quarta-feira, 4 de abril de 2012

Shakespeare a Difference: Text of an Address - Heiner Muller



Shakespeare eine Differenz is the revised version of an address Heiner Müller gave at a conference of Shakespeare scholars, Shakespeare Tage, in Weimar, April 1988. The text was first published in Explosion of a Memory, Heiner Müller DDR, Ein Arbeitsbuch, Berlin, 1988.
When reading the speech, one should keep in mind that less than two years later the East German Democratic Republic collapsed. The ruling party, SED, used to refer to the country's socioeconomic system as "Real Existing Socialism/' Müller cites in his speech numerous writers, artists, and politicians, from the (West) German pop singer Udo Lindenberg to the genocidal Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot,

the German early-nineteenth-century poet Friedrich Hölderlin to the English twentieth-century poet W. H. Auden, from the nineteenth-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche to the conservative twentieth-century professor of constitutional law Carl Schmitt and a contemporary Russian writer, Vassily Grossman. As in other writings, Müller often quotes the original English; passages where he does so are indicated by asterisks.


From the age of thirteen, when he first struggled through the English text of Hamlet, Müller immersed himself in a discourse with Shakespeare's work. He translated plays such as Hamlet and As You Like It, adapted Macbeth, and eventually went on to deconstruct and revise two of the Elizabethan's texts in Hamletmachine and Anatomy Titus Fall of Rome:

A Shakespeare Commentary (based on Titus Andronicus). He has staged his Macbeth version, and also Hamlet coupled with Hamletmachine, his interpretation of "Hamlet as Our Contemporary" (to paraphrase the title of the Polish critic Jan Kott's book, Shakespeare Our Contemporary). Müller's premature death has deprived us of other reinterpretations of Shakespeare's work, to our great loss.

Carl Weber










The attempt to write about Shakespeare, between Berlin, Frankfurt, Milan, Genoa. With the growing pile of notes the horror of its wording grows. Closest to Shakespeare in Genoa, at night in the medieval inner city and near the harbor. Narrow alleys—during the Middle Ages they were barricaded with iron chains against the people—between the palaces of the city-state's aristocracy, the Dorias, for instance, who have been made popular by Udo Lindenberg.

On a wall the sprayed graffiti WELCOME TO HELL NO PITY HERE* All this is like the way to the Globe* as Giordano Bruno described it, past taverns, brothels, and dens of cutthroats. Memories of the first reading: Hamlet horn the school library, defying the teacher's warning to the thirteen-year-old about the original's difficulty. A black leather-bound volume, on the title page the stamp of the former grand-ducal grammar school. I imagined more than I understood, but the leap creates the experience, not the step.

The play itself is an attempt to describe an experience that has no reality in the time of its description. An end game at the dawn of an unknown day. BUT LOOK THE MORN IN RUSSET MANTLE CLAD / WALKS O'ER THE DEW OF YON HIGH EASTERN HILL. Nearly four hundred years later another version: IN RUSSET MANTLE CLAD THE MORN WALKS O'ER / THE DEW THAT GLISTENS FROM ITS STEPS LIKE BLOOD.
In between, there is for my generation the long march through the hells of Enlightenment, through the bloody swamp of the ideologies.

Hitler's geographical lapsus: genocide in Europe instead—as usual and today's practice as it was yesterday's—in Africa Asia America. The St. Vitus's dance of dialectics during the Moscow trials. The I id less view at the reality of the labor and extermination camps. The village-against-city-utopia of the Hegel-reader and Verlaine-lover Pol Pot. The belated Jewish vengeance upon the wrong object, a classical case of belated allegiance.

The lockjaw of a party, once beaten into the victor's role, when it is exercising its bestowed or force-fed power in the shortage-ridden economy of a Real Socialism, THE SCARS CRY OUT FOR WOUNDS AND THE POWER / HAS COME UPON THEM LIKE A HEAVY BLOW. The clinch of the Revolution and Counterrevolution as the basic pattern of the century's mammoth catastrophes.

Shakespeare is a mirror through the ages, our hope a world he doesn't reflect anymore. We haven't arrived at ourselves as long as Shakespeare is writing our plays. The opening line of Miranda's Song* from Auden's commentary on The Tempest: My Dear One is Mine as Mirrors are Lonely* is a Shakespeare metaphor that is reaching beyond Shakespeare.

