Heiner Müller | MOMMSEN’S BLOCK (for Félix Guattari)

Tacita Dean | GAETA, 2015

 

 

 

What authorities are there
beyond Court tittle tattle

(Mommsen to James Bryce, 1898)

 

The question why the great historian
Did not write
The fourth volume of his HISTORY OF ROME
The long awaited one about the imperial era
Has preoccupied the historians who followed
Good reasons are in supply
Preserved in letters hearsay speculation
The dearth of epigraphs He who writes with a chisel
Has no manuscript The stones do not lie
No reliance on literature INTRIGUE AND
COURT GOSSIP Even the silver fragments
Of the laconic Tacitus merely perusals for poets
For whom history is a burden
Unbearable without the dance of vowels
On the tombs against the gravitational pull of the dead
And their fear of eternal recurrence
He wasn’t fond of the Caesars of the Late Period
Not their indolence not their vices
He had plenty of the one-and-only Julius
Who was to him worth his own tombstone
Even TO DESCRIBE CAESAR’S DEATH he had
Upon being asked about the pending
Fourth volume NO MORRE PASSION
And THE ROTTING CENTURIES after him
GREY-IN-GREY BLACK-ON-BLACK For whom
The epitaph The midwife Bismarck was
Likewise the gravedigger of the empire
That afterbirth of a false telegram
Could be inferred from the third volume
Getting soft in Charlottenburg
The twice-daily trip by horse tram
In the dust of books and manuscripts forty
Thousand in Haus Mommsen Machstrasse 8
Twelve children in the basement THE COURAGE TO ERR
Which I NOW KNOW QUALIFIES ONE TO BE A HISTORIAN
SADLY SOMETHING I DON’T KNOW For example Why
Does a world empire crumble The ruins have no answer
The silence of the statues gilts the downfall
WHAT WE UNDERSTAND ARE THE INSTITUTIONS
BUT HE IS WEARY AND RATHER DUSTY
The pious Dilthey wrote to Count Yorck
FROM THE COUNTRY ROADS OF PHILOLOGY
EPIGRAPHY AND PARTY POLITICS
WITHOUT ANY SPIRITUAL YEARNING FOR THE INVISIBLE KING-
DOM His kingdom was the tangible
In a letter to his daughter Frau Wilamowitz
He dreams of a villa near Naples
So as not to learn to die Come time come death
And with no mercy A BLIND FAITH
FOR COUNTS AND BARONS Christianity
A tree disease from the roots up
A cancer infiltrated by the intelligence services
The twelve apostles twelve undercover
The betrayer provides the proof of God
And the company logo Saul a colonized
Bloodhound plays the part of the Social Democrat
Becoming Paul after falling from a horse
And a bellwether of the unknown God
For Whom he lures the sheep into the pen
To be culled for salvation or damnation
Only to the worms are the dead equals
The first pope a police informant
Only John of Patmos amid narcotic vapours
That heretic that psychopomp that terrorist
Saw the new beast rising upward
The dream of Italy is a dream of writing
That stimulant of moonlight on ruins
With that godlike hauteur OF MY YOUTH
OF A YOUNGER GENERATION AT LEAST I WAS NEVER YOUNG
What is left is this GODLIKE OBNOXIOUSNESS A POOR
SUBSTITUTE Eagles in the cesspool Why
Get down in writing just because the masses will read it
Biology knows that more life exists
In cesspools than at higher elevations
How does one make the people understand
And to what end so that first decade under Nero
The repressed artist the bloody
Music is all the rage in decline
When all is said the voices are sweet
Was a happy time for the people of Rome
The happiest perhaps in its long history
It had their bread their games The massacres
Took place in the box seats
And they had high audience ratings
An apartment fire in Villa Mommsen caused not
By Christian zeal against libraries
Like two thousand years before in Alexandria
But rather by a gas explosion at MACHSTRASSE 8
Giving rise to the dire prospect
That the great scholar had a fourth volume
The long anticipated one about the imperial period
He had written it after all and the text had been burnt
Along with the rest of his library such as
Forty thousand books plus manuscripts
THE ACADEMY FRAGMENT was rescued
A seven-page outline framed by the fire
IN ANGLE BRACKETS THE CHARRED WORDS
OF MOMMSEN the way editors write
One hundred and twelve years after the fire
Newspapers chronicle that fire
One reader of newspapers Nietzsche writes to Peter Gast:
‘Have you read about the fire at Mommsen’s house?
And that his excerpts are destroyed, the
mightiest of works perhaps ever produced by any
living scholar? He kept jumping into
the flames, and they finally over-
came him, for he was covered with burns.
Such undertakings as Mommsen’s can
only be quite rare, for seldom does a vast memory
and a corresponding acuity in discrimination and
order of material come together. More often
they serve to work against each other.—When
I heard this story, my heart turned upside down
In my body and I still suffer physically whenever I
think about it. Is it sympathy? But what is Mommsen
to me? I am hardly well disposed towards him.’
A document from that century of letter writers
The fear of loneliness is concealed in the question mark
Who writes into the void needs no punctuation
Excuse me if I speak for myself Mommsen professor
According to Toynbee the greatest living historian
(Or he said as an aside This is the continually nagging fear
Of the acclaimed that the measuring stick lies)
after Gibbon residing at Charlottenburg Machstrasse 8
Two three pages long For whom else do we write
Than for the dead all-knowing in the dust An idea
Perhaps unacceptable to you an instructor of young people
That forgetting is a privilege of the dead
After all even you forbid publication
Of your lectures per your last will and testament
For the imprudence of the lectern betrays
The struggles of the writing desk Even the AENEID
You wanted to see burnt in keeping with the intentions
Of that manqué Virgil On whom Augustus
The architect of Rome hesitating from completion himself
Because it conceals the abyss conferred immortality
The DIVINE COMEDY would not
Have been written or be less enduring
Without his verdict about the fire
And Professor I wanted you to read Kafka
In your marble tomb on your pedestal
You realize that the bombs of the Second World War
Did not spare Machstrasse You were
Not spared nor your Academy of Sciences
With the overthrow of Asiatic despotism Product
Of a false reading and falsely called
Socialism according to that great historian
Of capital He whom you failed to see
A man working in another quarry
Before his monument stood on your pedestal
For one state long. The pedestal is once more your place
Outside the university named for Humboldt
By those autocrats of an illusion
(They had not read your History of Rome
Nor Marx who said nothing in regard to reading it
Had he lived longer as one might say
Envious perhaps of your Nobel Prize money the Jew)
Caught in the knitting pattern of red Caesars
Who recited HIS text with soldier’s boots
How do you clear a minefield Eisenhower asked
From one victor of the Second World War to another
Victor With the boots
Of a marching battalion Zhukov answered
The GREAT OCTOBER OF WORKING CLASS sung
Spontaneously with Hope Or in a double chokehold
By too many and still with their throats cut
Was a summer thunderstorm in the shadow of the World Bank
A mosquito dance over the Tartars’ graves
WHERE THE DEAD ONES WAIT
FOR THE EARTHQUAKES TO COME
As perhaps Ezra Pound would have said that other Virgil
Who bet on a false Caesar he failed as well
That is ghosts do not sleep
Their favourite food is our dreams
Professor if you will excuse the bitter tone
The university named for Humboldt
Before which you sit on your pedestal
Long after your death is just now being shovelled
Clean from the putative garbage of the new
Blind faith not for counts and barons
Yesterday at dinner in a fancy restaurant
In the reunited capital of Berlin
I was leafing through the notes taken of your lectures
About Rome’s imperial period fresh from the bookshop
Two heroes of the new era dined at the next table
Lemurs of capital money-changers and merchants
And while I overheard their dialogue greedy
For fodder for my disgust for the here and now:
‘These four million / we need them now // And it’s
not working // But then no one sees it // When you
don’t master the keyboard / You’re lost This you have
seen in X / He has no control over it //You need to
hammer that / Into him or he takes a bath Tough // So I
have this fear / They are smacking him against the wall
like a jellyfish // then he hangs there floundering and floundering
// I think he’s a good acquisitions man for the initial stage /
But when it comes to doing the hard work . . . // Then he
needs to hand this off to others // But is that the question then
Are our hands good enough / That they can turn this game around
// Someone needs to whip him back into shape // We have to
buy him for the Deutsche Bank // That we can do on
our own / If I just had a pair of pliers /Then I could
teach him Then he might bring in / some real money.’
Five streets away as the sirens suggest
The poor smack down the poorest
And as these gentlemen turned to themselves cigars and cognac
Strictly in accordance with the textbook of political economy
Of capitalism:‘They wanted to send me / to a tutoring
school // My mother was hard as rocks / against everything
You take your entrance exams / The faculty was always divided /
There were teachers who thought I was stupid.’
Animal noise Who would want to write that
With any passion Hate isn’t worth it Scorn does nothing
For the first time I understood your inhibition to write
Comrade Professor facing Rome’s imperial era
That famously happy time under Nero
Knowing that the unwritten text is a wound
For which the blood flows that posthumous fame does not staunch
And the yawning gap in your historical work
Was a pain in my how-long-still breathing body
And I remembered the dust of your marble tomb
And my cold coffee in the morning at 6
In Charlottenburg in Haus Mommsen Machstrasse 8
In your office surrounded by books

