an excerpt

:::: Curiosity arrives in English from the Latin curiosus, meaning not only diligent, but also meddlesome, by way of the old French curios, which often denoted anxious, odd, strange.

     In booksellers' catalogues, the word curiosity means pornographic.

:::: Arriving at a new destination, you pay attention in a way you're never able to do after having lived there for even a few weeks.

     How in Berlin during your five-and-a-half-month stay at the American Academy last spring you notice the doorknobs are handles placed slightly higher than you're used to. How some of the street-crossing signals sound like metronomes while others don't. How non-fat milk, yogurt, and lattés are unheard of outside Starbucks and the robot voice on all trains tells you politely a minute before you reach the next station which side to expect the platform on.

     As it always is with leaving home, Antony Doerr reminds us, it is the details that displace us.

:::: Wunderkammer literally translates as wonder chamber, or chamber of wonders, which comes over into English as cabinet of curiosities—the sort of exhibition that functions both as microcosm of the world and memory theater.

     Berlin's most well-known belonged to Joachim II, Elector from 1535 to 1571. It was nearly destroyed during the Thirty Years War, rebuilt by Friedrich Wilhelm, and ultimately found a home in Friedrich III's City Palace—which exited the Second World War a burned-out shell and was leveled by the G.D.R. in 1964 to make way for the imaginatively bankrupt Palace of the Republic, which in turn was demolished between 2006 and 2008 to make way for a replica of Friedrich III's City Palace that will serve as tourist flytrap.

     The Ashmolean in Oxford began as a Wunderkammer, as did the British Museum. The Museum of Jurassic Technology in L.A. is a self-consciously anachronistic iteration of one. Five categories of objects are displayed in them: artificiala (artworks); naturalia (rare natural phenomena); scientifica (scientific instruments); exotica (pieces from strange worlds); and mirabilia (inexplicable items).

     The Wunderkammer is designed to provoke astonishment as reward for keeping one's eyes open.

:::: Andi and I flew to Zürich, from Zürich to Cairo, and from Cairo to Kampala, where we hired a guide at the Sheraton to drive us eight hours southeast on increasingly narrow, rutted, red-dirt roads into the mountains of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

     We stayed in a tented camp and at dawn our first morning were joined by four other trekkers (none American), two trackers, and a dozen soldiers carrying machineguns to dissuade the local rebels from taking potshots at the tourist economy. We rode in back of a rickety troop carrier to the edge of a pasture, hiked up a steep trail past thatched huts into brush so dense the trackers had to machete open paths grown over since the day before. Five sweaty hours, and we came across leaf beds marked with reeking humanoid scat. Twenty minutes after that we broke through into a clearing alive with gorillas. Mothers and babies. Young males playing among branches. A pot-bellied silverback reclining sprawl-legged against a tree trunk like an old drunk. It rose languidly, scratched itself, snorted, and bolted forward in a fake charge, halting fewer than 18 inches from my face. I averted my eyes and covered my teeth like the trackers had instructed.

     Grunting, the gorilla inspected me.

     Taking in silverback breath was the most stunning thirty seconds of my life. It smelled exactly like

:::: Because the worst has already happened in the world of books. They have come to seem over the last four or five decades an increasingly conservative, market-driven form of communication. There exists a censorship in publishing based on an economic ecology. In addition to the current outlandish situation in Manhattan, even bestsellers now exist in a secondary position to the spectacles of film, television, the web, the Xbox, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad.

     Not 100 thriving houses, not 60 or sixteen or six, but three behemoth media corporations dominate commercial publishing.

     They employ the print arms of their swollen conglomerates as tax write-offs.

:::: How the pillows for some reason smell medicinally bitter. How even I—five-foot-eight and slim, give or take, despite the weight my belly has already begun aggregating—feel too large in the shower stall, my elbows knocking into the hardware, abruptly changing water pressure and temperature. How our Berlin apartment has a doorbell that sounds like something more urgent, electronic, and high-pitched than a doorbell, and so I often tune it out when writing, neglect to check who might be waiting on the other side.

     How staying is a gradual process of forgetting how to see, hear, smell, touch, taste.

:::: How Paul Bowles felt most inspired when inhabiting the interval between two places.

:::: In a room at the Hamburger Bahnhof museum loops Joseph Beuys's How One Explains Pictures to a Dead Rabbit, a video of a 1965 performance in Düsseldorf.

