Germany using Israeli lawyers to help “repatriate” Kafka manuscripts and literary legacy back to Germany. Keeping the works under lock and key, like incarcerated hostages out of Jozef Fritzl. It should burnish the national brand, used as export propaganda for cars, televisions etc. But what if Israel gets to keep the loot, courtesy of Max Brod, if only he didn’t have a dalliance for the secretary with the long white legs. Funny, its all about a Kafka who wrote so compellingly about non-belonging and belonging. But then, maybe he is getting his wish; his request to Brod to burn the work. After all, going to Germany is akin to having your manuscripts torched. Kafka would have been prime death camp material.
But what of this Germany, those sensitive atoners ? In a controversial line from a Fassbinder play from the mid-1970′s, a real estate competitor, complaining, says “the Jew is sucking us dry, he’s drinking our blood and makes us unhappy, because he’s Jewish and we are the guilty ones? If he had stayed where he came from or had been gassed, I could sleep better at night.” For Kafka, basically a believing non-believer, a pessimistic utopian like Benjamin, Jewishness is basically a private concern, disengaged from national identity and public forum.But now, both Israel and Germany use an outward identification with Jewishness to claim a literary cache. But like Kafkian judges, their motives remain somewhat inexplicable. As Kafka invoked, the truth has a habit of taking us beyond our imagination.
In Fassbinder’s Garbage, The City and Death, he implies, correctly, that certain Jews were implicated in corrupt property speculation because they could more easily carry out the dirty work of corrupt municipal authorities since they could play on holocaust sympathy, use the holocaust industry to remain above the law. The central figures of the play are all marginal, alienated types, isolated in the urban world. Briefly, the play is about a sadomasochistic, wife beating pimp who beats his wife, who is also a prostitute. His wife barely tricks enough money to support them until she meets The Rich Jew, like out of a Hogarth etching. who makes big money from property speculation. In the Fassbinder manner, the hooker’s dad is a former-Nazi working as a transvestite singer. The Rich Jew then comes to suspect the father was responsible for killing his family in a death camp so he uses his daughter against him. However, the pimp is unable to cope with his wife’s sudden success and leaves her for another man. Overblown with anxiety, the prostitute sells the Rich Jew on kill her, like a ritual slaughter. Also, The Rich Jew is in complicity with the police he skips being nailed with the homicide, and the pimp become the scapegoat. The burghers were up in arms.
Butler: Alongside this impressive immersion in Jewish things – perhaps we could call it a mode of being enveloped – Kafka also voiced scepticism about that mode of social belonging. Hannah Arendt, whose own sense of belonging was similarly vexed (and became a subject of dispute with Gershom Scholem), made famous one of Kafka’s quips about the Jewish people: ‘My people, provided that I have one.’ As Louis Begley has recently made clear in a quite candid biographical essay, Kafka remained not only in two minds about Jewishness, but sometimes quite clearly torn apart. ‘What have I in common with Jews?’ he wrote in a diary entry in 1914. ‘I have hardly anything in common with myself and should stand very quietly in a corner, content that I can breathe.’ Sometimes his own remarks on Jews were harsh, if not violent, when, for instance, he calls the Jewish people ‘lizards’. In a letter to Milena, a non-Jew, he crosses over into a genocidal and suicidal fantasy in which no one can finally breathe any more:
I could rather reproach you for having much too good an opinion of the Jews whom you know (including myself) – there are others! – sometimes I’d like to cram them all as Jews (including myself) into the drawer of the laundry chest, then wait, then open the drawer a little, to see whether all have already suffocated, if not, to close the drawer again and go on like this to the end….
…Fine, but how pushy can the Nazi stereotype of Jews be stretched and squeezed? In being good till’ the last drop of blood, Fassbinder goes for the jugular. Von Gluck, the business rival of A, is obsessed with finding out about his competitor’s advantage, and interrogates Roma, the prostitute who is sleeping with him. Roma reveals that A is packing good equipmen, a nice hefty Jewish sausage: “20 centimetres long and thick as a beer bottle”. Up in arms, it explains everything. Von Gluck swear, and expresses wishes all Jews had been gassed, or guilt they had not been. Forget complexity and nuance, Its a three chord rock n’ roll of portraying nazi fears of jews all the way to its tragic finale.
…Jewishness is linked up, time and again, with the possibility of breathing. What have I in common with the Jews? I am lucky that I can breathe at all. So is it the Jews who make it difficult for him to breathe, or is it Kafka who imagines depriving the Jews of breath?
