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  • And Time
  • Eva Meyer (bio)
    Translated by Cathy Kerkhoff-Saxon and Wilfried Prantner

"If it depended on me, I should," like Mandelstam, "make a wry face in remembering the past." I would not wish to speak about myself, but to listen with him to "the swelling noise of the age." Why busy memory with reproducing the past and give it a place in space? Its place after all is in time.

And time lets fall its "gaping void" which cannot be grasped as an object. "What was it my family wished to say? I do not know." Instead of experience passed on by generations, I am accorded another experience. "A pit, a moat, filled with clamorous time" is certainly not translatable into experience. It throws language off balance, forcing it to branch and vary.

From now on language should no longer be confused with its actual usage. I am not just someone who knows and speaks. Rather I am between languages, at a boundary where language exists. Not language as a possession or inventory of names and rules passed on by generations, but as the experience of language that permeates me from all sides. I lose myself to people whom I do not know, whom I am going to find in a book, a film or inside myself. The "sources of existence" we receive "from alien hands." And the cue comes from time.

And time is not just a phantom of space which casts its spell on reflective consciousness. If I do not distinguish between present and past states, I assume the form of a series of processes of consciousness. To do this I neither have to lose myself to an idea, nor forget preceding states. It suffices not to order remembered states next to the present state in space, but to let them permeate each other like a musical phrase. For while a successive state can indeed take up space, the transition by which it moves from one state to the next eludes [End Page 638] space. The transition is concurrent with the act of observation in which I grasp it: a direct relation to time, to thought.

It may well be that this relation is "gradually produced," as Kleist describes it. He is not concerned with uttering an already produced thought, but with language as a means of forming a thought. "But because I do have some dim conception at the outset, one distantly related to what I am looking for, if I boldly make a start with that, my mind, even as my speech proceeds, under the necessity of finding an end for that beginning, will shape my first confused idea into complete clarity so that, to my amazement, understanding is arrived at as the sentence ends. I put in a few unarticulated sounds, dwell lengthily on the conjunctions, perhaps make use of apposition where it is not necessary, and have recourse to other tricks which will spin out my speech, all to gain time for the fabrication of my idea in the workshop of the mind." Kleist's description of this process is reconstructed by Hans Heinz Holz on a grammatical level: the use of a causal clause, qualified in a dependent relative clause, the separation of the main clause's verb from the subject by an ambiguous subordinate clause, which—only because of this separation—can be understood both conditionally and temporally. And the main clause shall connect only piece by piece with the subordinate clause and so push on—gradually but unarrestably—the production of thoughts. Hence the unarrestability is syntactic: for a beginning has to have an end. Yet let us not forget the gradualness with which conjunctions cut things to pieces, conjunctions whose different dependencies and links can by no means be replaced by a string of juxtaposed main clauses. And let us also not forget that the thought which takes shape in language and can thus be expressed with precision is not only assisted by that thought which flares up internally in a "convulsive movement" and is itself incapable of being uttered, but also by a movement of Kleist's sister suggesting she wishes to interrupt him, for this external attempt...


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pp. 638-647
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