Anna Baars new book “Nil” is exhausting but rewarding
One might think that the Nile is, at least at its lower reaches, a broad, undeterred and sluggishly flowing river. Anna Baar’s recently published long prose text “Nil” is none of this. He can hardly be grasped, surprises again and again with new twists, permanently unsettled and makes the relationship between dream and reality, writer and reader, image and mirror image the topic. A challenge that is as strenuous as it is rewarding.
The author, who lives in Vienna and Klagenfurt (most recently: “As if they dreaming”, 2017) precedes her book with a quote from Cicero: “A true friend is, as it were, a second self.” With that the topic is given. One of the topics. Who is “I”? And how can that be found out? “It wasn’t me,” says “Nil” in the first sentence. “Since you’ve been holding me here, I’ve been thinking this sentence. But I’m not saying it. Outwardly, it should be as if nothing was being said.” And already we are on a terrain of swaying floors, cabinets of mirrors and labyrinths. There are sentences like: “In truth, I would have to lie. Only in my stories I am completely me.”
The first-person narrator, who can also be a first-person narrator, is recorded. It could be an interrogation room or his nursery. The interrogation is conducted by “guards and camerawoman”. But it could also be his or her parents. Or the editor-in-chief of a women’s magazine, for whom the sequel stories of his author are too colorful and confused. He demands an end. “All right, by the couple taking heart and jumping off a cliff.” The text will often be close to the abyss. Metaphorically and literally, in a quarry, where suicide candidates regularly appear, observed and occasionally cheered on by a child who watches the disappearance of people from sight and from life like a magic trick.
No “Nile” without a crocodile. So here too. Even on the book cover, the tail of a scaled lizard protrudes towards the viewer. From a photo booth. This soon appears in the story, as well as a zoo whose animals had to be sold, a swimming pool and an inflatable crocodile that was hunted down by the mother with a kitchen knife when the child called “bear” threatened itself from the swimming animal felt. There are also two old bears, and the childlike question “Dad, how does a bear fuck?” The child knows how the parents get on with each other from their own keyhole observations.
There is no certainty. Is it drugs or globules that are being consumed? Are the childhood memories real or falsified? “Does God put our destiny on autopilot when he’s bored?” Somebody “who doesn’t know much about himself” is finally given a name: Sobek. Is he a voyeur? Pyromaniac? In any case, a lost one. He “feels like a movie star, but in the wrong film. As soon as he was declared of age, he began to rot while immature.” In the “Nile” such unbelievable sentences float in abundance. What to do with them is not always very clear.
Sobek makes the acquaintance of a stranger who wants to dictate her life to him. But isn’t it actually his own? “I became infected with the man, took on some qualities.” At this point, at the latest, Baars’ method is reminiscent of “The Portrait of Dorian Gray”: Not only does reality influence art, but also vice versa. Writing constitutes life, but it can also mean death. “I did not try to kill myself. On the contrary,” it once said. “God knows how many times I’ve set out to be fully born.”
And so in the end one of these “Nile” pulls away with it. Resistance is futile. You can only try not to drown in this flood of allusions and italics, in whirlpools and countercurrents that pull you down. And to a desperate “Enough, I don’t want to hear any more!” then follows a laconic: “But I didn’t say anything.” Everybody can say that. But not everyone write like Anna Baar.
(SERVICE – Anna Baar: “Nil”, Wallstein Verlag, 148 pages, 20.60 euros)