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Apostrophe’s Double

Sabine I. Gölz
The University of Iowa


“Apostrophe’s Double” is part of a larger research project studying the (often subliminal) strategies by which literary language writing controls its readership. Part I of the essay argues that the rhetorical trope “apostrophe” functions as one such interpellative apparatus that partitions our world and splits our practices. The trope’s operational distinction between authorized speakers / readers vs. ‘dummy’ addressees / targets sets in motion a hierarchical and divisive logic that empowers some and disqualifies others. Part II argues that there is a second version (or ‘turn’) of the figure of apostrophe that has been neglected altogether, one in which the ‘target’ responds not by turning to the interpellation but by turning away instead. This turn away is key to the poetics of certain strong women poets. Ingeborg Bachmann’s poem “Anrufung des großen Bären” (“Invocation of the Great Bear”) provides a lucid model of the transition from one to the other. Apostrophe is thus double: one establishes the apparatus, the other deconstructs it. Part III contrasts two radically divergent uses of language corresponding to these turns: Bachmann’s “Frankfurt Lectures” enact the radical change towards which her poem leads us. Jonathan Culler’s seminal article “Apostrophe” exemplifies the relation to language Bachmann frees herself from. Two subject positions emerge in the wake of this double apostrophic, each with its own constraints: one is empowered by the apparatus yet must remain subservient to it. The other reclaims sovereignty as a living being from the apparatus, on the condition of radically unrepresentable.

Sabine I. Gölz is Assoc. Prof. of German and Comparative Literature at the University of Iowa, where she teaches courses on literature, literary theory, translation, as well as interdisciplinary courses on Urban Semiotics (“City as Text / Text as City”) or the history of Writing Systems (“The Invention of Writing: Cuneiform to Computers”).  Her scholarly work centers on modern European literature and theory, specifically the fundamental role of gender and figurative language. She is the author of The Split Scene of Reading: Nietzsche / Derrida / Kafka / Bachmann (1998) and numerous articles. She is also the founder of CASSANDRA, a university-wide initiative on writing systems at the University of Iowa. Her signature style often includes the analysis of both texts and images, as in her articles on Moscow’s pedestrian bridges (Public Culture, 2006), or on manuscripts by Karoline v. Günderrode, Walter Benjamin, or Franz Kafka. Gölz’s photographs have been exhibited in Moscow, Paris, and various locations in the U.S.  Since 2000, Gölz has been filming, producing, directing, and editing documentary films (with Oleg Timofeyev): Frautschi (2008, 49 min.), Take Off One Ear! (2010, 22 min.), Mrii pro mynule: Early Music in Ukraine (2011, 57 min.), The Cantor of Swabia (2016, 106 min.), and Sorabji in Iowa (2017, 35min. 35 sec.). She is Executive Director of IARMAC, a 501(c)3 organization she co-founded in 2004. Gölz has been a visiting scholar at the Russian State University for the Humanities (2001/2) and at Kyiv Mohyla University (2011).


I shall call an apparatus literally anything that has in some way the capacity to capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control, or secure the gestures, behaviors, opinions, or discourses of living beings. Not only, therefore, prisons, madhouses, the panopticon, schools, confession, factories, disciplines, juridical measures, and so forth (whose connection with power is in a certain sense evident), but also the pen, writing, literature, philosophy, agriculture, cigarettes, navigation, computers, cellular telephones, and—why not—language itself, which is perhaps the most ancient of apparatuses [.]

–Agamben, What is an Apparatus, 14

Falls er sich aber umdrehte, war er festgehalten, denn dann hatte er das Geständnis gemacht, daß er gut verstanden hatte, daß er wirklich der Angerufene war und daß er auch folgen wollte.

[If, however, he turned around, he was apprehended, because then he had confessed that he had understood very well, that he really was the one who had been called, and that he was willing to obey.]

             –Kafka, Der Process

“Apostrophe’s Double” is part of a larger research agenda focusing on how written (and especially literary) language deploys an array of prefigurations and interpellations to conscript and control its readership. The programmatic goal is for us to reclaim our initiative and our Here and Now as living beings, and to rediscover a wealth of options in how to relate to the readable surfaces before us.

This particular essay focuses on the rhetorical trope of “apostrophe.” I argue that it functions as an apparatus that partitions our world and skews our practices. Part I of the essay shows that the logic which that trope sets in motion is hierarchical and divisive. It puts in place an operational distinction between authorized speakers / readers vs. ‘dummy’ addressees / targets that are disqualified as participants in the discourse. Part II argues that there exists a second version (or “turn”) of the figure of apostrophe, one with which those “targets” respond to the disenfranchisement wrought by the first. This second turn apostrophe can take is key to the poetics of certain strong women poets. Apostrophe is thus double: one establishes the apparatus, the other deconstructs it. Ingeborg Bachmann’s poem “Anrufung des großen Bären” (“Invocation of the Great Bear”), as I show in this section, is a lucid model of the transition from one to the other. Part III of the essay then contrasts the two radically divergent ways to relate to language that result from this: Bachmann’s “Frankfurt Lectures” enact the radical change towards which her poem leads us; Jonathan Culler’s article “Apostrophe” serves as an example of the relation to language Bachmann frees herself from. Two subject positions emerge in the wake of this double apostrophic, each with its own constraints: one subject is empowered by the apparatus, yet must remain subservient to it to maintain this benefit. The other subject, faced with its murderous impact, rejects that apparatus entirely and reclaims its own sovereignty and freedom as a living being.


Apostrophe as Apparatus

1.    Turning Away

Let me preface my essay with a photograph. It shows a woman turning to enter the door leading into a house, already disappearing into the darkness. The image was taken by Aby Warburg in 1896 at a Zuñi Pueblo in New Mexico.[1],

Aby Warburg photograph

In his short but suggestive article about this image, Philippe Despoix reads the woman’s turning gesture as an “apostrophe”:

Das Abwenden, zuerst des Kopfes, dann des ganzen Körpers, von dem, was die Pueblo-Frau als Gefahr wahrnimmt und als etwas, das ihren Blick—wahrscheinlich den Verlust ihres Doubles fürchtend—nicht treffen darf, verweist auf die klassische Körperhaltung der apostrophê. Das „misslungene“ Foto zeichnet die eben vom Apparat hervorgerufene Abkehrbewegung auf, den Moment äußerster Anspannung zwischen Anhalten und Dynamisierung der Körperbewegung. Es ist zugleich Apostrophe—im wörtlichen Sinne, nicht im rhetorischen—der fotografierten Frau und Trophäe des Fotografen. (Despoix 66)

The turning away first of the head and then of the whole body from what the Pueblo woman perceives as a danger, as something that must not encounter her gaze—possibly for fear of losing her double—, refers to the classic body position of the apostrophê. The ‘failed’ photograph records exactly the turning away that is provoked by the apparatus, the moment of extreme tension between arrest and the dynamization of the body’s movement. It is simultaneously apostrophe – in the literal sense, not the rhetorical one—of the photographed woman and trophy of the photographer. (My translation; SIG)

Despoix is interested in the tension inherent in the woman’s turn away—the tension between, on the one hand, the apparatus’s desire to “capture” an object in an image, and, on the other hand, the dynamic effort to elude that attempt by someone targeted by it. The “apparatus” is, in this case, the camera, but of course also the colonizing gaze of the European hunting for a photographic “trophy.” Her “aversion,” her turn away from that apparatus signals, for the purposes of this paper, the existence of this second way of reacting to a given signifying apparatus: not to wield it, but to resist and evade it. Understood as an image of the tension between those two, the photograph can serve as a point of departure for my considerations here.

