Ground Zero, Day Zero, and The Day After–continued yet again

Day Zero, the Day that dawned when the atom bomb exploded over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, was not just another Day.  Rather, it was the Day that ended all Days, the point at which the Day as such vanished without trace, as I tried to articulate in my pervious post.  As Günther Anders saw so clearly, what was truly unique about Day Zero—what made it the Day to end all Days–was not the devastation of an entire city and the killing of two-hundred-thousand of its inhabitants in a single flash, as shockingly horrendous as such sudden devastation and death may be.  Unfortunately, even such awful destruction has all too many precedents, and the speed of destruction remains a difference of degree, not kind.  No, what was truly unique about Day Zero, what made it the very null point of the Day as such, was that it marked the onset of the devastation of the very devastation, the masking of the devastation under a façade that almost immediately began to take the form of rapid reconstruction.  What was truly horrible was, so to speak, not the demolition of the city, but the demolition of its ruins.

Worth noting is that another important author who, like Anders, survived the Nazi extermination of the Jews of Europe—though he survived it differently, going through Auschwitz itself, whereas Anders survived by going into exile in France and eventually the United States—is concerned to make the same point.  I mean Jean Améry.  In Lefeu oder Der Abbruch (Lefeu or The Demolition), his final novel, Améry’s title character (whose name, “Lefeu,” is French for fire) resists all orders to leave the run-down, condemned, decaying apartment building in which he lives in Paris, so that the old, no longer functional dump can be demolished to permit brand new construction.  Through Lefeu Améry stages his own protest, a protest against the destruction of ruins as such.  Lefeu asserts our need to live among the ruins of our life, as opposed to our desire to bury those ruins beneath the frenetic busy-ness of everyday contemporary activity.  Lefeu himself, in Améry’s hands, becomes a call to remember the ruins, rather than to try to move “beyond them,” to build something “new” over them, burying them beneath our re-constructions.

To return to Anders, the third, final, and by far shortest (only about 30 pages total) of his three works that make up Anders’s 1982 publication, Hiroshima Is Everywhere, is The Dead:  Speech on the Three World Wars, first delivered in 1964 and first published the following year.  In it, Anders himself discusses what is required of those of us who are survivors, those who have been left behind by the dead.  Specifically, he means those who, like himself, were left behind by the millions of those who died fighting on the German side during the first two World Wars.  His concern, that is, is with the survivors of those whom Germany enlisted into its forces and sent into battle to die on the battlefields of Europe, Asia, and North Africa from 1914-1945.  Anders strongly insists that what makes the deaths of all those millions so hard to bear for their families and compatriots left behind is that they all died (page 364) “for nothing,” that they died, as he poignantly puts it, “not for their country, but to its shame.”  He goes on to insist just as vehemently that it is only when the survivors, such as himself, left behind in such cases “hold fast to that knowledge”—the knowledge that their dead died for nothing–that they can “truly honor the dead.”  Only then, in turn, can their survivors make it true that those who died did not die in vain! “Whether they died in vain or not,” he writes, “depends on us, who have been left behind.  On our incorruptibility”—on such survivors not being open to any sort of bribery to cover over the fact that their dead did indeed die for nothing.   “Only so do we pay them their due.”*

The specific millions of dead at issue in Andres’s remarks—namely, the millions of Germans and their allies who were sent to die in battle during the first two World Wars—have the distinctive status of what Anders calls “die schuldlos Schuldigen,” which literally translates as “the guiltlessly guilty,” but which we might more usefully render as “innocent perpetrators.”  At least many if not most such innocent perpetrators were also what Anders calls “victim-perpetrators” (Opfer-Täter), those whose acts inflicted suffering on others, but who themselves also suffered from their own acts as well (albeit they may well have suffered differently:  for example, from feelings of guilt, quite possibly even overwhelming ones, for what they did).

At any rate, whether “only” innocent perpetrators, or “also” victim-perpetrators, in all such cases what is at issue are those who, perhaps with what ordinarily count as the best of motives, such as love of their country, carry out acts that help accomplish or at least enable such deeds of horror as the extermination of the Jews of Europe—or, to use another example, the one for which Anders first employs the term at issue, the bombing of Hiroshima.  Anders’s uses the expression “schuldlos Schuldigen” to describe the American pilot Claude Eatherly, who piloted one of the planes flying reconnaissance and providing accompaniment to the Enola Gay as it went to drop the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945, and who subsequently suffered guilt for what he had helped perpetrate against the people of Hiroshima, and the world.  The second and longest part of Anders’s book on the ubiquity of Hiroshima consists of a long exchange of letters between him and Eatherly.

The six million Jews murdered by the Nazis during World War II may not themselves have shared any guilt for those murders–though the extermination-camp system of inmate capos and “special commands” (Sondercommandos) constitutes a moral “gray zone,” as Primo Levi famously called it.  That is, they may not have been “innocent perpetrators” in the sense that Anders applies to Eatherly, or to the German war dead from the first two World Wars.  The distinctions involved in these various cases are well worth careful reflection, and I may return to them in some later posts.  However, what I am concerned with here is one important thing these different cases all have in common, which is that in every case, from the most purely innocent victims to the most guiltily compromised ones, those who died from their victimization all died for nothing, to use Anders way of putting it.  If they were “innocent perpetrators” who died in the process of committing their deeds of perpetration, then they may have died not only for nothing, but also “to the shame of” that in whose name they went to their deaths (e.g., their country).  In contrast, of course, the millions of Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis died to no shame of Judaism.  However, be that as it may, they still died for nothing—died for no good reason whatever, died without any justification for their dying.  That is what I want to address.  Specifically, I want to address the same question Anders addressed in his remarks about all the dead innocent perpetrators of German aggression during the first half of the twentieth century.  That is the question of how we can properly honor such dead, who died for nothing.

Anders not only raises that question for us, but also gives us the best answer to it, an answer I’ve already cited:  We honor such dead only by holding fast to this, that their death was “for nothing,” that they were wasted, their lives and the lives of their loved ones shattered, reduced to ruin, for nogood reason whatever.   Thus, we pay the dead who died for nothing their due only by refusing to bury the fact that their lives were squandered for nothing.  That is what it means, genuinely to honor them.  In means, in effect, to preserve the ruins of all their lives—to preserve them as ruins, and not as convenient means for marshalling resources for new accomplishments, or just as museum pieces to provide opportunities for education and entertainment for the living.

Never to forget, always to remember, all those millions upon millions who died for nothing—died for nothing in Auschwitz, in Hiroshima, or even at the fronts as German soldiers in battle–is to reject all endeavors to demolish the ruins, and replace them with glittering new fabrications.  It is to refuse to call out “peace, peace” where there is no peace, but instead to keep exposed the face of war that everywhere reigns, consigning all things to obliteration, even and especially the evidence of the very obliteration itself.  It is to remember the ruins and to preserve them as such, defying the demolition of the ruins, protesting alongside Lefeu, Améry, and Anders.

Viewed from the sort of perspective Günther Anders adopts in the final part of his three-part book on Hiroshima, what he identifies as “the three World Wars”—the first two “hot,” the third one “cold”—show themselves to be but the revelation of three faces of a single nihilistic Anti-Trinity, the Counter-Divinity of Demolition that imploded so gaudily over Hiroshima in August 1945.  Dying in 1992, Anders lived long enough to see the end of the Third World War, the “cold” one, and therewith the end of the whole process:  the finalization of the disappearance of the devastation cast up everywhere by triumphant, ceaseless war, the burial of all the ruins beneath the mask of the global market.  Anders, with his philosophical background, might have recognized that the world thereby entered into the end stage of despair, by Kierkegaard’s lights—the despair which does not even know it is in despair, but thinks it is, or at least ought to be, just pleased as punch.  From such a black hole of despair, no light of hope can any longer escape:  All genuine hope has vanished along with all the ruins.

