LENZ: Early Cosmic Horror

….the heavens were a stupid blue eye…

Wayne Chambliss put me on to Georg Buchner’s LENZ, which I read in its entirely before sleep one night.  Because me smart.

At last it grew dark inside him, he experienced a soft, profound compassion for himself, he wept for himself, his head sank down upon his chest, he went to sleep.

It is a speculation upon the true story of Jakob Lenz, who, having become increasingly “eccentric,” is sent to a rural location by his associate Goethe.  Lenz has a complete mental break.  Buchner imagines that descent into madness.  It feels completely true, and is completely chilling.

In his breast hell was rehearsing a song of triumph.

It’s been described as the beginning of modern prose.  I was aware of Buchner, having discovered DANTON’S DEATH as a teenager, but had never read this. Wayne put me on to it because I’d been talking about cosmic horror and this, to him, had its overtones – perhaps even its original notes.  He was quite right.

Next morning he came down and told Oberlin quite calmly how in the night his mother had appeared to him: dressed in white, she had stepped from the dark churchyard wall, a red and a white rose fastened to her breast; she had sunk down into a corner and slowly the roses had overgrown her – she must surely be dead; he was quite untroubled on that account.

It’s a magnificent act of immersion in an alien mind. It has utter truth.  It has real, human horror – looking out through the eyes of a man losing his mind.  I’ve seen people describe reading it as transformative, and I can see why.

On the morning of the 8th he remained in bed. Oberlin went to see him; he lay there almost naked and was greatly excited. Oberlin wished to cover him, but Lenzcomplained bitterly, saying that all was so heavy, so very heavy! that he did not think he could walk at all, that never before had he felt the immense weight of the air.

LENZ is most readily (and, I think, cheaply) available as part of a collection: (UK) (US)