From the Magazine

By David Varno

This week, we're highlighting contemporary Austrian critic and essayist Karl-Markus Gauss's meditation on perception and control, "Wie das Chaos nach Salzburg kam," ("When Chaos Came to Salzburg," translated from the German by John K. Cox). The piece is from the 2004 collection of essays Der Mann, der ins Gefrierfach wollte: Albumblatter, and is written somewhat in the tone of modernist fiction.

It is about a lock-down of Salzburg orchestrated by the city government and police in anticipation of marauding anarchists, based on postings on Internet forums, a surreal look at the collision of real and virtual worlds. A total of perhaps 20 people who might be considered troublemakers show up in the city, making their way through barricaded streets, lines of policemen and past shuttered stores, and the police responded as though they were at war.

It would be too innocuous an explanation of things just to say that a few people had allowed themselves some Internet fun and proclaimed this "virtual" revolution. That's because the call to storm Salzburg, even if it was a virtual one, led to a state of emergency that was real.

...

Reality and hallucination traded spots. The police took this game of fantasy played by some, for reality. This was a reality that suited them perfectly, and that is how a fiction—conceived in front of a screen, for the screen, and tested on the screen and then disseminated over the screen—became fit for reality.

Gauss ends the piece ingeniously, with an anecdote of the newspaper's report on the disappearance of several thousand flowers from a city garden: the anarchists, irked at having been blocked by the huge police deployment in the city and at being unable to get their hands on any people to terrorize, had compensated themselves with the flowers as they marched back to the station." The flowers were actually removed by municipal gardeners, a twist that makes one think about who the story's real terrorists are. "The virtual murderers were the real gardeners, writes Gauss, "and that's comforting to know."

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Read the full excerpt here


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