Reading, 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]