Morphine as the Tertium Quid between War and Revolution; Or, The Moon Gland Secretes Poppy Sleep over the Western Front of Johannes R. Becher

by Benjamin Robinson
Morphine as the Tertium Quid between War and Revolution; Or, The Moon Gland Secretes Poppy Sleep over the Western Front of Johannes R. Becher
Benjamin Robinson
The German Quarterly
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Ohio State University

Morphine as the Tertium Quid between War and Revolution; or, The Moon Gland Secretes Poppy Sleep over the Western Front of Johannes R. Becher

Am besten wiire es, ich konnte am 15. ds. noch ein wenig mich in die Nachkur begeben. Alle ihre Bedingungen nehme ich an [...I Zu Ihrer Orientierung: Ich bin seit Mittwoch morphiumfrei, benotige aber noch abendlich ein Schlafmittel.

-Becher to Katharina Kippenberg, Munich, February 3, 1917

Hatten Sie mir nicht versprochen, ich kijnne dort eine Nachkur unternehmen?! . . .Warte ich nicht immer?! Gut. Ich habe Disziplin, denn ich stehe auch an einer Front (--einer bei weitem heftigeren-), auch im Trommel- feuer. Man murrt nicht.

-To Kippenberg, Berlin, May 12,1917

Verehrteste gnadige Frau, uber ein Jahr, glaube ich, habe ich Ihnen bald nicht mehr geschrieben: Ich war so krank geworden, dal3 ich mich zeitweise selbst aufgab. Seit Wochen bin ich nun vollkommen gesundet. Und dal3 diese Genesung eine absolute und dauernde ist, dafur stehe ich mit meiner ganzen Ehre ein.

-To Kippenberg, Jena, September 13,1918

"0,Nacht! Ich nahm schon Kokain," Gottfried Benn confides into his bohemian night, "Und Blutverteilung ist im Gange" (Pinthus 176). With characteristic detach- ment Benn (1886-1956) writes here and in his 1916 "Kokain" of the dissolute effects

of cocaine on his body and ego. Although seldom discussed in the critical literature on Expressionism, drug use was as neces- sary an adjunct of the late Wilhelminian bohemia in which Expressionism flour- ished as it was of the World War I military lazarets whose casualties eventually in- cluded both Kaiser Wilhelm's Second Em- pire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire with which it was allied. After administer- ingnarcotics to one too many victim ofwar- time atrocity, the young Austrian medical lieutenant Georg Trakl(1887-1914) ended his own opiate-riddled life with an over- dose of cocaine. G6za Csath (1887-1919), a Hungarian specialist in nervous disorders and the sadistic poetry of imperial decline, poisoned himself at the Hungarian-Ser- bian demarcation line after 10 years of opium addiction and 4 years of warfare. Emmy Hennings (1885-1948), the actress and poet who was also to become a found- ing figure of Dadaism, underwent a forced opiate detoxification in a Munich jail early in 1915. Hans Fallada (1893-1947), whose career was otherwise separate from that of the Expressionists, began a morphine ad- diction that became the explicit focus of his writing more than it did for any other Ger- man author of the period. In France, Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) and Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) both became famous through their opiate addictions and their writings about them. And the somewhat younger Klaus Mann (1906-1949) would become a heroin addict in Parisian exile, writing ex-

The German Quarterly 73.4 (Fall 2000) 387


tensively of opiate addiction in his jour- nals, autobiography, short stories, and nov- els, and finally ending his life with a barbi- turate overdose.

I want to consider here a specific and- in light of his later fame as a disciplined Communist Party activist and bureaucrat -unlikely case of drug addiction, that of Johannes R. Becher (1891-1958). Although strongly identified after the Second World War with his orthodox Communist lyrics and appointment as the first Minister of Culture in the new East German state, Becher began his career experimenting with the drug use that pervaded the liter- ary scenes of early century Munich and Berlin. Where Benn, whose clinical and cool self-observations come through even in his most ecstatic lines, apostrophizes the night to report on the deliberate progress of his drugging, Becher frequently invokes God Himself in his poetry of the period, heatedly confessing rather than calmly re- porting the progress of his intoxication. "Ich, der Gottes Angesicht / Nacht fur Nacht geschaut: [...I Ich bin ein Rausch verklungener Zeit, / Ein Traum trunken- ster Herrlichkeit" ("De Profundis, VIII"). Yet, for all Becher's shamanistic fervency, his confessions are animated by the quieter drug morphine, an analgesic first devel- oped from opium in 1807 and in wide circu- lation in Germany since the 1871 Franco- Prussian war (Booth 74). Startingin 1914, and lasting through many short-lived san- atorium cures until a painful detoxification in Jena in 1918, Becher's addiction grew into a more or less intense dependency. After 1918, his addiction continued episodi- cally until his death in 1958 (Rohrwasser 156-60).

Interestingly, the period of Becher's highest dosage dependency-"taglich 0,64 g Morphium," according to the files of the Jena clinic (Gansel 26)-overlaps with, and in Becher's writing and correspon- dence completely overshadows, the war for whose bodily depredations he substituted those of morphine. Maria Kiihn-Ludewig, the editor of Becher's correspondence with his first publisher Heinrich Bachmair, notes how little Bachmair's exposure as a reserve artillery officer in the war distracted Becher from his own bodily "Be- finden" as he struggled with his morphine dependency. "Nach den Briefen an Bach- mair zu urteilen, der als Soldat am Krieg beteiligt ist, beriihrt Becher das Kriegs- geschehen verhfltnismMig wenig. Nur selten wird deutlich, dalj Becher sich auch nur in die Situation des Freundes hinein- zudenken versuchte" (Kuhn-Ludewig 16). Although Becher was to begin taking pub- lic stands against the war late in 1914, it

