Seeking the literary traces of the Natascha Kampusch affair
In August 2006, the international media went into a feeding frenzy about the story of Natascha Kampusch, who escaped after eight-and-a-half years’ captivity in a tiny room in a suburb outside Vienna. The horrific nature of the crime aside, what was it about the story that exerted such fascination? In a searing critique of social mores, Rainer Just argues that the Kampusch case offered, without it ever being noticed, a distorted re-encounter with a deeply familiar emotional programme: romantic love. “The mass public and its media were able to understand the Kampusch case only as a sensational crime, as a criminal incident, but not as a case of a ubiquitous, socially organized madness.”
The captive; the fugitive; the lost, the found: the story of Natascha Kampusch – of an abducted girl who disappears at the age of ten and who returns a grown-up woman – became a worldwide sensation. Even before the public had seen her “new” face, it was already visible to all as a digital identikit, and on one of the numerous front pages featuring the pre-ordained “face of the year”, even given a Warholian makeover, stylized as a pop icon. After the pale star had completed, to the dissatisfaction of all voyeurs, her first interview, Austrian public television announced the third highest ratings in broadcasting history: a blockbuster in the time of postmodernism, when blockbusters have long since ceased to exist, because no story sounds “incredible” any more. Why this one? What was it about the story of K. that made it so good, so fascinating, so attractive to the masses? Why, especially at first, did it seem more exciting than any thriller, more gripping than Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs and all the other artificial hells produced by the culture industry? And – to stick with stories that really happened – why did it also seem more interesting than the Dutroux case in Belgium? Lastly, why was the event just a flash in the pan, in so far as media enthusiasm fizzled out after just a few weeks?
A literary frame of reference practically forces itself upon anyone who wishes to answer these questions. Literature, everywhere literature, so much literariness that one can go so far as to speak of a necessity of literature: on the one hand, because literature itself plays an important role in the story as lifesaver (Kampusch reported that during her imprisonment she not only read a lot – from Robinson Crusoe to Alice in Wonderland, but that she also wrote daily and thus acquired a “higher” language not spoken by everyone), and on the other, because it has now been confirmed that she will write a book, in order to transform the reality of the lost time into a self-penned story. Kampusch’s notes from the underground in Strasshof – the small town outside Vienna where Wolfgang Priklopil, her abductor, lived – became for her a space of freedom so necessary for survival that even after her escape she wished to keep her handwriting secret. They are already the first part of this inconceivable novel, which everything – one almost wants to say: from the very beginning – leads up to and which the big publishing houses are already counting on to be next season’s bestseller.
To become a bestseller, every book needs a strong plot, and the story of Kampusch’s abduction is not just fabulous – it’s perfect. Perhaps adding to its perfection is the fact that its conclusion falls bang on the 150th anniversary of Freud’s birth, as if it were the social portent of a psychoanalytical hermeneutic that has unfolded in play with world literature from Sophocles to Shakespeare. Hearing studio experts discuss the Kampusch case in the first few weeks, it became obvious that neither Freudian thought nor critical literary analysis has been taught at the universities for a long time, otherwise it would hardly have been possible that almost all the psychologists who addressed the question of the story’s extraordinary fascination overlooked the crucial point. Of course it touched on primal fears; of course the (fairy tale?) rescue of the young girl gladdened people’s hearts; of course watching the suffering of others releases cathartic energy – but many stories, both invented and factual, can score points this way, the secret of this story lay and lies elsewhere, namely where for a long time it remained hidden to most people: at the surface. Only when one looks beyond the factual circumstances, paltry anyway, and distils from them a narrative structure in which there are only two protagonists whose trajectories are at first opposed and finally cross, does this story suddenly cease to seem incredible. But while it may not be incredible, it is – in a modified Freudian sense – deeply uncanny.1 Freud famously distinguished between the uncanny (again, on the basis of a literary work: E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Sand Man) and the merely “frightening – that which arouses dread and horror”, insofar as concealed within the uncanny phenomenon is always the trace of the homely, a repeated and thus distorted feeling, with which, without one being aware of it, one was once familiar (in the context of gothic fiction, that would above all be the belief in the animation of inanimate objects, the belief in spirits that remains anchored in the most rational of people and which the ghost-story writer trades on). What lent Kampusch’s abduction its genuinely uncanny dimension was not the reactivation of infantile fears – darkness, silence, loneliness – but the distorted re-encounter with an emotional programme that runs and runs and runs in everyone and is responsible for the strength of the story’s impact on us. The content of the novel is old, only the form, radically perfected, appears new. For weeks, people, above all members of the “chattering classes”, expressed their outrage, talked of an incredible event, a scandal; but at the same time they were excited, almost euphoric, because unconsciously they sensed that something was going on here that affected their lives too, because they had probably experienced it themselves, albeit in another form. When at first the masses announced their sympathy for Natascha Kampusch, they were taking part in her fate in a double sense: although they don’t want to acknowledge it, they themselves are part of the skandalon, the programme that structures their consciousness is the same as that which structured the consciousnesses of Priklopil and Kampusch. Let’s at last call it by its name: the programme we’re discussing is romantic love, the story we’re dealing with is a love story.
