Read The Figure on the Boundary Line: Selected Prose by Christoph Meckel Christopher Middleton Online


From the preface by Christopher Middleton:This selection covers twenty years of Christoph Meckel’s shorter prose. Until recently, much of his work was published by German small presses, and in fairly small editions. Translations into English have appeared sporadically in magazines, but precious little has been known of his stupendous graphic work, etchings and drawings; evFrom the preface by Christopher Middleton:This selection covers twenty years of Christoph Meckel’s shorter prose. Until recently, much of his work was published by German small presses, and in fairly small editions. Translations into English have appeared sporadically in magazines, but precious little has been known of his stupendous graphic work, etchings and drawings; even in the German Federal Republic, recognition of his achievement as a writer-artist in the grand fantastic tradition has been quite slow in coming.[...] It seems that the German public of the last twenty-five years has tended to prefer astute father-figure writers to incorrigible son-figures like Meckel. ...

Title : The Figure on the Boundary Line: Selected Prose
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ISBN : 9780856354007
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 178 Pages
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The Figure on the Boundary Line: Selected Prose Reviews

  • Ben Winch
    2018-11-18 20:11

    November 2012:I don’t know who Christoph Meckel is but judging by this 160-page book of stories I’d say he’s a living legend who will be celebrated in death more than in life, and that 30 or 40 years from now, if I myself am still alive, I’ll still be thumbing through my hardback 1983 Carcanet Press edition of The Figure on the Boundary Line with awe, reverence, delight and the reassurance of another human’s passage across the sands of the unknowable: his footsteps, his arms-flung-wide sun- or star-gazing ecstasies, his piles of sand sprinkled meditatively from tired fingers and left to mark with shadows the movement of time for all time or until print or language is lost or Meckel forgotten or the appreciation of great art outlawed as too nourishing for the soul. Even better, and totally unlike the rhapsodical style I’m using to describe it, is the manner with which he nourishes us – with humble, outwardly-simple, easily-read prose-pieces of all lengths, shapes and sizes, and with the good-natured smile of the sage through which breaks occasionally the sad wistfulness of the child. You don’t believe me?InventionsDo not suppose for a minute that fiction the way I do it is a simple diversion. As little as whaling or planting crops. My inventions do not rely on any of the usual tricks and do not take advantage of people's gullibility or their lack of imagination. There is rarely a specific purpose in mind, either to insult or disarm. My creations are aimed at no-one, they are not assaults. Whoever envies me may feel insulted, but I can only add that being able to make things up is not enviable. If I believed it would be an advantage here and now to have a band march through the beach resort, what is to keep me from it. But I would need impeccable reasons. Let us say the mayor has died, or some foreign lady, reeking of money and possessions, has just drowned unexpectedly in the sea – then I have my grounds. The first row of drummers is just itching to step off. Of course there are many who can invent and cast their spells without a second thought. Virtuosi, all of them, able to rely on vast reportories of ideas. As a rule they are enormously productive, they can climb any mountain four times over, and change freighters into submarines, and when the going gets rough, submarines back to freighters. They can captivate their guests by pulling islands out of inlets, village ponds, or puddles, and everything they do, in jest or boredom, comes off without a hitch. But with me, nothing ever comes of boredom.When I am bored, I can work as long and hard as I like for some company, nothing happens. Not even a calling card.Here is the thing with the rabbit. I could produce a rabbit, a respectable, nearly perfect rabbit. I know all the features. But what are rabbits to me. Personally I would rather have an elephant.I could fabricate a donkey. But where from there. He would not have a purpose, he would be doomed to a miserable pointless life, probably starving or being beaten to death. And I would have to be travelling somewhere south to do him justice. That is why I prefer to leave him alone.Where to start in critiquing this work – so miniature, so apparently insignificant, so inspiring as a manifesto and beautiful and teeming with life as a word-picture, as prose, as art? First, the trustworthy, forthright tone in which it’s stated, the politeness of the implied criticisms of other works and the avoidance of boasting in its healthy self-celebration. Second, that magical second paragraph, where he brings to life the band, the funeral and the beach resort as if in spite of himself, as if to demonstrate the manifesto he then describes. Third, the way he concedes the stage to the “virtuosi” and, almost lovingly, details their half-funny half-laughable inventions, even envying them their ability to work through boredom rather than be consumed by it. Fourth, that calling card: no “inspiration was here”, no visitation. Fifth, the thing with the rabbit. The cliche made gold by the transformation of rabbit into elephant into donkey. And the clincher, the punchline, the one thing I demand of a writer: his love for his creatures. The donkey, starving or beaten to death, the poor donkey. Christoph Meckel, this man I don’t know, this presumably relatively obscure artist far from rich or powerful, has the balls to straight-out make this pact with his audience in as plain words as possible: I will not torture my creatures, will not needlessly make them suffer, yet nor will I sugarcoat them. The donkey – for that one line – starves and is beaten, but as if in the afterlife travels south, towards the light, and to solitude. In two lines he – the donkey – goes from suffering to salvation, from the hell of needless existence to the heaven of nullity. Not