     Beuys—who volunteered for the Luftwaffe in 1941, was deployed as a rear-gunner in a dive-bomber, and was shot down on the Crimean front in 1944—locked out the audience from the gallery before beginning. People had to peer in through the windows to see what was going on. Because the video is shot in black-and-white, the honey and gold leaf Beuys has slathered over his head look mucosal, something out of H. R. Giger's daydreams, transform Beuys into burn victim, some golem. He wanders from painting to painting, whispering to the rabbit carcass cradled in his arms.

     Sometimes he sets the carcass on the floor, hunches over it, marionettes its legs while holding its head up by nipping the tips of its long ears between his teeth. It is alive. It is dead. It is alive. It is

:::: The difference between art and entertainment involves the speed of perception. Art deliberately slows and complicates reading, hearing, and/or viewing so we can re-think and re-feel form and experience. Entertainment deliberately accelerates and simplifies them so we don't have to think about or feel very much of anything at all.

:::: When, three hours later, the audience was finally allowed into the gallery, it encountered Beuys sitting on a stool at the entrance, rabbit nursed in arms, artist's back to his admirers. His gestural exegesis of art's significance, like Zampanó's film in House of Leaves, is unimaginable because the idea of explanation remains an asemic act of separation, four minutes and 33 seconds of silence (which announces different systems of noise), a dispatch direct from the hurt locker broadcasting clarification's nonappearance.

     It's right there in front of us, but only as what will never be right there in front of us.

:::: The original title of Wim Wenders's Wings of Desire is Der Himmel über Berlin—The Sky Over Berlin, or, maybe better, The Heaven Over Berlin.

     I fell in love with it again last night. Bruno Ganz at his most Ganzian. Peter Falk at his most understated and wise. I had no idea Peter Handke, whose Goalie's Anxiety Before the Penalty Kick changed the way I thought about fiction, had a hand in its composition—generating much of the dialogue and lyrical fields.

     When I first saw the film in the late eighties, I thought I was watching a movie about an angel who chooses to enter time in order to experience the hideous beauties of the living inside that fragile spacesuit called a body.

     Last night I realized I was watching a visual poem.

     There's so many good things, Falk, himself once an angel, advises Damiel, the one who wants to degenerate into the likes of you and me.

:::: Davis Schneiderman posts a link to David Bowie's new video on my Facebook page. Where Are We Now? was released on 8 January 2013, Bowie's 66th birthday. It had been ten years since we last heard new music from him. The video features filmmaker Tony Oursler's wife Jacqueline Humphries and Ziggy Stardust himself as conjoined homunculi perched atop a pommel horse in Oursler's junk-filled New York studio. Behind them runs grainy black-and-white footage from pre-Wende Berlin. To the left sits the model of a large blue ear, to the right one of a large white eye. We are in another Wunderkammer.

     This isn't a rock'n'roll suicide or suffragette city, though, but it is all about changes. Listen, and you'll hear a voice washed through with time—frailer, more spectral, yearning, candid than its earlier iterations. Listen, and you'll hear Bowie hanging out with Iggy Pop and Lou Reed at the club Dschungel in the late seventies, throngs of East Germans passing across the Bösebrücke, the first border crossing that opened as the Wall fell on 9 November 1989—20,000 in the first hour, each unsure whether he or she was allowed to do what he or she was doing. You'll hear Bowie's heart attack back stage during a 2004 performance in Germany, his rush into emergency surgery for an acutely blocked artery.

     What moves me most about the song is how shot through it is with that blue-eyed boy Mr. Death, how it could never have been written by a musician in his forties or thirties, let alone his twenties.

     After fifty, your face becomes an accomplishment.

:::: The old poet in Wings of Desire is named, perhaps too noticeably, Homer. He walks beside an angel along the graffiti-covered Wall through the blast zone once thought of as Potsdamer Platz, now just vehicle tracks through a vast mud flat, water-filled potholes, tall weeds, a lone chimney, abandoned pieces of furniture, the black skeleton of an elevated bridge.

     If mankind loses its storyteller, Homer reckons later in the film, then it will lose its childhood.

:::: At dinner one of my fellow fellows at the American Academy admits he's homesick when I ask him how he likes Berlin.

     I miss my reading chair, he says wistfully.

:::: A few minutes later, it is March.


Lance Olsen's [[ there. ]] is published by Anti-Oedipus Press. His new novel, Theories of Forgetting, is from one of FlashPøint's favorite presses, FC2. An interview with FlashPoint can be found at Hideous Beuaties, along with reviews of earlier novels, Time Famine, Freaknest, Nietzsche's Kisses, and Head in Flames. More of Lance Olsen can be found at ... Lance Olsen.