Arthur Keelt's Blackbird
Autofiction, a fable about war, a Voltairian narrative, a pre-apocalyptic, post-World War II story …
It all starts the day the New Masters of the World (viz. a Russian, an American and an Englishman) visit Arthur Keelt, the celebrated language specialist, practically living the life of a hermit in the Styrian Mountains. Admittedly the New Masters of the World have liberated Austria from the devil, but Keelt is suspicious when his visitors tell him that aliens have left a strange message in the Mojave Desert. Only a great linguist like him will know how to decipher its exact meaning. As it happens, the message reads thus: “You are obviously much too stupid, evil and dangerous. We’re going back to pick some kit and then coming back to smash you up.”
A cage made of a metal unknown on Earth, arrives. And in this cage is a blackbird. From then on Arthur has no choice but to try and understand what the aliens really meant to say. Spied on by a handsome legionnaire keen on Karl Kraus and having regular visits from Greta the postwoman and Stûrz the farmworker, Arthur debates with the blackbird and calmly constructs his theories.
In this perceptively droll story, humanity is hauled over the coals, but Keelt’s analysis is always conveyed very seriously, with a sense of restraint that goes straight to the point. Here, no crude jokes or banal deliberations, but rather, subtle, quirky remarks that are caustic and joyously subversive. We learn for example that “a long military service brings you close to the state of a robot in full transcendental meditation”. Elsewhere the author hammers out another truth: “If the universe had to be represented by a single image, it would be a coffee pot and that’s all I’m saying.”
Arthur Keelt wanted to be an atypical Buddhist. Perhaps he owes his unpretentious writing style to this spiritual attitude. Occasionally his style attains a state of grace, as well as a rare view from up on high (2277m).