Statement of Record

Perpetuum Mobile

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Perpetuum Mobile

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Alexander Graeff

translated by Mark Kanak

I used to complain about my long-distance relationship. I wrote heartwarming letters full of longing and “what if” speculations—once I even wrote a story titled “Empty.” That’s how I often felt after our encounters, empty. Our professions prevented us from visiting each other every weekend. Worse still: the damned job was the reason he’d moved away in the first place.

These days, with travel not permitted, the memory of the self-imposed ups and downs of our encounter, of the journeys from A to B for the sake of love, fades.[1] Today, when leaving the apartment is forbidden and you’re stopped by the police and asked for the reason behind your short walk to the last late-night shop in the neighborhood that’s open and hasn’t yet gone bankrupt; or to the supermarket to maybe get some gluten-free pasta—normal pasta is always sold out immediately: today the memory of the times we visited each other, which were electric, charged with all kinds of expectation, fades. And yet they were always meant to be the most beautiful and intimate weekends ever. 

Today, with so much prohibited, we no longer ask ourselves when we’ll be able to see each other on the weekend again. The crisis, the quarantine, the pandemic have compelled me and many others in long-distance relationships to give up, along with most businesses or shops that don’t have a multi-million-dollar corporation or government aid (or both) behind them. Relationships only seem to exist in the form of traditional nuclear families, with a mom, dad, and child who live together in one place and at a single address.

Patriarchy is in bloom, or it manifests itself in the same way it always did before the crisis; only those who refuse to conform and are patronizingly tolerated by those in power endeavor to lovingly obscure it. Now, it’s the people heroically facing the crisis who are the real men: the doers, the machine operators, an army of virologists, health ministers, press spokesmen, and crisis managers that keep the machine running. The women and the rest remain invisible in some analogue space, in nursing, in hospitals, buying groceries, or simply in quarantine—much like us, the dreamers, the pussies who write letters to each other.

In the midst of the crisis, all that remains are my memories of him, whom I love all the more now since we’ve been separated for so long, something I’ve only recently grown aware of. The relationship is fading, but the love is growing. Absurd. Once again, I write letters to him. This time they’re sober, they aren’t heartwarming, but full of a hope that I haven’t yet given up on. My hope corresponds to the length of the lockdown. I follow every official announcement with keen interest, watch every press conference, and study the pandemic dashboards every morning.

Even the selfies he sends me give me hope. Especially the ones where he looks happy. His beard’s gotten really long since I last saw him. I send him selfies, too. Responding to the last photo, he only said that I looked relaxed, despite my ridiculous hair. My hair grows fast, too fast, and distorts the picture I would like him to remember me by. Add a hoodie, gloves, and a protective mask, and you’ve got yourself a bona fide post-apocalyptic coronapunk.

I’ve put on weight, too. Not enough exercise, too much junk food. I now prepare three quarantine meals a day. Even though certain products are often no longer available because I simply can’t manage to stand in line outside the supermarket at 8 a.m. in full protective gear, most basic foods are not yet lacking. Rice, potatoes, canned goods, bread, tea, wine, and beer are all still available. I also notice that I buy completely different things than the majority tends to. Margarine, for example, is always sold out rather quickly, whereas soy-based margarine is available for quite a while. Meat—there’s almost only poultry left—sells out and is hoarded quickly; fish, on the other hand, remains on sale for a relatively long time. For breakfast I make myself a cheese sandwich with cucumber and eat an egg every day. In order to save coffee, I drink only one cup in the morning, and throughout the day mainly tea.

There’s lunch now, too. Often gluten-free pasta with tomato or tuna fish sauce. I haven’t really eaten lunch anymore since I moved out of my parents’ house when I was twenty. In the evening a tray of French fries with ketchup or vegetable casserole or red curry with coconut milk. I suspect that there’d still be frozen French fries and ketchup even after a nuclear war between competing health agencies in Europe.

Now that’s a notion born of crisis, and I certainly wouldn’t swear on it—but it does seem there are and always will be enough French fries and ketchup to go around. I often have crisis-induced thoughts. I ask myself: can it get any worse? Will the curfew become even stricter? When will the strikes against the healthcare system become more violent? When will the looting begin? Enough of that.

