Travels in his own room
The first words, even before the first image appears. A voice whines something difficult to understand, rhymes from another world. The light goes on, Gerhard Amanshauser sits at a large microphone. This is the beginning of Travels in His Own Room, with an exposition which takes up a motif from the genre of writer portraits – the mythos of the voice and the ritual of reading – and gives it new life. The fact that Amanshauser´s condition (he suffers from Parkinson´s disease) plays a central role may appear to be something of a paradox. The disease distorts the meaning of what is being said, creating its own poetry. Amanshauser´s singing and fantasies flow through the film, freely and without reservation. For this reason what we see and hear is not merely a portrait of a writer or his work, or a seriously ill old man, or an individual from – as he puts it himself – a Nazi family. Travels in His Own Room is more than the sum of all these parts.
On the basis of Amanshauser´s biography and a few excerpts from his extensive and little-known oeuvre, a complex cabinet of curiosities relating to the man and his work is created. Scenes of awards ceremonies, readings and interviews from the past, old Super-8 material and dream-like sequences in which, for example, Amanshauser dances through his yard while wearing a top hat, are the film´s aesthetic multipliers. Now and again we are nicely surprised or receive a profound insight – which enchants us immediately. Amanshauser once claimed that part of the job of literature and art is to captivate the reader. Consequently each scene and sound seems to be the product of a correspondence with Amanshauser´s ideas.
The renowned Salzburg poet Gerhard Amanshauser has suffered from Parkinson´s disease for 10 years. The last remants of freedom for the 78 year-old are journeys in his own room: Expeditions in the border realms between a clear mind and glowing hallucinations; through the rooms of his mysterious villa to the sites of his national socialist youth, in the distant lands to where his thoughts travel, and the hellish worlds of his nightmares.
Der Schriftsteller Gehard Amanshauser
For good and for bad, for limb and pin, may it be thus, our E. May it radiate and irrigate, the E. And another E, as far as I can see, is also on its way and picks a sweet pea.
Hush now, hush now, dont go too far, you are being spied on with ears and eyes... Wonderful!
E: Imagine the fuss it would cause... but he might well do that sort of thing. Wonderful! What an excellent image with the top hat. G: Who have we got here then?
B: Yes, you can sit down now. G: Let go of my arm. E: Barbara, I cant really do it. B: Let go of him, let go. There, just push down.
E: You know, I havent got experience with this yet. B: Yeah, sure. Come, sit down now.
B: Does it hurt? G: Just a little. B: Can you go yet? G: No.
B: Do we have to wait a bit? G: Wait five minutes, then lets see whether I can go.
90% of the planet Daos surface is covered by an ocean; only at one point, on the equator, a large, ellipsoid island juts out. Apparently it has been slowly lifting for several million years.
It is merely an illusion that we are creating the environment we need. In truth, we are shaped to an unfathomable degree by an environment that we can only marginally influence.
So, to a certain degree, I am a house that stands in the woods above the town. All my thoughts depend to a large part on this building and are enriched or restricted by this environment.
The pram, of which I was the content, was usually put on the lawn in front of the house, on the edge of the beech bushes, where a large lime tree cast its shadow. For hours I lay in verdant isolation, beneath trees and clouds.
While there is no way I can prove this, I imagine that I was conditioned then, lying alone in the garden. Conditioned not through my parents, but foliage and cloudscapes, which, however, did not represent nature, but something incomprehensible, and to some extent eery; which has since been the subject of my deepest interest.
G: This villa in which I was born and have lived in stands in total isolation, not really in town, but in the woods, and Im sure this has led to a certain feeling of isolation. But I do not actually question this, I accept this as a given, it is my nature. Somehow I cannot but distance myself.
L: And have you tried to make a mark through your way of life and your writing, is it a form of protest? Do you believe it is possible to at least provoke thought through literature?
G: Well, a few readers perhaps will be sent off on new trains of thought, but in my opinion the purpose of literature is much more to charm than to provoke thought. I feel the purpose of art is to achieve a feeling of enchantment. Thought can be provoked much more effectively through other means.
L: There is a danger to bewitch rather than enchant. G: Surely that is not a danger...!
As I emerged from the quantum foam my left foot was missing two toes. This is why I greeted the aliens who had come to meet me screaming in pain. The aliens, who for the sake of simplicity I will call Phokas, were extremely quick on the uptake. Moments later I was lying on some kind of vehicle that transported me to the inside of the rocks soaring around me. With breathtaking speed my foot was being covered in some kind of gelatine.
The most wonderful experience of art during my childhood was the circus. Under my direction, my siblings and I founded a circus, which appeared several times on the lawn in front of our house. When I deemed an act adequate, I would say: This is worthy of the circus! an expression I would later secretly use for my own attempts at literature.
How the circus can really be worthy and artistic, I saw much later in China, where the acrobats style is not casual but somehow somnambulic.
