29 Jul 2020

Breeur (1.1) Lies – Imposture – Stupidity, Ch.1.1, “Hieronymus Bosch”, summary

 

by Corry Shores

 

[Search Blog Here. Index-tags are found on the bottom of the left column.]

 

[Central Entry Directory]

[Roland Breeur, entry directory]

[Breeur, Lies – Imposture – Stupidity, entry directory]

 

[The following is a paragraph by paragraph summary of Breeur’s text. Boldface, underlining, and bracketed commentary are my own. Proofreading is incomplete, so please forgive my mistakes. The book can be purchased here.]

 

 

 

 

Summary of

 

Roland Breeur

[Breeur’s academia.edu page and researchgate page]

 

Lies – Imposture – Stupidity

 

 

Part 1

Lies and Stupidity

 

Ch.1.

The Last Judgment

 

1.1

Hieronymus Bosch

 

 

 

 

Brief summary (collecting those below):

(1.1.1) We often assume that the truth of historical events lies in their factual accounting and recordkeeping, for instance, the records of the genocide of Armenian peoples. We find a fantastical depiction of similar acts of torture in Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Last Judgment,” in the part showing a woman getting horseshoes nailed into her feet. (1.1.2) The objective reporting of facts will always fail to do justice to the truth of many of them, because they will not be able to fully convey the affective intensity of those truths, as seen for instance in historical events of atrocity. Artistic depictions, even fantastical ones like Bosch’s “The Last Judgment,” are better able to do so. Nonetheless, (even though the imagination is employed in fashioning such artistic presentations of the affective intensity of the truths of facts), the imagination also dilutes facts into images in such a way that they “become weak and empty over time.” (Liars, who conceal the truth, thus employ imagination, although “that imagination moves the liar far beyond the lie.”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contents

 

1.1.1

[Fact as Truth. Bosch’s Torture]

 

1.1.2

[Truth Beyond Fact. Imagination and Lie]

 

Bibliography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary

 

1.1.1

[Fact as Truth. Bosch’s Torture]

 

[We often assume that the truth of historical events lies in their factual accounting and recordkeeping, for instance, the records of the genocide of Armenian peoples. We find a fantastical depiction of similar acts of torture in Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Last Judgment,” in the part showing a woman getting horseshoes nailed into her feet.]

 

Breeur begins by noting Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Last Judgment.”

 

(source: wiki)

 

Breeur mentions the various tortures and points in particular to a scene where a figure is hammering a horseshoe into a woman’s foot. (It might be what is shown in the image below, but I am not entirely certain.)

 
 

 

This image reminds Breeur of acts committed during the genocide of the Armenians (see the Appendix). He continues: “But these facts are also told by historians and by witnesses whose ex­periences were recorded. ‘Hence, it was all true’” (12).

My eyes fell recently on a new reproduction of Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Last Judgment.” Above is Christ as judge sur­rounded by the Virgin Mary, John the Evangelist, and the apostles. Below, the punishment of the damned, painted in somber colors. These castigations are eagerly carried out by a rough crew of monsters crawling across the country like in­sects on a piece of rotten meat. We witness how the damned are burned, speared, impaled, hung on butcher’s hooks, forced to eat excrements or thrown into bizarre machines that look like gigantic meat mills, and more of that fun. But one specific scene caught my attention. In the midst of all this cheerful violence, there is discernible, at a crumbled brothel and in a place that probably should have housed a blacksmith, one of these crazy figures nailing a horseshoe to a woman’s heel. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I came across descriptions of this horrible or­deal in books talking about the torture that the Armenians had endured before and during the 1915 genocide.4 But these facts are also told by historians and by witnesses whose ex­periences were recorded. “Hence, it was all true.”

(12)

4. Edgar Hilsenrath talks about this in his great novel The Story of the Last Thought. See the Appendix for more on this novel.

(12)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.1.2

[Truth Beyond Fact. Imagination and Lie]

 

[The objective reporting of facts will always fail to do justice to the truth of many of them, because they will not be able to fully convey the affective intensity of those truths, as seen for instance in historical events of atrocity. Artistic depictions, even fantastical ones like Bosch’s “The Last Judgment,” are better able to do so. Nonetheless, (even though the imagination is employed in fashioning such artistic presentations of the affective intensity of the truths of facts), the imagination also dilutes facts into images in such a way that they “become weak and empty over time.” (Liars, who conceal the truth, thus employ imagination, although “that imagination moves the liar far beyond the lie.”)]

 

[Facts have a truth to them. Objective reporting of facts is less able to reveal the truth of those facts than art is. This is because an aspect of the truth of facts is their affective intensity and ineffable significance, as seen for instance in cases of torture. (We might read an objective report of an event of torture, but only by being shocked by depictions of it, no matter how fantastical, will we really grasp the meaning of these truths fully. In other words, no extent of objective documentation can capture the truth of such an actual event as well as an artistic “misrepresentation” of it.) Although our imaginations are not powerful enough to invent facts, it is still the case that “Certain facts may only appear through their embedding in the imagination.”  Nonetheless, “the imagination dilutes these facts into images that become weak and empty over time.” Thus imagination plays a role in lying, because it’s dilutive activity of facts is what serves to conceal their truth: “There is no concealment of the truth without imagination.” Nevertheless, “that imagination moves the liar far beyond the lie.”]

I assume that this vicious barbarity was already applied in the time of Hieronymus Bosch. But the presence of that particular scene in “The Last Judgment,” painted around 1485, reinforced the reality of what I had read about that form of torture more than four centuries later. This fact confirms the trivial idea that art is better equipped to reveal the truth about some facts, and with an intensity that objective reports can rarely match. There is nothing in the scene that could disturb or distract attention from this clear and distinct representation. This atrocity, as painted in this work, is charged with such an intensity, is packed with such profound meaning, that it compresses a whole world of indignation, persecution, and blatant cruelty. From now on, I thought, one can still deny and reject these facts, but no one can ignore their truth any more. It is not the case that there are only interpretations and no facts. Rather, there is no interpretation that does not relate to facts. We don’t invent the latter. Our imaginations are not powerful enough for that. Certain facts may only appear through their embedding in the imagination, but the imagination dilutes these facts into images that become weak and empty over time. This weakness and emptiness are the fate of the liar. There is no concealment of the truth without imagination. But that imagination moves the liar far beyond the lie.

(13)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

Breeur, Roland. Lies – Imposture – Stupidity. Vilnius: Jonas ir Jakubas, 2019.

The book can be purchased here.

 

Breeur’s academia.edu page and researchgate page

 

Image credits:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Judgment_(Bosch_triptych)#/media/File:Last_judgement_Bosch.jpg

 

Detail from

Frans Vandewalle

https://www.flickr.com/photos/snarfel/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/snarfel/6499704783

Creative Commons license:

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

 

Thanks Frans Vandewalle!

 

.

 

 

.

28 Jul 2020

Breeur (Apx) Lies – Imposture – Stupidity, Appendix: “The Last Thought”, summary

 

by Corry Shores

 

[Search Blog Here. Index-tags are found on the bottom of the left column.]

 

[Central Entry Directory]

[Roland Breeur, entry directory]

[Breeur, Lies – Imposture – Stupidity, entry directory]

 

[The following is a paragraph by paragraph summary of Breeur’s text. Boldface, underlining, and bracketed commentary are my own. Proofreading is incomplete, so please forgive my mistakes. The book can be purchased here.]

 

 

 

 

Summary of

 

Roland Breeur

[Breeur’s academia.edu page and researchgate page]

 

Lies – Imposture – Stupidity

 

Appendix

“The Last Thought: An Essay on Edgar Hilsenrath’s  Novel The Story of the Last Thought

 

 

 

 

 

Very brief summary:

Bare factual reporting does not suffice as the truth. For, it completely lacks the power of the truth, and in fact, by itself only makes truth vulnerable to violation and erasure. Facts can be falsified, deemphasized, ignored, and scrubbed from the records. They have no power of self-insistence in that sense. Historically speaking, the truths of great atrocities committed by groups in power over minorities are often hidden from public view. But what can be hidden is limited to truths of a factual formulation. There is also the truth of the anguish and injustice of the victims. Their voices are often muted and their stories are excluded from the story of history’s sequence of events. But that does not mean their cries and raw affects of pain and indignation have no bearing upon history and its unjust aggressors. These affects can be given articulation by literature and art, which are not constrained by the requirements of factual reporting. Rather, story and artistically fashioned imagery can speak this anguish in a way that imposes those affects upon us, haunting the unjust and alerting and reminding all of us that this pain was, is, and will always be more real and concrete than any historical record. In a sense, then, such works of art take that cry out of its singular moment when it happened and after which it was erased, and place that cry beyond the meddling reach of unjust actors inside the flow of history. These cries lie outside the limits of historical time. Yet, each moment of history becomes infused by them. The cries haunt and linger always. It is in this way that truth has power: the power to defy history, to escape time, to give voice the those unjustly victimized  and silenced, and to create an affective recording and replaying with a power of self-insistence completely lacking in factual articulations of truth. One exemplary instance of such a work of literature is Edgar Hilsenrath’s Das Märchen vom letzten Gedanken. It’s imagery of torture of Armenian peoples, for instance of stopping up their bodily holes to metaphorically force them to keep inside their expressions of pain and injustice, and of violating their bodies in other ways too, may not always be factually accurate (although also not too far from actual events) and may in fact by fantastical and lie outside the logic and truth of our so-called “real world;” nonetheless, the affective reality they articulate is more real than even the most factual, objective retelling, which is fundamentally incapable of expressing and responding to grave injustice.

