Sep 14, 2014

"After Auschwitz---no more poetry!"

"Alles hängt mit allem zusammen," (everything is connected with everything) would Norbert Elias say, the German sociologist and first recipent of the Theodor W. Adorno Price. It wouldn't be an Adorno saying however, because the man himself, the heavy thinker of "Critical Theory" and its Frankfurter Schule, would never say (or think) things as simple as this.

Theodor W. Adorno

But there you have it. We wake up, tumble upon a link to The New Yorker and read an article on Theodor W. Adorno and his Frankfurter Schule and learn that "he died of a heart attack in the shadow of the Matterhorn."

The Matterhorn

That's us here in Switzerland, folks, the Matterhorn is right around the corner. And yes, alles hängt mit allem zusammen, Adorno suffered his attack, was brought to the nearest hospital and died there, an unassuming Spital located in Visp, Valais, Switzerland, unassuming except that yours truly spent a whole week in the same hospital, his first time ever as a hospital patient, waiting for his foot to unswell so that Dr. Ursprung could repair his broken fibula.

Dr. Ursprung (with colleagues), patient, 3 years ago 

That was three years ago. There was no way of knowing about Adorno's local demise at the time, no plaque on the wall of the reception hall, no midnight wailing of Adorno's ghost or other metaphysical manifestations. If I would have known I could have entertained my healers with Adorno anecdotes (e.g., the one about Angela Davis, scroll down): Nurse Ernst, for example, who quickly developed a critical theory about my bohemian instincts, or the philosophically-named Ursprung, the surgeon, a blonde petite with an assertive BDSM-air and fitting Slavic accent (I tried one lame joke about her name, she cracked the whip). Or I could have told them about the real tragedy of Adorno's death, his demise triggering the near-fatal suicide attempt of his spouse that turned her into a nursing case for the remaining 23 years of her life. Tragic enough, you'd say, for a ghost to get wailing.


So I tell Chang, who has never heard of Adorno and needs some convincing celebrity-wise. He has, however, heard of Rainer Maria Rilke, the Bohemian poet (1875-1926) who found his final resting place nearby, in Raron, the village due west of Visp and right under our nose below in the valley. And haven't we promised each other to be more outgoing, visit places and take pictures?

Rainer Maria Rilke (sketch by Boris Pasternak)

So Michael get on the computer and out-prints the first two parts of Rilke's most-famous work, the "Duineser Elegien,"---the idea being that Chang and Michael would act like truly responsible tourists for once, tourists even Adorno might have approved of---us not taking alienating snap shots of a celebrity tomb but sitting on the tomb bench and recite immortal Rilke-lines and conjure the genius locii that lifts the critical spirits and so on and so forth.

(The printer malfunctions---that's always a bad omen.)

The charming chapel

Rilke's tomb is up a path from the village next to a charming chapel. We sit down on the tomb bench. Yours truly brings out the misprinted elegies and starts to read: “Wer, wenn ich schriee, hört mich denn aus der Engel Ordnungen ...

Rilke's tomb

Chang isn't particularly interested, perhaps because his German is a bit rusty, so I translate: “Who, if I were to cry, would hear me from the angel’s order … no … orderings … Angel’s orderings … Do you get this?"


"Stupid," I say.
"I'm not stupid."
"I mean Rilke."
"Watch your mouth," Chang says. "Rilke is more famous than you are."

"This is a famous poet who's buried here as a tourist attraction and you disturb his peace," Chang says.

"And here," I continue, “Ach, sie verdecken sich nur miteinander ihr Los.” Do you get this? They are only covering up jointly their destiny? Ugly."
"Ugly what?”
"Plain ugly!"
"Watch you mouth," Chang says. "This is a famous poet who's buried here as a tourist attraction and you disturb his peace."

There's funny noise coming from Rilke's grave, a wailing "Oohhhooohhh."
"That's Rilke," Chang says, "You are disrupting his peace."
"Well, you are disrupting his piece. 'Buried as a famous tourist attraction.' How can you say that. Poor Rilke."
"Ooohoohh," Rilke's grave reacts, "ooohoohh."
"Let's get out of here," Chang says.

I'm an atheist, so I don't believe in ghosts. "And here," I insist, "Dass wir nicht sehr verlässlich zu Haus sind ... sounds as if Rilke doesn't have his cupboard together."
"Aaargghh, aaargghh," Rilke's grave answers.

Chang gets up, grabs the elegy-printout, tears it up, and tosses the scraps into the nearest dust bin.
"Aaargghh, aaargghh," comes from the grave.

"Let's get out of here," Chang says.


You guessed it. The wailing follows us down the hill, into our aging SUV, and back up all the way to the chalet where we are presently holed up. "Aaargghh, aaargghh."

We've notified the authorities, held up the receiver to the "aaargghh," and the "oohhhooh," they refuse to listen. Next time I call, the police officer on the other end of the line tells me in her charming Swiss accent (picture), she'll send the men in the white coats.

Valais police

"Nach Auschwitz kann man keine Gedichte mehr schreiben," I quote the most-famous Adorno quote.

"Aaargghh, aaargghh," goes Rilke's ghost.

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