Short Stories

All short stories on this site are written by Alexander Kluge

“The mass of reality, which is waiting to be told”

“You could say that all the stories that have ever been told make up a large world. That is the large world of the literary and the short world of the filmic. And then there is the world in between: that of opera, and other worlds. But the biggest world is that of the untold, which awaits narration. That is gigantic. And in the 21st century it has assumed proportions that have not previously existed in this way. And you could say that these concrete circumstances already generate material for a narrative space of its own, which implies a form that we can’t yet narrate, that we can’t yet unravel and comprehend – but which we should.

It is part of literary method and literary storytelling: through leaving contrasts open – there is a story here (Kluge indicates to the left with his left hand) and a story there (Kluge indicates to the right with his right hand) and then there is also a third there in the room (Kluge indicates with his right hand up to the top) – a narrative space is created, which is not identical to any of the individual stories, but which opens up spaces in between. It is in these in between spaces that the rest, the untold, can be anticipated.

We know that (with a good director) the essential element of film takes place off screen. This always has to be added. And whatever can be seen on screen has to point towards something that exists beyond the screen. And this is exactly the same for texts and stories.”

Alexander Kluge, Frankfurt Poetics Lecture, 19 June 2012



“History pauses / for Emphasis” – Ben Lerner, The Lichtenberg Figures

How to relate a circumstance of which you know nothing


How do I speak to the question of how, on the evening of December 31,1799, “the twilight descended”? Is it poetically correct, faced with this moment of which I know nothing, for me to write what I imagine? Is it good for me to invent such a thing?

  • Have you inquired whether there might be some diary entry, some Contemporary remarks on the subject? Knowing, in any case, that during those twilight minutes Friedrich Schiller was proceeding in the direction of Goethes town house.
  • Nothing positive could be ascertained.

Various details of that New Year’s Day are documented. The hues of the heavens’ light toward evening: not at all. Then one should not invent any thing. One should make a point of not knowing it. Wilhelm Voßkamp was known for his rigor. Following his advice, I arrived at the following phrasing: It was due to collective impatience that the majority of the acute minds produced by the advancing eighteenth Century moved forward the turn of the Century, which by the calendar was not expected until the following year, to the night of December 31,1799. They celebrated unprompted. Whether it rained toward evening or whether the sky was clear, so that our sister planet appeared in the west, I do not know. I phoned with Dr. Combrink, who looked around on the Internet. But I knew from previous research that no one, nowhere, knows what specifically met the eyes from five to seven in the evening on December 31,1799. The excitement of that day may be one reason for the lack of observation. Nothing but generalities have come down to us about that hour. Sensory substance, which after all, far below the rational level, must have occupied the eyes and the feeling skin, was lost for good. So many senses—so little information.


I could have told now of the Alpine ridge and the road from Zurich to Chur, down which the army of the Russian general Suvorov marched. A few safe hypotheses would have sufficed, for the route, as far as cold, heights, and abysses are concerned, has gone nearly unchanged to this day; indeed, due to recent road construction, the old paths and Swiss-style roads off to the side have remained better preserved than if they were in permanent use. But for the emotions, the feelings of the Zürichers, the celebration held by Massena’s victorious soldiers, the mood of the Asiatic horsemen who rode in Suvorov’s Company, the sweat of the elite Russian gunners as they heaved their cannons up the road—there is no Contemporary attention, no source. Only what I have thought up.


That was not significantly different in the seconds as the twentieth Century passed into the twenty-first. Even as the media brought early reports of the fireworks in Sydney, speeches, news, news tickers were already flooding the monitors. It was not worth looking out the window yet because the local fireworks could not be expected until later. The main things that was all. But whenever some lonely cyclist rode across the landscape to his house, no doubt noting the features of his surroundings, this impression was not reported, it remained private, a piece of news that would have been turned away by the doorman of the TV or radio studio.


