Christoph Hein's Das Napoleon-Spiel and the Ludic Principle

by Michael Ossar
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Title:
Christoph Hein's Das Napoleon-Spiel and the Ludic Principle
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Michael Ossar
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2000
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The German Quarterly
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73
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3
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253
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268
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MICHAELOSSAR

Kansas State University

Christoph Hein's Das Napoleon-Spiel and the Ludic Principle

Wenn unsereiner kein Verbrechen, z.B. kei- nen Mord auf dem Gewissen hat-worm liegt es? D& uns ein paar begiinstigende Umstande dafiir gefehlt haben. Und tliten wires, was wlire damit an unserm Werte be- zeichnet?An sich wiirde man uns verachten, wenn man uns nicht die Kraft zutraute, un- ter Umstiinden, einen Menschen zu toten. (111 619)

-Friedrich Nietzsche

The acte gratuit as defined in its classic form by Andre Gide in his Les Caves du Vat- ican has fascinated novelists at least since 1914 and has appeared in various guises: in Camus'sLJEtranger (1942), in Diirren- matt's Der Richter und sein Henker (1950), and, most recently, in Christoph Hein's novel Das Napoleon-Spiel (1993).l In Gide's formulation the act is defined for us after the fact, after we watch Lafcadio Wluiki push a man completely unknown to him off a train in response to a momentary impulse. He is speaking with his half- brother, the Count Julius Baraglioul, a novelist. Julius tells Lafcadio about his epiphany, his realization that all his previ- ous novels had been distorted by his misbe- gotten attempt to describe a rational and orderly world, one that conforms with tra- dition and received conventions. The world of the hero of his next novel, however, as he now realizes after reading about the mur- der in the newspaper (but unaware that he is speaking to the murderer) is to be darker and more chaotic:

"So nothing is further from my old novels than the one I am planning now. I used to demand logic and consistency from my cha- racters, and in order to make quite sure of getting them, I began by demanding them from myself. It wasn't natural [...I."

Julius again soused his handkerchief and sat down in an armchair; Lafcadio sat himself astride on a chair opposite him.

"The hero is to be a young man whom I wish to make a criminal." "I see no difficulty in that [...I. It's easy enough to find motives for crime."

"No doubt .. . but that's exactly what I don't want to do. I don't want a motive for the crimeall I want is an explanation of the criminal. Yes! I mean to lead him into committing a crime gratuitously-into wanting to commit a crime without any motive at all [...I. We will take him as a mere youth. I mean him to show the ele- gance of his nature by this-that he acts almost entirely in play, and as a matter of course prefers his pleasure to his inte- rest."

"Rather unusual, I should say," ventur- ed Lafcadio.

"Yes, isn't it?" said Julius, enchanted. "Then we must add that he takes pleasure in self-control."

"To the point of dissimulation." "We'll endow him, then, with the love of risk." "Bravo!" exclaimed Lafcadio, more and more amused. (195-97)

Julius' words are, unwittingly, an exact description of the deed that inspired them (through the newspaper account), but they are also an exact description of the deed planned by Worle, the hero of Christoph

The German Quarterly 73.3 (Summer2000) 253

Hein's novel Das Napoleon-Spiel: to attack in an U-Bahn car a person whose life has nothing to do with his own and to cause him to cease to exist. Hein's novel is con- structed in the form of an apologiapro vita sua, a long document written by Worle in order to explain his deed to his lawyer, Fiarthes, except that it subverts the form of the apologia and is in fact written with- out a shred of remorse. On the contrary, at its conclusion Worle holds out the prospect of a new and even more difficult game: he will choose the most respected public fig- ure in Germany (one assumes he is think- ing of Richard von Weizsacker) and, after informing this victim of his intention to de- stroy him (thus allowing Fiarthes to aid him), will contrive to do so. Worle, like Lafcadio, sees his deed as a necessary as- sertion of independence, of free will, of sov- ereign mastery of life, which otherwise, as Freud notes in Das Unbehagen in der Kul- tur, puts all of us into the same pot and sub- jects us all to humiliating contingencies like disease and death: "Man mu13 sein Le- ben etwas einrichten konnen und ordnen, wenn man nicht Gefahr laufen will, zu seinem Sklaven zu werden, denn was wir Leben nennen ist nur ein Trieb" (9612. Lafcadio, as cold-blooded and arrogant as he imagines himself, is ultimately unsuc- cessful, a final irony of the novel. He discov- ers after the act that what was intended to be a declaration of independence from con- vention, morality, and contingency proves instead to enmesh him in the same tor- ments of conscience that afllict mere mor- tals. The man in his train compartment he describes before the deed as nothing but an aesthetically disgusting excrescence ("What is there in common between me and that squalid little rat?" [1811)becomes in death a human being with a claim on his

conscience.

"I lived unconscious; I killed in a dream-a nightmare, in which I have been struggling ever since [...I. Can't you understand that the idea of impunity is odious to me? What is there left for me to do-if not to give myself up as soon as it is daybreak?"

he tells Genevieve, the daughter of his half-brother and suddenly, and for a brief moment, his lover (239-40).It is of course no accident that feeling for another hu- man being only enters his life at the same time as this remorse.

There is another difference between these two so strikingly similar novels. As we have seen, Worle conceives of his pro- ject as a means of escaping the animal ne- cessity to which human beings appear to be condemned by imposing on himself a logic and rationality of the highest order. He will master the chaos, the Trieb to which other, less gifted Spieler must submit with an in- tellectuality so extreme that it aspires to the spirituality ofHesse's Glasperlenspiel:

Lieber Herr Fiarthes, ich nehme es hier schon vorweg: auch jene, wie Sie sagen, entsetzliche Tat, die Sie nun mehr be- schaftigt als mich, war im Grund ein Spiel, durchdacht, geplant, Varianten ausprobierend und verwerfend, bis ich endlich, ganz kiihl und berechnend, den entscheidenden StoR ausfuhrte, der das Spiel nicht beendete, aber dennoch ein Hohepunkt war[...I. Was uns zu alledem anspornt, ist der Wunsch, ein Schopfer zu sein, ein Gott. (35-36)

This level of abstraction and extreme ra- tionality is represented in the novel by Worle's fascination with billiards, a game based on and constrained by the laws of physics which allows him to plan his more dangerous mental games. Chess, equally complicated, would not suffice, because it is not just the intellectual planning that challenges him but also the element of exe- cution. The reader will recall the similar combination of billiards and Sandkasten- spiele, war games, in Heinrich Boll's novel, Billard um halb zehn, also, like Das Napoleon-Spiel, a novel about the Lammer and Biiffel of history.