There’s an overriding notion in people’s minds that love is something one yearns for and not something one need fear. It blocks the mind in decoding disfigurations of facticity, including art. It is responsible for the fact that there was much protest at first about claims that Kampusch’s abduction was fundamentally a conte d’amour. Love ends where violence begins, it was warned – a definition ex negativo, which, true or not, merely formulates an ideal. Stockholm syndrome was also mostly talked about as if the term weren’t just as blind as its users, who didn’t see that a hostage-taking in a Stockholm bank is something completely different from an eight-year relationship, which is why the term, if one persists in using it in the Kampusch case, loses its concreteness entirely. Having become so transportable, it means nothing more than that a person can appreciate or love another person even if that person is violent towards them. The ominous Stockholm syndrome would then have to be diagnosed in every marriage, family relationship, and friendship, because who has never experienced hurt in an intimate form of social relationship without immediately “breaking up” with the evil-doer? The violence-free place of love – which Adorno’s much-quoted dictum also evokes – is utopian, which explains why practically the entire corpus of both trivial and serious literature can be read as the evolution of the idealist concept of love. There, in the contra-factual space of art (today, more in film than in literature), the programme of romantic love has been formulated for thousands of years, “romantic” in the sense of: exclusive, lifelong, and unconditional. Since the dawn of occidental literary history, Odysseus has been returning home to his Penelope, Don Quixote has been fighting for his Dulcinea, Romeo has been seeking his Juliet (and these bare constellations already show who is always allocated the active role and who the passive). It is above all literary prototypes that, as Niklas Luhmann puts it, codify our erotic intimacy, prescribe us “love as passion” as a form of happiness, which – in a cruel conditio sine qua non – includes suffering on account of the other. To exaggerate, it can be formulated thus: we have been prescribed romantic love as a literary remedy (which is why, incidentally, a pharmacist plays such a significant role in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary). But what is the illness? And what are the side effects of this bittersweet medicine? Is it perhaps not itself the poison that provokes the illness it is supposed to cure? Love reveals itself primarily as the yearning for love, and probably – if the speculation be permitted – most people would never fall passionately in love had they not been told the fairy tale of love as small children. Once upon a time there was a prince and a princess… Once upon a time there was a handyman and a girl…
If Priklopil hadn’t been a loser but a rich and handsome man (a pop star, a contemporary Prince, a Love Symbol), if he hadn’t bundled his darling into the back of a white van but into his Ferarri and stolen her away on his yacht to a dream island in the Caribbean and then treated her to an eight-year stay, all-inclusive, then even the most politically correct would have immediately realized that behind this story of abuse – because that’s what it remains, no question – is written the story of romantic love; written in strongly legal sense: as a writ, as a legal stipulation, as an imperative: you must love at any cost! It’s no coincidence that in the last decade the only individual fate to have aroused as much public interest as the Kampusch abduction was the death of Lady Di: real-life fairy tales, be they in a conventional form (Prince of Wales marries eighteen-year-old nursery school teacher) or completely distorted (suburban handyman abducts ten-year-old girl who returns as “strong” woman), get under the skin because they stimulate fundamental human longings that have been created by civilization’s stories great and small since the year dot. The desire for justice, happiness, or love appears in the genre of the fairy tale to be perfectly attainable, but unlike literature, which is able to make the final cut at the point where happiness and harmony culminate, in every real-life experience, even the most fairy tale-like, time keeps on turning, and time – this is its indifferent nature – destroys everything. The real-life fairy tales, in other words fates, which are stylized by the media as such, are per se deformed by violence and death; however, they still carry, as alluring message, the promise of happiness between two people that our society does not give up hoping for. Since every intellectual reading sets itself the ethical task of displaying the socially critical potential of a text, the story of K. should be read as a pitch-black tale of love, in which the violent structure of the romantic ideal is expressed to a perfection matched only by the greatest and most abysmal works of world literature.
What makes the story a love story is the classic constellation Priklopil-Kampusch. What defines the romantic content of the story is the inter-individual dynamic that unfolds in a dual biosphere of the utmost intimacy. Even the darkest of fairy tales remains a love story if all the characters in it yearn for love. If one wishes to name the real antithesis to the entire literary tradition, which from Homer to Houllebecq conforms to the idealist concept of love, one name above all must be dropped: Donatien Alphonse Franï¿½ois de Sade. The sole heretic genre that in its most avant-garde works has consistently opposed the dictate of romantic love is pornography, and Sade – the “divine Marquis” – chef de mission. With his porno-logical anti-fairy tales, he attacked the ideology of romantic love like none other, wrote with a single-minded, enlightened, mytho-erotomanical fury against this last bastion of bourgeois ideology that remains intact: marriage, family, monogamy, virginity, innocent love – all these constructs of a Catholic conception of intimacy are branded by Sade not only as unnatural and as the enemies of desire, but also exposed in their violent, compulsive character. Again and again, the libertines in his novels, in their sophisticated monologues, ask their listeners to consider that romantic love has already claimed unknown millions of victims and will continue to do so without stopping, will heap up a gigantic mountain of broken-hearted corpses, which compared to the number of people who die as a result of criminal sexual hedonism is negligible. Even if this comparison cannot justify a single sexual crime (violence remains violence and is to be condemned as such), Sade’s radical critique of pure love retains its full legitimacy today. Like Kant’s ideal of enlightened reason, the utopia of love also has its destructive side, its dark maelstrom which will swallow all those who blindly trust its ideal; Sade was the first to unconditionally look this monster of thought and sexuality in the face. Hardly anyone could or wanted to follow him.
Too much really has died with the ancient sorrows of young Werther for the murderous madness of love to still credibly be denied. Society accepts it publicly, counts firmly on its dead – that’s statistics – and is appalled only when the common violence erupts in a form not described daily in the press. A discrepancy that is hard to understand: on one hand, Priklopil’s death after “his” woman left him following an eight-year relationship sells as an incredible story; on the other hand, there are similar headlines almost everyday, whose monstrosity is passed over by bored readers. The headlines sound too everyday: “Man shoots wife who wanted to leave him”; “Man commits suicide because wife cheated on him”; “Man kills himself and children after wife leaves him”; “Man kills wife and her lover”; “Jealous woman stabs husband”. Already, the usual terms – “liaison”, “relationship”, “marriage bond” – give themselves away in their verbal imagery, etymologically betray the violence actually at work behind conventional life-sharing arrangements: if one wants to realize the programmatic ideal of love, it seems not to work without a permanent tug-o-war, binding oneself to the other, holding the other tight. The birth of love out of the spirit of totalitarianism expressed itself in exemplary manner in the Strasshof abduction story. A person is shut in, all the others shut out – that is the ideological core of romantic love. I want only you! says love, I want you for me alone! says love, I want you to belong to me forever! says love. Whoever speaks thus thinks about one thing only: possession. Whoever thinks only about possession is obsessed by his possessive thinking: he himself becomes a prisoner of his imaginary treasure (there are only imaginary treasures), he himself, pursued by his chronic fear of loss, traps himself in the insane system of his jealousy and possessiveness. That possessive desire can extinguish the entire potential for positive value that the idea of love undeniably carries within it (supplementing oneself in the other, being open for the other without appropriating him or her) is only surprising at first glance, because nothing – even if people don’t want to believe it – follows on the heels of prevailing reason quite as closely as their emotions, and in a society in which a pernicious theo-capitalist ideology dominates, he who cares only about himself and his possessions always acts most logically. The symptom of paranoid jealousy – although to be more accurate, since it concerns a whole bundle of symptoms, let’s call it the Strasshof Syndrome – has become the shibboleth of love. Whoever is not jealous is also unable to love, so the open-hearted are told, or at any rate not in the “proper” way. Whoever does not reproduce the prescribed copulation envy spoils the game of love, because in the rule-bound circuit of monopoly and monogamy, everything is oriented towards property, everything revolves around being able to possess for oneself alone the object of desire – no matter how obscure it is. “Will Natascha Kampusch ever be able to love a man properly?” asked the tabloid Kronen Zeitung early on, when the victim-perpetrator dichotomy still appeared to be sharply drawn, without realizing that in the story everything had been arranged according to the social-emotional dictate, that Mr Priklopil and Ms Kampusch met the norm up until the very last, as unconditionally and programmatically as behoves the madness of love’s idealistic logic. Love and jealously have become symptoms, have changed places. “Are you jealous?” is increasingly intimacy’s make or break: Woe betide they who say no! Woe betide they who love!
