Tim Corballis: R.H.I.
In the archives of the British Psychoanalytic Society a researcher is examining the notebooks and letters of Joan Riviere – the R of the title. He is drawn to R as a subject precisely because she did not see herself as a subject at all. The historical Riviere was an early follower of Freud who argued that identity was a screen with nothing behind it. What would it be like to perceive yourself as an empty space? How do you write the story of a person without substance? The researcher imagines her early life and describes an England in which the First World War – fought entirely on foreign battlefields – creeps under living room doors and claims R among its millions of casualties.
H stands for Hermann Henselmann. His story is constructed from buildings. Henselmann was an architect banned from practice by the Nazi regime. The researcher walks the streets of Berlin and returns to the 1940s: deportations, aerial bombardment, the advance of the Red Army, and a new boundary between East and West. On the eastern side, H is appointed chief architect for Berlin, but the Central Committee rejects his vision of the new order. H’s private misgivings and eventual resolve are told through the buildings he constructed along the showpiece eastern boulevard, named after Stalin.
The stories of R and H are narrated separated but they come together in the ‘I’ of the title which stands for the writer, the reader, and the different lenses through which we process the world. The book combines history, biography and fiction to explore the psychological and physical impact of the major conflicts that shook Europe in the twentieth century and that reverberate into the present. ‘R.H.I.’ detaches historical events and personal experiences from their familiar framework and allows them to appear in startling new ways.
Victoria University Press, 2015, 205 pp.
About the Author
Tim Corballis is the author of the novels ‘Below’, ‘Measurement’ and ‘The Fossil Pits’ as well as a substantial body of short fiction, essays and art writing. In 2000 he won the Adam Foundation Prize for ‘Below’ and in 2005 he was awarded the Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer's Residency . He lives in Wellington and recently served as writer-in-residence at the International Institute of Modern Letters.
Lloyd Jones held the Creative New Zealand Berlin Writers’ Residency in 2006. The city features in his novel ‘Hand Me Down World’. Other recent New Zealand novels with German themes include Thom Conroy’s ‘The Naturalist’ which chronicles the life of Ernst Dieffenbach.
Hand Me Down World
Text Publishing, 2010
A maid in a Tunisian hotel is seduced by a German tourist and tricked into giving up her newborn child. She sets off to reclaim him, but without a passport or money she must rely on the help of strangers…
Random House New Zealand, 2014
This historical novel tells the story of naturalist Ernst Dieffenbach who arrived in New Zealand in 1839. He set sail from Europe after being exiled as a political revolutionary. Conroy re-imagines the different stages of his journey and brings to life his struggle for freedom and knowledge.
Text: Sally-Ann Spencer
Copyright: Goethe-Institut New Zealand, 2016