Prelude: Living in fear is not a natural human condition. That is a comforting thought, eh. The reason it’s not natural is because its opposite is universal and interchangeable. But what is the opposite of fear? We have a great capacity to help one another. That too must be a comforting thought. Yet. We do not do it. Why? Well. This is one of the reasons that the only thing I’m afraid of now is the stuff humanity can’t wish away and bang out of its head. Stuff like religion. The fact is, too many people believe something fictional is actually truth. That is one scary thought. For years I’ve been trying to figure out why people do this to themselves. How is it that something obviously fictional can be taken for truth? Human nature aside, the reason has to be in story telling. People love story telling – even if the story is frightening beyond rational comprehension. I have long since concluded that writing something can be a very powerful thing. Who could of imagined that? -tgs-
So. Are you afraid of the dark? Does watching a scary movie make you have bad dreams? Do your knees start to buckle when you near the edge of the top floor of a skyscraper? How do you feel when a fifth person crams into an elevator made for three and you forgot the pill that morning that controls the platzangst? There are phobias in life and then there are things that make you want to scream as though suddenly all secrets and all questions about the meaning of life have been answered – and the answer is pure, unadulterated horror. We live in a world obsessed with mysticism because humanity is unable to free itself from the lies of religious indoctrination. We eat, drink and be merry in places that have no issues regarding whether or not humanity has ceased to evolve due to the convenience and profitability of pharmaceuticals and other byproducts of corporatism and new-found fascism albeit with bright smiley faces. And let’s not forget the wonders of thinking positive or self-help VHS cassettes that easily cross the lie-beauty image of Claudia Schiffer doing exercises in pastel green tights and a fat man in black suit wearing gold chains, carrying a silk white handkerchief to wipe the sweat from his preaching and protruding forehead, not to mention the cute limp of his hoof left foot. Oh. It’s hard to see through it all when there’s so much belief to be had in this world. So where are the truths?
I reckon I’m lucky. Very few things scare me. There was a movie that scared me once but it wasn’t because it was horrific. The movie was The Poseidon Adventure (1972). I was nine years old when I saw it. A luxury cruise ship capsizes and those who survive must also try and stay alive in a world turned upside-down. Their task is utterly futile and, for me, the depiction of death is the only thing that lit up that screen. After that movie it took me an extra long time to turn ten on account I couldn’t sleep for weeks. One day, tired of being tired, I hit myself in the head with some kind of sporting utensil (baseball bat, hockey puck, lacrosse stick, etc.) and with each smash repeated: “it’s only fiction, it’s only fiction.” I got over it because I convinced myself of what is true.
Years later, when I finally started reading books, something else scared me. It was something that I couldn’t just talk away or smash out of my head with a bat and a label. I had read Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray. I became obsessed with the story. And I couldn’t get the image out of my head of a beautiful young living human being transubstantiating to a painting thereby getting old and dying. The brilliance of Oscar Wilde is that he can write one way, yet mean something completely different with what he writes and, if you care enough, leave your mind twisting and turning like an endless pretzel. When I tried to talk to someone about my fear of Dorian Gray they suggested I read something by Stephen King. And I did. The only problem was, King just didn’t move me, didn’t make me think, didn’t scare me. I had been through all that – in a much different way. That is, I knew that the opposite of fear is truth. So it is natural for me to not get near the ledge of a skyscraper and when staying in a hotel enquiring how many people fit in the elevator. Fiction can only scare you if you willfully hide from truth. Right?