 

 

Brief summary (collecting those below):

(Apx.1) Edgar Hilsenrath’s Das Märchen vom letzten Gedanken (The Story of the Last Thought) (1988) tells a story of the suffering of the Armenian people during the 1915 genocide but under a quasi-mythological mode of narrative. This does not make it untrue; rather, it tells a certain kind of truth that would escape a more factual sort of retelling, because that truth carries a pain that no such objective report could capture: “Edgar Hilsenrath seems to offer a quasi-mythological account of the Great Massacres. Not in the sense that what he says isn’t true, but in the sense that his account is of a truth for which history lacks words. In that sense, it is not about ‘facts’ but about events of woe and suffering that make holes in the body of history. What happened in 1895 and 1915 transcends the reality of historical facts and acquires something sadly universal, it resonates forever outside time and reality, and for that reason it haunts the thoughts of those who survived, | generation after generation, in the form of dreams, nightmares, or last thoughts” (90-91). (Apx.2) In the story, the character Meddah recounts the events to Thovma, the son of Vartan, who is traditionally a Christian Armenian hero. (Recall that the title of the novel translates as The Story of the Last Thought.) “Thovma’s ‘last thought’ will be of the suffering of those who lived, and died, before him” (91). (Apx.3) Thovma’s mother is Anahit. She dreamt that she heard a voice saying she should have named Thovma as Hayk instead. Thovma’s last thought (which is “of the suffering of those who lived, and died, before him”) will similarly take the form of a whisper that will join all the other last thoughts of the murdered Armenians, haunting the souls of those who killed them. For, it is believed that these whispers cause them nightmares. Hilsenrath speaks from his experience of persecution as a Jew. The novel’s fairy-tale format itself haunts the reader, thereby transcending historical documentation (91). “In this sense, the storyteller is not simply on the page, he is in our head – indeed, he is telling his story to us so that it will be our last thought, hidden in our last cry” (91). (Apx.4) The novel’s story is about the life of Vartan (Thovma’s father). Turkish authorities wanted to scapegoat him and his people for starting the first World War, so they try to force him to confess to the patently absurd accusation that he assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The charges were dropped; he survived the genocide, went to Switzerland and then Poland. He lost his papers, was mistaken for a Jew, and was sent to a camp where he died. (Apx.5) Vartan (Thovma’s father) at one point was hanged upside down and tortured by Turks. They want to interrogate him the next day, so they need him alive. But they fear he may have eaten poisoned food. Yet, to make him vomit, the policeman rapes him orally. In the room is a torch that casts shadows of the scene on the wall, like Turkish shadow puppets. The provincial governor notes to the chief constable how the incredible imagery on the wall is “Real art. There’s no people in the world that can surpass us in the shadow play” (92). (Apx.6) Later, after Vartan refuses to sign a confession, they punish him by filling his bodily orifices with mortar, causing him to be unable to excrete urine or feces. This serves two purposes in the novel. It prepares us for other descriptions of human depraved behavior, and it establishes an image for how human nature shapes human history. Our bodies are understood as being permeable by harmful, protrusive objects, and they possess such weapon-like appendages that are used to violate other bodies. Even the first appearance of a tooth is on the one hand an internal penetration of the tooth through the gum, but then can be a weapon to permeate other bodies through biting. (Apx.7) In the novel’s anatomical imagery, the processes of life are also bound up with those of death. The penis, for instance, is an organ of procreation but is symbolically one of death, because it is associated with violent threats of harmful physical violation of women. (Apx.8) Hilsenrath thematizes the limits between inside and outside, both on the bodily and cultural levels. It is inhuman when intruders violate a social body or when outsiders are denied safety within. But the provincial governor is irritated by the fact that the Armenians are not in a position to strictly adhere to these boundaries, as they are geographically distributed on both sides of the frontier with Russia. The Turks even take up false beliefs to blame the Armenians for why they cannot tolerate them, for instance, that they bake needles into their baklava: this is a metaphor for why they cannot “stomach” the Armenian people. (Apx.9) According to Hilsenrath, human dignity is attacked when the vital processes of procreation are confused or conflated with those of digestion and defecation. Thovma, born during the deportation, was said to have been shitted out. (Apx.10) Human history is portrayed as the production of defecated (shitted-out) peoples who are dealt with cruelly, both with violence but also with intentional forgetting in the records. Historians will not be able to capture the truth of this mistreatment and erasure, because they deal too generally and abstractly with events when in fact each individual endured their own unique suffering that defies objective description. (Apx.11) History is impotent at preventing travesties such as genocide. The Armenians had to bear witness to their destruction silently and helplessly. This is portrayed as the eye of an Armenian being nailed to a cross in the place of Jesus. (Apx.12) Before thinking his last thought, Thovma had a strange dream where the prime minister of Turkey was troubled by the (intentionally made) gaps in history which can be filled by the haunting whispers of victims. The minister considers the possibility that everyone who has ever been persecuted all whisper at once. It would create terrible nightmares, the minister notes and then wonders, “what’s the sense of it?” Thovma replies by asking, “Who says everything has to make sense?” after which he “breathed out his soul.” (Apx.13) History moves forward in a “blind, deaf, and dumb evolution.” While the whispers of its victims may not “make sense” or stimulate historical progress, its blind evolution can still be resisted by them: it can be “an intense scream, one which remains outside history, which resists being digested and crushed by it.” The “last thought” of Thovma, the cry of history’s victims, is not assimilated into history; rather,  it stands at its limit, haunting the durationless gap that comes after it. (In a sense, it affirms a superior temporality to that of History): “The Story of the Last Thought is in this sense like an intense scream, one which remains outside history, which resists being digested and crushed by it. [...] The story contains the thought of a body that has been tortured and pierced. That thought remains in history and time, it can be heard, but only as the last thought, heard at the limit and at the instant of its disappearance.” The book itself expresses or articulates such a cry, which, while happening within the course of history and perhaps lasting no more than an instant in that flow, exists in an eternity that is greater than all of Mistory: “Maybe this last thought, fragile yet insistent, is also a good image in order to describe the position of the writer. The cry it hides is a last cry that lasts forever, even if within history and measured in historical scales it lasts only for one second. It is not long, but it is possible that ‘eternity is shorter than a fraction of a second. It’s measured in a different way’.” (Apx.14) The last scream and thoughts of History’s victims may come at History’s limit, but they “fly back home, they will become whispers that haunt the guilty parties who seek to erase the names and traces of their victims.” Fashioning such whispers is the task of literature and art. We might otherwise think that all that is needed for justice would be a historical, factual recounting of atrocities. The problem with this is that it is impotent and lacks the haunting power that can only come when voice is given to the silent, unarticulated “voices” that History (and its cruel drivers) tries to mute and erase from its course. The fact that The Story of the Last Thought is not factually true does not at all subtract from its importance in setting the historical record straight. Although its fantastical imagery creates a new reality, it is one whose affective powers haunt us as readers and speak truth to injustice in a way that cannot be denied, ignored, or erased from the record. Thus it is not telling untruths; rather, it is telling the truth differently. (Truth is something that obtains its real, undeniable power over the course of events and also its full veridicality only by being twisted artistically into alternate forms that capture the raw, affective intensity of History’s muted victims.) “The truth that everyone knows but tries to ignore, to repress, or to forget – that is the truth that art must tell. Hilsenrath’s novel tells the truth in a manner that is more intense than ‘mere’ History, in a manner that is not compromised by the exigencies proper to other discourses. Its constraints are those related to what makes a novel into something real, a reality of its own, a real work of art. And the quality of this work – the intensity of its emotions, the tragedy of its characters, the absurdity of its follies – makes it the most powerful and faithful reflection, representation, and evocation of the reality to which it refers” (98).

