Saturday, March 17, 2012

Blog-end Adlibs: [II] Monsters as Determined Saints (26)
Rearview Mirror with Sunset.
© Eso A. B., 2012

In the following interview, here, Slavoy žižek states that he has greater problems in speaking about Stalin  than he has about Hitler. In fact, I do, too. I liked Hitler, but disliked Stalin. In what lies the difference?

Of course, I know what the end result of Hitler’s political power was. At the end of WW2, I was living in Weimar, the capital city of the German Weimar republic. The concentration camp Buchenwald was on the other side (north) of the valley, from where my family was staying. My address was Peter Cornelius Strasse 10, if I remember right, the last street of Weimar on its Western side. This was perhaps some ten blocks from the Weimar theatre, which I saw burn after an allied bombing attack. When I passed by with a basket of Rundstuchen (buns), a crew of Buchenwald  Inmates from was already clearing the rubble from a bomb that had struck the cobble stone street. One of the men saw that my basked contained bread, and broke away from the working crew (it had an armed guard), ran up to me, fell on his knees, and with his right hand pointed at my basket, alternately folding them in a gesture of pleading, and I believe what he said (though I did not hear it then) was: “Won’t you, Anton, eleven years old refugee from Latvia, please give me one of the Rundstuchen?” I looked at my basket, saw that the find from the fire I had been watching (from only a out ten meters away)had blown the small towel that covered its contents over a corner, and folded the towel back over the basket. I did not give the man his bread. While I hesitated, the guard came up to us and told the man to get back to work and for me to shove off. All the while behind me there was the five or six story round Weimar Theatre building belching flames from its many huge, inverted U [O]7 windows, the flames and smoke coming through most of them. About a month or so later, I was watching from a small hillside outside of Weimar the bombing of Dresden (nearly 200 km east).

When the end of the war came, the inmates of Buchenwald freely walked the streets of Weimar, begged for food, and the German population was told to go look at the camp. I wanted to go, too, but my mother told me not to. I later snuck up to the main gate anyway, saw nothing in particular, and went to play with the handgranades dumpted into a waterfilled ditch on the other side of the street from the camp. I pulled the tab at the tab at the far end of the wooden handle of the grenade. It went KA-BOOM! I was really terrified and threw the grenade away as fast as I could. The content of the canister were apparently wet and did not explode.

Of course, I believed what the newspapers and radio told me: that the Nazis were real murderers and that Hitler was a violent man and that a self-inflicted bullet in his brain was what he deserved. I had seen men and women walk the streets with yellow star labels attached to them. I had heard that Jews had to be got rid of. At the age of , I did not know what to think of the matter, though by that time I suspected that my father had been shot by the Soviets. By that time, I knew that Hitler had lost Stalingrad and perhaps the war, because he had told his soldiers to take Stalingrad and fight to the last man. Many years later after the war, I read that Hitler had been supported in his policies by many German and American banks and business corporations, and that Hitler’s rocked scientists and many Gestapo had been hired by the Americans to help them out in things that they were not yet so good at.

Somewhere, I read, perhaps in a book that was a war memoir or description of WW2, that there was a moment in the fight over Stalingrad, where the Germans and Russians were separated by only several decameters, and Stalin personally ordered the men to hold Stalingrad or die. The following Stalingrad link gives a better account of the blood and lives lost at this ‘street fighting academy’.

* * *

About four years before I was eleven, at the age of seven, after the Soviet authorities had seized our twelve room apartment in Riga and the seaboard villa at Yuhrmala, I found myself in Soklehni, a farm, belonging to my aunt (youngest sister of my grandmother). I believe it is among  the shortest trip anyone ever took from wearing white sandals and riding a German made childrens tricycle to standing with bare feet in cowshit. While the change in environments was in many ways shocking, a five or six hour drive by car over a country road and getting car sick, and soon thereafter being beat up by two country boys for allegedly destroying a nest full of nestlings of a small bird, it was also an exhilarating experience. For the first time in my life, I was in an environment no longer contained by the rituals of urban life. The Baltic-German nannies were gone, and my mother had no idea how to take care of three children at once, her youngest being barely one year old. From that time on to this day, I have been entirely on my own.

The uncomfortable relationship that had arisen as a result of getting a bloody nose from the boys, had to be soon resolved, the sooner the better from the point of view of a seven year old. My parents had packed some of my toys in Riga to be braught with us. One of the toys included a small hammer, a jig-saw, and I have forgotten what other ‘junior carpenter’ tools. The next time, I met the two brothers, I showed them my tools, and they really liked them, and I could see wished they could have them. So, on the spur of the moment, I gave the set to the boys as a gift.

It is hard to forget what happened after my father discovered that I had gifted my toy tools away. He called the farm household together into the kitchen, and began to accuse the boys of being thieves, of taking advantage of a city boy unfamiliar with his new environment. He demanded that the boys return the toys to me. The father of the boys, a militant looking thirtyish man, a “new farmer” defended his sons. I was then asked by my father if I had gifted the toys to the boys. Totally shaken, I shook my head and said “No,” though I knew that I was lying. I was returned my tools in an atmosphere of bad vibes all around.

Several months later, in January of 1941, my father had to return to Riga to vote. The Soviets demanded an obligatory participation in the elections by at least the head of the household. Shortly after he arrived in Riga, he was arrested and spent the time until he and all the inmates of the prison were deported to the Soviet Union at the outbreak of WW2, in June.

When the two boys heard that my father had been deported, I remember hearing them say: “He got what was coming to him.”

While everyone else stayed, the “new farmer” fled the farm with the retreating Soviet Army. I have no idea of what ever happened to them, nor do I think that they know anything about me. I assume that they may have been killed in the war, which early on advanced with real blitz speed.

 * * *

After the above and many other war related experiences, after some fifteen years (after serving three years in the USMC, of which 18 months were spent in South Korea), I found myself in Boston attending a class at Boston University. By that time, I had read a little Dante, Cervantes, Plato, Aristophanes, Sophocles, Iliad and Odysey, Kant, Schopenhauer, Leibniz, Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, Goethe, and what not. At that time, the many Latvian farms contained a small room that served as a library. All the above mentioned authors and many more were there. There was also the Bible, the New Testament, and The Sins of Youth, the latter which taught me that masturbation can weaken the development of my brain. I was anxious not to be discovered at or with a shrunk brain. I had let myself imagine that I wanted to study theology. Instead, I got a seminar with Robert Lowell, an American poet, who after reading my first submitted poem said that he thought that I was a “surrealist”.

Since I did not wish to be “a surrealist”, but was intrigued by it all the same, I ended up reading quite a few books on mythology. That is how I came to read Sophocle’s Oedipus Rex again, and perceived that the riddle of the Sphinx had not been yet solved, but remained a repressed literary mystery. It occurred to me that the riddle remained unsolved, because people did not wish to think of unpleasant matters, the riddle of the Sphinx being one such. The answer to the riddle, in my eyes, was that the Sphinx was actually a temple to the Sphinx, and that it was a place where children were sacrificed.

It took me many years to reimagine and rewrite some of the other happenings taking place in Sophocle’s tragedy, but I feel rather happy to have freed the play from the burden of Freud’s Pop Art reputation, and returned it to the arena of politics. In short, the chief priest of the temple of the Sphinx was not the Sphinx, but the seer and chief priest Tiresias. What Tiresias asked Oedipus was not a riddle, but he told him that if the sacrifices of little children was to end, he would have to substitute his life for theirs.

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