Thomas W. Rieger: Comprehending viewing / an exercise in confronting originals
Translated by Joseph P. Huston
[Published in: Thyra Schmidt _ I can’t just be nowhere, extra Verlag 2010.] 

Oslo. In the winter. Nearly spring by the calendar. (Why is there, actually, no »late 
winter« or »early spring« ?) The minus temperatures, nevertheless, and the weak,
but steady northeast wind indicate an aftermath of the winter. Laboriously the snow
dies. (Mühsam stirbt der Schnee.) The warming sun will keep us waiting, for long. 
Harmony of the errors. At the moment – ONLY THE PRESENT MOMENT – 
the road leads us along Grønland. Den Grønland? Das? Even Cyrillic appears more 
familiar. Language is more than blood. The Dattera bar promises »Adult Oriented 
Rock« and »Horisontal Mambo«. Appealing. The Americano also. Kyllingburger: 
very promising. Later, maybe. Everything Is Going To Be Alright.

(1) »The perspiration pearled over his wonderful mouth, which he held tightly shut.«
On the facade of the Goethe-Institute, a poster of disconcerting simplicity. 
The large-scale photograph on the adjoining gable wall presents itself as a part of it. 
The text: Bettine von Arnim about Goethe. One has informed oneself. Yet, it seems 
totally unusual. »Immense chatterbox«, says Crabb Robinson unflatteringly about the 
young Bettine. An early orphan. The highly honored poet prince uses citations from her 
letters in his sonnets – for another woman. Picture and text enter into a complex 
interplay, which is not immediately disclosed. Perhaps may never be disclosed. It doesn’t 
want to be disclosed. A reservoir of meaning, whose source is not to be sensed. Highest 
presence, deepest seclusion. From Ludwig Tieck’s environment it was said »that already 
in the early morning she appeared on the streets in strange get-up, entering people’s 
houses which she would be loath to leave«. It is said that Beethoven’s »Sonnet for 
Bettine« was composed not by the master, but by her. Goethe referred to the Arnims 
as »lunatics«. In 1830 he enters in his diary: »Rejected Mrs. von Arnim’s advances.« 
Don’t be silly. You’re not ugly.

(2) »But I had nothing to tell him. That I longed for him.«
It should be about a half-hour walk to the Glas Magasinet. Passing the Sentralstasjon. 
Bronze tiger. Oslo, the »tiger city«. Sounds Asian. Although the proportion of foreigners 
is rather low here. And anyhow most of these are said to be Scandinavian’s. Fashion like 
in Hamburg. Ski suits on Hans-Albers-Platz. (Skianzüge am Hans-Albers-Platz.) Would 
have expected more Helly Hansen. Something fortress-like about the Glas Magasinet. 
Post modern, of course. Defending about thirty filials against the street. This map also 
holds for the local temples of consumption. Almost in any case. IT SERVES YOU RIGHT. 
Text and photograph share a big poster. Somewhat in the way familiar from Baldessari’s 
work. Maybe also Sophie Calle’s. Ed Ruscha. Iconic turn, linguistic turn? No, the Mélange, 
the dialectic achieves it. The visual experience alone provides little help here. Multiple 
meaning. The language is not transparent. Poetic, without really relating a story. If words
are used, and they proceed from ideas about art, then they are art and not literature;
numbers are not mathematics. The text comes from Christoph Hein. »The Distant Lover« 
(»Der fremde Freund«) is indeed a German-German work. Had to appear in the West 
under the title »Dragon’s blood« (»Drachenblut«). Estrangement, distance, frigidity. 
I can’t remember under which title I had read it at that time. The central figure suffered 
(if one can say that) from a photography obsession. I’m doing well. Hein himself cultivates 
quite strange pseudonyms: Kurisutofu Hain, Kristof Chajn … (Does that still qualify as a 
pseudonym?) The uncompromising in Hein is his language, as stated in a review of his 
essays in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. The figure Paula Trousseau in his novel sums up her 
failure, her raving loneliness: »I wished, I would have been just any girl, not pretty, not 
talented and above all without dreams«. MY WALKING SPEED 2.8 MILES AN HOUR
(THE ROTATION SPEED OF THE EARTH IN ENGLAND 700 miles an hour).

