In the tradition of Peter Handke’s Wunschloses Unglück / A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, which is quoted at one point, David Albahari’s Tsing (a novel? a failed biography of his dead father? a set of meditations about writing and memory and loss?) thinks about language, about its adequacies and inadequacies:
. . . it is easy to describe, it is hard to know, but the most difficult thing is to face the futility of one’s own attempts, with lines of written words that tell more with their absence than with their presence, more with their sound than with their meaning, more with their emptiness than with their fullness, more with what could have been than with what had really been. . . .
These are not even fragments for ‘fragments’ would mean that the story had existed once and that it is broken now, and storytelling would look like a patient act of gluing together. They are not even ‘rips’ for rips would mean that the tissue of a story is now ripped, and through those openings a different reality could be discerned. The story, however, is not given; it has to be gained, to be conquered slowly, slowly. It can never be seen in its eternity, like in the sentence ‘Suddenly I saw it all,’ because the act of writing would become senseless; writing is discovering; movies may copy, photographs catch a bird in flight, but writing is the flight itself. If that is not so, writing is just a waste of time. Writing is not a sheeting hanging between a writer and the world or between the world and reality; story is not an independent being with shapes that suit many people. Story is me. If it does not tell about me, story does not tell about anybody. If it tells about somebody else, it is not a story.
Writing, then, about his father, he writes about himself. Writing about language, he writes about his language. Writing about dying and about death, he writes about that moment when nothing transforms into everything, when the unsayable becomes sayable:
One night six years later [after his father’s death] I took my dog to the backyard. The dog was very old so I had to carry it down the stairs; I let it walk down the last two steps, and the dog disappeared in tangled, neglected grass. . . . The moon pushed its way through the clouds for a moment, and its faint light brought silence back: the pigeons fell silent, the dog stopped somewhere, plants resisted the wind. A strange sound could be heard then, as if two metal points touched, or as if somebody said tsing, quietly, quitely, very quietly, until the final sound ng burned out when the breath ended. . . . The dog died the following evening, and only then did I realize what had awakened me that night in Tel Aviv. It was not my father’s cry — he was silent and began to moan only when I came closer to him — but the same sound, as if somebody had quietly said tsing next to my ear. I remembered suddenly opening my eyes and staring right above me into nothing.
It’s a heartbreaking book, and thus it’s heartwarming as well.
Yesterday I printed a version of my ‘Immortal For Quite Some Time,’ ready to work through it another time, having sent a chapter to an editor at the University of Utah Press, hoping she’ll ask to see the whole manuscript.
David Albahari’s questions about his father are my questions about my brother. I begin my account:
This is not a memoir.
The story is uncertain.
The characters are in flux.
The voices are plural.
The photographs are as troubled as the prose.
This is not a memoir.