2.    What is Apostrophe?

The central word in Despoix’ reading of this image is the word “apostrophe.”  The literal meaning of the Greek word αποστροφή implies, as he reminds us, a “turning away.” The OED defines the trope as “a figure of speech, by which a speaker or writer suddenly stops, and turns to address pointedly some person or thing, present or absent; an exclamatory address” (Oxford English Dictionary, entry for “Apostrophe”). Discussions of the trope tend to begin by invoking that etymology, frequently in conjunction with Quintilian’s definition of the trope: “Quintilian, speaking of oratory, defines apostrophe as ‘a diversion of our words to address some person other than the judge’.” (Culler Pursuit 135)

The rhetorical figure of apostrophe has, of course, a long history of uses in a variety of contexts. In his study of “Apostrophe in Greek Oratory,” Stephen Usher associates its early beginnings with the emergence of career politicians:

A full list of passages containing apostrophe, the figure of speech when a speaker turns away temporarily from his audience and addresses a third party, shows many more instances of it in later than earlier Greek oratory, reflecting the change from the more impersonal role of the speechwriter to that of the career politician who increased his influence by supporting clients robustly in the lawcourts.  (Usher 351)

Usher goes on to characterize apostrophe as a “weapon”:

As an effective means of challenging and embarrassing an opponent by making him seem foolish, wicked, or unreasonable, apostrophe was a valuable weapon in the orator’s armoury. It could also add sharpness to standard arguments from probability and undermine the credibility of those offered by the other side. Finally, with its exclamatory powers, it could transform a routine forensic performance into a dynamic verbal assault which could carry an audience on a wave of prejudice against the speaker’s adversary. (Usher 362)

From the beginning, then, apostrophe is a rhetorical figure that is deployed in partisan efforts, a “valuable weapon” capable of summoning “a wave of prejudice” on behalf of one perspective and against another. Rhetoric, figurative language, and apostrophe in particular—and this will hardly come as a surprise—is thus not just about beautiful and persuasive use of language, but about social power, and in particular about the highly political power of language to shape our discursive and social space-time, to command and distribute sway over living populations, to control audiences. As a trope that intervenes in “the communicative circuit itself” (Culler Pursuit 135), apostrophe puts in place a rhetorical apparatus designed to disqualify some and authorize others.

In the Roman context, apostrophe still seems to have been understood in a predominantly forensic context. Quintilian assumes that the secondary addressee, the “person other than the judge” to whom the orator turns, is also present—as an adversary in a court of law would be. Only in later and increasingly literary uses, apostrophic address comes to be directed at absent or dead persons, at objects, or at abstractions.[2] In those cases, it acquires an allegorizing or personifying effect as it 'conjures' the absent or nonexistent entity at which it is directed. Jonathan Culler’s seminal article on the topic focuses on such literary uses of the trope in 19th-and some 20th-century European (French, English, some German) lyric poetry. He begins, provocatively and by now famously, by noting the “embarrassing” quality of apostrophe.[3] The reason for the embarrassment, he argues, is that apostrophic address:

is the pure embodiment of poetic pretension: of the subject’s claim that in his verse he is not merely an empirical poet, a writer of verse, but the embodiment of poetic tradition and of the spirit of poesy. Apostrophe is perhaps always an indirect invocation of the muse. Devoid of semantic reference, the O of apostrophe refers to other apostrophes and thus to the lineage and conventions of sublime poetry. (Culler Pursuit 143)

The very gesture of apostrophic address in lyric poetry is thus metapoetic. No longer addressed to a specific person who could conceivably talk back, it comes to be directed at some absent or even abstract entity—a rose, the west wind, Aphrodite, “pure transcendence” (O reine Übersteigung!), the Muse—conjuring it in the process. By virtue of that gesture, it echoes throughout the history of poetry, calling up a long lineage of poets and poems, activates an intertextual network, a rhetorical force field that permeates not just a given poetic tradition, but also the fabric of the culture(s) as a whole in which it is embedded.  It activates a poetic, rhetorical, and cultural apparatus. Apostrophe is in all of its permutations an expression of a discursive will to power. To “apostrophize is to will a state of affairs, to attempt to call it into being by asking inanimate objects to bend themselves to your desire” (Culler Pursuit 139). Above all, such poetic apostrophe works to constitute and sustain the one who “speaks” or writes as a Poetic Subject in that tradition: “the vocative of apostrophe is a device which the poetic voice uses to establish with an object a relationship which helps to constitute him” (Culler Pursuit 142). The object at which the apostrophe is directed, then, is invoked to activate a rhetorical apparatus that, in turn, transforms him, the Speaker, and his voice as something other—bigger, more elevated, more transcendent, more powerful—than a “merely … empirical” subject (Culler Pursuit 143).

3.    Averting Apostrophe

Let us pause here for a moment this (all-too cursory) glance at the critical discourse on the trope and think back to the photographic image with which we began. What do these accounts of apostrophe say about the tension to which Warburg’s photograph (and Despoix’ essay) drew our attention? I propose that the answer is, for all practical purposes: nothing. The history of rhetoric, our theorizations of poetics, and our practice in literary criticism are so overwhelmingly organized around and fixated on the perspective of the speaker, orator, or poet that they still cannot conceptualize a different type of subject, one that is not constituted as a “speaking subject” by that apparatus, one that does not coincide with “him.” Thus apostrophe, too, is reliably defined as a turning of the speaker (of the gesture of address in poetic writing) from a primary audience to a secondary one. But little if any thought has been given to the perspective of that audience or of those finding themselves in the position of addressees. How do they react, how can they respond to that address? What options are open to them? What choices do they make?[4] Warburg’s photograph pointed to a second turning—one “provoked by the apparatus” and performed by its intended “object.” This second turning has an entirely different subject: not the speaker, nor the main audience of his performance, but someone third who is at the receiving end of a given apparatus—addressed, targeted, simultaneously conjured as an image (photographed) and dismissed as a subject, someone who is faced with and subjected to a representational machinery, but who does not wield it. Thus, whenever the (for our purposes here) apostrophic apparatus of “sublime” poetry kicks into gear to constitute (with all attendant pretense cum embarrassment) yet another one in a long line of Poetic Subjects, a silent complement of that long lineage springs into life, as well, at a site where apostrophe manifests itself only as a pattern of catastrophic impacts and a sweeping “wave of prejudice” (Usher 362). At that other site, someone learns to turn away, to elude the camera as “something that must not encounter her gaze—possibly for fear of losing her double—…” (Despoix 66). This other turn—not towards the “muse,” but away from the apostrophic apparatus—is the “double” of apostrophe. This turn away or “aversion” is to my mind absolutely crucial for understanding the radically different choices underlying the poetics of women writing and reading (in) Western literary traditions. Yet it has overwhelmingly not been theorized at all, with the result that vast formations in our poetic geography have remained entirely unreadable.

