ANTHONY MELLORS & DAVID REES: Winter Journey (Time out x 2)

cold stores


Same River Twice

The crust on its uppers. Can there be a lower crust? Something ‘withers beneath the encrusted totality.’ Loaf used wouldn’t spend time carving love hearts on bark or engraving symbolic rings in the ice like some little Stevie transported to Tunturia. The ring seems a more significant figure than the heart since the heart gets anthropomorphized rotten hoping it might see its double in the floodwater lying repressed under the ice rind. Arctic roll. Arctic circle. It’a all about what’s beneath the surface. The ring is broken – a hermeneutic circle that cannot be completed. Can’t pull wool over eyes, cockled heart can’t be warmed. While the dominant metaphor of heat underlying the cold to restless fluids welling beneath a hardened apparently unyielding surface might have migrated traces of the old regime can’t be resisted. For example writing ‘Im Sande ausgestreckt’ the icebound stream lies stretched out on the sand. Supposing we all have sandy beds. But there’s a hint here of the metonymy of sand / desert / heat. Heat and heart are approximate in English in a way that is not many footprints in the snow away from the German heiss and Herz. One translation of Wasserflut renders ‘Und das Eis zerspringt in Schollen’ (‘and the ice breaks up into floes’) as ‘and the ice will melt in torrents’: now the large slabs or flakes of ice dissolve hotly (L. torrere: ‘to parch’) like the wanderer’s tears or his heart bursting into flames under a frozen crust. In any case the metonymic metaphor of the heart is too sentimental for its own good. A fried imagination substituting a ring for a heart is more interesting and one must have been cold a long time to grasp it properly. The broken circle or cycle of the Liederkreis. The Teutonic heritage intimated by the merest mention of the word Ring. The ring as curse at the same time as it is the seal of love and faith. ‘Floe-rat’: a hunter’s name for the ringed seal. All this seen in raindrops on water when crustless writing of ‘tiny one ring disturbances’. If able to experiment with a ring modulator what might have been heard? Or the ring of the telephone in the middle of the night? It’s true one falls into a ring of fire and as mentioned elsewhere harped on ad nauseam in the keller and coffee shops amidst beer-simmered brats and the steins crowded under the tap the entire song must allude to the plight of Nathanael in Hoffmann’s Der Sandmann. Ring of Fire turn about! That tedious old fire and ice complement. Tributaries of boiling snot caked against the pants turn to crystal. Sheltering under a mantle of apriorism. Snow – oh – oh – oh you know my longing: to write in a slurry of pre-Oedipal lines like ‘Ten frost shit in blind potato cunning…’ Surely it’s no worse than ‘I’m the only man baking jelly and I keep my damper down’? I’m more of a riddler than a damper as I traipse the frosted byways swooning on rubber legs. Bubonic Teutonic rings. Now crying like a little whipped buck. Perhaps a plateau trance has just been hit.




Some Hope

Feeling a bit Wim Wenders today so translating everything into a dream in which I’m on tour doing cabaret. Somewhere in the mid-west staying in a rundown stucco ell manned by a big clerk in a billowing black suit the size of a pup tent. The hot August night filled with the scraping of cicadas seems a long way from winter in the forests registered by a single shot of the snow-covered landscape. Yet here too life on the road can be bleak, offering little more than the prospect of burnt ends and unlimited bangers at the flux arena or a gala night at the local muffler franchise. If not for the show going on powers of lamentation might overcome.

Padding onto the stage smiling like a half-wit in penny loafers, Shanty jeans – I’m not skittish about the brand – cheesecloth shirt and a scoop-necked acrylic tank top: Pankow’s answer to Scott Walker. Thank you. Danke. Take the mike tenderly between finger ends as if about to pray. Look up to the gods – the gods who have thankfully not yet deserted us (though give it time) – and nod to the expectant faces gleaming like rancid jays in the half-light. Beginning the set with country favourites like ‘Snowbird’ and ‘A Tombstone Every Mile’ I settle into a middle of the road groove with ‘Memrees …light the corners of my mind’ (warm applause from the audience as it communes with the familiar) ‘Misty water-coloured memrees … of the way we weren’t…’

