Book Discussion Group: Kleinzeit, 4


I finished my second reading of Kleinzeit while sitting on a bed in the ER.  It was my second visit with Hospital in as many weeks.  I was waiting for Specialist to arrive because the Hobanesque symptoms I had been experiencing for the last month were baffling all the other doctors (as they would baffle Specialist and Assistant).  Sister was nowhere to be found, but three doctors took turns independently finger-fucking my asshole (to check my prostate, they said) so that’s got to count for something.  (Why is it that they all pat you on the hip after they finish?  Is that something they get taught in med school?  It’s as though they were letting me know that, hey, if I wasn’t a great lay, at least I was an obedient one and tried real hard to be good.)


I don’t really associate Hospital with Death or, more accurately, with Fear or Confusion.  I’ve always been drawn to places that are different than the spaces we traverse (over and over and over again) in our day-to-day lives.  Everything is so mundane, so boring.  Nobody has a sense for Adventure anymore.  Maybe this is because Adventure, to be fully satisfied, likes to travel with Meaning.  Unfortunately, Meaning has been talking like Schwarzgang ever since the accident that left Eschatology in a coma (they had been enjoying a long-term affair).


These days even Underground gets boring fast – plastered with tired ads and uninspired graffiti – unless one is willing to go a little deeper to prolong the anticipation.  Hop the gate and go down the tunnel and you can find people living there.  I’ve met them.

Probably the closest I’ve come to knowing Underground, however, was when I found a way into the sewer tunnels underneath the city where I was born.  The tags and chalk hearts ended after the first hundred meters and then it was just miles of concrete and darkness and a river of liquid shit flowing beside my feet.  Underground is a tease.


Adventure is like that most of the time.  You go out looking for her and come back smelling so bad that nobody will sit anywhere close to you on the bus.  Hospital, at least, flirts with you from the very start and reminds you that Adventure might not have fucked-off completely.  Maybe, like the kingdom of God (or the doctors’ fingers), she is already inside of you.


Death, on the other hand, is easy to find.  I’m just not sure that he’s having as much fun as Hoban suggests.  Sometimes I think he is more like a junkie.  After a few millennia, the thrill must have worn off a little.  Like an old heroin addict, I reckon he keeps going, not for the high, but just to feel normal and to keep away the shakes, cramps, and nausea that set in if he stops.  He’s probably bored too, but he’s still making his rounds.

 The other day, when one of my friends came home blacked-out, covered in blood, and begging me to beat her and fuck her at the same time, I knew that he was back again.  His black-haired fingers were scratching at the door.  I tried to stop my friend from noticing, but she heard him and went out with him after he offered to buy the first round.

So, forget about Eurydice.  All I can think about is Persephone.


There might be some wisdom in the old saying that Death comes on us all, but I’d still like to keep it out of my hair.


A number of late-twentieth century authors seem to be struggling to come to grips with the dawning of the possibility that Reality is just a character somebody made up in a book.  This seems to produce some confusion related to Meaning, perhaps some mourning and a sense of “lostness” – both in time and space and in one’s own (possible) subjectivity.  In this regard, Kleinzeit reminds me of other works like White Noise or Super Sad True Love Story (although I liked it less than DeLillo’s piece but more than Shteyngart’s).  The more we have become immersed in our own creations – our techniques and technologies – the more we become aware that maybe we’ve been creating all of it from the start and maybe it doesn’t make any sort of “deeper” sense.  Thus, as Žižek asserts, that which is “natural” ends up being nothing more than ideology at its purest.  Il n’y a pas de hors-textes and all that.

However, what is interesting about Hoban’s take on this is the way in which the things and concepts that we create – Hospital, Word, Action, and so on – take on lives of their own independent of us.  Is this a step beyond the virtual?  With the disappearance of Reality, do we create our own realities, which then become actual?

Is this what it means to be the imago dei – like gods, do we create and recreate the world every day?


If this is true, Hoban might actually end up in the company of the Hebrew prophets.  The prophets, after all, said the same thing about idols.  Idols, they said, are simply objects crafted by people out of inanimate materials.  However, these objects then come alive and exercise an unexpected power and control over people and the trajectory of their lives.  (Further, like the God of the prophets, the voice of God in Kleinzeit tends to be needy, confused, and not fully in the know.)

Perhaps, then, we need to be a little more cautious about the realities and gods we create.  Or perhaps not.  I suspect that caution won’t actually make all that much of a difference.  There’s no telling how things will go and often one’s best efforts will produce the most disastrous results.

So it goes, as another (more humourous) author used to say.


