Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Rahel Varnhagen's book, "Dasein" in Heidegger and Lasker-Schüler


Moegen andere von ihrer Schande sprechen,
ich spreche von der meinen

O Deutschland, bleiche Mutter!
Wie sitzest du besudelt
Unter den Voelkern.
Under den Befleckten
Faellst du auf.

Von deinen Soehnen der aermste
Liegt erschlangen.
Als sein Hunger gross war
Haben deine anderen Soehne
Die Hand gegen ihm erhoben.
Das ist ruchbar geworden.

Mit ihren so erhobenen
HaendenErhoben gegen ihren Bruder
Gehen sie jetzt frech von dir herum
Und lachen in dein Gesicht.
Das weiss man.

In deinem Hause
Wird laut gebruellt, was Luege ist.
Aber die Wahrheit
Muss schweigen.
Ist es so?

Warum preisen dich ringsum die Unterdruecker, aber
Die Unterdruecken beschuldigen dich?
Die Ausgebeuteten
Zeigen mit Fingern auf dich, aber
Die Ausbeuter loben das System
Das in deinem Hause ersonnen wurde!

Und dabei sehen dich alle
Den Zipfel deines Rockes verbergen, der blutig ist
Vom Blut deines
Besten Sohnes.

Hoerend die Reden, die aus deinem Hause dringen, lacht man.
Aber wer dich sieht, der greift nach dem Messer
Wie beim Anblick einer Raeuberin. [2]

O Deutschland, bleiche Mutter!
Wir haben deine Soehne dich zugerichtet
Dass du unter den Voelkern sitzest
Ein Gespoett oder eine Furcht! -Bertolt Brecht, 1933

Books are always the most precious artifacts in a Jewish household, after all they're meant to contain everything that has held together the strings of history in their untimely but tempestuous wanderings through the averageness of men and women in their times, the wafting breezes that provide men with tools to understand their despair in the darkest times and to hinder poetical thinking in whatever form it comes, from sinking into the crude oblivion of uninteresting times. Borges had remarked once his admiration for the Jewish people, those who held fast to a book as their home and even in the political times of the 21st century this has hardly changed... placing their existence almost into a metaphysical metaphor, as the Greek musician Mikis Theodorakis phrased it at one point in an interview with a major Israeli daily[3]; yet their books contain no metaphysics in the sense of a "net of security", but rather the "Existenz" itself upon which one is doomed to be thrown upon in the inexorable duties of everyday life, during which one fails to notice the "bannisters" that shut the past off forever and separate one age from the other[4]. In their books there's no possible security of the self; the truth isn't arrived at the end of a syllogism but permeates their concerns at the very foundation, it constitutes both a condition and a pre-condition for thought.

Books are treasures, not only in that they account for the long history of a people or nation but because they're in themselves this history. In a rather comic manner it was the books - the Greek, the Latin, the Bible, the philosophers, what marked the entrance of the young Moses Mendelsohn to Berlin heading northwards to the Rosenthal Gate, just as their silence before the catastrophic events of the 20th century and their inability to provide consolation was what marked the fugue of Hannah Arendt some two-hundred years later[5], but heading southwards fleeing from the hatred and indifference of those very same who burnt the books nearby, the silent books. Turning upside down the waters from the calm of the post-diluvian waters into the parting of the Reed Sea - and bringing together all the Arks of Noah that had wandered aloof from an Italian painting, that had almost sunk with the clenching and screeching noise of shattering glass. Perhaps the same waters in which that young man had drowned himself on explicit command of his father[6], of his fatherland of Blut and Boden. On the Day of the Atonement.

Then at the same time even today one fails to understand how this could have happened, how the philosophies had legitimized the long-awaited Messianic dream in which instead of rising humanity to Heavens, it had been downgraded to Hell[7]; there're no possible explanations nowadays because it is my firm belief that the moment one can explain something, it's also possible to explain it away – this is at least the case with philosophies, for you can never falsify them because they're not history, unless one were to follow Hegel a little bit. In this very same sense you find yourself rather estranged at history when the collapse of the loftiest of civilizations sprang forth like a mad fountain and then only much later upon a certain anxious reflection you come to realize it's impossible to come to terms with this outrage because it is by no means "history", but rather the crude experience of reality and altogether nothing remains more estranged from us than the recent past. Even with Goethe as my father and Nietzsche as my brother, there was no other recourse than the imaginary flight in which one dispossessed himself of everything worldly and in the way animals run from their predators the Jews fled with their books, their history, with themselves.