wasn't until his 1926 war novel Levisite that his awareness of the brutality of the gas war was brought into some kind of nar- rative relationship with his own drug us- age at the time-and that as a metaphori- cal, not a conceptually reflexive one. As Michael Rohrwasser has observed, the ec- static invocations of gas war in the novel share the same images and affects of intox- ication and dissolution used to describe pharmaceutical highs (152-54). Becher's favored imagery of impenetrable chaos, dissolution, and decay contrast, as I have indicated, strongly with Benn's interest in carefully delimiting the effects of drugs on his conscious ego. It also contrasts with simple reportorial language in literature on the war, such as Remarque's in Im Westen Nichts Neues, the epigraph to which explicitly renounces the confessional genre as appropriate to war novels. Russell Berman has argued on the basis of Levisite's formal imagery that the novel "mediates the transition from a specific va- riety of modernism to Becher's no-lon- ger-modernist realism" (110). Thus it seems that the novel marks in Becher an opposite movement from that of the poeti- cally maturing, if fascistically backsliding Benn, who in the post-World War I1 critical literature becomes the quintessential Ger- man poet of modernism.

Attending, however, to a specific aspect of the biographical experience of Becher-


his morphine addiction-leads me to take a different perspective on the formlessness, the "Dionysian" intoxication, of Becher's imagery, not only in the novel, but more im- portantly here, in his poetry from the war period itself. Indeed, his language does not have the phenomenological precision of Husserlian epoch6, nor does it tend, as did Benn's developing euvre, in the direction of an Anglo-American modernism charac- terized by the metaphysical precision and rhetorical restraint of T.S. Eliot. Rather than diagnostic, Becher's mode in his early works is passionately confessional, both formally and in terms of its specific ethical content. Between Becher's oracular poetic will and his developing communist anti- war convictions lay his lived bodily experi- ences, his "Erlebnisse," to borrow from Dilthey a concept popular at the time. However willfully Becher sought out these intense drug experiences among the avail- able postures of his urban bohemia, they became, as physical symptoms of addiction and withdrawal, powerful figures for Becher's sense of transformed selfhood in a massively dislocated social world. While post-structural and media theories of re- cent years have emphasized the subject-ef- fect of social discourse deriving the subject from antecedent technological and ideolog- ical formations, I want to critically recu- perate some of the hermeneutical and phenomenological impetus of Dilthey and Husserl in trying to understand how mor- phine's subjective effects could so efficiently substitute for war in Becher's po- etry and, moreover, go on to supply abodily reference for Becher's developing revolu- tionary messianism and eventual embrace of party discipline.

Besides considering the biographical context of Becher's poetry, I inquire specifi- cally into the role that morphine plays in addressing the literary-ethical problem of binding subjective utterances to objective systems of action and interpretation, whe- ther those systems are scientific, ethical, aesthetic or theological. As a psycho-active substance conditioning intentional liter- ary production, morphine calls into ques- tion the articulated relationship between the body as an object of perception and as a subjective field of desire. In this sense, its applicability to Becher's texts raises a gen- eral epistemological issue about the kind of knowledge and experience Becher is trying to convey. Morphine also poses the problem of the authenticity of analgesia and intoxi- cation as a source of the good life and is in this sense an ethical issue. Further, it raises the issue of intoxication and sick- ness as correlated to artistic genius-an age-old trope made famous in modernist discourse by Nietzsche, Thomas Mann, and Benn, and negatively revisited, by Lionel Trilling, Susan Sontag, and J. l? Stern, among others. It is in this sense also an aesthetic issue. Finally, the theological messianism of the period, so pronounced in the writing of Ernst Bloch and Martin Buber, takes on the paradoxical cast of ve- nial sin when its impassioned call is under- stood through the physio-chemical filter of morphine use.

To attribute such a rich intellectual agenda to the discussion of morphine in Becher's early expressionism is not, how- ever, to attribute such an agenda to Becher himself. A survey by Giinter Witschel of the role of intoxication and drugs in the writing of Baudelaire, Huxley, Benn, and Burroughs, for example, distinguishes the various explicitly stated interests of each writer in using chemical stimulants. Ac- cording to Witschel, of these writers, only Huxley seems to have had a specifically epistemological or political interest in drug use (129).While that narrow attribution of a properly philosophic interest in drug use to Huxley alone is debatable, Witschel's survey makes it apparent that the stated interests of different writers in the sub- stances upon which they have become de- pendent can be quite limited. Becher, un- like Fallada or Klaus Mann, never pub- lished explicitly on his addiction and never sought to romanticize its rebelliousness or to inquire into his motivations. Rather, even in the writings that emerged in the pe- riod of his greatest dependency, he seemed to have judged the chemicals sternly, even if also only in allusions. He addressed not his addiction as such, but its heightening effects on his morals and morale. Imme- diately after a 1916 sanatorium visit, he writes to his publisher Katharina Kippen- berg at Insel Verlag, which since 1914 had taken over Becher's contracts from Bach- mair's bankrupt firm, that he plans to as- semble an anthology of world literature. "Baudelaire, Verlaine wiirde ich nicht ein- schliefien," he comments, repudiating the symbolists whom he had honored enthusi- astically in works such as his 1914 poem "Baudelaire." Now, trying to convince his publisher that he is serious about staying off morphine, he redefines his canon as comprised of "Nur Ethiker, Wollende" (Gansel 120). Although this "ethical" an- thology never appears in print, and Becher relapses repeatedly, he each time considers his compulsive highs and abject lows a de- bauchery overpowering him in his and so- ciety's weakness, a debauchery that points prophetically to an apocalyptic redemption beyond itself. He deems his addiction at best a brutal phase in the historical devel- opment of society, poetry, and ideology, and at worst, a phase in the narrow and decid- edly unrepresentative personal develop- ment of a prodigal son who will nonethe- less, with great effort of will and guidance by God, return home.