since Beckett have I felt that care for a character so strongly.So. Given, it appears, that I can write critiques of these pieces as long as the pieces themselves, I’ll try to be brief. Try this, from “How did Caravaggio die?”:A bad life and a bad death – that is how it would be viewed by a believer in respectable prosperity. That is how the church would think of it, and the aristocracy. What Caravaggio thought, we don’t know. It is conceivable that he still thought he had lived too brightly, too innocuously. Did Villon and Rimbaud live bad lives? Did they die bad deaths? Did they consider their lives botched, badly lived or false? Bad, says the bourgeois, and stays inside his shelter. Mealymouth says it, the Pharisee, the dignitary and the bureaucrat.The eater of dust doesn’t say it. Klesit doesn’t say it, nor does Clemens Brentano. Robert Walser doesn’t say it. Pontormo doesn’t say it and Verlaine doesn’t say it. Pascin, Soutine, Gauguin, Genet, Beddoes and Lowry waste no words on it. In rage and despair, that’s the gist of it.Not in despair at oneself, but in rage and despair at this accident that has been readying itself for a lifetime, and leads to a situation without rhyme or reason. Caravaggio made to look ridiculous, forced to assume the defensive, exposed to the sun, impotent and finally sick to death. A condition you can do nothing about. Despair at chance. Despair that chance should lay waste his eyes and hands, despair at the anonymity of this process.Rage against death.So Caravaggio dies by the beach, after racing hopelessly, “in rage and despair”, after a boat that departs over the water with his belongings, and collapsing in the scorching sun, having left behind (among other works) his part-self portrait David – “Humanity in the lavatory of Creation. Face of the Abyss. Visage of Dark Night. The maudit.” – a painting that haunts Christoph Meckel: “This is how someone must look on the way through hell, aftermath of a life of subversion, revolt, protest; anarchy of a productive organism gone clean contrary to all the norms.” Caravaggio is a criminal, forced to flee city after city, a rogue, a narcissist: “A furious melancholic. Scarface [...] Criminal genius. Plutonian hoodlum. A mocker. Chaotic. A vital type. A provocateur [...] Lawsuits, money – and prison sentences, insults, and actions committed in anger [...] fights, always fights, and serious injuries, suffered or inflicted, then a licking of wounds in a hideout provided by patrons.” And the painting – this David – why does it haunt Meckel? It seems perhaps a double self-portrait: David as the younger Caravaggio (though this can’t be proven) and Goliath as the older (this is known). David seems to know his adversary. He understands his victim and is sorry for him, loves him perhaps. This is a breathtakingly deep communication, and it is the most human, intimate, creaturely picture that Caravaggio ever painted. There’s no champion here, there are just two players in a tragedy. The question of guilt seems to have lost all force, but not Caravaggio’s self-reproach: Who am I? Who have I come to be?A reckoning down to the bare bones. [...]It is the death-conscious and life-reflecting finale to his existence, private and public.Christoph Meckel, this man about whom I know nothing or next to nothing, is, on this evidence, a seer, an outsider, a believer in conscience and in the will of humans to take stock and weigh the motives and outcomes of their actions above and beyond received or dictated morality, a rebel without self-indulgence (at least as it’s visible in his art) who needn’t holler his rebellion from the treetops or piss it over some uptown streetcorner to prove his allegience to the band of men and women determined to discern the true outline of the soul in all its ramifications, determined not to lie (at least not in his art) nor to relish pathology nor to accord it more than its worth, capable of meditating on the quiet and the good and the pleasurable even while keeping ever before him that slaughtered head of Goliath: “the worn, gaping teeth, the jaw sagging and bloody, the enraged mouth of the beaten giant, gargoyle face, broken angel, barbaric innocence.” Christoph Meckel is a genius. Christoph Meckel is right. Christoph Meckel is the best thing I’ve discovered on Goodreads and the greatest gift my Goodreads friend Eddie Watkins has bequeathed me, despite the many gifts bequeathed by that great Goodreads friend Eddie Watkins. Maybe Christopher Middleton – Meckel’s friend and collaborator – will translate more of his work, or maybe Susan Berenofsky will quit the Robert Walser trick for a while and turn her hand to something that, in places, surpasses Walser, at least in the eyes of this reader, though clearly following in his footsteps. Anyway, it’s late and I’m overwrought and overtired. I took Meckel with me on a short journey from Sydney to Byron Shire, where I attended the 40th birthday of a good friend and met maybe 50 people in a weekend, some of whom, I hope, will remain the good friends I now consider them. And when I had a spare moment on a plane or train or in an unfamiliar bed, this slim volume was a calming influence much-appreciated by a brain that would have burst if some Calvino had been trying to explode it or some Cortazar to confound it or some Handke to grind and freeze it into powder and scatter it in the night. For those who, inevitably, will read it after reading this review and question my sanity, taste and/or predilection for hyperbole, perhaps it’s best if you approach it as I have – in the absence of boredom (as Meckel has written it), when life races by yet seems not too fleeting to grasp, when new friends are made and places explored, and when whether or not Christoph Meckel delights you there are any number of other delights awaiting should you only shut the cover. POSTSCRIPT, November 2014:I met my wife-to-be that weekend, moved up to Byron Shire a month later. But I’m reading Meckel again now, and loving him just as much, so it can’t have been just my elevated mood that led to Meckel-ecstasy. With any luck I’ll have a more coherent piece for the third Verbivoracious Festschrift, a syllabus of 100 texts into which I have interpolated Meckel. I passionately believe he is worth our attention.

