Short Story: Erik Harper Klass’ “City as Museum (Turkish, 1) “

////Short Story: Erik Harper Klass’ “City as Museum (Turkish, 1) “

City as Museum (Turkish, 1)
(An excerpt from WIP The Letters and Diacritics of East Central Europe: With Descriptions and Examples)
Erik Harper Klass

Ernst Koerner. Istanbul, Valide und Solimanie Moschee. Oil on canvas. 1922.


The Turks call it the letter çe, pronounced /t͡ʃe/. Its tail-like appendage is called a cedilla. In English orthoepy it is pronounced /s/—what you would call, pretentiously, the voiceless alveolar fricative—e.g. FAÇADE, SOUPÇON, and LIMAÇON.

It is a diacritic that softens.

Which reminds me: We shared a puerile interest in the word flaccid, from the Lain flaccidus, meaning flabby, weak, drooping. The correct pronunciation, you told me once (when, Rachel, when? I shudder to recall), according to the OED, is /ˈflæk sɪd/, but the word’s very definition seems to manifest itself, you said, in the comparatively emasculated and erroneous pronunciation /ˈflæs ɪd/. The solution, it occurred to me some time later, was a simple change in spelling, utilizing the ç in that second position, to make clear by juxtaposition the hard /k/ sound (you would call it the voiceless velar stop) that culminates the antecedent syllable. So we have FLACÇID, we have ACÇENT, we have ACÇEPTANCE. There are many others, all of which I had summarized in the short (yet substantial, solid, cocksure) scholarly article[1] I ghostwrote for you, Rachel, on this topic, which article you never did submit to those Linguistics journals of yours, did you? I was afraid to ask. Enfeebled, yes. Additionally—and more apposite to the subject matter of this study of the letters and diacritics of East Central Europe, with descriptions and examples—the c-cedilla represents in the Turkish alphabet what you would most haughtily call the voiceless postalveolar affricate. The example of pronunciation given in Turkish Grammar by G. L. Lewis, a book I carry with me here in my JanSport as I walk up and down these streets of Łódź, is the ch digraph in church (either one, one assumes).[2] We also, I’ll have you know, hear the sound in cheat. Further examples follow.

My mind just now is on the Turkish—true, south of our proceedings heretofore (Turkey, a bit like the U.S. Florida of our East Central Europe)—because of a book I’ve found myself enjoying on my Łódźian perambulations, a nonfiction book entitled The Museum of Innocence by a Turkish writer of some repute called Orhan Pamuk. I purchased it somewhat hastily, failing to scrutinize the cover, drawn in by its alluring appellation (you remember our mutual interest in museums)—hastily, I say, because if I had more carefully read the words on the cover, I would have noticed set discreetly in a small, violet serif typeface beneath the title the dreaded “a novel.” And yet, days later, out of some misguided obligation to read any book that has adventitiously or otherwise found residence on my shelf, I turned to the first page and read:

It was the happiest moment of my life, though I didn’t know it. Had I known, had I cherished this gift, would everything have turned out differently? Yes, if I had recognized this instant of perfect happiness, I would have held it fast and never let it slip away. It took a few seconds, perhaps, for that luminous state to enfold me, suffusing me with the deepest peace, but it seemed to last hours, even years. In that moment, on the afternoon of Monday, May 26, 1975, at about a quarter to three, just as we felt ourselves to be beyond sin and guilt so too did the world seem to have been released from gravity and time. Kissing Füsun’s shoulder, already moist from the heat of our lovemaking, I gently entered her from behind, and as I softly bit her ear, her earring must have come free and, for all we knew, hovered in midair before falling of its own accord. Our bliss was so profound that we went on kissing, heedless of the fall of the earring, whose shape I had not even noticed.[3]

