Turmoil on the Seventh Day


Fanfares! Yesterday I handed in a new book to the publishers, and since then am experiencing the now so familiar turmoil. For nearly thirty years now: the same story. A sense of vertigo, where eddies of relief and loss whirl through each other and the sense of having committed some unforgivable act can never quite be pushed aside.

Looking for descriptions, I realise that I need to combine several different ones to do my bewilderment justice. The first account I come across is in The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, otherwise not one of my favourite novels. At one point Nabokov depicts that characteristic relief which is part of it, mixed with arrogance. It is April 1927, somewhere in London:

The door opens. We see Sebastian Knight lying with arms and legs outstretched on the floor of his study. Clare is making a tidy pile of the typescript papers on the desk. The person entering hesitates.

»No, Leslie«, Sebastian says from the floor, »I’m not dead. I have finished building a world, and this is my Sabbath rest.«

The author may appear outwardly dead, but inside him reigns a great calm after the storm – and the presumptuous conviction of having consummated a world that only exists in one copy. This is the demiurge on the day of rest, contented.

But in my turmoil there is also a rusty sense of loss akin to melancholy joy. It is probably best formulated by a souvenir from Hiroshima, where someone has written on the back of a picture of a mushroom cloud: »On a nice day we feel good and our heart sings« …

And then there is that strange feeling of having desecrated – this unholy sense of having defiled something that is not wholly human, without which the turmoil I feel would not also be chilling. The Orphic defeatist Gottfried Benn best captured it, I believe, when he described in an essay how it felt to be »outwardly an earl, inwardly a pariah«.

Relief, arrogance, sorrow, jubilation, loss, melancholy, curse … Quel spectacle.