 

 

 

 

 

Contents

 

Apx.1

[Hilsenrath’s Das Märchen vom letzten Gedanken as Fiction Telling Deeper Truth]

 

Apx.2

[The Novel’s Narrator Character as Meddah Narrating to Thovma]

 

Apx.3

[The Haunting of the Last Thoughts]

 

Apx.4

[Vartan’s Plight]

 

Apx.5

[Vartan’s Hanging Rape and Shadow Play]

 

Apx.6

[Vartan’s Torture: Orifices Stopped Up]

 

Apx.7

[Death and Reproductive Organs]

 

Apx.8

[Social Body Boundaries and Their Violations]

 

Apx.9

[Loss of Human Dignity from the Confusion of Procreation and Digestion/Defecation]

 

Apx.10

[History’s Memory Failure]

 

Apx.12

[The Haunting of All Victims’ Collective Whispers]

 

Apx.13

[The Temporal Superiority over History of the Last Thought and Scream]

 

Apx.14

[The Full Truth: Modulating the Truth with the Affectivity of History’s Victims]

 

Bibliography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary

 

Apx.1

[Hilsenrath’s Das Märchen vom letzten Gedanken as Fiction Telling Deeper Truth]

 

[Edgar Hilsenrath’s Das Märchen vom letzten Gedanken (The Story of the Last Thought) (1988) tells a story of the suffering of the Armenian people during the 1915 genocide but under a quasi-mythological mode of narrative. This does not make it untrue; rather, it tells a certain kind of truth that would escape a more factual sort of retelling, because that truth carries a pain that no such objective report could capture: “Edgar Hilsenrath seems to offer a quasi-mythological account of the Great Massacres. Not in the sense that what he says isn’t true, but in the sense that his account is of a truth for which history lacks words. In that sense, it is not about ‘facts’ but about events of woe and suffering that make holes in the body of history. What happened in 1895 and 1915 transcends the reality of historical facts and acquires something sadly universal, it resonates forever outside time and reality, and for that reason it haunts the thoughts of those who survived, | generation after generation, in the form of dreams, nightmares, or last thoughts” (90-91).]

 

[ditto]

- ‘‘And so,” said Bülbül to little Vartan, “that is how I was pierced and knew that man is only flesh and blood and so can be pierced.”

These are the words the midwife Bülbül says to the small Vartan, the main character in Hilsenrath’s famous novel Das Märchen vom letzten Gedanken (The Story of the Last Thought), published in 1988, in which the German writer tells the story of the sufferings of the Armenians and the genocide of 1915 as reflected in the history of the Khatisian family. Using the form of an Oriental fairy tale with references to the Armenian sagas and legends (to the stories of Hayk, to the King Agbar, to the pre-Christian myth of the fertility goddess Anahit, and to the Christian Armenian hero Vartan and Saint Gregor, etc.), Edgar Hilsenrath seems to offer a quasi-mythological account of the Great Massacres. Not in the sense that what he says isn’t true, but in the sense that his account is of a truth for which history lacks words. In that sense, it is not about “facts” but about events of woe and suffering that make holes in the body of history. What happened in 1895 and 1915 transcends the reality of historical facts and acquires something sadly universal, it resonates forever outside time and reality, and for that reason it haunts the thoughts of those who survived, | generation after generation, in the form of dreams, nightmares, or last thoughts.

(90-91)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apx.2

[The Novel’s Narrator Character as Meddah Narrating to Thovma]

 

[In the story, the character Meddah recounts the events to Thovma, the son of Vartan, who is traditionally a Christian Armenian hero. (Recall that the title of the novel translates as The Story of the Last Thought.) “Thovma’s ‘last thought’ will be of the suffering of those who lived, and died, before him” (91).]

 

[ditto]

The events in the novel are recounted by the character Meddah (whose name is derived from the name given to traditional Turkish storytellers) to Vartan’s son, Thovma, who is dying. Hence, upon hearing the events recounted to him by Meddah, Thovma’s “last thought” will be of the suffering of those who lived, and died, before him.

(91)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apx.3

[The Haunting of the Last Thoughts]

 

[Thovma’s mother is Anahit. She dreamt that she heard a voice saying she should have named Thovma as Hayk instead. Thovma’s last thought (which is “of the suffering of those who lived, and died, before him”) will similarly take the form of a whisper that will join all the other last thoughts of the murdered Armenians, haunting the souls of those who killed them. For, it is believed that these whispers cause them nightmares. Hilsenrath speaks from his experience of persecution as a Jew. The novel’s fairy-tale format itself haunts the reader, thereby transcending historical documentation (91). “In this sense, the storyteller is not simply on the page, he is in our head – indeed, he is telling his story to us so that it will be our last thought, hidden in our last cry” (91).]

 

[ditto]

Thovma’s last thought, it is said, is beyond time; it has hidden itself in the last “cry of fear” and waits there to “sail out into the air” through one’s “gaping mouth.” Where? Back to Hayastan. Indeed, at the end of the book, his last thought joins the last thoughts of his parents, Vartan and Anahit. Anahit had a dream: When her son left her body, she heard a voice saying that, rather than Thovma, he should be named Hayk. Therefore, after having died, Thovma’s last thought will whisper along with all the last thoughts of all the murdered Armenians and will forever haunt the souls of their persecutors. For, it is said, when these whispers travel through the night, the Turks have nightmares. Discernible in Hilsenrath’s writing is a sensitivity and knowledge possessed by someone who was himself, a Jew born in 1926, persecuted and who survived the most harrowing circumstances.103 And, as only a great writer can, he transcends historical documentation. Though his novel is historical, there is more involved than mere facts of history. On the strength of its fairy tale style, its complex structure and symbolism, the voice of its narrator, etc., Hilsenrath’s novel haunts the reader. In this sense, the storyteller is not simply on the page, he is in our head – indeed, he is telling his story to us so that it will be our last thought, hidden in our last cry.

(91)

103. See his earlier novel Night (New York: Doubleday, [1964] 1966).

(92)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apx.4

[Vartan’s Plight]

 

[The novel’s story is about the life of Vartan (Thovma’s father). Turkish authorities wanted to scapegoat him and his people for starting the first World War, so they try to force him to confess to the patently absurd accusation that he assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The charges were dropped; he survived the genocide, went to Switzerland and then Poland. He lost his papers, was mistaken for a Jew, and was sent to a camp where he died.]

 

[ditto]

The novel charts the vicissitudes of Vartan’s life from the first arrests and crimes against the Armenians until his death during World War II. Vartan was imprisoned and tortured by the Turkish authorities. They wanted him to incriminate himself and indict his people for being behind a great world | conspiracy against the Turkish culture and nation. However, his alleged crime – of assassinating the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and initiating World War I – seemed so ludicrous even to Turkey’s allies (i.e. German officers) that, in order to avoid international embarrassment, the matter was dropped. Vartan went on to survive the Genocide, then he made his way to Switzerland during World War II, and then he finally ended up in Poland. There, after losing his papers, he was arrested during a raid, mistaken for a Jew, and taken to a concentration camp, which is where he died.

(91-92)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apx.5

[Vartan’s Hanging Rape and Shadow Play]

 

[Vartan (Thovma’s father) at one point was hanged upside down and tortured by Turks. They want to interrogate him the next day, so they need him alive. But they fear he may have eaten poisoned food. Yet, to make him vomit, the policeman rapes him orally. In the room is a torch that casts shadows of the scene on the wall, like Turkish shadow puppets. The provincial governor notes to the chief constable how the incredible imagery on the wall is “Real art. There’s no people in the world that can surpass us in the shadow play” (92).]

 

[ditto]

For all intents and purposes, the story begins with the image of three Armenians having been hanged at the gate Babi-Sé adet, the gate of blessedness. That’s where Thovma’s last thought sits and listens to Meddah, who tells of Thovma’s imprisoned father. After a while, they go to Vartan’s cell, and they see that he is also hanging, but, rather than hang him by the neck (“only by the legs...and legs have no necks”), they hanged him upside down. His fate will be decided soon enough. Since they plan to interrogate him the following morning, and since they fear that he has been poisoned by the bulgur he could have eaten, they want to make him vomit. That’s where one of the Saptieh (policemen) rapes him orally. The whole scene is described as a Karagös, “the classic Turkish shadow play that Europeans have always admired,” due to the way one of the Saptiehs’ torch projects the imagery onto the opposite wall. On the other side of the cell:

– “Look, Vali Bey,” said the Mudir (chief constable). “It’s most incredible, what’s being played on the wall. And yet it’s only a wall.”

– “That is art,” said the Vali (provincial governor). “Real art. There’s no people in the world that can surpass us in the shadow play.”

(92)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apx.6

[Vartan’s Torture: Orifices Stopped Up]

 

[Later, after Vartan refuses to sign a confession, they punish him by filling his bodily orifices with mortar, causing him to be unable to excrete urine or feces. This serves two purposes in the novel. It prepares us for other descriptions of human depraved behavior, and it establishes an image for how human nature shapes human history. Our bodies are understood as being permeable by harmful, protrusive objects, and they possess such weapon-like appendages that are used to violate other bodies. Even the first appearance of a tooth is on the one hand an internal penetration of the tooth through the gum, but then can be a weapon to permeate other bodies through biting.]