I’m the first to admit the novelistic—i.e. rather cloying and melodramatic—nature of this passage, but I found myself reading on, and as I turned the pages, it became clear to me that the text is quite obviously not “a novel.” I am not sure why the publishers affixed this two-word stigma to the book’s cover, or why the author himself periodically and reflexively uses the word throughout the book,[4] for this study of a particular museum offers obvious clues to its verity, including a map leading the visitor of Istanbul to the titular museum on the corner of Daljic and ÇUKURCUMA,[5] a helpful nonfictiony index,[6] and even a ticket to the museum itself, which ticket the reader may carefully cut and remove from the page.[7] That I look forward to visiting—that I will do so, sans you, Rachel[8]—is not at all the point here, as it pertains to the letters and diacritics of East Central Europe (and, allow me to stress, its environs). The point is that Turkish is a language of exceptional visual beauty. Even in English, on that first page, I knew something was afoot (N.B. “Füsun”). By the second page of the text, we have “Valikonağı Avenue” and a restaurant in “Nişantaşı.” At one point, on page 43, in a chapter titled “Kissing on the Lips,” I came across the word “İnönü,” an astounding word—I stayed with it for the better part of an afternoon, mesmerized by those tittles, finding it almost impossible to tear my eyes away and read on. This is a language that bleeds through the gauze of translation, that challenges the mightiest of typesetters. Of course, I chased down a version in Turkish. An ocular feast:

Hayatımın en mutlu anıymış, bilmiyordum. Bilseydim, bu mutluluğu koruyabilir, her şey de bambaşka gelişebilir miydi? Evet, bunun hayatımın en mutlu anı olduğunu anlayabilseydim, asla kaçırmazdım o mutluluğu. Derin bir huzurla her yerimi saran o harika altın an belki birkaç saniye sürmüştü, ama mutluluk bana saatlerce, yıllarca gibi gelmişti. 26 Mayıs 1975 Pazartesi günü, saat üçe çeyrek kala civarında bir an, sanki bizim suçtan, günahtan, cezadan ve pişrnanlıktan kurtulduğumuz gibi, dünya da yerçekimi ve zamanın kurallarından kurtulmuş gibiydi. Füsun’un sıcaktan ve sevişmekten ter içinde kalmış omzunu öpmüş, onu arkadan yavaşça sarmış, içine girmiş ve sol kulağını hafifçe ısırmıştım ki, kulağına takılı küpe uzunca bir an sanki havada durdu ve sonra da kendiliğinden düştü. O kadar mutluyduk ki, o gün şekline hiç dikkat etmediğim bu küpeyi sanki hiç fark etmedik ve öpüşmeye devam ettik.[9]

IRMAZDIM (I would miss), SUÇTAN (from our crime), YERÇEKİMİ (gravity), İÇİNE GIRMIŞ (I gently entered her). Exceptional words.[10]

And in tribute to you, Rachel, to here, I have availed myself of a version in Polish. The eyes, ravaged, engorge:

To była najszczęśliwsza chwila w moim życiu, a ja o tym nie wiedziałem. Czy gdybym wiedział,
zdołałbym to szczęście zachować, czy wszystko mogłoby się potoczyć inaczej?  Tak, gdybym się
zorientował, że to najszczęśliwszy moment w moim życiu, nie pozwoliłbym szczęściu uciec. Ta złota
chwila napełniająca mnie całego głębokim spokojem trwała być może ledwie kilka sekund, mnie
jednak wydawało się, że obejmowała godziny, lata. Dnia 26 maja 1975 roku, w poniedziałek, o
godzinie za piętnaście trzecia przez moment świat zdawał się wolny od czasu i grawitacji, a my od
winy, grzechu, kary i skruchy. Pocałowałem spocone od seksu i upału ramię Füsun, powolnym ruchem
objąłem ją od tyłu, wszedłem w nią i delikatnie ugryzłem płatek jej lewego ucha, a wtedy zawieszony
w nim kolczyk przez długą chwilę jakby unosił się w powietrzu, aż w końcu wysunął się i spadł. Byliśmy
tak szczęśliwi, że nie zauważyliśmy tego kolczyka, którego kształtu nawet nie zapamiętałem, i
całowaliśmy się dalej.[11]

If I have counted correctly, we find 7 unique letters or markings of interest in the Turkish passage, totaling 85 instances. In the Polish, we find an astounding 9 unique letters or markings of interest, totaling 79 instances. In the English, one letter: the borrowed ü. (O woe our impoverished language, our stark and flacçid tongue!)

I carry all three versions with me in my old JanSport. They weigh me down. They pull me back. The past dances around me like ghosts. They call out my name, these phantoms. They wave with recognition. But when I look, when I try to focus, they have escaped into the cracks and crevices of this Unreal City. (They are my companions; I, their caretaker; I do not fear these ghosts; I fear only their loss.)