Kafka’s suffocation fantasy reiterates a phantasmatic vacillation of size that we also find, for instance, in The Judgment. In the fantasy, Kafka is impossibly large, larger than all the Jews he imagines putting into the drawer. And yet, he is also in the drawer, which makes him unbearably small. In The Judgment, the father is by turns huge and tiny: at one moment the son, Georg, remarks that when erect, he is so tall that his hand lightly touches the ceiling, but in a previous moment, the father is reduced to the size of a child and Georg carries him to bed. The son towers over the father only to be sentenced to death by the force of the latter’s words. Where is Kafka located in that fantasy of suffocation, and where is Georg? They are subject to a perpetual vacillation in which no one finally is sustained in a manageable scale. In the suffocation fantasy, Kafka is both agent and victim. But this persistent duality goes unrecognised by those who have used the letter to call him a self-hating Jew. Such a conclusion is no more warranted by the vacillations in his text than is the triumphant claim that Kafka’s occasionally admiring remarks about Zionism make him a Zionist. (He is, after all, flirting in some of those instances.) The suffocation fantasy, written in 1920, is perhaps most usefully understood in relation to a letter to Felice written four years earlier, after reading Arnold Zweig’s play Ritual Murder in Hungary (1916). The play enacts a drama from 1897 based on the blood libel against the Jews. Jews in a Hungarian village are accused of using a butcher’s knife to kill Christians and then using their blood to make unleavened bread. In the play, the accused are brought to court, where the charges are dismissed. An anti-Jewish riot breaks out on the streets and violence is directed against Jewish businesses and religious institutions. After reading Zweig’s play, Kafka wrote to Felice: ‘At one point I had to stop reading, sit down on the sofa, and weep. It’s years si
I wept.’ The butcher’s knife, or knives like it, then reappear in his diaries and letters, and even several times in the published fiction: in The Trial, for instance, and again, most vividly, in ‘A Country Doctor’. The play gives us some sense of the limits of law, even the strange way that the law gives way to a lawlessness it cannot control….
The seducer in Fassbinder’s Water Drops on Burning Rocks who elicited the gift of an “othered” body is a jew named Leopold Bloom. Bloom, the above mentioned Rich Jew, and another figure, Anton Saitz form a trio of Jewish men characterized as ardent seducers , thieves of the innocent, and unscrupulous businessmen; attributes that fit squarely into the profile of the the anti-Semitic propaganda . Here, Fassbinder is being profound and coherent in this intentional construction of anti-semitic profiling, and its not anti-semitic, but rather in the zone of transference and projection. Rather than the anti-semitic feminized image of jewish masculinity, compensation for their own sexual identity anxieties, we see the post WWII generation exploring and updating its sexual identity through Jewish men, in a bizarre twist of the so-called jewish mission to redeem the world. perhaps starting between the sheets. Raoul, our jew-hating pimp is seduced by the Rich Jew, and realizes that he was gay all along, a tikkun moment, his Minsky moment. Franz, the teen in Water Drops on Burning Rocks, attempts gay sex for the first time with Leopold Bloom, falling in love with Bloom; Erwin, is in love with Anton Saitz, and becomes a woman for him. Importantly, the process, the quantum leap of becoming feminized is the exclusive domain of the German male, with the Jewish men who catalyze the repressed longing to be feminized, or awaken the recognition that one is already feminine. Is the jew corrupter or liberator?
…Indeed, if we consider that recurrent and libellous accusations lurk in the background of his many trials, we can read the narrative voice as a neutralisation of outrage, a linguistic packing away of sorrow that paradoxically brings it to the fore. So Jews are his family, his small world, and he is already in some sense hemmed in by that small apartment, that relentless community, and in that sense suffocated. And yet, he was mindful of the stories and present dangers of anti-semitism, ones that he experienced directly in a riot that took place in 1918 in which he found himself amid a crowd ‘swimming in Jew-hatred’. Did he then look to Zionism as a way out of this profound ambivalence: the need to flee the constraints of family and community coupled with the need to find a place imagined as free of anti-semitism? Read More:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n05/judith-butler/who-owns-kafka
Fassbinder has been taken to task for representing Jewish males as remote and cold, while his Germans are transformed through profound changes. But for the anti-Semitic transference to work as artifice, this is the key point. Feminization, once held by the Nazis to be a trait of the Jewish man, is shown not to be applicable, the jew is a more primal creature of sorts, or Kafka’s hybrid type; comfortable in their identity, albeit being what it is. Here, German men crack, surrendering to neurotic realms, rampant emotionality, and overly hysterical, fitting into the Freudian conception of the feminine. Fassbinder is crude, but this reversal, worked out through children of Nazis, does explore Fassbinder’s view of the slow but inevitable process by which worlds are remade, only to transform again as the pendulum swings back.
The idea of sanitized, moral Jews is poor ammunition in combatting the anti-Semitic legacy of Germany; the genius here of Fassbinder is showing that this stigma can only be swept out, by a depiction of Jewish figures committing and getting away with so-called crimes against society that the Third Reich denounced. It is unflattering, but there is some truth to it; being in complicity with the authorities, pulling strings, the lying and double-dealing, all done in good conscience, “business as usual” providing some with the superficial justification for the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
These particular Jews are represented as doing everything possible to confirm the repressive anti-Semitic judgment; a kind of reward as to not to have suffered genocide in vain, although these tropes were always there, flagrant figures from Odessa and Galicia bringing their stock and trade to the virgin West. Isaac Babel figures now post WWII. Interestingly, and not without some validity, the figure of the Jew, once so obviously open to criticism, has become untouchable in a post holocaust world. The fruits of the holocaust industry: because of a Bruegelish Slaughter of the Innocents, there is now a Germany that can be found guilty, guilty for existing, meaning Jews are free to roam even in the case of societal crimes. They are above the law. It is as incomprehensible as the holocaust itself; a response to devastation in which the collective ego of society is transformed and flipped inside out. Given that Fassbinder is subtle as a jack-hammer, there is a plausible intuition here, one that extends to the rogue adventures of Israel, excusable under the trauma of post-holocaust stress, and the link between this muscular zionism and the invidious comparisons made in the Nazi era are issues that cannot be dismissed without some reflection.