 

[ditto]

However, somewhat later, since he does not want to sign his confession of being one of the organizers of the so-called ‘‘Armenian conspiracy,” they literally stop or seal up his holes, i.e. his bodily orifices, with mortar, forcing his body to retain its excrement and urine, i.e. to keep what it has digested or was forced to swallow. With the cruelty that it evokes, this is a central passage in the whole book. First, it sets the stage for the descriptions of the depraved behaviour human beings are capable of, and second, it serves as an image or a metaphor for what the author suggests is constitutive of human history. In this novel, Hilsenrath suggests that a considerable amount of human behaviour is determined by physical/sexual lust, sadism, and violence. The body is defined as that which can be drilled into, or perforated, or, as the midwife Bübül declares to Vartan after having been raped by a Prince, pierced; it can be pierced by “a Kurd’s knife, for example,” or “a Turk’s knife,” or “a rifle bullet,” or even “the living death’’ that men have between their legs. Bübül tells this sad story the very day that Vartan is about to get his first tooth. The implication is that one can indeed be pierced from without, but also from within. Why is that? Because, explains Bübül, ‘‘Allah’’ wants to show that all which is made of flesh and blood can be pierced, and, as soon as a person grows teeth, he inherits the ability to bite, to crush, to pierce, even to kill.

(93)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apx.7

[Death and Reproductive Organs]

 

[In the novel’s anatomical imagery, the processes of life are also bound up with those of death. The penis, for instance, is an organ of procreation but is symbolically one of death, because it is associated with violent threats of harmful physical violation of women.]

 

[ditto]

Hilsenrath plays with the idea that the processes of life are inextricably bound up with the processes of death and decay. The male organ of procreation is compared to a weapon, it is described as an organ of death and putrefaction. The penis of the Kaiser is compared to the canons he supplies to the Turkish army, those of Russian soldiers are compared to disgusting worms, etc. And it is said precisely that a male’s dignity depends on what dangles between his legs. It sometimes even seems as if some males are metonymically indicated through their penises. For example, Hilsenrath tells us of how the Armenian wives of the village panicked every time they saw Kurds coming down the mountains to their village. For | them, the Kurd “is every inch of him the symbol of a thrusting, fleshy, irresistible penis,” and, since Armenians were prohibited from carrying weapons, they were defenceless against the Kurds’ libidinal aggressions. Hence the importance of virginity, as well: The small fragile membrane that protects young girls against the aggression from without is also used as an image or a metaphor for what protects humans against the inhuman. Death, rape, and violence are linked to aggressive intrusions (into the body, into the town, into a culture), and the first thing that the enemy does to punish Armenian males is to emasculate or castrate them.

(93-94)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apx.8

[Social Body Boundaries and Their Violations]

 

[Hilsenrath thematizes the limits between inside and outside, both on the bodily and cultural levels. It is inhuman when intruders violate a social body or when outsiders are denied safety within. But the provincial governor is irritated by the fact that the Armenians are not in a position to strictly adhere to these boundaries, as they are geographically distributed on both sides of the frontier with Russia. The Turks even take up false beliefs to blame the Armenians for why they cannot tolerate them, for instance, that they bake needles into their baklava: this is a metaphor for why they cannot “stomach” the Armenian people.]

 

[ditto]

Throughout the story, Hilsenrath continuously stresses the vital importance of limits between the inside and the outside, on biological and cultural levels. Inhuman situations occur as a result of aggressive intrusions from without and/or from “outsiders” being denied any space/place within. What irritates the “Vali” about the Armenians is the fact that they live on both sides of the frontier (“Four Million at our side, one Million at the side of the Russians”). That’s dangerous. Limited by no one and by nothing, they proliferate like vermin and rats. Even worse, they want to make believe that the Turks themselves are responsible for the fact that they cannot stand them. The Armenian bakers are said to put needles in their baklava – this is part of the world conspiracy – to make them, the Turks, believe it’s the fault of their own stomachs if they cannot digest that which is unusual or strange. Fortunately for him, at least according to the Meddah, the screams of Armenian prisoners (“those infidels”) being tortured acted on the Mudir as an effective digestive aid. Stimulating his digestion, he no longer needed any more castor oil.

(94)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apx.9

[Loss of Human Dignity from the Confusion of Procreation and Digestion/Defecation]

 

[According to Hilsenrath, human dignity is attacked when the vital processes of procreation are confused or conflated with those of digestion and defecation. Thovma, born during the deportation, was said to have been shitted out.]

 

[ditto]

During their so-called “deportation,” or during instances of sexual and/or violent assault, Armenians were deprived of their human dignity. There was not only a despoiling of the limit between the human and the animal (they were seen as rats), there was also the destruction of the limit between purely biological processes of digestion and defecation on the one | hand and sexual processes of procreation and birth on the other. Hilsenrath suggests that assaults on human dignity occur when these vital processes are confused/conflated. Born in an inhuman situation during the deportation, Thovma is said to have been defecated. “He was a crying piece of shit.”

– “Your father’s childhood ... the village of Yedisu ... the furtive eyes of the Kurds up in the mountains ... the death in the files of the Turkish authorities that sooner or later emerges from the files to clean up forgotten provinces ... the Sultan in Constantinople who doesn’t like Christians, especially Armenians... rumors ..? somewhere at the ass of the World.”

(94-95)

 

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apx.10

[History’s Memory Failure]

 

[Human history is portrayed as the production of defecated (shitted-out) peoples who are dealt with cruelly, both with violence but also with intentional forgetting in the records. Historians will not be able to capture the truth of this mistreatment and erasure, because they deal too generally and abstractly with events when in fact each individual endured their own unique suffering that defies objective description.]

 

[ditto]

In point of fact, history itself is presented as a process of digestion and defecation. In the name of some great historical unity and progress, more than one million people were treated as “crying pieces of shit” and as if they were defecated out of history. In order to unify that History, however, or to “restore its order,” many lies and fictions have to be told (the “world conspiracy”) and “shadow plays” have to be performed. Either that or what had been excluded must be forgotten and all traces erased. There is certainly a lot of dust on “Forgotten History” files. Of course, there are archives, filing cabinets with open shelves, etc., but a file that is as old as the Armenian Genocide will have been “covered in dust for ages”; dusting it off would undoubtedly raise “clouds of dust,” and, since the cleaning ladies of the “United Nations have asthma,” this would surely cause more than a few coughing fits. “What’s forgotten mustn’t be dusted. It’s too dangerous.” History is thus (not surprisingly) riddled with holes. Hilsenrath is in this sense quite cynical about the role historians play in the acts of filling in the holes of history with the “mortar” of their discourses.

– “Given their lack of imagination,” says Meddah, “they’ll just look for figures to delimit the masses of the dead – as they | will say, to record them – and then they’ll look for words to describe the great massacre and classify it pedantically. They don’t know that every human being is unique, that even the village idiot in your father’s village has the right to a name. They will call the great massacre ‘mass-murder,’ and the scholars among them will say it’s called ‘genocide.’ Not one smart aleck among them will say it’s called ‘armenocide,’ and in the end some crank will look up his dictionary and finally announce that it is called ‘holocaust!”’

(95-96)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apx.11

[Helpless Witnesses to Destruction]

 

[History is impotent at preventing travesties such as genocide. The Armenians had to bear witness to their destruction silently and helplessly. This is portrayed as the eye of an Armenian being nailed to a cross in the place of Jesus.]

 

[ditto]

The witness testimonies published after the massacres of Sassoun in 1894 didn’t prevent the massacre of Erzurum of the 30th of October 1895, to say nothing of what took place in the Armenian Genocide during World War 1 and in the Holocaust during World War II. Nevertheless, politicians like to appeal to the historians for serious research about the “facts” for which their own governments should have taken responsibility. At a certain moment in the novel, Meddah says that he sees a cross. ‘‘And hanging on the cross is, not Jesus Christ, but the eye of an Armenian. A Turk nails it up.” It is as if the Armenians were reduced to being the silent and crucified witnesses of their own destruction. “If you want to know if someone is Armenian, look into his eyes.”

(96)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apx.12

[The Haunting of All Victims’ Collective Whispers]

 

[Before thinking his last thought, Thovma had a strange dream where the prime minister of Turkey was troubled by the (intentionally made) gaps in history which can be filled by the haunting whispers of victims. The minister considers the possibility that everyone who has ever been persecuted all whisper at once. It would create terrible nightmares, the minister notes and then wonders, “what’s the sense of it?” Thovma replies by asking, “Who says everything has to make sense?” after which he “breathed out his soul.”]