The sun has freed itself from the horizon and risen into the Polish sky. People now stay close to the edges of the street in long stretches of crenellated shade. I walk past a two-story beer garden with blooms of deep red anemones bursting from planters. People are already drinking. Their laughter. The drift of their words. The Polish. The sound of it. I hear your laugh. I hear your voice. We sat here once, this very spot. But now, just my ghosts, just my phantoms.

I have made clear, I believe and hope, that my aim in these pages is to introduce to the reader, in one volume or another, a number of letters and diacritics of East Central Europe, with descriptions and examples, and, as I reminded myself recently—last night, in fact, insomnious, in my empty hotel bed (emptier, in comparison with what once was, infinitely emptier), reading from A New Polish Grammar—I reminded myself that, to quote, “the best justification of the choice of a method is its efficiency.”[12] Pamuk, on the museum, averred that “it is possible to substitute for one’s most cherished object another.”[13] Let us try. And is not a work of nonfiction but a museum of sorts, a depository of facts, presentations, orthographic dioramas, pictures for the mind, strewn in straight horizontal lines along the echoing corridors of the white page?[14] Look around. These immutable, rigid buildings. This resilient street of dark bricks. The constancy of sky. But how that same sky reflects to flickering abstraction in the windows, the blue turning to steel, the sun to brass (steel in Turkish: ÇELİK; brass: PİRİ). The flowers will drop their blood-red petals to the ground, where they will wither and die. The leaves of the ancient linden trees fall, and the wind—this moment of wind, unique, ephemeral—scatters them in mathematical curves (limaçons!) sketched in the dust, now, and nevermore. The people walk and laugh and drink and age, streaks of rain on glass, but so much remains among these residua of memory. Our museum displays these temporal collisions as a non-linear history of discreet objects and episodes. Each eternal brick. Each speck of dust. Pamuk: “The power of things inheres in the memories they gather up inside them, and also in the vicissitudes of our imagination, and our memory.”[15] We might call our collection here a glimmering collage, a multidimensional pattern of permana and ephemera, the physical object versus the strange neural patterns of the brain, what Rowe and Koetter call a “compounding [of] matter of factness and cerebrality.”[16] Donne, Stravinsky, Eliot, Joyce, they are all here, throwing fistfuls of the past and the present into the air like confetti.[17] We, tight-faced and bedazzled, watch each little scrap fall into place. I stand looking up at this light post, this one light post, curving and spiraling into the brightening sky, and that man there, a lanky man in a macintosh, walks past these expansive offerings, his eyes fixed before his shiny shoes, as if undone by proud death. There is a procession of men in white smocks marching along the gutter, wearing sandwich boards and tall white hats with scarlet Polish letters: H. Ę. Ł. Y. Ś. I can only look and wonder. Drinkers, drinking, laugh spluttering, drink against breath. Time’s ruins build eternity’s mansions, someone said.[18] Look! Here, among the decay, the past is preserved, like a soul, within each object. I brush my hand along the dark metal post. It is strong, substantial, cold to my touch. It does not move. It does not budge. Napoleon I sought to turn Paris into an espèce de musée, a species of museum, a “collection of permanent reminders”[19] prepared and curated for our collective edification. We think of Von Klenze’s Munich. We think of Schinkel’s Potsdam and Berlin. Haussmann’s Paris. The Ringstrasse of Vienna. We think, sadly, of Speer. We absorb the information embedded in these curbs and walls and windows and railings, these façades of ancient brick and stone, these literal bronze monuments of Łódź, the people streaming past with mannequin faces. The future plunges to the past, what Dillard calls the dissolution of the present, but look closer. Not much has changed. I am here. You are here. Look!


Called the yumuşak ge, this letter is “a concession to the traditional spelling of Turkish in the Arabo-Persian alphabet.”[20] We see it in the word MAĞFUR (forgiveness). We see it in the word OĞUL, which can mean a swarm of bees, or a bosom. (Disparate meanings whose conflation I understand all too well.) Further examples follow.