In his 1945 autobiographical novel Abschied Becher recounts his protagonist's introduction to cocaine as he joins the liter- ary bohemiain his late teens, but leaves out any mention of the hypodermic injection of morphine that might have supplied a more complete autobiographical picture. It is as though such a deliberatevice was too much to apologize for from the standpoint of the disciplined, class-conscious poet of revolu- tionary struggle who had moved beyond what might be falsely construed as the idle thrills of social transgression. Insofar as

Becher concedes that the ecstatically de- claiming persona of his early lyrics was somehow intoxicated, the illicit personal intoxication of morphine use is interpre- tively subordinated to the general intoxica- tion of poetical and political mania. This ex post facto interpretation by Becher can in fact be upheld by a close, non-biographical reading of his texts. Interested only in the subjective, perceptual and moral effects of the morphine high, Becher leaves no ex- plicit lyrical trace of the process of buying, injecting, and craving morphine to the ex- clusion of other social duties and desires. There are no track marks convicting him- self-providentially he has preserved plau- sible deniability for his later self in the met- aphoric generality of his mantic intoxica- tion. If morphine use is not an articulated topic of Becher's poetry, it is still a hypoder- mic subtext in that poetry, and it is often the explicit topic of his correspondence as well as of biographical documents such as clinical reports. It serves, however, another important analytical function in my in- quiry besides the abstract and historically general ones alluded to in the methodologi- cal discussion above. It ironizes my concep- tual standpoint through its own morallra- tional dubiousness. By foregrounding the potential decadence not only of the poetry, but of my own analytical concern with just that aspect of the poetry, the topos of mor- phine serves to sharply delimit the author- ity of analysis as such. The moral ambigu- ity of pharmaceutical intoxication from an analytical standpoint mirrors the moral ambiguity of Becher's political decisions in his own urgent and besieged historical con- text.' But if morphine use is an ironical standpoint from which to reassess Becher's Expressionism-a pointed cut across the grain of the fatally earnest 1930s Expres- sionism Debate carried out by Marxist in- tellectuals in Internationale Literatur and Das Wort (Adorno, Benjamin, et al.)-it is not a standpoint that repudiates the intox- icated terms of the poetry it analyzes. Ac- cording to Northrop Frye's interpretation


of the Aristotelian eiron, an ironic charac- ter or standpoint is always inferior to its environment, which is "a scene of bondage, frustration or absurdity" whose totality ul- timately escapes the character's purview (Frye34).Seen in such an ironic light, each step of self-development that Becher claims as a step in the development of mod- ern consciousness is revealed instead as only contingent, falling somewhere be- tween the chronological temporality of his- torical change and the apocalyptic tempo- rality of collective meaning. If by ironizing Becher I thereby impute capriciousness and smallness to him as the object of my analysis, I assume as well the burden of such partiality upon my own privately frustrating standpoint. As Walter Benja- min and Ernst Bloch were both so acutely aware, the cultural historian and literary analyst's task is properly prophetic but never ultimately messianic. In the clutch of revelation, the messiah retracts from cre- ation as deus absconditus, leaving those who would understand his embassy to come to terms with the harshest of the topoi of faith: withdrawal in all its moral and bodily pains.

It is hard to make sense of the syntactic rubble piles of individual Expressionist po- ems. Commentators have sought to grasp this explosion of verbal intensity above all by recognizing its fundamental disarticu- lation and rearticulating it as a movement whose significance is seen in the "extrem- ity" of its response to Germany's belated leap into technical-rational modernity (So- kel, Furness). The extremity of this leap into aesthetic modernism is contrasted on several levels with British and French modernism. For example, the World War I sentiment most familiar to English lan- guage readers is epitomized by Wilfried Owen's famous repudiation of "the old Lie," "dulce et decorum est pro patriamori." From Virginia Woolf to Willa Cather, the modernist assimilation of WW 1's carnage holds more or less intact the distinction be- tween the catastrophe of warfare and the sovereignty of national society. Or, put in the terms of Carl Schmitt's Concept of the Political, Anglo-American literature of the war maintains the distinction between the military "enemy" (a technical designation for a hostile combatant as declared by a sovereign act of state) and the moral "foe" (a universal-ethical relationship that polit- icizes all claims of transcendent sovereignty). The German literary response to the war, however, maintains no such dis- tinction between the military enemy and all the foes it finds in the midst of its own culture. It extends its agonistic conceptual- izations of the world to include not only the battlefield combatant but the chief social actors at home. The fronts of trench war- fare are turned inward against the illegiti- mate and politicized institutions of Ger- man sovereignty in the post-war literary culture. Thus, Becher's Levisite is not an anti-war novel, but, as its subtitle, "der einzig gerechte Krieg" indicates, it is a jus- tification for an internal military attack- a revolution-against the established state structures of national sovereignty. The moral unconditionality of Becher's lan- guage, and that of expressionism generally, is foreign to that of the English language literature of the period.

One additional contrast between the Anglo-American literature of the war and the German literature consists in their dif- ferent responses to the masses. Upon Benn's death in1956,Becher commented that were he left to follow only the literary logic of the avant-garde, he might have de- veloped in the way that Benn did. This de- velopmental path, as commentators such as Furness have argued, was toward a po- eticmodernism akin to that of Eliot, Pound and Yeats. Rather than exacerbating the contrast between Benn's modernism and Becher's later social realism, as Becher himself does in his eulogy to the Bennian road-not-taken, and as Berman does by seeing Levisite as a repudiation of modern political legality,I want to share Michael Tratner's claim that all modernism was in- evitably a response to the emergence of a new mass subject through the various so- cial and technical relationships of industri- alization (2-6). The distinctions among forms of modernism, then, consist in radi- cally differing views of how to speak to and for this new mass subject, or to "hegemo- nize" it, in the famous phrase of Antonio Gramsci. Does one do it as an individuallib- eral subject of reason or as a collective sub- ject of history? Introspectively or ecstati- cally? "The question of whether or not any- one could escape politics [...] was at the center of the controversy between individ- ualists and collectivists" (Tratner 6). The German case of literary modernism mark- edly distinguished itself from the English language one in its emphatic repudiation of liberal, constitutional, and dynastic modes of political sovereignty, all of which seemed to assure the continued dominance of Rhein industrialists and Prussian Junkers over the true expression of the masses. This "extreme," but not ultimately unrep- resentative, repudiation by both left and right of the familiar norms ofAnglo-Ameri- can modernism is seen by commentators from Fritz Stern to Richard Herzinger and Hannes Stein as the characteristically illib- eral German recourse to an apolitical