Clang. Sound of nature or not the call to dissonance can’t be resisted even while maintaining the general harmonic structure. If I could splinter this song into intervallic cells I would. So sing with bated breath and unnatural stiffness avoiding anything too sharp. At some level I don’t want the warmth emanating from that audience. Want its discombobulation. Tried to woo whole life yet pathologically driven to queer the pitch. Everything else seems to harp on the same old images. Romance too: want it so badly yet do I really want the gemütlich closure? Movies end when the obstacles to love have been overcome. So I’d started well by affecting that air of self-congratulatory smugness the Las Vegas crooners assume – ‘Hey this is me!’ and ‘Welcome to my world’ and all that shit – but now find it impossible to sustain. The mindless assent annoys. It could be worse: the swaying rabble at rock concerts with absolute faith in Dionysus: consumer zombies swaying in the dry ice zippos aloft: ‘tender young blondes with lobotomy eyes’: do what the Master wilt shall be the whole of the law. The more articulate bourgeois hucksters like those narcissists in Paulo Coelho lay claim to their ‘wounds’ in the same breath as they remind you of their privileged status. A few negative moments while overwintering in Gstaad or coming over the Starnbergersee. ‘I might be a Trustafarian from Hoxton but I have feelings too!’ Bollocks. No one in London feels anything anymore except the pressure of fingers on the cash register. But that’s the self-help industry for you, always peddling the other side of the coin of what Adorno calls spleen: faking spiritual crises towards an Endsituation in subtile confidences of anger and neurosity.

These are simply milestones on the way to the social media love-in and its corona: while everyone’s busy liking this that and the other and blanking anyone foolish enough to speak out of turn all that really signifies is the form of their compliance. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion but who gives a toss about opinions in the first place? It’s all food for the NSA and its international partners: Echelon Prism Tempora etc. Ghosts flow out from the Bundesnachrichtendienst. The heart is sensual though five eyes break. Domestic surveillance hacks into the frozen places I choose to inhabit. Each time I drill a hole in the ice someone reverse-engineers the mathematics of the hole. I should encrypt more but emotion keeps getting in the way.

As the Transnistrian poet Tara Fagilor writes

Autoritatea se schimb? de la om la algoritm

în cazul în care o roat? a decolat în timpul unei vizite nepl?cute la Prater’

(authority shifts from the human to the algorithm

where a wheel came off during a botched visit to the Prater)

to which one can add only ‘the broken sounds of a poor connection / ported into oblivion.’ If only the modernist dream of an impenetrable body. The personality at its most charismatic with no personality. Escape from the blunting damage of hope. Can I achieve imperviousness or become schizoid enough to be of no account? Yet here I am like bunting in the wind trembling as only trembling can: a ridiculous state of anxiety for which there is no tonic. The old five leaves left warning has been upgraded to ten: anyone should be so lucky.

It’s with these sanguine thoughts I snap out of the reverie. A cold snap. Back to the Nike and the square piano. The crooning fantasy was surely a deflection from the real matter: the music of contemplation now limping on in subsidy all but ignored by the common occult. Will stimmung reduce even the howling wolves to silence? The final hope is that the wanderer’s identity will remain obscure through each attempt to fix it. Fischer-Dieskau’s rubicund student prince down on his uppers. Bostridge’s swerving bipolar nitwit. Goerne’s lyrical depressive. Psychotic Schreier. Manic Fassbänder. Pears who sounds like Siegfried Farnon lost on the moors above Arkengarthdale yet still turns in a performance of outstanding expressive clarity. Mirkovic De-Ro as folksy and scintillating as Agnes Buen Garnås in Rosensfole. To my knowledge none of them ever found hunched in a mackintosh on top of a bus in the Banbury Road haunted by the damp wallpaper smell of old schoolrooms.


Anthony Mellors’ most recent book is Confessional Sonnets, published by Aquifer Books in 2016. He is presently completing a translation with introduction and commentary of Daniel zur Höhe’s Winterreise, which will feature photogravures by David Rees. ‘Winter Journey (Time Out x 2)’ are English prose sections of this project. The translation is, inevitably, incomplete: the ‘ring’ references alone seem interminable. Already, an Israeli scholar has pointed out that the translator is missing the veiled allusions to the ring of fire and the vaping Astaroth in Paul Wegener’s expressionist film Der Golem: wie er in die Welt kam (1920).

Photographs by David Rees


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