“If there is no story to tell,” she said, “then that is also a story. You can’t do without it. Without a story to tell.” Those assembled applauded, as they always did when she turned to the people and raised her voice for emphasis. She stood above on the balcony, as always, behind the wrought iron balustrade in the spotlights. Her hair was tied back sternly in a bun, and she wore a red dress with gold buttons, flanked by several cabinet ministers. “What I’m now wondering is the following,” she continued, “If the telling is essential for the story, is it then a story at all, or is it merely a telling? Is there a story at all, a story I can tell?”

The people continued to clap, this time even louder. This was an example of the artifice for which she was so respected. She said nothing essential, yet spoke so emphatically that one was left trembling. That which she said was said in such a way that the emptiness of it was completely apparent, for her, as well as for her listeners, and nevertheless  . . .  from out of that which was manifestly empty arose the entire beauty of her oration. She spoke as if she were singing.

She bowed very deeply and disappeared into the sequestered recesses of the palace. A minister came forward to say something unimportant, but the people were already about to disperse. Throughout the president’s speech, the minister was visibly agitated, his voice might occasionally slide up into a clear, bright tone. Then he sang a short, shrill aria and likewise disappeared.

As always, the president stepped onto the balcony at the indicated time six days later, in order to address the people who had gathered there. She was somewhat taller and fatter than last time. Her voice was also different, somehow more raucous, yet more pleasant. Otherwise, everything was the same: the ministers, the red dress with the gold buttons, the hair in a bun, the wrought iron balustrade, the spot lights. She began with, “Hello everyone, it’s me,” a bit as if she were speaking on the telephone. It was very quiet, and everyone waited with bated breath, which was her signal to begin, as she read the latest statistics. The incidence of accidents had once again decreased, but it hadn’t been possible to stop the forest die-off to any appreciable degree. This beginning was a necessary formality, although it was only certain ministers who were interested in it. The people, though, waited for the personal part of the speech.

In the middle of the latest figures on zinc emissions she unexpectedly repeated her first sentence, “Hello everyone, it’s me,” and it stuck. Without pausing she continued with the zinc emissions and simultaneously said : “I am speaking only in your minds, for when you listen to the recording later, you will no longer hear this, only the zinc emission numbers.” This last word coincided with the same word in the parallel statistics speech, and for the brief duration of the pronunciation of that word, both speeches seemed to be congruent. “This voice will now tickle the inside of your heads, behind the ear, like a goat tongue licking at your feet.”

In fact, several people were already beginning to buckle over, and it didn’t take long before many in the audience were laughing, in the typical way people do when they’re trying to fend of the hands of someone trying to tickle them. The laughter stood in a curious contradiction to the presentation of certain occurrences from a statistical point of view, especially as the presentation, which had been continuing all the while, became critical with respect to various methods of emphasizing and interpreting statistical data, and which, in addition, undertook an investigation of the F-Test and the analysis of variance of a neo-deconstructive analysis. The effect on those being tickled was like the rough part on the tongue of the goat, and soon there was no stopping the wave of those tormented by laughter.

Carsten Höller