A Conversation The Cars Scream By
The following conversation takes as long as it takes to enjoy a nice cool drink. The subjects of the conversation are the Argentinian author Silvina Ocampo, K., a woman who turns into a car, and a car radio.
The story? No, but a critique of the original story, the one by that Chilean author.
Silvina Ocampo. Argentinian!
Ah. Yes. Probably. I don’t know. I’ve forgotten the name. In which a woman turns into a car, isn’t it? From sometime around the … 1950s? Or when was she alive? 1960s? I wasn’t sure ...
[speaking simultaneously] Yes, quite remarkable. [brief laughter out of two closed mouths] What were you not sure about?
Ah. Er. I wasn’t sure … I wasn’t sure whether it was about cars or about love.
[The clink of ice cubes in a half-full glass being conveyed to the lips at a slight angle] Mm. In Ocampo’s story?
Yes, that is somehow always the question, isn’t it? Is it about cars – something like cars – or is it about love?
Yes, true, that really is always the question. [The clink of ice cubes in two half-full glasses being conveyed to the lips at a slight angle]
Or about writing. So it is about writing. About telling a story. With Ocampo it’s always about something like that. The woman in El Automóvil for example – The Automobile – becomes her car, dissolves into it as it were, into the object of her desire, just as Ocampo dissolves into her story.
You mean if it is read in such a feminist way? A woman driving a car as a metaphor for a woman writing a story?
Yes, though not necessarily only in a feminist way. This matter of dissolving is after all something non-gender-specific. This motif, that is to say the motif of dissolving, can also be found pretty often in Ocampo’s writing, and certainly in K.’s writing all the time. Dissolving into a work or into the object of one’s desire or of one’s yearning, or yearning for dissolution into an object, which in turn is always one’s own work in some way, an idea, a projection – is in fact a signifier, always a signifier. What does that tell us? Is that something universal, a universal, timeless yearning, or a phenomenon of our times. What if Ocampo already knew about that?
[Spoken by a mouth filled with a square ice cube] A-out er earning for ishoyution
Hm. Perhaps this yearning is universal but has only nowadays become the sole utopia imaginable. In K’s version of that Ocampo story, I mean …
[Clunk of an ice cube sucked to two thirds of its original size and dropped from numb lips into a glass ashtray] Ah, ouch. [Laughter out of two slightly open mouths, one of them snorting] Mm. [Slurping, gulping] And in the case of Casares, who, incidentally, just like K’s character, the man I mean, died six years after his wife …
Hang on, Casares and Ocampo were a couple?
Yes, of course, they were married. They even wrote a book together. A crime novel. Well, not exactly. A kind of hyper-ironic crime novel, to use one of K.’s terms. An anachronism in this case. [Brief artificial laughter] Something about hatred and love in the title. Naturally. [Brief artificial laughter] And Casares wrote with Borges, and Borges idolized Ocampo because he recognized that she was the boldest of the three of them, perhaps even the most virtuoso, and most definitely the gloomiest. Her stories always have a special kind of urgency, something impulsive and scheming, as if she wished to put them behind her as quickly as possible. And as the reader you rush through them, wishing somehow to linger and at once to get them over and done with. This odd blend of pleasurable emotion and horror. Borges naturally recognized this quality. [Chink of an individual half-melted ice cube in a one-third-full glass being absentmindedly rocked back and forth] She was not the best in her genre, no. She did not care enough about economy of style for that, and you certainly can’t judge her work on the basis of criteria such as consistency or stringency. But that is precisely what also makes her stories so charming. One doesn’t have the sense that one is reading stories with a clear and carefully elaborated dramaturgy, painstakingly crafted to achieve a particular impact, as is the case – to a certain extent, at least – with Borges or Casares or indeed with classic Gothic and Horror authors such as Lovecraft. Ocampo’s stories feel so uncurated, almost elemental, as if they had been extracted in their rawest form from a very very dark and very very deep source that at once attracts and repels, in just the way that horror does, genuine horror, inexplicable horror, I mean – which in my opinion is already a tautology.
Yees. [Clinking of half-melted ice cubes in a one-quarter-full glass being swivelled around] You mean inexplicable horror?
Yes, exactly. But what I wanted to say was that we also find this motif, that is to say the idea of dissolving into a work, with Casares, who incidentally was eleven years younger than Ocampo. In The Invention of Morel. You know it, right?
The Invention of Morel? Hm, I only know the radio play, which was broadcast by WDR, I think.
Oh yes, that is amazing. Yes, then you know it more or less. The narrator falls in love with the projection of a woman – Faustine, a kind of hologram, or in fact, to be more precise, the recording of a moment of which Faustine was part, or is part, though that’s going too far; anyway, it’s the recording of a few perfect days that the inventor Dr Morel has spent with Faustine – on an island, naturally [brief artificial laughter], and this recording is now being played over and over. The narrator thus falls in love with an object whose form of existence and temporality, or perhaps one could also say whose ontological status or whatever, is not compatible with that of the lover. To be united with the object of his desire, he must give up his form of existence and his temporality and become a projection himself, and to this end create a new work – from the work of Dr Morel – and in turn dissolve himself into this new work. Here we have once again a parallel to K. and her version of Ocampo’s story, which she picks up on and adds to in just the same way that the narrator picks up on and adds to Morel’s work. Casares in The Invention of Morel, Ocampo in El Automóvil, K. in her version of El Automóvil – all of them write themselves into immortality, just as Morel made himself and Faustine immortal with his invention. Immortal signifiers that are constantly repeated, at least potentially, just as stories in their fixed form as signifiers in a book or radio wave always remain the same, immortal, being potentially repeated on a constant basis. But how one reads them ... that is the question that remains unanswered.