4.    Ur-Sprung

This “lost double” of apostrophe consists in an act of disappearance from the radar of representation that responds to an unsavory interpellation. Even as a possibility, this other turn remains unthinkable for the speaker- and writer-centered critical discourse on the trope. Equally invisible to that discourse remains the essential connection between the two turns. What originally spurs the aversion is nothing other than the founding move of apostrophe itself: the much-cited turn from the primary to a secondary audience, which lays the foundation of a hierarchizing distinction, a split between a privileged and invited audience (judge), and a discredited and silenced addressee (target, opponent, object, Muse).[5] Barbara Johnson is a rare exception as a critic who points to the muting that occurs at the receiving end of apostrophic address: “Apostrophe is a form of ventriloquism through which the speaker throws voice, life, and human form into the addressee, turning its silence into mute responsiveness.” (Johnson 30)

And yet, the perception of “mute responsiveness” is only how things appear from within the poetic subject’s bubble world. The subject that responds by turning away returns into itself as empirical living being. It emerges into a world that affords systematically different perceptions. It wakes up into a parallel universe that can no longer communicate with the one it has left behind.[6] To explore this new universe, therefore, we need to go there ourselves.

5.    The Split Scene of Reading

Let us therefore now shift from the imaginary scene of poetic speaking or writing to the scene of actual reading, populated by living persons. As actual readers, we encounter the rhetorical constructions with which language confronts us, and we have choices to make. We face two different interpellations: one authorizing, the other discrediting and silencing; one promises the support of the apparatus and carries the invitation to speak in its name with a voice amplified by the apparatus. The other carries no promise at all. In confronting these and deciding how to respond, we decide how to relate to that apparatus as a whole. And we also decide which one of two differently constructed reading subjects we become.

Those who turn to the first interpellation will turn into a certain kind of subject, one that stands in for the apparatus. However, their resulting subjecthood cannot be detached from the language that called it into being (cf. Althusser). Consequently, they will observe the rules of that apparatus, perceive threats to it as an attack on common sense, reality, meaning, reason, and memory. Oblivious to alternatives, they are likely to become docile soldiers in the army of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms. And they will be unaware of the disciplining they have undergone.

Those who, by contrast, find themselves interpellated without any such lures, promises, and invitations, but targeted, discredited, and de-subjectivized by this (or any other such) apparatus, will have a different experience. They will find language time and again unusable, at cross-purposes with their own experience and needs, and ultimately nothing short of murderous (Bachmann). They will also at every turn be faced with a phalanx of readers in the first category—colleagues, friends, and enemies alike—who have become representatives of the apparatus, oblivious to the violence inherent in their own disciplined functioning. Unlike the former, this subject will have a strong incentive to break with the discipline of that apparatus, to turn away from it, and to turn on it with a sharpened critical eye.

To be fully expressed, each of these two must systematically dissolve the perceptual world of the respective other. The two “realities” are incompatible, in complementary distribution, mutually exclusive. The “circuit of communication” is not just troped upon, but indeed disrupted, as Culler writes in the revised version of his essay (Culler Pursuit 135). To the first subject, the apparatus is the foundation of reason and order, and language ‘contains’ whatever the speaker placed there. For the second to even fully come into being, the entire apparatus must be brought into critical perspective, and then radically dissolved and dismissed. Significance is not ‘in’ the text, but created in this moment of actualization:

Here lies the vanity of the well-meaning discourse … which asserts that the problem with apparatuses can be reduced to their correct use. Those who make such claims seem to ignore a simple fact: If a certain process of subjectification (or, in this case, desubjectification) corresponds to every apparatus, then it is impossible for the subject of an apparatus to use it “in the right way.” Those who continue to promote similar arguments are, for their part, the product of the media apparatus in which they are captured. (Agamben 21)

Only if it embraces its role as the actual and “current” (Deleuze) can this living subject turn on the “historical” apparatus and free itself to decide not so much what that apparatus was, but what we will become next.


Indexical Consciousness

1.    An Undescribed Land

The subject that turns away emerges as a radically empirical Ihere and now. When I do so, I set a final limit to the serviceability of our initial photograph. For once its turn from the camera is completed, I cannot be seen in the photograph anymore, because I now look at it. And as reader or spectator, I can break with the chimera of content in language if I read myself as not in the text. Any living subject exists exactly as that which no text can write: actual reading. The second half of Bachmann’s poem “Tage in Weiss” (“Days in White”) leads up to this change of horizons and culminates in the assertion: “I live.”


In diesen Tagen denk ich des Albatros’,

mit dem ich mich auf

und herüberschwang

in ein unbeschriebenes Land.

Am Horizont ahne ich,

glanzvoll im Untergang,

meinen fabelhaften Kontinent

dort drüben, der mich entließ

im Totenhemd.

Ich lebe und höre von fern seinen Schwanengesang!

          (Bachmann Gedichte 122)



In these days I think of the albatros’,

with which I have swung myself up –

and over here

into an undescribed land.

On the horizon I divine

splendid in descent

my fabulous continent

over there, which has released me

in the shroud of the dead.

I live and hear his swan song from afar!

            (My translation; SIG)

“I live and hear his swan song from afar!” This “I” is (as a condition for coming into being) founded on the closure of the fabulous continent that still sustains and contains the discursive, poetic, and figurative universe as we know it. In response to the assertion that “I live,” I hear “his swansong.” This I is thus also not he, indeed not gendered at all. What opens instead of the old “continent” is a weird and wonderful new field of possibilities, un-described, not-written-on (unbeschrieben): a brand-new and actual Spielraum.[7] The connection between the assertion that “I live” and “his swansong” is as systematic as the one between the traditional apostrophe and its repetition as aversion from it. For the “old” authorial speaking subject, true and un-gendered indexical consciousness was and remains taboo. For this new subject, inversely, the discovery of indexical consciousness is key: this is the gate that leads to a new Law. The two worlds diverge over this issue (cf.  Gölz 2006). Kafka’s “man from the country” in “Before the Law” could not pass through the door and enter into the law. Josef K. cannot leave the cathedral of authorship which maintains him and calls his name.  And for the same reason, the Zuñi woman, Bachmann’s bear, and “I” insofar as I want to live, cannot stay with this apparatus, but must enter into a new law.