 

[ditto]

Before thinking his last thought, right at the beginning of the novel, Thovma tells Meddah about his strange dream. He dreamt that he had been talking to the Turkish prime minister. “Who are you?” he asked. “I’m your Armenian psychiatrist” was the reply. The next morning, the minister came to his consulting room and admitted that he had been having nightmares. Why? Because of the Armenians, answered Thovma. “They were wiped out by the Turks.” And there’s “nothing about it in our history books,” said the minister, “on account of the gap in history,” added Thovma. That is why the minister was so frightened. He dreamt about nothing but gaps and holes, all to be filled with the whispers of the last thoughts of those who left the world in torment. “Whispering | is infectious.” Other victims could begin to whisper. Imagine what a whispering there would be “if everybody in the world who’s been persecuted suddenly began to whisper their complaint[s]!” Think of all the nightmares that could keep us awake. “Who wants that? And what’s the sense of it?” Thovma answered the minister’s question with a question of his own: “Who says everything has to make sense?” And then “he breathed out his soul.”

(96-97)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

Apx.13

[The Temporal Superiority over History of the Last Thought and Scream]

 

[History moves forward in a “blind, deaf, and dumb evolution.” While the whispers of its victims may not “make sense” or stimulate historical progress, its blind evolution can still be resisted by them: it can be “an intense scream, one which remains outside history, which resists being digested and crushed by it.” The “last thought” of Thovma, the cry of history’s victims, is not assimilated into history; rather,  it stands at its limit, haunting the durationless gap that comes after it. (In a sense, it affirms a superior temporality to that of History): “The Story of the Last Thought is in this sense like an intense scream, one which remains outside history, which resists being digested and crushed by it. [...] The story contains the thought of a body that has been tortured and pierced. That thought remains in history and time, it can be heard, but only as the last thought, heard at the limit and at the instant of its disappearance.” The book itself expresses or articulates such a cry, which, while happening within the course of history and perhaps lasting no more than an instant in that flow, exists in an eternity that is greater than all of Mistory: “Maybe this last thought, fragile yet insistent, is also a good image in order to describe the position of the writer. The cry it hides is a last cry that lasts forever, even if within history and measured in historical scales it lasts only for one second. It is not long, but it is possible that ‘eternity is shorter than a fraction of a second. It’s measured in a different way’.”]

 

[ditto]

To be sure, from the point of view of History, none of these whispers make sense. All the trouble and digestive disturbances they would create wouldn’t stimulate historical progress. But if History and all the things that have been perpetrated in its name and authority incarnate what is called “being human,” then all whispering disturbances, the whispering of all those who have been crushed under History’s feet or who have been expelled/excluded from it, must be encouraged in order to resist its blind, deaf, and dumb evolution. The Story of the Last Thought is in this sense like an intense scream, one which remains outside history, which resists being digested and crushed by it. It insists and persists through the kind of time that History imposes on the world, but, for all that, it is not a real eternity. The story contains the thought of a body that has been tortured and pierced. That thought remains in history and time, it can be heard, but only as the last thought, heard at the limit and at the instant of its disappearance. Maybe this last thought, fragile yet insistent, is also a good image in order to describe the position of the writer. The cry it hides is a last cry that lasts forever, even if within history and measured in historical scales it lasts only for one second. It is not long, but it is possible that “eternity is shorter than a fraction of a second. It’s measured in a different way.”

(97)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

Apx.14

[The Full Truth: Modulating the Truth with the Affectivity of History’s Victims]

 

[The last scream and thoughts of History’s victims may come at History’s limit, but they “fly back home, they will become whispers that haunt the guilty parties who seek to erase the names and traces of their victims.” Fashioning such whispers is the task of literature and art. We might otherwise think that all that is needed for justice would be a historical, factual recounting of atrocities. The problem with this is that it is impotent and lacks the haunting power that can only come when voice is given to the silent, unarticulated “voices” that History (and its cruel drivers) tries to mute and erase from its course. The fact that The Story of the Last Thought is not factually true does not at all subtract from its importance in setting the historical record straight. Although its fantastical imagery creates a new reality, it is one whose affective powers haunt us as readers and speak truth to injustice in a way that cannot be denied, ignored, or erased from the record. Thus it is not telling untruths; rather, it is telling the truth differently. (Truth is something that obtains its real, undeniable power over the course of events and also its full veridicality only by being twisted artistically into alternate forms that capture the raw, affective intensity of History’s muted victims.) “The truth that everyone knows but tries to ignore, to repress, or to forget – that is the truth that art must tell. Hilsenrath’s novel tells the truth in a manner that is more intense than ‘mere’ History, in a manner that is not compromised by the exigencies proper to other discourses. Its constraints are those related to what makes a novel into something real, a reality of its own, a real work of art. And the quality of this work – the intensity of its emotions, the tragedy of its characters, the absurdity of its follies – makes it the most powerful and faithful reflection, representation, and evocation of the reality to which it refers” (98).]

[ditto]

In this last scream, the last thoughts of those who suffered from History will be drowned out. So these thoughts will fly back home, they will become whispers that haunt the guilty parties who seek to erase the names and traces of their victims. From this perspective, the task of literature, of art, is a | serious one. Its task is not to create shadow plays that facilitate “escape,” nor to tell entertaining stories that are “unreal,” nor even to tell “other truths”; its task is to tell the truth differently. The truth that everyone knows but tries to ignore, to repress, or to forget – that is the truth that art must tell. Hilsenrath’s novel tells the truth in a manner that is more intense than “mere” History, in a manner that is not compromised by the exigencies proper to other discourses. Its constraints are those related to what makes a novel into something real, a reality of its own, a real work of art. And the quality of this work – the intensity of its emotions, the tragedy of its characters, the absurdity of its follies – makes it the most powerful and faithful reflection, representation, and evocation of the reality to which it refers. Not many books or novels which refer to or represent the Armenian genocide have been able to reach this level of intensity and quality. Hilsenrath’s novel does.

(97-98)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

Breeur, Roland. Lies – Imposture – Stupidity. Vilnius: Jonas ir Jakubas, 2019.

The book can be purchased here.

 

Breeur’s academia.edu page and researchgate page.

.

 

 

.

14 May 2020

Breeur (Pref.) Lies – Imposture – Stupidity, “Preface”, summary

 

by Corry Shores

 

[Search Blog Here. Index-tags are found on the bottom of the left column.]

 

[Central Entry Directory]

[Roland Breeur, entry directory]

[Breeur, Lies – Imposture – Stupidity, entry directory]

 

 

[The following is a paragraph by paragraph summary of Breeur’s text. Boldface, underlining, and bracketed commentary are my own. Proofreading is incomplete, so please forgive my mistakes. The book can be purchased here.]

 

 

 

 

Summary of

 

Roland Breeur

[Breeur’s academia.edu page and researchgate page]

 

Lies – Imposture – Stupidity

 

“Preface”

 

 

 

 

 

Brief summary (collecting those below):

(Pref.1) We live in the “post-truth” era where the information conveyed in politics and news media is not crafted and presented with an eye to its truthfulness. (Pref.2) But the role and prevalence of deception in politics and media is neither new nor shocking. (Pref.3) The problem of truth in the post-truth era is that its lifelessness and colorlessness make it unable to command authority in an environment that favors the appeal of sensational untruths. (Pref.4) Although liars and imposters generate our beliefs in the untruths that they fashion, their methods depend upon – and ultimately affirm – truth itself, along with its distinction from falsity (liars’ dissemblances require  actual truths to conceal, and imposters use the means of distinguishing true from false to confuse the two). These deceitful operations are neither new nor what is really at issue in the post-truth era: it is not that untruths simply substitute for truths in acts of deception; rather, the very distinction between truth and falsity is no longer viable. (Pref.5) In all, the book focuses on “several aspects of the so-called ‘weakness’ of truth.” {1} Chapter one examines post-truth, which is the most radical symptom of truth’s weakness, because with it, reference to truth becomes facultative. {2} The remaining chapters examine phenomena that, although serving to “weaken or tarnish” truth’s value, nonetheless still respect it (p.8).  A central theme of the book is that “there is no freestanding, intrinsically-valuable, capital-T ‘Truth’.” Philosophy, in order to prove that it really does love truth must do so using the “imagination in order to find ways to express that which you know but lack the proper words for, that which you believe to be urgent and meaningful and wish to make manifest” (p.9).

 

 

 

 

Contents

 

Pref.1

[Post-Truth in News and Politics]

 

Pref.2

[The Non-Novelty of Deception]

 

Pref.3

[Truth & Impotence]

 

Pref.4

[Breakdown of the True/False Distinction in the Post-Truth Era]

 

Pref.5

[Preview of the Book’s Themes. Philosophy’s Proving Its Love of Truth]

 

Bibliography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary

 

Pref.1

[Post-Truth in News and Politics]

 

[We live in the “post-truth” era where the information conveyed in politics and news media is not crafted and presented with an eye to its truthfulness.]

