Through the Hole, Through the Hatch


The driving force behind her documentary The Lawyers: A German Story (2009) is identified by Birgit Schulz in the form of a photograph from 1972. Otto Schily (right, fore) and Hans-Christian Ströbele (left) are defending another lawyer, Horst Mahler, against charges of his association with the Red Army Faction. A peculiar light is shed on forty years of German political history by tracing the paths these three have taken from their early encounter. Both defense lawyers were heckled publicly for their work even while dissociating themselves explicitly from the political views held by their client. Now as it happens Mahler is in prison again. This time, in a way that’s almost inexplicable, his crime is Holocaust denial. Schily and Ströbele have both had careers in mainstream politics, the former in the Social Democratic government in which, between ‘98 and ’05, he was Federal Minister for the Interior.

It is clear on listening to the accounts given by the three men that, despite what the photograph may seem to show – and despite the different politics that each has come to espouse – divergence from a common position is not quite what has taken place. Mahler has moved in his allegiances, certainly. But his is a peculiar case. Where Schily is concerned there is evidence from ‘70s news footage of some youthful indignation on his part, but even then he was no left-wing radical. His idealism, to the extent that it existed, concerned the law and the question of how justice might function in a time of violent protest. In the documentary he laughs while remembering one challenging moment during the case. The defendant, who had been instructed to respect the court and to answer the judge’s questions, replied that “judges should not be answered; they should be shot”. On the evolution of his own career from law into politics, Schily’s remarks appear in the documentary as a change of tone, a moment of hiatus in the historical account. His skills, he says, may not be profound in every respect, but in one thing he excels – and this has been true through the various phases of his working life: he has proved himself a good questioner. Questioning may involve the establishing of truths, the finding of answers, but it is on a more profound level, in essence, persistence; the questioner must return, must do so again in order always to ask if what has been given in answer is all there is. In this way a career path that has taken him into high office is admitted by Schily to be the less remarkable fact. His achievements have been made with assistance from the engines of institutions. But the self-depreciation, if it is that, is enacted with a reason. It is one step towards representing what he wants to give as the truth of his success: current and counter-current in a working life. The real achievement is not appreciated without taking into account work’s directions that resists the drive towards tangible goals.

*

Politicians. Our hearts sink. They’re all at it – even those we think absentmindedly for a moment we’d like to respect as we listen to them speaking on the radio, are inclined to jump hastily over the interrogator’s words and to trot out that phrase again: “moving forward…” The interrogator’s point is admitted as being true, but tacitly, while pragmatics or professionalism dictates that to dwell there even for a moment would be terminal. And they’re right. What’s at stake is just the profession they’re trying to sustain in its continuity through the crisis brought on by the issue now being exposed. This portion of the interview is a place with no footing.

But as listeners we are complicit. We express our anger. We shout at the radio and to do so is pragmatism on our part. It’s the best we can do, at the same time repeating a version of the politician’s acrobatics to get us over the shame experienced in identifying with them – a shame that’s only the act of listening – in their miserable moment. The hurdle is cleared but with limbs flailing, knees scuffed. What we express is resentment too at having been coerced to join them on the assault course.

Solitary work is better – or that’s so if there’s any work that can properly be called solitary. Better to read than listen to the radio. The interrogations still take place but the positions it’s necessary to adopt, being allowed to remain under cover of thought, can persist there in flux more effectively, making gentler impact.

Singular ways of reading develop, micro-methodologies in research barely pronounced enough to be known, seldom described. In the margin there are all kinds of inarticulate marks – underlinings ruled and freehand, the one-sided sentence bracket, the wavy line indicating in this passage somewhere (we can’t put a finger on it precisely) the text’s key to be found; there are marks of punctuation scaled up by the blunt tip of graphite, stars approximating asterisks, spots like stops.  Cryptic words are found. These are designed to give a speedier orientation of the material if it should be required. ‘Crib’, where it appears, means that in the sentences in its vicinity there is an equation. It won’t be too difficult to find due to its concision. The name ‘crib’ is inherited from the story of World War II code-breakers at Bletchley Park for whom the same word named the crucial piece of information that allowed them finally to implement the quantities of data already gathered,  which had been up to that point impossible to place in any pattern. Where the crib appears in reading, wisely or not – intended or not – here the writer has done what her text otherwise resists giving us in direct and unequivocal way the meaning of a term. It often comes in the form of two words or phrases and the conjunctive preposition ‘or’.  Two worlds previously unrelated are brought into proximity, their successive terms made available for comparison. Other times the crib comes in less concise form and is given to us as an observation that, though spread over a sentence or more, signals its difference from the writing’s body by a change of tone, as if through these words the writer lifts her head and addresses us directly from a knowledge well enough assimilated that she can extemporise.

In his writing on the diagrams proposed by philosophers John Mullarkey gifts us a remark about the thinkers in question. It is all too easy to see them as adversaries; perhaps by necessity his own work is structured in such a way, a clarity being produced by the distinctions underlined that separate the work of Michel Henry, Alain Badiou, François Laruelle, and Gilles Deleuze. (Mullarkey, J. Post-Continental Philosophy: An Outline, London: Continuum, 2006) but it should be remembered that, despite their differences, these are all philosophers of immanence. As such, the differences between them are less significant than those by which they are distinguished from philosophers of transcendence for whom there is a beyond – a realm of ideal forms, a vault of heaven.

The strange determination of suspension given previously, by which our mascot can be described as at the same time suspended and agent of suspension, tells that the inquiry is contributing to a broader project – the same project that philosophers refer to in terms of immanence, progressing it in their own way.

For our part, we turn back, looking again at the paradox in its concise statement, looking for the wood in words, the weathered boards in which has been cut a hatch, the hole through which things might be passed from one place to another, from the side on which we stand in the field. Grasses grow rough and wiry around the base of weathered boards. Idle children are there pulling at the grasses, greening their hands for want of more engaging play and wondering at the opal sky, the vault beyond, forbidden but possessed already, possessed through the hole…

Advertisements