Rarely is this alternative universe (the empirical one that we all actually live in) embraced and explored with as much precision as in I. Bachmann’s work. She celebrates the swansong of the old “continent” and the “liquidation of content as such” (“Liquidation der Inhalte überhaupt” Bachmann KS 304), as the beginning of a new and utopian usability of language. The insistence on the “I live” leads to the discovery of the “ground” of language (Bachmann “Böhmen liegt am Meer” -- “Bohemia lies by the Sea” cf. Gölz 2012). Karoline v. Günderrode, similarly, embraces the “apocalypse” that leads out of the old order, carefully describes and deconstructs the poetics that she thus leaves behind, and throws the heliocentrism of Western Metaphysics for a loop (cf. Gölz 2000).

Of course, there are others. The basic possibility that one may wake up to one’s I, here, and now has hardly remained a secret. What differs are the reactions to this discovery. A standard diagnosis is that one has “gone too far” (Novalis), and that realization is followed by a more or less panicked retreat, by concerted efforts to mend the slip-up. In Kafka’s novels, the “aversion” from the apparatus appears as a “wrong turn” that must be quickly corrected (see the chapter on The Trial in Gölz 1998). For K. in The Castle, it is famously “die Fremde,” an utterly alien space that takes his breath away. Nietzsche theorizes the usefulness of forgetting for life, but he, too, ultimately pulls the emergency break. In the most pernicious cases, a deep insight into the functioning of the apparatus and the place where it is vulnerable is followed by the decision to perpetuate it, to deploy the old mechanisms for the mechanical reproduction of a docile readership.

The place of the actual world—here—has to be assumed by myself—i.e. by each one of us who are alive now. And we shoulder this responsibility ultimately at the price of not being authorized by anyone, and of remaining nameless. Because to get here, we had to let go of names altogether:

Pont Mirabeau … Waterloo Bridge …

Wie ertragen's die Namen,

die Namenlosen zu tragen?

Von den Verlornen gerührt,

die der Glaube nicht trug,

erwachen die Trommeln im Fluß.

            (Bachmann “Die Brücken” in Gedichte 60)


Pont Mirabeau … Waterloo Bridge …

How do the names bear it

to bear the nameless?

Moved by the lost ones,

Whom the faith did not carry,

The drums awaken in the river.

            (My translation; SIG)

2.  Deconstructing Apostrophe: Bachmann’s “Invocation of the Great Bear”

What we have developed so far can now serve as the framework for a reading of Ingeborg Bachmann’s poem “Anrufung des großen Bären” (“Invocation of the Great Bear,” Bachmann Gedichte 105), allowing it to become readable as a theoretically concise description, deconstruction and re-interpretation of the traditional apostrophic apparatus, and in particular of the asymmetrical and polarized symbolic space-time it generates. The poem moves through four analytic steps (stanzas) and ends by pointing us toward the possibility that a differently constructed subject may emerge if we give the versatile word “apostrophe” a new twist.[8]

Let me briefly and even cursorily map the four steps.[9]

1. Stanza one, the starting point of the poem, is a classic apostrophe, directed at a “great bear.” It invokes and conjures a celestial entity with star-eyes, star-claws, a “zottige” (shaggy) personification of the night sky. It addresses a “bear” that appears to dominate our horizons and determine our destinies. The first stanza calls on the bear to “come down.” The speakers cast themselves as protectors of “herds,” thus creating a domesticated interiority set in opposition to the interpellated “outside”:

Großer Bär, komm herab, zottige Nacht,

Wolkenpelztier mit den alten Augen,


durch das Dickicht brechen schimmernd

deine Pfoten mit den Krallen,


wachsam halten wir die Herden,

doch gebannt von dir, und mißtrauen

deinen müden Flanken und den scharfen

halbentblößten Zähnen,

alter Bär.

            (Bachmann Gedichte 105)


Great bear, come down, shaggy night,

Furry cloud beast with the old eyes,

star eyes,

through the thicket gleaming break

your paws with the claws,

star claws,

watchfully we keep the flocks,

but spellbound by you, and mistrust

your tired flanks and the sharp

half-bared teeth,

old bear.

            (My translation; SIG)

2. If stanza one self-consciously cited and performed a classic apostrophic invocation, stanza two breaks completely with it. It introduces a new speaker who “talks back” to a plural “you.” stanza two deflects the gesture of address and sends it back from the place at which it was directed and to the place where it originated—to the collective “we” that populated stanza one. The result is a very un-lyrical, even counter-lyrical stanza, identificatory, the rhetoric one of equations: this = that.

Ein Zapfen: eure Welt.

Ihr: die Schuppen dran.

Ich treib sie, roll sie

von den Tannen im Anfang

zu den Tannen am Ende,

schnaub sie an, prüf sie im Maul

und pack zu mit den Tatzen.

            (Bachmann Gedichte 105)


A pinecone: your world.

You: the scales on it.

I drive it, roll it

from the pines in the beginning

to the pines at the end,

snort at it, test it in my muzzle

and grab with my paws.

            (My translation; SIG)

In some ways, this second subject has therefore—in classic Kafka/Althusserian manner—responded to the interpellation of the word “bear.” It has turned, and thus turned itself in. By responding and acknowledging, it has confirmed and subjected itself to the naming and structuring oppositions set in place by stanza I. Whatever the speaker of stanza two may have been before—what speaks it seems to have become very much like a bear.

But there may be hidden benefits to turning into a bear at that stage. For by donning the “cloud fur” of the “bear,” the speaker can avoid responding to a different interpellation and instead study the bait. For the stanza’s analytic impulse has a very specific object. We can also translate (a little provocatively as far as the first two lines are concerned):

A peg: your world.

You: the flakes on it.

I drive she, roll she

from the pines in the beginning

to the pines at the end,

snort at she, test she in my muzzle

and grab with my paws.

We will pass over the phallic qualities of the pinecone which means the “world” to the addressees of that stanza and focus instead on the speaker’s highly skeptical relation to the “bait” of the feminine pronoun that may or may not refer back to the feminine noun “eure Welt” (“your world”). The “bear” tests “she,” rolls “she” around, and snorts at “she,” until, in the last line, the “grabbing” of the paws already has no object any more. Very much comparable to Kafka’s animal stories (which can be narrated in the first person to become as long as they tend to only because their narrators don “fur”), stanza two can touch and test the dangerous pronoun “sie”/“she” without responding to its interpellation (and take it in its “muzzle” without speaking it) precisely because it is wearing the protective coat of a “bear.”

3. Stanza three continues the pattern of discontinuous re-positioning of speakers. It is spoken from a third place, and therefore has yet a different set of characteristics. The new speaker observes the consequences of the decisions up to that point: the invoker and the invokee of the first two stanzas are now literally in a tie: they hold each other by the “leash” of a “word.” They are both caught in and captives of the interpellative logic of naming.