"Geist." In Stern's account of the Wilhel- minian "misere," "Bildungsbiirger" no less than their avant-garde cultural antago- nists, fled from the Bismarkian tradition of Realpolitik-that in any case despised their participation in state sovereignty- into the distinctly and ironically compen- satory realm of culture. Moreover, "it was during the war that the idealistic tradition was everywhere proclaimed as Germany's superior surrogate for politics" (Stern 20).

I have sketched this German literary response to the crisis of World War I briefly and emphatically for two reasons. First, I want to bring out the specific, distinct character of German Expressionism as a voice or vision concerned with the "masses" as a vividly present alternative to Wilhelminian state sovereignty by contrasting it with Anglo-American modern- ism. The shrill collectivism of Expression- ism's language--easily characterizable in formal features such as imperative con- structions, collapsed predication, parataxis, metaphors based on collective singular nouns with the "ge-" prefix (Gewimmel, Gewimmer, Gestirne, Geshge, Gezucht, Geklufte, Gebiische, Gewasser, Gewolbe, Gemetzell-is so distinct from T.S.Eliot's measured, syntactically strict, and sharply conceptualized call for attention to a "mi- nor" literature of metaphysics rather than epopee. Yet, this is not a false language, no more than the social crisis of German poli- tics was the effect of a "falsches Dasein." The empirical social reference of this lan- guage-an institutionally disintegrating society-simply was more "apocalyptic" than the corresponding reference in the dominant English-language traditions. The second reason for sketching the crisis character of German expressionist litera- ture is to make explicit the general ground of sociological reference against which the particular morphine problematic that I elaborate takes onits force. Iwant, namely, to read Becher against his own moral grain and systematically articulate what he has pragmatically concealed in his work and sociologically-minded critics have effaced in their consistent recourse to the expres- sionist movement as the horizon of inter- pretation for individual works. In so read- ing Becher, I take morphine addiction to be both the tertium quid between individual experience and collectively recognized knowledge and norms, and the vanishing point from whence phenomenology and universalism will "return no more."

Becher's poem "Klage und Frage" is a traditional, albeit expressionistically man- nered, lamentation, addressed as a depro- fundis to God. Published in Kurt Pinthus's anthology Menschheitsdammerung (19201, its apocalyptic imagery can be correlated as much to Becher's five-year long mor- phine addiction as to his renewed enthusi- asm for God in the postwar, post-cure pe-

ROBINSON:Becher 393

riod. "Es sind Hymnen der Sehnsucht nach Gott," Becher wrote to Kippenberg in Oc- tober 1919 regarding a short manuscript he was sending her. "aer die sogenannte politische expressionistische Lyrik habe ich mich hinausentwickelt" (Gansel 145). Yet the language of "Klage und Frage" -with dark references to urban depreda- tion and redeeming ones to the "Wald- geruch meines unbezwingbaren EngelsV- strongly echoes the letters Becher wrote to his patrons between failed morphine cures, letters contemplating the prospect of a life free from a "Hagel von Stich-Gerauschen" in a wholesome countryside of childhood memory remote from the still more nostal- gically urgent tortures of his cosmopolitan vices. Explaining the life and death strug- gles of "ein jeder, der 'en masse' fuhlt," Becher comments to Kippenberg in an Au- gust 1916 letter in which he declares him- self cleaned up, "doch als Nebenbemer- kung: wie wunderbar es ist: Wie selbst das eingeengteste Leben noch verhdtnisma- 13ig harmonisch wirkt, d& selbst der Ge- martertste noch seine Freuden hat: arme kleine unansehnliche riihrende" (Gansel 119). Similarly, in "Klage und Frage" the solemn joy of the slave and martyr's re- demption is sharply juxtaposed to the pri- vate, all-consuming compulsions of the flesh. Pinthus arranges Becher's lament into a chapter called "Erweckung des Herzens" that directly precedes "Aufruf und Emporung," a reasonable placement of the work in a poetic sequence that, like the Hebrew Bible, increases in intensity from the pathos of individual doubt and sin to the commanded rigor of collective soli- darity. It is a sequence, however, that un- derplays the disruption of the deliverance narrative occasioned by Becher's morphine injections.

The poem is spoken by a suffering and unredeemed "I" to a series of "thous," a theological topos made especially promi- nent by Buber in Ich und Du (1922). The strophic structure of the 93-line poem is simpler than its distorted syntax. The poem begins with the question referred to in its title:

Jagdgriinde der Nacht!

Warum warum mu13 immer und immer

wieder anrennen ich und mich ent-


Meuchlings einreiljen die lichte Gerade

meiner Vollendung gewisser Fiihrte-


This question is followed by an apostro- phization of several "thous," perhaps identical, perhaps not, but in each case possessing distinctly alternating charac- teristics of good and evil. The inquiry into the meaning of the poet's suffering is reit- erated, and then the poem ends by antici- pating the final redemption not only of "I," but of all "befreiten Knechte." Not that all "Knechte" share the poet's specific trials, but they all share the intensity of his god-forsakenness, the key theological con- cept of radical reformer Thomas Munzer, recalled and reiterated by Ernst Bloch in 1921 in Thomas Miinzer als Theologe der Revolution. The images of the poem are traditionally Biblical: from "Palmen des Throns" to "Hagel und Schwefel." The topoi consist of familiar oppositions: light and dark, desert and oasis, rage and mild- ness. The metaphysics are those of apoca- lypse and redemption. The references are mystical and moral, not political or topical. The experiences depicted are broadly alle- gorical, not empirically descriptive.