I finished the third volume of In Search of Lost Time on the same day that I finished Kleinzeit.  Proust has been reminding me of my love for late nineteenth and early twentieth century literature.  There is something in the voices of the authors of that time that resonates with me.  Hence, regardless of the content, I find myself struggling to appreciate Hoban simply because I find his style of writing so unappealing (and I think his jokes are lame… my apologies to everybody who thinks they are funny).  I’ll take Jude Fawley or Prince Myshkin – two different small-timers/heroes – over Mr. Kleinzeit any day.


[NB: this response to Kleinzeit was written between three and five in the morning when the author was ripped on the speed-based medication that Specialist prescribed to him.  If anybody knows any possible causes for nocturnal erections that last for six to ten hours – outside of the causes that Specialist or other doctors can imagine – do feel free to get in touch.]

5 thoughts on “Book Discussion Group: Kleinzeit, 4

  1. No reason for apologies.

    I’m finding a hard way to enter your post in such a way as to engage it w/ a comment. This is not meant as a criticism either. Perhaps my own self-prescribed medication is getting in the way.

    An interesting, though that paragraph about creating idols. Because while all the objects of the book are animated with a life all their own, they’re also given life only insofar as ‘we’ live (and perhaps insofar as we create them). Death would be a notable exception here, perhaps — though, perhaps not, as prior to meet him we experience him mostly as either fear or something to avoid; if he “lives” at all we experience him but once (though ‘experience’ at that point takes on a vastly different meaning, I should think). As I think about it further, Death may very well be the most natural of our idols.

  2. Brad,

    Yeah, I realize that I was being sort of self-indulgent in writing what I did. Instead of going after Hoban for why I didn’t enjoy the book all that much (which, IMO, could have led to an irresolvable discussion of why one person appreciates one literary form or one type of humour over another), I decided to simply mimic his style and engage some of his themes in a more personal manner.

    I’m interested in what you say about Death. What do you mean when you describe it as a natural idol?

    (I do appreciate Hoban’s portrayal of Death as a combination of friend, enemy, and constant companion. Having spent a lot of the last ten years in close proximity to him, I feel a lot of that ambiguity.)

    Lastly, I’ve been reading Virgil’s Aeneid over the last few weeks, and the following passage jumped out at me:

    Grief and avenging Cares have made their beds,
    And pale Diseases and sad Age are there,
    And Dread, and Hunger that sways men to crime,
    And sordid Want–in shapes to affright the eyes–
    And Death and Toil and Death’s own brother, Sleep…

    This got me thinking of Hoban’s references to Thucydides and Orpheus, and got me thinking about Hoban writing a contemporary history in the manner of the Greek or Roman histories. I wonder if Hoban is making a statement about the relationship between “history” and “myth”… perhaps exposing the equally mythological nature of our own time… but my thoughts are only half-formed here.

  3. I’m the last person to fault somebody for self-indulgence. Believe me. I enjoyed the post.

    I actually don’t know what I was thinking re: Death as natural idol. I hardly remember writing that comment, actually. Reconstructing it, I think what I might’ve been thinking about is the somewhat totemic power of Death. It seems so all-encompassing: it is a promise and a threat — and in this way is a kind of animating aspect of life itself. At the very borderline of ‘experience’, and yet infiltrates every fully-experienced moment of our life. It defies our sense of fullness, as it were. In this way, Heidegger’s being-toward-death could just be an articulation of this idolizing. It is, as an object, i.e., capital-D Death, fully the product of one’s subjective experience; and yet, equally, fully-not the product of one’s subjective experience. Even the narcissist knows she alone does not die, though she must die alone. And though she experiences the death of others subjectively, and experiences the threat/promise of death subjectively, this subjectivity itself is informed by a threat/promise that cannot be objectified. If this is the case, you very much end up with the ambivalent portrayal of Death found in Kleinzeit.

    Equally half-formed for me is an association I had while reading Kleinzeit: intentional or not by Hoban, I was reminded of Hölderlin’s translations of Greek mythology. Hospital’s version of the Orpheus story, for example, has resonances with Hölderlin’s notion that the most significant thing communicated by the myths is what is in fact not communicated — in the same way that that the thing we should emulate the most about the Greeks is what they were not.

  4. I cannot imagine how Hoban could have written more effectively about death than in this novel. By using such sardonic humour the dialectic between death and Kleinzeit is accessible and speaks for us all and is exhilarating. Kleinzeit eludes death in this instance, and death’s reluctant prize to Kleinzeit for winning this bout is to deliver Sister (Eurydice) to him, from the underground, fully alive and able to make his ransacked flat warmer with her presence and artefacts.

    Is that what you mean about the Greek myths being significant for what they don’t communicate: in this case that there can be lovely alternative outcomes for a visit to the underworld?

    Anyway, I shouldn’t be commenting because I have only read it once and like my explorations of Riddley Walker, I will need to read it lots more times.

    I find Russell Hoban to be a candle in the dark.

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