Esther Kinskys Grenzgänge – A review essay with a view to taking photographs


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Esther Kinsky received the Leipzig Book Fair’s prize, which is good news, but more gratifying than all the alarmism or right-wing outliers. I wrote something about her book on the river a few years ago and put this review here again – but considerably redesigned. On the River, it is a book about perception, about photography, and a document of personal history. Autobiographical writing, then, but in a mode that produces an ego, but then becomes literature again, despite oppositional aspirations. True writing is what literature (mostly) moved, and yet the self disguises itself in this form of writing – even in the most extreme truthfulness.

Literature poses the old question of how one can lie in the truth. But lying is actually due to the wrong concept and a kind of (misunderstood) Platonism, for such contexts presuppose that literature imitates something rather than creating a world of its own. Yet, literature does pretend that it tells what is. No, that’s inaccurately said: she writes what was. A story that is long or not so long ago, sometimes with

“Historical rusty, and necessarily in the tense form of the deep past past.” “[T] hen stories must have passed and the past, one could say, the better for them in their capacity as stories and for the narrator.” ( Thomas Mann , The Magic Mountain)

That whispering summoner of the imperfect, as Thomas Mann wrote, who thought this politically in other and much darker times. A move towards the subject, an exemplary case, a Bildungsroman ex negativo, presented in the prevailing form of the bourgeois educational novel. But again and again, almost for almost 300 years, literature is breaking with this general tendency to exemplify the general in the subjective – to the present day. We can read this in Curzio Malaparte’s biographical fiction Die Haut or even more radically in Kaputt as in Max Frisch’s “Montauk”, a climax within the literature of the New Subjectivity of the 70s. Literature not as an example, but as an instance of the truth, a document that wants to undress its fictionality.

“… to tell this weekend: autobiographical, yes autobiographical. Without inventing personagency; without inventing events that are more exemplary than his reality; without dodging into inventions. Without justifying his writing through responsibility towards society; without message. He has no and lives anyway. He just wants to tell (not without all the respect for the people he calls by name): his life. “

and what does it conceal and why? ”
( Max Frisch , Montauk)

The trick of writing and telling and in the performance of all the subject knowledge of the rather inconsequential kind in the context of literature, together with Peter Handke, the exciting form: to write entirely by itself. Afternoon of a writer and the happy moment. Of course, Esther Kinsky will write only to a limited extent. It is, as shown in the literature, another form of happiness and happiness in general. The happiness of the observer namely, who finds himself and something quite different.

We need a novel that arranges the stories of these exciting times in pictures. Whether this can happen in terms of construction in the way Kinsky resolves this with her vita from the aesthetic form remains to be seen. These elements of history can be constructed in very different ways.


Every river is a limit, that was one of the lessons of childhood.
He forms the view of the other, forces him to stop,
to inspect the opposite side. ”
( Esther Kinsky , At the river)

A man in the dusk of the evening. He talks to the ravens and knows their language. Strange cloths are wrapped around his head. Park walks along the river, east of London. We do not know much about that narrative self walking and looking at it and looking at the raven man – it’s probably a woman, but even that does not seem safe at first, and at the end of the book, as far as the life of this weird narrator is concerned, not much smarter than before – at best details and individual scenes peel out.

What kind of narrative is that? A book for walkers, a kind of self-questioning a phenomenology of localities? The book is at least not a Bildungsroman in the classical sense, although there is a development of the protagonist in the sequence of events, from autumn to Easter or more precisely to Passover, but this is not a story in continuity, but a sequence of images , Life is layered in it, traces, signs, fragments of reflection and flotsam of life sediment. The haunted passages along the course of the river near London – the wanderings through the neighborhoods, often run-down, and the wandering through the countryside – interpenetrate into images that make a specific reference to the things observed, and thus in return to the narrator Leah says:

“The river was movement, disorder and unpredictability in a world that sought order. On his back he carried a traveling unimaginable life in the form of the barges, which we never saw anchor, which oscillated between far and wide. Barges with black coal, dull red basalt, light gray gravel, moving hills passing by. The annual floods undermined every order. “

And from the native Rhine:

“The Rhine was an eerie guy. (…)
The Rhine was the first and ever present frontier that I experienced. He taught the here and now. “

“Against the unsteady autonomy of the river, there was the thin landscape of regularity and apparent readability that I practiced as a child without understanding. There were the royally numbered names of the swaying boats and dormant ferries on the unsteady jetties, Roswitha, Monika, Michael I, II, III, timetables and line diagrams, the signs rammed into the riverbed beside the fairway with symbols to which any sense could be attributed the pennants and flags at the stern of the barges and ships, the number and letter combinations on the boatwalls that could not have been anything or anything, the gigantic river kilometers, black on a white surface, or white on black rocks that did so you can measure running water lengthwise and establish an order of things that in reality has eluded everything. Practicing and learning about these numbers and signs was a game that was over when I started looking for the connection between the words and the signs. When I found no story between them, I got tired of her and turned my back on the Rhine. “

The thoughts and associations in the perspective of this narrative ego roam through the outer spaces of the urban and river landscapes, but these landscape images simultaneously represent interiors, or at least correspond to these landscapes with the interior worlds of the narrator’s ego. In between, woven into the stream of perceptions, are inset sketches and moments of a biography in fragmentary sketches that shaped the narrator’s previous life. A tense constellation, because despite the quiet and rather meandering narrative tone the story seems to recover explosives. But in narration, in the flashbacks, everything lies, what was quilted there.

That woman, as more and more turns out in the context, lives for a while in East London in a poor, migrants-dominated neighborhood. Offside. She had, it is said, after years of living in different places in the cities,

“Cut out like a snippet from a landscape and group photo. Entering on the damage inflicted on the picture I had left, and uncertain where it should turn out this cut-out part, I lived temporarily. “

In a neighborhood where the narrator in the neighborhood did not know anyone. It all tastes good enough after farewell and intentional immorality: living in an inhospitable non-place that, for a certain period of time, of course provides a quasi-home. Walking in the landscapes between fallow, parks, river and city are the occupation of the ego. These paths along the river are partly run-down, the drift of the river, plastic and dirt, hang in the undergrowth. But through the inhospitable landscapes between highway bridges, highways, train paths and neglected paths, the I, on its walks, magically pulls you through the east of the city – mostly along the river, the River Lea, which forms the center of the book. But also other rivers and river landscapes play a role according to the title of the book – for example the Niederrhein, the home of the narrator, all places of remembrance, accessible in retrospect and in prose.

“My walks on the River Lea were slow and haphazard. I looked and listened and sought memories. I took pictures and leafed through layers of memory. At the top were the oldest memories. I saw myself walking through London during the first months of my time here, listening to the new land. There was buzzing and roaring all around, over the pointed chimney-hats in the morning and in the evening bluish birds drew one and the same same circle and vanished again. The night scratched at the thin, rustling windows, and voices fell through the narrow vent into the ashtray of the chimney, and between two dark brick blocks, trains lit up in the evening ran across the sky. “

On the river is a process of (self) determination and in this sense also a form of confessio. Walking is remembrance, and living acts like a penitential exercise. In this loneliness of the almost monadically closed and yet attentively registering ego, the world of things breaks again and again and Kinsky is able to capture this state in quite unspectacular images. In their ease at the same time lies a great sadness and something like irretrievability. Because everything is fleeting and flowing – that is at least one of the messages of this book. The provisional as a form of escape. Nothing stays, and the boundaries are also shifting.