THE SYMPATHETIC OBSERVER
AN EXCERPT FROM INSANE
TRANSLATED BY ADRIAN NATHAN WEST
“PRAISE IS BAD”
WHAT WE CAN SEE, WE CAN SEE, THE SECRET IS OPEN
WHAT WE CAN SEE, WE CAN SEE, THE SECRET IS OPEN
It strikes me—so goes the objection of the neutral but sympathetic observer—that you lack patience, and when I say you, I don’t mean you, but rather, actually, myself, as though you were tumbling from scene to scene, image to image, as though you had neither eyes nor breath with which to linger longer than the briefest moments—it strikes me that you wish for too much all at once and that therefore, naturally, you achieve nothing. Instead of getting lost in perspectival games, you should bring material to the fore—accent on material—more material. Who cares about that, I ask you, about art (pronounced boorishly) or worse still, artistic ambition, at a moment when the question of the artistic character of art—accent on art, always with that boorish pronunciation, ironic, of course, arrrt instead of art—at a moment when this question has not simply grown uninteresting, but in fact has up and died—pause after died—when it is dead, inexistent, understand me, this question is over—voice rising on over—the end. What is interesting in a moment like this one is material, an ethnography of the everyday, patient and precise, proceeding from the admission that we ourselves have become the savages, because no one can go any further with any kind of art the way they did yesterday, or let me correct myself, one can go further, but it just isn’t interesting. What is interesting—slowly I am beginning to see myself like a prayer wheel uttering the same thing over and over, but you sit there wide-eyed, as if you didn’t believe it—what is interesting is material, I won’t say raw material—accent on the raw—unworked, as it were, not that, but rather the material that unfolds in the course of patient and exacting analysis, patient and exacting, I repeat, which then opens on to a grounded interpretation, where grounded is taken to mean scientifically grounded—accent on the scientifically—and not just adduced from some hunch based on intuition or worldview, which opens on to an interpretation of this sort. For this reason, it seems to me, you should bring more material to the fore, careful now, though—first a deep breath in, then slowly a breath out to close.
I waver as to whether, concerning the neutral, sympathetic observer, who, against his nature, has let himself be dragged into a harangue—anacoluthon—whether I should simply let the matter rest as it now stands, with these rhetorically useful confrontations, I waver, for the moment, at least, as to whether I shouldn’t answer him straightaway. No, I’ve decided I’m not going to do it. Particularly as he is bound, even if it should call thoroughly into question his, the observer’s, thesis—voice quite loud when saying call into question, heavily accented – now to resume the sentence from the beginning: particularly as he is bound to understand every phrase to come as a confirmation of his thesis. Including the present one, it goes without saying. But I consider there—no, open parentheses—now then: but I consider there to be a difference between whether he, the observer, is bound to understand a sentence that refutes his thesis as a confirmation of his thesis or whether the sentence in which he, the observer, sees himself validated illustrates the pure formal mechanics and inevitability of this conclusion, illustrates, at least, even if it does not yet clarify—accent on the clarify—and so now, for the time being, closed parentheses. Whatever argument I put forth, the observer will view it as the continuation rather than the relinquishment of those perspectival games, which are destined to bore him, the observer, and never to interest him, and which he has dubbed, contemptuously, aaartistic ambition. It goes without saying that he, the observer, is merely one of those imaginary figures, the entire dialogue only an invention, an invention of mine invented with the intention of managing to adumbrate one of those theoretical questions concerning which I would otherwise prefer to be silent, for written self-reflection is one of those grand avenues of literature that life has swept bare, and that I have undertaken not to set foot on, and I affirm—just a moment, first I will note down here this interjection—that it may well be the neutral, sympathetic observer speaking, and I affirm the contradiction contained in the foregoing sentence without its paining me in the least.
And so, after some vacillation in regard to the thoughts expressed, which were firmly interlocking, I had resolved—why now the pluperfect all of a sudden—baffled question, dry but courteous answer: well now, you have to imagine that I am telling this to you at a great remove—accent on telling, pronunciation draaawn out—as I was saying before, I had then, incidentally in opposition to my original intention, resolved, as I said before, to give a brief answer, at the very least. And that was the only thing he, the observer, managed to hear; any thinking about my own vacillation, let me add, I kept prudently to myself; the one thing that I did say, this short little sentence, this amicably redundant imperative, I shall insert here parenthetically after having offered you a running elucidation of myself and the text in this passage, this short sentence: Just you wait and see, and since it was so short, I repeated it: Just you wait and see. Naturally, with this you, it was him, the neutral, sympathetic observer I was addressing, but at the same time, in contrast to the beginning, when I was the one intended, here too this means you—open parenthesis, this conclusion is also available unrhymed—open brackets, but rhymes you see as it pleases me, closed brackets—in case you don’t care to get caught up in this sort of shenanigans—in brackets after shenanigans colloquial—please strike all the words after you and please substitute a period for the comma—open brackets, it would very much displease me were this comma to just hang there in the air, closed brackets—or if you have opted for the rhyme, please strike the entire parenthetical section, from open parenthesis to closed parenthesis—close parenthesis.
Rainald Goetz, born in 1954 in Munich, studied History and Medicine in Munich and obtained a doctoral degree in both subjects. He briefly worked as a doctor, but quit this profession for the sake of literature in his early thirties. His first novel, Insane, was published in 1983. In 1998, Goetz wrote the internet diary ‘Rubbish for Everyone,’ probably the first literary blog in Germany, with entries on the world of media and consumerism. It was published in book form in 1999 and together with Rave, Jeff Koons, Celebration and Deconspiration belongs to This Morning, his great history of the present. Goetz has been awarded numerous prizes, most notably the Georg Büchner Prize in 2015. He lives in Berlin.
Adrian Nathan West is the author of The Aesthetics of Degradation and translator of such authors as Pere Gimferrer, Juan Benet, Marianne Fritz, and Josef Winkler. His writings appear regularly in the Times Literary Supplement, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Literary Review. He lives in Spain and the United States with the cinema critic Beatriz Leal Riesco.
Translated for the first time into English, cult German author Rainald Goetz’s debut novel Insane (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2017) draws upon his clinical psychiatric experience to paint a portrait of the asylum as a total institution. We follow a young psychiatrist, Dr. Raspe, who enters the profession dreaming of revolutionising its methods. Confronted by day-to-day practices and the reality of life in the psychiatric hospital, Raspe begins to fray at the edges. The very concept of madness is called into question in a brutal portrayal of patients and psychiatrists and the various treatments administered, from psychotherapy to electroshock therapy. What is madness? And who is truly mad? Diving headlong into a terrifying and oppressive world, Insane is a veritable journey into the madhouse by one of Germany’s most prominent and contentious authors. Insane can be purchased direct from the publisher here.