So perhaps one can read Ocampo in a feminist way after all, as a response to Casares, in whose work both Morel and the narrator have the woman at their disposal, as they would an object.
[Rustling, clinking and clattering of various items being rummaged around against each other in a deep deep and probably leather handbag] Hm, yes, true, at some point Casares also writes that … the women one loves are always just ghosts or something. But I suppose Ocampo must have been aware that the story could also have been simply reversed, theoretically, Casares’ story I mean. Fulfilled love or true love is [spoken with emphasis] always love of projection. K. also writes something elsewhere, in another story, along the lines of: Love is what one believes to perceive in the sweat on the brow of the other – true life that always lies ahead of one. And in Casares’ writing, and also in K.’s, this true love is only to be attained as a naive repetition of always the same thing. [“Heaven, Heaven is a place, a place where nothing, nothing ever happens” heard from the car radio of a red or yellow convertible driving slowly past] In other words, it only really exists as an ideal. Just like paradise. Paradise, says Casares, is where the future always retains the same attributes. Or, as K. puts it: Only preserved love is true love. Only the signifier is true and whole. Only the dead love truly.
Not sure about that. [Rustling, clinking and clattering of various items being rummaged around against each other in a deep deep and probably leather handbag] But what I was really getting at was: what was I really getting at?
Hm, doesn’t matter. [Multiple clicks of a cigarette lighter] Maan. Maaaan.
What’s the title of the story again?
By K.? Aaaah.
Oh, something like... [Puffing] So Ocampo’s story is called The Automobile. And K.’s story is I think called The Radio. Or The Car Radio. If Ocampo’s story is called The Automobile because a woman turns into a car, K.’s story is called The Radio because a man turns into a radio, or at least the radio wave or the voice on the radio, whatever.
So what does he turn into then? Radio waves or the radio or the voice on the radio? They are not all the same thing, after all. Can I have one too? [Puffing]
Well, people don’t really know. I think. The story is told from the perspective of the child, who is observing the man, as I said. Ocampo always writes about children by the way, children who tell stories and observe atrocities and commit violent acts and follow nasty fantasies. Anyway. What makes it so chilling is that the supposedly naive, innocent child tells itself that what it is seeing is an act of revenge on the part of the man, and yet it could also have come up with a quite different explanation for its observations. Even if it sticks to the idea of the man having dissolved into radio waves, this could also be thought of as an act of love, of sacrifice, of abandonment to the idea of love or something. In other words, one could also tell a quite different story, a love story, as Casares does. [Puffing]
And the act of revenge is the fact that a man turns into a radio, or into radio waves, or what?
Yes, so to speak. In this sense K. again follows Casares, who has his character Morel explain that radio is the first step towards the abolition of absence. It is this horrific idea of abolishing absence [“Now she’s in me, always with me” heard from the car radio of a car driving slowly past with its windows down] that interests K. Among other things, that is. So … [Puffing] For ages the child observes how this man spends the entire time sitting obsessively – or apparently obsessively – at his homemade short-wave transmitting device and speaking into it. That his wife is supposed to have turned into a car six years previously and, like a driverless phantom, has been cruising through the city ever since, is something the child probably got wind of somewhere. And that – the part of the story the child got wind of, obviously – is what K. borrowed from Ocampo, that is to say that K. picks up where Ocampo left off in The Automobile.
When the child in K.’s story then observes the man who spends all day, all night, obsessively transmitting something on short wave, though the child doesn’t actually know exactly what the man is doing, it just keeps seeing him pulling crazy faces and gesticulating wildly as he speaks incessantly into the microphone – shouting even, it looks like, his hands in the air, an artery perhaps pulsating on his brow, and the child makes sense of what he is observing as follows: the man is angry that his wife has taken off in the form of a car and in so doing has stolen herself, that is to say his car, from him. That is why he decides to take revenge, to pursue her, to [said with imaginary quotation marks] haunt her, via the sole medium that the car is unable to escape from, namely the radio. Day and night, like an infernal tinnitus, he screams or [spoken with emphasis] becomes the most terrible insults out of the speakers of her music system, which are in a sense her conscience – screaming out his rage, his hatred, so that the entire city can hear it, or whispers quietly and threateningly like the Devil himself, which after all is some kind of merciless super-ego that is impossible to please, hissing his accusations to the point where her bodywork begins to vibrate, as if they were emanating from herself, from her engine, which after all is in a sense her motivation, that is to say that the accusations emanate from herself, I mean.
Hm. Ok. But why does the child think that the guy himself is becoming or has become the voice on the radio? [Chinking of almost entirely dissolved ice cubes in an almost completely emptied glass that is lifted to the lips at a slight angle]
Mmm. [Hiss as the glowing end of a cigarette is extinguished in a small cool puddle of water in a glass ashtray] Because one day he is gone. Only the radio is still there, and his short-wave transmitter. Perhaps a window is open and the child hears that the radio is on and hears a voice on the radio that is laughing fiendishly and saying: twelve kilometres of traffic jams in every direction. Turn up your radio, sweetheart. You’ll never get out of this one.
[Brief laughter] But why perhaps? So does the child hear the voice on the radio or not?
No idea, I think it just sees the radio and that the man has gone and thinks to itself: that is his revenge, now she really cannot escape him any longer, nowhere, never.
Ah ok. But, hang on, do you mean you haven’t read it either? K.’s story, I mean.
Hm? [Scraping of the leg of a white plastic chair over cobblestones]
So do you know whether the child can hear the radio or not?
No, somebody just told me about it. But that’s pretty much irrelevant, isn’t it? [Honking of horns]