, we’ll drink the good Burgundy together." To which the bookkeeer replied: "I won’t be there." Early the next morning, the bookkeeper suffered from a fever and, on the seventh morning, was a corpse. "Early yesterday," the doctor said to his friend, "they carried him to his grave in the churchyard cemetery and put him in the very grave I showed you last week."
3. Aus Dezember
December 31, 2009 – Appearance of Impenetrability
In the tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, we learn that there were only 12 place settings, one for each of the "twelve wise women of the land." The 13th fairy was not invited. Like the calamity at Chernobyl or the fall of the banking dynasty of the Lehman Brothers, facts established parameters that, not much later, would bring misfortune. The 13th fairy revenged herself by putting the castle and kingdom asleep for a thousand years. At the same time, she encircled the castle with a hedge of trees and thickets, twigs entwined with twigs to form an "abatis." Snow covered the branches. This hedge gave the impression of impenetrability. But, practically considered, a way could be found through the light snow on the ground. One must merely peruse the picture to the bottom of the frame to find a few inches of soil through which millions of midges migrate all the time.
The Power of Time
What is "time"? I am a calender-researcher, not physicist, the monk, Andrei Bitow answered. I say it is the DIVIDER between the times in which it appears, therefore the transition from year to year, the change from night to day, succession (for instance, of kinds of weather), the division of hours and minutes (even seconds, each an instant in which one can die) into generations and lifespans: time enough to be afraid: time to love.
You believe, therefore, that time won’t tolerate a pretentious meaning. Time is autonomous? Bitow answered: To whom does time belong? To this the biologist replied: it belongs to cellular life, in all cases to the planet itself, never to individuals. Here ends, he continued, any guarantee of freedom.
Therefore, it is particular dangerous, Bitow said, to manipulate to our ends December 31, the last day of the year. In nature, there is no year to bring to an end. Six-thousand years of prehistory were required to ripen time into a "year", that is into a slice of time conceived as a moment of transition. Without religion, it couldn’t have happened.
Calendars are Conservative
Until 153 B.C., December was the 10th month in the Roman lunar calendar, a method of time-keeping that counted 304 days to the year. After 153 B.C., the new year began only after the intervention of two more months. But no one dared to change the name of the month ("deci" or 10th) that marked the end of the year.
The most extreme form of Inequality: the time-corset
In the French revolutionary calendar, years are divided into "decades," that is, units of 10 days that are named for the seasonal events observed in the natural world. By this reckoning, "December" was eliminated. From the 21st of November to the 20th of December, time was bridged by the three "decades" of Frimaire ("month of freezing fog"). The month, Nivose, followed from the 21st of December to January 19 – the calendar omitting holy days and not marking the end of the year. Holidays were sequestered in September – September 17 (after 1800, the 18th of September) was the Day of Virtue (Jour de la Vertu), the 18th of September (after 1800, the 19th of September) was the Day of Genius (Jour de Genie), September 19 (after 1800 September 20) was the Day of Work (Jour du Travail), September 20 (after 1800, September 21) was the Day of Opinion (Jour de l’Opinion), the 21st of September (after 1800, September 22) was the Day of Recompense (Jour des Recompenses) and, only in Leap Years, the 22nd of September 1795, 1799, and the 23rd of September 1805 was called the Day of Revolution (Jour de la Revolution).
It was easy enough for the inhabitants of France to invoke their own autonomous sense of time to displace the revolutionary calendar decreed by the State. First, people maintained a "dual reckoning" of days and months, later the new calendar was simply ignored, and, as one of Consul Napoleon’s first legislative measures, abrogated.
An Accidental Accomplishment ("Fehlleistung") of Vladimir Lenin is belatedly manifested in December 2009 (and January 2010).
On the 14th of February in 1918, the Council of the People’s Commissars decreed the introduction of the western calendar to Russia. But how imperfect is the power of state institutions! The new reckoning of days never fully replaced the old calendar. For a long time, without paying this decree much heed, Russians kept time as legislated by the two principal confessions in the country – the Byzantine calendar prevailed in some areas and in other places the old western or Roman calendar ruled.
