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Lisa Spalt: Ameisendelirium [Delirium of the Ants]

e  en  fr  span  cz

Vienna: Czernin Verlag 2015.
128 pages; hardcover; Euro 17,90.
ISBN: 978-3-7076-0529-7.

Lisa Spalt


'Syntax versus semantics – a competition' would be an appropriate description of the style adopted in Lisa Spalt's Ameisendelirium ('Delirium of the Ants'). After all, the actual subject-matter of these texts remains (ostensibly, of course) incidental. That works in the same way as spotlights which come on briefly in order to highlight a scene or a mood, thereby allowing us to participate in it. The texts revolve around the disfigurement of the landscape and the existence of the body in nature, around job placement, professional worlds and the humanities, around attitudes to life and the pressure to perform, around encounters in the park and the ants of the title, all in a variety of ways.
The resulting combination of 37 textual segments is often expanded by illustrations – drawn by Lisa Spalt herself. Nevertheless, the most conspicuous thing about these texts is the positioning of the words and the play of sentence structure, often enhanced to the point of (directly) inhibiting the content: parts of sentences push their way to the fore, just as people thrust their way to the fore. Lisa Spalt attempts to illustrate syntactically the scramble in which we are constantly trapped.
That is reinforced by the narrative perspective: a familiar second person 'you' is addressed throughout. However, in doing so, it is not (primarily) the readers who are intended, but rather an 'I'. The distance to the narrative subject-matter that is thereby created makes everything seem more generalised, opening up gaps which are able to accommodate any of the figures. Similarly, the 'you' conveys orality and presence.
In addition, the narrative tone, which frequently achieves a sense of mechanicality and maintains the style of an endless sermon, is performative in character, so that many elements – for instance, the sarcastic moment – become much clearer when read aloud. In some places, the text sounds like a melancholic and resigned report written by someone who can no longer stand the world, in other places like an angry, incensed, almost outraged, sketch of an event. At times it resembles a flood of words uttered by a narcissistic old professor who has lost his way among the convoluted complexity of his own sentences.
Lisa Spalt presents us with an absolutely masterful variety of 'sentence pieces', although – according to the writer –
"every half-sentence contradicts the one before, because reality is constantly shifting for this person who is trying to ascertain something, since she constantly has to make adjustments, and that doesn’t work".

Abridged version of the review by Lydia Haider, 23 March 2015.
English translation by Peter Waugh.
Full German text:

























































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