(3) »since we were self-conscious and also anxious, we walked rapidly and 
conversed loudly« / »looked at each other and didn’t know how to proceed, 
sat alone and spoke not a word«
A Heap of Language. Unfortunately two projects in the Osterhaus gate and Hausmanns 
gate could not be realized. Will have a look at the places anyhow. If one follows the 
Torggata over the Ring, one reaches – after passing the Rockefeller Music Hall (after all 
the Tindersticks and Daniel Johnston are performing there – if he manages to show up 
and the psychoactive drugs are sufficient to keep him conscious during the concert. 
The Sorry Entertainer) – the Osterhaus gate after a few minutes. 
I’m going to the funeral / And I’m never coming back. One would suppose this area to 
be part of the non-chic east part of Oslo. The legendary Hornaas Musikk is just around 
the corner (in case one might wish to purchase a Bul Bul Tarang, an Indian harmonium 
or a Zero Sette). Musician shops in the third generation. Anyone looking for a jazz guitar 
by Rudi Kreul from Markneukirchen/GDR, might find one here. Hornaas junior took the 
GDR-escapee Kreul to Oslo and made the instrument maker to co-owner. The building 
at the corner of Calmeyers looks more like a ruin. One-point something floors. Read from 
the left, the staccato series of artist’s texts, windows, billboards and road signs could have 
provided a wonderful score. Cornelius Cardew. Berio. Graphical notation.

(4) »and I can’t just be nowhere« 
On the way to the botanical garden lies the Lakkegata. The little yellow house is empty. 
Having just been given a new coat of paint, the yellow on the base has already begun 
to peel again. The tenants have apparently given up. The house is occupied. Somewhere 
one has to be. However, unlike on the real estate-poetry-signs (»Here will rise an 
apartment tower – after the demise of the old lady«) the banner advertises a quote 
by Jon Fosse. Is it Nynorsk, Bokmål or Høgnorsk? Would fit the political context of 
the poster. One thousand years of Danish have left their traces in the language. 
Klemperer, again. Fosse’s »Melancholy« – is there a minimal literature? – tells about 
the Norwegian landscape painter Hertervig. He actually lived, studied in Düsseldorf and 
with »Borgøya« created probably one of the most beautiful landscape paintings of the 
Romantic Period. During bouts of schizophrenia Hertervig describes the dimming of the 
light, how the darkness shines. I See A Darkness. Then its not that far from Freud’s 
»the lost ability to love« (»Verlust der Liebesfähigkeit«) to the threat of suicide. Black sun
(Schwarze Sonne). Music and poetry, however, may serve as possible therapies. 
THERE WILL BE NO MIRACLES HERE.

(5) »My love fits you.«
The best way to the Markveien is through the Grünerløkka – Oslo’s Prenzlauer Berg. 
The Café Mir in the Lufthavn unfortunately opens only in the late afternoon. 
Markveien Frisør and Markveien Kiosk have to share the quote from Novalis. Amicably. 
Cryptic. The Harder You Look The Harder You Look. Few of Novalis’ contemporaries 
strove as vehemently toward a synthesis of poetry, the arts and natural sciences. Romantic 
universal poetry. Experience and fiction are one. It is thought that prose is closer to reality
than poetry. I consider that a mistake. Eichendorff’s »Sleeps a song in things abounding« 
(»Schläft ein Lied in allen Dingen«). Novalis’ divining rod points the way to a higher reality. 
Reality is only in our dreams. A Particular Emotion Transmitted Telepathically. In the 
house resides Sound of Mu. Open Mike. Reminiscent of Arlene’s Grocery. A complete 
platform is available for the bands, the evening proceeds go entirely to the musicians. 
No deductions. Additionally, there are art exhibitions, book readings and a fictional casino. 
Synaesthesia? Well, whatever.

(6) »I laughed out loud, kissed her and said that she may think about me 
whatever pleases her.«
Cortado in the Kafé Kaos. Impressive cocktail menu. Portrait of the artist on a facade, 
which, to call it gray would border on euphoria. Tragedy and beauty of our existence. 
Grey is persistent. However, gray is a perfect background. The artists used to paper 
or paint their studios gray. The colors sing in grey. The portrait says: I’m ready for
everything, I’m armed against everything, nothing can hurt me anymore. Think what 
you want. The main thing: distance. Splendid Isolation. I want to be like Georgia
O’Keefe. Christoph Hein characterizes the whole of modern life as an achievement in 
displacement: The coexistence of humans was only achieved via the suppression of
certain feelings and impulses. However, the dragon-blood of our constructed identity 
offers only vague protection: And I am firmly convinced that the surest way to go
crazy is to attempt to find out who you really are.

