Ingeborg Bachmann: Nobody has the Right to Appeal to the Victim

IBdbleReading, thinking and writing about Ingeborg Bachmann right now, while also thinking about the victims of terror and the misuse they are put to, here in this country and in France as well. So this morning I came across a posthumous prose fragment of Bachmann’s which I’d read in the 4-volume collected but now met again, insistently, in Françoise Rétif’s lovely, excellent, challenging book-length essay on I.B. (Ingeborg Bachmann, Editions Belin, 2008). Rétif uses it to contrast Bachmann’s thinking to Celan’s on the matter of the “victim,” but here, now, I just want to offer a quick translation of the little text in the context of the misuse of innocent, indeed, victims for less than honest political power purposes.

[…] Again and again we have to desire, to think, to ground ourselves and everything we do; life, as we have been living it for millennia, is nothing self-evident; old locutions such as “gift of life,” “grace,” “deliverance,” point from the start to this immense lack of self-evidence. All of these words should disappear. Here one no longer gifts, graces, pardons, habilitates, recognizes, delivers, etc.. When all of that will no longer happen here — then we’ll have a dawn.

That is exactly why there can no longer be any victims (human sacrifices), humans as victims, because the sacrificed human leads nowhere. It is not true that the victims adjure, implore, witness, bear witness for something, that is one of the most terrible, thoughtless and weakest poetizations.

But the human who is not a victim is in twilight, is twilight existence par excellence, even the one who has nearly fallen victim continues with his errors, creates new errors, is not “in the truth,” is not privileged. No one has the right to appeal to the victim. That is misuse. No country and no group, no idea may appeal to their dead.

But the difficulty to express this. Sometimes I feel very clearly one or the other truth as it arises and then feel it being trampled down in my head by other thoughts or sense it withering away, because I don’t know what to do with it, because it cannot be shared, because I don’t know who to communicate it or, exactly, because there is nothing that demands this sharing and I can’t fasten on anywhere nor on anyone.

[Ingeborg Bachmann, Werke, 1978, vol. 4, p. 335]

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4 Responses

  1. khalid says:

    “Here one no longer gifts, graces, pardons, habilitates, recognizes, delivers, etc.. When all of that will no longer happen here — then we’ll have a dawn”

    I’m not sure if I’ve understood that but it does sound like a rather silly thing to say.

    • Pierre Joris says:

      Remember it is an abandoned fragment, but if you read & ponder the first lines, then this one becomes clearer too. The idea being not to “use” victims in any of the many ways we tend to do so. She is as always in a conversation with paul Celan — & here is a major difference between her & him: her sense being that (as Françoise Rétif put it) “if the Shoa demands the work of memory in/of the writing, it cannot justify a separation claimed as fate (une séparation érigée en destin.)”

  2. khalid mir says:

    Thank you for that clarification, Pierre. Much appreciated. I’m sure it’s just me being thick but I read this as meaning ” that for millennia” life has not been self evident and that it should be.

    But that suggests something like ” bare life” and that is surely what led to the problem in the first place( arendt, sort of) but also Foucault’ s astute summary: nazism = state racism. Is bio power, then, the manipulation of bare life..a life that is not ” recognized”?

    I understand the point about breaking the shallow utilitarianism and politicization of victimhood but surely there is an equal danger of just saying it was meaningless or madness or even more incorrect: a throwback to the medieval irrationality. I think bettelheim’ s book clearly refutes that.



  3. khalid says:

    Pierre, at the risk of completely missing the point could I also add these wonderful lines from Rowan Williams’s lecture on Waldo Williams:

    “What comes first in the universe is connectedness-recognition. In that sense, the enterprise of poetry is taking us to the level of primordial language, primitive language; ultimately , the Word of God-the speech which underlies our humanity, indeed, our very being.”

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