Category Archives: the diaries of arnon grunberg

The Diaries of Arnon Grunberg (14)

Arnon started walking. He walked into the dark night and the bloated circle of colored lights. He was alone, but he barely noticed that he was while he kept on walking. It could have been snowing, or it might have been drizzling, or perhaps it was a clear winter night, he didn’t remember. He did remember the blackness of the evening, the coat of dimness that isolated him and embraced him in one present gesture, and the brightness of the sparkles around him that amazed him. His eyes were drawn in all directions, drops of rain stirring a puddle of mud, and never lingered at one spot for more than a second. He couldn’t form any prolonged ideas but only short impulses of thoughts. This state of mind itself fascinated him. It was not his nature to be caught up in such a stream of consciousness that constantly renewed itself. Arnon was more used to his own thoughts prolonging themselves and separating him from the distancing reality that surrounded him. The relation between Arnon and the world was vaguely undefined, absent perhaps in the eyes of some, at least not in a constant form that let itself be renewed easily. In what form the relation with the outside world existed then? Arnon thought of the world as a friendly enemy, a benign poison dripping into the hollow bowl of his soul until one day it would spill over and he no longer was himself. He kept on walking, alone, into the night.

Het Uur van de Wold, Heb je nog steeds vrienden?

The Diaries of Arnon Grunberg (11)

“Don’t you grow tired by your own disquiet?”
“Sometimes,” only to add at the last moment,”perhaps.”
Such a settled question, Arnon thought. Only an old man, whose years have worn down his body, sees struggling and making efforts as a burden. To the vigor of a youth, being challenged feels like an elevation of the mind, to which he looks eagerly forward.

“But then you also run from deadline to deadline.”
The interviewer’s questions started to irritate Arnon, realizing that this man’s decay was printing itself on his mind and thus polluted his lust for life. The interviewer seemed to suggest that it was all too much, that this restless inspiration needed a break, take some time off, lay in bed and do nothing for a whole day but fetish itself in lazy dinners.

“Yes, but everything that has a pattern, is easy, and I don’t forget.”

While Arnon heard his own voice say the last lines, hearing himself, he realized already did the gray haired, saggy face with the coarse scraping voice affect him. He reflected on the absurdity of the answer, embarrassed by the apparent habit of himself that he displayed in public. This pattern of routines was what tired him, not the exerting demands.

The Diaries of Arnon Grunberg (10)

Arnon sat at the bar and ordered another Brooklyn lager, supporting his head and leaning with one elbow on the counter. The trivial absurdity dawned on him of only being able to drink Heineken when he still lived in Amsterdam. Although he hated the bourgeois fetish with feeling good, its obsession with consumption and with being entertained, at least a man should be able to choose his own beer, Arnon thought. Heineken controlled what type of beer you drank in Amsterdam. He had escaped that controlled environment of Amsterdam, where life took place under a bell jar, and never took on a scale bigger than individual man, the way it did here in New York. Here, a man felt in control over his destiny in the grid of the city, here you could believe in an illusion still. The scale of reality pushed a man up to the thought to be still physically part of the life around us. Standing on the top of the Rock and looking out over the sky scrapers, seeing their golden domes, the glass facades, rising so high above manhood, that what remained were only dots. The people below look just like ants, and they counted for no more than ants. And yet, looking at the world from the top of this ferry wheel, one felt like a god, not subjected, but in control of the spectacle. How different, to stand on the Wester belfry in the Jordaan and feel the heavy heaven of rainy clouds fall upon the city, every moment capable of washing away the sinful souls, opening up to give way to a Biblical deluge. Here on the island there was no one to look down on Arnon.

If you don’t love me

“If you don’t love me, it is better that you hate me,” Arnon rebuffed.
“Don’t you care about what people think of you?”
“Of course, I do, I would prefer them to love me, follow me like docile sheep and perform my wishes. But if I am not worth all, I am worth nothing. I am not interested to compromise myself for a little bit of love.”

“Have you ever loved?”
“I have loved, I love and I tried to love at length.”
“Than are you saturated to care so little?”
“Insatiable rather, drops of water don’t matter in an empty ocean.” Continue reading

The Diaries of Arnon Grunberg (9)

“Hey Arnon, what are you reading this time?”
She asked it with such kind sincerity, that he knew he was going to finish the book this time.

He was, he thought at least, now present here for almost five years, a lustrum, time for celebration, but more so for reflection perhaps. He was however, to say the least, as well uncertain of his time and place that he filled in it. The question of the meaning of being, his very presence, and here especially, of all places, was in question itself, not only by him self, yet until recently very much not certain to be answered. The ontology of being, that was certainly the question.

