Writers are often told to write about what they know, and yet Carl-Christian Elze is at his best when he is at a loss. At the 2019 Festival Internazionale di Letteratura a Venezia, Elze remarked that at the onset of his residency at the Centro Tedesco di Studi Veneziani where he wrote his most recent book of poems, langsames ermatten im labyrinth (Verlagshaus Berlin, 2019), he was afraid of writing the same poems about Venice that thousands had written before him. However, as he wandered the city, losing himself along its alleyways and canals, he slowly discovered that in the precise place of inevitable failure, he might find success.
The two poems here offer a tiny window into a world of disorientation, which perhaps mirrors the labyrinthine streets of Venice, its synthesis of rich and poor, old and new, land and water, all suggesting that something lies hidden beyond the visible. The speaker in these pieces drifts through the Venetian landscape and, in experiencing its psychogeography, discovers they are sightseeing within themself. Palaces whisper and the self intuits lies; Tintorettos and beaked masks, alternating feelings of wonder and horror allow transaction; bubbling fountains on the plaza expose ones own secret failures. How many of us would find this thrilling? But in this strange and vulnerable place of subtraction, this accumulation of inability, this loss of agency, Elze’s speaker is released from their own limitations, and the paralyzing fears and needs of the self.
In a similar vein, Elze’s previous collection, diese kleinen, in der luft hängenden, bergpredigenden gebilde (Verlagshaus Berlin, 2016), began as a way to process loss and confusion when the suicide death of his childhood best friend prompted Elze’s own fear of no longer existing. The poems, generated by the need to explore, represent a multitude of internal voices emerging from the mysterious internal unknown, some searching for a metaphor, others expressing grief or comfort, bleak voices of pessimism and warm tributes to the refuge of family. The self is a dark cistern of possibility, and Elze reaches openly into its depths in all of his work to see what he can find.
Back in Venice, the palaces and monuments of the city and the secret somethings lurking behind them mirror the self, its known parts and the glimpses from the corner of one’s eye of places where something hides. This is where beauty lies: at the intersection of known and unknown, and it is not in the finding but rather in the willingness to search that we achieve our ultimate success as humans.
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