And so, not wanting to fall short of the precision of the early film pioneers, I noted that in the two centuries following December 31,1799, the LACK OF SENSORY ATTENTION AT CRUCIAL MOMENTS, namely the lack of surface perception that we call superficiality, had not diminished. The reason for this, it seemed to me, was not that no one wrote any thing down and that there was no archive; rather, it was an inherent weakness in our perception of the moment, a flaw in humanity that would be foreign to a live film camera. But it happened with one such camera, precisely on New Year’s Day 2000, that it (intended to film only the tumult of light at midnight) was turned on prematurely and then paclced in its case, where it registered darkness all evening, and when it was required at midnight, its batteries were used up. Certain gray tones, however, filtered through the cracks of its protective case, conveyed the motion of the walking cameraman, the transportation. The incompletely shut, low-information Container was documented exactly. The cameraman, a reality hunter, did not know what to do but deliver the exposed tape; it ended up in the archive of the television Company, from which (along with all the filmmaker’s other materials) it was transferred to the Federal Archives as a cultural legacy, where to this day it provides inexact testimony as to the qualities of the leather of a twenty-first-century carrying case and the precise sensitivity to light and dark demonstrated by a twenty-first-century recording medium.


Back to the shifting hues in Weimar on the evening of December 31, 1799. The difference between the color of the sky in Alexandria, where with only two hours’ time difference the officers of the French expeditionary force celebrated the accentuated day, and the scattering of clouds far to the south of the Harz Mountains—such differences can be assumed and conceived for all imaginable weather conditions: as a prism, as a plethora of different possibilities that all the same can be pictured as precise in their difference.

Such impressions link events that are scattered across the planet, independent of concrete knowledge; indeed, the less they are hampered by direct sensory impressions, the more opulently the kaleidoscope unfolds. This is worth conveying, and so I need not begin the first paragraph of my planned story about December 31,1799 (I am still uncertain whether to set it in Weimar, Schwanebeck, or Halberstadt), the way I like to read it: “On a rainy day, Countess F. proceeded along the rue Saint-Honoré, swathed in thick clothing, toward a shop where, just the day before, in the sunshine, she had seen a thin, elegant gown...” Rather, it is worth relating the fact that while Goethe and Schiller were looking forward to their evening together, preoccupied by countless plans for the new year, one hurrying, one waiting impatiently, Indios in the Andes are sure to have gazed up at a sky that was alien to Goethe and Schiller, and various Japanese who did not adhere to the Gregorian calendar ascribed no special significance whatsoever to that day.


As a child, my father had the habit of spitting on the presents and the cake set out in the morning for his birthday before he went to school so that his older sisters and his brother would not tamper with his property. Thus did the young doctor and archaeologist Dubois conceive of selectively claiming Africa for France by distributing attributes of civilization among the (route of) caravans that he thought would cross the continent.

”These are pieces of us.”

For undertakings of this sort, small French troops of seven men with little equipment sufficed. There was generosity in this plan. No differently had the Franks, barbarians that they were, occupied Gaul, and by turning up the dregs of society to the top as when plowing a field (i.e., making slaves their tender mistresses), transformed it into a garden of God; indeed, the garden itself transformed into this state for a lengthy time. This is one of the tales of New Year’s 1799.




A Mistake by Lenin which had a Belated Effect in December 2009 (and in January 2010)


On 14 February 1918, the Council of People’s Commissars decreed the introduction of the Western calendar in Russia. How imperfect is the power of the state apparatus! The new counting of the days never completely replace the old reckoning. The people of Russia have for a long time, without knowing it, counted according to both confessions, according to the Byzantine one and the Western one that was decreed.


At the turn of the year from 2009 to 2010 this led to the ´economic performance gap`. In vain did Prime Minister Putin attempted to deal with the irregularity. On the model of Western markets, the Christian holidays swept over Moscow and the territories beyond the Ural Mountains. They only ended, however, thirteen days later (both in terms of the way it felt and as far as work attendance was concerned), so that consumption of alcohol and reciprocal invitations to holiday dinners didn’t stop. But now there was Epiphany, 6 January, on top of that, in fact the much more important holy day (with likewise thirteen days of felt latitude for play). Overlapped by the New Year: a considerable supply of festivities.


The replacement of reality (mediated by work and profession) by a seemingly endless succession of special days is, according to the monk Bitov, equally disastrous for body, soul and economy. And all that because a provisional revolutionary government tried to rule time, something which only God and the people have the authority to do.


On Calendar Reform

Between the present-day republics of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan there is a narrow strip of land, framed by high mountains, which was not marked on the maps of 1917 nor was it recorded by any of the later administrations. When the Soviet Union broke up this area was left over. There was an Orthodox monastery which was hurriedly evacuated at that time. A single monk remained behind, in order to guard the building and to continue the monastery’s work.