A man admits: “[…] my pleasure in having [my beloved] to live with me was much less a positive pleasure than that of having withdrawn from the world, where everyone was free to enjoy her in turn, the blossoming damsel who, if she did not bring me any great joy, was at least withholding joy from others.” Here, it’s no compulsive neurotic from a dreary Viennese suburb speaking, but Marcel, the upper middle-class narrator of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, who makes himself and his beloved a prisoner of his distrust for so long that Albertine, the object of desire, having broken loose of the Mï¿½bius strip of love and jealousy, dies. “The Captive”, “The Fugitive” – alone the titles of the two volumes indicate a clear analogy between Proust’s novel and the story of Kampusch’s abduction; but that this literary monolith of the twentieth century, which is built above all on reflections about romantic love, could serve as a template (as a pre-script) for Priklopil’s crime, appeared to many, at least at first, to be inconceivable. The only literary trace aired in the media was John Fowles’s novel The Collector from 1963, the plot of which – as claimed publicly – resembled the Kampusch case: Frederick Clegg, a 25-year-old man, reserved and emotionally cold, falls in love with a 20-year-old woman whom, looking out of a window, he has glimpsed in the neighbourhood. For a long time he spies on her, dreams incessantly about what it would be like if she belonged to him. In order to eventually possess her – like one of the butterflies he collected in his childhood – he abducts her and holds her prisoner in the cellar of his house. But the reality does not match the dream, nor the woman his fantasy: her psyche does not allow itself to be trapped. After eight weeks (and many diary entries, which make up half the novel), the prisoner dies of pneumonia, while the kidnapper comes to the conclusion that he needs to find a much weaker victim if he is to mould her after his fantasy. The end of the novel suggests a serial spiral of decline: when the man espies a girl who resembles the lost prisoner, the reader suspects the compulsive repetition of the same upon her. It is impossible to overlook how sharply the plot diverges from that of the story of the Strasshof abduction, and indeed it is not the behavioural framework that makes the fictional story congruent with real events, but alone the psychology of the protagonists. Save to say that it is no coincidence that Fowles emphasizes the broken and arch-conservative family background of both perpetrator and victim; that it is no coincidence that in the Kampusch case, the role played by the family members of both protagonists was barely tangible, though all the weightier in its remote causality. Even without Freud, it becomes evident that the love story is the repetition of the family saga, that in it, the violence of exclusion already present in the father-mother-daughter trinity, as a prerequisite of its monadic function, is prolonged. That is why every couple that defines itself as a dyad of intimacy capable of surviving wants to marry and have children. “I do” says love at the registry office, but in truth it doesn’t have a choice: of course the psycho-logic of exclusive love, whose ideal coincides with the key capitalist values of production and property, culminates in the child, in the desire of the parents to possess a little human being, which the so-called adults – who mostly are nothing of the sort, because they were never allowed to become themselves, to arrive at their selves – can mould completely and utterly according to their image (of the world). In the monopoly of monogamous love, the child is the capital. Frederick Clegg and Wolfgang Priklopil: the low-ranking employees and house owners, diligent and disciplined, hard but polite, marked by parochial upbringings and social indifference, quick to lash out at anything foreign as well as at themselves. Of course they will sometime need a child in order to be happy.
The social-critical realization that human beings are so hopelessly imprisoned in the cell of their socially predetermined worlds of emotion and imagination that even love becomes impossible to live and experience outside the structogram of mutual oppression combines fact and fiction, short circuits art and reality and turns this realization – as the result of an unending interplay – into art. Tellingly, Fowles’s novel was mainly received as a thriller on first publication, which caused the author to accuse readers and critics alike of being blind to the existential questions the text was attempting to raise with the help of conventional genre plots. After the Kampusch case had revived sales of the novel, this thriller-oriented reception immediately repeated itself twice over: at the level of the fictional as well as the factual narrative, everything was mirrored solely in the imaginary of suspense. The mass public and its media were able to understand the Kampusch case only as a sensational crime, as a criminal incident, and not as the exemplary case of a ubiquitous, socially organized madness, which offered plenty of occasion to question the status quo of the emotional economy. So it was also no surprise when the media, pointing to parallels with Fowles’s novel, immediately voiced the suspicion that the perpetrator might have arrived at the idea for his crime only after reading the book – a well-known move that immediately, in a gesture of censorship, detains any artwork that depicts sexuality and/or violence. The fact that art can anticipate life, because it possesses an endlessly fine sense for structures and dialectical processes, is something that a mechanical rationality that thinks of thinking only in clear dichotomies and causalities is unable to grasp. Everywhere it marvels at the thrill of the monstrous, except where the threat really emerges: in its own midst.
It is the gaze of the masses that is pornographic, not the story of K. Practically everything written about the Kampusch case in the first weeks was projection. The commentaries revealed more about the psyches of the reporters than about the dark area supposed to be illuminated. How these eight-and-a-half years of imprisonment could be imagined – that was the uncanny crux from which the black box of the Strasshof cellar obtained its vast energy. A magnet for the masses, a magnet for the cash registers, but one which functioned only as a phantasmal space: at the very moment it became known that there wasn’t a monster lurking at the centre of the secret but rather two people who also went skiing together,2 the story lost its fascination. The shock of banality had traumatic effects: the media immediately went silent (out of perplexity, out of lack of a more subtle fantasy, but also out of anger at having made itself look foolish), the public mood immediately tipped, and Natascha Kampusch, having been an object of sympathy, suddenly became an object of distrust. This was probably the main reason why the media and Kampusch’s “lawyers” – the custodians of her story – suddenly went so silent for some months: they no longer knew what a mass public used to being able to distinguish clearly between good and evil, victim and perpetrator, now wanted to hear. It wasn’t the truth, obviously. The truth – that would have meant recognizing the violence that occurred in Mr Priklopil’s house as the structural violence that defines the entire economy of socially legitimized forms of intimacy.
