A video from 1987, one year after Chernobyl, shows Günther Anders reading “Die beweinte Zukunft” (The Weeping Future), a story he wrote in 1961, when his published correspondence with Claude Eatherly comes to a close. The tale reworks the fable of Noah and the flood, offering a version in which Noah designs a massive fleet of arks to safely bear all of humanity through the coming disaster but is unable to convince the rest of his species to take the threat seriously. In this pointed parable of nuclear annihilation, Anders again insists that it is our incapacity to adequately imagine that dooms us to inaction and to simply waiting for the “day after tomorrow”, warning (in the words ascribed to Noah) that when the flood comes, “it will be too late to remember and too late for mourning.” In the video, Anders sits at a table, bent over the text he reads from. Other books are scattered in front of him, along with a small glass of wine. When the camera pans slightly to keep him in the frame as he leans and speaks, the microphone of the audio engineer juts into the shot, until the camera corrects once more and hides it from view. One can’t help but notice his hands. They are so wracked with arthritis that the fingers splay diagonally across each other as if broken. Between one frame and the next, the wine glass is suddenly emptied, the cut hiding the interval in which a pause was taken and the hands grasped the glass.
Anders already struggled with arthritis during the time of his letters to Eatherly, so much so that many of them were typed by his wife Charlotte Zelka, an American concert pianist. Zelka is briefly mentioned in the cor- respondence. In addition to concerns over her health (“it is a scandal how much one depends on one’s body,” Anders writes) and her translation into “American” of his Commandments of the Atomic Age, he also acknowledges how he is “exploiting her as a typist, although she belongs to the piano.”1 Zelka studied with Artur Schnabel at Julliard as a teenager and performed with the influential new music ensemble Die Reihe [The Series] in Vienna. When she returned to California in the 1970s, having separated from Anders, she co-founded the Almont Ensemble, commissioning new works and performing the compositions of Frank Campo, Friedrich Cerha, Alban Berg, Ernst Krenek, and others.
In this commission of original piano music, which also forms part of the soundscape of Straight Flush, American artist and jazz pianist Jason Moran plays Zelka, in two intertwined senses. He plays her as a sonic actor, making audible the person whose voice does not appear in the correspondence yet through whose hands the exchange was made possible, an off-screen interlocutor and translator continually inflecting what will rarely bear her name.
In Straight Flush, the recordings are interspersed amongst the recordings of Winczewski’s readings of Anders’s letters, slipping between practice sessions caught in the background and fragments of a score that shape the pathos of any given moment on screen. Here, they take the space of an empty room, seeping out through the entire gallery and overlaying the film in the adjoining space. Moran also plays Zelka in the sense that his music articulates a set of tentative compositions and recombinations which draw on her performances and the composers she played. Like Straight Flush itself, these are neither finished independent works nor a supplement intended to score an already completed film. Rather, they are provisional efforts that remain unresolved, rehearsals in search of a theme.
1. Günther Anders and Claude Eatherly, Burning Conscience: The Case of the Hiroshima Pilot, Claude Eatherly, Told in His Letters to Günther Anders (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1962), 85.