Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Gaping Void

from Thomas Bernhard's Extinction

We search everywhere for our childhood, I thought, and find only a gaping void. We go into a house where as children we spent such happy hours, such happy days, and we believe we’re revisiting our childhood, but all we find is a gaping void. Entering the Children’s Villa means nothing more or less than entering this notorious gaping void, just as going into the woods where we used to play as children would mean going into this gaping void. Wherever I was happy as a child, there now appears to be a gaping void. We dispose of our childhood as if it were inexhaustible, I thought, but it isn’t. It’s very soon exhausted, and in the end there’s nothing left but the notorious gaping void. Yet this doesn’t happen just to me, I thought; it happens to everyone. For a moment this thought consoled me: no one was spared the knowledge that revisiting our childhood meant staring into this uniquely sickening void. To this extent it was a good idea to go back to the Children’s Villa, thinking I was going back to my childhood and believing it was possible. It proved to be an error, but the error was wholly beneficial, for it cured me of the belief that in order to reenter my childhood I had only to reenter the Children’s Villa, or the woods or the landscape I had known as a child. I now knew that wherever I went I would find nothing but this gaping void. I won’t expose myself to it again, I thought. In Rome I sometimes think of Wolfsegg and tell myself that I have only to go back there in order to rediscover my childhood. This has always proved to be a gross error, I thought. You’re going to see your parents, I have often told myself, the parents of your childhood, but all I’ve ever found is a gaping void. You can’t revisit your childhood, because it no longer exists, I told myself. The Children’s Villa affords the most brutal evidence that childhood is no longer possible. You have to accept this. All you see when you look back is this gaping void. Not only your childhood, but the whole of your past, is a gaping void. This is why it’s best not to look back. You have to understand that you mustn’t look back, if only for reasons of self-protection, I thought. Whenever you look back into the past, you’re looking into a gaping void. Even yesterday is a gaping void, even the moment that’s just passed.

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