For Lafcadio, by contrast, the deed is an expression of the irrational, the incalcula- ble in the human personality that refuses to submit to the reason, convention, and positivism of his brother-in-law, Anthime Armand-Dubois, whose "scientific" researches and eventual capitulation to the one true faith provide a grotesque and ironic counterpart to Lafcadio's own ca- reer, his progress from amorality to re- morse. Anthime, who is af'flicted with sciat- ica, tells his niece Marguerite:

"My dear girl, kindly understand that if I knew that an instantaneous and certain cure lay to my hand, there-do you hear?-there!" (and he pointed wildly to the saltcellar) "but that before taking it, I must beg the Principal" (this was hisjoco- se name for the Supreme Being on the days when he was in a bad temper) "or be- seech him to intervene-to upset for my sake the established order-the natural order-the venerable order of cause and effect, I wouldn't take his cure. I wouldn't! I should say to the Principal: 'Don't come bothering me with your mi- racle! I don't want it-at any price! I don't want it!"' (22)

The "venerable order of cause and ef- fect": these words lead us more deeply into the philosophical and psychological issues raised by the very notion of the actegratuit in all the works mentioned at the begin- ning of this essay. To the perpetrators, their act appears to be without the logic of causality, unmotivated in any normal sense of the word, in no way able to benefit them or contribute to their well-being. But if one believes in cause and effect, if one be- lieves (as we all do, since Democritus and Aristotle) that nothing happens which is not caused, then of course there must be some motivation that causes Worle or Raskolnikov or Lafcadio or Gastmann or Meursault to act. This fact is emphasized for the reader on the very first page of Hein's novel, where Worle, introducinghis lengthy explanation of his putatively mo- tiveless deed, tells Fiarthes: "Sie sind im Groll gegangen, Verehrtester, obgleich ich mich aufrichtig bemiihte, Ihnen meine Beweggriinde zu offenbaren" (5).Indeed, it is the principal task of the reader of these novels to understand and to define the na- ture of the meta-motives that, operating in the irrational economy of our psyche, cause us to act in our real lives, often against our own interests and unknown to our con- scious minds. Freud of course deals with this phenomenon, most explicitly perhaps in Jenseits des Lustprinzips.

Freud examines children's games with the purpose of ascertaining why children so often engage voluntarily in behavior that seems to the nsiive observer aviolation of the Lustprinzip, behavior calculated to cause pain or anxiety. He tells the story of a child he observed who had to be frequently left alone by his mother. The child would repeatedly and violently throw his toys into the farthest corner of the room. Freud offers two explanations, without being able to decide between them. He notes:

bei unbefangener Betrachtung gewinnt man den Eindruck, daR das Kind das Er- lebnis aus einem anderen Motiv zum Spiel gemacht hat. Es war dabei passiv, wurde vom Erlebnis betroffen und bringt sich nun in eine aktive Rolle, indem es dasselbe, trotzdem es unlustvoll war, als Spiel wiederholt. Dieses Bestreben konn- te man einem Bemachtigungstrieb zu- rechnen [...I. (226)

One could, however, also propose another explanation:

Das Wegwerfen des Gegenstandes, so daR er fort ist, konnte die Befriedigung eines im Leben unterdriickten Racheimpulses gegen die Mutter sein, weil sie vom Kind fortgegangen ist, und dann die trotzige Bedeutung haben: '3a, geh' nur fort, ich brauch' dich nicht, ich schick' dich selber weg." (22613

Freud is not able to choose one of these al- ternatives, but in fact both of them could, on the basis of the evidence, apply to Worle. Worle subjects himself voluntarily to the most unpleasant circumstances (for example, in search of later gratification he Russian soul (mirrored in his name, which is related to the root "schism"), his "Eu- clidian reason," overcome through Sonja's love.6

From the perspective of meta-motiva- tion, Meursault's murder of the Arab in

deprives himself of his beloved freed~m)~ Camus' L9Etranger, ostensibly because of

and the most extreme dangers (possible execution) repeatedly and, through a psy- chic mechanism we shall have to investi- gate later, derives pleasure from this in some higher sense. And, Hein is at pains to paint at some length a picture of Worle's youth and the strained relationship be- tween child and a mother who is content to bask in the comfort of social privilege and material well-being-the very opposite of the Faustian orientation of her son.5

Each of the works mentioned above deals with this question, which I shall call "meta-motivation," in a different way. Per- haps the least problematic from a psycho- logical point of view is Crime and Punish- ment. Raskolnikov's crime does bring him personal advantage, although otherwise his behavior is similar to Lafcadio's repel- lant arrogance: where Lafcadio speaks of his victim as a "squalid little rat," Raskol- nikov speaks of his as "no better than a louse." It is as rooted in rationalism as Worle's: Raskolnikov weighs his victim's life against a hundred others, just as Worle says of Napoleon: "[elr ging aus Miidigkeit nach Moskau, dieser Konig der Spiele, mein Vorfahre und grol3er Bruder. Und wir alle, auch Sie, auch der moralisierende Staatsanwalt und der Rest der Heuchler, akzeptieren stillschweigend und zustim- mend seine Entscheidung. Auch uns ist sein Leben kostbarer als das irgendwel- cher uniformierten Bauern seiner GroDen Armee" (131).Still, one feels that gaining money to finance his studies and liberate his sister by no means exhausts the mean- ing of Raskolnikov's deed, and just as Lafcadio's isolation and conscience are awakened at the end of the novel in the scene with GeneviGve, so is Raskolnikov's isolation from the irrational roots of the the play of the heat and the sun, is an asser- tion of freedom and individuality, a rebel- lion against the tyranny of social conven- tion and the language of authority of the establishment. It is a refusal to allow one- self to be defined by others. If one agrees with Roland Barthes (who called the book a roman solaire) that it is indeed caused by the sun, then the sun acquires a certain symbolic freight that redeems the deed from arbitrariness, from the kind of game played by Worle. An example typical of many attempts to ascribe symbolic signifi- cance to the sun is given by Patrick McCar- thy:

In a colonial society, where the prevalent ideology is assimilation, the conflict bet- ween colonizer and colonized cannot be treated directly if the legitimacy of the co- lonizer is not to be undermined. So, if Ca- mus wishes to depict the threat to Meur- sault's identity, he can only do so via ima- ges of sun and sea. The logic in the depiction of the murder of the Arab lies less in what is written than in what is not written. (49)

McCarthy sees the Arab, this man of whose name Meursault is ignorant and to whom he is connected only indirectly through the pimp Raymond, as a kind of Doppelganger of Meursault:

So not merely does the Arab threaten Meursault because he is the agent of the mother and a rival claimant to the wo- manhood and land of Algeria, but he is also Meursault's brother, a more authen- tic Meursault. In this respect, too, he is a menace to Meursault's identity. (51)

Like Lafcadio's deed, Meursault's is the result of a momentary impulse (though Lafcadio has before his deed even occurs to him apparently had the foresight to cut out carefully the name of the maker of his fur hat so that he cannot be identified). But Meursault's deed, similar as it is to the actegratuit as defined by Gide, lacks one of its essential elements, its ludic character, and it is to this that we must now turn.

For Worle, the challenge of murdering another human being for no reason and then convincing a court to acquit him is part of a high-stakes game, a Napoleon-Spiel for the twentieth century. Indeed, the stakes are the very highest: in effect, he is bettinghis life, the freedom he so cherishes and the same freedom whose affirmation had been the goal of Lafcadio and Meur- sault. He tells Fiarthes: "Es sind Spiele, die uns am Leben halten, nur Spiele, Verehr- tester. Verteidigen Sie meinen Anspruch, spielen zu durfen, um weiter leben zu konnen" (36). Like a shark who can only breathe by swimming forward or an air- plane that will crash if it does not continue to fly onward, Worle's life, as recounted to Fiarthes, appears as a progressively more refined effort at finding the mode of life, the game, that will make it possible for him to continue to exist. And, an heir to the German literary tradition, his is a Faustian effort: "So tauml' ich von Begierde zu Ge- nu13,I Und im Genul3 verschmacht' ich nach Begierde" (3249-50). Worle's earliest game, pretending to be a more naive child than he actually is so that he can sit on the laps of the women workers in his father's choco- late factory ("meine geliebten Schmuse- frauen") and snuggle against their breasts, brings mutual benefits to both sides and is understandable in mundane terms. But as his Spieltrieb evolves, from chess to "play- ing" the stock market to the competitive game of practicing law ("[aluch der Ge- richtssaal ist nur eine Buhne, und wir spielen die zugeteilten Rollen" 9) to the "game of politics" (divorced from any con- tent, merely for the joy of winning), to bil- liards, it becomes increasingly personal and increasingly intertwined with the idio- syncratic needs of Worle's psychic econ- omy, needs barely comprehensible to the rest of us. "[Els gibt kein Motiv, das ich Ihnen oder demnachst dem Gericht ver- stiindlich machen konnte. Es war kein Mord und kein Totschlag [...I. Es war eine Totung, genauer: eine unerl5il3liche To- tung" (13), he tells Fiarthes. Similarly, Lafcadio, reading an account of his "crime" in the newspaper, rebels against the sully- ing of what is to him an aesthetic category in order to make it conform to bourgeois reason: "The crime!This word seemed odd to him, to say the very least; and criminal as applied to himself totally inappropriate. He preferred adventurer [...I"(192).

Now it would be well nigh impossible for the reader versed in German literature not to reflect at this point on the kinship of Worle and Lafcadio (and Diirrenmatt's Gastmann) with Thomas Mann's Hochstapler,Felix Krull, for whom life is nothing but an occasion for a series of ever more refined confidence games, starting from modest beginnings very like those of Worle in the family business, "Schocko-Wor," in his childhood Stettin. And this sense ofthe pervasiveness of our theme, the acte gra- tuit as an aesthetic phenomenon indispen- sable (at least for certain personalities) to life itself, ought to make us reflect on the researches of Johan Huizinga, Roger Cail- lois, Schiller, and Wittgenstein, all of whom attempted in various ways to represent the ludic principle as an essential element of the human mind and the human psyche.

Schiller, in his famous definition of the Spieltrieb in the fourteenth of the letters of his essay for Prinz Friedrich Christian von Schleswig-Holstein-Augustenburg,her die hthetische Erziehung des Menschen

(1793), sees it as a combination of der sinnliche Trieb and der Formtrieb that grants man freedom:

Der Spieltrieb also [...I wird das Gemut zugleich moralisch und physisch notigen; er wird also, weil er alle Zufdligkeit auf- hebt, auch alle Notigung aufheben und den Menschen sowohl physisch als mora- lisch in Freiheit setzen. (613)

Like Wittgenstein (as we shall see), Schiller takes his cue from everyday speech and notes of the term Spiel in his fifteenth let- ter: "Diesen Narnen rechtfertigt der Sprach- gebrauch vollkommen, der alles das, was weder subjektiv noch objektiv zufdig ist und doch weder aderlich noch innerlich notigt, mit dem Wort Spiel zu bezeichnen pflegt" (615-16). It is this instinct that makes man truly human. We know, he says, that "gerade das Spiel und nur das Spiel es ist, was ihn vollstandig macht und seine doppelte Natur auf einmal entfaltet [...I der Mensch spielt nur, wo er in voller Bedeutung des Worts Mensch ist, und er ist nur da ganz Mensch, wo er spielt" (616-18).7 Here we see combined two of the three essential components of the no- tion ofplay that I shall later claim as the es- sence of Worle's psychological meta-moti- vation: the free play of the imagination within the constraints of the rules of the game as an assertion of the freedom of the personality to define itself, and the notion that this freedom is the most important of values, that which makes life worthwhile. The third component, the willingness of the player to risk everything in the con- test, is elucidated by Wittgenstein and Huizinga.

