Corello’s Code A tale of love. A tale of war. For Emile.

Illustration: Maria Krafft

This is a tale of nothing less than war, and of love in times of war. It is a tale of the radio operator Corello and the officer Emile, and about the code of their love that Casares attempted to decipher.

If electromagnetic waves in a frequency range of below 3000 GHz are the equivalent of the billowing sea, what then is the equivalent of the surfboard? Precisely, the radio. The radio is the equivalent of the surfboard. And what is the equivalent of surfing, of riding the waves? Dance is the equivalent of surfing. Dance is riding the waves, and riding the waves is a dance to radio music. It must be the kind of radio music that makes you feel sick with longing for something undefined. Because it is of course your emotions that are riding the waves here – your sense of longing.

Waves, radio, dance, emotions. Or something along those lines.

Radio, by chance, plays the right sounds of longing always at just the right time, or at the right time it always plays by chance the right sounds, which you then need to catch a glimpse of, like the moment the boss is in a good mood, like something mysterious taking place in a familiar rear courtyard, like an idea at the fleeting stage just before it disappears, like the tears of your parents, or like the last minute before a baker or fishmonger closes their market stall and give you perhaps a mackerel or a currant bun for free.

That’s how you should dance, with the greatest sensitivity, with the greatest, deliciously effortless poise, as if everything around you were so delicate and fragile and light that even a wrong shrug of the shoulder, an inadvertent point of the finger would be enough to shatter it and blow it away. Your eyes looking outwards, never let them turn inwards, otherwise you will miss everything. Dance into the moment is what you have to do, or dance up onto it if we want to stick with our admittedly somewhat skewed analogy. Dance up onto the moment without the moment noticing that you are riding on it. You must remain quiet, but never conspicuously quiet. You must be friendly and agile, but never conspicuously friendly and agile. You must laugh, quietly, but not too quietly, whatever you do! And definitely no wrong shrug of the shoulder, definitely no coarse word. That’s how it’s done.

But it will only be a true feat when there are two of you riding the wave. Dancing, the two of you, to radio music, and in the sweat on the brow of your partner you see life mirrored, the wild, the beautiful, the free life that you always imagined was just behind your back. Perhaps that is love. That is the feat. Just one more twirl, just one more turn this way round, that way round, and you are finally right in the middle, in the middle of what life is, the true, the whole, the full, that which has always been or still lies behind you.

And then, sooner or later, the warm exhaustion. The calm.

Like that, perhaps.

That’s how modern love is. Isn’t it? What do you say? Love in modern times? Ok then, you’re right. Love in modern times. Let’s put it like that.

In our world however, which is a story, the times are of course always different times, and love, love is of course always just a signifier, and war, war is just a signifier. And nonetheless we can tell ourselves the story of how the signifiers become the signified.   

Let us begin. And this is how we will begin:

“Eitgeb neehed Botsic tsoIhp chchun aflikt.”

What it means? For example this: “Eitgeb neehed Botsic tsoIhp chchun aflikt” could be words in one of those languages that decades earlier we had still been trying our damnedest to wipe out. We had smelted them down to form secret languages out of which the sharpest weapons were now forged for us. This is an example of how the signifiers became the signified.

The obsessive, he knew about these weapons, he recognized them, but he couldn’t know how to use them. Let’s call him … let’s call him Casares, for tradition’s sake, and let us name our radio operator Corello and our officer Emile, for the sake of personal preference. Our Casares also knew what or who these words were when he stumbled across them. A crackling at first, then a voice on the radio, nestled into the white noise of the past. He knew about the myth of the smitten radio operator from the last war. Just as you know about it. You want to hear the tale once again? The tale of the smitten radio operator, of Corello and his Emile? Alright then.

A radio operator was in love with an officer and an officer was in love with a radio operator.

Corello and Emile had been dancers, dancers who at the right time had been interrupted by circumstances. The circumstances were the war.

Corello, who was one of the few who spoke that language whose words were now being forged into weapons, was sent by the circumstances to the north, to a secret radio station.

Emile, who had already been in the military before the war, went south to the front. I am not familiar with the details, but they are also irrelevant. Imagine them however you like.

It goes without saying that the two lovers suffered the most delicious torture. With all the desperate longing of a person dying of thirst, our Emile sat every evening in his little officer’s room, that’s how you could imagine it, and greedily drank up every radio message sent by his lover. For the messages sent by the radio operator, as you know, were not only messages of war, inside them were also hidden messages of love, which however the officer alone was able to decipher and of which the officer alone knew.

This is because the love-obsessed radio operator Corello had developed a second code, a new code, out of the signifiers, out of the war code of his warring party, a code made up of code; in other words a double code that said the same thing in different ways each time, thereby making the unsayable sayable, namely the incomparable experience of a feeling at one particular moment; in other words the moment itself, the wave itself. You must surely be familiar with this tragic stage of love in which one wishes all the time to say something new yet is able only to utter the same three words over and over again. Tragic. If only it were the other way round, if only one were able to say the same thing in different ways each time, then perhaps one could preserve it, love, then it would be one with the ideal, then it would be infinite. This is exactly what our Corello succeeded in doing, he had invented a language with which he could express love itself – saying something new with every radio message, and yet always meaning what we mean to say when we say ... Well, you know.

However, as it must always be in even the most beautiful of our stories, our radio operator remained the sender and his Emile remained the recipient, for shortly after circumstances had separated our lovers, they united the lovers again – and I mean united. I mean: the abolition of absence. Shortly before the officer would have had the opportunity to become a sender in his turn, he and his company were ambushed, in the course of which he was ultimately killed when a fragment of a grenade penetrated his heart.