The monastery had for centuries been concerned with the official determination of calendar dates for the church, i.e. with chronicles. The isolated monk, instructed, forgotten, did not remain alone for long. Through the Internet he is linked to fraternal organisations worldwide, whether Orthodox or scholarly. His Muslim surroundings, no longer aware of this alien, do not bother him.


Brother Andrei Bitov divides up the most recent centuries as follows:


From the Peace of Westphalia

1648 to 1789                        1 century


From 1789 to 1792             1 century


From 1793 to 1815             1 century


From 1815 to 1870/71       1 century


From 1871 to 1918             1 century


From 1918 to 1989             1 century

so that three hundred and forty-one years have the substance of five hundred.

After that: the present day.


The years which Bitov is short of in this computation of modern times he recovers - in agreement with Dr Herbert Illig on this - through a critical revision of the dating of the Middle Ages. There are invented periods here, e.g. there is no proof of the existence of Charlemagne. About three hundred years don’t exist at all. So Bitov has no difficulty with the turn of eras at the birth of Christ which he needs in order to synchronise the monastery chronicles.


In academic circles in the US Bitov is now seen as the inventor of Time Compression. The quality description ´century` has a morphic structure, i.e. it forces the years into circular or elliptical orbits around a centre. It is arbitrary to count them of chronologically according to days, years. Hence the three years of the Great French Revolution has a ´distinct structure`, says Bitov. That makes them a century in itself. The RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION OF TIME MUST BE ACKNOWLEDGED LIKE THAT OF PEOPLES.


Why should the same be valid for Russia as for Britain and France? Here Brother Bitov becomes agitated. All times are different, a British and Russian century can certainly not be compared. However, says Bitov, the times of the continents and the inhabitants are linked to each other by way of morphic fields. To that extent the CURRENT OF TIME is once again synchronous. And it is not even certain that the Great French Revolution is really of French origin. A new age or time can have its origin in quite other places from where the phenomenon breaks out (surface). We have discovered souls in Russia, Central Germany, in Tashkent, likewise in Portugal and its East Asian colonies which set themselves in motion together.


Fuel is rare in Bitov´s mountain monastery in winter he can best warm his hands when he places them firmly on the casing of his computer.


The Demarcation of Old Year and New Year According to German Industrial Standards (DIN)

On 6 December 2009, negotiations in Geneva between the Federal Republic of Germany and the People’s Republic of China to establish mutual acknowledgement of industrial standards broke down. Among other things, this was because China does not have general rules corresponding to the DIN norms. Consequently for trade with the People’s Republic of China (also for possible diplomatic notes and declarations of war) the relationship of the Federal Republic to this great country remains indeterminate.


According to German law the following applies: December begins with the same day of the week is September; so if 1 September is a Monday, then so is 1 December. If 29, 30 or 31 December is a Monday, the days from Monday of the first calendar week are included with the following year. In accordance with the DIN norm in this case the last calendar week of the year ends with the last Sunday of December. If people wish to experience one to two more weekdays then they do so outside of time. Organisations on the other hand always move forward in fifty-two intact weeks.


World-Changing Rage - News of the Antipodeans

‘A whole world for mist.’

In his happiest times—never more than two metres away from his wife Aino—Christoph Schlingensief was in Iceland. It remained a mystery how he had got there from Nepal without spending much time in Germany. Everything up there is impregnated with moisture from the Atlantic, the clouds come uninterrupted. As he regarded the island primarily under the aspect of his current film shooting, he was sure the land of the sagas would remain alien to him for a long time to come. ‘What I know least about, I find easiest to empathize with.’

He filmed a man with birds’ heads, running on the beach. That brought about another staging: the battle of a dwarf against the ‘Knight with Bird’s Head’. Actually, Christoph Schlingensief should have been in Japan at that point. His invitation expired because he didn’t take it.

What was left of this plan to visit faraway Japan—an IMAGINATION CATCHER and a VACUUM OF UNDERSTANDING for him like Nepal or Iceland—was that the film material he improvised on that day, related to the Edda saga cycle, was influenced by ‘Schlingensief’s image of Japan’. Around midday, the film was most concerned with mist. The only place to film mist in nature was in the direct vicinity of the geysers. So Schlingensief ordered seven fog machines from a film equipment hire company in Copenhagen. They were to be flown in by the late afternoon.