Wittgenstein, in his Blue and Brown Books and Philosophical Investigations, uses games as an analogue for human lan- guage, the pervasive human trait. He agrees with Huizinga and Schiller that play is as universal an element of culture as language: "Play is older than culture," Huizinga says apodictically in the famous opening words of his Homo Ludens (1)and he notes in his foreword: "It seems to me that next to Homo Faber, and perhaps on the same level as Homo Sapiens, Homo Ludens, Man the Player, deserves a place in our nomenclature"(ix).Finally, he claims later on in his book, echoing Schiller, "[all1 poetry is born of play" (129).

Wittgenstein, in apassage that reminds us of the progress in Worle's quest for ever more satisfying games, reflects on how one would define the concept of "game":

Denn, wenn du sie anschaust, wirst du zwar nicht etwas sehen was allen gemein-Sam wke, aber du wirst iihnlichkeiten, Verwandtschaften, sehen, und zwar eine ganze Reihe [...I.Schau 2.B. die Brett- spiele an, mit ihren mannigfachen Ver- wandtschaften. Nun geh zu den Karten- spielen uber: hier findest du viele Ent- sprechungen mit jener ersten Klasse, aber viele gemeinsame Zuge verschwin- den, andere treten auf. Wenn wir nun zu den Ballspielen ubergehen, so bleibt man- ches Gemeinsame erhalten, aber vieles geht verloren. ($66)

Wittgenstein's conclusion is that there is no common denominator that one could require asessential to any definition of the concept "game" but instead a series of "family resemblances" (Familienahnlich- keiten) that overlap and crisscross one an- other. The one family resemblance that proves essential in our context, however, is the readiness of the player to accept the highest stakes, to bet everything. It is this that distinguishes Meursault's and Raskolnikov's unmotivated deeds (although, as we have seen the latter's was not totally unmotivated and the former's was to a de- gree provoked) from those of the true play- ers, Gastmann, Lafcadio, and Worle. "Ein Spieler ist der, der setzt. Vielleicht ist das die ganze Wahrheit," Worle says (73). Na- poleon's apparently foolhardy gamble was no miscalculation:

Er hatte mit der erneuerten Armee Frankreich sichern konnen, aber er setzte den ausgetauschten Spieleinsatz nur ein, um wieder um den ganzen Gewinn zu kampfen. Diesen grol3en Spieler beschul- digt man, d& er damals das vorteilhafte Angebot eines Friedens ausschlug, das ihm dsterreich machte. Er hatte die Rheingrenze retten konnen und Italien. Man spricht von einem falschen Stolz und einer fehlerhaften Einschatzung der Kriifte. Das ist lacherlich. Das ist unsag- lich lacherlich. Er war ein Spieler und kein Buchhalter, der sich um Schadensbe- grenzung und einen moglichst vorteilhaf- ten Bankrott zu bemuhen hatte. Napole- on besal3 fast alles, under sollte sich kunf- tig mit wenigem zufriedengeben? Er mul3te alles setzen. (159)

If one looks at Huizinga's several attempts at a definition of the concept of "play," one encounters the same sense of dealing with a moving target, an elusive object that rolls through one's fingers like mercury. In his opening chapter, "Nature and Significance of Play as a Cultural Phenomenon," Hui- zinga considers a number of propositions about play: "play must serve something which is not play, that is it must have some kind of biological purpose" (2); "all play is a voluntary activity" (7); "[play] is free, is in fact freedom" (8); "play is not 'ordinary' or 'real' life" (8); "[play] creates order" (10); "[alll play has its rules" (11); "the player who trespasses against the rules or ignores them is a 'spoil-sport"' (11); those who follow the rules constitute a "play community" that persists after the game is over (12). He finally offers the following provisional definition (one of several):

Summing up the formal characteristics of play we might call it a free activity stan- ding quite consciously outside "ordinary" lifeasbeing "not serious," but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gai- ned by it. It proceeds within its own pro- per boundaries of time and space accor- ding to fixed rules and in an orderly man- ner. It promotes the formation of social groupings which tend to surround them- selves with secrecy and to stress their dif- ference from the common world by disgui- se or other means. (13)~

If one combines this definition with a later statement, "'There is something at stake' -the essence of play is contained in that phrase" (49)' one is struck by how easily Der Richter und sein Henker, Les Caves du Vatican, and Das Napoleon-Spiel can be read as sermons on Huizinga's text. To cite just a few examples: where Huizinga speaks of lack of personal profit, we think of the six thousand francs in the pocket of his victim that Lafcadio, the murderer, disdains ("Do you take me for a thief?" he tells Protos [2211). Where he speaks of so- cial groupings, we think of the community of Spieler that Worle instinctively recog- nizes (" [ilch ahnte, d& auch er [the indus- trialist he is representing in a trial] ein Spieler war, da er-wenn er auch selbst einen solchen Vergleich weit von sich gewiesen und lacherlich gefunden hatte-- meinesgleichen war" [681.) Think, finally, of Huizinga's gloss on a sentence of Anaxi- mander's in his discussion of the ludic principle in antiquity: "'Things must nec- essarily perish in that same principle from which they arise (i.e. the Infinite). For they have to render expiation to one another and atone for the wrong they did according to the ordinance of time'. This utterance can hardly be called exactly lucid. But at any rate, it contains the idea of the cosmos having to seek expiation for some primor- dial wrong" (117). This notion of cosmic compensation is at the root of Der Richter und sein Henker, where BSirlach, unable to prove the murder Gastmann challenges him with, punishes him for a different murder he didn't commit, and it is also at the root of Les Caves du Vatican, where Lafcadio is accused and presumably con-

victed of the murder of Carla but not that of Am6d6e Fleurissoire, the true acte gra- tuit, for which his erstwhile friend Protos is presumably punished.