Fundamentally, August 6, 1945, was Day Zero not because on that day such horrendous ruins appeared, the ruins of an entire city, reduced to rubble in less than the blink of an eye.  Rather, that day was Day Zero–the nullification of the Day itself, the multiplication of zero days to infinity—because on that day the ruins themselves began to be dis-appeared, like Argentines under the Junta.  It was Day Zero because that day  “the Demolition”—the Abbruch to protest against which Lefeu/Améry give their very lives–began.  Day Zero was Demolition Day, the Day the ruins went away.

But then, beyond all possible expectation, suddenly, on September 11, 2001, the impossible happened.  On that day, the ruins returned.  In the vast void of endless accumulation of zero days, all the countless string of days during which the global wasteland just stretched on and on, history itself having come to its end, or rather the end of its end—suddenly the whole façade began to shimmer, and then to break apart, and to collapse, revealing beneath its gaudy, fun-house veil the nullity it had till then concealed.  The ruins reappeared.  A Day again dawned, even “after” Day Zero, the day all days were reduced to zeros, another Day “after” the Day the Day itself died.

September 11, 2001:  The Day After.

*     *     *     *     *     *

There is more to explain about that.  So I will need to continue this series on “Ground Zero, Day Zero, and The Day After” for yet one more post.

* In The Open Wound:  Trauma, Identity, and Community, which I have just published (available through, I try to make the same point in a different way, without using the same verbal distinction Anders does between dying “for nothing” and dying “in vain.”  I am in full agreement with what I understand him to be saying through such locutions, however.  The difference is solely one of formulation.

Ground Zero, Day Zero, and The Day After–continued

Toward the end of The Man on the Bridge, his journal of his visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1958, Günther Anders recounts a lengthy conversation he had with a fellow passenger during one leg of his return journey to Europe–a conversation  about Hiroshima, nuclear arms, the Cold War, and related matters.  Anders’ seat-mate has bought the official party line of the powers that be. He proudly spouts the dictated slogans about the unprecedented threat of “totalitarianism” and the supposedly regrettable but necessary reliance on the strategy of “nuclear deterrence” and “mutually assured destruction” until that threat can be eliminated.  In short, he marches with the compliant masses who back in those days contentedly and complacently reduced everything to the thought-imploding chant of  “Better dead than Red!”

In the course of the conversation Anders attempts to explain to this self-satisfied conformist a theme with which the readers of Anders’s journal are already well familiar by that point.  That theme is embodied in his observation to his fellow passenger that the most disturbing thing about the Hiroshima he visited in 1958 was precisely how, thanks to the massive, sustained efforts to rebuild the city after its nuclear devastation in 1945, virtually all signs of that very devastation had been erased, buried beneath the gleaming new skyscrapers, shops, office buildings, and homes that had been erected over the ruins.  The only visible evidence of the devastation that remained was confined to a carefully, officially selected section of the city.  There, the ruins were not replaced and erased by new construction.  Instead, they were deliberately preserved and protected.  So maintained, those ruins were put on exhibition for all who live in Hiroshima and all who visit the city to go and see.  They stand there as an officially sanctioned “memorial” to what happened in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and a sobering “warning” to all future generations, lest they be tempted to any relaxation of the perpetual vigilance that must be kept alert if the world is to avoid the same sort of devastation, only this time going global, in effect.  So, at least, went—and still goes–the official party line.

To his seat-mate Anders tries to make the point that what is really most sobering is noticing that the unprecedented annihilation, not just of property but above all of two-hundred-thousand human lives, that took place in Hiroshima on that August day in 1945 is itself annihilated by the furious reconstruction that rebuilt the city after the disaster.  That annihilation of the annihilation, the erasure of the erasure of human life and habitation that took place there, is in no way countered by the special preservation of evidence of the devastation in one confined area of the city.  By being reduced to the status of a sort of museum, which one can visit as tourists have long visited the excavated ruins of the ancient Pompey, to gawk at what the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius did in the days of ancient Rome, only distances the devastation further.  Far from fostering any genuine recollection, it institutionalized forgetting, and buries what happened even more deeply beneath the façade of pious pretenses.

Anders tells his companion (page 161 of Hiroshima Ist Überall, the first of the three parts of which is his Hiroshima-Nagasaki journal, once again in my own somewhat free translation) that “the reconstruction is a betrayal of the dead.  They themselves don’t complain about it, of course.  I mean the dead.  They never complain.  And they who in that way make no appeal, they never even put in an appearance.  As missing, I mean.  It’s not that the dead are invisible that’s the scandal.  Rather, it’s that their being missing is missed.  That their being missing is not visible.”

If there is any duty to remember those who died on August 6, 1945, in Hiroshima, and honor them in the memory, then it is not by making fetishes of their names or of pictures or trinkets kept as tokens of them that we fulfill that duty.  It is, rather, by keeping the wound of their absence open, in remembering that they have been forgotten.  It is by keeping their absence, their still being missing, ever before our minds–which doesn’t even require that we know their names, and may even be hindered by such knowledge—that we remember, and honor, those whose deaths are not to be forgotten, and who are to be honored in their absence.  What is at issue with regard to remembering Hiroshima is the same sort of thing that is at issue, to give a different example, by the still ongoing admonitions, on black flags, bumper-stickers, and elsewhere across America, to remember all those American troops who went—and are often still–Missing in Action (MIA) and/or were Prisoners of War (POW) during the American debacle in Vietnam.

Anders saw and said that is not the gaping void opened by the horrible, sudden snuffing out of so many human lives—the two-hundred thousand disappeared, as it were–by the nuclear bombing of August 6, 1945, that is so scandalous.  Rather, it’s that that void itself is given no void—no room—wherein it might manifest itself with any force, to make itself felt.  What’s truly scandalous is that the ghosts of all those killed that day are not even granted any site where they might haunt the living, but are made instead to pass on beyond recall.  Every nook and cranny, every dark corner or place aside where they might make their ghostly presence—which is always just the sort of presence of an absence, a void, a going missing, that Anders is talking about—known to us whom they have left behind.  Thus robbed even of haunting places, those who have died can no longer be honored by genuine mourning among us from whom they have been taken.  And we, in our turn, are denied any presence of the dead—they themselves, as dead, as absent, as leaving a hole never to be filled again.  We are bereft of our very bereavement.

Days before his trip home, when he was still in Hiroshima itself, Anders had a similar conversation with a dissimilar companion, this time a Hiroshima resident who, as a member of the Japanese army, was doing duty elsewhere when the bombing occurred.  He tells Anders (page 62) that now, upon his returning to the city, he has a strange feeling of “not being there, where he is,” namely back in Hiroshima.  Standing on the bridge into the newly rebuilt city, and recalling when he first came home there at the end of the war, he cries out, “Yes!  When I [first] saw the city again, when it still lay in ruins, then it still was itself.  But now!”  Now, he has the strange feeling already described, of not being where he is.  (As an aside my regular readers may appreciate, let me add that he’s right, he’s not in Hiroshima, where he is, because it really is Hiroshima no longer.  It’s become Las Vegas.  Hiroshima is everywhere/Las Vegas is everywhere:  those are jus two sides of the same coin.  Or, to say that a bit differently, those are just two different ways of pointing at the same thing.)

Anders writes that he easily identified with that feeling, of not being where one is.  Back at his own home in Europe, the same phenomenon of massive, amazingly rapid reconstruction had occurred, after so much of greater Germany had been reduced to ruins by the Allied forces.  Anders writes that he and the other inhabitants of rebuilt central Europe have even grown used to such erasure of the erasure, so that by the time he is writing (1958) it had “almost ceased being  shocking.”   It had become “the new normal.”  No one really even noticed it any longer–and, not noticing, also didn’t even notice that they had failed to notice, so that not only did the former devastation vanish altogether from view, but so did it’s very vanishing.   Everything appeared to be there after all, with nothing absent. “For,” Anders writes (with his own emphasis), “the reconstruction is even the destruction of the destruction, and thereby the culmination of destruction.”  He goes on to write that he himself can no longer see anything of what happened there, in Europe or in Japan.