The poem, however, is remarkably strange in its confusion of motifs, affects, and values. This strangeness does not speak for the esoteric or solipsistic inacces- sibility of the poem, for a contextualized consideration of Becher's morphine addic- tion makes its strangeness graspable. It speaks rather for the value of an ironic reading that disputes the foundation of re- demption in necessary suffering: the rele- vant suffering of the poem bears the traces of rare bounty; its passions are all too clearly delighted in. Chronolopcally the poem does bear witness in Becher's work to his awakening to the objectionable quali- ties of decadence-that the decadent ego repeatedly renounces a social ethos-and it does also immediately precede Becher's biographical politicization and member- ship in the newly founded Communist Party of Germany. It does not, however, represent for us, the masses, a sovereign and generally valid state of poetic percep- tion. It doesn't, that is, bear witness to the common ground of all God's "Knechte": the base-point of necessary "Verkehrung" at which we too, nachvollziehend, might heed the call to communal redemption some 70 years later. As always in the rela- tionship of aesthetics to politics, profound depths of incongruity become an "Abgrund zu sch1urfen"-an abyss to slurp lustily, but not one to be solemnly drained. It can- not be turned away from and finally tran- scended in righteous "Emporung" without leaving behind a feeling of regret for the unknown sensations beyond the silty dregs. In the unsurmounted obscurity of its composition, Becher's poem hints that forbidden knowledge will always call again to transgression of the social gospel, as cer- tainly as the Exodus message of proletar- ian deliverance is bound always to fall back into the Genesis "Wuste"-sheol--of original sin.

I do not want to lapse yet, or ultimately, into Heideggerian portentousness by in- voking the eternity of Becher's abyss as existential original sin but to propose a historicized claim. "Klage und Frage" con- cerns-reading between heaven and hell or "between kairos and catastrophe" (Harro Mul1er)-a crisis in knowing the proper course of acting in the world. The question it raises is simultaneously one of epistemology, ethics, and political action in a period when imperial, dynastic Europe was collapsing, warfare was transforming the scope of the state, and the subject of his- torical action was metamorphosizing from the cultured and chauvinistic Burger of the Bildungsroman and Grunderzeit to the mass actor of the urban technological era.

Laclau and Mouffe (1985) have argued that the socialist movement in particular, even as it scored its greatest victory in the Rus- sian Revolution, was disappointed by its inability to hegemonize the Wilhelminian social crises in favor of the Party's "zuge- rechneten Klassenbewufltsein" (Lukacs). The masses' subjectivity was never objec- tive enough, or the economy's class catego- ries never individually perceptible enough, for the revolutionary movement to do without the messianic symbolism of a Becher or Georges Sorel. Meanwhile Be- cher himself, charged with imputing the proper class consciousness to awake the masses to their own active redemption, was also charged with murdering his girl- friend Fanny Fu13 in a 1910 suicide pact. He was acquitted on the grounds of 851 of the StGB, "Unzurechnungsf&gkeit." If Be- cher's lamentation conceives of its predica- ment in messianic terms, then these terms are not those of Biblical revelation or prole- tarian class unity, but routine morphine panic. They are the desperate clamoring of the physically addicted body for the relief that will restore its moral hygiene and cor- poreal integrity, restore, that is, its ability to impute.

Thus, on a second reading we can see that the poem's obvious Biblical meta- phors and expected expressionist gestures are saturated with distinct figures of mor- phine ingestion. A "rasender Trichter" parts the way of the flesh just wide enough to bring in a biting "Emporer-Schwer- mut." The "Driise des Monds" secretes a "magischen Gift-Saft" under whose influ- ence the poetic persona traces out track marks, the hunter and addict's errant, nighttime "Fahrte"4agerspruch for the deceptive tracks of animals-that in their obscure innumerabilty echo wanly the one triumphant "Himmelfahrt" of Christ. The poem laments an "Unmal3" of torture and doubt, of "Nacht-Sucht" and accompany- ing "Schuttel-Fieber," and its lyrical per- sona longs for the oil of God's grace to smooth the furrows of its anxiety, calling


now not to God, but to:

Du friihe Schwester, Nachtigallen-Erwe-

ckerin der tauben Verzweifelung un-

seres Schlaf-Mohns.

Aller der Hungrigen und der Durstenden

du immer wieder praller Feurer-Euter.

Trostliche Wiirze du meiner einsamen



Warum warum mulj immer und immer

wieder anrennen ich und mich ent-


Schmerzhaft mit Peitschen und Stachel-

karnm rnich entlauben?!

Verregnen mutwillig den Samen meiner


These are not metaphors referring in- terlinearly to Job lancing his boils; they re- fer to a more empirical scarring, pricking, shaking, and relief. The body calling out is one regularly, compulsively ruptured by hypodermic needles. Rupture here is not just a form of privation (dis-ruption) but is also the means to the poet's all-encompass- ing synaesthesia, to the Rauschzustand in- voked by Nietzsche and Thomas Mann as co-determinate ofpoiesis as such. For this gain the body has submitted and remains subject to the "finsterste der Verlockung: Abgrund zu schlurfen, im Keller zu hausen des vermorschten Gebeins" ("Klage und Frage," Pinthus 194). The depths from which the poet calls turn out to be a loca- tion that, as like a charnel house as it is, seems also to be an irresistible place of dwelling, a place on which the poet's de- sires blindly dwell. As such it promises Heideggerian proportions for Becher's ex- istential sovereignty. Or if not Heideggeri- an proportions, then it promises him the sovereign mass of the "accursed share" that Georges Bataille found hidden deep within the charnel house of European war. "The sovereignty I speak of has little to do with the sovereignty of States, as interna- tional law defines it [...I We may call sover- eign the enjoyment of possibilities that utility doesn't justify [...I Life beyond util- ity is the domain of sovereignty" (Bataille 11-111 197-98). And what could be more in- utile than the individual morphine injec- tion, "trostliche Wurze [...I meiner einsa- men Trauer-Tanne"? Poetry? Metaphor? War?