Perhaps this is our focus, our area of inquiry, this interplay between the ruins of Łódź—the empty textile factories off the main thoroughfares, edges softening, decaying, against an unforgiving sky, hidden from the tourists, the hulking husks dropping their worn bricks and dust onto the dead yellow grass (to crumble in Turkish: OĞALAMAK)—and what is new, the graffiti stretching across the old walls, staining even the dead weeds that flutter fluorescently at the edges; the new shiny signs with their beautiful letters; the gleaming cars with their shrill, dopplering horns. These white, immaculate trains trundle the same tracks as the old steam engines. Someone said that the experience of ruin is the ruination of experience, the destruction of our memories, and if we consider this statement carefully, we will discover that, ostensibly, the issue is otiose: I can remember what I remember and I fail to remember what I fail to remember. Let us call this the ecstasy of ignorance. And yet, and this is important, we’re aware of the loss. We can feel it. We want to remember. We want to take in these objects and visions, of different origins, of different natures, deracinated like resplendent flowers from out of the rich soil of context, and store them securely in the aspic of our minds. These fragments—which, of course, are just the Past—contrast with the newly and constantly and everlastingly built Now. Here we held hands. Here we rested on this red-brick planter in the shade. Here you pinched the loose skin of my elbow as hard as you could and I felt no pain and we laughed like birds and drank like tramps. But here, I don’t know. And here, someone has etched the word PAULINA into the crumbling stone, and it means nothing to me, to us. The objects and space swirl in a solid–void dialectic, and here now our guide books to Łódź have us stop beneath a statue of Gutenberg nestled in a building’s central niche (I stop, for the second time). He looks down at us and opens his mouth. Give wings to truth, he says. Put it to the page, he says, for posterity. These gothic birds perch on the building’s façade, holding halberds, stomachs shining like gold, and I remember the sharpness of your touch that first time, a kind of injury, a wounding that heals in reverse. You said the sin of the world falls away, those were your last words—yes we were beyond sin, beyond crime, beyond guilt, beyond time (time in Turkish: ÇAĞ). I had to kiss your lips even harder to stop, to finally stop, the flow of language. Up to then we had been nothing but words. But words, in the end, are empty and banal, and our contact, our consummation, I shall call it our solid–solid dialectic, was translunary and free of the gravity of language (no dull sublunary love, ours). Your hair fell into place over those green eyes, black as night then in your new room, but I remember your eyes, shall always remember them, as green (we embellish, we color our memories, like children), the way they glinted as you turned toward me, eyes wide, mouth slightly open (mouth in Turkish: AĞIZ), your shoulder so perfectly moist, as I gently gently gently. I once sought to count every freckle but it was not until the morning, that first morning, that I really noticed their brilliant expansiveness. Your eyes were closed and your translucent lashes waved in sine curves. Interstitial lines of pale orange light came into your room and fell upon your body and I turned on my side, raised myself on my right elbow—no it must have been my left—and I began to silently count, as a lost sailor counts each grain of sand upon his desolate shore, a glorious distraction to be meticulously observed and recorded. My heart, my limaçon heart, beat so loudly I thought you’d wake, and eventually, as I slowly pulled down the sheet, you did. Those green eyes, the color of linden leaves, like two alien suns, rising. And your first words? My first words? Gone. I have not the slightest recollection. The mind, someone said, has fuses. Did we listen silently to the world come alive? Did we make love again? Upon overturned eggplant-colored milk crates you piled unread books on either side of your bed, roughly in descending order of importance or currency, like a literary triage. Protean night stands. Someday, you said, maybe, you hesitated, maybe you can add yours. You cleared your throat, retained your poise of language. A capstone, you said, to our Babelian tower. (I, later, drowning, clung to that tender our like a lifeline.) Did I imagine a great surrender in your voice, this mixing of our words’ worlds? Our worlds’ words? I quickly like a gunslinger reached into my overnight bag, pulled out Rothschild’s magisterial East Central Europe between the Two World Wars, and placed it on top of A Linguistic Atlas of Eastern European Yiddish.[21] But come to think of it, that wasn’t this first morning. It was much later. You explained, with no preamble, in this near-religious moment when the blur of alcohol had subsided and the darkness had been stripped away, we naked and falling, that the immaculate conception referred not to that of Jesus, but to Mary, that, according to you Christians, you said, God removed all stains of her original sin. And look where that has got us, you said. I nodded and pretended to know or care or understand. (We had been discussing the etymology of the word pigeon—as was so often the case your logic escaped (birdlike) my cage of understanding.) But this was some other morning. The careful calculus of your skin and pigment? Another morning. I noticed that you had painted each wall a slightly different shade of orange—a lighter shade here, a darker shade there—such that when the sun shone from some perfect angle on some perfect day at some point in the middle of some perfect year, by some miracle of light and shade, the walls would merge as one. Like floating in a space of color, you said. Like astronauts in sunbeams. But later. This was later. You wore a too-large t-shirt that said only you can prevent apostrophic errors. It was threadbare and covered your skin like gossamer. It is a shirt I wish I had in my collection. But this too was much later. So much is lost. I want to reach out, move your hair from those shining green eyes, pull you closer. Perhaps this is what I did. Perhaps not. Georges Bataille, in Documents (1930), notes that the development of the museum in France in 1793 coincided with the invention of the guillotine. The fixing of our history and the death of our past are entombed in these carefully anthologized corridors of the mind. We preserve our memories. And we manufacture them, a kind of euthanasia, a politicization of history, the parallax of memory. Wander with me down these strange incoherent streets, under the azure sky of a vernal dawn, among these arrays of objects, what Valéry calls a “tumult of frozen creatures . . . a strange organized disorder.”[22] Are these then Sebald’s “archaeological excavations of the slag-heaps of our collective existence”?[23] Is this museum of streets and buildings and air then a columbarium, Provensal’s “empty skeleton, the cemetery of the arts”?[24] These objects, shall we visit them as one visits the dead? Shall we lay down our flowers on these bemired wormcasts of our past? Shall we grovel and drip saliva at the pigeoned ramparts and wormy mudsills of these sepulchral buildings?