(7) »I want to be happier than you. – To that she just laughed and said yes.«
Hardly anyone takes notice of the text on the little house in the Thorvald Meyers gate. 
Off the street on the gable side. Art in public spaces. But still somewhat. The aesthetic
function of public art is to codify social distinctions as natural ones. Thomas Bernhard 
would have exclaimed. To think is to fail, he says. The German words hang like lead
weights on the German language. German thought and German speaking wane very
quickly under the inhuman weight of its language. The photo is missing, text only. 
The same skepticism toward the opposing photographic image: Photography is an
insidious perverse falsification, any photograph, regardless of who made it, or what it
represents, is an absolute violation of human dignity, a monstrous distortion of nature. 
Bernhard would have proclaimed. In any event, no photo. Hagenbuch, it was reported,
has now admitted that he was simply deleted from the Catholic Encyclopedia. 
The erasure of memory by flight. To Rome. Or Oslo. Happiness brings life to the smallest
parts of the universe: the sparkle of the stars is its strength, a field-flower its magic-spell. 
Bataille, the mole, as a seeker of happiness. He, who thought that humans cannot bear
their happiness, cannot think creatively in the categories of luxury and waste, sees the 
true productivity, the true art in »useless consumption«. Does happiness find me?
(Findet mich das Glück?) Learn to recognise / Where the joy lies. The lively doodles by 
Fischli/Weiss stand in wonderful contrast to the miniature epitaph on the book layout. 
Perfect redemption: we don’t even have to seek our happiness. It finds us, maybe. 
A camouflaged cover would also have been appropriate.
The Kulturkirken Jakob on the Hausmanns gate is quite a phenomenon. Since the early 
1970s they work here toward the dissolution of boundaries – musical, ideological. 
»Lullabies from the Axis of Evil«, lullabies from Iran, from North Korea, Palestine and 
Cuba. Produced in Oslo. Nice souvenir. What luck. And across from the Café Sara. 
You feel as if someone had entrusted you a secret that is the key to solving a mystery.
The key to happiness (Schlüssel des Glücks). Precisely here.

(8) »wondering where I could best hide, am so engaged with this question 
that I stand still in the middle of the street«
Don’t Turn Me Inside Out. The, um, building (?) in the Hausmanns gate can at best 
pass as a temporary gap closure. The white rolling door-curtain provides a look at an 
equally unimpressive yard. The adjacent buildings at least remind of a sometime 
existent Scandinavian classicism. Foreign body. Although always on the run from 
the confines of Norway, Knut Hamsun never really could take hold abroad. Neither 
in San Francisco, nor in Paris. Not in Iran and not in Russia. A foreigner of being, as 
he calls his protagonist in the »Mysteries«. After being tried for collaboration in 1945, 
placed under house arrest and humiliated by psychiatric treatment, Hamsun documented 
the trivia of his life in »On overgrown paths« (»Auf überwachsenen Pfaden«) in a stoic, 
almost cheerful tone. The Invention of Today is my only Way of Establishing the Future.
Hamsun’s »Hunger« can be read as well as a story of an emotional, spiritual, mental 
deficiency. A hungry, »modern« man who neither can, nor wants to, communicate his 
needs. Unable to deliver, unable to understand the deliver of shiver. Can language 
express this? In his essay »About the unconscious mental life« (»Vom unbewussten 
Seelenleben«) Hamsun doubt this. Constant fluctuations between finely chiselled, 
almost extrasensory perception and total loss of consciousness. Together we’re
gonna wait around and die.

(9) »When I entered the room, I knew why I came.«
(10) »she looks at him and in confusion he stops walking«
When Peter Høeg published his novel »The Quiet Girl« (»Das stille Mädchen«), he 
decided to no longer allow movie productions of his work. Julia Ormond could not 
have been the reason for that. During the localization of the wild chases through 
Copenhagen, which frequently speed by the plot within an eye-blink, the attached 
maps are not particularly of help. Travel in the archipelago of indeterminacy. 
Via GPS. Imagine the book as a computer game: Grand Theft Story 3. Paul Auster 
and Sophie Calle on the run through the urban canyons of Gotham. Or Göteborg. 
The big poster on the brick facade accented with glass strips could also be an 
advertising for a campaign of the Oslo Kommune: Pimp Our City, or such. Tidy, 
almost idyllic. The fragmented bodies could easily be reconstructed. In Høeg’s Of
Love and its conditions on the night of the 19th March 1929 (Von der Liebe und
ihren Bedingungen in der Nacht des 19. März 1929) the protagonists, located in 
various parts of the world – Denmark, Portugal, Africa, India (much of it fed by 
autobiographical experiences) – confront the phenomenon of a boundless love. 
The stretched present. Not dream, not reality. Can one talk about that? Don’t
want a serious conversation / I want to talk about love. How can the eroticism 
of a brief moment, on a shady lawn, on the sun-warmed carpet, be poured into 
words. The more I talk about it, the less I do control. Thus, escape into vagueness. 
Metaphysics. Whenever one suspects a finality, fantasy (or the wish) prefers the
approximate.