Becher is lamenting rather than cele- brating his addiction, however, and his la- ment must be considered seriously. Its in- tended spoudaios-its tragic gravity-is not only unconducive to an ironic reading but is programmatically set against irony as such. Irony is for Becher, as it was for a conservative jurist like Carl Schmitt, the last refuge of the defunct Wilhelminian lib- eral, powerless on the tragic stage of impe- rial Realpolitik. The gravity in the poem is thus specifiable with more historical preci- sion than just its reference to Aristotelian poetics as a repudiation of the complacent culture of the "deutsche Misere" elabo- rated in the leftist tradition by Heine, Marx, Engels, and Mehring. In the gravity of his call to a God of the "lichte Gerade," Becher sees his drug use as an anti-enlight- enment ("finster") temptation to a certain kind of heightened corporeal pleasure. The transgression that pleasure represents has dire consequences for both the material body and its mental perceptions, poten- tially barring it from escaping the trap of its own comforts into the rigors of social ac- tion. The compensation of morphine might be the ironic bohemian equivalent to the compensation ofbourgeois cultural confor- mity. Certainly, it would be its moral equiv- alent, unless its eccentric and transgres- sive despair could sling it off into a total cri- tique of orthodoxy.

Susan Buck-Morss argues that the emergence of a cinema industry at the turn of the century allowed a spontaneous pop- ularization of the Husserlian "epoche" in wartime Germany (Buck-Morss 46). Hus- serl's philosophy sought an understanding ofphenomena in their pure "givenness" by bracketing out all considerations but the act of perception itself. Film, according to Buck-Morss, reduced transcendental ob- jects of meaning, war and revolution in


particular, into pure perceptual phenom- ena. It is this strict phenomenological epoche of media modernism-striven for in Remarque's plain, affectively restrained war novel, in Ernst Junger's Kampf als innere Erlebnis, in Benn's scrupulous ob- servational reflexivity-that is distorted by the secretions of Becher's "moon gland." High or low, Becher is barred from the lucid perceptual purity, "die lichte Gerade," that forms the hard ground from which the masses can rise "empor": "Meuchlings einreiljen die lichte Gerade meiner Vollendung gewisser Fiihrte." Cer- tain track marks cut through the ground clearing, through the straight and narrow of knowing innocently the proper course, as the Kantian Biirger once knew it a pri- ori. Becher is a soiled hunter chasing track marks in the 'gagdgriinde der Nacht" and the untouched path is hopeless because surely there is no "act of pure seeing" (Husserl) in the illicitly heightened subjec- tivity (and synaesthetic disarticulation) of Becher's nightlife jungle.

Morphine synaesthesia, and more im- portant, the ego discontinuities of being se- renely high and then being torn apart by withdrawal fevers prevent any constant perception of the proper path as a single straight line from low point to high point, as Marx and Engels' "line of march." The problem of morphine's simultaneously disarticulating and fragmenting experi- ence, moreover, is not strictly perceptual (as a matter of perceiving external objectiv- ity) but has implications for the erotic imagination of the self s kinesthetic incor- poration. Becher, with a trace of early Jugendstil influences, invokes Ophelia as an oasis in his "harzlosen Wuste," although with characteristic ambiguity she is also a spring of death: drowned, of course, like Fanny Fulj, in the very water that slakes his thirst for love. But the erotic dream of romantic and individual love- love as passion-gives way to "Groljstadt- Wuterichen des Elends," "den schabigen Filz der Huren," the "Gellende Negerin," and the "Lustknabe": the city and its opi- ated lifestyle distorts love into a kind of fe- tishism of moods, bodies, and non-norma- tive sexuality. The needle-ruptured body is for Becher now a sexually debauched body, a body in pieces (Deborah Harter) that, un-

able to be a kinesthetic touchstone for true perceptions, is vulnerable on all fronts- linguistic, affective, sensory-to loss of judgment, a loss revealed by the ever more sternly impending apocalypse that will set

the final seal on Becher's "Unzurechnungsfhigkeit."

The apocalypse is traditionally fire, ice or water, preceding a redemption: "deiner Gnade 01," where the anointed one, Christos/Messiah, descends to gather the faithful from the iniquities of historical time. The morphine that annoints Be- cher's Bohemian ligne de fuite, his scatter- ing "wolf tracks" (Deleuze and Guattari 26) trailing away from Wilhelminian Oedi- pal authoritarianism can, since it has de- prived him of all touchstones except hope- fully and impossibly that of his own bot- tomless abjection, guarantee no final, but only an immediate redemption. Becher- like Odysseus renouncing the lotus blos- som--explicitly rejects this instantaneous intense experience of redemption as onto- logically false: a pre-genesis chaos rather than a post-apocalyptic kingdom of ends. The redemption doesn't secure or sublate the significance of Becher's existence but confirms his counterfeit Dasein in its very discontinuity and self-forgetfulness. Ador- no and Horkheimer write of the Land of the Lotus Eaters: "Solche Idylle, die doch ans Gluck der Rauschgifte mahnt, mit deren Hilfe in verhiirteten Gesellschafts- ordnungen unterworfene Schichten Uner- tragliches zu ertragen fhig gemacht wur- den, kann die selbsterhaltende Vernunft bei den Ihren nicht zugeben." (Dialektik 80). But the logic of self-preservation is never so clear, neither to the Greeks, whose Socrates was the pharmakon that pre- served the glory that was Athens by drink- ing nightshade, nor to the sacrificial lambs