The child has grown up, and to extend Fowles’s butterfly metaphor, has metamorphosed into a young woman who discards the sticky cocoon of attachment just as Ibsen’s Nora once discarded her cute little doll’s house. The abandoned man falls by the wayside, throws himself under a train, as if he knew the tracks on which he died symbolized the socio-economic parallel coupling of individual emotional worlds: A Streetcar Named Desire – final destination, all change! But Priklopil did not execute himself solely for fear of the law that could have taken away his freedom, but because the woman he was obsessed with no longer wanted to live under his roof, in other words in the one-family house of the radical economy of intimacy. After eight and a half years, the spiralling narrow-gauge railway carriage of compulsive desire finally derailed in a love catastrophe (bearing in mind the metaphor, could there be a more appropriate backdrop for this story than Strasshof, this place devoid of identity or beauty that stretches for ten kilometres along a railway track, and at whose edges the present author – a coincidence that perhaps explains the harshness of the sentence – spent his childhood and youth?).
The death perfects the narrative, is its decisive moment, the narratological horizon towards which the text unfolds in an interminable continuum of meaning. After the male half of the dyad of intimacy avoided his interrogation once and for all (it is improbable that – apart from the compulsive neurotic photo-documentation of the underground burrow – there are any written records that can convey to us, by way of testimony, Priklopil’s perspective), only the female voice remains able to say what happened in the hermetic time-space: from now on, everything that Natascha Kampusch says will be the truth and simultaneously – since her words refer to nothing other than more words – the untruth. In order to pass for the truth, stories need the verification of others: they must be recounted without contradiction. Priklopil is dead, and since then the words of Natascha Kampusch have been circulating around themselves, her voice tossed back and forth between the speakable and the unspeakable, between her own speech and the silence of the other. What to answer, what to keep to oneself, what to write down? She would have had so much to ask him, regretted Kampusch shortly after Priklopil’s death, and now it was too late: did she realize at that moment that something must always remain unsaid, that the text she wanted to write would always be encompassed by an infinite silence, perforated by a hole that incessantly holds language to speech and which turns every search for the truth into an interminable process of refuting-retelling. Her demand that she and no other write a book about her is as naï¿½ve as it is unacceptable: in it is repeated the ideology of private space (of meaning) whose potential for violence the present case so urgently testifies to. Who will guarantee that Natascha Kampush is telling the truth, that she can tell the truth, that she even wants to? Is it her voice we hear, or that of her lawyers, psychologists, media advisors, and other ghostwriters? Does she really occupy the position of the narrator, or is she from the very beginning the one described, the obscure object of narration? We ask ourselves: who’s speaking? And we must – with Beckett and Foucault – answer: “What matter who’s speaking?” Of course Kampusch’s voice is privileged, she has the great biographical bonus of authenticity; however, like every author, she can also narrate what she wants, and the reader must first check the text, behind which reality disappears, against reality and then decide if and how far he or she wants to believe it. Basically, Kampusch finds herself in the position of every author who takes their job seriously: she must be trustworthy through words alone (a hard, possibly even inhuman business). Truth – understood as a political concept – is nothing that can be preserved in a private space of meaning; it’s neither something found stored in the cellar of a family house nor in the diary of a pubescent girl. Truth emerges exclusively in the social whole, in polyphonic space: as a complex semantic interrelation, as an interplay between text and intertext, as permanently recurring contradiction of a meta-hermeneutic movement of reflection. On no account, however, should this be confused with a search, theoretically cushioned by communication theory, for consensus: Fowles tells his abduction story from the perspective of perpetrator and victim not to show that their world views contradict each other and that the truth lies in between (it never does), but rather that both – the inhibited butterfly collector as well as the well-mannered art student – live beyond the truth, because both are unable to escape the isolation chambers of their ideological education. It is no use surrounding oneself with 20 000 books, learning their contents by heart, knowing about art, philosophy, and politics, and always, because that too is something one has learned as a polite clichï¿½, defending the weak and helpless at the fringes of society. Not if neoliberal values – the urge for achievement, orderliness, and (self-)control – are so deeply ingrained in one that the violence being rejected is reproduced blindly precisely where it is at its most insane, because most mistaken: in one’s behaviour towards one’s nearest and dearest, in friendship and in love, the possibility of which it systematically destroys to the point of self-obliteration. 20,000 books under the life – that’s where loneliness is at its deepest: Fowles’s novel draws a parallel between the bourgeois dungeon and the mental cage of a humanist lifestyle in order to show that the life of even the most open-minded intellectual only allows those emotions to occur that can fit through the fine mesh of his or her socio-cultural cadrage. At this level of cerebral imprisonment, the protagonist dies a double death of love-coldness: neither with Clegg, her neurotic abductor, nor with the man twenty years her senior whom she has long desired, does it ever get as far as sex.
As far as its existential dimension is concerned, reality has radicalized Fowles’s novel to the utmost. This drama of human failing in the most cramped of spaces, this chamber play of attraction and repulsion, the impossibility of escaping the other, the hopelessness of ever coming close to the other in this claustrophobic proximity, lasts not eight weeks but eight and a half years. For over 3000 days (Who counted them exactly? Who will ever recount them correctly?), the madness of a party with No Exit perpetuated itself, whose scenes, bearing in mind an interpersonal dynamic of extreme concentration (spatial, ideological, linguistic), even thinkers like Jean-Paul Sartre or Ingmar Bergman would have found hard to imagine. Sartre’s famous dictum, taken from the vicious triangular cycle of his play, can rarely have been more apt than here: “hell is other people”; fellow humans, that’s the fatal threat to one’s self-realization. When all doors have been closed, there is no way out other than through violence: a deadlock situation in the literal sense of the word. Love, after the sacrament of marriage understood as a life-long double imprisonment – results in death; at least one person – according to the hard-hearted law of love’s ï¿½ducation sentimentale – must die so that the other can be free once more. Love’s logic is that of death: having become the adoptive child of the church and of capitalism, love has inherited power in order to mortify life. With the symbolic exchange of the wedding ring, the signifier of death migrates, exchanges places as pitilessly as it does symmetrically, in order to spin an intersubjective web of lethal faithfulness: my death is your death, and your death is my death, says love. Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliet – the prototypical love stories of world literature end in mortality, must end in mortality, since a Romeo that could continue living without a Juliet would be loveless, and as such inconceivable, an oxymoron. The kernel of truth of romantic love is called greed, violence, mastery, its unseen heart of darkness is filled with murderous horror that is incessantly repressed, denied, silenced (it is no coincidence that at the end of Joseph Conrad’s novel, the name of the lover takes the place of the last words that Kurtz had found for the imperialist madness: love→horror, a revelatory metonym as ruthless finale). The death logic that reigned in the Priklopil-Kampusch constellation – precisely because it appears so perfectly symmetrical – can also only develop as the negative image of a fundamental structure of love. In the small house on Heinestreet in Strasshof, a symbiosis was lived out that every young married couple who still dreams the naï¿½ve nightmare of eternal love must have marvelled at: life-sharing as death-sharing, the couple as absolute short circuit between the lives of two human beings. Anyone who watches the first Kampusch interview closely will notice how strongly the aspect of pre-stabilized mortal harmony is emphasized and where the real reason for her psychological disruption can be located. Natascha Kampusch not only knew that his death would mean her death (in the eventuality that Priklopil died in a car crash or of a heart attack, she would probably have starved to death in her dungeon), she also knew that he would take his own life if she managed to escape, and thus, that her death (symbolically understood, in other words, her ultimate disappearance) would mean his death. It was precisely this knowledge, this consciousness of the reciprocal clutch of death, that turned her, as she put it, into a “murderer”. Whoever has understood this copula mortis need not wonder why Natascha Kampusch passed up so many chances to escape. It isn’t easy to kill one’s father/brother/husband, regardless of how much one might also hate this father/brother/husband – which is what Priklopil, as the sole figure of reference, had gradually become. Of course Kampusch bears no guilt, be it legal or moral, no one can blame her for being abducted as a small child, or, in order to survive, for having adjusted to her circumstances; nevertheless, as soon as the intimacy between two people closes up into a windowless monad, the guilt is never in doubt for those who find themselves in it. How to justify division when everything in true love demands unity? What image to form of the other? What image of oneself? And how to make the images odi et amo fit together? “It was murder.” The last sentence of Ingeborg Bachmann’s Malina could also come at the end of the love story that Kampusch, if she wants to tell the truth, will have to write. Not because a man killed himself in despair at having lost his beloved and the woman must now atone for her guilt, but because everything – like in Bachmann’s novel – feeds off the imaginary, from images that kill human beings, from images that survive human beings. What exercises violence in love is the ideology that forms an image of others and forces the other to conform to this image, so that people fit together forever, like pieces in a puzzle. Here, Bertolt Brecht’s Mr Keuner is mistaken when he talks about love (which is rare, because Brecht knew a great deal about love): it doesn’t matter whether the model was made in the image of the person or the person in the image of the model, because just modelling the other as ideal image makes love impossible. The lover, if he wants to love, designs no image of the other, but rather discards all ready-made images, even of himself.
Don’t lead me into temptation! Don’t tempt me! This means nothing less than: don’t show me who I am, don’t show me that I’m someone else! The fear of being seduced is the fear of losing consciousness, this imaginary extent of self-awareness, this narcissistic object of desire, that each also likes to call his I. But the I is nothing. The I is the death mask of the subject, the torpor of an infinitely open (interpretive) movement, whose contextual dynamic subjugates the subject in order to model itself towards an open horizon. Love – falsely understood love – wants to still this current, wants to arrest the subject, through fixing it to a single interpretation: that’s how I want you, that’s how you should remain forever – the first seduction, says eternal love, shall also be the last! That’s why love, which understands the other simply as another I (as a predictable, controllable, ownable magnitude), is always a misrecognition of the other. It makes the other, because it negates the other’s becoming a subject, into an object, into an I, Inc. on the marriage market, which, if necessary, one fuses with one’s own human capital. In the best-case scenario, “eternal” love works like two mirrors placed directly opposite one another: over an entire lifetime, the delusions are tossed back and forth, without the image changing. But this requires luck and idiocy: luck in finding one’s mirror image, idiocy in being able remain true to oneself – the narcissistic imagination, in other words – for a lifetime. In ideological love, care of the self (post-stoically understood as opening up to the world) is replaced by constancy of the self, whose conservative imperative must lead to an unhappy consciousness, because rigid self-images cannot be lived with in the long term except with a massive effort of repression, all the more so when they are doubled by another. The crypto-facist oath of loyalty to oneself (which goes hand in hand with sexual loyalty, in that every erotic foreign body threatens to dissolve the boundaries of the I, to explode the imaginary dyad of intimacy), leads to feelings of guilt, because what exclusive love also contains is the remorse of not being that which the other takes one for.
“Why me? Why me of all people?” the ten-year-old girl asked her abductor, who replied as follows: “Because I wanted you, and you alone. If I hadn’t have got you the first time, then the second time… You wouldn’t have been able to escape.” The curtain falls here. The rest is up to the imagination. So far, Natascha Kampusch has not been able, or has not been allowed, to say more about how she dealt with this possessive violence, how she reacted to this aggressive desire, which was so radical that it surely must have had an incredibly seductive effect upon her. For can there be a more convincing expression of the wish to possess (with which love is identified in our society) than this act of abduction, which goes ahead and seizes the object of desire, and, because in doing so it breaks the law, simultaneously proves that desire to be limitless? Paradoxically, the emotion of romantic love legitimates itself as authentic precisely in its excessiveness and totality, which violates all earthly boundaries and laws; it opposes itself, as the smallest part (the private feelings of the individual), to the whole (society and its order). Whoever desires me with such force, thinks the woman – and inevitably, the child Kampusch would have thought that too – must really love me. Whoever desires me so exclusively, thinks the woman, sees my innermost secret, he sees something in me that all the others don’t, not even I. That is why every love that endures is an identification with the imaginary: Yes, I am the princess that you see in me! That is why every love story must become a tall story, must lead to the inquisitional discourse of jealousy and disillusion so exhaustively described by Proust. Penetration and exclusion: the strategy of abduction perfectly matches the strategy of seduction. The realization of the romantic ideal of love is also a tour de force of de-socialization which removes the object of desire from public intercourse in order to immure her in the fortress of private space. The hard core of a pleasure-hating love, perverted by the concept of property, no longer resides in the enjoyment of the object but in a furtive access that withholds enjoyment from all the rest. Like Albertine, the beloved prisoner in Proust’s Remembrance, or Miranda, the abducted “butterfly” in Fowles’s novel, the woman is treated as a trophy, as a unique acquisition, whose value is defined exclusively by the others’ non-possession. In love, no one is permitted to be a comrade, there can be no co-enjoyer3 (another reason, probably, why real-existing communism failed: breaking up the family structure in order also to abolish the woman as property was too radical to risk).