In Der Richter und sein Henker, despite its obvious generic similarities with Les Caves du Vatican and Das Napoleon-Spiel, we encounter a game of a different kind. The detective Tschanz of the Bern Krimi- nalpolizei has murdered his rival, Schmied, who had been investigating Gastmann. Tschanz's superior, BSirlach knows this, but, unable to frame Gastmann for the deed, chooses to use his information in a complicated cat-and-mouse game-not to indict Tschanz, but to contrive to have him murder Gastmann instead. Here we have a much more complicated and a more ab- stractkind of game. Is this deed amoral one that redresses the balance ofjustice in the world because Gastmann is finally pun- ished (albeit in an unorthodox and ex- tra-judicial way) for a murder BSirlach has been unable to prove? Are we to regard BSirlach as morally deficient for provoking another man to commit a murder, to kill (even though he, like Raskolnikov, kills an exemplar of lebensunwerten Lebens)? Or is the moral balance of the world instead re- established when Tschanz and Birlach ul- timately die for their deeds? In Der Richter und sein Henker the question of whether BSirlach wins or loses his game cannot be decided independently of the larger ques- tion of the nature of justice in an imperfect world, the true focus of the novel. He fails to win his bet with Gastmann, but on the other hand every gear in his complicated mechanism of retribution and punishment slips effortlessly into place. Is he victorious or is he tainted, from a moral perspective? Does justice consist in punishing the guilty or does it consist in allowing faulty but democratically established human institu- tions to give both adversaries a chance to prove guilt or innocence according to the "rules of the game," always taking into ac- count that in practice the determination of truth has very little to do with most trial^?^ If the latter, then BSirlach has only won by violating the rules, conceding defeat in his game from Worle's (and Huizinga's) per- spective.lo

George Steiner, in a quite useful preface to Huizinga's book, notes that as wide- rangingand erudite as it is, it treats its sub- ject exclusively from a linguistic, ethno- graphic, and anthropological perspective and neglects to consider psychological and especially Freudian insights into the na- ture of play and its relationship to the plea- sure principle. It is to this aspect of the problem that we must now turn, for what distinguishes Hein's novel from the others is the depth of its exploration of just how his acte gratuit, far from being unmoti- vated when viewed from the perspective of meta-motivation, serves the psychological needs of its hero. Of course Lafcadio's need for freedom, his need to define himself as a "un &re d'inconsequence," issues at bot- tom from a psychological impulse to avoid being coerced into conforming to consis- tent patterns defined from without.ll And if nothing else, Meursault's deed is like- wise a declaration of psychological inde- pendence. But neither of these is analyzed in quite as much depth as Worle's.

The model of Worle's agonistic game is provided by Huizinga's discussion of the sophist, whose goal is to win a contest of words: "his business is to exhibit his amaz- ing knowledge, the mysteries of his craft, and at the same time to defeat his rival in public contest" (146).The key to this con- test is that the adversaries impose upon themselves a set of rules within which they agree to compete, like the virtuoso in Ilse Aichinger's story, "Der Gefesselte," who allows himself to be bound in chains in or- der to demonstrate his ability to move with- in his constraints with consummate grace. Worle comments, "was mich am Leben hat, ist der Kitzel des Spiels" (37). Huizinga notes the importance of the rules of the game and also stresses their entirely arbi- trary nature:

[Tlhe aim was not truth or the desire for it but the purely personal satisfaction of being right. They were animated by the primitive instinct for competition [...I. We have no wish to go into the deep question of how far the process of reasoning is itself marked by play-rules, i.e. is only valid wit- hin a certain frame of reference where those rules are accepted asbinding. May it not be that in all logic, and particularly in the syllogism, there is always a tacit un- derstanding to take the validity of the terms and concepts for granted as one does the pieces on a chess-board? (152-53)

In this case Worle and the prosecutor play by the rules of the law, rules contrived to ensure not the determination of the truth, but, as in Huizinga's sophistical contest, a fair adversarial contest of the competing parties: "mit der Wahrheit ist dieser Pro- ze13 nicht zu gewinnen" (7). Listen to Worle's analysis of the decisive influences on the verdict of the first trial in which he appears as a lawyer for the defendant, a rich and elegant industrialist and a man of subtle and understated charisma, a Spieler like himself, as Worle recognizes:

Wenn es bei dem Richter tatsachlich eine Veriinderung in der ProzeRfuhrung seit dem Erscheinen meines Mandanten gege- ben hatte, dann allenfalls die, dal3 er et- was schroffer als zuvor wirkte. Ich war ge- spannt, wie dieser kaum merkliche Wech- sel sich bemerkbar machen und welchen EinfluR er schlieRlich auf die Urteilsfin- dung haben wiirde [...I. Sein Urteil, da war ich sicher, wiirde von dem lasziven Duft des Geldes beeinfluat werden. Der Duft war zu betorend und schwer. (66-67)

It is important to note that what Worle is describing is an aesthetic phenomenon and not an example of mundane judicial corruption.

This decisive experience in Worle's ca- reer provides the inspiration and model for his crowning "achievement": he will stage in full view of the public an "unerld3liche Totung," the motivation of which must and will be incomprehensible to the court, and then set himself the task of concocting a scenario that will allow, even force the court to acquit him.12 He sees this as the modern equivalent of the "Napoleon-Spiel," for as Huizinga puts it, "[tlo beat your opponent by reason or the force of the word becomes a sport comparable with the profession of arms" (155).The meta-mo- tive of Worle's apparently motiveless act, like that of Napoleon, is to escape boredom; he conceives of it asan act of self-defense:

Der Griff nach Moskau war kein Fehler, er ergab sich folgerichtig aus der fiir ihn nicht weiter zu iibersehenden Tatsache, daR er in Europa alles gewonnen hatte. Auf allen europiiischen Spielplatzen gab es keinen ebenburtigen Gegner, keinen, der eine wirkliche Bedrohung darstellte, hier war er nur noch zum Siegen verur- teilt. [...I Er langweilte sich, und an die- ser Langweile drohte er zu sterben. Und er ging nur nach Moskau, weil er sich an- derenfalls aus Langweile erschossen hat- te. (120)

In his analysis of the psychology of a man like Worle, a man like Napoleon, Hein comes uncomfortably close to showing us that this monster is perhaps a man very like ourselves. In asserting the irrelevance of moral considerations in judging Napo- leon's actions, Worle reflects that moral- ity, like truth in a trial, is a kind of phony "Aushangeschild" that masks the forces and values that are really operating under the surface and really determining human actions:

WSire ich vor die Wahl gestellt, ob ich lie- ber mein Haus in der Toskana oder das Leben von irgendwelchen tausend Leu- ten gerettet sehen will, so miiRte ich nicht eine Sekunde uberlegen. Ich wiirde den Tod so vieler Menschen herzlich bekla- gen, doch er wiirde mich nicht beriihren. Mein Haus dagegen hat mich vie1 Zeit und Geld gekostet, seiner verlustig zu gehen, ware fur mich entsetzlich, eine Katastro- phe [...I. Wurden Sie bei dieser Frage wirklich anders als ich entscheiden? Fin- den wir uns doch darnit ab, dal3 unsere Menschlichkeit recht eingeschrankt ist. Oder vielmehr, dal3 wir sie anders zu be- stimmen haben, als es erstaunlichenveise iiblich ist. Es ist eben menschlich, nicht allzu selbstlos zu sein. (133-34)

Nietzsche, too, sees a psychological mech- anism underlying human greatness, the ex- ceptional individual, more powerful than any professed moral code, and illustrates his point with Worle's model, Napoleon:

man will, daR der Glaube das Auszeich- nende der GroRen ist: aber die Unbedenk- lichkeit, die Skepsis, die "Unmoralitat," die Erlaubnis, sich eines Glaubens ent- schlagen zu konnen, gehort zur GroRe (Casar, Friedrich der GroRe, Napoleon [...I.) (111 518)

Early on in the novel, Worle expresses his surprise at being called a "monster" by Fiarthes. A monster, he says, is something outside our experience, a person or being, for example, whose logic is unknown and unfathomable to us. But if this phenome- non has found a place in our lives and through custom become a part of it like some horse or deer which, looked at with new eyes, must appear bizarre, it is no lon- ger monstrous: "Monstros ist das Fremde, mehr nicht. Ich denke, wir alle haben-so peinlich es auch fur uns ist-etwas von einem kleinen Hitler in uns und nur sehr wenige etwas von einem Einstein. Also ist Einstein das Monstrum und nicht jener Herr Hitler" (12). Monstrosity proves to be a psychological category. Here Hein shows his cards (to use a game-metaphor) perhaps a little too clearly and a little too early in his novel. The novel purports to be about a unique situation, one so unusual that we read it as a curiosity about charac- ters who perhaps exist only in fiction, who, like Lafcadio stabbing himself in the leg to punish himself for revealing too much of his personality to hoi polloi, have nothing to do with quotidianreality. But in fact, the problem Hein has set himself in construct- ing his novel (also a kind of game) is to ex- plain or at least to probe the motivation of men like Pol Pot or Stalin, men who have all too much to do with quotidian reality. Why would a person want to kill another person completely unknown to him or her? What pleasure could be derived from that act, from reflecting that that person of whose existence one was yesterday to- tally unaware, today no longer exists?13

For Lafcadio, it is the pleasure of avoid- ing the trap of consistency as Julius, the novelist, has explained it to him. By decid- ing completely arbitrarily and on a whim at one moment to rescue children from a burning building, at another to kill a total stranger, at a third to help an old woman he just as easily could have strangled, he pre- vents others from forcing a personality on him, from defining him as a "good" or an "evil" person, indeed from defining him at all. It is the same principle that causes him to destroy the diary and photographs that Julius Baraglioul, thinking himself unob- served, has surreptitiously examined, thus effacing his past. And this same impulse impels Gastmann, who pushes a stranger off a bridge

weil er das Gute ebenso aus einer Laune, aus einem Einfall tut wie das Schlechte [...I. Er wird nie das Bose tun, um etwas zu erreichen, wie andere ihre Verbrechen begehen, um Geld zu besitzen, eine Frau zu erobern, oder Macht zu gewinnen, er wird es tun, wenn es sinnlos ist, vielleicht, denn bei ihm sind immer zwei Dinge mog- lich, das Schlechte und das Gute, und der Zufall entscheidet. (82)

The remorse that Lafcadio unaccount- ably feels, the tear that rends his concep- tion of his own freedom, follows his discov- ery that his victim was his own brother- in-law. His family ties begin to define him willy-nilly:

He tried to reflect, but a strange tor- por-a despairing numbness--crept over his mind; it was not of his crime that he thought nor of how to escape; the only ef- fort he could make was not to hear those dreadful words of Julius: "I was begin- ning to care for you." (237)

Like another famous literary Spieler, Val- mont in Laclos' Les liaisons dangereuses (1782), he is undone by the unsuspected recesses of his own psyche. But if Lafcadio is akin to Valmont, Worle is a twentieth-century version of the Marquise de Merteil; he feels no such remorse. For him as for Napoleon, the mass of humanity is nothing but the material that allows him in true Nietzschean (or perhaps Sartrean) fashion to prove himself:

Eine Wahl ist zu treffen zwischen der Freiheit und dem Paradies, und da ich die Schonheiten und die Schrecken der Frei- heit kenne, akzeptiere ich die Entschei- dung der Menge nicht nur, sondern be- @e sie. Ich billige sie, mehr noch: sie ist mir sehr recht, denn ich lebe lieber inmit- ten einer etwas dumpfen, aber gluckli- chen Herde, als unter zur Freiheit ver- dammten Unglucklichen, denen ihre Freizeit nur eine unertriigliche Belastung ist [...I. (150)

Hein has given us in this book not only a hypothetical study of the monster but, fol- lowing Erich Fromm's Escape from Free- dom (if one accepts Worle's analysis), also a portrait of those who submit to the mon- ster and allow him to be acquitted for his monstrous deeds. Was Napoleon popular, Worle asks? The answer is yes, his soldiers loved him: "Und sie waren auf ihn stolz, weil Napoleon ihnen fir Sekunden eine Bedeutung verlieh, die ihrem Leben so ghzlich mangelte. Ihre Bedeutung war mit ihrer Totung verkniipft, sie wul3ten und akzeptierten das" (125).14Hein's Wor- le is a kind of Nietzschean aermensch. In Die Gotzen-Dammerung Nietzsche, like Worle, defines Napoleon as a Spieler:

