Unruly paths trodden too late

The questions lie strewn on the path, and many consider them indispensable, they are even proud to ask them. That´s fine. They expect of the answers at least depth or breadth. A good many questions should for ever remain questions, though the answers to them will come some time or other. But how can it be that a brook, of all things, can be deepest, perhaps a brook of tears? And questions nothing and answers nothing because it flows and is here at one and the same time, barely clouded, and if so, then by something harmless which really arises without doing harm to anyone, not even to all the lovers of merriment standing about. For none of this means itself or is meant. But nothing else is meant either . A puzzle that we are given whereby someone has given himself up, but the message does not have our name on the label.

This giving up of oneself is not a form of resignation or abandonment or lethargy. It isn´t viewed anxiously. There is no displaying of wounds or binding up of injuries. It is true that bonds are established between that someone and us, but they are also denied as soon as one tries to sing a jingle to the Ländler. There is a similarity to the rusticity of Mahler, apparently certain of itself, but which, at the same time, literally crumbles in the hands of the listener (though in Mahler´s case this stems from different causes, perhaps the brittleness of the bourgeoisie and its refusal ever to integrate the Jews). Schubert´s folk tunes are not there for one to feel at home with and even sing along with. On the contrary these composers of an unstable ground which they conjure up again and again - it is the so-called ground of their homeland, so the least stable of all since everyone expects that it of all things can bear the load - these composers write about the ground on which they grew in order to assure themselves that they are really there, and as they write the ground falls away to nothingness beneath their feet and even the effort to grasp it becomes an endless abasement, which turns one into a dog barking as it circles about something it does not recognise. This is because the instructions given in order to place the sounds in their system of co-ordinates, so that they produce something coherent for one to hear, can only be taken from this sound system. Hence music only means itself, because it can only be explained by itself. However, in Schubert´s case, it is different. In his case we see the nature of this and that, and how he made this and that sound as they do. But even if all these qualities can be named, what results is nevertheless nothing that has a name. At least it is not the sum of describable musical parameters. What is missing and at the same time appears on the scene is not only the aura which every work of art has and which distinguishes it, but it is also the fact that som ething is there which at the same time is taken away from us, because the listener, as he listens, is dispossessed of himself, however sure of himself he is. The listener is, as it were, swallowed up in the Schubertian vacuum, which always gives him up again, for of all the music I know it is the most certain of nothing (after all he has been good and listened to everything, yes he also still belongs to himself, he has held tight and perhaps even fastened his seatbelt!) However, for fractions of seconds, since time, being relative, has run backwards, has beaten him with this time-whip of sound and has estranged him for ever from himself, without his being aware of it.

And this abasement, of having to seek something which for most other people is simply there, reasonable, obvious, continues, because for Schubert things didn´t reveal themselves in this or that dimension, so that he could write them down. And this abasement continues in that one today still attributes to Schubert, and also, I find, to Mahler, something of which they themselves might and could never be certain. Today we compel Schubert to be something that he is not, because we cannot imagine that a person could indeed want to be someone and create something, but that he does not mean himself by this ( not another word about self-fulfilment´ in art), and perhaps does not know who else he means by it. Rather in the way that, after a great joy, one can fall into despair or disfavour, Schubert sensed that he had always been in disfavour, and whatever people thought of him, whatever people think of him today (and today we invite him in, of course, and offer him something, a whole festival, a whole exhibition, even though we only ever want to serve ourselves), what is meant is something quite different. Something within limits, something which it does not want to know because it would not acknowledge them anyway. Without giving itself up of its own accord, or at anyone else´s behest. Our set of instruments is always a collection of weapons, but of no use to us. This brings to mind Schubert in his later period, in the mental asylum, living in a twilight zone and not meaning himself..

Even in his strongest moments, a person can no longer find the way out of himself or the way out of what he is writing. Because he simply does not know what he is doing, although he knows better than anyone. This is possibly most clearly shown in the first movement of the last piano sonata (Bb, D960) and in the second movement of the penultimate piano sonata (A major, D959). The theme wanders about and cannot find itself again and cannot find where to stop. It keeps remembering its starting point, meets, as if by chance, a side theme that takes a brief glance out of the window to see if there is something there, but immediately comes back again and goes on wandering round in circles. Is it a question, a knock at the door, May I come in?´ What is certain in the meantime is that it is not a contrapuntal awkwardness in the execution. A question here, a question there, and although Schubert moves away from the theme, nonetheless he still remains with it, and what is strange, comes even nearer to it. Although he is already there, for it emerges continually. Is he too shy to, does he not want to, because he .really wants to go somewhere else? Does he not want to say where it is going (censorship!)? In the great A major sonata, what emerges (the theme, more than the theme?) does not find its way back even into the tonic key. It almost reaches it, no, it is actually already there. After all it knows it. But, in the bass, something is rising up, a thorn which makes the seat unusable where it would be so comfortable, or something gets caught, at the last minute it is held by the ankle, tentatively asks the address, although it has asked so many people and always received the same response. At this point they are already where they want to be. The more the theme is inquired about and tackled, the less it moves closer to itself or even to its progenitor. And that leads into the realm of all things and how they encounter us. First something is shown, then it encounters us in the midst of the thing shown, in order to be able to constitute us as subjects without our knowing beforehand who or what we are. And because we do not know, in the nature of things, what is shown to us cannot know either. We ourselves know something least of all. So music, and particularly this music, leads via objects into its own realm, and the realm of music is time, which, however, in Schubert´s case, has lost its space, even if the space today is frequently a beautiful concert hall. There is even a Schubert Hall in Vienna. If encounters are made possible in a space of time, without the space triumphing over the time (the German language talks of time-space, thus subordinating space to time, yet we need spaces in order to be able to triumph over time, an exhibition, in order through music at last to rule over time), then without space this time does not permit such encounters with time. Because this composer, like few others, while halting time so that he might briefly hold his breath, ran out of space, that is to say everything that lies round and about things. And the things themselves. And here again so much lies strewn about. How does it all come together, so that one can determine what came into being through Schubert?.

Of necessity, in order to determine something, reference must be made to space and time, the Biedermayer period, censorship under Metternich, enciphering, thinking something without saying it, saying something without meaning it, but that something, from the outset, is a thing there would be nothing to learn about, because, although it is something intended and produced (and that deliberately so), it is not completely enveloped and not a preserve that one could store, put in one´s collection and look at or listen to whenever one wanted. What is missing is the main thing, and it is not something excluded, for the very fact of it being missing is what expresses what it really is! Every path has a right to be trodden and the artist is the first to tread it . Many proceed and there is no path at all. They carry on nevertheless and fall on our behalf, and not even on a field of honour. The door is closed . The groundplan is there but without ground the plan is always torn.

About Franz Schubert © 1998 Elfriede Jelinek

zur Startseite von www.elfriedejelinek.com