The most absurd thing about the transgression contained in the romantic ideal of love is that, if it doesn’t immediately go off the rails and end in death, it leads back to precisely that which is most normal: the total confinement of the family house. Following this paradoxical logic, Ephraim Kishon wrote a play in which Romeo and Juliet appear as an elderly married couple who still argue whether it was a nightingale or a lark. The tragedy has turned into a comedy, and in the Kampusch affair, the romantic love-cycle of transgression and limitation closes equally as perfectly, so that here too, despite all the tragedy, a comic note imposes itself. It accounts for the joke that did the rounds shortly after her escape, which despite, or perhaps because of, its sexist content, precisely summed up the absurd rebound from the monstrous to the everyday: “How can you tell that Priklopil was mentally disturbed? – Because he lived with the same woman for eight years.” Whoever laughs at this is laughing at himself. In abducting a ten-year-old girl, W. Priklopil risked everything, became the most sought-after criminal in Austria, just so as to live the same conventional life as his neighbour, who, moreover – what a topological irony of history! – was a retired policeman. Obviously he wanted nothing more than everyone else: a child, a wife, a family, a house, a home, a castle – and, like everyone else, wanted them to himself. The methods Priklopil used may have been extraordinary, but his idea of love most certainly was not. His idea of love is the ubiquitous insanity shared by almost all men and women: love as idï¿½e fixe, as reduction of the other to an obsessive image, which one can comprehend, control, possess. With his deed, Priklopil was only carrying out with absolute consistency what the pairanoid social programme prescribes to lovers as common sense. “You’ll never escape my love…”, says Oscar, the butcher in ï¿½dï¿½n von Horvï¿½th’s Stories from the Wienerwald to his fiancï¿½e, and concentrated in this sentence is the entire structural violence of the Christian-capitalist curse, which still stands over the most intimate of two-person constellations. The dream, and not the sleep of healthy human reason, is diseased emotions.
The abduction of Natascha Kampusch was a seduction by other means: a seduction for love’s sake, a thoroughly successful seduction, whose downfall was itself – the closeness, the torpor, the hopelessness, which over time left those confined no space to live. “There are things that fail for no other reason than themselves”, reads an important sentence in Kafka’s The Castle. This lock without a key4 is also love in its socialized form as marriage and family, is the literary allegory of spellbound desire, which for Kafka, whose catastrophic engagements are documented in endless letters, is the source of all unhappiness. Unhappiness. The confinement of Kafka’s world, which increasingly becomes our world, admits only the choice between raising children or ghosts, and both, as Kafka emphasizes, are very uncanny creations. And Priklopil? Did he opt for a child, for the family? Only apparently: in reality, his ghosts became too much for him.
And yet: instead of demonizing the perpetrator and his victims, a reflection should take place that recognizes in the extraordinary the monstrosity of the “normal”. What is the difference between Priklopil and Jean-Jacques Rousseau in eighteenth-century Venice, when the latter buys an eleven-year-old girl in order to raise her for sexual purposes? Or when in India, the billion-strong country of the future, ten-year-old girls are married off to men they have never seen before? Or when – so as not to digress too widely in time and space – a European/North American middle-class man orders an Asian wife by catalogue because he is no longer successful in the domestic combat zone of sexuality? Aren’t these children/women just as much captives, aren’t they also confined for years, decades, sometimes their whole lives, in foreign countries, in speechlessness, in the double bind of purchased emotions? The violence legalized through a contract of sale (and marriage, with its dowries and its hereditary rights, is nothing else), rests on the same logic of property owning by which the yearning of Mr Priklopil was also defined. Whoever sees Priklopil as a monster must recognize the monster in almost every man – and every woman, too. It is easy to foresee that this pan-social critique will be rejected by a pseudo-emancipated mainstream feminism capable of thinking only along the rigid dichotomy between female victim and male perpetrator. It will proclaim Priklopil’s actions as the paradigm of an exclusively male violence and in doing so, blindly deny how passionately women – even those belonging to the highest educational strata – identify with a mass psycho-logic that, because it defines love as mutual possession, squeezes two-person constellations into the violence-fostering confinement of familial structures. Jealousy, exclusion, permanence – those are the commands of the romantic code that programmes the love machine of our society. How many women are there who don’t regard romantic love with its lifelong dyad of intimacy as the only true kind? There can’t be many. Together, men and women reproduce, in a fatal short circuit that spans generations, the ideology of romantic love, whose utopian ideal, if one attempts to realize it, in other words to live it, inevitably culminates in violence and auto-destruction (the statistics are unambiguous here: most murders and violent crimes take place in the family). Priklopil was not a sadist but a romantic. Whoever searches in his cellar for traces of bloody orgies is bound to discover himself. Instead of the intimate play of sado-masochism that so many people (and also Der Spiegel) fantasize about, there is nothing to marvel at in the Strasshof family house but the chaste cage of jealousy in which the lovers mutually confine one another. Priklopil bears more of a resemblance to Marcel, the great jealous lover of world literature, than a Sadean libertine. He has nothing to do with excessive promiscuity, has nothing in common with the sex offender in Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs, who skins the abducted girls, or with Hannibal Lecter, who eats the brains and flesh of his victims. Just as Eros sublimates sexuality, transforms the bite into a kiss, so the violence that Priklopil inflicted upon Kampusch is defused by love: the romantic lover continues to yearn for the other, wants the other completely and utterly, but his desire no longer kills, swallows, incorporates the other, but wishes only to lock her up, keep her, have her to himself, as nearby and as long as he can. Priklopil was no “Dutroux of the Alps”, the comparison could not have been more mistaken. Had he been a sadist, he would have raped, tormented, and killed Natascha Kampusch and then quickly moved on to his next victim. But Priklopil wanted normality: he was looking for a little girlfriend whom he could train to be a wife for life. His project failed, as all projects that seek the man/woman for life are destined to do, without any sign of the ideology concealed behind it being questioned. Her abductor, said Natascha Kampusch after her escape, “bore me up and trod me down”.5 A fine sentence, a rhetorically polished sentence, too polished to escape notice. Millions, billions of people could say the same sentence about their fathers or mothers, because isn’t every child a prisoner of his family, a hostage from birth, who must suddenly live with someone at random, even despite the worst possible treatment? How many chances for escape are there for a child that is beaten and abused daily? How can a child defend itself, when can it defend itself, when it is born as the property of its parents? An ideologically deformed concept of love, which confines all people who live love according to prescription in the exclusive private space of familial structures, has without doubt a single most terrifying aspect. Namely, that the violence that failed relationships incur (as a result of their confinement) is directly – be it mentally or physically – transferred onto the child. The common saying, “all’s fair in love and war”, is the voice of experience. Families are battlefields.
