James Batcho, PhD

jimbatcho.com

May 20, 2014

BERLIN. Almost a week into my arrival in Berlin, the jet lag has settled, much döner has been consumed, writings have been written, readings read, dissertation meetings arranged, and many good gatherings with friends have... well, gathered. The writing voice may be passive, but it has been an active week. I remember why I came.

I am dominated with thoughts of language, because once again I am outside of language. It has been a topic of conversation, and it is a subject I’m writing about in my dissertation. But I’m mostly referring here to the quotidian: grocery stores, kebap stands, any attempt at interpersonal clarification with strangers. I took three years of German in high school, but whatever is still there is buried deep by now. There is that decision, always: Should I begin in German, knowing that it will probably crash into a heap of awkward, or just emphasize my Americanism from the outset, and put us both on familiar ground? I should do the former in order to learn, but it’s been something of a mix so far. It depends on how much sleep I’ve had. There is a good reason to practice. I have learned in conversation with expats here that if one enrolls in classes, one can stay beyond the three-month visa limit. It’s something in my mind, but I don’t yet know my long-term plan. I bought a one-way ticket. Next is open. I’m not ready yet for next.

What I am doing is continuing to write, and if the past few days are any indication, I am fully in writing mode (as distinct from the other two of the dissertation triad: “reading mode” and “whatthefuckamIdoing mode”). I take geeky pride in having acquired a library card for twelve Euro. It has my picture and everything. The bibliotheks here are divine; utter silence. These Germans take their study seriously. Bliss >> writing >> bliss.

I’m not neglecting my reading, however. During this week I’ve finished Hesse’s Siddhartha and Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. The collision that ensued was not intentional, but one would be hard-pressed to find two texts with more oppositional approaches toward thinking. But returning again to language—both are about its outs and its ins. This much I did anticipate. I’ve also read a couple of essays by Barthes and about 80 pages of Kittler. On it goes.

In other news, my dear friend Jeremy Fernando, whose work I’ve developed a great fondness for of late, asked me to write the afterword for his new book, On Fidelity. It’s a piece that I nervously, hesitantly feel quite good about. But if you choose to buy it, buy it for his words, not mine. He has a way of getting the wheels turning, by exploring the in-betweens in our encounters, this time in promises, in love. It can be purchased at Amazon and the Book Depository.

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