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Wohnen Dammern Lugen.

In his latest prose narrative, Wohnen Dammern Lugen, Botho Strauss continues investigations he had begun on a different scale as early as 1980 in Rumor (see WLT 55:3, p. 462): he is single-mindedly bent on exploring barely noticeable seismic tremors as they provoke irreversible shifts in relations.

Wohnen Dammern Lugen consists of a number of scenes varying in length from a page and a half to twenty-five pages. The scenes are fragmented, isolated, just as the principals in the scenes are fragments of personalities caught at specific moments in their lives. (A father, who has worked with great dedication on his carnival costume, does not have the chance to show it off during the parade because his young daughter has a stomach ache and wants to go home; a husband traces "the history of the moment" in which he intuits with whom his wife is having an affair; a man loses interest in a woman when he senses that the evening she spent with someone else was of utter insignificance; a man marries a woman in order to hurt his lover but falls in love with his wife after she bears a child, while the wife is ignorant of the shift in his emotions and has a totally different view of their relationship; in a marital power struggle, husband and wife pressure their young son to sit in the parent's preferred chair; et cetera.)

Not unlike Raymond Queneau in his ever-renewed efforts in Exercises de style, Strauss probes in scene after scene the same territory: first, he gives in minimalist sketches a topographer's quick survey of the barest essentials of a relationship in a linear perspective; but then he attempts, ever anew, to arrest and to register the split seconds of seismic shifts which cut vertically through sequential time and in which the fluidity of personal constellations is fixed in inalterable ways.

Strauss's principals, living in the present, are psychologically astute, and they arrange their perceptions into coherent interpretations of their lives. Yet these sketches are only the prerequisites, the raw material for Strauss to work upon; they are not the focus of his interest. On a metanarrative level, he has one of his narrators remark impatiently about his wife: "She was caught in the delusion that her life could only be experienced as history, with its ups and downs, its turns and crises, and all those anachronistic trimmings for which I no longer had any mental use." Strauss presents his principals as swirling particles at the mercy of accidental collisions; they bear the traces but have no awareness of these determinant impacts.

An analogy with quantum physics seems appropriate, particularly since Strauss himself tantalizes with such allusions: relations are a vast sea of potentials with many divergent and even contradictory interpretations. Then, in a split second of such minute magnitude that it nearly escapes registration, and propelled by an outside force Strauss has yet to identify unless he wants it called accident or fate, the two particles on their separate trajectories impinge upon each other. This collision fixes and actualizes one aspect of the relation to the exclusion of all others.

The task Strauss has set for himself is formidable and in every respect challenges the problematics of limits: those of perception and observation, of registering, of sequential narrative, of language and articulation, of the limits of the human mind in its capacity of self-reflection and self-observation. He has pushed the limits of what can be observed and registered much beyond the obsessively staked-out territory' of Alain Robbe-Grillet's efforts in, for example, Instantanes (1962) or Djinn: Un trou rouge dans les paves disjoints (1981). Strauss is no longer content to freeze the split second when the shutter clicks, or to register the turmoil lying in wait between disjoint plates - the potential actualized when the tectonic shifts occur, heard in the rumbling noises of "Rumor." Strauss wants to enter with ever more subtle and refined instruments into the split seconds and their reactions-in-the-making, wants to explore what happens during the impingement, during the click of the shutter.

Ultimately, Strauss pushes his inquiries toward a threshold where man's free will and uniquely constituted personality as an aggregate of accumulated qualities is disassembled under the impact of accidental collisions in an indifferent universe.

Ernestine Schlant Montclair State University
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Author:Schlant, Ernestine
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1995
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