This confusing situation led to the "economic moratorium" arising during the transition from 2009 to 2010 – an inconvenience that Prime Minister Putin vainly attempted to combat. Following the example of western markets, Moscow, and the regions beyond the Urals, imported the Christian holidays. Thse holidays concluded (as far as popular sentiment and work schedules were concerned) 13 days later than was previously the case, thus enlarging the scope of time for the enjoyment of booze and reciprocal invitations to various feasts and parties. This 13 day extension encroached upon Epiphany, an even more essential holiday as far as the people were concerned, that festival beginning on the 6th of January (with its attendant 13 days of celebration). Thus, superimposed on this transition between 2009 and 2010: a rich quota of holidays.
This substitution of a (seemingly) never-ending series of special days for reality ("reality" defined by work and professional responsibilities) invigorates equally body, soul, and the economy – at least so maintained, Andrei Bitow, the monk. And, all of this occurred because a provisional revolutionary government once set for its goal the regulation of time itself, a realm over which only God and the People possess any authority.
On Calendar Reform
Between the modern-day republics of Kirgistan and Khazakistan, a small strip of land surrounded by mountains exists undocumented by the maps made in 1917 and, therefore, exempt from the administration of any state. When the Soviet Union was demolished, this strip of land remained unclaimed. An orthodox cloister is located in that territory, a place that was later hastily vacated. A single monk remained there to watch the buildings and continue the work of the brotherhood.
For hundreds of years, this cloister was charged with the official ecclesiastical office of establishing accurate dates and maintaining the calendar – that is, with the study of chronometry. The solitary monastic brother, occupied with this work and forgotten by the outside world, did not remain isolated for long. By internet, he established connections with other fraternal and monastic organizations, both orthodox and scientific. The Muslims in the environs of this monastery paid no attention to the stranger in their midst and did not molest him.
The most recent time period, Brother Andrei Bitow maintained, should be divided in the following way:
From the peace of Westphalia (1648) to 1789 = 1 century
From 1793 to 1815 = 1 century
From 1815 to 1870/1871 = 1 century
From 1871 to 1918 = 1 century
From 1918 to 1989 = 1 century
Thus, 341 years were, in substance, five centuries or 500 years.
Thereafter: our current time.
The additional years necessary to balance the ledger with respect to this new time system, Bitow retrieved from the medieval era, effecting a critical reevaluation of time lapsing in that period. In the medieval era, there were epochs that were simply invented – for instance, there exists no evidence of the actual existence of Charlemagne. About 300 years hitherto believed to exist were simply erased. Thus, Bitow, without any difficulty worked his way back to the birth of Christ, posited to be 20 centuries ago, thereby synchronizing cloister chronicles with his reckoning of time.
In academic circles in the USA, Brother Bitwo was hailed as the inventor of TIME COMPRESSION. The qualitative designation "century" possesses a distinct morphology, that is, a "century" forces its years into a either a circular or elliptical orbit around a central point. It is arbitrary to parse time chronometrically into conventional days and years. In fact, the three years comprising the great French Revolution have a "different structure," Bitow argued. They comprise "a century" in themselves. Thus, THE RIGHT OF SELF-DETERMINATION MUST BE RECOGNIZED AS MUCH FOR TIME AS FOR PEOPLE.
How, then, could the same time apply to Russia as to England and France, places with different histories? Brother Bitow zealously proclaimed the incommensurate nature of time between nations. All times are different – a British and Russian century can certainly not be compared. The times observed by continents and those who dwell on those continents, Bitow said, can, nonetheless, be reconciled through their morphological fields. In this dimension, TIME-STREAMS are once again synchronized. In this light, it is not even entirely clear that the Great French Revolution was actually of French origin. A new time reckoning can have its origin in an entirely different place than where that time system (superficially) is applied. We have souls in Russia, in central Germany, in Tashkent, and located in east Asian colonies that vibrate in a common temporal motion.
