that were caught incessantly by his ear, his absorption of idiosyncratic time, bits
of incidents, snippets of events? What made him suffer through this uninterrupted
series of fragments? What made him experience these agonizing circumstances as
—Gerhard Roth, The Will to Sickness
Gerhard Roth Die Wille zur Krankheit (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1973). Translated by from the German by Tristram Wolff as The Will to Sickness (Providence, Rhode Island:
Burning Deck, 2006).
Made up of 99 paragraphs and a short section of 34 “notes,” The Will to Sickness tells the story—if you can describe this as a “story”—of a man named Kalb who wanders about an unnamed city encountering various visual and visceral sensations that, in their ability to set off a series of reactions in his brain, are ultimately painful, and lead to his recognition that he is undergoing the “symptoms” of some strange sickness. The astute reader recognizes the “symptoms” quite easily as those of a man of the edge of despair, a man whose connection with others is limited primarily to unsatisfactory meetings with prostitutes, waitresses, barkeeps and others he accidentally encounters on the streets, in restaurants and offices.
Through the telescope of his isolation he examined the image of the street.
Today’s dream came in green and red. The elderly lady hauled a jug of milk
along the sidewalk, overtook and tread upon her own shadow, which ac-
companied her anew immediately thereafter, on the other side of her body.
THE MOST TEDIOUS DETAILS ARE THE MOST LIKE DREAMS.
Two flies buzzed about angrily. He engaged them in psychic congress….
Combined with Roth’s medical-like examination of Kalb’s surroundings and the author’s inclusion in the text of various scientific terms, The Will to Sickness presents, in fact, a dream-like reality that may suggest a complex subtext, but also self-mockingly recognizes itself to be the delusions of a fláneur, an aimless intellectual trifler.
Los Angeles, January 21, 2008