Łódź: Our Louvre. Our guillotine.


The circumflex accent, here seen above the A, is known in Turkish as düzeltme işareti. It can be used, among other things, to mark a long vowel in Arabic borrowings, especially to avoid ambiguities, as in the Persian borrowed nar (pomegranate) and the Arabic NÂR (hell fire). Further examples follow.

Yes I wonder if things might have turned out differently had I recognized and cherished the gift of that morning there in the pale orange light. Yes I should have held it fast, I should have, like Pamuk, stolen each moment, each thought, I should have taken photographs and enlarged them into glossy posters for my wretched walls, composed dithyrambs of love to be sung at regular intervals from the rooftops, commissioned a painting of you, asleep with your auburn hair thrown about, one crescent of blood-red areola exposed above the wrinkled sheet, your left shoulder gleaming—or maybe it was your right—I should have enclosed us within my bell jar of time, introduced an ample layering of absorbent cotton saturated with chloroform, waited for our convulsions. (Still in Turkish: HÂLÂ.) That moment lasted hours, days, weeks, years, eternity. But I am not seized by Valéry’s holy dread, here, amongst the ruins, for here we have transformed time into space, a kind of synesthesia of experience. We, the FLÂNEURS,[25] we walk the streets, we construct the city, we consume it. These are the real museums, these cities, the outer scaffoldings within which the meta museums pose artificially like nicely lit gewgaws under glass, displaying their nicely lit gewgaws under glass. Pamuk: “In poetically well built[26] museums, formed from the heart’s compulsions, we are consoled not by finding in them old objects that we love, but by losing all sense of Time.”[27] The experience of ruin, I propound, is the reification of experience, wherein my memories rise like phoenixes from the ashes of the history of time, deprived here of its linear tendencies and allowed to rearrange itself according to the order in which we choose to remember—what neologist Erik Swyngedouw calls “the universalization of the recasting of tumultuous historical reorderings into the ossified ruins of theatrically staged places: time frozen as place, a mere moment of space.”[28] Atemporality. An eternal moment. You too, Rachel, were a horologist. I display a clock, a perfect copy, composed of thirteen orange cubes: twelve each numbered with a sanserif white numeral, and one sprouting the hour and minute hands—white, nondescript—and enclosing the clockworks itself. You had positioned these cubes on your bedroom wall, had measured carefully, had positioned the cubes every thirty degrees, but of course, you had shattered the circle, such that 12 clung just beneath the ceiling, like a swallow’s eave nest, always in shade, and 1 sat inches from the center cube (I could always tell when it was five past midnight), 2 was over near the window, casting long morning shadows, 3 looked haphazard and alone in the middle of the wall, and so on, but the angles were correct, the angles were perfect, and I remember lying awake at night with my hand behind my head, listening to the soft ticking, my foot slowly sliding across your smooth sheet to feel the warmth of your ankle. Alley cats caterwauled in long, nearly articulate syllables of lust. Muffler-impaired cars careered down the dark streets, disappearing, unstopping. The shattering spiral of sirens, red and blue, shimmered like slow explosions on the ceiling. You, you slept so soundly. In the beginning, those first days and weeks, the sound, the ticking, connoted a sleepless kind of desire. Near the end it was a measure of my insomnia, my fear, a crisp, malevolent countdown to an ineluctable end, my hell fire. There was a only a short while—or at least the time seems thus, spent in an Arcadia of comfortable slumber—when the clock did not sound, and in my memories these times marked the happy middle of our union, a roseate time of satisfaction and hope—like floating in a sea of color—that, none the less, I can’t remember convincingly or in any detail whatsoever.