NO MORE HEROESI NO MORE SHAKESPEAROS* goes the refrain of a Punk song. A fragment by Hölderlin describes the unredeemed Shakespeare: FIERCELY ENDURING! IN THE FEARFUL ARMOR! MILLENNIUMS, Shakespeare's wilderness. What is he waiting for, why in armor, and how much longer.
Shakespeare is a mystery, why should I be the one who betrays it, assuming I would know it, and why in a Weimar so distant from Shakespeare.

I accepted the invitation and stand now before you, sand in my hands that's trickling through my fingers. Hamlet is an object of desire for critics. For Eliot the Mona Lisa of literature, a botched play: the remnants of the revenge tragedy—a marketable genre of the age as today the horror film—are butting awkwardly into the new construct and impede Shakespeare's material in its unfolding. A discourse that is broken by silence.

The dominance of the soliloquies is no accident; Hamlet has no partner. For Carl Schmitt a text that is consciously confused and obscured for political reasons, begun during the rule of Elizabeth, concluded after the first Stuart assumed power, son of a mother who had married the murderer of her husband and died under the axe, a Hamlet figure.
The invasion of the times into the play constitutes myth. Myth is an aggregate, a machine to which always new and different machines can be connected. It transports the energy until the growing velocity will explode the cultural field, The first hurdle during my reading was Horatio's surprising speech, surprising from the mouth of a Wittenberg student, after the dead man's entrance at the coast of Elsinore.

IN THE MOST HIGH AND PALMY STATE OF ROME / A LITTLE ERE THE MIGHTIEST JULIUS FELL / THE GRAVES STOOD TENANTLESS AND THE SHEETED DEAD / DID SQUEAK AND GIBBER IN THE ROMAN STREETS / AS STARS WITH TRAINS OF FIRE AND DEWS OF BLOOD / DISASTERS IN THE SUN AND THE MOIST STAR / UPON WHOSE INFLUENCE NEPTUNE'S EMPIRE STANDS / WAS SICK ALMOST TO DOOMSDAY WITH ECLIPSE .. . History in the context of nature. Shakespeare's view is the view of the epoch.

Never before did interests appear so naked, without the drapery, the costume of ideas, MEN HAVE DIED
FROM TIME TO TIME AND WORMS HAVE EATEN THEM BUT NOT FOR LOVE. The dead have their place on his stage, nature has the right to vote.

That spelled in the idiom of the nineteenth century, which still is the idiom of conferences between the rivers Oder and Elbe, Shakespeare had no philosophy, no understanding of history: his Romans are of London.


Meantime the war of the landscapes, which are working toward the disappearance of Man who has devastated them, isn't a mere metaphor anymore. Dark times, when a discourse about trees was nearly a crime. The times have become brighter, the shadows fade out, it's a crime to be silent about trees.

The horror that emanates from Shakespeare's mirror images is the recurrence of the same. A horror that drove Nietzsche, the Godforsaken reverend's son, from the misery of the philosophies into his dance of knives with the ghosts from the future, from the silence of the academies onto the white-hot high wire of history, stretched BY AN IDIOT FULL OF SOUND AND FURY* between TOMORROW AND TOMORROW AND TOMORROW.*

The accent is on the And, the truth is a steerage passenger, the abyss is the hope. Vassily Grossman has Stalin—the Meritorious Murderer of the People, as Brecht once called him—see in the German tank turrets moving towards Moscow a thousand times the murdered Trotsky, Creator of the Red Army and Executioner of Kronstadt.

A Shakespeare variant: Macbeth sees Banquo's ghost, and a difference. Our task—or the rest will be statistics and a matter of computers—is the work at this difference. Hamlet, the failure, didn't accomplish it, this is his crime. Prospero is the un-dead Hamlet: after all, he smashes his staff, a reply to Caliban's, the new Shakespeare reader's topical rebuke to all hitherto existing culture:

YOU TAUGHT ME LANGUAGE AND MY PROFIT ON'T
IS I KNOW HOW TO CURSE.



In: A Heiner Müller reader: plays, poetry, prose. Edited and translated by Carl Weber. PAJ-Book: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984, p. 118-121.

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