‘The Bound Man’ by Ilse Aichinger

The Bound Man by Ilse Aichinger, 1954

The magic trick:

Shifting the story’s setting and perspective dramatically and suddenly

This is a weird one. It recalls both the circus episode of The X Files and Kafka’s “The Hunger Artist.” There’s a little bit of Paul Bowles’s “A Distant Episode,” as well.

It begins as an adventure story, a kind of suspense thriller. But just as you are ready to find out the dramatic conclusion to his life-or-death conflict, the story pause and reemerges in a traveling circus. It’s jarring. It’s memorable. I think it’s effective? I’m not totally sure what the story is trying to say exactly. But I definitely was interested in trying to find out. And that’s quite a trick on Aichinger’s part.

The selection:

A few nights later the proprietor’s wife was awakened by the sound of footsteps on the grass, and went outside just in time to prevent the clown from playing his last practical joke. He was carrying a pair of scissors. When he was asked for an explanation he insisted that he had had no intention of taking the bound man’s life, but only wanted to cut his rope, because he felt sorry for him. But he was sacked too.

These antics amused the bound man, because he could have freed himself if he had wanted to whenever he liked, but perhaps he wanted to learn a few new jumps first. The children’s rhyme: “We travel with the circus, we travel with the voices of spectators on the opposite bank who had been driven too far downstream on the way home. He could see the river gleaming in the moonlight, and the young shoots growing out of the thick tops of the willow trees, and did not think about autumn yet.

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