of 20th-century partisan war and revolu- tion whose martyr-deaths are secured by their refusal of the consolations of cultural narcosis. In Becher's poem the redeeming God of the "Frage" and the debilitating scourge of the "Klage" become indistin- guishable interlocutors, as was already true in the Book of Job. According to both Marx and Nietzsche, the Judeo-Christian God is already an opiate-that an opiatealready be a God only stands to reason-but does this God follow a single logic like that of Moses? In Becher's language God's grandeur is never far from Deleuze's ad- dled schizophrenia or Kafka's opportune menageries of metamorphoses. "Deiner beruhigten Kuhle o Gott weltfremder HirschiWeide ich/Uber feuchten Asphalt- Ufer-Gangen [...] Mild im Abend./Amei- sen-Demut." To paraphrase Deleuzian rhetoric, the molar grace of God's redemp- tion is always becoming again, in Becher's language of denied kinesthetic singularity, a molecular flight from hell's Oedipal jus- tice into the fragmented plurality of deer and ants, high priestly selves and low in- dustrial serfs. Or, to put it more plainly, God's promise of a singular moment of de- livery does not find in Becher a coherent subject to deliver-the ones most in need of salvation are too war-torn, poverty- scarred, pleasure-addled to be reassembled. All the pieces crawl off to their sepa- rate promises leaving the poet's voice as lonely as God's in the head of the addict.

Let me return more explicitly to the Wilhelminian and wartime context of Becher's lament. Michael Rohrwasser has noted that war-the great adjudicator of Second Empire Dasein, greater even than God in the nationalist/existentialist context of the nineteen teens--obscures in Becher's work the difference between re- demption and defeat in the decadent scat- tering of the host into ad hoc pleasure. "AufschlulJreich scheint mir," Rohrwasser writes of Leuisite, "wie hier Verursachung der Bedrohung und ihre Besanftigung sich vereinen. In der Verbindung von Giftgas und Rausch ist die Beschreibung des be- drohten Korpers wie die lustvolle Auf- hebung enthalten. Und der Bechersche Krieg geht in dieser Verbindung auf" (Rohrwasser 154).One could add-in the case of "Frage und Klagen-that the same is true for Becher's divinity: it is subsumed by the descriptive linkage of poison gas and creative rush.

Becher himself biographically leaves behind both poison gas and bohemia. His "hal3erfullte Abkehr von diesem Milieu" (Rohrwasser 29) brought him from the Wilhelmine high-bourgeoisie through the "Wolke-Wig der Gefahr" to the KPD. "Sein HaI3 schien nunmehr weniger dem Elternhaus und dem darin prasenten wilhelminischen Burgertum, sondern sich selbst, seinem eigenen 'Fluchtversuch' zu gelten" (Rohrwasser 29). Becher's initial morphine mutiny against Wilhelminian authority with its simultaneous invocation of the destructive intensity of warfare and the creative euphoria of escape from banal facticity is subsequently itself repudiated in the more definitive conversion that co- mes with his membership in the Commu- nist Party. With the collapse of the Second Empire, the Habsburg Empire, the Otto- man Empire, and Czarist Russia, with the spread of revolutionary movements and white terror, neither bohemian escapism nor professionalized warfare subject to the command of the sovereign state seemed se- rious enough in the sense of the Aristote- lian tragic spoudaios. The Communist Party, on the other hand, seemed to have a symbolic and real weight that was power- ful enough to offset the weight of middle and eastern European social dislocation.

I want to end by ironizing once again the gravity of Becher's turn away from the bohemian avant-garde in favor of a politi- cally tendentious realism. From this ironic perspective, Becher's move still remains more weighty than that of consistent, mod- ernists such as Benn on the right and Brecht on the left, each of whose arts have deftly escaped the harsh judgments that

Fall 2000

have fallen on their political allies. Becher, by contrast, is ironically redeemed to the extent that it was to his life choices and life mistakes (hamartia), and not to any inde- pendently subsisting ideal that he gave po- etic form. Of course, one need not admire the poetry of that form-the irony is more complete the poorer the verse. Nor need one deny that he deceived himself regu- larly and recklessly about the circum- stances behind his political choices-just as he earlier tricked his own most personal and intense perceptions into equating the physical privation of overcoming narcotics dependency with the soldierly cost of hold- ing the front on the fields of Belgium and France. What is required of us, should we still care about Becher's life at all, is that we find his choices and mistakes subjec- tively compelling. Like his fellow cultural commissar Georg Lukacs (1885-1971) in Die Theorie des Romans, Becher presumes to have attained "Einsicht von der inneren notwendigen Geschlossenheit der Gattun- gen" ("Gedichte fiir ein Volk"), even as these genres lay in tatters. And like each of us struggling at the end of the Cold War once again to close thegenre humaine, now under the refrains of "globalization" rather than those of the tarnished "Internatio- nale," Becher is at the end of WWI unequal to his new challenges. His generation of soldiers, poets, and revolutionaries, and his genres of ecstatic confession and free exhortation, could just not comprehend or embrace the Kollektivverantwortung that would redeem their grandiose heroism, frail indulgence and mortal sins. Even his final genesis from addict to Minister of Cul- ture remained a metamorphosis open to an unsympathizing future, as augustly and austerely as he sought to execute its duties in the name of the universal class.

In order to illustrate this openness let me conclude by jumping forward twenty years to the dislocations of World War I1 and another narcotics-addicted leftist, Klaus Mann. In his novel Der Vulkan (1939) Mann demanded from his protago-

nist Martin Korella, as he did from himself, the hedonistic pursuit of happiness as a fundamental human right in the face even of God and "der Zauberer" (his nickname for his father). On the other hand, the par- tisan commitment to which Mann cease- lessly strove in his anti-fascist work de- manded courage, patience, and sacrifice-- i.e., the classical virtues of the tragic pharmakon, instead of hedonistic pharrna- cology. However, Mann couldn't resolve the choice between sacrifice and pleasure on its principle--either by reference to the abyss (as though opiate withdrawal could be equated perceptually, if not morally, to the human sacrifice exacted by fascist war) or by reference to redemption (as though self-recovery in the Oedipal reterritori- alization of his ego was equivalent to demo- cratic self-determination or the return of Israel from the wilderness of exile). Mann eventually overdosed, although not until after his father had written him repeatedly condemning his "vie facile" in and out of sanatoriums for the substance dependent

(Mann 139). As apartisan he was respected as a figure of moral authority and social tragedy; as an addict he was reviled as an amoral decadent, a pleasure seeker, and an inconsequential egoist. In the case of Becher, the situation is inverted. After the failure of the GDR Becher's partisanship and ministerial authority make him a fig- ure of mockery and authoritarian culpabil- ity; his addiction, however, opens him up to a retrospectively judging world as human and vulnerable.