Fürchtet euch oder fürchtet euch nicht!

Zahlt in den Klingelbeutel und gebt

dem blinden Mann ein gutes Wort,

daß er den Bären an der Leine hält.

Und würzt die Lämmer gut.

            (Bachmann Gedichte 105)


Be afraid or not afraid!

Pay into the collection basket and give

the blind man a good word

so that he holds the bear on the leash.

And season the lambs well.

            (My translation; SIG)

The speakers of stanza three are not only in the position of the “judges” in ancient Greek uses of apostrophe, but they are also the priests who continue to uphold the law of the sacred and continue its operation. They remain in the shadows, not addressed, not named, nor otherwise pulled into the limelight. They, too, can only be identified by the stance they assume. They register the futile turning of the “bear” and the blind man on the leash that connects them. But they do not challenge it. Rather, they issue imperatives for us to uphold that order, hand out more words, and to continue sacrificing. Their words identify them as the priests who have a vested interest in sanctifying the apparatus keeping all of us paying tribute to it—to them. That the speakers of stanza three are predators is confirmed by their call to season the “lambs” in the final line. The third stanza marks the cynical perpetuation of the old order for the sake of maintaining privilege and profit. No change is to be expected from there.

4.     Stanza four, finally, completes not only the poem but also the rewriting of apostrophe we are tracing here. It does so by adding a fourth position. The stanza begins with the diacritical apostrophe—signaling an elision. It begins by indicating that something has not been written down, left out, has vanished from the radar screen of language. That disappearance of the letter “e” is also what turns the rhetorical figure of address—“Apostrophe”—into the diacritical sign for ellipsis: “Apostroph” in German:

’s könnt sein, daß dieser Bär

sich losreißt, nicht mehr droht

und alle Zapfen jagt, die von den Tannen

gefallen sind, den großen, geflügelten,

die aus dem Paradiese stürzten.

            (Bachmann Gedichte 105)


‘t could be, that this bear

tears loose, no longer threatens

and chases all the cones that have fallen off

the pines, the great, winged ones,

that rushed out of paradise.

            (My translation; SIG)

The poem invites this bear to “tear loose,” to cut the leash of the “good word” that traps both “bear” and “blind man.” There is a chance—‘t could be—that we may simply shed the great hoax by which we have all been had—“den Bären, den man uns aufgebunden hat” (literally: “the bear they have burdened us with/tied on us”)—and let go of the language of names. What shines up here is the possibility that the turn away from that apparatus (the turn modeled by the woman in Aby Warburg’s photograph) could be performed here and now, that we could re-read apostrophe as aversion and elision, one we are free to perform as we turn away from that historic apparatus and into a new and different becoming.

From the perspective of this last stanza, the project of the whole poem can be re-read as a systematic movement towards this radical new turn. It begins with an apostrophe—the call to that “bear” of an apparatus to come down, to surrender its elevated position. The poem brings the celestial “gods,” the star-eyed super-readers down to earth: it gives language back to us, to living human beings. By the last stanza, the word “bear” has lost all referential power. It is no longer a name, but a vehicle that allows a subject that knows itself to be nameless to travel through language in order to understand its apparatus and to liquidate its magic.

This nameless subject exists here and now, as a critical reading by living persons who embrace their own unrepresentability in language, and thus are marked in the text only by the little raised comma that with such high precision starts off stanza four. No photograph of this subject will be possible. This sovereign refusal to find herself merely represented is the place Bachmann’s poems and other texts are written from. And it is what they can offer to us. For us to realize how much sense they make, and what magnificent sense they invite us to make, they must be read from here.

In conclusion to this section, it is worth pointing out briefly that the poem contains many verb forms that strictly speaking require the use of the diacritical sign of ellipsis: “treib,” “roll,” “schnaub,” “prüf,” “pack.” Yet none are used. Bachmann carefully limits use of the diacritical “Apostroph” to moments where it signifies aversion and disappearance from representation: a radical refusal to be captured, oriented, determined, intercepted, modeled, or controlled by the apparatus of language. This highly deliberate use of the diacritical mark of apostrophe—’—can be observed elsewhere in Bachmann’s work, as well. Her poem “Tage in Weiß” (“Days in White,” Bachmann Gedichte 122), for instance, places the diacritical mark for the elision only at the precise moment in the poem where it marks the instance of departure: “Albatros’.” The verb form “denk” that occurs just before that moment and would normally call for an “Apostroph” does not have one.

In diesen Tagen denk ich des Albatros’,

mit dem ich mich auf

und herüberschwang

in ein unbeschriebenes Land.

            (Bachmann Gedichte 122)


In these days I think of the albatros’,

with which I have swung myself up –

and over here

into an undescribed land.

            (My translation; SIG)

The poem “Böhmen liegt am Meer” is another example.[10] The disappearance of the narrator through a crack in the wall that concludes Bachmann’s novel Malina can also be read in this context.

By freeing ourselves from the “bear” of our identification with words—the mechanical response to interpellations that are so many traps—we can liberate our gaze, rethink our relation to language, and become more circumspect, critical, and conscious readers. “Assimilation” (“Anähnlichung” see Gölz 2008), the subjection to the discipline of the apparatus and the mechanical reproduction of his perspective is replaced by what Bachmann calls “Umsorge”: a conscious and attentive “surround-care” of language. The deconstruction of the trope of apostrophe leads to a fundamental re-consideration of our relation to language.


Two Interpellations—Two Responses

Above, I have sketched out two divergent subject positions, based on the two interpellations by which the apparatus splits the scene of reading. The key issue over which these two diverge, the one thing that is forbidden for the first and essential for the second, is indexical consciousness: the empowering awareness that I am free to differ from language, free to assign new significations to it, free to reorient the apparatus and launch it into a new and different becoming.

1.    Citation as (Refusal of) Repetition

This newly un-representable subject re-approaches language cautiously, critically, settling for what it finds only “if” certain conditions are met: “Sind hierorts Häuser grün, tret ich noch in ein Haus./ Sind hier die Brücken heil, geh ich auf gutem Grund.” (“If houses here are green, I still step in a house./ If bridges here are whole, I am walking on good ground.” Bachmann Gedichte 177; my translation; SIG) Every readable surface must be first tested and, if necessary, edited and redesigned. Only then can it serve the need of the living subject to come to language (“zur Sprache kommen”). A very brief look at an example of Bachmann’s practice of citation in her “Frankfurt Lectures” can illustrate this new relation to language, and the radically revised practice of citation to which it gives rise. Here is a citation from (a 1950s German translation of) Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s novel Voyage au bout de la nuit in Bachmann’s “Frankfurt Lectures”:

“Was man da betrieb, dieses Aufeinanderlosschießen, ohne weiteres, ohne dass man sich überhaupt sah, das war nicht verboten! Also war es kein Irrtum! Das gehörte zu den Dingen, die man machen durfte, ohne einen Krach zu riskieren? Es wurde von gesetzten Leuten anerkannt, zweifellos sogar gefördert, wie eine Lotterieziehung, eine Verlobung, eine Schnitzeljagd! ... Nichts zu wollen. Ich hatte soeben mit einemmal den ganzen Krieg entdeckt. Ich war meine Unschuld losgeworden. ... Ach, was hätte ich in diesem Augenblick nicht darum gegeben im Gefängnis zu sein statt hier, ich Idiot! Hätte ich nur in weiser Voraussicht etwas gestohlen. Man denkt an nichts! Aus dem Gefängnis kommt man lebend zurück, aber nicht aus dem Krieg. Alles andere sind Redensarten.“ (Bachmann, KS 293;)

“So what went on there, this shooting at each other, just like that, without even seeing one another, that was not forbidden! So it was no error! That was one of the things one was allowed to do without risking getting chewed out over it? It was recognized by law-abiding citizens, and doubtless even encouraged, like the lottery, an engagement, or a paper chase! … No two ways about it. I had just all at once discovered the entire war. I had lost my innocence. … Oh! What wouldn’t I have given at this moment to be in jail instead of here! What a fool I had been! If only I had had some foresight and stolen something. One thinks of nothing! From jail you come back alive, but not from war. The rest are phrases.” (My Translation of the German translation; SIG)

A first-person speaker who has discovered “the whole war” muses that it would be better not to die in it. With some foresight, “I” could have stolen something. Jail at least allows for survival. If we go back to the German translation of Céline’s text quoted by Bachmann, we realize that she has, as the author of the citation, indeed “stolen” something:  while Céline’s text has many ellipses, the ellipsis just before the exclamation “Ach” (“Oh!”) in the text occurs only in the citation. As Céline’s text is transformed into Bachmann’s, the following passage has disappeared from it:

Um es gut zu sehen, das Luder, von vorn und von der Seite, muß man so davor stehen wie ich in diesem Augenblick, so ziemlich allein. Man hatte den Krieg zwischen uns und denen da drüben angezündet, und jetzt brannte es! Wie der Strom zwischen den beiden Kohlen in der Bogenlampe. Und sie war noch gar nicht am Verlöschen, die Kohle! Wir alle würden draufgehen dabei, der Oberst wie die andern, so forsch er schien, und sein Fleisch würde nicht mehr Braten abgeben als meines, wenn der Strom von gegenüber ihm zwischen den Schultern durchging.

Es gibt verschiedene Arten, zum Tod verurteilt zu sein. (Céline Reise 15)

To see her really well, the slut, from the front and in profile, you’ve got to be standing before it as I did at this moment, pretty much alone. The war had been switched on between us and those on the other side, and now it was burning! Like the current between the two carbons of an arc lamp! And the coal was not about to go out! In this, we all would croak, the colonel just like everyone else, as spiffy as he looked right now, and his meat wouldn’t make for a roast any bigger than mine when the current from the other side got him between the shoulders.

            There are different ways of being condemned to death.[11] (My translation of the German translation; SIG)


Achim photograph
Fig 2.Achim Grochowski, Arc Lamp, photograph

In this complex citation, then, Deleuze’s notion of the “current” undergoes an eerie and cautionary re-reading that alerts us to the electrifying potential of a connection made in the Now. We are (the) “current,” and we need to be careful about what we respond to, what we connect ourselves to, what we touch. The simile of the arc lamp in the submerged citation comes to illustrate what would be the consequences of any accepted interpellation: it would ignite the “entire war” and fry us all.

            Let us first of all take in the full impact of this: what Bachmann articulates in this double-decker citation amounts to a rejection of the adamitic language of names. By refusing to accept the role of the “signified” of referential and interpellative language, she reclaims the now as a place where decisions about the functioning of language are made.

            It is also worth contemplating the mode of signification by which this point is made. By letting the whole passage--the personification and the image of the arc lamp—sink under the surface of her own text, she insulates it from the “current.” What remains at the surface is the marker of an ellipsis—“…”—marking the elision, and a surrounding text that playfully frames, comments on, and denies the disappearance at its center: “One thinks of nothing!” Only the complex arrangement in its entirety insulates it from direct referentiality and thus allegorizes both layers of it to their full potential.[12]

This is a momentous decision. She turns not to the interpellation, but from it. She declines to offer herself up as the referent or signified, and instead departs from the adamitic language of names altogether.

The new relation to language is that of a reading that embraces its power to re-envision (its own relation to) what is on the page. Illumination comes from our thrill of discovering that what language means is not fate, but subject to our individual and collective decision to repeat or not to repeat: “We must find true sentences” (“Wir müssen wahre Sätze finden, Bachmann), sentences that we can repeat, and that allow us to “come to language.” What the citations in Bachmann’s text “mean” is thus no longer a function of (in this case) “Celine.” They have been removed from the Cathedral of the Author and opened to the world of the living. Their significance comes from our decision to repeat them—or not. What changes is the arrow of attribution, the place where we locate agency. Significance is no longer assumed to inhere in the text, a ‘content’ that was ‘intended’ by the author, enshrined in language. Instead, significance is enacted by the decision to repeat, to actualize. We can either perpetuate the apparatus and our subservience to it, and thus extend its hold on our lives, or we can choose to reclaim our share in making language mean.[13] Rather than letting ourselves be scripted by it, we can become editors of language, responsible for what we allow it to say. If this revisionary relation to language were generalized, the regime that turns us into a “mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms” would stop right here.

2.    Who Lives?

In the old apostrophic order, indexical consciousness is taboo. It is taboo because it allows for an event that the apparatus must categorically rule out: the moment when I—this living person who reads this now—wake up to my freedom to turn from that apparatus and into my actual life.

In this final section, I would like to have a brief look back at Jonathan Culler’s canonical article “Apostrophe.” A careful reading shows that although Culler repeatedly evokes apostrophe’s power to transport discourse into the “present” and to bring about “events,” he is far from encouraging an empowerment of our here and now. In fact, it is remarkable with what steely consistency every phrase in Culler’s article turns all attribution of initiative and agency back to “writing,” deleting any acknowledgement in his text of actual readers and their possible decisions. Thus he writes, for instance, that apostrophe brings the poem into a “timeless present [that] is better seen as a temporality of writing” (Culler Pursuit 149). Apostrophe takes us into a “present”—but we are immediately told to think about that present as “timeless,” that it is not a time at all, but “better seen as a temporality,” and indeed, a temporality specifically “of writing.” To “apostrophize them as ‘ye birds’ is to locate them in the time of the apostrophe,” he continues, and thus in a “special temporality” in which “writing”—not actual readers—“can say ‘now’.”  The time of our lives, the only one in which events can actually occur, is thus to be scrubbed from our awareness and our thinking about texts. Whatever “events” finally occur, too, are to be attributed to the poem. They are “the event which the poem is attempting to be” (Culler Pursuit 149).