 

[Breeur begins by discussing an article written in The Guardian by its editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner, entitled, “How Technology Disrupted the Truth” (here). (In this article, Viner examines the recent devaluation of truth in news media and politics and traces it to changes in the nature of journalism resulting from the deleterious effects of new electronic news media technologies and industrial practices (for instance, algorithmic filtering, click prioritization and baiting, “churnalistic” reuse of others’ writings, and cut-backs to journalistic staff). What we gather from this article is that we live in a new “post-truth” era full of “lies, manipulations, and deceit” (Breeur p.7).  (In these times, we either wrongly believe that false reporting is true, or perhaps we do not even care whether or not it is true. The “truthfulness” of the information we consume may no longer even be at issue for us.)]

In 2016, Katharine Viner, editor-in-chief of The Guardian, described the vote in favor of Brexit as “the first major vote in the era of post-truth politics.”1 The prefix “post,” the story goes, would point less to a temporary dimension (“What comes after...”) and more to a qualitative break with what preceded it. After post-modernism comes post-truth. Post-modernism, so to speak, pointed to the “end of the great stories.” And post-truth? To the end of the truth. So, we are said to live in an era of lies, manipulations, and deceit. “Does the truth matter anymore?”, Viner finally wondered.

(7)

1. Katharine Viner, “How Technology Disrupted the Truth,” The Guardian (2016). Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/jul/12/how-technology-disrupted-the-truth.

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pref.2

[The Non-Novelty of Deception]

 

[But the role and prevalence of deception in politics and media is neither new nor shocking.]

 

[ditto]

To be honest, when I read some of the documents about the Dreyfus affair at the end of the 19th Century, or the falsified reports of some of the newspapers published during the two World Wars, I wonder what we are so worried about today.2 New era? Aren’t we overestimating ourselves? Of course, the media are different. The impact of false messages is more volatile, because faster. And yes, everyone knows that Presidents are lying. We also know that it is politically worthwhile to ignore scientifically validated facts or to fight them with “alternative facts.” And today, everyone feels deceived by someone | or something (by car companies, politicians, scientists, museums, etc.). As is often remarked, “the deceived is complicit in the deception.” But is this something new? Is this a shocking and upsetting truth? No. Honestly, we have known this for a long time now.

(7-8)

2 In this context, see the excellent study of Michaël Foessel, Recidive 1938, (Paris: PUF, 2019)

(7)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pref.3

[Truth & Impotence]

 

[The problem of truth in the post-truth era is that its lifelessness and colorlessness make it unable to command authority in an environment that favors the appeal of sensational untruths.]

 

[(Breeur now makes a fascinating and profoundly insightful philosophical observation. We note that in any era, truth exhibits a sort of weakness especially in the face of liars who can make us disbelieve a truth and instead believe its false counterpart. And also under normal circumstances, “those who represent the truth” can threaten the security of truth (perhaps for instance, I wonder, by using the truth in a manipulative way (as Blake wrote: “A truth that’s told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent”) or perhaps otherwise for instance by trying to convey the truth incompetently, with the unintended result that this truth becomes disbelieved). But this weakness or “faiblesse” of the truth is not what characterizes the problematic aspect of truth in the post-truth era. It is not that post-truth truths are weak, it is that they are impotent; they are, in Breuur’s words, “faint, pointless, insipid, futile”. Yes, they are true. Nonetheless, they lack the seeming vitality and richness of post-truth deceptions, and, as a result, are passed over in favor of these more potent, attractive, and engaging lies. As Breeur explains, contemporary truths “contain clichés, and therefore cannot withstand the exuberant and pseudo-deepness of our contemporary liars” (8). (Lies have always existed. What is new and dangerous today is the fact that truths cannot compete with deceptions in this era where their colorlessness is grounds for ignoring them. Truth, we might say, is in danger of extinction in this new communicational environment.) With all this being the case, that means truth-tellers, despite their good intentions, further undermine the truth when they promulgate such lifeless ones (because by doing so, they only increase the competitive advantage of the more lively and potent untruths). As Breeur writes: “And yes, those who proclaim futile truths are complicit in and therefore responsible for the proliferation of untruths.”]

In a recent book, the French political philosopher Myriam Revault d’Allones talked about “la faiblesse du vrai.” “Faiblesse” can be translated as weakness. The weakness of the truth would imply that truth cannot withstand the violence of the lie. This is still too positive, however. The truth about certain facts, and the importance of those facts, is threatened both by liars and by those who represent the truth. What is new in our “era” is perhaps the fact that truth no longer has any authority. Today, the truth is not just weak but faint, pointless, insipid, futile; the truths that are proclaimed are superficial, contain clichés, and therefore cannot withstand the exuberant and pseudo-deepness of our contemporary liars. The danger of “post-truth'” lies not in the lie, then, but in the futile, weak, and shabby nature of the truth. And yes, those who proclaim futile truths are complicit in and therefore responsible for the proliferation of untruths.

(8)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pref.4

[Breakdown of the True/False Distinction in the Post-Truth Era]

 

[Although liars and imposters generate our beliefs in the untruths that they fashion, their methods depend upon – and ultimately affirm – truth itself, along with its distinction from falsity (liars’ dissemblances require  actual truths to conceal, and imposters use the means of distinguishing true from false to confuse the two). These deceitful operations are neither new nor what is really at issue in the post-truth era: it is not that untruths simply substitute for truths in acts of deception; rather, the very distinction between truth and falsity is no longer viable.]

 

[There have always been liars and imposters; and their actions, while seeming to undermine the integrity of truth and the distinction between truth and falsity, really in the end depend upon these things. Liars dissimulate the truth, but this means they operate on something that really is true in the first place. Imposters make us confused about what is genuine and what is fake, but for their art to work, they need to implement “what distinguishes truth from falsehood.” (For instance, to sell a fake watch, it must have the markings that would normally authenticate a real one. So rather than neglecting those things that help us distinguish truth from falsehood, imposters instead use them like the materials of an art work.) Breeur’s claim is that what characterizes the post-truth era are thus not these usual operations of liars and imposters, which only in the end affirm the integrity of truth; rather, what is unique now is that the very distinction between truth and falsity has been put out of play.]

Liars dissimulate the truth. In that regard, they are still deferential towards it. Imposters create confusion. They like to play with what distinguishes truth from falsehood. But what if the very idea of there being a distinction between what is true and what is false has been blown up? This is what the post-truth era is all about.

(8)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pref.5

[Preview of the Book’s Themes. Philosophy’s Proving Its Love of Truth]

 

[In all, the book focuses on “several aspects of the so-called ‘weakness’ of truth.” {1} Chapter one examines post-truth, which is the most radical symptom of truth’s weakness, because with it, reference to truth becomes facultative. {2} The remaining chapters examine phenomena that, although serving to “weaken or tarnish” truth’s value, nonetheless still respect it (p.8).  A central theme of the book is that “there is no freestanding, intrinsically-valuable, capital-T ‘Truth’.” Philosophy, in order to prove that it really does love truth must do so using the “imagination in order to find ways to express that which you know but lack the proper words for, that which you believe to be urgent and meaningful and wish to make manifest” (p.9).]

 

[ditto]

In this book, I want to focus on several aspects of the so-called “weakness” of truth. Post-Truth (Chapter 1) is only one symptom of such weakness, although it is the most radical since here any reference to the truth becomes facultative. In subsequent chapters, I analyze phenomena which in their own ways still respect truth, even if only to weaken or tarnish the value that it has or represents. For, as will become clear over the course of this book, truth is no value on its own. Some truths are stupid and pointless, while some falsehoods are | very insightful and potent. Each and every truth is considered for its relevance, or its interest, or its power – there is no freestanding, intrinsically-valuable, capital-T “Truth.” If philosophy loves the truth, it needs to prove it. And you don’t prove your love by referring to “objective facts”: You prove it by using your imagination in order to find ways to express that which you know but lack the proper words for, that which you believe to be urgent and meaningful and wish to make manifest.3

(8-9)

3 Thanks to Kyle Barrowman for the insightful and stimulating editorial revision of the manuscript. Thanks also to Tomas Sinkunas for inviting me to contribute to this new and promising collection.

(9)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

Breeur, Roland. Lies – Imposture – Stupidity. Vilnius: Jonas ir Jakubas, 2019.

 

 

Breeur’s academia.edu page and researchgate page

.

 

 

.

5 May 2020

Breeur (ED) Lies – Imposture – Stupidity, entry directory

 

by Corry Shores

 

[Search Blog Here. Index tabs are found at the bottom of the left column.]

 

[Central Entry Directory]

[Roland Breeur, entry directory]

 

 

 

Entry Directory for

 

Roland Breeur

 

Lies – Imposture – Stupidity

(Book Page)

(Image source: jonasirjokubas.lt)

 

 

 

Preface

[summary]

 

Part 1

Lies and Stupidity

 

Ch.1.

The Last Judgment

 

1.1

Hieronymus Bosch

[summary]

 

 

 

Appendix

“The Last Thought: An Essay on Edgar Hilsenrath’s  Novel The Story of the Last Thought”

[summary]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breeur, Roland. Lies – Imposture – Stupidity. Vilnius: Jonas ir Jakubas, 2019.