Heating material in Bitow’s barren mountains is scarce. Often, in winter, Bitow would warm his hands by pressing them firmly against the housing of his computer.
That which I represent in my (his)stories, the (his)stories of a living person is not the COMPLETED PAST(that which was because it is no more), nor even the perfect tense of that which once was what I am now, but the OTHER, that which I once would have been anticipating as that which I will, in theory, become.
– – If I understand you correctly, there is some sorrow arising in connection with "that which I will in theory become." – I see it this way: "I will have been a criminal, something which I didn’t really desire. I travel in one of the first trains into occupied Paris after the cease-fire, dressed in civilian clothes, my passport approved, I belong to the most elite and confidential circles in the government’s primary security office, I am delegated and dispatched to organize an understanding with France that the stony barons of that nation in their time could not achieve. I still don’t know that a year later, I will have supervise mass executions by firing squad in south Prussia, activity for which I will receive my full recompense five years later.
– And this you can’t express in future anterieur because you will already have been executed in Krakow. Your future is cut off, like a head by the guillotine.
– I have, indeed, installed myself within a certain imagined person, a man who will become a criminal. I sit right here before you. My drink in front of me.
– It will have to do with the notion that I WILL ONCE HAVE BEEN, one of the strongest projections of willpower. And not be to be transposed with, or confused with, that which I really do, or will do.
– But what is the efficacy of this grammatical tense? It creates problems for us in German. The tense seems complicated, but, in reality, it is actually simple enough. What do you think?
– That’s a point on which I can’t make up my mind.
– To the extent human beings busy themselves with these issues at all. As they say: That’s something that thou may’st not prophesy, thou, thou gracious angel.
– It is mainly the capacity to make prophecies and the determination that I will encounter the fulfillment of these as I look forward. "Choose only that future that you can endure."
– Grammar is a dangerous weapon, a murderous tool.
– And the only weapon that orders consciousness.
Siberian Time Reserves
During the time in which Comrade Andropov (his health continuously threatened and, therefore, essentially immobile and incapable of travel) led the KGB and prepared himself for the tasks of General Secretary of the Soviet Union, there was, in one of the major divisions of the Russian Secret Service, a boss haling from Kirghiz who was named Lermontov, a fellow who counted among his forefathers heathen priests, Siberian animists. During his hours of service, Lermontov composed a collection of historical sketches – in these internationally organized administrative agencies, time accumulates in a powerful mobs of minutes and hours, a trickle at first, a trickle that flows more slowly than anywhere else in the world from the windows of towering concrete structures. A series of Lermontov’s sketches concerned "paralysis in the decisive moment."
It is a strange fact that the greatest actors in world history are often seized by paralysis and, indeed, at decisive moments. Lermontov said: it would be dogmatic to maintain that there are no gods in light of this phenomenon. Most obviously, the gods appear as strength or paralysis. Do you really believe, Lermontov asked his listening comrades, that it was a case of the common cold that was responsible for Napoleon not undertaking the flanking assault that his generals had advised and that would have assured a successful outcome? Do you really want to explain this masterpiece of failure in terms of a cold?
No, it was the emperor’s lack of faith in his mission, answered one of the scholarly secret service assistants, a man who daily labored on educating himself. (They were all in training for perestroika, a thaw whose coming they predicted without having any clue what new relationships and connections this new freedom would institute.)
Debatable, replied Lermontov. The divinity that crippled him is the same god who hurled lightning bolds between the Trojans and the Greeks.
And you say that you are a materialist!
Indeed, that’s exactly what I say, answered Lermontov. A materialist is never dogmatic: he doesn’t exclude with cause, or deem impossible, any forceful influence that may exist in the world. Particularly, those influences that might enhance the acuity of our perspective on things. Consider the peculiar paralysis that beset Hitler, his blindness (at the very moment of another fiasco at the Moscow Front.) In December, 1941: "as if snowblind," he declares war on the USA. There was no compulsion among his alliances to mandate this declaration of war. So, he sealed the fate of the Reich. I am very much wondering, one of those attending upon Lermontov said reproachfully, a man who had just joined the circle around the Boss: What have you been busying yourself with, Comrade?
