terça-feira, 3 de abril de 2012
Auschwitz ad Infinitum: A Discussion with Heiner Heiner Müller
Auschwitz ad Infinitum (Auschwitz und kein Ende), a discussion with young French directors, edited by Holgar Teschke, first appeared in Drucksache16 (1995), the program brochure for the Berliner Ensemble's 1995 production of Bertolt Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, directed by Heiner Müller.
The title of Müller's interview, which refers to Goethe's Shakespeare study Shakespeare ad Infinitum (Shakespeare und kein Ende, 1813-16), is an indirect reference to Müller's proposal as the artistic director of the Berliner Ensemble to make his own plays and those of Brecht and Shakespeare the focal point of the theater's work. His choice to include the interview in the Arturo Ui program alongside scene 4 of Germania 3 points to his desire to address questions of German fascism with his Brecht production in the year marking the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II.
The Holocaust does not figure prominently as a subject in Müller's work. His plays do not directly deal with the genocide of European Jewry or the roots of German anti-Semitism. Müller approaches the period of German fascism from the perspective of antifascism in plays such as The Battle (1951,1974), Germania Death in Berlin (1956, 1971), and Volokolamsk Highway (1984,1987). Plays such as Philoctetes (1958, 1964) and Mauser (1970), In which Müller discusses historical violence in the context of Stalinism and communist revolution, likewise, elide the question of the relation of German fascism to anti-Semitism. These plays adhere to the claim of the GDR to be a state founded on antifascism. One has to turn to the fragmentary scenes from one of Müller's earliest attempts at writing drama, his unfinished 1952 play about Werner Seelenbinder, to find the author directly addressing the subject of anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany; four scenes have been published in Explosion of a Memory: Heiner Müller DDR, Ein Arbeitsbuch (Berlin, 1988), and the scene "The Larder" (Der Gemusekeller) appears in English as "Boots Have a Memory" in Germania (New York, 1990).
The interview Auschwitz ad Infinitum, perhaps Müller's most straight-forward commentary on the Holocaust, provides an important supplement to the critique of German fascism in his plays. The interview is also an investigation into the aspects of modernity that produced the technological disaster to which we have given the name Auschwitz. By suggesting that Auschwitz, literally, has "no end," Müller deprives the Holocaust of its singularity as a historical event in order to discuss the ways in which Auschwitz represents a trauma that remains with modern society.
Müller draws in the interview upon his own texts as well as those of other authors. The reference to speed with respect to the Nazi Blitzkrieg has parallels in Paul Virilio's Speed and Politics. Müller also refers to a touring production of his play The Battle that had its premiere in 1975 in Budapest.
The reference to Heinrich von Kleist draws upon remarks in Müller's 1990 acceptance speech for the Kleist Prize, "Germany without a Place," published in Jenseits der Nation (Berlin, 1991). Karl Korsch (1886-1961) is a Marxist philosopher whose major work is the 1923 Marxism and Philosophy. Korsch's unorthodox Marxism exercised a major influence on Bertolt Brecht, and his letter to Brecht on the Blitzkrieg as "bundled-up energy from the left" is likely to have been familiar to Müller, who cites Korsch's letter in his introduction to a German translation of Italian novelist Curzio Malaparte's (1898-1957) war reportage on the Russian front in 1941 for Corriere della Sera (Die Wolga entspringt in Europa, Cologne, 1989.) Müller was fascinated by Korsch's definition of the Nazis' appropriation of the anticapitalist energies of the working class. He writes: "Malaparte describes the war in Russia, that is, its initial phase of an apparently unstoppable German advance, as a war between two armies of workers, defined by the relation of the worker to the machine, which also determines the ethic of the war: it has the precision of work, the war is a production."
Müller injects his discourse with references to a number of artists, artworks, and public figures. These include the Russian master of the short story Nicolay Leskov (1 831-95). His story The Iron Will begins with a statement by one of the characters that "the Germans are endowed with an iron will, which Russians lack." The character adds, "Maybe they are iron, while we are just plain, soft, raw dough—but you would do well to remember that dough, if there's enough of it, can't be chopped through even with an axe: what's more, an axe can get buried and lost." Wernher von Braun, the leading rocket scientist under the Nazis, became the head of the U.S. rocket program after the war. The Stephen King story to which Müller refers is Survivor Type, published in Different Seasons in 1982 and made into the movie Apt Pupil in 1998 by Brian Singer. Rostock and Hoyerswerda are the two East German cities that became synonymous in the early 1990s with violence against foreigners, due to racist attacks and demonstrations by former East Germans. Eberswalde is a suburb of East Berlin known for its dreary, modernist housing projects. Dostoyevsky's 1866 novel Crime and Punishment tells the story of Raskolnikov, a student who is racked by guilt after putting to the test his theory that humanitarian ends justify evil means, by murdering a pawnbroker.
Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) is the German Jewish philosopher and critic whose writings have been an important source for Müller's philosophy of history. Müller contributed the anecdote about the cat and the cricket to a festschrift for Ernst Jünger, Thrakischer Sommer in Magie der Heiterkeit: Ernst Jünger zum Hundertsten, Stuttgart, 1995.
The Roßbach brigade was one of the paramilitary organizations known as Freikorps that sprang from the demilitarized army after World War I and performed acts of right-wing terrorism. Gerhard Roßbach published a memoir, Mein Weg durch die Zeit: Erinnerungen und Bekenntnisse, and Rudolf Höß's autobiographical sketches were published posthumously as Kommandant in Auschwitz. Konrad Wolf (1925-82), a leading East German film director, created a montage of personal memories from the end of World War II in his 1967 film Ich war neunzehn (I Was Nineteen).
In Auschwitz ad Infinitum Müller discusses issues from twentieth-century history that reappear in his final play Germania 3, whose subject is World War II in Russia and its effects in East Germany. Müller often spoke in this context about his desire to become a repository for German memory, because, as he declared on occasion, "I stand in the void of the communist Utopia" (Germania, New York, 1990).
If it can be said of Müller's plays that they are an attempt to fill this void by putting it on stage, then the interview Auschwitz ad Infinitum must be read as a measure of the author's commitment to preserving the experience of the twentieth century.
Q: Heiner Müller, you have written a lot about German history, especially about National Socialism in Germany. Is there something specifically German about this theater material?
Q: Isn't Auschwitz also a national material? Is it at all possible to deal with this material in the theater?
The other point is that German anti-Semitism was probably so virulent because it is based on an ancient trauma. From our standpoint today it seems strange that the terminology used by the Nazis was often Jewish, for example, the "thousand-year empire." Until 1933 anti-Semitism was more evident in Poland, Russia, and Eastern Europe. In Germany, in contrast to France or the USA, it was less prevalent. There is a theory for this that I find quite interesting. After the fall of Rome, the first Christian missionaries came to the Franks, who were the main Germanic tribe in France and Germany and the missionaries told the Franks, "You are the chosen people, therefore, having been chosen, you must take up the cross." And they took up the cross.
This also has to do with Hitler himself. There is a legend that after the annexation of Austria Hitler's first secret order was to evacuate and destroy a small village in upper Austria.
HM: It can also be reformulated: the Blitzkrieg, or the war of speed, was— after the failed revolution in 1848—the transformation of the German working class from the status of the exploited to that of the hunter. By going to war, they became hunters. One hears this over and over in every neighborhood bar. The memory of war is the greatest experience of freedom. War was an ersatz for revolution, just as the present-day violence against foreigners is once again an ersatz for a revolution that wasn't carried out fully. The Jews became ersatz enemies because the real capitalists were needed, in effect, to finance the war. They stood behind Hitler, which is also why no one could get at them.
HM: Yes, but the industries important to the war, essentially the heavy industries, were in German hands—Flick, Krupp, Thyssen. German industry has always dreamed about what is now happening in the East. They tried it first with Hitler, but it didn't work. Now they've got what they've always wanted. Eastern Europe is spread out at their feet, both as a marketplace and as a labor pool. As early as 1943 secret conferences took place in Madrid and London between German, British, and American industrialists who were worried about the division of the market in the East after the war, since they already knew that it wasn't going to work out with Hitler. They miscalculated then and are bound to miscalculate again. They have never understood Russia. There is a nice story by Leskov about Russia at the time of Napoleon. Leskov writes that Russia is like a dough ball, one can pound it with a fist, kick it with a boot, hack at it with an axe, but when one removes the boot or the axe, the dough expands, rises and is just the same as ever.
Q: How do you explain the aggressiveness of the Germans?
Colonies make it easier for a nation to disperse its aggressive energies around the globe. In Germany these forces remained concentrated.
There are a few other events in German history that have also formed the national character. Germany is in the center of Europe, so all wars inevitably took place in Germany. The Germans have never been able to imagine a war that isn't also a war with two fronts. The English or the French could send their criminals to Australia or Algeria where they could carry out their massacres, but in Germany the criminals stayed home and so did the criminal energy—this naturally includes the criminal energy of capital.