(11) »and she stands still in his light, in something that fulfills her«
The area doesn’t necessarily become more secluded – torn posters, graffiti, Pochoirs, 
tags, disused containers, industrial architecture – on the way to the last station. 
At a gate cobbled together from some construction pipes, hangs a slightly larger than 
life-sized troll doll (?) in a Gandalf outfit. Heavy Metal totem? I can’t even tell you
what is real. The »Hausmania« is a self-administered cultural center. Studios for 
artists, rehearsal rooms for musicians, theater, Internet cafe, library. Squatting Utopia. 
Not far from the ROM for Kunst og Arkitektur. A downright elegant sweep of the 
facade. Not exactly Erich Mendelsohn, but good. Had not expected such here. Again, 
Jon Fosse. The photograph depicts the portrait of a young woman, enveloped by lush 
green plants. Fosse, the existentialist. Revolves around the non-speakable. Amour fou. 
Big emotions are recited in a whisper. »My pieces consist of empty talk, which is 
charged with emotion«, says the author. Fosse’s »The night sings its songs« only plays 
on one day. And yet it seems to stretch for an eternity. Even the light is stretched – 
until darkness. »A darkness, that shines, somehow a shining darkness«, reminds the 
sister of the painter, Hertervig, in Fosse’s »Melancholy« of the black cloud pictures of 
her little brother. TAKEN TO A POINT IN SPACE (PLACE) --- (SOMETIME). 
It got late. Evening Time Is Reading Time.

(1–11): The text fragments in Thyra Schmidt’s poster work consist of her 
own composed passages along with original and modified citations from 
authors that are mentioned in this essay.

The citations, the text fragments of works of art and of the soundtrack
(all underlined in the text) are taken – in order of their appearance – from:
Josef Reding (Mühsam stirbt der Schnee, 1980), Francis Ponge (Schreibpraktiken 
oder Die stete Unfertigkeit, 1988), Victor Burgin (Any Moment, 1970), Victor 
Klemperer (LTI, 1947), Martin Creed (Work No 203, 1999), Jean Arrouye 
(Archäologie der Ikonologie, in: Die Lesbarkeit der Kunst, 1992), Ken Lum 
(Don’t be silly, 1993), Lassie Singers (Hamburg), John Baldessari (Goya Series: 
IT SERVES YOU RIGHT, 1997), Mel Bochner (Language Is Not Transparent, 
1970), Sol LeWitt (Sentences on Conceptual Art, 1969), Christoph Hein (Der 
fremde Freund, 1982), Richard Long (Speed of the Sound of Loneliness, 1998), 
Robert Smithson (A Heap of Language, 1966), Daniel Johnston (Funeral Home), 
Bonnie Prince Billy (I See A Darkness), Julia Kristeva (Schwarze Sonne. 
Depression und Melancholie, 2007), Nathan Coley (There Will Be …, 2006), 
Christopher Wool (Untitled, 2000), Jorge Luis Borges (Die Dichtung, in: Die 
letzte Reise des Odysseus, 1992), Charles Baudelaire (Les Paradis Artificiels, 
1860), Robert Barry (A Secret Desire …, 1969–2009), Derek Jarman (Chroma, 
1995), Christoph Hein (Drachenblut, 1982), Warren Zevon (Splendid Isolation), 
FREEE (Strategic Question #31, The aesthetic function ..., 2005), Thomas 
Bernhard (Auslöschung. Ein Zerfall, 1986), Georges Bataille (Ein wenig später, 
in: Das obszöne Werk, 1977), Hanns-Dieter Hüsch (Hagenbuch hat jetzt 
zugegeben, 1979), Georges Bataille (Die Aufhebung der Ökonomie, 2001), 
Fischli & Weiss (Findet mich das Glück?, 2002), Tindersticks (Don’t Ever Get 
Tired), Marina Martinelli (Virtual Tourist, 2009), Michail Sostschenko (Schlüssel 
des Glücks, 1982), Barbara Kruger (Untitled, 2008), Knut Hamsun (Mysterien, 
1892), Roni Horn (Agua Viva, 2004), Giant Sand (Shiver), Townes Van Zandt 
(Waiting Around To Die), Umberto Eco (Die unbestimmte Geographie des Corto 
Maltese, in: Lüge und Ironie, 1998), Peter Høeg (Das stille Mädchen, 2008;
Von der Liebe und ihren Bedingungen in der Nacht des 19. März 1929, 1998), 
Alexander Kluge (Der Angriff der Gegenwart auf die übrige Zeit, 1985), Lullaby 
for the Working Class (Contract, Expand), Deep Purple (Talk About Love), Phoenix 
(Everything Is Everything), Alexander Kluge (op.cit.), Jon Fosse (Melancholie, 
2001), Lawrence Weiner (SOMETIME, SOMEPLACE, SOMEHOW, 1990), 
Allen Ruppersberg (Evening Time is Reading Time, 1991).