The empire, intact in those days, ruled over all of Siberia’s time reserves. And, also, controlled its thought-reserves: an armored cabinet of inner lives. In the KGB bunker, the academic elite of the land were gathered.
I thought of Lermontov’s notions when I (acting as Gorbachev’s final assistant) observed the president’s paralysis. This seized him after our return from the Madrid conference. We had gone there as beggars. Never again would Gorbachev be what he had once been. A spiteful Mediterranean god from ancient times, a god that had helped to destroy the Trojans, had forced his way into the President (the way that a virus or the sting of insect, or poison or a great disappointment insinuates itself into a man so as to confound him.) So he sat in his room, unable to act. While the "bushwhackers from Minsk," forged their plot to misappropriate the common wealth. Shouldn’t he have arrested them for high treason? He had complete authority to take this measure...
Shortly after the disaster at Chernobyl, we carried Lermontov, our Boss, to this grave. "Abandoned by all of the gods," he had shot himself.
Tempus, Aevam, Aeternitas
We Islamists, said Jamal Islam, an astrophysicist from Bangladesh and expert in Sufi texts transmitted only orally since 1150 (God willing), conceive of three sorts of time. When I glance at my watch, I read TEMPUS, the type of time that connects me to with the atomic clocks in the scientific world. By this measure of time, the earth and the sun move themselves against the background of the Milky Way, everything rotating in perfect unity to make a revolution around the central core of the galaxy in a mere 250 million years.
AEVUM must be distinguished from TEMPUS. AEVUM is incorporeal angelic time. I direct my inner vision toward the center of things. From that place, Allah’s black sun radiates beams extending outward. The origin of this BLACK LIGHT is just a little to the West of the Solar Plexus. Heresy informs us that the feelings that originate between diaphragm and solar plexus when we are angry or experiencing pleasantly exciting events correlate to this angelic radiation. From this initial central core, comprised of millions of believers, the AEVUM radiates its beams on which souls travel.1
The third type of time, AETERNITAS – that is, the duration that God alone experiences. It is heretical to confuse (or even relate) this universe of time with TEMPUS or AEVUM.
A European ambassador who heard Jamal Islam’s proclamations questioned the scholar. The interlocutor was a medievalist.
– You use the Latin concepts of Origen. Why?
– We are continuing a discussion that has lasted since the year 1080. He relates to Spanish Islamic texts. We read them in Latin translation. The Arabic version may be transmitted only by oral means.
– And so changes with time.
– This can’t be avoided.
– In Latin translations from the early Middle Ages can’t you measure the effects of the verbal peregrinations of this tradition that is orally recited by the Islamic scholars?
– Don’t speak with disrespect about something that is holy.
– So the slips of the pen, errors, and the, often, senseless substitutions by which monks have altered our occidental texts – these things aren’t holy?
– Just as is our oral tradition to us.
– Which allows even more errors.
– Not errors, changes. Allah prevents error.
One can not, the Islamic scholar explained, comprehend from one of the three universes by which we define time other realms – that is, aroma or Necessity for example – although these realms access other types of universe. It’s a matter of incompatibility. And a believer becomes lost as soon as he, without proper ritual observance, switches from one type of time to another. From the universe of black radiation, he glances down at his wristwatch. And this bewilders the senses indeed. And coming forth AETERNITAS into clock-time. Unheard of.
– So you’re speaking about a physical theology?
– What else?
