False Farmers

A famous wanderer who did not want to participate in a famous war had come up with a ploy to avoid being drafted for the impending campaign: he feigned madness. As a sign of his insanity, he ploughed the beach with an ox and an ass, and instead of seeds, he sowed salt into the sand. But the messenger of war distrusted the absurd scene and came up with his own ploy to see whether the madness was feigned or real. He took the man’s little son and lay him down directly in front of the advancing plough. If the false farmer stopped the plough, he would have to admit that he had but acted, and reveal himself as the father who recognized his own and therefore is not an idiot. The unavoidable happened: so that no harm came to his son, Odysseus stopped the plough, had to reveal himself, and join the allies in the Trojan War.
      The idea of avoiding an unpleasant service by feigning madness is a well-known motif. The new false farmers appear, for example, on the complex minefield that, since the beginning of modernism, has formed the almost natural ground for a significant part of all artistic and intellectual, i.e., postreligious, activity. Here, the intentionally feigned madness, which is to make an individual appear unfit for society, should be distinguished from the supposedly forced madness resulting from the lack of a social function (as for example with Hölderlin or Nietzsche—and indeed, the example of Van Gogh gave rise to a new type of the modern artist). Finally, between abyss and cliché, there is a third form of dissembling which, however, is based on a tacit arrangement between society and its subjects that divorce themselves either willingly or unwillingly, following the motto: precisely where we can afford a small inconsistency, the immanence of the system reveals itself. In all three cases, Odysseus’s feigned madness, Hölderlin’s madness born of adversity, as well as in the arranged madness of the late-modernist artist as a recognized clown of society, the false farmers are interested in marking the gap in the system of reality that is—theoretically—based on complete legibility. But what does a gap in the system mean, and in which way does its possibility presuppose a rule saying, whatever is not legible is excluded? And how far must the illegible passage nonetheless be part of a reality in which it is defined as paradox?
     Before the illegible passage is given a function, we must ask how it comes about. And here we already enter the circle of the demythologizing question of origin, which has given Western development its restlessness and its urge for infinity since antiquity. This question of origin against the tautologies of analytical patterns of explanation, that originates ultimately from the fantastical profanity of a pantheistically interpreted universe, can drive everybody who gets caught up in it mad, or inspire him to a peak performance—sometimes even both simultaneously. Their circle is based on the fact that the interruption of the act of reading and depicting presupposes that which is interrupted, and vice versa: where all reality consists of being depictable and legible, i.e., capable of being simulated, the firm foundations of this reality are nullified. Because the ideal of perfect simulation amounts, in the end, to the indistinguishability of depiction or effigy and original, it can no longer be decided whether there can be a logical or dialectical order between the formal existence of a text and the existence of its so-called content. Atomism and/or impossible nothingness? The late-modernist desire to escape the dynamics of this circle through the notion of a pure form has only led to a particularly unchecked growth of what was supposed to be excluded as content. With the question about an inconsistency in the system, the new wanderer has fallen into the formalism trap whose hermeticism transgresses all boundaries—and the illegible passage of his text, called reality, forms the final point of this system of uninterrupted reflection.
      The space between closest proximity und reflected distance—as the edge of a country over whose salted furrow the vagabond is placed into the picture that forms his reading—seems impassable. It is a reading that speaks of how the wind keeps leafing through the pages until its owner no longer knows on which page it had been opened. As it were, without a motive, he throws his luggage with its ignition over the scarp. Then, suddenly, in the middle of the unploughed field, he stumbles and falls into an empty swimming pool. No water has flowed here for years, but a petrol pump at the edge of the pool is ready so that the pool can be filled with petrol any time. One wonders whether it is possible to swim in petrol, and anyway: is there also a fig tree here? Beyond the ploughed beach, the traces have got mixed up. Although nobody is visible, a shirt is lying in the grass—it will probably be used by some freedom fighter at some point for cleaning his weapons. The vagabond kneels on his belongings in the abandoned pool and tries to look into the sun, until the dark edges of his cave exit start to overlay one another in the light: the view of the place where lightning struck becomes cloudy in the expectation of a downpour that is to finally flood the labyrinth so that the burnt children may be saved the price of their self-denial! While the crossing winds transform the clouds into a methodically distorted checkerboard, the smell of ashes rises from below. Who could ever give tongues to flames? The non-swimmers describe the smell of the fire to the swimmers, and while doing so they remember small arguments on the sunny school staircase. But who today still paints his face darkly red when he has to blow up an air mattress?
      Sharp light between deep shadows, erratic story, cold wind: what does not fit together during the day becomes necessary at night. What is called illegible has only been overwritten, and the progress in the overwriting is a contradiction in itself. Between the shreds of possible actions without a motive, only an initial surprise attack is effective from the beginning to the end of a story yet to be constructed. The illusion of having come even an inch closer to the point the lightning struck covers the presence of things past with a veil of melancholia, and it gives the gap in the system, as the phenomenon of illegibility, its anti-tragic meaning, which nonetheless cannot be comical. But the real or unreal distortion of perception is not the actual interruption of the circle, but it is on the contrary proof for the self-movement of this all-or-nothing authority, about whose legitimacy one might well argue. Everything remains the same, everything becomes new: sacred distress instead of mortality through enlightenment! Things atmospheric seem like the medium of logical links, and the shot that is fired behind the narrator can really not be anything more than a warning shot. Thus the upshot in the field is: only a true farmer or a false madman would fire live ammunition on his hero to demonstrate that he is unfit for the impending war.

Halcyon Days, Cologne 2013, p. 331