The Distinctions of the Self

Ten writers from the Institut for Dramatic Writing reflect on the current refugee movement, in a collaborative writing project, the Balcony Conversations. The authors are »reacting to one another in written form, answering, overwriting, and reformulating. And in doing so, a text emerges – simultaneously a chain reaction, a texture woven in cooperation, Chinese whispers, and letter correspondence – which, from various perspectives, tells of an urgency and longing for communication, the external, the other, the unfamiliar. A process which we test on its potential for the Political.« (Anna Gschnitzer) Schlosspost features the project. In part 1, the Austrian author Anna Gschnitzer writes about »The Distinction of the Self«: reflecting on the abyss of terrorism and its images.

She sits and writes and smokes and thinks about how to reassemble the things she is taking apart, how these single fragments she is intricately spreading out will come together in a new way. The material she has dragged along is lying in front of her, once again. The sentences she had written in her notebooks, the books, in which she searches again for the paragraphs underlined in pencil, images, newspaper clippings, music. She has already consolidated all this into a text and now takes it apart once again, unsatisfied. The text is lacking, yes, something was missed out during the textual consolidation. The text is lacking the lack, the absence, something that is elusive. She had almost sealed the text off, she had almost built it into a fortress with no empty spaces, no contradictions, nothing that could shake this fortress. The material shivers. She finds her vibrating telephone under some gently fluttering notes, swipes over the display,
says something,
says something again,
and falls silent,
she feels her face turning numb.
– What, you haven’t heard?
– …
– I’m at work.
– …
– Anyway, I’m doing fine.
– Where are you?
– In … er … somebody’s flat.
– …
– We heard the shots, and somebody let us into his flat.
– Then stay there.
– I’ve been waiting here long enough. I’m going home now.
– How?
– I’ll borrow a bike.
For her, writing is a way to understand the world better. A research method and a way of acting. With words you can do things, declare war for example. She is getting cold. Again: For her, writing is a research method, always in the here and now, there is no predictable dramatic composition, no ideology or message that needs to be conveyed. Writing, it is a way of finding out, something that you did not know before starting work, it is an attempt to get somewhere you have not been before,
– You’re not going out on the streets! Do you understand?
Where was I?
– A method in which the research subject can’t be properly differentiated from the research object.
– Well, yes, I mean, exactly.
She walks towards the shelf,
she picks out Hannah Arendt’s Report on the Banality of Evil,
they were calmly shooting at the crowd,
here phone reception in the flat is fucked up,
she could swear every drop of blood had rushed from her head,
amphetamines, Captagon, she thinks Panzerschokolade,
she feels sick,
she thinks that you cannot blame intoxication,
he should just wait!
But where should he go to, where should he wait?
He should not go out on the streets!
No reception.
Choppy robotic screams.

Bassim has told them a few weeks ago, that his parents are Druzes, and that the Druzes think that Aristotle is God, or an appearance of God.
– Like Jesus.
– NO way! Really?! I didn’t know that. I’ve been reading about him lately. Poiesis and Praxis you know? Handeln als Selbstzweck versus das Hervorbringen eines Werkes, do you know Heidegger? Wenn sich das Volk als Werk hervorbringt, als übergeordnete Idee, I think we’re then fucked.

They were calmly shooting at the crowd.

They called each other simultaneously three times in a row. She puts her phone in front of her on the kitchen table and looks at it as if she were convinced an alien were hatching from it.

Yes, I think we are fucked, whether in the name of God, or ideologies, or if you already have an idea about community, yes, about how things should work on small or large scale, a state, a society, family, love, a text – whether there is already a precise idea about it, a standard before there is an action. Sorry for my English! But Bassim understands very well. Bassim says it is all about the now. No higher idea about how to live your life. You can never pass on responsibility. You have to take decisions every single second. Bassim was fired twice because he refused to hold a gun. Bassim sits at the kitchen table and tells them that he visited a sex shop for the first time at the tender age of 35.
No sex shops in Syria, you know.
And that he was very intimidated by the sizes.
Bassim is an entertainer. He loves making people laugh. He babbles all night, he amuses his hosts, he tells them that he worked for DHL in Damascus, and before that he studied English literature and he talks about George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway and about how he saw the blood of his dying colleague shooting out of his body to the rhythm of his heart. He tells this after the three bottles of wine which they have been drinking together, and she babbles WOW, yes, that’s all she had in mind, WOW, and she feels even more embarrassed that she associates it with Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and for only having ridiculous images in her mind, where reality should be.

The voice on the telephone sounds real. Finally. He has arrived at the hotel room. A real, human voice on the telephone, she thinks about Jean Cocteau, why is she thinking about Jean Cocteau? She thinks about the man whose voice she is hearing. The one who sent her an image from his hotel room yesterday, depicting the Eiffel Tower, you jealous?, was written under it, semicolon, dash, closing bracket.
He tells her that the city is resounding in sirens. At first, he thought that the police officers on the motorbikes were riding around in circles in front of his window, until he realized that it was in fact different units.
This is what fear looks like.
He walks to the window,
he sees himself mirrored standing on the streets,
he believes he is being swallowed by a screen.
she sees people hanging out of windows,
she hears shots from her computer,
he says vertigo,
he says abyss,
and she understands that something has been awry this whole time, something has been off for a while. Just like While E. Coyote running over the precipice and only falling when he looks down, she peers into abysses from Baghdad, Beirut, Ankara. The surface on her display warps, it turns into a hollow foundation of a reality, which she can swipe upwards downwards right left with her thumb.