Everything visible—the new houses—they hush up what took place exactly as do the newspapers or everyday chatter [which bury what has happened under the din of “the news”].  Everything looks to be “time-neutral,” that is, everything looks as if it has been that way since who knows when; what’s now present masks itself with the sense that “it’s always been this way”; and mere appearance of its having always been this way masks what really happened.  History is falsified backwards, and even (for the reconstruction is also history) by history itself.  History—the history of its own falsification.

It strikes me that what is at issue here is akin to when those who are abused are denied even the linguistic means necessary to complain about the abuse, since the language made available to them has already been laundered to mask and perpetuate that very abuse.  If one’s very language, the language into which one is born, the only language one has available, is such that it already institutionalizes sexism, for example, then not only are some members of society targeted for victimization by sexism, but are also in the process denied access to the means whereby they could even become conscious of their plight, let alone protest against it.  In just the same way, Anders is saying that the reconstruction which erases evidence of the earlier destruction is really a double erasure, which also and above all erases any evidence that anything was destroyed in the first place—just as Himmler and the other Nazi murderers sought to exterminate all signs that they had exterminated the Jews of Europe.  As Anders rightly observes, no destruction could conceivably be more complete than that which destroys all access to the very fact of destruction, no dishonoring of the dead greater than that which buries their very burial.

There are absences, and then there are absences.  There are voids, and then there are voids.  The fertile womb is a void, as is the Nothing from which all things come.  Then there is another sort of void.  For instance, the void, the absence, the not-being, of that second sort is what is at issue in what Kierkegaard—in The Sickness Unto Death, written nearly a full century before the bombing of Hiroshima, which means nearly one-and-two-thirds centuries before September 11, 2001–identified as the very worst form of despair, the most devastating form of hopelessness, with really no chance at all of ever recovering.  That worst, most ineradicable form of despair is the despair that doesn’t even know it is in despair, and is therefore barred from any possibility of changing its condition.  It is the despair that thinks itself to be happiness.  In a kind of anticipation of those remarks on despair, a few years earlier in Works of Love Kierkegaard had written these lines (in the translation by Howard and Enda Hong) about such deception:  “People speak of [life’s] falsity and immediately take it to mean that it deceives one in respect to earthly goods, disappoints one’s great expectations, makes sport of one’s darling plans.  But that it can be most dangerously deceiving when in these respects it honourably maintains everything, almost more than it has promised—that this is the most dangerous falsity [we] seldom think about.”  A misery so deceptive that it makes the miserable think they are happy, or at least ought to be, is the deepest imaginable misery, a despair altogether beyond hope.

The void that opened over Hiroshima on the morning of August 6, 1945, was that sort of void, the kind that results from voiding the void itself—from cancelling it out, effectively erasing it, burying it beyond possibility of recall.  As Jean-François Lyotard would say a few decades after Anders wrote his remarks about Hiroshima, with reference not to Hiroshima but rather to Auschwitz, it is the void, the erasure, that comes from forgetting that we have forgotten.  What really happened during World War II in Auschwitz and then, at the War’s end, across the globe in Hiroshima, was above all just that:  the forgetting that we had forgotten.  It was the opening of a Day that consumed all days, that gobbled them all up at once, wolfed them all down whole, and then digested them completely, transforming them all into itself–which means, as Anders has told us, into one endless nullity, one endless, endlessly unnoticed absence, of any actually new Day at all.  From that Day Zero on, every day was nothing more than that same zero Day, over and over and over again.

That was the Day Zero, the null Day.  It was  the Day that marked the vanishing point of every Day, the Day “after” which there is no more “after that Day”:  as already noted, zero multiplied by any number up to and including infinity is still just that–zero, zilch, nada, null.

Day Zero:  that was the Day the Day died, and died so completely that even its death died away unnoticed, not even forgotten but just erased, never to be recalled.  And thus Day Zero was the Day without end, that repeats itself endlessly, day after day after day after dead and deadening day—a limitlessly wasted expanse of ever expanding wasteland, with no outer boundaries.

And yet, despite all that, despite the dying of the Day beyond any renewal,  another Day did dawn one day.  At least it did if Baudrillard and his like are onto something.  To everyone’s surprise, what was in principle beyond any prediction, because it was beyond any realm of possibility that remained after Day Zero, happened anyway, as impossible, as inconceivable as it may have been.  A new Day did dawn one day—on one of those endless zero days after Day Zero.

It dawned on September 11, 2001.  What happened that day was the dawning of the Day After, that is, the Day After that Day Zero, after that Day after which there were no more Days to dawn.

September 11, 2001:  An impossible day–The Day After!

More on that next time.

Thomas Mann’s “Doktor Faustus”–Second of Two


This is the second of two posts devoted to Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus.  Below are two entries I first wrote in my philosophical journal on the dates indicated.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mann’s Doktor Faustus, p. 375, on Adrian’s [fictitious musical composition] “Apocalypse”:  “[T]he whole work is dominated by the paradox (if it is a paradox), that in it dissonance stands for the expression of everything lofty, solemn, pious, everything of the spirit; while the consonance and firm tonality are reserved for the world of hell, in this context a world of banality and commonplace.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2008

Thomas Mann, Doktor Faustus, p. 491, on Leverkühn’s last work, “Dr. Faustus’ Lament”:

Here, towards the end, I find that the uttermost accents of mourning are reached, the final despair achieves a voice, and–I will not say it, it would be to disparage the uncompromising character of the work, its irremediable anguish to say that it affords, down to its very last note, any other consolation than what lies in voicing it, in simply giving sorrow words; in the fact, that is, that a voice is given the creature for its woe.  No, this dark tone-poem permits up to the very end no consolation, appeasement, transfiguration.  But take our artist’s paradox: grant that expressiveness–expression as lament–is the issue of the whole construction; then may we not parallel with it another, a religious one, and too (though only in the lowest whisper) that out of the sheerly irremediable hope might germinate?  It would be a hope beyond hopelessness, transcendence of despair–not betrayal to her, but the miracle that passes belief.  For listen to the end, listen with me:  One group of instruments after another retires, and what remains, as the work fades on the air, is the high G of a cello, the last word, the last fainting sound, slowly dying in a pianissimo-fermata.  Then nothing more:  silence and night. But that tone which vibrates in the silence, which is no longer there, to which only the spirit hearkens, and which was the voice of mourning, is so no more.  It changes meaning, abides as a light in the night.

Compare to Jean-Luc Nancy on prayer, the prayer of lament!

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Thomas Mann’s “Doktor Faustus”–First of Two


This is the first of two posts containing entries from my philosophical journal regarding Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus, his late novel addressed to the emergence of the Nazi state and the eventual complete collapse of Germany at the end of World War II.  Last winter I reread the novel after an interval of many years, and this time I read it in the original German–though in the journal entries I made during my rereading, I used the available English translation, with some modifications, as indicated. The date below is when I first wrote the entry in my journal.

Saturday, February 6, 2009

Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus:  The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn as Told by a Friend (named Serenus Zeitblom), translated by H. T. Lowe-Porter (New York:  Vintage Books, 1971–orig. English trans. 1948; Ger. orig., 1947), pp. 189-190, conversation between Adrian and Zeitblom, with the former speaking first:

“[W]e need a system-master, a teacher of the objective and organization, with enough genius to write the old-established, the archaic, with the revolutionary. . . . [I]t could mean something necessary to the time, something promising a remedy in an age of destroyed conventions and the relearning of all objective obligations–in short, of a freedom that begins to lie like a mildew upon talent and to betray traces of sterility.”

Then Zeitblom, the narrator, observes, before resuming the conversation:

I started at the word.  Hard to say why, but in his mouth, altogether in conversation with him, there was something dismaying about it, something wherein anxiety mixed in an odd way with reverence.  It came from the fact that in his neighborhood [the German is Nähe, “nearness” or “vicinity”] sterility, threatened paralysis, arrest of productivity could be thought of only as something positive and proud, only in connection with a pure and lofty intellectuality.

