Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Superabundance by Heinz Helle

Every car coming from the other 
direction could smash into us.
This advance reading proof was sent to me courtesy of the lovely social media people at Serpent's Tail, whose generosity I immediately abused by relegating it in the TBR list to position three behind The Mule and the long-overdue-for-a-read and tantalisingly whimsical Escape Everything, which meant of course that I was unable to finish it in time to add heft and fizz to the pre-publication literati-media frenzy, surely the main reason such generosity is exhibited by major publishing houses. For that, I'm sorry. So, late to the party as ever, I shout my opinion into the mirror seeing all the while fellow guests and my hosts move behind me to fetch their coats and tidy up spilled hors d'oeuvres and aperitifs.

For such a svelte little piece, this ass certainly has a kick to it. To boil it down, a young man, a research philosopher, moves from his girlfriend and life in Germany to the city of New York, to work for a famous philosopher on problems relating to consciousness and experience. His girlfriend follows and stays with him for a short time, before leaving to fly home. And that's pretty much it. At the lowest level of the learning taxonomy, that of remembering, this is all there is. However, our nameless German philosopher is beset at all times by the whirring of his mind, the racing of his thoughts, around each and every situation in which he finds himself, whether lusting after women, or attempting to dampen the noise with alcohol, cigarettes, drugs. His work on the function of higher order thinking is, ironically, undermined by the fact that although he remembers everything, he understands everything within his frame of reference, he is only able to analyse but cannot apply his analysis, he simply cannot learn from what he knows are his mistakes. Something is missing for him to make sense of it all, and he inevitably betrays himself.

And Goddamnit if that doesn't hit a home run right out of my ball park. What am I if unable to learn from my mistakes? What value do these negative thoughts add to my existence if they don't spur me to greater heights of endeavour or creative thought? Shit the bed, but don't I just empathise, sympathise and recognise this character in myself? A recovered addict might suggest that this is the first step on the road to recovery, but I can see that the tide of inertia will be wiping out the footprint I left in the sand pretty soon and I'll be at the start of the process once again. In fact, I'm an addict myself–for safety, a sedentary life of never trying and therefore never failing. I too rush to the bar for the faux camaraderie of beer and football, the chanting in unison, the collective fixation, the sense of a destiny which hides temporarily the void behind it.

And for that reason, this book was one of the hardest reads with which I've been faced in some time. It was a slap in the face, a buzzing, aching, filleting pain, so familiar but represented in such a fashion as to eviscerate my cosy acceptance of my life, my abilities, my fur-lined rut, and leave my stinking bowels running through my desperate hands and pooling at my feet. 

There is one passage* with which I felt empathy to the point of throwing the book out the window, so desperately, hilariously unfunny and painful with dramatic irony, that I thought I'd end with it (in the metaphorical sense–I'm not yet that far gone). Apologies for the dribbling, blubbering self-pity, and enjoy.

She looks at me, and I feel like a patient who has refused to take the medicine that could cure him because he doesn't like... the length of the Patient Information leaflet, and I realise that I'm not concentrating on what's happening. I know this is an important moment in my life, a moment when something is happening that can't be undone... and I think, For God's sake, man just think one single thought for once, take it and hold the fuck onto it, and I concentrate, and it works, and at the moment she walks out of my door for the last time and briefly turns around, I have only one single thought in my head: Patient Information Leaflet.

*Copy quoted from is an advance reading proof so may not represent the finished article


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