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Repeating Mamardashvili | Essay Ten – Joyeux Anniversaire, Marcel Proust!

I'm sitting on my bed. And I am writing. On July 10th this year, Marcel Proust would have turned 150. One-hundred-fifty. An age, pretty much impossible to achieve. And yet, I feel a strange pain regarding time lost and time past…
I am trying to imagine being bedridden and wanting and needing to finish my work at hand, that work in my head!
My bed is comfortable. It is a refuge and not an exile. How to imagine it differently? Since I can choose to be here, I can choose to write here, or, to write, as usual, from or in my studio. I can breath. Does it make a difference? Does the location, if it can be chosen, make a difference on a text? And does it change all the words that I cannot find to honor one of the greatest writers of the 20th century? Maybe it does, maybe I am making a mistake, trying to imitate a condition, which I can hardly conceive.
What is my main aim? To celebrate those words which, despite the fact that once they had been refused, at first, by many (publishers), struck so many minds and souls and hearts over the past century. I would like to commemorate an author and his work, and to remind myself, that language does matter; that a story (or stories) matter(s); that a book is not just a book but it might be a book, a lifesaver, a guide, and it might not just be a book, but books, thousands of pages that can be turned over again and again, because the urge to do so is stronger than any so-called common sense activity.

I am moaning. I am mourning a loss. And with this intangible loss I mourn many other. I dare not put these losses in the same sentence. Yet, they seem interconnected. A few weeks ago, I mourned the loss of one of my favorite poets. Friederike Mayröcker. Her poetry, her poetic prose, which, despite her age, I felt sure to not run out of, vanished. But it didn't vanish. There are her books, here, with me. And I have the privilege of not yet having read her last, her LAST (!) book. But she is gone. One of the people, who I felt confident to be there, whenever I was to return to Vienna for a visit, no matter how long how short, is no more. Another writer, as it seems, MY childhood writer, though I know of course she was never just mine, I shared her with so many others and this sharing made her even more important, made her ours, a woman, whose presence made the world, from my point of view, a better place, has also gone. Christine Nöstlinger's books, a childhood without them, unimaginable.

What is my so-called home city without them? Where is the anchor? Where do I feel, no matter if in actual space or in actual words, at home? At home as in safe. At home as in disoriented in the best possible sense. At home in words?

Writing, as it turns out, is a strange thing. One can write while sitting in bed. I prefer a table, a desk, to sit at. I prefer the solitude any such desk offers. I prefer a place, noisy and crowded that still gives space for me, sitting there, somewhere, alone, to write.

Marcel Proust had all his surroundings cut off from sound. In order to focus. In order to write. In order to finish what he had set out to do.

Will I have the stamina to do similarly? Without comparing myself to his grandeur, but when I focus on my very own vision? Won't I be distracted by everything around me? Especially now, that so-called 'normality' hits in again? Before the pandemic becoming after the pandemic? But I can't change that quickly. And also, I don't want to change.

But where to write? And how to write?

In his book, published after his death, yet another voice that has gone, so, in his book '69 Hotelzimmer,' the documentary filmmaker Michael Glawogger writes, not in real time it seems, about his experience in 69 (and more) hotel rooms. Those accounts, I think, were not written, while in those hotel rooms. His accounts of and in those hotel rooms were most likely accounts of the already experienced. And a conversation or rather a thought comes back to me, from last fall, when I longed for everything written, for everything I read to be in a specific context of where it had been written. Since, what if it does make a difference where one writes. What if one just has to take on this possibility, this potentiality and write from or at a place, where one strays from one's usual writing place. What if this helpless obituary, this failed attempt of celebration of Marcel Proust's 150th birthday leads to a place far off my usual habitat. A hotel room. Not expected. What if.

Author: Katharina Stadler