The case is as symptomatic as its reception in the media: shortly after her escape, Natascha Kampusch was already being treated as Woman of the Year; everyone wanted to see her receive this award, everyone was counting on it firmly, but then she admitted to the skiing holiday, and suddenly no one was interested any longer. The strongly ambivalent character of the victim-perpetrator constellation had become impossible not to notice, had become too visible for a society that likes to divide everything into axes of good and evil. That the male perpetrator was perhaps not such an extraordinary monster, but was only yearningly pursuing the sick psycho-logic of an anti-social social ideology, in which also the female victim is entirely and not without satisfaction embedded, was something no one wanted to hear, let alone on the main stage and let alone at a time when conservative values are returning to political centre. When the US president proclaims the belief in God, sexual austerity, and the good functioning of the family as the most important values of Western society, he is simply reproducing blindly the fundamentalism demonstrated to him to perfection by his imagined Islamic enemy. The axis of the holy family runs through Baghdad and New York. “True love can wait”: but for what? For death? For the right partner? For the first and last seducer? For the house in which the pair confines itself? For the confinement that rules there? For the familial danger that no one sees, because no one outside is affected? True love can also suffer – nicely and quietly, so that the deaf neighbour doesn’t hear. The inhumanity that inevitably ensues when the private sphere of the family is made so absolute and so holy that it effectively turns into a space outside the law is exhibited by the everyday culture of Islamic fundamentalism. The women: confined, veiled, removed from the public gaze, from social life, executed by their brothers, fathers, husbands should they dare to be unfaithful. The men: obsessed by their jealously, confined in the codex of family honour, prisoners also, imprisoned in a theo-economic discourse of intimacy, which admits amorous relationships only as relationships of power or possession. Every seduction that takes place within this ideological matrix is an abduction. Every act of love is an act of violence. Priklopil’s deed showed – and herein lies the enormous political potential of this incredible case – how much the notion of love labelled as romantic pursues a fundamentalist logic, how much the occidental discourse of intimacy creates the yearning for the exclusion of everything foreign and the desire for a closed space in which the individual can exercise absolute power over the individual (and this mastery includes the violence of the woman: the relationship between mother and daughter without doubt counts among the cruellest of all – see Elfriede Jelinek). Priklopil’s deed must be read as a symptom, symptomatic not in the sense of the psychopathia sexualis, which treats it as the sick exception to a healthy norm, but symptomatic of a contemporary politics in which neo-conservative and neo-liberal forces want to establish precisely that anti-democratic norm which successively destroys public space (where this destruction – following the dialectic pointed out by Hannah Arendt – always goes hand in hand with the desolation of the private sphere). The truth of a politics that has long ceased to care about people’s common interests resides in the cellar of the family house in Strasshof. Its dream of a lesser happiness, prescribed by those that make the laws, because they themselves can no longer dream of anything greater, was carried through to the end by Wolfgang Priklopil, executed with all the harshness of its insane logic.
Natascha Kampusch’s book would have to take up this political dimension, would have to retrace the complex ambivalence between victim and perpetrator, in order to deconstruct the structural and psychological violence upon whose basis the gender relationship unfolded in its logic of impossibility. If the book really wanted to achieve all this, it would no longer be non-fiction, it would have to become literature. A book that no longer kept to the facts, because literature – precisely for the sake of truth – has never been able to worry itself about what really happened. The masses being counted on by the big publishing houses are of course waiting for a work of non-fiction, for a factual accounting, for the banal nothing in which everything exhausts itself. It is also easy to guess what public interest is ultimately focused on, the lowest common denominator of curiosity. It is the old question: did they or didn’t they? Did copulation take place? If so: when, how, and how often? Did they watch television together afterwards? The masses want to know what it was like, they want facts, nothing but facts, even those that are not correct. How it can happen at all is of no interest. The void in the reality, the crack in the chain of causality, must remain locked up between the lines, no irresolvable contradiction may appear therein. Perhaps Priklopil and Kampusch never had sex (like Rousseau and his girl, for whom he developed strong fatherly feelings), perhaps he abused her right from the start, perhaps only later; however, perhaps they had a perfectly normal sex life. But is it not completely irrelevant what is true? Is this question of the success or failure of the sexual act not utterly unimportant to what is decisive, to the psycho-logic of permanent misapprehension that never ends, let alone in the convergence of bodies? No matter what is said about it, what intimate details are listed: no sexual relationship ever came to pass between Priklopil and Kampusch, because – in Lacan’s sense – never, under no circumstances, can such a thing exist between man and woman. The sexual relationship takes place exclusively in symbolic-imaginary space, on the imaginary surface of its symbolic topology, unaffected by the trauma that may be unfolding in the cellar of the real. Even the most extreme proximity cannot close the fissure, the hole, the lack that separates one from the other, because the self is always separated from itself, split by the other, enclosed in its exclusion. But, one must immediately ask, is this infinite difference – regardless of the fissure that it constantly inserts into every unity – what is really important? Is not the question about the impossibility of the sexual relationship just as secondary as the question about the sexual act? The actual traumatic-real is and remains the violence of taking possession, the violence of an abduction-seduction that, in a society whose dominant ideology makes property the all-constitutive value, appears to be so “morally” and ubiquitously secured that it is not even perceived as traumatic. “Society” itself increasingly coagulates into an accumulation of anti-rational, reclusive possession cells, in which each individual – unwilling to breathe everybody else’s stale air – erects as soon as possible his ready-made, self-owned home/dungeon, to be able to have his joyless family peace in his uncanny and un-homely homeland.6 The fact that in the private garage-pit (above which, not coincidentally, the car, that other great fetish of civilization, has its place) it smells just as stuffy, because its ventilators simply blow in the air from outside, unfiltered, bothers neither the owner nor his neighbours. The neo-liberal patriarchal society is an aggregate of atomized home-owning consciousnesses, romantic love its moral pseudo-legitimation and aestheticized transfiguration. What forms the unmanageable trauma is not the fissure within the subject located by post-structuralism, not the abstract diffï¿½rance (if “everyone’s split anyway” then “everyone’s split anyway”, who cares! Life above the philosophically sealed pit isn’t bad), but the violence of taking possession, which in the hypocrisy of romantic love appears irreducible, as an unquestionable natural law. A critique of pure love, if it seriously aims to destroy the car park-dungeon at the non-bottom of the patriarchal-romantic heart, must become un-timely, in other words, return to conceptual manoeuvres of self-critical reason. That’s what’s uncanny: that a contemporary critique must reiterate the long-mistaken spirit of the Enlightenment, must start again from the beginning, as though the family and the theological construct of romantic love had never been questioned, as if the “dark side of the Enlightenment” (Sade, Nietzsche, Freud), as if Marx, Adorno, and the Frankfurt School, as if Wilhelm Reich, Marcuse, and the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, had never existed. That’s what’s embarrassing: that in the last twenty-five years, the ideology of the garage-pit has again become so powerful that its representatives no longer have to face criticism, must no longer justify themselves, but rather denounce any kind of critical spirit as unworldly and amoral, knowing full well that force of the masses is on their side, that public discourse swallows up or makes fun of every doubt about the underlying values of society. At the same time, the fears and motivations of neo-conservative high-handedness are easy to comprehend: the outbreak of the Aids pandemic at the beginning of the 1980s, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the increase in Islamic fundamentalism in the 1990s, the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, bracketed by imperialist US wars over oil. The result of this was not only a paranoid surveillance and bunker mentality, but also an extreme reassessment of traditional values, a revival of an ultimate signified that Western Enlightenment philosophy had more than once demystified: God, the good, the beautiful, the true, and the one faith in it. And now? We have a German pope who continues to demonize condoms but is cheered by the youthful masses like a pop star. We have religion as a new paradigm, not only in political science but also in the humanities. The question is only: which philosophy is able to do justice to this contemporary anachronism?