Die Gesellschaft ist es, unsre zahme, mit- telmaige, verschnittene Gesellschaft, in der ein naturwiichsiger Mensch, der vom Gebirge her oder aus den Abenteuern des Meeres kommt, notwendig zum Verbre- cher entartet. Oder beinahe notwendig: denn es gibt Fdle, wo ein solcher Mensch sich stiirker enveist als die Gesellschaft: der Korse Napoleon ist der beriihmteste Fall [...I. Auch ich rede von "Ruckkehr zur Natur," obwohl es eigentlich nicht ein Zuriickgehn, sondern ein HinaufXommen ist-hinauf in die hohe, freie, selbst furchtbare Natur und Natiirlichkeit, eine solche, die mit groRen Aufgaben spielt, spielen darf [. . .I. Um es im Gleichnis zu sagen: Napoleon war ein Stuck "Ruck- kehr zur Natur," so wie ich sie verstehe (zum Beispiel in rebus tacticis, noch mehr, wie die Militars wissen, im Strategi- schen). (I11021-23)

Curiously enough, there is also in an- other respect a parallel between Lafcadio and Worle: each meets his match as Spie- ler: Lafcadio in his encounter in the dining car of the train with Professor Defouque- blize, who proves to be his old schoolmate Protos, and Worle with Katja, a beautiful woman he plans to seduce but who toys with him as Montaigne's cat toys with Montaigne: "When I am playing with my Cat, who knowes whether she have more sport in dallying with me, than I have in gaming with her" (11, xii 142).15

Lafcadio, who as we have seen is, like Raskolnikov, defeated by his deed, capitu- lates in the face of force majeure:

"Let me pass!" he cried, striding over Protos's body [...I.

"I'm not runningaway," he said. "Don't be alarmed. You can keep your eye on me. But anything is better than listening to you any longer. Excuse me if I prefer the police." (225)

For Worle, however, the encounter with Katja, which comes just before his triumph is revealed to the reader, is a simply a re- minder that if the game is to be worth the candle, the opponent must be a worthy one: "Meine Entgleisung bedauerte ich tatsachlich, andrerseits erfal3te ich in dem Moment [...I, dal3 die Geschwister mit mir spielten. Und ich, der grol3e Spieler, ein kleiner Ball" (186).

In this essay we have examined a num- ber of works on the theme of the acte gra- tuit and found that they resemble and dif- fer from each other in a bewildering variety of ways. For all the complexity of this pic- ture, however, they do define a kind of genre if one is willing to accept the notion of "definition" in a broad, operational Witt- gensteinian sense. The key to the defini- tion of this genre is provided in an article by Michael Holquist on the metaphysical de- tective story.

For Holquist, the traditional detective story as exemplified by Arthur Conan Doyle or Edgar Allan Poe differs from the post-modern, metaphysical one (Robbe-Grillet) in its sense of the accessibility of truth. Sherlock Holmes confronts a com- plex and difficult world, but it is a world that yields to the application of logic and reason. The detective, if he or she is clever enough to perceive the order in the world and apply logic to it, is finally able, by dint of empirical observation and deduction, to reveal the truth: "[hle does not solve crimes, he solves puzzles" (143). In the 1920s and 1930s there arose a second vari- ety of detective fiction: "in the Modernist period there was a conscious attempt to get at the archetypal ahistorical meaning of such events [the trauma of birth, the mys- tery of death, the joys of love], and the most frequent method for doing so was to dra- matize subtly [...I parallels between arche- typal occurrences of ancient myth and modern experience" (146). But after World War I1 there was a third, post-modern vari- ant: "It has at its heart the exact opposites of the two tendencies which define Mod- ernism. The aesthetics of Post-Modernism is militantly anti-psychological [...I and radically anti-mythical. It is about things, not people" (14748). Holquist quotes an essay by Robbe-Grillet on the nouveau ro- man in which he describes it as an inverted detective story, where "you think every- thing is going to resolve itself into a trite

collection of causes and effects [...I. Whether they conceal or reveal a mystery these elements that defy all systems have only one serious, obvious quality-that ofbeing there. And that is how it is with the world around us" (149). For Robbe-Grillet, for Borges, and for the post-modern detective story in general the world contains no such certainty as that revealed by Holmes, no such order, no matter how acute the detec- tive's powers of deduction. For Barthes and for post-modern fiction, one can character- ize thus the "real end of the novel: its telos is the lack of telos" (153).

In the books we have examined the problem is not "whodunit," but "why," the question of motivation. One should not be surprised to discover in them the absence of "a trite collection of causes and effects." In each case however, an apparently mo- tiveless crime proves, on closer inspection and not unexpectedly, to have a meta-motivation. Yet these meta-motivations turn out to be just as elusive and just as hard to define as the world inhabited by Borges, for example in his story "Death and the Com- pass."l6 Ultimately, one has the sense that while Meursault's or Lafcadio's or Worle's or Bkklach's motivations can be perceived in their outlines, their exact analysis is as impossible for the reader as it is for the characters themselves, despite their often heroic efforts at exegesis and self-examina- tion. What we are left with is a kind of Godel's proof: contrary to our expectation we can know that something exists but at the same time be unable to specify it com- pletely.

Notes

11would like to thank Peter Arnds, Claire Dehon, and Naomi Ossar for their many help- ful suggestions.

2In Der Richter und sein Henker, the writer says of Gastmann: "Bei ihm ist das Bose nicht der Ausdruck einer Philosophie oder eines Triebes, sondern seiner Freiheit: Der Freiheit des Nichts" (83).