"Stirb und Werde"[8], mumbled to herself an old lady on the boat to Palestine, and extremely saddened in fact, because Palestine was not Jerusalem, whose shining walls and treasures and shrines had been left behind in Berlin, they had burnt down as swiftly as the waters had overturned the course of history so that its foremost writers were now scrapping the streets of Vienna. From the irrational course of the events also the philosophers set on this pilgrimage from burnt down Athens to the watery Jerusalem of the Prophets, but the arid vivacity of the ruins hovering over the rooftops could at most reveal the genius of Goethe reading the Arabian nights, an old Antigone in iambic meter and a small treaty of Böhme, "The Way to Christ". In fact these books had been everything that survived the deserted and crumbling Athens and that built the foundations of Jerusalem. Nowhere had been Schiller so passionately discussed as in Jerusalem, for "Zur Nation euch zu bilden, ihr hoffet es, Deutsche, vergebens; Bildet, ihr könnt es, dafür freier zu Menschen euch aus".[9]

And that's how the journey of love and of double-sight, of world-surviving eventually receeds and the circle is completed in Jerusalem. Rahel had lived some 200 years before and had lived in such a way that only Schiller again could come to my aid and complete with "Vor dem Tod erschrickst du? Du wünchest, unsterblich zu leben? Leb' im Ganzen! Wenn du lange dahin bist, es bleibt"[10]. Rahel had this passionate desire in life that had inspired Goethe himself and many of us to the present day, in that there're some among us that seize upon untruth with a passion for truth, whom the European hagiography has described as the "purest and most authentic German Frau" by no less than Napoleon's sister. Rahel spent her life among books and letters and taught a sinking world that what matters the most in fact, is the personality and the uniqueness of character - a lesson that one has a certain trouble hearing while living under the toll of a world in which all the abstractions and labels have surpassed the human persons behind them and defined their identities in the most comic of ways. She personified the "daughter of Goethe" in its closest resemblance so that today many Jews in Europe and beyond can refer to her as the "prostitute" of Berlin - a claim that in itself unknowingly perpetuates the anti-semitic cliche held for over a hundred years about Jewish women in general, particularly among the European aristocracy; a character in fact theatrical enough as to unrealize itself before our eyes and melt into an uncanny vantage point through which a lense of broken dew breaks free and flees to feed the imagination of the uncanny homeland.

And Rahel who died with the firm conviction that she would never had wished to spare himself the condition of being a Jewess did travel to Jerusalem in a two-fold sense; firstly in the sense of Else Lasker-Schüler, even though a German in its most exuberant possibility but sounding something very oriental and Hebraic, something atavic and melancholic which apparently sings Praises in the diminished fact of everydayness - that is what one would call today poetic thinking and which is able to gather its strongest visions from within the ashes of the darkest times; space in which untimely she joins the ranks of Kafka and Celan, not in being a poetess but in having the "ποιησις" that is demanded to act in the world and to change the course of the waters, even if there's the slightest risk that a sink of own's own might sink therein. Or simply stand by a Hütte, which eventually leads to the river.

Lastly she traveled to Jerusalem in the books that are so treasured, and one can only imagine how often she burnt after 1933 so that no catalogs could contain her name, because she gave herself to the world so immediately and directly that it consumed her, and so did the flames with many others. "Every book is after all somebody's life, but now all what counts are the numbers, the catalogs. Men and book are numbers alike, perhaps it is difficult to grasp - but how do they then grasp their content?"[11], the answer is rather simple, they don't grasp their content because there's a little brook in between our world and their understanding - a blind gap that covers the graves with piles of hay and sings benedictions. That edifice of the Jewish tradition built on justice and that is contained in the books that in themselves are what we are... you see the difference? For Heidegger it is perhaps time and being questionable what we are, our specific "Dasein" and our "τελος"[12], but how can you, whenever "The time is out of joint! O cursed spite / That ever I was born to set it right"?[13]

In this second sense Rahel also followed Lasker-Schüler in landing on the earthly Jerusalem and escaping the flames of hell towards "Morgenland" after reading God's mind in the twilight instead of anticipating his mind for the sake of all "humankind". The book on Rahel landed in a tiny bookstore perhaps brought by one of those who remembered the verses of Goethe and indeed very possibly the only ones who still remembers them to this day. As it laid on my hands the eliptic circle had been closed and a gap had been bridged, if at any rate the book wasn't returned to its rightful owner then it was at least placed in the care of the lover, with all the dialectical damage it implicates[14]. Because it is known to contain a person's life and another person and another person, the only way in which a heritage can be passed on... passed on; and this is not the care in the sense of Heidegger, the care of time which is in itself measured and therefore wafting into temporality and mortality[15].