Sure, sure, there were more practical concerns, but certainly none more urgent. Like there was the question what to eat tonight, how the weekend had been, how he was doing, if he would like anything with my coffee, what was up, what the weather was going to be today and what to wear, etcetera, atcetera. All deeply relevant, sure, but honestly my friends, all trivial, no need to beat around the bush. For all we know, the only knowledge that is not in doubt it the question of being. The essence of our being is first and foremost, a question of being itself, a quest for the ontic value of our presence. Continue reading

The Diaries of Arnon Grunberg (8)

Arnon walked south on LaFayette street toward one of his favorite bars in downtown Manhattan, called Kremlin. The bar was located in the basement of a brown-stone house, its entrance bolstered by an iron-clad entrance with at the top of the staircase leading down, a red lantern with Cyrillic fonts reading kremlin. Here Arnon would sit down at the bar on one of the stools near the wall and he would have Randy the bartender shake him a random, sweet cocktail. For Arnon it was the ideal location to read and ponder in the late afternoon transgressing into the early evening. Sometimes, he would get hungry and order some tapas, sometimes he drank his hunger surge away with a Bloody Mary. The bar was ideal to spot the crowd for the archetype New Yorker of his age, without portraying the abnoxious, overweight 30-year old ignorant male, which he had no interest for. True, that obnoxious, ignorant yet conceited male made up half the population of Manhattan, but they were not the average New Yorkers. This conceited pig was perhaps imported from New Jersey or had floated to the surface from another location out of New York where it was easy to believe you mattered, a taste of the city they would allow you not. At the Kremlin the average, modest youth came to enjoy the air, like a climber who sits down on a rock just below the top and resuscitate from the climb. Continue reading

The Diaries of Arnon Grunberg (7)

A black man, in a faded black t-shirt and black jeans, shuffles toward me as I walk along the pavement. In his right he holds a makeshift carton box, folded in such a way, that the top covers his chest. His face prostrates behind the top of the carton. The top of his head is bald, the sides trimmed short, but long enough to look fuzzy-wuzzy.

As I approach him, I see him mumbling something, but with such an attempted kind voice, that he speaks too softly for me to hear what he’s saying from the five meters distance from which we still stand. I approach him swiftly.

“Excuse me?” with the typical willingness of the white man’s voice when he speaks to a poor black man, a tone too friendly to be real, but friendly enough to cover the historic guilt with which each white man is loaded without any personal wrong doing. The black man undoubtfully is aware of this overweight he holds, certainly, the man in front of me is. Continue reading

The diaries of Arnon Grunberg (6)

With half an eye Arnon was keeping a close watch on the man who stood in front of the front exit of the subway car. Shortly before 14th Street, the Hispanic man, dressed in black polished shoes with wide noses and a black woollen coat that reached down to his knees, moved toward the exit doors. Arnon knew he had to occupy the spot now if he wanted to prevent himself from causing a stir to his own embarrassment in the halfly full train. As soon as the train had halted he moved without delay toward the doors and grapped to the supports on both sides above his head, slightly spreading his legs apart to steady himself.

But as soon as the train started moving again, shaking left and right, Arnon’s stomach turned unstoppable in every direction, causing a strong pulse upward, outward, thumping in his stomach. His head was dizzy and though his eyes and thoughts were clear, his thoughts were absent from registering anything beyond the sickness that controlled his body, and as his sickness grew graver, his thoughts propelled around the abominate anchor that his stomach was. Continue reading

The diaries of Arnon Grunberg (5)

Watching the New Year’s fireworks, the star spangled skies over the tip of Manhattan, the red colored nightly heavens, from the Brooklyn boulevard, I see the times turn and shift along a primeval consciousness in which people share their pathetic survival, their clinging on to life. Life mysteriously calculated according to an old pattern of astronomical formulas based upon the constant denominator 12 and 60, Roman and Babylonical, squirmed into a Christian Gregorian pattern. So out of date, so obviously out of sync with reality that constant adjustments are necessary to keep track and not fall behind. Yet, our perception loaded with reverence refuses to take on a solar calendar, and thus we celebrate this random day in our wacky calendar. Giving up the Gregorian calendar would be an intolerable admission of the fall of western domination, the control of time, the last symbol in history to let slip out of one’s hands.

It was not time that prescribed us the peaks of the year’s calendar, but it was the calendar that dictated time. The heightpoints in our lives are dated, outdated by western standards. Arnon lived in a time that did not fit his comprehension. Continue reading

The diaries of Arnon Grunberg (4)

In the night of 9 to 10 November 1938 throughout Germany Jewish synagogues and shops were rampaged and burnt down by German mobs. My grandparents did not live in Germany themselves but they had several relatives, one of whom was killed, after being brutally beaten and tramped by members of the SA, the military arm of Hitler’s party. Of course, I was too young to have experienced Kristallnacht as this night of barbarism was named, but every Jewish child was immersed with the fear that was handed down from generation to generation. I therefore have very vivid memories of Kristallnacht or the Night of Broken Glass.

I have memories of a Jewish school being set aflame by seventeen and eighteen year old boys who tore the old Talmud teacher by his beard out of the building, before breaking the man’s back by repetitive and relentless kicking, while the elder comrades of the boys and SA Gruppenfuehrer stood aside laughing and inciting by his laughing the brown vested vandals and murderers to be. A fifth boy painted a white Star of David on the walls, before they disappeared in the night, leaving a dead man and disgrace. Continue reading