Tuesday, November 24, 2015

in the vaults they were secure so long as the report prevailed of their being haunted

Now I want to touch on the sensation of melting-away that comes to me when I think of Droste-Hülshoff 's book with its production of murders and then the promise of murderers, and then the absence of the murderers who should be there. The murderers are not revealed until the local Jews cut a curse into a beech tree, whereat two people confess, in different ways and at different times, to the same murder. The two confessors are both equally sincere. I mean that the author treats them equally sincerely. But they cancel one another out. What does she want me to think? She does not sound like a mind that is planning a trick; she is not ambiguous; she is not Coleridge.

Giving does not seem to be her intention but withholding is not her intention either.

After a suspicious axe has been discovered she gives us a hint that her interest lies in the equilibrium of information: "It would be wrong to disappoint the curiosity of the reader in a fictitious story, but this is how it actually came to be; I can't add or subtract anything from it" (tr. Jolyon Timothy Hughes).

Heidegger, discussing some lines in Hölderlin's poem The Ister, decides that the river, a noun characterised by flowing, is the location of its own absence from its location. As he pursues that thought he is led to the character of Antigone, whose obduracy he describes with a word that the translators McNeill and Davis give as "unhomely," meaning more or less that she is un-hearthed, or intrinsically unhomed or uncanny. (Hölderlin's Hymn, 'The Ister' (1984), tr. William McNeill and Julia Davis.) All human beings are unhomely, says Heidegger; they are not at home in the world. "As a human being, she not only belongs to the most uncanny that looms and stirs among beings; rather, within the most uncanny, Antigone is the supreme uncanny." By going further into extremity she inhabits the human state more fully than any other character. So she advances to her death. On the other hand Mudpuddle down there in the comments is bringing up The Mysteries of Udolpho, a book in which the magical ghosts turn out to be bankers.

"But why," said Emily, "were not these pirates contented with the cave -- why did they think it necessary to deposit their spoil in the castle?"

"The cave, madam," replied Ludovico, "was open to any body, and their treasures would not long have remained undiscovered there, but in the vaults they were secure so long as the report prevailed of their being haunted."


  1. on a scale of unhomeliness from one to ten: udolpho being the least as one, beech tree being maybe in the middle around five. so what would be ten? something totally zen, wherein past and present are not and being is in serious question: the ultimate having to do with quanta floating around in dark energy...? communication on an increasingly obscure level must be akin to the expanding universe: hard to detect at cosmic distances.

  2. my ignorance blares out like Roland's horn...

    1. I should have explained myself there. I mean that they both write against sensitivity, wisdom, intellect, balance, friendship, feeling for character, investigation of society, history, justice, and all those other things that make readers say that writer so-and-so "is humane." De Sade?

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    3. i looked them up on the internet and i agree, they would probably be listed closer to number ten on the scale of unhomeliness. i must be a bit slow today...

    4. It's an interesting question though: are any writers really "unhomely" in the way that Heidegger means it? Every review that I could find of the Joan London book from the next post uses words like "luminous," "poetic," and "sensitive" to describe her work; she sounds like the absolute opposite of the uncanniness that Heidegger sees in Antigone. Is theatre more unhomely than prose?