  • Stephen P
    2018-12-04 17:15

    Before opening it bares importance to study the title and the stick figure drawing. Once opened we are allowed to enter the singular mind of an imaginative writer. The stories appear simple. There are no dizzying stylistic bendings communicating ineffable states of emotional existence. We witness the roll of cogwheels and mesh of gears. How writing comes about.Both stick figures walled within the same thin black lined box along with the title appear comic, child-like. Initially, no matter how I turned the book it did not do service to a collection of high literary quality short stories. I never rejected a book based on its cover. Put off enough, plus shelves of books to be read this would be my first. I didn't know if anyone else had done such a thing. A shallow thing? But this was a Ben Winch referral. One of the most articulate and thoughtful reviewers on the site. Instead of angling and re-angling the hardbound front cover of this slime volume I focused on it. Just kept looking. The black foreground suddenly receded into background, the white taking over and creating a different picture. All without chemical inducement. I continued watching, noticing.Each black line lost any crispness, smudged as though by an indifferent piece of black charcoal. Their spidery features are black circular smudges. Each wears a smock one wider than the other. Joined by two stick arms reaching and connecting with each other-wait-that could be just as easily-now it is-the thick arm of the figure on the right whose arm circles in back of the left hand figure. His other arm is cocked to his hip. But easily they might be two stick figures replica except for the size of each other. I clean my glasses again. She is wider with a heightened crown of sorts outlined on her head. Within it at the very bottom is a genderless face. Or not. To her right she holds a long branch as a walking stick. On this far right side the smock has an additional fold. Beneath are four stick legs, footed. Two face me, two face to the right. There might be someone unseen behind her? The other figure has three legs all facing me. The book opens.What the book explores is the undefined space between imagination and agreed upon reality. The interweaving, enriching, of each. In the story Tullipan a writer's character who has been with him-within him?- for years but never written about comes to his door to visit. Anyone who has written has had a character and much to the chagrin of the writer, has taken over the story to where the character would like it to go. This is more. Larger, to the extent of not knowing where that boundary line is. This is the hum and ballast of the collection. At the beginning it appears Tullipan is a character from the writer's imagination. A part of his own character, repressed. As the story proceeds Tullipan proceeds to become more as a, "Real," person in many ways. He is seen by others. Interacts with members of the small town though has no idea of the behavior expected of him, the limits and consequences of social life. Meckel seamlessly shifts back and forth from fiction to actuated life, part of the author's imagination, part existing in a cosmos of his own, now apart from the writer's will.Where do they meet? Does it matter? Not to anyone in the story or stories. It occurred to me that everyone, all the members of the small oceanside town are, yes, fictional characters existing within the narrator's imagination. A wonderful contemplation. His telling, in his style, contains the edge of a sly grin. It manifests itself along with the simplicity of his narrative technique to sharply underline the depths contained within.In the end this is a book where the author battles with thin cross connecting lines to determine whether life contains more fulfillment on the side of the boundary which brings societies rewards, achievements, comforts, friendship of those planting themselves on the same side of the boundary line, or is there greater value in wandering into ones imagination and roaming as far and as long as one would like. Stories at the beginning reveal those who have wandered too far. But what is too far? Too far to have a good life?During the beginning stories he shows his viral reach for overweening examples. But their bizarre, at times life threatening behavior, can only be measured from an arbitrary line drawn by the toastmasters of the village and surrounding town. What is to be expected provides the chalk-line with its often unspoken calculations. The townspeople remain bewildered when the line is scuffed out in spots, altered in stretched designs of their unaltered "shoulds".This is what he is after as he reaches the second half of the book and the stories settle closer to the line but only to make comparisons which shriek louder at what is at stake. Through the bisecting rods of lines he argues in these later stories that if those on line waiting to purchase comfort and security, acclaim through power and ownership, the carrying on of duties, out of this context they appear at best frail or ridiculous. The question is raised and raised well through the art of these understated short stories if a life measured through other instruments that takes one through their imagination into a life that seeks the unique self and has the audacity to live and express it, cannot that be a good life, a truer life? From the accepted side of the boundary line it appears unduly harrowing, fraught with poor judgements, security diminishing in fallen crests. Life is shortened. Suffering coagulation into what appears lost days and nights. But is that so? Constriction, confinement, is another type of lethality. The replacement of an experienced reality through arbitrary standards, rules, by the leakages and extravagant retellings of memory, are slipped through a viscous venom. The memory is continually imperfect. The reliance on it as factual basis of reality is a fiction. Anything can and often is inserted in its place within the agreed upon boundaries. One can exist anywhere anytime experiencing anything living the life of the imagination. When not measured with the yardstick of the town cryer may offer a vaster reality not compromised, dispersed. While to those on the other side of the line, the question is raised that it may look desperate, lost, but they can only see the reflection from the mirrors which they themselves have made.