It is no surprise that Ms Kampusch feels none too well in her new-found freedom, and that, when asked how she defines freedom, replied that for her, freedom is the chance to eat whatever she wants. That might sound infantile, but it reveals the consumerist character of an impoverished affluent society that measures freedom solely by the power of the purse. Our modern apartments, wrote Heiner Mï¿½ller, are nothing other than “centrally heated fucking-cells, […] the screen before the skull, the car outside the door”. Whoever congratulates Natascha Kampusch on her liberation from the dungeon of the house in Strasshof simultaneously welcomes her into the stuffy “open-air prison” from which all of us – consciously or unconsciously – are permanently on the run, seeking an escape. This might be cynical, but by no means is it as unjustified as the view that cannot or will not see how much this crime repeats the ideals of society, how much the symptom exposes the dominant structures as thoroughly violent. The story’s reception, even more than the story itself, reveals the catastrophic effects of an uncanny love, in other words, a love that is unaware of its violence: should the medial public abandon Natascha Kampusch completely in her traumatic romantic ambivalence and categorically refuse her the chance to tell the story of her abduction also as a love story, then she will become a victim twice-over; a patriarchal neo-fundamentalist society, which fundamentally rejects every knowledge about and every insight into the romantic economy of its unconscious, the semiological matrix of the auto-destructive prison cell intimacy, will repeat its ideological abuse upon her.
Therefore, it is all the more important to return to literature and to an ethics of reading, in which a new horizon of criticism opens up precisely where every timely and untimely philosophy runs aground. Lastly, then, the question: how to write this radical twenty-first century love story in a way that not only takes into account the impossibility of unity, but also the violence of romantic love? And above all: who shall write it? Natascha Kampusch will not, cannot, not least because the publishing industry and its scriptural spectres has already prescribed everything in advance. Regardless what Natascha Kampusch writes, it will already have been written by others. The Other always writes faster, and he who has been forbidden to write writes fastest of all. The only decision left to make is which pre-script to select, which pre-script to transcribe, in which copy to place one’s small mistakes, these unconscious deviances that suddenly make the foreign text one’s own. There is no such thing as a non-fictional account of love, just as there is no such thing as the love story. It exists only as exposï¿½. To narrate a story means to mis-narrate it: whoever wants to follow the pre-script of literature has already subscribed to the broken promises of language.7 Perhaps – to hint at the un-interpretable – one should let this story unfold in a purely phantasmal space, in the topology of a structural psychoanalysis, an intermediate space that reveals everything, that allows no identification, no final differentiation between persons, that makes the I the Other and the Other the I, a place of the house, the cellar, and the hole, a triply folded spatium, an aerial fortress, where everything unravels in the mind and simultaneously, without being simultaneous, really dispossesses itself as an experience. This uncanny novel of love would have to be written in the tradition of Bataille and Klossowski, of Gombrowicz’s imaginary Pornographia, or in the tradition of the machine cï¿½libataire, to which belong Kafka’s The Judgement or Thomas Brasch’s Mï¿½dchenmï¿½rder Brunke, perhaps it ought to be written in the tradition of Vladimir Nabokov, as a deconstructive Lolita of the twenty-first century: Na-ta-scha – the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps…, or perhaps written as a film from the very start, as an imaginary spool of haunting pictures, not because Hollywood wants the material (it is far too small for such a will) but because the medium of film offers the perfect opportunity to convey the complex psycho-logic of an infinite desire (the multi-layered quality and deep focus of films such as Alain Resnais’s Last Year in Marienbad or David Lynch’s Lost Highway comes to mind).
But does it make sense to extend these aesthetic speculations? We are probably living in a post-political era that is no longer interested in anything other than an event’s entertainment value. Art and literature have probably become post-political, part of an all-consuming entertainment industry that packages the critical element of its products so stylishly that at the end of the day everyone can enjoy it. Whoever asks questions today as a consumer outs themselves as an anachronist, as an outlaw, as someone who doesn’t know or doesn’t want to observe the dominant (market) laws: as if the element of critique has become the element of crime. And yet: even if there is hardly any demand for art in this critical-rational sense, the idea of art remains untouched, its humanist claim will continue to exist and call forth new works that meet the standards it calls for, artworks that, so far as they are able to do justice to their idea, will do justice to life. No one knows if Natascha Kampusch will write her book, whether she will have the courage to tell a love story that calls into question all other love stories; however, given the mass media coverage that refuses to recognize in Priklopil’s act the consistently executed logic of a neo-conservative, patriarchal-fundamentalist ideology, her text may be the sole chance to activate the enormous political potential of the case at a broad level. The necessity of literature, which has been the subject of the preceding discussion all along, ultimately reveals itself as the necessity of a change in society’s awareness about matters of intimacy: in place of an ideology of love, we need a living art of the erotic.
Unheimlich, translated both as "uncanny" and "unhomely" -- trans.
In February 2006, Priklopil took Kampusch skiing at a resort near Vienna -- trans.
Here there is a wordplay between Genosse (comrade) and Genieï¿½er (enjoyer) -- trans.
Here, there is a pun between "castle" and "lock" (both Schloï¿½) -- trans.
Auf Hï¿½nden getragen und mit Fï¿½ï¿½en getreten.
Here, there is a wordplay between Versprechen (promises) and Ver-Sprechen (errors of speech).
Published 27 March 2007
Original in German
Translated by Simon Garnett
First published by Wespennest 145 (2006) (German version)
Contributed by Wespennest © Rainer Just / Wespennest / EurozinePDF/PRINT