2-1 | Table of Con­tents | http://​dx​.doi​.org10.17742/IMAGE.crypt.2-1.5 | Gold | Her­nan­dez PDF

In Else Lasker-Schüler’s poet­ry and prose, we find the desire or wish to be devoured by the love object while con­sum­ing the object in turn. In this analy­sis the merg­er or turn of phrase is tied to the subject’s own con­sti­tu­tive incor­po­ra­tion of a dead loved one. Now liv­ing objects must be loved to death or undeath. It was her mother’s death that guid­ed Lasker-Schüler to live and love on as haunt­ed subject—to repeat and rehearse the love object’s loss or depar­ture via fan­tasies of incor­po­ra­tion.

On trou­ve le désir ou l’espoir d’être dévoré par l’objet aimé en même temps qu’on con­somme l’objet à son tour dans la prose et la poésie d’Else Las­ket-Schüler. Dans cette analyse, cette fusion ou cette tour­nure de phrase prend sa source dans le fait que le sujet cause l’incorporation con­sti­tu­tive d’un être aimé décédé. À par­tir de là, on doit aimer les objets encore vivants jusqu’à la mort ou à la « con­tre-mort » de ceux-ci. La mort de sa mère dirige Lasker-Schüler vers la façon de vivre et d’aimer d’un indi­vidu han­té : répéter la perte de l’objet aimé ou son départ à tra­vers le fan­tasme d’incorporation.

Leigh Gold | Images: Rodri­go Her­nan­dez

Else Lasker-Schüler and the Poetics of Incorporation







Mourn­ing requires that the dead live on “in us”; inte­ri­or­iz­ing or incor­po­rat­ing the dead is the dif­fi­cult yet inescapable task of the one who is left behind.[1] Psy­cho­analy­sis reminds us too of the patho­log­i­cal aspects of incor­po­ra­tion. The Ger­man-Jew­ish poet, play­wright, and writer of prose, Else Lasker-Schüler, con­tin­u­ous­ly con­front­ed death; she sur­vived the deaths of her moth­er, broth­er, and only child, among oth­ers. Her moth­er died in 1890, when the author was twen­ty-one years old, eight years after the death of her favorite broth­er. She described her mother’s death as hav­ing bro­ken her world apart (Durch­schlag-Litt and Lit­man-Demeestère 18). Through­out her texts, there is the con­tin­u­al return to the sub­ject of the mother’s death. The author’s iden­ti­ty as per­pet­u­al mourn­er, as one who car­ries the dead with­in her texts, who writes repeat­ed­ly of and to the dead, also cosigns texts, which are oth­er­wise addressed to sex­u­al­ized or roman­tic love objects. These texts reveal the ways in which desire becomes bound up with the expe­ri­ence of mourn­ing. In her oeu­vre there is, fur­ther­more, almost no attach­ment, which might not be pre­emp­tive­ly mourned; the encounter with the loved oth­er often appears along­side the pos­si­bil­i­ty of depar­ture or absence.

Das Lied des Spiel­prinzen” (“The Song of the Play­mate Prince”) is an impor­tant poem with which to begin mark­ing the cru­cial links between the ques­tions of mourn­ing and desire in Lasker-Schüler’s work.  The poem was pub­lished in the 1917 col­lec­tion Got­tfried Benn, named after the Ger­man poet to whom Lasker-Schüler had, in fact, been roman­ti­cal­ly attached. The two authors addressed each oth­er in pub­li­ca­tions in sev­er­al Expres­sion­ist jour­nals, and years lat­er, Benn iden­ti­fied Lasker-Schüler as one of the great­est poets of twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Ger­many (New­ton 2). The poem was pub­lished after the end of the affair, prompt­ing many biog­ra­phers to iden­ti­fy Lasker-Schüler’s suf­fer­ing over the break with her Song that gave it voice (Falken­berg 76).

Wie kann ich dich mehr noch lieben?/Ich sehe den Tieren und Blumen/Bei der Liebe zu./Küssen sich zwei Sterne,/Oder bilden Wolken ein Bild -/Wir spiel­ten es schon zarter./Und deine harte Stirne,/Ich kann mich so recht an sie lehnen,/Sitz drauf wie auf einem Giebel./Und in deines Kinnes Grube/Bau ich mir ein Raub­nes--/Bis - du mich aufge­fressen hast./Find dann ein­mal morgens/Nur noch meine Kniee,/Zwei gelbe Skarabäen für eines Kaisers Ring. (Gesam­melte  Werke 1: 209)

How can I love you even more?/I watch the flow­ers and animals/At their love./If two stars kiss,/Or if clouds form a picture--/We’ve already played it more gen­tly still./And your hard brow,/I can lean myself against it,/Sit on it like a gable./And in the hol­low of your chin/I build a robber’s hideaway--/Until—you’ve eat­en me all up./Find then one fine morning/Only my knees left over,/Two yel­low scarabs for an emperor’s ring. (New­ton 169)

The poem begins with the ques­tion of how the speak­er might approach the love object.  There is an urge or call to love more, to find a more com­plete approach to desire. The poem clos­es by envi­sion­ing a process of incor­po­ra­tion where­by the sub­ject would be devoured and there­by pre­served and hid­den away with­in the object’s implic­it with­draw­al (Rick­els 6). The poem thus opens a site in which the lim­its of incor­po­ra­tion are exceed­ed or over­come.