Then the dialogue continues:

“It would be tragic,” I said, “if unfruitfulness should ever be the result of freedom.  But there is always the hope of the release of the productive power, for the sake of which freedom is achieved.”

“True,” he responded.  “And she does for a while achieve what she promised.  But freedom is of course another name for subjectivity, and some fine day she does not hold out any longer, some time or other she despairs of the possibility of being creative out of herself and seeks shelter and security in the objective [Note how nicely this fits the image of the camel in Nietzsche’s “Three Metamorphoses” of the spirit in Zarathustra].  Freedom always inclines to dialectic reversals.  She realizes herself very soon in restraint [Note how well, too, all this fits monastic experience and practice], fulfills herself in the subordination to law, rule, coercion, system–but to fulfill herself therein does not mean she therefore ceases to be freedom.”

“In your opinion,” I laughed:  “So far as she knows.  But actually she is no longer freedom, as little as dictatorship born out of revolution is still freedom.”

“Are you sure of it?” he asked.  “But anyhow that is talking politics.  In art, at least, the subjective and the objective intertwine to the point of being indistinguishable, one proceeds from the other and takes the characteristics of the other, the subjective precipitates as objective and by genius is again awakened to spontaneity, ‘dynamized,’ as we say; it speaks all at once the language of the subjective.  The musical conventions today destroyed were not always so objective, so objectively imposed.  They were crystallizations of living experiences and as such long performed an office of vital importance:  the task of organization.  Organization is everything.  Without it, there is nothing, least of all art.  And it was aesthetic subjectivity that took on the task, it undertook to organize the work out of itself, in freedom.”

Reminds me of Badiou on the aleatoriness of truth.

Then, fifty some pages later, in the manuscript wherein Adrian recounts his dialogue with the devil, p. 243, the devil says to Adrian:

“This is what I think:  that an untruth of a kind that enhances power holds its own against any ineffectually virtuous truth.  [Compare Nietzsche again, of course.] And I mean too that creative, genius giving disease [syphilis], disease that rides on high horse all over hindrances, and springs with drunken daring from peak to peak.  [What he’s just described also fits the “disease” of addiction, at least in popular myth.]  . . . I have never heard anything stupider then that from disease only disease can come.  Life is not scrupulous. . . . It takes the restless product of disease, feeds on and digests it, and as soon as it takes it to itself it is health.”

Reading such passages again now, thirty or forty years after having read Doctor Faustus for the first time (only in translation then, this time in the original German), I view them through conceptual lenses ground by my work on addiction and, more recently, on trauma, most especially [Paul] Eisenstein’s interpretation [of Mann’s novel]–whereby Adrian is not the Fascist problem, but, rather, the solution to that problem, whereas Zeitblom becomes the bearer/representative of the problem, and of Fascism as inseparable from that problem.

Viewed through such lenses, the passages I’ve cited point toward the idea, also to be found in Santner, Bateson, and others, that “redemption,” “cure,” “recovery,” or the like, is not to be found in avoidance of . . . (whatever is in play here in the given case, be it “sin,” “neurosis,” “addiction,” or something else), but in release from . . . (the same whatever).  That is, it is to be found, to use the language that currently resonates most fully in my own thought, in finally opening to the trauma as trauma.  It is to let the trauma finally traumatize, and then send one forth to live as so traumatized, so wounded–lamed, as Jacob was lamed in wrestling with the angel of the Lord.

Zeitblom, as his very name can be heard to suggest, wants to live by and in and from the past.  That is, life lived looking backward, like Lot’s wife in leaving the “cities of the plain.”  And like Lot’s wife, those who live life looking backward are turned into statues, or Santner’s “animated undead.”

And the problem, then?  A later passage from Mann’s novel may capture it:  “the itch to know,” which Lowe-Porter translates by leaving out the “knowing,” the “to know,” by just saying “the itch one felt.”  Here is the passage, with my substitution of “the itch to know” for Lowe-Porter’s “the itch one felt,” from p. 268 of his translation.  Adrian is describing at length his imagined descent in a diving bell to the darkest level of the ocean’s abyss, and in the course of it comes to speak of “the itch to know” that drives those who suffer from it “to expose the unexposed, to look at the unlooked at, the not-to-be and not-expecting-to-be-looked-at.  There was a feeling of indiscretion, even of guilt, bound up with it, not quite allayed by the feeling that science must be allowed to press just as far forwards as it is given the intelligence of scientists to go [Mann’s German just says “given the wits to go”–Witz–with no mention of “scientists”].”

The “problem” here is no less than Heidegger’s Gestell.  And, as Heidegger insists, following Hölderlin, it is only there, where all the danger is, that what saves–what redeems, cures, or allows recovery–can grow.

Ironically, however, it is only if Eisenstein is right (which would also mean the devil in the above exchange is right) in seeing Fascism and all that goes with it to be grounded in the soil of Zeitblom and all bourgeois appeal to “humanity” and “humanism,” that what saves might come from the danger or disease of “the itch to know” Adrian describes–i.e., knowledge itself as such drive to know, the whole of modern science and technology–that is, that holds only if Eisenstein is right to see the bourgeois Zeitblom at the root of Nazism.  The irony is that Eisenstein is right on that, only if Heidegger himself is wrong at one point.  That point is Heidegger’s remark, in the lecture course (later published) under the title “Introduction to Metaphysics” in 1935, when he says that the “inner truth and greatness of the National Socialist movement” lies in being an attempt to respond to the spirit of modern technology.  If Adrian is such a response, not Zeitblom, then the Nazis were Zeitbloms, not Leverkühns (and not the devil, at least the devil of Adrian’s dialogue).

Published in: on July 27, 2009 at 1:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Lyotard, Heidegger, the Jews, and “the jews”–#3


Below is the third and final entry from my philosophical journal addressing Jean-Francois Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews”. After beginning to reread Lyotard’s book in January of this year, other things intervened, such that I did not return to it for two months–hence the date below, slightly more than two months after the entry I posted here just two days ago.

After concluding my remarks on my rereading of Lyotard’s book, in the entry below I go on to consider a critique of his thought about trauma and representation by fellow French philosopher Jacques Rancière.  What I say below is by no means my final word on Jacques Rancière’s critique, but it shows the extent to which, at the date of the entry, I had been able to think through some of the important issues he raises.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

For the last day or two I’ve gone back to Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews”, which I started reading back in January, reading through the first of the two parts of the book, “the jews,” before putting  it down to go on to other things that needed my attention.  Well, now I’ve gone back and reread “the jews” yet again, then went on to “Heidegger,” the second part of the book.

In going again through the first half of the book called “the jews,” I hit upon a couple of additional passages worth noting down in this journal–additional to what I put down back in January.  Here they are:

P. 10:  “Here [in the case of the Holocaust] to fight against forgetting means to fight to remember that  one  forgets as soon as one believes, draws conclusions, and holds for  certain.  It means to fight against forgetting the precariousness of what has been established, of the reestablished past; it is a fight for the sickness whose recovery is simulated.”  Thus, for trauma as for addiction, genuine recovery is the refusal of any pretense of recovery, which is to say the refusal of any claim to be cured.  In terms of the injunction “never forget,” it is precisely to refuse to countenance the idea that it is possible to remember, in the sense of “remembering” being equated with keeping a memento or memorial, in general a representation, present before one.

Then, from section 6, two passages, the first on p.19:

Whatever the invoked sense [of primal trauma, as it were–e.g., Freud’s “primal scene”] might be, in the night of  time, of the individual or of the species, this scene that has not taken place, that has not had a stage, that has not even been, because it is not representable [Note how, here, he clearly qualifies what he is saying:  If to be = to be represented, vorgestellt, then trauma cannot “be”] but which is, and is ex-, and will remain it whatever representations, qualifications one might make of it, with which one might endow it; this event ek-sists inside, in-sisting, as what exceeds every imaginative, conceptual, rational sequence.