Wrong. I’ve opened up a wild can of worms here and I’m losing myself in it. So let me try to come full circle. First. I’m afraid of a lot of things. Second. Marion Tauschwitz has written a novel titled “Der Gesang der Schneckenhäuser” (The Song in the Shells of Snails). This book has crossed the line I’ve been able to maintain in understanding and dealing with fear and truth. Or put another way: this book has scared the shit out of me (excuse my French). The reason? How should I put this? I do not understand the German language. Wait. I should retract that, but I won’t. Actually, what I mean to say is, I do understand German. I can even bark it almost as good as most Germans can. But there are times, especially when I read it, that I get all hot n’ bothered inside. The reason? The German language is just fucking scary. It’s guttural, it’s harsh, it’s loud, it’s unrhythmic and, let’s face it, it’s best for building things like cars, bier, bridges and nuclear capable submarines that are sent to the Middle East to keep the peace. (That’s my little ode to Gunter Grass and his 2012 political poetry, btw.) Anyway. German is a great language to scare even the most hardened of the fearless – and you don’t even have to be reading a horror story. Seriously. Trust me on that.
Tauschwitz did not write a horror book. From beginning to end Schneckenhäuser is a precarious journey through a reality that few people will ever face in life. Wait. What I mean to say is, few people will put any effort into facing something that for so many people is both a horror and a reality. With that in mind, Tauschwitz made me think of other scary writers – some obvious and some not so obvious. I read one of Stephen King’s books in German once. In English it was supposed to be scary. I guess something whacky happened in translation. I was laughing through the book as I guessed every supposedly scary turn of events. On the other hand, Stephen King’s horror – as brilliant as it is – is somehow obvious, it’s not very subtle, and if you put a little effort into it there are no surprises. There’s another horror writer that Tauschwitz made me think of, and this example is most certainly less obvious: Oscar Wilde. Wilde’s horror is subtlety in its purest form. Wilde’s horror is encapsulated in the beauty of poetically scary things, e.g. Dorian Gray. I’m not sure where to put Tauschwitz here, though. Her subject matter is one that plagues humanity, it’s real and it’s practically everywhere. It’s not like a painting on the wall or a movie screen stuck in the brain of a perpetual nine year old. She deals with the systematic abuse of the feminine and the exploitative and vulgar power-play nature of misconstrued patriarchy. She writes about it as though it were a painting on the wall. I wonder if there are any fledgling horror writers out there willing to look at Tauschwitz’s technique. If they dare. Wait. Maybe I should try comparing Tauschwitz with Hitchcock? Nomatter.
“Der Gesang der Schneckenhäuser” starts with the characters Luzifer, Serge and a woman named Mariefleure who is also called Laura. A juxtaposition of beauty and the beast names, let me tell you. But it’s the first name mentioned that should stop you in your tracks. Luzifer should just about cover everything, shouldn’t it? I mean, naming a character Luzifer is all one needs. Oh, these Germans who write horror books but don’t really want them to be horror books can be tricky. Luzifer is not who/what you think. In Tauschwitz’s case it is just a name – or is it? I’m not sure what Tauschwitz intentions were – and I might have to read this book a second time to figure it out – but naming a character this way and in no way referencing what the name actually is, is a pretty neat trick. Which brings me to Serge. Serge is actually the one in this story that ultimately requires a name of devilish connotations. Wait. Did I just give something away? No, I did not.
So let me return to where I began this mess. Let me try to address the nature of fear as it is embodied if not worshipped by humanity. But be warned: I will not be able to do it as well as Tauschwitz. She does something with her story telling that I think is unique. What she writes isn’t something that can be categorized in one genre – but it is systematic. And that’s the key. Her main diabolical character is very systematic in the horrors he inflicts on others. So. Read this book, if you dare. Expect no blood, no death and no darkness from which gargoyles can startle you. You will be afraid all the same – because you are set in the diabolical mind. You might replace your fear with anger – but that will be short lived because you will eventually turn around in circles realizing that what you are reading, even though it’s fiction, is somehow real. And if you’re real lucky, like me, you might start to recall authors like Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Oscar Wilde, and even Stephen King, etc. who are pioneers of their genres. They transcribe what is ultimately fiction and you are entertained. Tauschwitz does something similar but she also does something those mentioned here do not do. There is something very real about what she writes. I wonder if I’ll ever get her images out of my head.