And so I set against the ideals of my carers, against the image of the family and the seed of the state, and against the home with its washing rites and piggy banks, the nomadic village of circus caravans, which I populated with illusory riff-raff, with jugglers, lion tamers, midgets, with ring girls and princesses.
Of course this was a pubescent fantasy, but it protected me in some sense from the propaganda of the Third Reich, by establishing an antithesis to it.
Circus was not illegal and was not seen as particularly subversive, so it was able to influence the subconscious all the more.
G: Do you also see in the camera... erm... do you see?... whats his name now... there you see how much my brain is corroded. L: You know, its fascinating to know, I didnt know that you were in the Hitler Youth. What kind of memories are these? G: Yes, these are ever-present memories. So I know all the songs, the Schuschnigg-Dolfus songs I know... all this nonsense is in me. L: And how does that make you feel? G: How do you mean? L: Does this preoccupy you again and again? G: This does preoccupy one again and again, but after a certain point it cant cause any more damage, its just irritating. One cant write this and that because its irritating and one cant manage any more.
In around 1942, in the terrain around Viennas Prater area, a contest was held between several intelligence units. Each unit had the task of establishing a line of communication with two points in the shortest possible time. This is what first took me to the capital when I was thirteen. We slept in tents or barracks near the Ferris wheel.
We moved in very close to the Wurstelprater. We were a vanguard of the SS troops who four years later would consign the wooden figurines and the whole magical realm to the flames.
So it was by coincidence that I saw the old Prater, which, had it survived, would today rank amongst Europes great attractions if only as a surrealist museum.
Unknowing and with clouded attention I stared at the oriental circus world, at its half droll, half demonic carvings and mechanical knick-knacks that rose up in front of me. But while outwardly intact, their true aura had long evaporated in the new era.
This was the scene that had always occupied my childhood imagination, the exotic lunapark of acrobats, gypsies and marionettes. But I had arrived too late and had thoroughly ruined my entrance: for I was not wearing the costume of a circus child, but the uniform and insignia of the murderers.
G: My family was a Nazi family. My grandfather was a bank manager. My father was an official of the Nazi party, and I would have joined if everything had continued normally. I probably would have become an engineer that was my talent.
Unfortunately I have to go to the toilet now. What have I done with my stick? B: Behind you, on your right. G: Behind me, on my right? Yes, here it is. Shall I come back down here? B: Yes, please. G: OK. Nice day today, isnt it?
According to Lanss accounts, Phokas sexuality is quite different to human. This is largely due to the fact that males and females in our sense do not exist. Yet there are two genders. The Phokas call their two genders perpetrators and dancers. Both types are child-bearing, but in most cases they can only give birth to a child of the opposite gender. So the perpetrators bear dancers, the dancers perpetrators.
G: You have to bear in mind that I started writing after the war. I was seventeen years old when the war came to an end. And the end of the terror, of the ideologisation, effected me in such a way that I withdrew from society in an anarchical manner, and that for me Salzburg only really meant this house on the Festungsberg and this terrace.
I would have thought impossible such a bizarre conglomerate as the old town of Benares. Dragging and oozing and dozing, ahistorical and indolent, in some places gleaming and shimmering, elsewhere only misery. But at least it seems to be alive, while our cities have long died of sterility. It is quite improbable that our urban apparatus will survive even for another hundred years. Then we will realise: the question of the so-called standard of living was secondary.
G: What kind of strange plants are these? What are you doing? May I? he asked and like a flash he passed. Ah, how interesting! Here, whats this?
G: It does take a while to hand something like this over... Ones reluctant to part with it...
To an impartial observer, todays literary scene appears as an utterly open, wild and desolate landscape, permeated with patches of karst, poisoned minefields, absurd emblems, false evaluations and twisted signposts.
In every place one can find various types of loose particles, which tear away from the conforming masses and float about freely. They contrive hideouts and cocoons, sites for feeding and pleasure, which sometimes permeate the breeding grounds of the saturated machinery in ingenious ways.
In the future, when all things will take place in mirror-walled factories, where a multitude of ducts and chutes will ensure the fair distribution of goods, somewhere in the shadows there will be a forgotten defective pipe, oozing nourishment pulp. Now and again, in the dark, where the foodstuff seeps down, one will notice scurrying figures. If Nihal were still alive then, this is where one would have to look for him.
When it comes to the so-called mono-vowels, the Austrian dialect claims a unique, little known superiority over other languages. In particular the mono-vowel i, which in Austria designates the ego, is a world record, inasmuch as the most important thing, namely ones own personality, is represented in language in the shortest possible and most importunate form.
In England, for example, a knock on the door is answered with: Who is it?, whereas here we say a simple: Wer is?. And the Austrian answer i compared to its me is this dative or accusative? is nothing short of ingenious.