This conversation was in French. The medieval scholar, serving his country as a diplomat, could converse frankly with the learned man from Bangladesh because they had spoken this way to one another for forty years. Islamic imperialism, the diplomat said, reminds me of the old Soviet Union. They had invented the airplane before the first aircraft ever existed anywhere else. They search in south Russia for traces of the first man; they overtake all other industrial nations in the race to the stars. As materialists, the comrades embodied the world and didn’t trouble themselves about religion. But, you, my friend (and, understand that I’m not trying to separate you from your phalanx of believers – we’re friends, and can be friends even though we each regard the other as a heretic)...you must explain to me this movement in Islam that appropriates to itself everything valuable in the world so that soon Siberia and the American Midwest will become Islamic. That’s what you say without any consideration of the actual, material circumstances.
Remarkable, answered the Islamic scholar. Right now, I’m working on a translation of Friedrich Engels The Dialectic of Nature from a Russian text since, unfortunately, I can’t read German.) There is the subject of THE VITALIZATION OF THE TOTALITY OF INTERSTELLAR SPACE. All forms of matter, Engels maintains, possess a kind of rudimentary life. Insentient life is the matrix of the Biosphere. And from this material, lightning strikes from the Noosphere. You mean in the year 1080? the diplomat said with reproach. On this theme, the Islamist answered, I’m now exhausted.
Fellow travelers for many years, the two men sat in their wicker chairs, timeless each in their own way, that is occupying a neutral zone between epochs of TEMPUS, seated in the lobby of a grand hotel that itself signified that this terrestrial terrain, now imperilled, had once been subject to British rule. Like the embassies of an antediluvian world, these hotel-ships found themselves stranded –but their interiors reflected a spiritually comforting notion, illustrating the premise that all men from all parts of the world might somehow come to understand one another. That is, sipping cool drinks equally cool minds might compare, side by side, all questions of philosophy, and all aspects of the practice of life, in order to select (as in the medieval watering places such as the urbane Damascus or Cordoba) the best and brightest for contemplation. Just as the merchant might bright gifts from faraway lands to his beloved daughter so these storytellers travelled far and wide, collecting the most interesting and newest things from remote parts of the world. To the extent that there were walls separating the two very different scholars, walls of imperial origin, nonetheless, at that moment, no empire was founded nor expanded. The new imperium was afoot as feared by the diplomats but seven kilometers away in the slums. And this all-devouring gorge of AEVUM would swallow up first of all the no longer youthful astrophysicist, a consequence of this particular WILL OF THE PEOPLE emerging from the AEVUM and penetrating into TEMPUS.
The differentiation between the Old and New Year according to Deusche Industrial Norms (DIN)
On the 6th of December, 2009, in Geneva, negotiations between the Federal Republic of Germany and mainland China collapsed as a result of disagreements over reciprocal recognition of industrial norms. Among other things, this failure may be attributed to China’s refusal to acknowledge any of the general rules established by DIN norms. Thus, the trade relationship between a great nation, China, and the German federation in the context of business (but, also, possibly diplomatic communiques and even declarations of war) remains uncertain.
According to German law, December begins with the same of the week as September – if, therefore, September 1 is a Monday so also is December 1. If the 29th, 30th, or 31st of December is a Monday, ensuing days in the first calendar week of the following year will fall after Monday. According to the DIN norm, in this case, the last calendar week of the year will end with the last Sunday in December. So people may experience up to two week-days that are outside of time. But, organizations, must move steadily through 52 intact weeks.
Notes on the translation
the 13th fairy – a reference to the Maerchen of "Sleeping Beauty." Only 12 place settings are set for the 13 wise women of the land at the christening of the King’s daughte. The spurned fairy curses the King’s daughter, indicating that she will prick her finger on her fifteenth birthday and pass into a coma. Everyone in the castle will also fall asleep and an impenetrable hedge will grow around the royal compound. Kluge’s reference to the hedge refers to the pictures made by Richter depicting a similarly impenetrable terrains of branch and bush – but his words, like the midges, move through the subsurface.
Chernobyl – a nuclear catastrophe that occurred in the Ukraine in April 1986 – a power surge caused a reactor to rupture resulting in a large radioactive plume. The Chernobyl catastrophe is referenced again in the .... section of the text.