But even if the limelight is not on the scene where actual readers make decisions, decisions are still being made. In fact, the compulsion to attribute everything to “writing” is itself exactly such a decision: one that effaces itself to such an extent that it finally can no longer recognize itself as such. Throughout his article, Culler’s rhetoric systematically eliminates from consideration any possibility that we, as we read, might insist on our actuality as readers, as embodied and actualizing thinking. Once that possibility has been deleted from the minds actual readers, however, assimilation to the apparatus becomes inevitable, resistance not an option. According to Culler, the goal is: “the neutralization of time,” and its replacement with “reference to a temporality of writing” (Culler Pursuit 153).

I elide the lengthy analysis of the rhetorical operations in Culler’s text that followed here in an earlier version of my text, and instead conclude with a brief look at the poem with which Culler wraps up his essay. That poem is to, as it were, lend him a hand in closing his argument. It is a poem that “eschews apostrophe for direct address,” one that “capture[s] the time of the apostrophic now and thrust[s] it at the reader” (Emphasis mine; SIG). In doing so, it also thrusts at us the Poet’s continuing hegemonic (or, to quote Nabokov: vampiric) claim on our lives. In order to succeed, it must conquer precisely this: our here, our now. Ant that is what that hand reaches for:

This living hand, now warm and capable

Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold

And in the icy silence of the tomb,

So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights

That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood

So in my veins red life might stream again,

And thou be conscience-calm’d–see here it is–

I hold it towards you. (Keats, quoted in Culler Pursuit 153)

Keats dares his readers to find a way to resist his poem’s direct address. But in Culler’s representation, the outcome of that dramatic showdown between the poem and ourselves, clearly a matter of life and death, is apparently merely a matter of knowledge: “we know too little … to assert what actually happens”:

We know too little about apostrophes to assert what actually happens when an apostrophe succeeds, but this poem, whose deictics—“This living hand, now warm …”, “see, here it is”—give it the special temporality of apostrophic lyrics, is a daring and successful example of the attempt to produce in fiction an event by replacing a temporal presence and absence with an apostrophic presence and absence. (Culler Pursuit 153-154)

But of course, the question of “what actually happens” is precisely not merely a question of “knowledge.” It is a matter of what we decide to do, how we respond, if we go along with this proposal, or take a different turn. The “here” into which apostrophe brings the text offers a site where the apparatus and its claim on us can be either accepted or averted. If we delete the “current” of our lives from consideration, as Culler does, we are trapped in the apparatus. In conclusion to his essay, Culler with uncanny accuracy describes the resulting inability to access the immediacy of his own life—and thus the only leverage he would have had against the claims of the apparatus on him. He can no longer read himself as a “merely empirical person,” and for that very reason, the power of the apparatus over him has indeed become “irresistible.” All he has left is to “celebrate” the masterful apparatus that subjugates him:

We fulfill this icy prediction, not by seeking actually to sacrifice our lives that Keats might live but by losing our empirical lives: forgetting the temporality which supports them and trying to embrace a purely fictional time in which we can believe that the hand is really present and perpetually held towards us through the poem. The poem predicts this mystification, dares us to resist it, and shows that its power is irresistible. It knows its apostrophic time and the indirectly invoked presence to be a fiction and says so but enforces it as event. “See, here it is, I hold it towards you.” This is the kind of effect which the lyric seeks, one whose successes should be celebrated and explained. (Culler Pursuit 154)

Culler meticulously enacts the mystification promoted by the poem by surrendering all agency of reading: “The poem predictsshows that its power is irresistible. It knows … but enforces it as event.” If he began his essay by arguing that critics have turned away in embarrassment from considering apostrophe, at the end of his essay he in turn has lost the ability to turn away, and the possibility to consider that these poems may be read here and now. By calling “Now” the “temporality of writing,” he forgets that the decision to repeat and or not to repeat is made neither in a “temporality,” nor in writing, nor is it enforced by some irresistible mystification enacted by the ghostly hand of what “readers” somehow inexorably “seem” to do. Nor do we have to want what “the lyric” wants. And while it is true that much of the violence and silencing of language is indeed enforced, it is so not by poems, but by flesh-and-blood human beings, including readers and critics who, like Culler himself, collude to efface awareness of the share that we ourselves have in making language mean. They abdicate that responsibility, pointing instead to “knowledge” in the name of an agency that somehow, miraculously, is never their own. But even confronted with a whole army of such anthropomorphisms, we can return to texts such as Bachmann’s to remind ourselves that we all read now, not in fictional temporalities, but in the time of our lives. And at this moment, actual significance is constituted.

3.    Post-Lude

I, too, would like to conclude with a poem. This one is by Marina Tsvetaeva. It also uses an I-thou relation to figure the relation between the text and its actual readers. But unlike the one we just discussed, it does not dare us to submit to the Poetic Power of the Past. In Tsvetaeva’s poem, “here” is not a grave, nor a “temporality of writing,” but a place where we are invited to inhabit our own lives:

Идешь, на меня похожий,

Глаза устремляя вниз.

Я их опускала — тоже!

Прохожий, остановись!


Прочти — слепоты куриной

И маков набрав букет, —

Что звали меня Мариной

И сколько мне было лет.


Не думай, что здесь — могила,

Что я появлюсь, грозя…

Я слишком сама любила

Смеяться, когда нельзя!


И кровь приливала к коже,

И кудри мои вились…

Я тоже была, прохожий!

Прохожий, остановись!


Сорви себе стебель дикий

И ягоду ему вслед, —

Кладбищенской земляники

Крупнее и слаще нет.


Но только не стой угрюмо,

Главу опустив на грудь.

Легко обо мне подумай,

Легко обо мне забудь.


Как луч тебя освещает!

Ты весь в золотой пыли…

— И пусть тебя не смущает

Мой голос из-под земли.

3 мая 1913 Коктебель

You walk and resemble me,

Your eyes are downward cast.

I used to lower mine — too !

Passer-by, do not walk past !


Read — with chicken blindness

And poppies in your bouquet, —

That they used to call me Marina

And how many years I had.


Do not think that here’s a grave,

That I will appear, and threaten ...

I loved it too much myself

To laugh when it was forbidden!


And life blood flushed my skin,

And my curls were all atwist …

I also existed, passer-by !

Passer-by, do not walk past !


Pluck yourself a stem of wild

And a berry to follow suit, —

Berries that grow on graveyard soil

Are plumpest and sweetest fruit.


But please do not stand there gloomy,

Your head drooping down on your chest.

Think about me lightly,

And about me, lightly, forget.


How bright this ray makes you shine!

You are surrounded by golden dust …

— And let it not be a bother

My voice from under the ground.

Koktebel, May 3, 1913

 Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the conference “Guerre et utopie. Autour d’Ingeborg Bachmann” at the CCEAE of the Université de Montréal in December 2015, and at the colloquium on “Re-Thinking Gender in Reading” at the University of Oregon in Eugene in February 2016. I would like to thank all of the participants of both conferences for the lively and enjoyable discussions. I am also grateful to the participants of the Faculty Reading Group on Translation at the University of Iowa for their very helpful input.