  • Eddie Watkins
    2018-12-05 18:26

    This languished for far too long deep in the shadows of a closet bookshelf in my house. But perhaps that's appropriate as this is largely a book about lost little things skirting the borders, unseen, transforming as we think we see them, living completely in their worlds, though melancholy even with their skin-bursting exuberance and uncanny powers. And just as I was saying to myself - I sense a link between Meckel and Robert Walser - Walser is mentioned by name, thus confirming a spirited kinship and the need for me to find a way to squeeze this book into a prominent place on my big living room bookshelf, beside Walser, Kafka, Schulz, et al.Though there's not a lot of explanatory matter included, this appears to be a roughly chronological collection of short fictions (plus one novella), with fantastical etchings interspersed that don't exactly illustrate the tales, but that provide an added dimension of Meckel's sensibility. And that sensibility? - precise, inventive, wrong-end-of-a-telescope miniaturist, spontaneous, playful, existentially burdened, animal-loving, magnanimous though solitary, and above all fertile, fertile as a forest compacted into an overflowing window box.

  • Caroline
    2018-12-03 15:23

    I think you could randomly select anything Carcanet has ever published and be satisfied.This is a fine selection of Christoph Meckel’s short prose, both fiction and non-fiction. He is an artist and writer of works that balance on the meeting of reality, dream and fantasy. Time and again he has seized and articulated thoughts that are will o’ the wisps in your brain, vague wonderings about what has happened or not, or might have, or may.The longest piece is about Tullipan, a child-like semi-wildman who has come to life from the ‘author’s’ imagination and gradually becomes an autonomous, fantastic creature whose adventures might be ‘real’ and might be just the product of the author’s dream. In other pieces Meckel imagines Gulliver suffering his old age among the Yahoos, and in a wonderful short work, an African hunter who pursues a curiously interactive panther in the vein of The Palm Wine Drinkard. He perfectly captures the uncertainty of whether our memories are really ours. I loved the final passionate reflection on Caravaggio’s self portrait as Goliath, and then his death.There are also several etchings. The translations by Christopher Middleton and others are excellent.

  • MJ Nicholls
    2018-11-22 21:09

    Underwhelmed. A tepid slug of mehmonade.

  • Blanca
    2018-11-16 19:09

    The translator is a UT professor, who is a pretty big deal in the Germanic studies. Nathan recommended this book, I read it on a lark, and have been forever haunted by the imaginative narrative, the bold and whimsical plot lines. My favorite story if about the guy who sees the same people everyone, on the bus, in the streets, but he doesn't know them. He's not paranoid, they are the same people he can't shake. It's so funny and odd to think of having your own set of familiar strangers.

  • Scribble Orca
    2018-12-09 15:04

    Recommended compliments of Ben Winch via Verbivoracious Festschrift Volume Three: The Syllabus. Another atop the groaning stacks . . .