Der wiß ritter reyt also biß gegen abent


Der wiß ritter reyt also biß gegen abent und kam fur ein huß, das mit holcz was bezinnet wol alumb. Er hort ein jungfrauw ußermaßen wol singen und lut, und er begund zu gedencken und ließ das roß geen wo das es wolt. Das roß was múde und hett ein groß tagefart gegangen, und was an eim samßtag zu mitten augst. Er saß und gedacht, und syn roß kam gande in ein gebrúche, das von dem heißen wetter drucken was worden, und gingen große graben da durch. Sin roß was múd und sturczt in eynen graben, das das roß ein lang wile off im lag. Sin schilt brach in dru stuck, und der hinder sattelbog brach enzwey. Syn knecht hulffen im wiedder off mit großen pynen. Er was sere geqwetschet und clagt sich sere. Er reyt furwert und fant ein crucz off eim kirchoff stende, [...]Die history sagt uns das Lancelot sere zu ungemach ist und sere verdacht nach der frauwen die er mynnet, und nach dem hotten den er zu ir gesant hett, wann der bott wiedder solt komen und sagen im was im die enbútet die er für alle die weit minnet. Er enspielt oder lachet noch enhett keyn freud in der weit anders dann das er allweg in großen gedencken was. Er enißt noch trincket noch enschleffet wedder tag noch nacht, er ist oben off dem thorn zu alleröberst und sicht alumb als ein man der sere in ungemach ist. Nu geschah ein abentur, das myn herre Gawan und Hestor so lang geritten hetten innwendig Sorelois fragende nach Galahot, und kunden nye kein mere von im gefreischen, wann das im eins tags ein jungfrauw begegent off der straß off eim schonen zeltenden pferde. Myn herre Gawan grußt sie, die jungfrau gnadet im und fragt war sie wolten. »Wir wolten gern finden das wir suchen«, sprach myn herre Gawan. »Was suchent ir?« sprach sie. »Wir suchen Galahot, jungfrau«, sprach myn ro herre Gawan, »den herren von dißem lande, wir finden aber nymand der uns von im groß oder cleyn sage.«

The white knight rode until evening, and came to a house that was surrounded by wooden battlements. He heard a maiden singing, endlessly beautiful and in a loud voice. He fell to thinking and let his horse wander where it liked. The horse was tired, having walked a long way that day. It was on a Saturday in the middle of August. He sat lost in thought, and the horse wandered into a moor that had been dried out by the heat and was veined with deep ditches. The horse was exhausted and fell into one of the ditches; then lay on top of him for a long time. His shield broke into three pieces, and the rear of the saddle broke too. His pages helped him up with great effort. He was badly bruised and lamented a great deal. He rode on and came to a churchyard. [...]The history tells us Lancelot is very unhappy and languishes in his mind for the women he loves, and for the messenger he sent to her, for the messenger should return and bring him what she has to say to him, this woman he loves more than anything in the world. He cannot enjoy pleasure or laughter and has no other joy in the world than losing himself in his thoughts. He eats and drinks and sleeps neither by day nor by night, he spends his time at the very top of the tower and looks around, as a man does who is in great misfortune. Now it happened that Sir Gawain and Sir Hector had ridden long through Sorelois, asking for Galahad, and had found no news of him, when one day a maiden passed their way on the road on a handsome palfrey. Gawain greeted her, she thanked him and asked where they wanted to go. ‘We cannot find what we are looking for,’ said Gawain. ‘What are you looking for?’ ‘We’re looking Galahad, dear maiden,’ said Gawain, ‘the lord of this land, but we can find no one to tell us anything about him.’


Debris of ancient tales in a medieval heroic story

Gawain, the ‘golden-tongued’. Anselm Haverkamp points out a Shakespearean fragment in which the hero Sir Gawain is called ‘a coppery oddment of the hero Ulysses’. Gawain knows how ‘to place his words like Ulysses, but also to hide what he says beneath many words.’ ‘He lies like gold.’ In Old Celtic, neats means WETNESS. Neits means HERO. Phonetically, the two words are difficult to distinguish. The hero is given his tasks by his mother’s brother; a maternal assignment, in other words.

Gawain fights the witches of Gloucester. He takes his ship through the mists of the Faroe Islands. He is the fourth on the left at King Arthur’s round table, clockwise. He is loyal, although his wily tongue could commit betrayal at any time. Haverkamp refers to him as an ‘anti-Macbeth type’. He does not find the Holy Grail, but he does free a hundred imprisoned women. Only together with Parsifal and Lancelot (both several places lower down the table) does he reach the Grail’s mountain. Here, he seizes the sword with which John the Baptist was beheaded. The sword is kept in the vaults of Halberstadt Cathedral. Marries Florie of Syria. Their son Wigalois half Celtic, half Phoenician.