[1] “Mitte April 1896, kurz vor seiner Weiterreise in die Hopi-Gebiete, machte Aby Warburg den Versuch, eine Frau aus dem Dorf Zuñi-Pueblo in Neu-Mexiko zu fotografieren. Von dem Fremden und seinem Apparat sichtlich erschreckt, wendete sich die Frau unmittelbar zur Flucht in die Dunkelheit eines Hauses: Sie ließ dem jungen ethnografisch forschenden Kunsthistoriker lediglich Zeit, ihre Fluchtbewegung einzufangen.” [“In mid April 1896, just before traveling on into Hopi territory, Aby Warburg attempted to photograph a woman from the village Zuñi-Pueblo in New Mexico. Visibly startled by the stranger and his apparatus, the woman immediately turned to escape into the darkness of a house: she only left enough time for the young ethnographically researching art historian to capture the movement of her flight.” My translation; SIG.] (Despoix 65)

[2]  OED, entry for “Apostrophe”: “the frequently repeated assertion that apostrophes are addressed to dead or absent persons refer to a later development.”

[3] More recently, critics have been commenting on the degree of prominence it has achieved as they take issue with individual aspects of Culler’s argument. E.g. Gavin Hopps: “It appears to be a truth incestuously disseminated, if not universally acknowledged, that apostrophe in poetry is embarrassing.” (Hopps 225) This does not mean, however, that a convincing critique of Culler’s has been articulated.

[4] Of course there are a few exceptions. Michel de Certeau is one—in particular his essay on “absolute reading.” Another book that at least raises the issue is Michel Charles’ book Rhétorique de la lecture. Paris: edition du Seuil, 1977. So is Lucien Dällenbach’s The Mirror in the Text. Transl. Jeremy Whiteley and Emma Hughes.Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989. Roger Chartier, taking up impulses from de Certeau, also sets out to explore the tension between writers’ vs. readers’ perspectives, but arguably fails to escape the gravitational pull of the standard perspective. (The Order of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe Between the 14th and 18th Centuries, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.) Assessing the varying success of attempts like these would be a task for a separate publication.

[5] In the interest of not getting into too much detail here, I am simplifying these relations to underline the basis fact of a “split scene of reading.” Ultimately, however, the “silenced” audience generated by the workings of this mechanism is, of course, not even awarded the status of an audience at all. Rather, its erasure as such generates a mere blank “place” where significations can be deposited and voices ventriloquized ad libitum: a place emptied of anything that might emanate from it, in order to become the repository of significations exchanged between the speaker and those positioned as audience or as his stand-ins. A model we could invoke to illustrate this is the function of money as Marx describes it in Das Kapital: a commodity that can no longer express its own value, because it has become the site where other commodities express theirs. That this divide can be traced back to the early days of the trope is suggested by Sylvie Franchet d'Espèrey in her study of Quintilian’s discussion of apostrophe. There she points out that an asymmetry can be observed in the indexicals and pronouns used to mark the hierarchical relation between the judges on the one hand, and the adversary on the other: “Pour bien comprendre l’effet de rupture que produit l’apostrophe, il faut examiner le jeu des déictiques. On modifie donc le schéma en plaçant au centre l’orateur en tant qu’ego. Il s’adresse aux juges en disant uos et à l’adversaire en disant tu. On obtient ainsi le triangle “indexical” des trois personae entant que locuteurs.  Lorsqu’il parle de l’adversaire aux juges ou des juges à l’adversaire, l’orateur utilise la troisième personne. Mais dans l’usage latin, il n’aura pas recours au même déictique, dédoublant la troisième personne en un iste, désignant l’adversaire, et un hi, désignant les juges. Ce qui se passe dans l’apostrophe, c’est que iste devient tu, celui dont on parle devient celui à qui l’on parle. La relation entre uos et hi n’est pas de même nature, parce que les juges ne sont pas au centre de la cause, ils ne sont pas ceux dont on parle.” (Franchet d'Espèrey 170)

[6] The resulting unbridgeable divide between different perceptual worlds of course has, from Plato’s cave to Baudrillard’s simulacra, also been invoked and theorized many a time. Nevertheless, the very concrete “wall” (Marlen Haushofer) that it erects in our social and communicative reality is still is far from understood.

[7] See Patrick Brown’s contribution to this issue of Konturen.

[8] The OED notes that the rhetorical figure of apostrophic address (“Apostrophe 1”) has both in English and in French been “ignorantly confused” with the merely grammatical one (“Apostrophe 2”) that connotes an elision—for instance of a letter in a word. As such, it is usually marked with the diacritical sign of the same name.

[9] An earlier version of this reading of the poem can be found in Gölz 1998.

[10] For a discussion of the clearly deliberate use of the diacritical mark “apostrophe” in Bachmann’s revisions of this poem see Gölz 2012.

[11] Ferdinand Céline, Voyage au bout de la nuit:Donc pas d’erreur? Cela faisait partie des choses qu'on peut faire sans mériter une bonne engueulade. C'était même reconnu, encouragé sans doute par les gens sérieux, comme le tirage au sort, les fiançailles, la chasse à courre!... Rien à dire. Je venais de découvrir d'un coup la guerre tout entière. J'étais dépucelé. Faut être à peut près seul devant elle comme je l'étais à ce moment-là pour bien la voir la vache, en face et de profil. On venait d'allumer la guerre entre nous et ceux d'en face, et à présent ça brûlait! Comme le courant entre les deux charbons, dans la lampe à arc. Et il n'était pas près de s'éteindre le charbon! On y passerait tous, le colonel comme les autres, tout mariole qu'il semble être, et sa carne ne ferait pas plus de rôti que la mienne quand le courant d'en face lui passerait entre les deux épaules.

Il y a bien de façons d'être condamné à mort. Ah! combien n'aurais-je pas donné à ce moment-là pour être en prison au lieu d'être ici, moi crétin! Pour avoir, par exemple, quand il en était temps encore. On ne pense à rien! De la prison, on en sort vivant, pas de la guerre. Tout le reste, c'est des mots. (Voyage 25; emphasis mine: italics mark the passage deleted by Bachmann; SIG)

[12] That this passage is key for Bachmann’s thinking is underlined further by the fact that its last lines are likely the source for the title of her later and unfinished trilogy: Todesarten (“Ways of Dying.”)

[13] That “editing of language” functions in precisely the same way as in Günderrode’s Reading Notes (see “Günderrode Mines Novalis,” Gölz 2000). Both Günderrode and Bachmann can only use the language they find after subjecting it to a rigorous revision. Both edit out the gendered and sexualized images that otherwise will interpellate them and have the very real effect of silencing them. They “steal” those passages to prevent the war from igniting.

Works Cited


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Oxford English Dictionary

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