The book can be purchased here.

 

Breeur’s academia.edu page and researchgate page.

 

Images taken gratefully from:

https://www.jonasirjokubas.lt/produktas/roland-breeur-lies-imposture-stupidity/

 

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Roland Breeur (ED), entry directory

 

by Corry Shores

 

[Search Blog Here. Index tabs are found at the bottom of the left column.]

 

[Central Entry Directory]

 

 

 

Entry Directory for

 

Roland Breeur

[Breeur’s academia.edu page and researchgate page]

 

(image source: researchgate)

 

 

 

 

 

Lies – Imposture – Stupidity

[Entry Directory]

 

 

 

 

 

(image source: hiw.kuleuven.be)

 

 

Images taken gratefully from:

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Roland_Breeur

 

https://hiw.kuleuven.be/en/news-events/graduatestudentconference/pics/2019/prof-roland-breeur.jpg/view

 

 

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9 Jan 2020

Freud (V1.6) “Observations of a Severe Case of Hemi-Anaesthesia in a Hysterical Male” in Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works, notes and quotes

 

by Corry Shores

 

[Search Blog Here. Index tabs are found at the bottom of the left column.]

 

[Central Entry Directory]

[Psychoanalysis, entry directory]

[Sigmund Freud, entry directory]

[Freud, Complete Vol.1, entry directory]

 

[The following is not summary. It simply catalogs particular parts of the text that I take note of, with a brief summary of all these notes. Proofreading is incomplete, so please forgive all my various mistakes. Section divisions are my own and do not reflect partitions in the text.]

 

 

 

Notes and Quotes from

 

Sigmund Freud

 

Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works

 

Volume 1

1886-1889

Pre-Psycho-Analytic Publications and Unpublished Drafts

 

6

“Observations of a Severe Case of Hemi-Anaesthesia in a Hysterical Male”

(1886)

 

 

 

 

Very brief summary of the notes:

Hysterical patients can have (anaesthetic) parts of their body that provide absolutely no sensation whatsoever, while also having “hysterogenic zones” that are highly oversensitive and when touched even slightly can trigger a hysterical episode. Overall, this account of the patient’s anaesthesia and hyperaesthesia gives us medical descriptions that resonate with Deleuze’s discussions of the body without organs in the context of hysteria; for, we see a high variability in the ways that the parts of the body handle sensations and operate in conjunction with one another, with odd places on the body becoming something like temporary, provisional organs (the “hysterogenic zones”).

 

 

 

Brief summary of the notes (collecting those below):

(6.1) Editor’s note: This text is mostly about the physiological symptomology of hysteria from Charcot’s perspective. (6.2) Freud will discuss a case of male hysteria where the physiological symptoms are very pronounced and obvious. The patient’s symptoms were brought on by a traumatic event (being attacked by his brother who tried to kill him with a knife), and he suffers acute hemi-anaesthesia (the loss of sensation in one side of the body). While this side of the body cannot provide sensations, not even kinaesthetic ones when moving, the patient also has “hysterogenic zones” (which are supersensitive parts of the body that when touched even slightly can provoke a hysterical attack.) There is also variability in these conditions. Using electricity, Freud was able to make a part of the anaesthic zone become sensitive and also thereby to cause variability in other parts of the body: “Thus, in a test for electrical sensitivity, contrary to my intention, I made a piece of skin at the left elbow sensitive; and repeated tests showed that the extent of the painful zones on the trunk and the disturbances of the sense of vision oscillated in their intensity.” (We note that much of the description Freud gives here of the patient’s physiological symptomology is reminiscent of what Deleuze says about the “body without organs” in the “Hysteria” chapter of his Francis Bacon book.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contents

 

6.1

[The Limited Focus of This Text on the Topic of Psychological Factors Involved in Hysteria]

 

6.2

[Anaesthesia and Hysterogenic Zones in Hysterical Patients]

 

Text Information

 

 

Bibliography

 

 

 

 

 

Text Information

 

BEOBACHTUNG EINER HOCHGRADIGEN HEMI-ANÄTHESIE BEI EINEM HYSTERISCHEN MANNE

(a) German Edition:

1886 Wien. med. Wschr., 36 (49), 1633-38. (December 4.)

This paper seems never to have been reprinted. The present translation, by James Strachey, is the first into English. It was apparently intended that this should be the first of a series of papers, since there is a superscription which reads ‘Beiträge zur Kasuistik der Hysterie, I’ (Contributions to the Clinical Study of Hysteria, I). But the series was not continued.

(24)

 

 

 

Summary

 

6.1

[The Limited Focus of This Text on the Topic of Psychological Factors Involved in Hysteria]

 

[Editor’s note: This text is mostly about the physiological symptomology of hysteria from Charcot’s perspective.]

 

[ditto] [Recall from “Report on My Studies in Paris and Berlin” that Freud had been studying at the Hospice de la Salpêtrière in Paris under Jean-Martin Charcot, who was using hypnotism and other means to greatly advance our knowledge of the neurosis hysteria.]

The greater part of the paper, it will be seen, is concerned with the physical phenomena of hysteria, on the lines characteristic of Charcot's attitude to the condition. There are only some very slight indications of an interest in psychological factors.

(23)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

6.2

[Anaesthesia and Hysterogenic Zones in Hysterical Patients]

 

[Freud will discuss a case of male hysteria where the physiological symptoms are very pronounced and obvious. The patient’s symptoms were brought on by a traumatic event (being attacked by his brother who tried to kill him with a knife), and he suffers acute hemi-anaesthesia (the loss of sensation in one side of the body). While this side of the body cannot provide sensations, not even kinaesthetic ones when moving, the patient also has “hysterogenic zones” (which are supersensitive parts of the body that when touched even slightly can provoke a hysterical attack.) There is also variability in these conditions. Using electricity, Freud was able to make a part of the anaesthic zone become sensitive and also thereby to cause variability in other parts of the body: “Thus, in a test for electrical sensitivity, contrary to my intention, I made a piece of skin at the left elbow sensitive; and repeated tests showed that the extent of the painful zones on the trunk and the disturbances of the sense of vision oscillated in their intensity.”  (We note that much of the description Freud gives here of the patient’s physiological symptomology is reminiscent of what Deleuze says about the “body without organs” in the “Hysteria” chapter of his Francis Bacon book.)]

 

[ditto]

GENTLEMEN, – When, on October 15, I had the honour of claiming your attention to a short report on Charcot’s recent work in the field of male hysteria, I was challenged by my respected teacher, Hofrat Professor Meynert, to present before the society some cases in which the somatic indications of hysteria – the ‘hysterical stigmata’ by which Charcot characterizes this neurosis – could be observed in a clearly marked form. I am meeting this challenge to-day – insufficiently, it is true, but so far as the clinical material at my disposal permits – by presenting before you a hysterical man, who exhibits the symptom of hemi-anaesthesia to what may almost be described as the highest degree.

(25)

The patient is a 29-year-old engraver, August P.

(25)

His present illness dates back for some three years. At that time he fell into a dispute with his dissolute brother, who refused to pay him back a sum of money he had lent him. His brother threatened to stab him and ran at him with a knife. This threw the patient into indescribable fear; he felt a ringing in his head as though it was going to burst; he hurried home without being able to tell how he got there, and fell to the ground unconscious in front of his do0r. It was reported afterwards that for two hours he had the most violent spasms and had spoken during them of the scene with his brother. When he woke up, he felt very feeble; during the next six weeks he suffered from violent left-sided headaches and intra-cranial pressure. The feeling in the left half of his body seemed to him altered, and his eyes got easily tired at his work, which he soon took up again. With a few oscillations, his condition remained like this for three years, until, seven weeks ago, a fresh agitation brought on a change for the worse. The patient was accused by a woman of a theft, | had violent palpitations, was so depressed for about a fortnight that he thought of suicide, and at the same time a fairly severe tremor set in in his left extremities. The left half of his body felt as though it had been affected by a slight stroke; his eyes became very weak and often made him see everything grey; his sleep was interrupted by terrifying apparitions and by dreams in which he thought he was falling from a great height; pains started in the left side of his throat, in his left groin, in the sacral region and in other areas; his stomach was often ‘as though it was blown out’, and he found himself obliged to stop working. A further worsening of all these symptoms dates from the last week. In addition, the patient is subject to violent pains in his left knee and his left sole if he walks for some time; he has a peculiar feeling in his throat as though his tongue was fastened up, he has frequent singing in his ears, and more of the same sort. His memory is impaired for his experiences during his illness, but is good for earlier events. The attacks of convulsions have been repeated from six to nine times during the three years; but most of them were very slight; only one attack at night last August was accompanied by fairly severe ‘shaking’.