There was, however, a discrepancy between the ideology of the Nazis and the interests of German industry. German industry saw the war as a war for the forces of labor, The Nazis, as a result of Hitler's racial theories, understood the war to be about the annihilation of labor. The West German economic miracle is a result of Auschwitz. All the major German corporations used workers in Auschwitz and other camps in alliance with American and British industry.
Q: Is there actual proof of this?
Q: Why do you think the Left still has trouble dealing with the Jewish question?
The majority of people didn't know exactly what was going on in the camps, because the Western powers withheld their information in the hope that Hitler would crush the Soviet Union. Hitler was the German shepherd who had been given a long leash so that he could snap at the communists, but when he went wild he had to be put down.
Q: But isn't it dangerous to reduce National Socialism to the phenomenon of Hitler?
New technologies have always been tested and implemented against minorities, that is, against the threat of their becoming majorities. All modern technologies for killing will one day be implemented. The dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan was totally pointless and unnecessary from a military perspective, but it was a signal directed towards the Soviet Union. The problem is that Auschwitz has lowered our inhibitions.
Q: This brings us back to one of our first questions: Is Auschwitz a material for the theater?
HM: I once read a good story by Stephen King about a thirteen-year-old boy in California. The boy has a hobby: he collects documents, photos, whatever he can get his hands on about concentration camps. His interest is that "they just did those things." They did what one always dreams about. One day, while waiting for his school bus, he sees an old man who looks familiar. He searches through his collection, and then he finds the man in SS uniform in one picture. The next day at the bus stop he follows the man home to a small house on the edge of the city. The boy rings the doorbell and shows the man the picture. The old man trembles, he can't lie, it's him. He thinks the boy wants to report him, but the boy says, "No, I want you to tell me how you did those things. How did you shove the Jews in the ovens? How did you torture them?" The old man doesn't want to tell, but the boy threatens to go to the authorities. So the old man is forced to divulge every detail. After a while the boy says, "Now I want to see it done." The old man has an oven and one day the boy brings a dog. The boy says, "Take the dog and shove it in the oven. Show me how someone can do that." They set up a "Murder Inc.," a murder corporation. First, they take dogs, then later indigents, and they shove them into the oven one after the other.
After they've beaten the foreigner and he's lying on the ground, they take his head and lay it on the street curb, then they jump on it with their Springer boots. The skinheads did that to an African in Eberswalde. They talk about it as if it were totally natural, "His head was lying there on the ground, and I think to myself, why not jump on it?" The young man who said that on television is nineteen, a locksmith, he has a job, and speaks about it matter-of-factly, without a trace of emotion.
Q: I'm not sure I understand.
Q: Now I understand.
HM: The same topic comes up again and again in Walter Benjamin. Socialism, communism, or whatever other Utopia stands no chance, if it doesn't also offer a theological dimension. This is also a fundamental problem today. I have another story that relates to this. Once I took LSD in Bulgaria. In the house where we were staying there was a sort of cellar, a washroom, and there was a large cricket on the door. The radio was playing Turkish or Arabic music, desert music with a very strange undercurrent, a flat sort of music.
HM: NO. I read something interesting in the memoires of Roßbach, a well-known leader of the Freikorps after World War I. One episode relates how a member of the Roßbach brigade has, on assignment from the Freikorps, killed someone—it's a contract killing. After the man has finished the job, he meets with Roßbach and tells him, "I feel terrible. I don't know how I can go on living. How could I kilj another man the way I did, not in war, man against man, but from behind and for hire? I will never kill another man again, and I will never again pick up another weapon." The man who said this to Roßbach was Rudolf Höß, later the commander of Buchenwald and Auschwitz.
Q. But didn't these low-ranking SS soldiers have the choice to refuse to follow orders, say, for example, when women and children were selected for the gas chamber?
HM: Of course, they had a choice. There is an answer to your question in a film by Konrad Wolf. One scene shows a former prisoner of a concentration camp who survived because he had the job of shoving the corpses in the ovens. This job was always done by prisoners in the camps. Each day these prisoners were faced with the decision: "Either do it or die." What do you do in such a situation? That's the real question, even today. The only answer to this question is that each of us is alone with ourselves and our decision.
In: A Heiner Müller reader: plays, poetry, prose. Edited by Carl Weber and translated by Matthew Griffin. PAJ-Book: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984, p. 142-153.