Throughout the day I drink—as a prophylactic measure—at least two liters of tea. Alternating between sage, fennel, and Earl Grey. In the evening my stomach gurgles from all the liquid I’ve consumed. According to the health authorities, the virus can only really be fought with tea. There’s still no vaccine or medication for the disease. Which means: drink a lot of fluids, don’t smoke, stay at home and rest. I am resting to escape from a hyper-acidic society. And smoking more than ever.

My work lies untouched. What I used to complain about in my relationship has now become irrelevant, light as air. It’s the same for him. Neither of our professions are systemically relevant. After the first few weeks when we were, as at the supermarkets, busy standing in a virtual queue to apply for an aid package, doing paperwork, making lists of lost income, cutting costs, things have calmed down again. A bit of a break from the money worries. A sense of uncertainty remains.

Since then, there’s been plenty of time for completely different activities: for example, spending a day watching films and reports on Anneliese Michel’s exorcism; or watching a scary number of fantasy and science fiction series; or producing my own videos with me reading crisis poetry in a particularly dramatic way; or watching the videos of colleagues reading their own texts—in polar bear costumes, in their underwear, together with newly-hatched chicks, while drinking beer and looking like crinkly, creepy characters due to an overloaded network.

At some point, then, my stomach became hyper-acidic. It was just too much coffee, definitely too much wine, and too many fries with ketchup. I went on a diet for a week. Just carrots and rice. And water. Then I drank cosmopolitans two nights in a row. I just had to. Cranberry juice was finally back on the shelves. My last letter was devoid of hope. So far there has been no reply. 

I’m dreaming like mad. About this letter. His reaction to my dwindling hope. In my dream, he wrote to me about his youth. He’s dreaming a lot right now, too. We both dream about being young, about the agony of growing up and what we had to leave behind to become adults. I dream that he’s dreaming. That sounds crazy, because it feels like the negation of a negation and makes the dream something positive

In one dream, I, that is, he, was in the oldest temple in the world. Somewhere in Turkey. A priest sprinkled his blood on the faithful—there were eight, including me—and each was given a 12,000-year-old skull, which we then worked on with sharp stone wedges. Following the priest’s instructions, we were to carve characters into the skulls in order to unlock the secret of the human brain.

In another dream, I see my father, that is, his father, trying to carefully detach the upper part of a cabinet display case together with the porcelain figurines inside from the lower part and set it aside. The lifting bit succeeds, the putting down less so. Everything in it slides and bangs against the glass doors, they open and all the stuff tumbles out and shatters into a thousand pieces. The father curses and scolds, and all he makes clear is that he’s never really learned to be careful, to be cautious, to be gentle. And however hard he tries, in the end he destroys the delicate, filigree porcelain figures. Our relationship is like one of these porcelain figurines, we break into pieces with all the lifting and the setting down, because we have never really learned to be gentle. 

Gentleness is not required in a crisis. Only the machine operators keep moving, and with them the digital machines, the dashboards, the video conferences, the live streaming. They’re not losing any energy, but my relationship is—even the letters don’t seem to help. And neither do the dreams.

Dreams are just virtual encounters with myself, I think. They only become positive mathematically, when he dreams in this other place, at night in his bed. They say the same as the image of his face on my screen: more about me than about him. 

Like that, or something like that. 


[1]          Von A nach B der Liebe wegen (from A to B for the sake of love) is a line in the song Perpetuum Mobile by Einstürzende Neubauten, from the album of the same name (2004).  

About the author

Alexander Graeff, Ph.D., is a writer and philosopher who lives in Berlin and Greifswald. He also works as an editor, curator, and lecturer and has published numerous philosophical texts and pieces of fiction. His prose and poetry are occasionally surreal, and he frequently mixes literary forms. Graeff is the head of the literature program at the Brotfabrik Berlin. In the Queer Media Society, he is committed to increasing the visibility of queer biographies and stories in the literary establishment.
Photo: Hans Praefke

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