Then, next page (20):

It follows that psychoanalysis, the search for lost time, can only be interminable, like literature and like true history (i.e., the one that is not historicism but anamnesis):  the kind of  history that does not forget that forgetting is not a breakdown of memory but the immemorial always “present” but never here-now, always torn apart in the time of consciousness, of chronology, between a too early and a too late–the too early of a first blow to the apparatus that it does not feel, and the too late of a second blow where something intolerable is felt.  A soul struck without striking a blow.

Now, on to the second part of the book, “Heidegger.”

P, 51-52 (first two pages of 2nd part), invoking “another urgency,” namely, one other than that manufactured by “the politics of publishing” [at play in “the Heidegger affair”–the agitation over Heidegger’s Nazi connections that was especially disruptive in French intellectual circles in the 1980s]:

Thought can be “urgent”; indeed, this urgency is essential to its being.  One is urged or pressured to think because something, an event, happens before one is able to think it. This event is not the “sensational.”  Under the guise of the sensational, it is forgotten [as 9/11 was forgotten precisely in and under the immediate, even simultaneous, sensationalization of it].  In any case, the event does not “present” itself, it will have happened:  thought finds itself seized and dispossessed by it according to its possibility as regards the indeterminate; it realizes its lack of preparedness for what will have come about, it understands its state of infancy.  The Heidegger affair will have come to our thought in such a way; it will have found it unprepared despite denials on both sides.  The urgency to investigate it when it is prescribed by the publishing powers is a way of precipitating its closure or classification.  In claiming that thought is unprepared for the affair I am eager to maintain its urgency and its pressure, to leave it open to the most patient questioning.

In effect, then, “the Heidegger affair” is a trauma for thought/philosophy.  What is more, isn’t that “historical” trauma traumatic for thought precisely because it crystallizes–becomes a site [for the striking of]–the “structural” trauma that births thought itself in the first place, thought itself as always traumatically structured?  And, ultimately, isn’t the urge and urgency that first calls thought forth–isn’t that the urge and urgency to think trauma?

For Lyotard, “the jews” is just the name of that trauma, the trauma that calls forth thought, to be thought.  And what of the thought of such thought?  P. 84:

This thought has never told anything but stories of unpayable debt, transmitted little narratives, droll and disastrous, telling of the insolvency of the indebted soul.  Where the Other has given credence without the command to believe, who promised without anyone ever asking anything, the Other who awaits its due.  There is no need to wait for or believe in this Other.  The Other waits and extends credit.  One is not acquitted of its patience or its impatience by counteroffereings, sacrifices, representations, and philosophical elaborations.  It is enough to tell and retell that you believe you are acquitting yourself and that you are not.  Thus one remembers (and this  must suffice) that one never stops forgeting what must not be forgotten, and that one is not quit either just because one does not forget the debt. . . . It is this, then, . . . that Nazism has tried to definitively forget:  the debt, the difference between good and evil.  It had tried to unchain the soul from this  obligation, to tear up the note of credit, to render debt-free forever.  And this unchaining is evil itself.

Like the debt we owe to the dead (if it is not the very same debt), the debt to God/the Other is in principle unpayable; and it is  the very endeavor to pay off this debt that compunds it most.

Pp. 93-94 (last page of the book):

[T]he debt that is our only lot–the lot of forgetting neither that there is the Forgotten nor what horrors the spirit is capable of in its headlong madness to make us forget the fact.  “Our” lot?  Whose lot?  It is the lot of this nonpeople of survivors, Jews and non-Jews, called here “the jews,” whose Being-together depends not on the  authenticity of any primary roots but on that singular debt of interminable anamnesis.

The (non-)people or (non-)community of all those who have nothing in common save that each is alone in his/her own unpayable debt.

Also, I just recently read Jacques Rancière, The Future of the Image, translated by Gregory Elliott (London and New York:  Verso, 2007–Fr. orig. 2003).  The last chapter (#5), “Are Some Things Unrepresentable?” is, in large part, a critique of Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews”.  I’ll begin with the summary with which he [Rancière] ends his essay, and therewith the whole book.  Pp. 136-137:

I shall conclude briefly with my opening question.  Some things are unrepresentable as a function of the conditions to which a subject of representation must submit if it is to be part of a determinate regime of art, a specific regime of the relations between exhibition and signification. . . . This set of conditions exclusively defines the representative regime in art. . . . If there are things which are unrepresentable, they can be located in this regime.  In our regime–the aesthetic [as opposed to the representative] regime in art–this notion has no determinable content,  other than the pure notion of discrepancy with  the representative regime.  It expresses the absence of a stable relationship between exhibition and signification.  But this maladjustment tends towards more representation, not less. . . .

Anti-representative art is constitutively an art without unrepresentable things.  There are no longer any inherent limits to representation, to its possibilities.  This boundlessness also means that there is no longer a language form which is appropriate to a subject, whatever it might be.  This lack of appropriateness runs counter both to credence in a language peculiar to art and to the affirmation of the irreducible singularity of certain events. . . . I have tried to show that this exaggeration itself merely perfects the system of rationalization it claims to denounce. . . . In order to assert an unrepresentability in art that is commensurate with an unthinkability of the event, the latter must itself have been rendered entirely thinkable, entirely neccary according to thought.  The logic of unrepresentability can only be sustained by a hyperbole that ends up destroying it.

With that general summary laying out what he is arguing overall, I’ll now go back to flesh it out a bit at a few places.

P. 126:  “There is no appropriate language for wintessing.  Where testimony has to express the experience of the inhuman, it naturally finds an already constituted language of becoming-inhuman, of an identity between human sentiments and non-human movements.”  He then gives a (very good) analysis of Lanzmann’s Shoah in terms of just how it makes use of such already available cinematic language to accomplish its tasks.  On the basis of that analysis of a prime example, he  then concludes (p. 129):  “Nothing is unrepresentable as a property of the event.”  I’m not sure whoever said it was, really.  And, anyway, it all depends on what one means by “the event” here.  If one means simple “datable occurrence,” then “event” itself is cut down to representational size, in effect, before one even begins.  At any rate, he continues:

There are simply choices.  The choice for the present as against historicization; the  decision to represent an accounting of the means, the materiality of the process, as opposed to the representation of causes.  The causes that render the event resistant to any explanation by a principle of sufficient reason, be it fictional or documentary, must be left on hold.

. . . And Lanzmann’s investigation is part of a cinemtaic tradition that has established its pedigree.  This is the tradition that counter-poses to the light thrown on the blinding of Oedipus the simultaneously solved and unresolved mystery of Rosebud, which is the “reason” for Kane’s madness, the revelation at the end of the investigation, beyond investigation, of the nullity of the “cause”. . . . A form of investigation that reconstructs the materiality of an event while  leaving its cause on hold, proves suitable to the extraordinary character of the Holocaust without being specific to  it.  Here again the  appropriate form is also an inappropriate form.  In and of itself the event neither prescribes nor proscribes any artistic means.  And it does not impose any duty on art to represent, or not to represent, in some particular way.

I’m not quite sure what to make of his critique.  On its own terms, his analysis is illuminating, I think.  But as a critique of views such as Lyotard’s,  it seems to me basically to fail.  It passes Lyotard by, as it were.  What it attacks is not what Lyotard is saying, so far as I can see.  For instance, Lyotard himself says that something such as the Holocaust can be more effectively erased by being represented than by being simply denied.  Well, that makes sense only insofar as one can represent the Holocaust.  But his point is that trauma disrupts and disconnects the very business of “representation,” undercutting its claim to any sort of mastery, as it were.

As I say, I’m just not yet sure what to do with Rancière’s discussion here.

Lyotard, Heidegger, the Jews, and “the jews”–#2


This is the second of a series of three posts on Jean-Francois Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews”.  I first wrote the entry below in my philosophical journal on the date indicated.

