Monday, January 19, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 18.7 (Charles Bernstein)


Shadowtime
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Bernstein, Charles
Shadowtime


So far, Charles is the winner of the "most titles on my shelves" prize. He won't be by the end of our little journey, but he will definitely be the reigning champ until we hit Cre--.

Though I had over the years heard him read pretty much the entire libretto of Shadowtime, I did not purchase it until about a year ago. I did so with store credit at Rust Belt Books here in Buffalo. Shadowtime has always struck me as an intensely personal work, one of the most personal in the Bernstein oeuvre.

The figure of Walter Benjamin and his premature death (literally) against the backdrop of the Holocaust and the Second World War give the otherwise detached and satirical and philosophical and nonsensical tone of the dialogue a poignance it might not otherwise have, which makes this work as much a meditation on death and mourning (and a profound one at that) as a "thought-opera." Indeed, the ephemerality of thought serves throughout as a kind of double for the ephemerality of life.

For instance, the Young Walter Benjamin, in conversation with Dora Kellner says:

The tears that fill your eyes
deprive them of the physical world.
For what transpires now
has never before been
and is already gone
as you reflect on it.


Or later, in the amazing conversation between Benjamin and Gershom Scholem:

WB:

But how can language ever fulfill itself
as mourning?

GS:

It is not the exterior expression
but the inner process.

WB:

Then mourning is a kind of listening
Where the dead sing to us
And even the living tell their stories


Or this, from the final scenes of the opera:

Just as I
no sooner than
I had seen you
for the first time
journeyed back
with you
from where I came
and the faces I saw
had disappeared
unable to trace
what I had known
too long
just as you
journeyed back
with me
no sooner than
we met
where you fell
for the first time
hardly to face
the facts I saw
what I had known
always disappearing
and the places
you saw
unable to trace
what's known
then gone
just as I
journeyed back
with you
no sooner than
I held you
from where I came
for the last time
never to face
the facts I saw
what I had
forgotten
now whispers
just as you
no sooner than
you touched me
the first time
journeyed back
with me
to where
I am.

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