But one must not always dot his i’s! One must sometimes leave things undone. That is why we are here. To leave off the capstone. To unsound the finale. To avert our annihilation. According to my grammar guidebook, the dotless ı is a close, back, unrounded vowel. “It is not unlike the sound of a in serial, but a closer approximation can be achieved by spreading the lips as if to say easy but saying cushion instead.”[29] Most of our diacritics strut boldly above or below the letter. There they pose, ostentatious like peacocks, calling us to notice their orthographic beauty. But the ı: It is subtle, proud, surreptitious, aloof. It is easy to miss. The ı holds within its simple plumage a world of foreignness. And yet we fail to notice. In that sense, we must fear it. Letters can be spies. I have tried to recreate his face. He had a beard. He was a fellow Jew of yours, I knew that. You spoke words in Polish, you two, and as we left he kissed you lightly on the cheeks, three times, the Russian style. He did not look at me, not a glance, even when I shook his moist, fat hand, a bloodstone on his forefinger gleaming in a gold ring. I’m sure he has expanded in my mind. Was it him, Rachel? Was it? Jealousy in Turkish: KISKANÇ. Further examples follow.

I have read my guidebook carefully, every jot and tittle, and have learned that Turkish employs liberal use of something called agglutination, a process by which—and allow me to paraphrase—by which words are formed from morphemes, without fusion or morphophonemic alteration. (I know you are familiar with these concepts, Rachel, my linguist—humor me with your attention.) Many languages agglutinate, but none, I posit, do so with quite the zeal of Turkish. For example, ŞIP means plop, and SEVDİ means he has fallen in love, and together these words become ŞIPSEVDİ, meaning vulnerable or, by extension, helpless. And another: ÇIT means crack and KIRILDIM means I have been broken, and together these parts become ÇITKIRILDIM, meaning fragile, and also effeminate. The word AVRUPALILAŞTIRILAMIYANLARDANSINIZ,[30] which comes from eight affixes (!), means, roughly, you are one of those who cannot be Europeanized. They build their words, as with bricks, into glorious temples of meaning.

I walk north. Piotrkowska’s stippled palaces and townhouses vibrate with stabs of copper light and I must fix my eyes before my feet to see clearly (copper in Turkish: BAKIR). I have been told that suppression is error. Bring your memories to light. etc. Then we might, in our tall, black, shiny boots, smash them like insects swarming from beneath the cool underside of recently dislodged rocks. Then we might turn them into objects, these abstract neural codings. Let’s put it to the page, let’s print it (vide supra: Gutenberg). Sketch it out, write it down, so that then we might incinerate. (So, sure, fine, I will allow that this is a supplementary reason for my perambulations here.) I am filling in details. I am searching and remembering. I am rummaging through the detritus of my own sacrosanctum of time. And I take umbrage at the changes that distract me from my work. Are you among the names etched into the Piotrkowska cobblestones? Are you looking down from the painted sides of buildings? Do you frolic in fountains with the unmoving brass children? Are you amongst these bronze monuments, sustaining vain gestures on the air,[31] frozen, yet alive? Perhaps you survive not in the void, not in the object, but in the margins—somewhere between the surface and the air. These monuments to you must still stand amongst these dying, decaying structures, these moving mercurial trees, these people, slashing past like stains on film. I will find you, here, near the city’s skin, its historical fabric, its porosities where the insects skitter and squirm, alive under my touch and gaze. Swyngedouw calls this a reterritorialization,[32] emphasis on the re-: back, again. Here is where I will walk and look, this intersection of everyday and eternity. Freud used the word unheimlich: a feeling of being strangely out of place.[33] And, indeed, I am strange, placeless.