Gawain is the opponent of the Knight of the Lantern. In The Story of the Crop Eared Dog, he frees Alastrann the Wonderful—who has been transformed into a dog—the brother of the sorcerer who proves to be the Knight of the Lantern.

Gawain promises to help his friend Pelleas, who loves the beautiful Arcade. He pays a visit to the recalcitrant Arcade and claims to have killed Pelleas, in the hope of awakening the young woman’s love. Yet he falls in love with her that same evening, and Pelleas finds the two of them lying together in the bedchamber. HE LAYS HIS SWORD BETWEEN THE SLEEPING LOVERS. The next morning, Gawain sees he has done wrong, and leads Arcade to his friend.


The advantage of misunderstandings

I am one of Georges Didi-Huberman’s assistants. I’m helping set up his exhibition in the Louvre. It’s about the continuation of Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas in the 21st century. Being French, I have to feel my way into much of it first.

My right eye is disabled by a skin growth. A thin layer of skin stretches across the lens, inoperable. My eye registers imprecisely. I read in the catalogue (partly because it’s in italics and small print): A GREAT MIGHT DOWN THE DRAIN. In fact, I see in the picture something like the tip of a rocket. The left ear hanging from the ghost’s head seems overly large to me. Like that of Saint Jerome ‘in his study, listening to a dove’. That was how I wrote my commentary on the picture. But the picture was called A GREAT NIGHT DOWN THE DRAIN. I refuse to rewrite my commentary just because of a misunderstanding.

Standards of Dying

Marching at the head of his men, drunk off adrenaline, the poet and battalion leader August Stramm spent the last three days of his life in Russia. The enthusiasm of the advance, out of the Carpathian passes and into the plain, this collective energetic action, infiltrated the spirits (= competiveness, efficiency). The drive had made the poet and veteran (but how much hatred he had already sung to this monster!) become more and more fusillade. Already he denied the enemy and considered himself "bullet-proof". He wore his knapsack in front of his chest as a kind of protection. Thus he was hit by a swathe of gunfire, which came from a swamp area, where none of the advancing soldiers had suspected an enemy.

Arno Schmidt described, in a text he burnt in a fit of displeasure in the 70s, the transport of this half-dead man, whose blood escaped from the seven wounds (already mixed with mucilage, similar to the plasma that comes from blood when it decomposes): the hopeless path of the expressive wordsmith on his stretcher. It was carried by two of his comrades. Had the mobile dressing station moved up to the front as ordered the previous evening instead of staying behind in the mountains, a military doctor would have been able, at least in parts and as ruins, to save the man whose words froze in his head (trying to remember at least the words »Schmiervogel«, »straight away« and »towards the dark«). Still in a wheelchair, without usable limbs, this "seer" would then have been able to record the experience of his last assignment in dictation. Presumably, some of his formulations would have recurred over time, and after ten years the strong "word clouds" would seem exaggerated to a reader. Another mode of expression would have replaced the cracked language. According to Arno Schmidt, the poet had sat in his living room in some random German town, embittered; he could have badly sung the praises of springtime or of the workers’ movement instead of the war. However, according to Schmidt who barely knew anything specific, doctors, nursing staff and hauliers of that Austro-Hungarian imperial mobile dressing station close to the frontline, not only in military service, but astronomers at the same time!, had been boozed companionable the previous night, making an early departure on the morning of the battle impossible. It was this delay that turned Stramm’s injuries fatal. All the cooperative spirituality that had carried him in his last few days washed away through wounds of his burst skin – DESERTERS OF VITALITY. What appeared as if it was to start to fester, could hardly be poetised as blood (which would coagulate eventually), but was rather ceaselessly seeping away, DIARRHOEA OF THE MIND. As a consequence, Stramm arrived at the mobile dressing station indifferent and unbellicose about his life, where a substituted surgeon examined him quickly. The ambulance platoon was busy preparing its departure to the front. The patient had to wait.

In any case, Schmidt wrote, this was not how he would have ever have wanted to die. However, this was actually exactly what happened, when in the days between May 31st and June 3rd 1979 vanished neither his life spirit not his blood, but what coheres body and mind: nervous connections and senses. To the last he pined away, nothing more but a pile of matter, in intensive care in some Northern German town. The hospital was not prepared for the poeta laureatus.