How fitting that he was there for the Paris Photo.
The fair of images,
the holy mass of images: everywhere images. No, reality has not turned into an image; images have been reality for a long time. One which you have forgotten to look into, because if you did, you would suffer the same fate as the coyote.

He sees himself taking the elevator downwards, away from the hotel room in which he felt secure, one of the most impersonal places on earth.
He does not know why,
but he does not want to leave this ugly hotel room,
leave Paris,
he does not want to leave all these people behind.
At the airport, he gets wasted on shots and laughs out loud while thinking about that sentence.
No thinking anymore,
it feels so good to lose control.
In the metro from the airport to the city, he looks at the stewardess,
still in her uniform,
with straight,
distinctive lines painted on her face,
standing right next to him,
and he, looking waveringly over her shoulder at her phone,
senses: she feels uncomfortable with him staring at her display,
everyone is staring at the display,
well, not everyone is starring at the stewardess’s display,
only he does,
and she,
the rest, that is all the other people in the metro, are staring at their own displays,
every single person in this metro is staring at a display,
and swiping reality upwards downwards right left.
He lets himself fall as loudly as possible to the ground.

V O I D, she writes in her text. She thought about the empty space, and all of a sudden an abyss appeared and the realization that there are many different forms of void, that there are openings confronting the void, the other, ones which indulge, and others which swallow everything up, suffocating, indiscriminately.
They were calmly shooting at the crowd,
without screaming or gesticulating,
very relaxed.
There are people hanging out of the windows.
She is blinking at the screen as if she could keep empty spaces apart from abysses. She knows that now it is all about keeping these two things apart.

She thinks about Bassim, she thinks about the photo of his wife that he showed her, and about his way of laughing when she told him the precise meaning of the sentence she should correct for him: Mit meiner Frau leben in Frieden hat uns gerade noch gefehlt.


Poiesis, she writes and acts and again: Poiesis, (artistic) action which does not end in a final work, which does not resolve itself, which will always lack something, which takes on the unfamiliar and in so doing connects with the outside world, is the opposite of terrorism as an end in itself. Terrorism, which calls itself fundamentalism yet is without any kind of foundation, is in a free fall. This terrorism which seeks to drag everything down with it into a free fall, which is already so fast that it is not perceived as a fall anymore. (Artistic) action as an end in itself makes this fall perceptible. It brings the attention to the here and now. It is a crack in the present image, screen, the display.

Ignorant coyotes, she thinks, while words, too quickly, far too quickly are flying like bullets through the air. Speech executes actions. You can go to war with it, build front lines, build fortresses, you can follow foreseeable dramatic compositions, dictated by terror, you can speak about US and THEM. You can say things and omit things, that the void, that free fall for example, is decentralized and lurking behind every corner, that it is part of Europe, that it is not sabre-rattling transfers covered in desert sand which want holy war, which have been given this word, this war. That it is – above all in Paris – European youths being in free fall, wanting to drag down as many people as possible with them. There is no US and THEM.

The material is still lying there. She will write about the other and about writing itself as something other, about the dissolution of the self and the other because of their enactment, as a celebration; about artificiality as a way of getting closer to authenticity. She will cite Hubert Fichte, who she has fallen in love with in the last few weeks, and Proust in any case. She will attempt all of this with music, she will lay a soundtrack over the text, argue with music, let music seep into her text.

She reads in her notebook.

Music is a loss of control, which is followed by the realization that the self is not a fortress, a stronghold, that the self must understand itself in this world, it must recognize itself as foreign in all its distinctive features. Music is outrageous, shameless, it permeates the body. It becomes an opening, revealing that the self ceaselessly penetrates through the other, that the sounds of your own body and those of the world will not be differentiated anymore. If you listen to it carefully, the self itself turns into sound, ecstasy. Into a celebration.

She will let the text fade out into a list, a list of all that is going to happen in her text, and after the text. At a reading, she will speak ever more quietly, as an indication that at some other point she will turn up the volume again, that she has not come to an end yet, that there have been other selfs, unfamiliar selfs which have been waiting for the right moment to appear with their own distinctive features. And she will play some music. Yes, there will be a fluent transition from text to, to… Oh, there are so many great titles, so many great artists, Fatima Al Qadiri, Brian Eno, the Velvet Underground, Azealia Banks, Daniel Johnston, Patty Smith, Patti Pravo, LCD Soundsystem, Arthur Russel, Chinawoman, Moderat, Grimes, Kate Bush, Young Fathers, Thom Yorke, Grace Jones, Laurie Anderson, Talking Heads…