Satruday, January 10, 2009

Lyotard, Heidegger and “the jews”, p. 27, just after writing what I cited yesterday [see my preceding post], that ends with “Finally, one has appeal to human rights, one cries out ‘never again’ and that’s it!  It is taken care of,” he continues:  “Humanism takes care of this adjustment because it is of the order of secondary repression.  One cannot form an idea of the human being as value unless one projects one’s misery to the outside as caused by causes that one only needs to get down to transforming.”

This is also essentially what Paul Eisenstein says, when he argues that trauma is effectively denied its traumatization by the identification of trauma, which is finally always “structural,” with some one actual “historical” occurrence–or figure (such as “the Jew”) made to represent trauma–in precisely the negative sense of “represent” that Lyotard critiques in the passage I cited yesterday [see the preceding post].

He picks up that critique again a few lines later on p. 27:

If one represents the extermination, it is also necessary to represent the exterminated.  One represents men,  women, children treated like “dogs,” “pigs,” “rats,” “vermin,” subjected to humiliation, constrained to abjection, driven to despair, thrown like filth into the ovens.  But this is not enough, this representation forgets something.  For it is not as men, women, and children that they are exterminated but as the name of what is evil–“jews”–that the  Occident has given to the unconscious anxiety.  Compare [Robert] Antelme and [Elie] Wiesel, L’Espèce humaine [The Human Race] and Night. Two representations, certainly.  But Antelme resists, he is somebody who resists.

Then he makes a point similar to one Chrétien makes in The Ark of Speech (see my journal  entry above, for 12/28/08 [in my post before last]):

All resistance is ambiguous, as its name indicates.  Political resistance, but resistance in the Freudian sense.  It is a compromise formation that involves learning to negotiate with the Nazi terror, to manipulate it, even if only for a little; trying to understand it [cf. Claude Lanzman saying that it is obscene and blasphemous to try to give “meaning” or “explanation” to the Holocaust], so as to outsmart it; putting one’s life on the line for this; reaching the limits of the human species, for that.  It is war.  Deportation is a part of the war.  Antelme saves honor.

These remarks, especially in echoing relation with those of Chrétien, perhaps point to a way to resolve the issue of reconciling the liberation attested by the rebellion at Auschwitz with that equally–if not even more so–attested by the experience of the ultimately transitory, ephemeral, and illusionary character of the assertion of power in “Auswchwitz”–the problem that has surfaced more than once in my journals on trauma.  Maybe these echoing passages from Lyotard and Chrétien are the way-markers to  the way out of that apparent impasse.  That may well be a suggestion reinforced by how Lyotard goes on with his discussion.

Still on page 27 [and extending over to page 28], Lyotard goes on to say:

One can represent the Nazi madness–make of  it what it also is–an effect of “secondary” repression, a symptom; a way of transcribing anxiety, the terror in regard to the undetermined (which Germany knew well, especially then), into will, into political hatred, organized, administered, turned against the unconscious affect. . . . But on the side of “the jews,” absence of representability, absence of experience, absence of accumulation of experience (however multimillenial), interrior innocence, smiling and hard, even arrogant, which neglects the world except with regard to its pain–these are the traits of a tradition where the forgotten remembers that it is forgotten; knows itself to be unforgettable, has no need of inscription, of looking after itself, a tradition where the soul’s only concern is with the terror without origin, where it tries desperately, humorously to originate itself by narrating itself.

The SS does not wage war against the Jews. . . . The war merely creates the din that is necessary to cover the silent crime. . . . –a second terror, a horror rather, practiced on the involuntary witness of the “first” terror, which is not even felt, not even lodged, but which is diffuse and remains in it like an interminably deferred debt.  In representing the second terror one ineluctably perpetuates it [!!!].  It is itself only representation. . . . One betrays misery, infamy by representing them.  All memory, in the traditional sense of representation, because it involves decision, includes and spreads the  forgetting of the terror without origin that motivates it.

Published in: on July 22, 2009 at 12:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Truth of Trauma


Today’s post contains three brief entries I wrote last winter in my philosophical journal, and all of which pertain to an issue I have raised more than once before at this website.  That is the issue of just what response trauma elicits from those whom it strikes.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Susan Cheever, Desire:  Where Sex Meets Addiction (New York:  Simon and Schuster, 2008), p. 35, on trauma:

The human balance that enables most people to live without mind-altering substances [with which she’d include sex as the sex addict relates to it] every day is fragile. It can be upset by trauma or by witnessing trauma.  Once you see what people can do to each other, it’s hard to go back to the level of trust in strangers and the human community that makes life bearable.

How true–especially and paradigmatically for Holocaust survivors.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Jean-Louis Chrétien, The Ark of Speech, translated by Andrew Brown (London and  New York:  Routledge, 2004), p. 146:

Affirmation forms the sole place of struggle against evil.  To say no to the no means to say no again, leading back one way or another to what one is opposing and making one dependent on it.  To resist evil is to carry with one, permanently, the Trojan  horse that contains it.  To struggle against it can only mean attacking it, and only the diamond of the yes can really attack all negation, at its heart, without having to deny it.

It would be necessary to think that through in relation to [(among other similar things)] Jean Améry’s defense of suicide, as well as the resistance that surfaced in the uprising that destroyed the crematorium stack at Auschwitz.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Reading Alex Ross, The Rest Is Noise:  Listening to the Twentieth Century.  Late in the book, discussing Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, written and first performed in Stalag VII, when Messiaen was imprisoned there by the Germans [during World War II], Ross writes:

Messiaen expects paradise not just in a single awesome hereafter but also in the scattered ecstasies of daily life.  In the end, his apocalypse–“There shall be time no longer”–may have nothing to do with the catastrophic circumstances under which it was conceived.  Instead, it may describe the death and rebirth of a single soul in the grip of exceptional emotion.

That links up not only with Franz Rosenzweig’s earlier [i.e., before World War II] emphasis on the  quotidian character of redemption  in the Star of Redemption, but also with the issue I’ve been raising in various earlier journal entries about the “truth” of Auschwitz being found in the affirmation expressed in, for example, the  “unsuccessful” rebellion that blew up  one of the crematoria smoke stacks there:  the issue joined in the Psalms that sing of the transitoriness of worldly power.

Published in: on July 17, 2009 at 1:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Killing to Heal: Robert J. Lifton on the Nazi Doctors, #6


Below is my final journal entry, first written on the date indicated, dealing with Robert J. Lifton’s The Nazi Doctors.  Before leaving Lifton, in my next two posts I will ,share some reflections on a later work of his on September11, 2001, and its aftermath.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Lifton (p 467) on developing “the paradigm of death and the continuity of life–or the  symbolization of life and death–that [based on Otto Rank’s work] I have been employing in this book and in other works over several decades” to apply to genocide.  To that end, to “the central  tenet of that model” in accordance with which, a propos genocide at least, “human beings kill in order to assert their own life power,” he now adds “the image of curing a deadly disease, so that genocide may become an absolute form of killing in the name of  healing.”

It is worth noting that the “model” or “paradigm” he is using also applies, at least in its “central tenet” to addiction [which entails, however, no sort of moral equivalent between the two:  as I will later discuss, the moral difference between genocide and addiction is huge].   That is, both genocide and addiction would be rooted in the need “to assert [the  addict’s and/or the killer’s] own life power” (the “control” of  “my control  disease” of addiction [as therapist J. Keith Miller describes his own alcoholism].

What is more, as Lifton explicitly argues a bit earlier in the book (pp. 447-451), the “omnipotence” that genocidal killers such as, emblematically (because of “killing to heal”), the Nazi Auschwitz doctors experience when killing–that (p. 447) “sense of omnipotent control over the live and deaths” of its victims–wavers with “the seemingly opposite sense of impotence, of being a powerless cog in a vast machine controlled by unseen others.”  Indeed,  it is clear that, in general, any killing in order to heal must, in my language, disappropriate itself of (or dis-own) its own inner sense (direct intentionality, as it  were) as killing.  That is why the exercise of power in such a way is wracked internally by its “opposite,” the sense of powerlessness.  That would occur whenever a split of the direct, inner intentionality of means and ends occurs.