December 31 – a preoccupation with counting days and weeks that re-occurs in the final section of the book.
13 days – like the 13 fairies and the 13 disciples: one is left-over. The problem with the "left-over" is crucial to Kluge – that is, time that doesn’t fit in the calendar.
undocumented / exempt – like the left over time, Kluge focuses on terrain that is excluded from maps, space that falls outside of geography. In a space outside geography, the mad monk, Bitow (I can find no reference to a real figure) devises time systems that are outside of ordinary calendar time.
century – the efficacy of defining an epoch by a term of 100 years has been contested by historiographers. An example is Juergen Osterhammel’s survey of historical accounts of the 19th century: some use a "long century" beginning with the American Revolution in 1776 and continuing until the end of World War One (1914); other historians define the 19th century with a ‘short century’ beginning with Napoleon’s defeat and ending with the destruction of the Paris Commune.
Future Anterieur – a grammatical verb tense in French, sometimes called "French Future Perfect". This tense is used to describe actgions that will have been completed at some future time. For instance: "I will have escaped from this prison by midnight tomorrow" or "how many countries are going to have visited before you come home?" The future perfect tense is used in prophecy: "By the year 2400, poverty will have been eliminated and the kingdom of heaven will have been established on earth."
Andropov – Yuri Andropov, General Secretary of the Communist Part of the Soviet Union beginning in November 1982. He succeeded Brezhnev. His successor, after a fifteen month term (most of it spent in the hospital), was Chernenko who was, in turn, succeeded by Gorbachev. Andropov was in fact chairman of the KGB when the Prague Spring was crushed in 1968.
Lermontov – the name of this KGB officer invokes the Russian Romantic poet Mikhail Lermontov (1814 - 1841). Lermontov wrote several important works in his short life including A Hero of Our Time. He was killed in a duel.
The Madrid Conference – Gorbachev attended a peace conference involving the Palestinian and Israeli conflict in Madrid in late October 1991. President George H. W. Bush was also in attendance. An attempt was made to broker a peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. The Soviet Union was collapsing at that time and had lost its international prestige.
Minsk Bushwhackers – obscure. However, Kluge may be referring to the conference in the Belovezh Forest near Brest in Belarus that occurred on December 8, 1991. The capitol of Belarus is Minsk. At the conference, the breakaway Baltic republics were formally acknowledged to be no longer part of the Soviet Union. Efforts were made to form a loose federation of affiliated States. Gorbachev angrily denounced the resolutions adopted in the Belovezh Forest accords as "illegal."
Tempus – Aevum – Aeternitas – terms designating different realms of time derived from the Scholastic Philosophers, most notably Albertus Magnus.
Origen – Patristic writer. Kluge is referring to his essay Peri Archon ("On the First") about the beginnings of things and time. Peri Archon dates to 220 A.D.
The Dialectic of Nature – Friedrich Engel’s attempt to apply dialectical materialism to the study of nature, a set of essays written between 1872 and 1882, but not completed. The most famous of these essays is Engel’s consideration of evolution "The Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man". In these essays, Engels argues that nature progresses through dialectical processes and that the "hand evolved simultaneously with the brain." Engels notes: "Let us not flatter ourselves overmuch on account of human victories over nature. For each such victory, nature takes revenge on us."
Noosphere – the zone of human thought, a term coined by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in 1922.
DIN Norm – this passage references DIN 1355-1, an industrial norm relating to computation of time and calendar date. This standard has been withdrawn. The German standard has application to the way that computers measure time. According to DIN 1355-1, the first week of the new year is counted as week one if that week contains four or more days. This is different from the Chinese standard – and, also, differs from the calendar standard employed in the United States and Mexico. In the U.S. and Mexico (and, apparently China), the week counted as the first in the year is the week containing January 1. So, if January 1 falls on a Saturday, the preceding Friday will be part of Week One of the new year although that day’s calendar date falls in the old year. These sorts of issues are substantive in computer programming, astronomy, and technical fields in which the weeks in the year must be counted.