31nterestingly enough, Freud remarks on the operation of play in adults in terms that re- call Schiller's essay, ~ber den Grund des Vergniigens an tragischen Gegenstanden:

SchlieRen wir noch die Mahnungen an, daB das kunstlerische Spielen und Nach- ahmen der Erwachsenen, das zum Unter- schied vom Verhalten des Kindes auf die Person des Zuschauers zielt, diesem die schmerzlichsten Eindriicke zum Beispiel in der Tragodie nicht erspart und doch von ihm als hoher GenuR empfunden wer- den kann. Wir werden so davon uber- zeugt, daR es auch unter der Herrschaft des Lustprinzips Mittel und Wege genug gibt, um das an sich Unlustvolle zum Ge- genstand der Erinnerung und seelischen Bearbeitung zu machen. (227)

4"Verehrter Herr Kollege, ich beschwore Sie, was immer ich Ihnen erzalte und noch zu sagen habe, alles sol1 Ihnen nur behilflich sein, mich hier herauszuholen. Ich spreche jetzt nicht von dem oder jenem Spiel, sondern von dieser Zelle." (137)

5Worle gives the following description of

his mother's death: Mutter saR tagsuber im Zimmer. Sie scheute sich, das Haus zu verlassen, um nicht dem Arzt oder seiner Frau auf der Treppe oder im Hausflur zu begegnen. Sie hatte alles verloren, was ihr das Leben wertvoll erscheinen lie13, geblieben waren ihr ein gleichgiiltiger Mann, ein Sohn, der ihr liistig und fremd war, und zwei Zim- mer, die sie schmerzlich und jeden Tag er- neut auf den Verlust ihrer eigenen glanz- vollen Villa in Stettin verwiesen. So saR sie den ganzen Tag in einem der beiden Zimmer, verwiinschte ihren Mann (ob- wohl nicht mein Vater, sondern Adolf Hit- ler den zweiten Weltkrieg verloren hatte), schickte mich jeden Augenblick mit un- sinnigen Auftragen auf die StraBe, um al- lein sein zu konnen, und fiirchtete sich vor den bosen Blicken meines Onkels und dessen Frau. Am 17. Juli starb sie in dem Zimmer, in dem sie tagsuber kochte und ich nachts schlief, einfach dahin. (32)

6Maurice Spandrell, the Raskolnikov-fig- ure in Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point (19281, commits a similar murder by killing Webley, a deed apparently unmotivated but perhaps committed in order to force a confron- tation with God. Huxley's novel has been com- pared to Les Caves du Vatican in its structure.

7Worle quotes Schiller on the last page of the novel in his secopd letter to Fiarthes: "SchieRlich ist der Mensch, wie schon unsere Vorvater wuRten, nur wo er spielt, ganz Mensch" (208).

%ee Steel for a sensitive discussion of these points.

gWorle tells Fiarthes: Ein Gericht hat im Grunde nicht uber ei- nen Fall und die Wahrheit zu urteilen, sondern lediglich iiber das uns Begreifba- re [...I gemeinsam mit Ihnen werde ich dem Gericht eine andere Wahrheit pra- sentieren, eine die glaubwurdiger und nutzlicher fur mich selbst sein wird. Und die vor allem wahrscheinlicher klingt als die Wahrheit. (91-92)

l0One could argue, of course, that Biirlach, by ultimately contriving to allow Lutz to learn of Gastmann's crimes, has won the bet in the sense that he has refuted Gastmann's thesis that the contingencies of life and the role of chance, of the unforeseeable, make it possible for crimes to be committed that cannot be de- tected. But Biirlach has not succeeded in Drov- ing these crimes according to the rules of the game, surely the point of the bet. If all that were required were to label Gastmann before the eyes of the world as the perpetrator of a murder, then Biirlach did that forty years pre- viously in Tophane when he reported the mur- der to the police. Gastmann, however, had cho- sen his victim with as much care as Worle, and is able to win the game by persuading the court that it was dealing with a suicide, the result of business reversals.

llSee Stary.

12According to Walter Weyrauch, [a]jury in the American sense is not pro- vided for in Germany in either civil or cri- minal cases. The full power of decision as to fact and law rests in the court, which may consist of laymen and professional judges. Even in the courts providing for lay participation, the presiding judge is usually a lawyer [...I. Thus, especially be- cause of the absence of a separate lay jury, lawyers control the decision-making pro- cess within the German courts. (212)

130f course, in the secondary literature writers on this novel have felt keenly the need to confront the vexing question of motivation. Many of them seek to deal with it by importing

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Fischler, Alexander. "The Sotieasa Field of White: A Re-reading of Gide's Les Caves du Vm." Romnnic Review 72 (1981): 182-203.

Freud, Sigmund. Psychologie des Unbewujlten. Ed. Alexander Mitscherlich. Frankfurt: Fi- scher, 1975.

Fries, Fritz Rudolf. "Das Feldherren-Syndrom. Christoph Hein: 'Das Napoleon-Spiel'." Neue Deutsche Literatur 5 (1993): 138-39.

GeiRler, Cornelia. "Kennen Sie eigentlich noch Leute, die Biicher lesen? Der Schriftsteller Christoph Hein uber Spieler in der Gesell- schaft und uber den fortschreitenden Anal- phabetismus."Berliner Zeitung 1-2 May 1993.

Gide,An&& Lafcadio's Adventures. Trans. Dor- othy Bussy. New York: Vintage, 1953.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Dramatische Dichtungen: Dritter Band. Ed. Erich Trunz. Hamburg: Wegner, 1962.

Green, Mary Jean. "The Legacy of Les Caves du Vatican." Kentucky Romance Quarterly 26 (1979): 113-22.

Holquist, Michael. "Whodunit and Other Ques- tions: Metaphysical Detective Stories in Post- War Fiction." New Literary History 3.1 (1971): 135-56.

Gutschke, Irmtraud. "Spielen oder gespielt werden." Neues Deutschland 3-6 May 1993: Literaturbeilage 1.

Hage, Volker. "Gliickliche Knechte." Der Spiegel 12 Apr 1993: 235-39.

Hein, Christoph. "Die Zeit, die nicht vergehen kann." Die fiinfte Grundrechenurt. Frankfurt a.M.: Luchterhand, 1990.12944. . Das Napoleon-Spiel. Berlin: Aufbau, 1993. ."Ich werde als DDR-Sceteller in die Grube gefahren." Freitag 28 May 1993: 9.

Hein, Christoph, and Klaus Hammer. Chronist ohne Botschaft, Christoph Hein; Ein Arbeits- buch: Mhrialien, Auskiinfte, Bibliographic. Berlin: Aufbau, 1992.

Huizinga, Johan. Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture. Boston: Beacon, 1955.

Jackman, Graham. "'Nur wo er spielt, ganz Mensch'? Christoph Hein's 'Das Napoleon-

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Schiitte, Franz.Gliicksspiel und Narzifimus: Der pathologische Spieler aus soziologischer und tiefenpsychologischer Sicht. Bochum: Stu- dienverlag Brockmeyer, 1985.

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