(26-27)

The examination of his internal organs reveals nothing pathological apart from dull cardiac sounds. If I press on the point of exit of the supraorbital, infra-orbital or mental nerves on the left side, the patient turns his head with an expression of severe pain. There is therefore, we might suppose, a neuralgic change in the left trigeminal. The cranial vault too is very susceptible to percussion in its left half. The skin of the left half of the head behaves, however, quite differently to our expectation: it is completely insensitive to stimuli of any kind. I can prick it, pinch it, twist the lobe of the ear between my fingers, without the patient even noticing the touch. Here, then, there is a very high degree of anaesthesia; but this affects not merely the skin but also the mucous membranes, as I will show you in the case of the patient’s lips and tongue. If I insert a small roll of paper into his left external auditory meatus and then through his left nostril, no reaction is produced. I now repeat the experiment on the right side and show that there the patient’s sensibility is normal. In accordance with the anaesthesia, the sensory reflexes, too, are abolished or reduced. Thus I can introduce my finger and touch all the pharyngeal tissues on the left side without the result being retching; the pharyngeal reflexes on the right side are, however, also reduced; only when I reach the epiglottis on the right side is there a reaction. Touching the | left conjunctiva palpebrarum and bulbi produces scarcely any closure of the lids; on the other hand, the corneal reflex is present, though very considerably reduced. Incidentally, the conjunctival and corneal reflexes on the right side are also reduced, though only to a lesser degree; and this behaviour of the reflexes is enough to enable me to conclude that the disturbances of vision need not be limited to the one (left) eye. And in fact, when I examined the patient for the first time, he exhibited in both eyes the peculiar polyopia monocularis of hysterical patients and disturbances of the colour-sense. With his right eye he recognized all the colours except violet, which he named as grey; with his left eye he recognized only a light red and yellow, while he regarded all the other colours as grey if they were light and black if they were dark. Dr. Konigstein was kind enough to submit the patient’s eyes to a thorough examination and will himself report later on his findings. [See p. 24 above.] Turning to the other sense organs, smell and taste are entirely lost on the left side. Only hearing has been spared by the cerebral hemi-anaesthesia. It will be recalled that the efficiency of his right ear has been seriously impaired since an accident to the patient at the age of eight; his left ear is the better one; the reduction in hearing present in it is (according to a kind communication from Professor Gruber) sufficiently explained by a visible material affection of the tympanic membrane.

If we now proceed to an examination of the trunk and extremities, here again we find an absolute anaesthesia, in the first place in the left arm. As you see, I can push a pointed needle through a fold of the skin without the patient reacting against it. The deep parts – muscles, ligaments, joints – must also be insensitive to an equally high degree, since I can twist the wrist-joint and stretch the ligaments without provoking any feeling in the patient. It tallies with this anaesthesia of the deep parts that the patient, if his eyes are bandaged, also has no notion of the position of his left arm in space or of any movement that I perform with it. I bandage his eyes and then ask him what I have done with his left hand. He cannot tell. I tell him to take hold of his left thumb, elbow, shoulder, with his right hand. He feels about in the air, will perhaps take my hand, which I offer him, for his own, and then admits that he does not know whose hand he has hold of.

It must be especially interesting to find out whether the patient is able to find the parts of the left half of his face. One would suppose that this would offer him no difficulties, since, after all, the left half of his face is, so to speak, firmly cemented to the intact right half. But experiment shows the contrary. The patient | misses his aim at his left eye, the lobe of his left ear, and so on; indeed he seems to find his way about worse in groping with his right hand for the anaesthetic parts of his face than if he were touching a part of someone else’s body. The blame for this is not a disorder in his right hand, which he is using for feeling about, for you can see with what certainty and speed he finds the spot when I tell him to touch places in the right half of his face.

(28-29)

The same anaesthesia is present in his trunk and left leg. We observe there that the loss of sensation has its limit at the midline or extends a trace beyond it.

Special interest seems to me to lie in the analysis of the disturbances of movement which the patient exhibits in his anaesthetic limbs. I believe that these disturbances of movement are to be ascribed wholly and solely to the anaesthesia. There is certainly no paralysis – of his left arm, for instance. A paralysed arm either falls limply down or is held rigid by contractures in forced positions. Here it is otherwise. If I bandage the patient’s eyes, his left arm remains in the position it had taken up before. The disturbances of mobility are changeable and depend on several conditions. At first, those of you who noticed how the patient undressed himself with both hands and how he closed his left nostril with the fingers of his left hand, will not have formed an impression of any serious disturbance of movement. On closer observation it will be found that the left arm, and in particular the fingers, are moved more slowly and with less skill, as though they are stiff, and with a slight tremor. But every movement, even the most complicated, is performed and this is always so if the patient's attention is diverted from the organs of movement and directed solely to the aim of the movement. It is quite otherwise if I tell him to carry out separate movements with his left arm without any remoter aim – for instance, to bend his arm at the elbow-joint while he follows the movement with his eyes. In that case his left arm appears much more inhibited than before, the movement is performed very slowly, incompletely, in separate stages, as though there were a great resistance to be overcome, and is accompanied by a lively tremor. The movements of the fingers are extraordinarily weak in these circumstances. A third kind of disturbance of movement, and the severest, is exhibited, finally, if he is expected to carry out separate movements with closed eyes. Something results, to be sure, with the limb which is absolutely anaesthetic, for, as you see, the motor innervation is independent of any sensory | moved; this movement, however, is minimal, not in any way directed to a particular segment, and not determinable in its direction by the patient. Do not assume, however, that this last kind of disturbance of movement is a necessary consequence of anaesthesia; precisely in this respect far-reaching individual differences are to be found. We have observed anaesthetic patients at the Salpêtrière who, if their eyes were closed, retained a much more far-reaching control over a limb that was lost to consciousness.

(29-30)

The same influence of diverted attention and of looking applies to the left leg. For a good hour to-day the patient walked along the streets with me at a rapid pace, without looking at his feet as he walked. And all I could notice was that he put his left foot down turning it rather outwards and that he often dragged it along the ground. But if I order him to walk, then he has to follow every movement of his anaesthetic leg with his eyes, and the movement occurs slowly and uncertainly and tires him very soon. Finally, with his eyes closed he walks altogether uncertainly, and he pushes himself along with both feet staying on the ground, as one of us would do in the dark on unknown territory. He also has great difficulty in remaining upright on his left leg only; if he shuts his eyes in that position, he immediately falls down.

I will go on to describe the behaviour of his reflexes. They are in general brisker than the normal, and moreover show little consistency with one another. The triceps and flexor reflexes are decidedly brisker in the right, non-anaesthetic extremity. The patellar reflex seems brisker on the left; the Achilles tendon reflex is equal on both sides. It is also possible to elicit a slight patellar response which is more clearly observable on the right. The cremasteric reflexes are absent; on the other hand the abdominal reflexes are brisk, and the left one immensely increased, so that the lightest stroking of an area of the abdominal skin provokes a maximal contraction of the left rectus abdominis.

In accordance with a hysterical herni-anaesthesia, our patient exhibits, both spontaneously and on pressure, painful areas on what is otherwise the insensitive side of his body – what are known as ‘hysterogenic zones’, though in this case their con-| nection with the provoking of attacks is not marked. Thus the trigeminal nerve, whose terminal branches, as I showed you earlier, are sensitive to pressure, is the seat of a hysterogenic zone of this kind; also a narrow area in the left medial cervical fossa, a broader strip in the left wall of the thorax (where the skin too is still sensitive), the lumbar portion of the spine and the middle portion of the ossacrum (the skin is sensitive over the former of these as well). Finally, the left spermatic cord is very sensitive to pain, and this zone is continued along the course of the spermatic cord into the abdominal cavity to the area which in women is so often the site of ‘ovaralgia’.

(30-31)

I must add two remarks relating to deviations of our case from the typical picture of hysterical hemi-anaesthesia. The first is that the right side of the patient's body is also not free from anaesthesia, though this is not of a high degree and seems to affect only the skin. Thus there is a zone of reduced sensitivity to pain (and feeling of temperature) over the dome of the right shoulder, another passes in a band round the peripheral end of the lower arm; the right leg is hypaesthetic on the outer side of the thigh and on the back of the calf.

A second remark relates to the fact that the hemi-anaesthesia in our patient exhibits very clearly the characteristic of instability. Thus, in a test for electrical sensitivity, contrary to my intention, I made a piece of skin at the left elbow sensitive; and repeated tests showed that the extent of the painful zones on the trunk and the disturbances of the sense of vision oscillated in their intensity. It is on this instability of the disturbance of sensitivity that I found my hope of being able to restore the patient in a short time to normal sensitivity.

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

Freud, Sigmund. “Observations of a Severe Case of Hemi-Anaesthesia in a Hysterical Male (1886).” In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works, Vol. 1, (1886–1899): Pre-Psycho-Analytic Publications and Unpublished Drafts, edited and translated by James Strachey, 23–31. London: Hogarth, 1966.

 

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