And just such a split also occurs in addiction, in that the very way the addict experiences as the only available avenue for asserting her own “life power” is by subjecting herself (note:  not just “being subjected to,” but, exactly, “subjecting oneself to,” since otherwise it would be no means of exercising power or control at all) to undergoing the activity of the drug or drug-equivalent upon her.  Thus, in addiction, too, there is this same central wavering between power and powerlessness.

Also common to  genocide and addiction is insatiability:  No amount of killing for the one who kills in the name of healing will ever be enough–enough to eliminate all “infection” and “disease” and risk thereof–any more than any amount of alcohol is ever enough for what, following Lipton’s talk of the Nazi doctor’s “Auschwitz self,” we might call an alcoholic’s alcoholic-self. 

But perhaps the key to a crucial differentiation lies here, in the “insatiability” of both genocidal killer and addict.  That is, why the one is insatiable may be significantly different from why the other is “insatiable.”  The  difference may, indeed, be there, along the axis of the active/reactive distinction that Deleuze makes central in his reading of Nietzsche.

In effect, it may come down to  the insatiability of the genocidal killer being reactive, whereas that of the addict is active.  Genocide, insofar as it requires the attribution of generative power–power generative of the very efforts of healing that come to consist in killing–to what is other than itself.  The point to extract from that is not just that genocidal action is only called forth by the irruption of “infection” or “disease,” which really becomes the tautology that healing efforts are only called forth in response or “reaction” to illness.  The point is, rather, that at the very heart of genocide lies coiled the fundamental experience of powerlessness–better:  the experience of fundamental powerlessness:  the experience of oneself as not powerful, but as, instead, the mere pawn of what does have power.  Genocide would be reactive, then, because it would emerge, not directly from and/or as the assertion of one’s own power or “vitality” (to use a language closer to the Nazis’ own) but as avoidance of the recognition of one’s own powerlessness.  But since the very endeavor to deny, disavow, or avoid something that is experienced as definitive of one’s very selfhood–here, the radical experiential impotence of the killer in the face of  what he must kill, because it has power over him–the very powerlessness one is trying to avoid by genocide is incorporated or institutionalized within genocidal action itself:  Hence the more one kills, the less power one feels, which means the more one has to go on killing.

In contrast, addiction is at root an assertion of one’s power or vitality as such. It involves the direct experience of such power, the exercise of it in the only way experientially open to one, under addictionogenic circumstances.  That would be why one could bottom out in addiction, whereas genocide is bottomless.

Hence, too, there would be a corresponding differentiation of what could constitute “recovery.”  In the case of addiction, as active, what ultimately needs to be recovered, in the sense of regained, is the authentic power that has been covered over or concealed by external circumstances, experienced (falsely) as somehow depriving one of power.  Paradoxically, here it is precisely by the full acknowledgement of one’s powerlessness that one finds oneself re-invested with power–though now genuine power, no longer distorted as having anything to do with externalities at all.

In contrast, “recovery” for a genocidal healer-killer (and, as a side note, Lifton’s noteworthy insight that genocide as such involves killing to heal is also worth reversing, insofar as it ponts to a necessarily genocide-engendeging capacity that lies essentially in modern medicine as such–to which much of Lifton’s own work, as well as [Pat] Barker’s Regeneration-trilogy attests [the subject of an earlier series of posts at this blogsite]) involves full acknowledgement or recognition, not of powerlessness as such, but of one’s anxiety-driven avoidance or disavowal of responsibility.

That’s why giving up the illusion of control  starts the addict toward recovery, whereas it is precisely the genocidal killer’s illusion of lack of control–and, hence, blaming others and demonizing them–that must first be abandoned, if any recovery is even to become possible.  That recovery as such, in fact, would only begin at the bottom of whatever processes one might then, after the confession of guilt connected with one’s own actions as a killer (actual or potential), fall into, in now trying to exert control over oneself in some addictive practice.

It may even be that recovery from healer-killing is actually not possible at all!  Here may be, at last, “absolute evil,” now seen to be reaction as such.

After his characterization, above, of his life-continuity model, Lifton writes(p. 467):  “The model I propose [for genocide] includes a perception of collective illness, a vision of cure, and a series of motivations, experiences, and requirements of  perpetrators in this quest  for that cure.”  A couple of pages later (468-470), he presents Germany after WW I and Turkey before the genocide against the Armenians as sharing just such a perception/interpretation of the “national” situation as such an “illness,” which must then be “cured” by atacking the supposed external “causes”–the Jews for the Nazis and the Armenians for the Turkish nationalists in 1915.

It is noteworthy that here, in these genocide-engendering situations, the  perpetrators of the coming genocide begin by inerpreting the situation as an “illness,” and by then projecting the source of that illness onto the selected “other” who has “invaded” the body of the Volk or nation.  In contrast, the addict does not at all begin by seeing her situaion as an illness.  Rather, the addiction seems to be the “solution” to whatever problem is at issue.  And only once the addict can be given the idea that the addiction is some “malady” or “illness,” as Bill Wilson always called alcoholism, does recovery begin.  In the case of the genocidal killer, actual or  potential, it is all but the reverse:  Only by giving up the interpretation that the  problem lies in some illness–e.g., the “stab in the back” purportedly involved in German  defeat in WW Iand acknowledging, instead, that the purported problem is self-engendered, does the genocide have any chance at “recovery.”  That is, so to speak, the genocide must begin at the fourth column of the 4th step [of AA’s twelve steps, where one must examine one’s own “fault” in the situation being analyzed], whereas the addict must first get there by taking the first three steps.

Lifton, p. 470:

The stage of sickness [with which genocide begins], then, includes the experience of collective loss and death immersion; the promise of redemptive revitalization, including total merging of self with a mystical collectivity; the absolute failure of that promise, followed by newly intensified experience of collective death imagery and death equivalents; leading in turn to a hunger for a “cure” commensurate in its totality [it is what he then calls “the vision of a total cure” that comes into play] with the “sickness.”


P. 473:  “Totalism in a nation state, then, is most likely to emerge as a cure for a death-haunted illness; and victimization, violence, and genocide are potential aspects of that cure.”


Also pointing to the reactive nature of genocide is what Liftgon writes on p. 479:  “Hence, the parallel imagery in genocide:  the bearer of deathly disease threatens one’s own people with extinction so one must absolutely extinguish him first.”  Thus, the genocidal killer begins with the perception of himself as a victim.

So, for example, did and does the Republican conservative such as Bush or McCain paint the US as a victim of “Islamic terrorists.”

Killing to Heal: Robert J. Lifton on the Nazi Doctors, #5


Below is another entry from my philosophical journal–first written on the date indicated–on Robert J. Lifton’s The Nazi Doctors. 


Saturday, November 1, 2008

Lifton’s analysis in The Nazi Doctors is excellent and important.  That is especially true of one of his closing chapters–the one he calls “Doubling:  The Faustian Bargain” (the first of three chapters in his third and final part, “The Psychology of Genocide”).  The whole chapter is well worth reflection.  Here are just some of my initial responses.

Lifton writes (p. 418):  “One is always ethically responsible for Faustian bargains–a responsibility in no way abrogated by the fact that much doubling takes place outside of awareness. . . . For the individual  Nazi doctor in Auschwitz, doubling was likely to  mask a choice for evil.”  This remark, with its insistence that responsibility extends even into what lies outside awareness (i.e., even to what is “unconscious”) opens upon a whole  new way of beginning to think through the notion of responsibility.  As the analysis he goes on to provide suggests, what needs to be brought into play in such a rethinking is a matter of the personal, egoistic “pay-off, in effect, of acting in a certain way and [that is already in play], most crucially, in the very structuring of awareness–of what will and will not come into awareness in the first place.  Along those lines he remarks,  for example (p. 419), “a major function of doubling, as in Auschwitz, is likely to be the avoidance of guilt:  the second self seems to be the one performing the ‘dirty work.’ ”

He goes on to differentiate “doubling” from “splitting,” but how he does so does not seem fully clear to  me.  I wonder if the key to the difference between the two  might not well be that “doubling,” as the last line I quoted just above suggests, would involve self-justifying, self-interested (in the proper sense:  a matter of “looking out for number one,” in effect) motives such as avoiding the sense of guilt, whereas “splitting”–the sort of thing abuse victims do when they “dissociate” (which term he mentions himself)–is a matter of self-preservation, to put it in short.  (Self-preservation as such entails no special  investment in “selfish interests.”)