I often used to look at maps of East Asia and wonder: Will I ever reach these longitudes during my lifetime, or will I be buried as someone who had never reached these lands? What does it matter? It means nothing to be unloaded there from an aeroplane. For has one really arrived, or is it not merely some sort of touristic trick? Perhaps one could say with greater justification: Kafka went to China.
Well, of course I wrote completely differently to my colleagues as they say in Vienna, where I was living then and I was quite fond of them all, also the literature Artmanns a lot of that I really liked, but I thought, no, I do things completely differently.
I hope Ive got the right ones... well, well see... I did have a piece of paper, wheres it gone? Well, Im struggling a little with the manipulation of objects, because... the manipulating apparatus is damaged, no doubt, but one can still always write, so I guess one has to write... Whats this? No, no, this is the right one... K: This is the Mansardenbuch. S: Barbara says everything is marked in the book, you dont need the sheet at all. G: Oh I see, everything is marked, but whether I can read it is the question. Because I cant make out anything here, just some inscriptions... how can that be? Lets see, maybe it is merely a mix-up of the... Yes, of course! Its just the wrong spectacles! I was watching Flusser once, Flusser who is an excellent philosopher from Prague. He had two sets of glasses up on his forehead, and his gesticulations and the two spectacles, that was worth seeing... almost better than the literature itself... Now then...
Old-age dementia, which damages the short-term memory, creates space for memories which detach themselves, usually unexpectedly, from the dusty archives of childhood and puberty, and resurface... they whirl up again...
When I stopped doing sport, I, as it were, forgot my legs, in particular my feet. Recently though, having only half awoken from a dream, I saw my toes stick up at the end of the bed and I had the eery impression that they were too far away. Once I joked: My toes are already abandoned.
The lower extremities are taking revenge. I began to suffer from so-called restless legs... I constantly sort of fidget about with my feet now. It is a kind of illness.
Despite the fact that the Chinese invented the art of printing, the book in our sense did not become the definitive medium for poetic composition. The suitable form in which poetry had to be realised was calligraphy. Therefore a poem was not only writing, but also abstract painting. Flying brushstrokes extend the text over the surfaces. There is no plot as in a novel, instead associations are brought into play, rhythmised and embedded into a network of images and signs. When language and calligraphy interfuse in unfamiliar ways, a new masterpiece is born. The most original poem may have been painted onto a doorpost by a vagabond once chased away from the royal seat. Quote: If one did not fade away like the dew on the Adachi Field and did not evaporate like the smoke on the Arribe Mountain, but lived eternally, how could one grasp the enchanting melancholy that is woven into all things. Transience makes the world so beautiful.
M: Oh no, were getting feedback again. Were just not standing right. G: Not to the south, not to the south, go northwest. M: I think its just this TV set thats got this red tint. G: Do you think the colours are bad? B: Have a look at my face. G: The colours are not real. M: Put your neck away. G: Put your neck away, Antonia of Princess! B: So what are you doing now? M: Well, were just practising. Well just do a bit of filming. B: And can you erase this afterwards? M: Everything can be erased by being recorded over. B: And when are you going to do a take? G: Well, I say!
M: Wonderful, great show!
G: The question of the meaning of life really is of a monstrous impudence, if one can say so, because of the work one chooses... and some writers have taken on enormous workloads; the meaning of life in my opinion one cannot find this, life has no meaning. When asked about the meaning of life, Heine famously said: The meaning of life lies in the events themselves that one gets entangled in.
There is no meaning other than the calamities or perhaps sometimes the joys this is all we can say then, it was fun, it was quite fun. What were doing here simply is fiction. If life itself had meaning, we would not need literature. So we are making our own sense, which we put into it... You just live, and either
you enjoy it or you dont.
Once again. Marching out of the woods came a huntsman... out of the woods came marching. This obviously is a so-called circulus vitiosus, but only with two elements, particularly unproductive... youll never make progress. Marching out of the woods came a huntsman... Ive already lost my place... a huntsman...
Where has it gone, the huntsman... For the third time: Marching out of the woods came... M: A huntsman. G: A huntsman! Was it him or wasnt it? The old man speaks and lectures and lectures... its curious, the illness has completely distorted me within, so that these poems do not close any more, the sentences do not close any more.
It took quite some time until I realised I was dealing with an illness. And then I realised: there is an illness that fits my symptoms exactly. This is Parkinsons Disease incurable, to the delight of the patient, because at some point the patient must get enough of poetry. And probably... this illness will be so aggressive that it will destroy everything.
B: Take this. G: I am now taking a tablet. B: Put it in your mouth and swallow it. OK? And now this... Right, Im already gone again. G: This is an example of something intimate. Yes, the medication eliminates the unpleasant symptoms. It might get to the point where one cant walk any more. I cant walk any more. This doorstep for instance, this doorstep I cannot cross. This motif appears somewhere in Handke... The doorsmep... smep... step I cant cross, I just cant go on... I just stand there... until someone comes and leads me across.