If Pompeii is the only true museum, as Le Corbusier deemed, [34] then let us use its perfect destruction as our guide. Let us see things as they really are—I mean were. Our city is transformed into a museum by historical tragedy. We did not escape, did we? I held you in situ like an infant as we floundered in the enveloping ash. Nietzsche: “man braces himself against the great and ever-increasing pressure of what is past: it pushes him down or bends him sideways, it encumbers his steps as a dark invisible burden which he would like to disown.”[35] Yes and no. Let us put these dead artefacts back into the time of space, the space of time, where they might come to life and live again. Let us welcome this pressure, this burden, lightened, made visible. Here, in that moment, on the afternoon of Thursday, April 26, 2012, at about a quarter to three, we drank RAKI at this Turkish restaurant, we watched the clear liquid touch the ice and turn to cloud. And here, just across the street, in the basement pub, we drank pints of dark Irish beer, counting the rings of foam descend the glass. Here we sat at Rubinstein’s piano. I, tapping the metallic keys, hummed “The Ghost in You” and you guessed “Là ci darem.” You played “The Rite of Spring” and I guessed “Love’s Old Sweet Song.” Here we wandered through Pasaż Rubinsteina and tried to name the flowers and trees. Here we stopped at the mermaid fountain, and I said she looks like you. Here we watched the children in the playground shout words that I would never understand. Here I said, clumsily, Czy mówisz po polsku? and you replied, perfectly, Tylko troche. Here we sat under the leaves of the walnut trees and drank from a cool bottle of wódka. Here, now, I pull from my JanSport and display the very bottle (Żubrówka). Here I will bury it in the soil. I will dig, my nails dark with dirt. Here, on this bench, you rested your drunken head on my shoulder, and your hair blew up and tickled my cheek. Here you cried, rain in your voice, distant thunder. Here I unfolded our map, looked at the Jewish graveyard, the Ghetto, so many steps ahead of us, and I tried to cry too, may have, but I think I was only crying for us, for our inevitable dissolution. (Our demise, by now, I knew, was etched in stone.) Here I display that very map; it is still good; its scale holds true. Here, now, I wonder if Turkish has a word for You are one of those who cannot be Polishized. Here I gently rubbed the skin at the back of your arm beneath your shoulder where you would get that beautiful rash (red in Turkish: KIZIL). And here I display an earring of yours, the only one I could find as you fled, a peardrop of amber. And here is a book I never returned to you, yellowed pages, binding loose, Hotel Savoy. And here I display, carefully arranged, like a fan of cards, the museum tickets that I saved: Centralne Muzeum Włókiennictwa, Muzeum Miasta Łodzi, Muzeum Kinematografii w Łodzi . . . Here I display a special issue of Applied Linguistics (Volume 33, Issue 5), folded open to “Poststructuralism and its Challenges for Applied Linguistics,” complete with your discreet highlighting (in orange). Here I display a single strand of your auburn hair. Here a serviette of fine white linen, the smear of your lips, darkening. An ivory sock of yours, with ruffles, a small hole near the toe. A chip of soap, scentless. An unfinished crossword. A note from you, the ink already fading, Love, Rachel. Here I sit, your things, our things, scattered about me. With these objects and memories I descend, as with a great, unbound ballast, to the bottom of time. The light passes through the leaves and illuminates each object like a klieg. Someone plays a street organ back on Piotrkowska and someone claps and we were there, we were there once, hand in hand, listening, and now I am here, released from gravity and time, crumbling, flacçid, fragile, vulnerable, helpless, broken, effeminate, jealous. I’ll dig this hole in the soil a little deeper. Maybe there I will find it. Maybe there, in the cool, dark earth, I will find it: acçeptance.