Thus, on the very next page (420) he goes on himself to write: 

In general psychological terms the adaptive  potential for doubling [here clearly being used to name what is structurally common to “doubling” in the narrower sense I’m suggesting, where it’s coupled to self-interested justification, and “splitting”] is integral to the human psyche and can, at times,  be life saving:  for a soldier in combat, for instance; or for a victim of brutality such as an Auschwitz inmate, who must also undergo a form of doubling [i.e., what I’d suggest be called, not “doubling” at all, but “splitting,” following his  own distinction on the preceding page] in order to survive.  Clearly, the “opposing self” can be life enhancing [i.e., life preserving,  I’d say].  But under certain conditions it can embrace evil with an extreme lack of restraint.”

In the latter case–to which I’d confine the term “doubling”–what he writes two pages later (422) applies:  “In doubling, one part of the self ‘disavows’ another part.  What is repudiated is not reality itself–the individual  Nazi doctor was aware of  what  he was doing via the Auschwitz self–but the meaning of that reality.”  Later on the same page he goes on to  note that Auschwitz Nazi doctors “welcomed” doubling “as the only means of psychological function [short of  genuine resistance, that is–I’d add that crucial qualification].  If an environment is sufficiently extreme, and one chooses [note:  none of the victims had any choice] to remain in it, one may be able to do so only by means of doubling.”

On pp. 423-424 he writes: 

In sum, doubling is the psychological means by which one evokes the evil potential of the self.  That evil is neither inherent in the self nor foreign to it.  To live out the doubling and call forth the evil is a moral choice for which one is responsible, whatever the level of consciousness involved.  By means of doubling, Nazi doctors made a Faustian choice for evil:  in the process of doubling, in fact, lies an overall key to human evil.

I think he’s right about that.  And perhaps reflecting on how to avoid such evil should start with considering how, if what is at issue is guilt and responsibility for something occurring at the unconscious level, one can guard against the sort of motivated avoidance of knowing (or “willful ignorance” [to use the definition of stupidity John Hawkes gives in his novel Adventures in the Skin Trade in Alaska]) at issue in those [unconscious] processes:  How, that is, one can learn to recognize when one is (pre-)choosing to unleash and exploit just such unconscious processes.

Perhaps part of the answer to that question lies in the practice on a regular basis, until habituation occurs, of such things as the [AA] 10th step [of continuing to take “personal inventory” of oneself], or Ignatian examen of conscience, daily.


P. 458:  “The doctor’s [special, or especially frequent and intense] danger, we now see, lies in his capacity to double in a way that brings special power to his killing self even as he continues to anoint himself with medical purity.”  Thus, the Nazi doctor presents an emblematic instance of “a universal human proclivity toward constructing good motives [for oneself] while participating in evil behavior.”  And thus, too (p. 459):  “[E]ven as he killed,  every doctor’s Auschwitz self could retain some sense of mediating between man and nature and thereby saving life.”

Killing to Heal: Robert J. Lifton on the Nazi Doctors, #4


This is the fourth in my series of posts of philosophical journal entries I wrote last fall concerning Robert J. Lifton’s The Nazi Doctors.  As was true for the journal entry in my immediately previous post, the first entry below begins with a remark about Alain Badiou, before shifting to Lifton.  The two entries below were written at the Benedictine Monastery of Christ in the Desert, near Abiquiu, New Mexico, where I have been making personal retreats for years.


Thursday, October 28, 2008–at Christ in the Desert

During Vespers here yesterday, it struck me that the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ could  be taken in the sense I’ve been exploring a bit in recent entries on the “reality” of what is experienced–or, better, on “reality,” period.  That is, the resurrection could be taken to be the revelation to the apostles and then generations of the faithful that suffering, destitution, and pain are not “ultimate reality,” any more than, for Badiou [see my immediately preceding post], “the sad passions” such as “death and depression” are “loyal feelings,” or “licit passion” (so they are il-licit!).  The resurrection–which, for Badiou’s own account, is the sole truth [which Badiou, however, insists did not “really” happen] that makes of the human animal Saul, the subject Paul, with claim to universality–would then be the event of just that truth, at the very heart of the crucifixion itself, dispelling the later as “a dream one wakes from,” to borrow [again] from the Psalms.


Lifton, The Nazi Doctors, on Dr. Ernst B., the Auschwitz doctor who was able to help and rescue many, to become, in the words of one survivor, used as the title for this chapter in Lifton’s book, “a human being in an SS uniform”–p. 333: 

An important part of B.’s post-Auschwitz self and worldview is his unfinished business with Auschwitz.  His conflicting needs are both to continue to explore his Auschwitz experience and to avoid coming to grips with its moral significance.  His insistence that Auschwitz was not understandable serves the psychological function of rejecting any coherent explanation or narrative for the events in which he was involved.  He thus remains stuck in an odd post-traumatic pattern:  unable either to absorb (by finding narrative and meaning) or to free himself from Auschwitz images.

But isn’t that, indeed, how it is with all trauma, finally?  One cannot get past it!  One cannot “free” oneself from its “images” (and note how the ability of “finding narrative and meaning” for any trauma is just a way to “free”oneself from it–or, more accurately, to bury and avoid it).  (Lifton himself knows this, as his comments on p. 13, which I site in an [earlier] entry, shows, to give one good example.)  Isn’t that what [Eric] Santner [in his Psychotheology of Everyday Life], for example, distilled from his reading of Freud with Rosenzweig?  And doesn’t Santner’s analysis point to a “recovery” from trauma which respects it, so to speak, by neither explaining nor otherwise avoiding it, in its very inexplicibility and one’s own “stuckness” on it?

Related:  Lifton’s book came out before, a few years later, [Claude] Lantzman’s [film] Shoah, and Lantzman’s argument that any attempt to make Auschwitz “understandable” is a blasphemy, tantamount to compounding the brutality of the camps and the “Final Solution.”  That would complicate Lifton’s picture here,  and I’m curious what he thought of  Lantzman’s film and assertion.

There may be some advantage in distinguishing two different places from and in which one can get traumatically “stuck.”  One such place would be that of the perpetrators, to which in some sense Ernst B. continues to belong despite his attempts at (relative) “humanity” in his role there (as Lifton correctly insists).  From that place, as Lifton suggests in the quote I began with, there is a definite self-serving (by way of self-exculpating) dimension of “payoff” that comes from denying the explicability of Auschwitz.  But precisely for that reason, the specific nature of the stuckness at/from this locus is basically an exploitation of the very inexplicability at issue. 

In contrast, there is the place of the victim, where no such  exploitation occurs in the acknowledgement–here, genuine; when exploitative, disingenuous–of the inexplicability.  And it is here, in this place, if anywhere, that any “resurrection” must occur. (As, perhaps, it does in D. M. Thomas’s The White Hotel?  I’m not sure:  Need to look at that novel again, maybe.)


Wednesday, October 29, 2008–at Christ in the Desert

Yesterday, a propos Lifton, I forgot to note this thought that came to me when reading the passage I cited yesterday:

It is as if Auschwitz mirrors an event of truth, most especially in its “excessiveness,” its irreducibility to any explanation.  Because it (Auschwitz–and other [pseudo-?]events like it) mimics truth in that way, the illusion of it–specifically, it’s being “how things really are“–can only be dispelled by the event of a genuine truth, one that dismisses the illusion as a phantom.

There is also, perhaps, a sense in which such points of the mocking mimicry of a truth-event opens, despite its mimicking intentions, a site for the striking of truth.