 

1992

 


This poem is a variant of a dramatic text (italics indicate english in original).
MOMMSEN, after Theodor Mommsen (1817–1903), German historian and politician and nobel laureate.
Félix Guattari (1930–92), French philosopher and semiologist.
James Bryce (1838–1922), British liberal politician, historian and believer in ‘Teutonic freedom’, which included Germany as a ‘natural ally’ of Great Britain and the United States.
HISTORY OF ROME, Mommsen’s chief work was left unfinished, with only volumes devoted to the Roman Republic (published 1854–56) and a history of the Roman provinces (1885).
Bismarck . . . false telegram, the Ems Dispatch (here Müller channels Mommsen and suggests that the fourth volume about Imperial Rome was left unwritten because history was repeating itself after German unification and with the new german empire).
Machstrasse 8, a road in the Berlin suburb of Charlottenburg; Mommsen purchased his house there in 1874.
Dilthey . . .Yorck, Karl Dilthey (1839–1907), German classical scholar, and Count Paul Yorck von Wartenburg (1835–97), German lawyer and philosopher, whose correspondence influenced Martin Heidegger’s philosophy of history.
INVISIBLE KINGDOM, refers to the heavenly reward, the afterlife; line 63, ‘John . . . vapours’, the imputation that the author of the Book of the Revelation, like the Delphic oracle and other seers, relied on noxious fumes to achieve visions of the future.
THE ACADEMY FRAGMENT, the so-called Akademiefragment formed the basis for the 1992 reconstruction of the missing fourth volume based on lecture notes taken by two of Mommsen’s students.
verdict about the fire, perhaps that the fires of hell burnt in proportion to one’s sins.
knitting pattern, idiom, cf. party line, groupthink.

lemurs, evil spirits and like spectral beings in Roman mythology.

 

 

FROM
HEINER MÜLLER | WAITING ON THE OPPOSITE STAGE. COLLECTED POEMS
TRANSLATED BY JAMES REIDEL
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS / SEAGULL BOOKS 2021

 

 

 

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