Time changes heroic biographical con- tinuities and reconfigures shameful bio- graphical ruptures. After Klaus Mann's drug suicide, eulogists attributed his over- dose variously to the depredations of the fascist war (Heinrich Mann), to the inexo- rably emerging fault lines of the Cold War (Hans Mayer) and even to the confronta- tion between his immense belief in the power of the word and his compelled accep- tance of the word's powerlessness in the face of war (Volker Weidermann). Mann


himself, searching his soul, was never sure whether his art was driven by social re- sponsibility or private desire, whether it was an ars vivendi or an ars moriendi. Nor did he ever satisfactorily decide for himself whether his addiction was private inclina- tion or social necessity. His decadence thus finds its only redemption in the observa- tions of sympathizers who believe his biog- raphy worth preserving as historical testi- mony. In Becher's case it is likewise up to those who share the unredeemed commit- ments he imagined himself redeeming through morphine shots and party disci- pline to recognize how dangerous, time- conditioned and vulnerable his choices were. His eventual repudiation of bohemia in favor of political activism does not so much illustrate for later generations the need to draw a principled moral connection between dissolution and discipline as it shows the non-convertibility of experience and knowledge in the historical world. If nothing else, the biographical contextu- alization of Becher's poetry demonstrates that while there is some historical connec- tion between knowledge and experience, it is a connection whose depths cannot be plumbed, even by the devil's own with- drawal pains or God's own party line.


loften when the body is invoked as cate- gory for analyzing literature, the invocation is anything but ironic, serving instead an often urgent political purpose. In Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain and Leslie Adelson's Making Bodies, Making History, the body is not dis- cussed ironically but as a potentially tragic dif- ferential in the production of meaning. The morphine consuming body, however, does not introduce bodily meaning in a normatively au- thoritative fashion. It is a decadent, negligent body, often repudiated as inauthentic (literally, not in its own hands). Filmmakers from Bertolucci (in I1 Conformisto) and Rossellini (inRoma, Citta Aperta) to Passolini (Salo)and Fassbinder (Berlin Alexanderplatz) represent drug use as betrayal and disorientation. The drug user in this view occupies an unmastered body whose appetites are consumptive and un- checked by norms of social solidarity. The reas- sertion here ofjust this kind of unreliable body is, then, necessarily ironic.

Works Cited

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Adorno, Theodor, and Max Horkheimer. Dialektik der Aufilarung. Amsterdam: Querido Verlag, 1947.

Bataille, Georges. The Accursed Share. 2 Vols. New York: Zone Books, 1988. Becher, Johannes R. Gedichte: 1911-1918. Berlin: Aufbau, 1965. . Levisite und Der Bankier. Berlin: Auf- bau, 1985. . Verfall und Triumph. 2 Vols. Nedeln: Kraus Reprint, 1973. .Gedichte fur ein Volk. Nedeln: Kraus Re- print, 1973.

Berman, Russell. "The Politics of Form and the Discourse of War in Johannes R. Becher's Leviste." Modern Language Studies 15, 4 (1985): 110-16.

Bloch, Ernst. Thomas Munzer als Theologe der Revolution. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1969. Booth, Martin. Opium: A History. New York: St. Martin's, 1996. Buber, Martin. I and Thou. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. NY: Scribner's, 1970.

Buck-Morss, Susan. "The Cinema Screen as Prosthesis of Perception: A Historical Ac- count." The Senses Still. C. Nadia Sereme- takis, ed.Chicago: U of Chicago F: 1996.45-62.

Csath, Geza. Opium and Other Stories. New York: Penguin, 1983.

Delueze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota E: 1987.

Dwars, Jens-Fietje. Abgrurzd und Widerspruch. Berlin: Aufbau, 1998. Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism. Princeton: Princeton UF: 1957. Furness, R.S. Expressionsm. London: Methuen, 1973. Gansel, Carsten, ed. Metamorphosen eines


Dichters. Berlin: Aufbau, 1992. Harter, Deborah A. Bodies in Pieces. Stanford: Stanford UE: 1996. Kiihn-Ludewig, Maria, ed. Johannes R. Becher-Heinrich RS. Bmhmair-Briefwechsel

1914-1920. Frankfurta.M.: Peter Lang, 1987.

Laclau, Ernesto, and Chantal MoufYe. Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. London: Verso, 1985.

Lacs, Georg. History and Class Consciousness. Cambridge: MIT E: 1971.

Mann, Klaus. Tagebiicher 1936-1937. Miinchen: Edition Spangenberg, 1990.

Pinthus, Kurt, ed. Menschheitsdammerung. Berlin: Rowohlt, 1920.

Rohnvasser, Michael. Der Weg nach Oben. Basel: StroemfeldIRoter Stern, 1980. Schmitt, Carl. The Concept of the Political. Chicago: U of Chicago E: 1996. Sokel, Walter Herbert.The Writer in Extremis. Stanford: Stanford UT: 1959. Stern, Fritz. The Failure of Illiberalism. New York: Columbia UE: 1992. Tratner, Michael. Modernism and Mass Politics.Stanford: Stanford UE: 1995. Witschel, Giinter. Rausch und Rauschgift bei Baudelaire, Huxley, Benn und Burroughs.

Bonn: Bouvier, 1968.

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