Thus our unsuspecting radio operator transmitted war message after war message, love message after love message, without ever receiving any answer other than news about how things were progressing at the front, about the morale of the troops, about offensives and counteroffensives. His messages, one would imagine, became increasingly desperate, his lover increasingly elusive, his memory increasingly faint, yet his projection all the more complete as a result. Frantic with longing, the radio operator tried to find evidence of his Emile in the news – concealed messages, war manoeuvres that bore the signature of his lover, but he was never certain, he could always only suspect and fear the worst and at once the most absolute of all states. When the radio operator then finally learnt of the death of his lover, his love had already been transformed into a signifier, and he, the radio operator, had only to follow it.

In this way, hear what I am saying, he himself became a code that ever since has been surfing through the ether, he became that ghostlike voice on the radio that brave youngsters seek out on short-wave radio at night, that obsessive loners always stumble across at just the right time. Yes, Corello and Emile were united for eternity, at least potentially – and I mean united – united in the code of their love, which could only be eternal because it was constantly changing and yet always meant the same thing. They were dissolved in the story of their love, which fatally is also a story of violence.

And what about Casares? What did our Casares do?

When the obsessive whom we are calling Casares heard the voice of the radio operator for the first time and heard the mysterious code for the first time, he knew what he was dealing with. The myth of the smitten radio operator. Casares knew the myth, or was it he who invented it? Or did we invent it? What does it matter? In any case he knew about Corello and Emile and about their love that had been banished into infinite code, yet he did not know the significance of what he was hearing, otherwise he might have … Might have, might have. What point is there in speculating? He did not know. He sat in his little room, shaken by this mysterious message, this infinite voice from the past, as if by thunder. And if one is shaken as if by thunder, something either terrible or wonderful often occurs. A person who is shaken as if by thunder will become receptive to that which the moment brings with it. In this case this was a wish. A frightful wish. It entirely took possession of our Mr Casares – the wish to crack the code that nobody before him had ever cracked – the code of love and the code of war – to decipher the messages that nobody had ever been able to decipher. That was his wish.

And what did he hope this would achieve, our Casares? Well, the things that motivate real people are often awfully prosaic, in other words terribly banal. But Casares wasn’t a real person, was he? For him it was enough to solve the mystery, for this was simply his purpose in life. That is the sort of thing you find in stories. People with a purpose in life, I mean. He was obsessed, and one does not wonder why obsessed people are obsessed. Just as one does not bother wondering why the devil is devilish. He is simply the devil. That’s all. But if you really want a motivation, why not imagine a yearning for immortal glory, which of course is a yearning for immortality.

So, a terrible wish took possession of our Mr Casares. Day and night he sat in front of the radio, the ear cup – sometimes the left, sometimes the right – almost touching the loudspeaker, the long emaciated fingers of his one hand, for he hardly ate any longer, he hardly slept any longer, tensed and outstretched, slightly trembling, pointing towards the antenna as if they themselves were antennae. The fingers of his other hand clasping a fountain pen that, like a seismograph, he allowed to glide across one sheet after another, with the result that the papers on the table gathered around him, on the floor, on the back of his chair, even on his lap, piling up, sliding and gliding over each other like submarine tectonic plates during a major earthquake. And in this manner he listened to the endless series of foreign words, hidden within the static and crackling of the radio, which sounded like constantly changing mantras, like an endless prayer coming out of the radio. At times, after many hours of such work, he would utter a prolonged moan that would gradually and tentatively approximate the frequencies of the radio voice, the wave that Corello had become, as if in an attempt to become synchronized with the eternal, to enter into his wave, yet our Casares never quite succeeded. Emile, Corello and his double code remained a mystery to him, remained impenetrable to him.

Our Casares became ever thinner, ever more trembly and ever more lacking in will, quite entirely consumed by his one terrible wish. His skin first took on the colour of recycled paper, then that of aluminium, he became shiny, like a distorting mirror or a mirage or a small wave. A kind of hum appeared to exude from him, or at least something confusing that deterred the flies from settling on his sweating brow. Sometimes the light in his little room seemed to collect strangely around him, to pulsate and pool around him, as if it were being emitted from himself or as if he were attracting it, in the way a magnet attracts metal shavings. Presumably it was the encoded messages that collected and collided in Casares’ room, that crowded in on him and ended up contradicting the light waves in an entirely illogical manner, radio waves that broke against the coasts of his emotional world, overtook and overlaid one another, created interferences, distorted, amplified, jostled with one another, each one over the next and ever more violently rocking his – Casares’ – reason to and fro like a ship caught in a storm on the high seas.

Yes, a storm was raging in his room, whipping up the waves or the waves were whipping up the storm, dark waves towering up, crowding out and suffocating all the light, dragging it into their depths, just like everything else in the end that had been – Casares’ reason, Casares’ love, Casares’ body, Casares’ radio, Casares’ room and the flies, everything powerfully ground up in a terrible maelstrom, which like an eye was looking towards the sky, and in which two things appeared to be arguing with one another, two real things appeared to be fighting, until finally one won and mightily climbed out of the maelstrom, something unspeakable, a leviathan created from that violence that had been banished for so long, for so long, into a signifier, and now unleashed and distorted, a leviathan created out of violence, a leviathan you are familiar with. You know.

Yes. That is how war arose from the radio. That is how the signifier was transformed into the signified. More or less. But do you know what the leviathan, without realizing it, carried with it? Do you know what was following hot on its heels, without it noticing it? Following hot on the heels of the leviathan was a small delicate something, a shiny something, it was a small angel with a tuft of blond hair, holding an arrow in its arm and, with a smirk, drawing back the arrow ready to fire. You know who that is, don’t you? Yes yes, you know who it is.

And Casares, you ask. Where did our Casares end up? Come on, don’t ask such silly questions. He’s right here, of course. This is where he ended up.