It is the care of what we are, these books, these stories (stories as "Geschichte" and not "histories" as "Historie"[16]), these people, the longing, the unawaited for... turning the waters upside down once again, turning Endlösung into Erlösung, as a young woman in Kassel signs this book and bequests it to all those who remain, to all those who need to pay their debts and wait for a person's life to be spit out of the railways. Completing a circle, returning, turning in, nurturing. Not willy-nilly had Amos Oz said once in a novel, that as a kid he wished to be a book and not a writer, because writers can be just as easily killed as any other human being, but a book! A book can find his way on a ship and land in Jerusalem or Barcelona or Reykiavik [17] and silently safeguard a person's life until the next antidiluvian torrents water down so that even in this world of history, at a given time some people can own their own story and look at themselves back two-thousand years in the spirit of a century, in the spirit of a person's life. And incidentally the theatrical truth unveils among all our dead philosophers, among all our burnt books, among all the atavic mourning. Morning veils again, and...

He shall summon freedom
For the son and the daughter
He shall guard over you
As the beloved one
Pleasant are your names
They shall never cease
For in the seventh day
They shall dwell and rest (דרור יקרא)

To which, to conclude Else Lasker-Schuler responds:

Hatte wogendes Nachtbaar,
Liegt lange schon wo begraben.
Hatte zwei Augen wie Bäcke klar,
Bevor die Trübsal mein Gast war,
Hatte Hände muschelrotweiss,
Aber die Arbeit verzehrte ihr Weiss.
Und einmal kommt der Letzte,
Der senkt den unabänderlichen Blick
Nach meines Leibes Vergänglichkeit
Und wirft von mir alles Sterben.
Und es atmet meine Seele auf
Und trinkt das Ewige.. (Dasein) [19]

... And yes Brecht, we also speak of our own, but you lied and Heidegger did too. Expecting to encounter the truth at the end of the road, and when you awoke the truth encountered first in that place where it all ended, whose name wasn't heaven, whose people had no names. Truth had always been there in "Dasein", but you waited for so long that even Lessing chopped its head off not without mourning.

"The chief fallacy is to believe that Truth is a result which comes at the end of a thought-process. Truth, on the contrary, is always the beginning of thought, thinking is always result-less. That is the difference between "philosophy" and science: Science has results, philosophy never. Thinking starts after an experience of truth has struck home, so to speak. The difference between philosophers and other people is that the former refuse to let go, but that they are the only receptacles of truth. This notion that truth is the result of thought is very old and goes back to ancient classical philosophy, possibly to Socrates himself. If I am right and if it a fallacy, then it probably is the oldest fallacy of Western philosophy. You can detect it in almost all definitions of truth, and especially in the traditional one of "aedequatio rei et intellectus" [the conformity of the intellect to the thing known]. Truth, in other words, is not "in" thought but to use Kant's language, the condition for the possibility of thinking. It is both, beginning and a priori." -Hannah Arendt to Mary McCarthy[20]

[1] B. Brecht, Gesammelte Gedichte Vol. 3 (die Krise Jahren) Suhrkamp Verlag, 1967.
[2] Quoted by H. Arendt, preface to Eichmann in Jerusalem.
[3] Ha'aretz Daily, 2004.
[4] H. Arendt, "Home to Roost", Responsibility & Judgment, Schoken, 2003.
[5] A. Elon, "The Pity of It All", Piccador, 2003.
[6] F. Kafka, "The Judgment".
[7] A. Heller, "A Theory of Modernity", Blackwell, 1999.
[8] Goethe, "Selige Sehnsucht".
[9] Schiller, "Deutscher Nationalcharakter".
[10] Schiller, "Unsterblichkeit".
[11] E. Goodman-Thau, "In der Arche der Unschuld"
[12] M. Heidegger, "Der Begriff der Zeit", Blackwell, 2001.
[13] Shakespeare, "Hamlet"
[14] G. Rose, "Love's Work", Schocken, 1997.
[15] M. Heidegger, "Sein und Zeit", Akademie-Verlag, 2001.
[16] A. Heller, "A Philosophy of History in Fragments", Blackwell, 1996.
[17] A. Oz, "A Tale of Love & Darkness", Harvest, 2005.
[18] Dror Yikra, song of Shabbat
[19] E. Lasker-Schüler, Sämtliche Gedichte, Kösel, 1966
[20] H. Arendt, M. McCarthy, "In Between Friends: Correspondence", Harcourt, 1995.


Anonymous said...

I hope this area is regarded as the most suitable area to submit this... I simply wanted to just let everybody using the forum who lives in Oz know about a super high end audio visual equipment website called Ordio. I noticed them somewhat by accident when I was searching for [url=http://www.ordio.com.au]Tvs[/url] and it just so happened that these blokes had the cheapest prices in the market. Not only that but they are incredibly informative and even followed up on my transaction to verify I was still completely satisfied. They buy out tremendous inventories of high end audio visual equipment so that they can ultimately break the price down. Absolutely give them a visit if you're looking for some home electronics.


Anonymous said...

I just like the valuable info you provide in your articles.
I'll bookmark your blog and test once more right here frequently. I'm
relatively certain I will be informed a lot of new stuff proper here!
Good luck for the next!

Also visit my blog; healthy diet