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.

.

 

 

.

No comments:

Post a comment