We left for the Ganges in the earliest part of the morning, to witness the sunrise over the bathers ghats. Mindful of Decembers snow in Salzburg through which I had waded so recently, a feeling of unreality took hold of me as I watched these scenes. Candles were being sold, or rather forced upon one. They are set upon the water from the boat and left to float; a candle staying afloat for a long time indicates a long life. My flame is extinguished after a few meters... My flame drowned immediately, after a few metres. The others swam much longer, and much further. This wasnt actually meant as a joke.
B: Im still here. Can you still speak Portuguese, is that going well? How do you speak? Do you speak differently?
G: Im having difficulty... E should appear later... E should only... on April the first... when? Thats tomorrow, isnt it? ...then it should appear... What else have we got, another E. So my struggle is permanently the retreat of the E, the hurling back of the E.
Ah, I think I heard something. Is someone taking notes about the miracles Im telling? And Im also talking about miracles, because miracles will come now, they will come in the shape of an enormous E-army. Yes, in fact with the aid of elegant zeppelins. They will appear in the skies above Salzburg.
So all of this must be the end then. BE THE END THEN, thats four Es. They are regrettable, these things, and they cause a lot of work, one would rather do nothing, would rather stare into blank space, but no...
G: Is anything the matter? B: No. But I did want to ask you something else. G: Yes, go ahead, go ahead. B: Are you actually aware of what were doing here? What were planning to do? G: No. B: Would you like me to explain it a little? G: Yes. B: Well, we want to do an interview, in which we talk about certain topics, and you are talking in front of the camera, and into the camera, and a crazy amount of people will listen to you sooner or later. G: Yes, crazy, like at the Heldenplatz!
And now hes already on the surface of Mars. It is actually rather thin, this surface-world. And at some points one jumps into the water and drifts off into the current.
I found myself in a pleasant landscape, amongst shrubs and trees. But everything pleasant and graceful was utterly out of place, here, on a strange planet.
The path went down a soft slope. Between tree trunks, which were thinning out, I saw the mirror of a lake. In the midst of this landscape an artefact rose up. A wooden gate with three apertures. It stood there lonely, and seemed to serve no purpose. Above the central arch I saw a faded inscription. To my consternation, it was written in Latin script and read: Welcome to Paradise.
While it seemed impossible to me that the alien life forms should have developed writing, a strange signary would have seemed more plausible to me than this infantile slogan, which could have been invented in Hollywood.
Had I died? I could not remember the end of my earthly existence. According to the prevailing belief system, hell would have been a certainty for me. And I would have rather accepted hell than this idyll on the lake, behind the gate with the inscription Welcome to Paradise.
Voyages dans ma chambre (texte français)
Avant même la première image, les premiers mots résonnent. Une voix qui chuchote des paroles incompréhensibles, des vers dun autre monde. La lumière sallume. Gerhard Amanshauser est là, assis devant un gros microphone. Cest ainsi que commence Voyages dans ma chambre, à travers un exposé qui sinspire dun motif classique de portrait dauteur (le mythe de la voix et le rituel de la lecture) pour lui insuffler une nouvelle vie. Il peut sembler paradoxal que létat physique dAmanshauser, qui souffre de la maladie de Parkinson, joue ici un rôle primordial. La maladie vient altérer le sens du discours, créant sa propre poésie. Le chant dAmanshauser, tout comme les produits de son imagination, est omniprésent dans le film, sans réserve et en parfaite liberté. De ce fait, ce quon nous donne à voir et à entendre ici nest pas seulement le portrait dun écrivain ou de son uvre, ni celui dun vieillard malade, ni même celui dun être issu (comme il le dit lui-même) dune famille de nazis Voyages dans ma chambre est plus que la somme de tous ces éléments. Tout au long de la biographie de Gerhard Amanshauser et de la lecture de quelques extraits dune uvre immense, hélas méconnue, cest un panorama complexe de lhomme et de ses travaux qui prend forme. Scènes de remises de prix littéraires, lectures publiques ou interviews dautrefois, films en Super 8 (found footage, entre autres), séquences qui semblent issues dun rêve et dans lesquelles Amanshauser, un haut-de-forme sur la tête, parcourt son jardin en dansant, tels sont les multiplicateurs esthétiques du film. À regarder ces images, on est parfois confronté à une délicieuse surprise ou à la perspicacité dun discernement qui nous enchantent aussitôt. Amanshauser a dit un jour que lenchantement était la fonction première de la littérature et de lart. Dans cette perspective, chaque image, chaque son nous apparaît finalement ici comme étant le reflet fidèle de la nature même dAmanshauser. (Sylvia Szely)
Traduction : Claude ManacŽh