Arno Camenisch: “Sez Ner”

11/18/2011 § Leave a comment

Found in Harper’s [Readings], November 2011. From Best European Fiction 2012. (Translated from Romansh and German by Donal McLaughlin.)

Something about the human animal, something about nature, a little something for everyone. Camenisch reduces all of his observations — and that’s what these vignettes come across as, more snapshot or lightly connected (prosaic) prose poems — down to this essential “something,” and it’s not a bad read. It’s consistent in tone, at least, and uses what seems like a European convention, in which certain objects are described with a second-person familiarity: “The length of your lower arm, the projectiles are, all twisted and bent, some with, some without heads.” Is it a short story or not, given that it is disinterested in direction or momentum (i.e., such is country life)?

Here’s what we know: at one point, the dairyman will be hanging from tree, his paraglider all atangle, and his eight-fingered farmhand will let him sweat for a while, so as to teach him a lesson. At another point, the dairyman will be passed out “with a half-empty bottle of schnapps in his hand, while the goat’s up on the divan, up in his room, admiring the view of Piz Tumpiv, maybe; peeing on the bed, for sure.” At yet another, he’ll be coercing his frenemy, the matter-of-fact swineherd, into punishing the roaming pigs. That ill-conscience’d swineherd, meanwhile, resents his work almost as much as the pig-like dairyman; he’d rather spend his time dozing beside the sweet cowherd, whose biggest accomplishment these last few days has been neutering her own dog. The story is presenting a comparison of scope, between the denizens of Sez Ner and its mountainous neighbor, the 3,101 meter-tall Piz Tumpiv. Cheese swells, cows (who, according to the vet, are “bright, much brighter than horses”) wander off, and animals — human and otherwise — are injured. Every so often, the priest drives in on his moped and blesses everything. More rarely, tourists briefly drive through, soon reversing upon finding that “the road doesn’t go much further.” Even in a dead end, life goes on.

There really isn’t anything more than that to assess, so here are a two of the better and most representational sections (in their brief entirety):

  • “The black ram with the white patch on its head is bang in the middle of the cowshed when the cows come crashing in and break its legs. Both front legs end up in plaster. The black ram is anything but tame. Normally, he wouldn’t let you pet him. In plaster, he does: he can’t get away. One time before, when he was tied to the cowshed–his legs, at that point, were still in one piece–he snapped the rope in two when the swineherd tried to go up to him, and ran away. There’s no need to be afraid of the swineherd, the farmhand says.”
  • “The rooster isn’t afraid, it doesn’t run away, is one aggressive bastard, the farmhand says. When the farmhand gets too close, it jumps up at him. Your man’s steel-toed boots it takes, to shoo it away. The rooster, a handsome beast, guards its hens, covers them constantly. Any time, any place, anywhere.”

Make of this as you will; Camenisch’s “fiction” is critic-proof in its simplicity and openness.


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