[1] Titled “Hard, Then Soft.”

[2] Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967, 1.

[3] Pamuk, Museum of Innocence (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009), 3.

[4] E.g. ibid. 101, 307, and passim.

[5] Ibid. xiii. We note the Ç.

[6] ibid. 533ff.

[7] ibid. 520.

[8] The ticket is clearly marked, in all caps, “SINGLE ADMISSION ONLY.”

[9] Pamuk, Musumiyet müzesi (Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2008), 3.

[10] Any errors of translation are entirely mine.

[11] Pamuk, Muzeum niewinności, trans. Anna Akbike Sulimowicz (Kraków: Wydawn. Literackie, 2010), 3.

[12] Joseph Andrew Teslar, op. cit. (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1947), 1.

[13] The Museum of Innocence, 501.

[14] And, moreover, are not footnotes tantamount to those didactic panels—including, when we are lucky, the most erudite of curatorial remarks—placed perfectly on these smooth museum walls at the lower peripheries of our vision?

[15] Ibid. 324.

[16] Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter, Collage City (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1978), 142.

[17] They, the fictionists, dissimulate and obscure. They hide their clever vessels of literary dope in their ānī of sublimation, daring us to poke a finger, take a peak. This is why I do not like the fictionists. We nonfictionists illuminate and explain. We light the way, the truth, the life. We do not hide behind clever obscurantisms. We simply cite. (And yet these exemplars of fiction are, I think, nonetheless, apposite, unfortunately.)

[18] Many of these descriptions I copied—I prefer borrowed—from your book of Græco-Roman mythology, Rachel. Yes, forgive me for leafing through. I believe it was titled Ulysses (sine anno).

[19] Cited in Rowe and Koetter, Collage City, 126.

[20] Lewis, Turkish Grammar, 4.

[21] Jean Jofen, author.

[22] Paul Valéry, “The Problem of Museums” in vol. 12 of The Collected Words of Paul Valéry, ed. Jackson Mathews, trans. David Paul (New York: Pantheon, 1956), 203.

[23] W. G. Sebald, On the Natural History of Destruction (New York: Random House, 2004), 61.

[24] Henry Provensal, L’Art de demain, in The architecture of the museum: Symbolic structures, urban contexts, edited by Michaela Giebelhausen (New York: Manchester University Press, 2003), 161.

[25] A word of French origin. The letter itself, we see, is a traveler.

[26] [sic]

[27] The Museum of Innocence, 520.

[28] “Exit ‘post’—the making of ‘glocal’ urban modernities” in Future City, ed. Stephen Read, Jürgen Rosemann, Job van Eldijk (London: Spoon Press, 2005), 132.

[29] Lewis, Turkish Grammar, 13.

[30] N.B. that the capital dotless ı in Turkish is written, as we would expect, as I. But the capital dotted i is written İ. The observant reader, I trust, did not let this go unnoticed heretofore. Nor has the observant reader (you, Rachel, you!) failed to notice that, in the interest of convention, convenience, consistency, and, yes, efficiency, I have presented these numerous examples in all caps, but, true, we readers of English lose something with the capitalization of the dotless ı, so allow me to present this one word in lowercase: avrupalılaştırılamıyanlardansınız. Six dotless ı’s. We read, staggered and amazed.

[31] Another phrase apparently of Græco-Roman origin (see Ulysses).

[32] “Exit ‘post,’” 136.

[33] See Writings on Art and Literature (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997), 195ff.

[34] See Le Corbusier, The Decorative Art of Today, trans. James I. Dunnett (London: The Architectural Press, 1987), 16ff.

[35] Friedrich Nietzsche, “On the uses and disadvantages of history for life,” in Untimely Meditations, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 61.


About the writer:
Erik Harper Klass studied mechanical and manufacturing engineering at UCLA and music at Berklee College of Music. Now he writes. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

Image: “Istanbul with Valide and Solimanie Mosques” by Ernst Koerner. Oil on canvas. 1922., Public Domain,

By | 2018-02-02T18:00:17+00:00 February 2nd, 2018|Fiction, LITERARY ARTS, Short Story|