Par­al­lel­ing the speak­er of the poem’s call to find or locate a “hide­away” in the other’s face, it is in the body of the text that wish­es for incor­po­ra­tion can be expressed or stored. Abra­ham and Torok under­score the dif­fer­ence between the healthy mourner’s capac­i­ty to intro­ject and what goes into the “ill­ness” of incor­po­ra­tion:

Such is the fan­ta­sy of incor­po­ra­tion. Intro­duc­ing all or part of a love object or a thing into one’s own body, pos­sess­ing, expelling or alter­nate­ly acquir­ing, keep­ing, los­ing it—here are vari­eties of fan­ta­sy indi­cat­ing, in the typ­i­cal forms of pos­ses­sion or feigned dis­pos­ses­sion, a basic intrapsy­chic sit­u­a­tion: the sit­u­a­tion cre­at­ed by the real­i­ty of a loss sus­tained by the psy­che. If accept­ed and worked through, the loss would require major read­just­ment. But the fan­ta­sy of incor­po­ra­tion mere­ly sim­u­lates pro­found psy­chic trans­for­ma­tion through mag­ic; it does so by imple­ment­ing lit­er­al­ly some­thing that has only fig­u­ra­tive mean­ing. So in order not to have to “swal­low” the loss, we fan­ta­size swal­low­ing (or hav­ing swal­lowed) that which has been lost, as if it were some kind of thing. (126)

Abra­ham and Torok empha­size the mourner’s desire to swal­low the object. In “Das Lied des Spiel­prinzen,” the I of the poem wish­es that the addressee would sus­pend her with­in this open­ing of mourn­ing.

It is often the case that the mourn­er fan­ta­sizes enter­ing into the body of the lost oth­er, a rever­sal that facil­i­tates the fan­ta­sy that the loved oth­er remain. Lasker-Schüler’s poem ensures that the speak­er, or I of the poem, and the addressed oth­er will merge, or rather that the I be sub­sumed at the other’s address, since sep­a­ra­tion can be avert­ed only through the speaker’s wish for con­sump­tion. Cru­cial­ly, unlike the desire to devour the oth­er, in “Das Lied des Spiel­prinzen,” there is the desire for the anni­hi­la­tion of the self, the desire to be devoured by the oth­er or you addressed in the poem. The act of incor­po­ra­tion turns onto—into—the self: “And your hard brow,/I can lean myself against it,/Sit on it like a gable./And in the hol­low of your chin/I build a robber’s hideaway--/Until—you’ve eat­en me all up./Find then one fine morning/Only my knees left over,/Two yel­low scarabs for an emperor’s ring” (New­ton 169). The speak­er offers her­self as object to be incor­po­rat­ed by the oth­er. It is here that the effects of mourn­ing may be most pal­pa­bly felt. Freud, in his sem­i­nal essay “Mourn­ing and Melan­cho­lia,” dis­cuss­es the prob­lem­at­ic, if not elu­sive, ques­tion of the way in which, in mourn­ing and melan­cho­lia alike, the ego allows the shad­ow of the object to “fall” upon it (249). Lasker-Schüler writes as one who car­ries the dead with­in her; she explic­it­ly wrote of her belief in ghosts and her iden­ti­ty as one who was haunt­ed (New­ton 8-9). Even, or espe­cial­ly, in a poem ded­i­cat­ed to desire, the author is iden­ti­fy­ing with the dead, and, as in her treat­ment of her lost objects, wish­es her­self to be car­ried in the body of the sex­u­al­ized love object.

The sui­ci­dal impulse of the one who can­not com­plete mourn­ing can be refor­mu­lat­ed as the desire for absorp­tion in the other’s body, which entails the self’s anni­hi­la­tion. Punc­tu­a­tion inter­rupts this moment of self-destruc­tion; a hyphen cuts into the two lines, which move toward the devour­ing of the speak­er. Lan­guage itself mim­ics the speaker’s dis­ap­pear­ance; the moments of silence in the text remind of the inevitable loss of voice, which would take place upon immer­sion in the oth­er. Freud remarks, on the ques­tion of love and sui­cide, that both demon­strate the state of the ego over­whelmed by the object: “In the two opposed sit­u­a­tions of being most intense­ly in love and of sui­cide the ego is over­whelmed by the object, though in total­ly dif­fer­ent ways” (252).

The ques­tion per­sists whether the dis­ap­point­ing end of Lasker-Schüler’s rela­tion­ship with Benn is direct­ly at stake in the poem “Das Lied des Spiel­prinzen.” Since it is sug­gest­ed that it was Benn who end­ed their brief affair, she, as “ex-”, casts her ghost­ly shad­ow upon him (Falken­berg 94). Per­haps there is an effort, mate­ri­al­iz­ing in the space of the text, to deny the loss incurred at the end of the amorous rela­tion­ship. Lasker-Schüler marked her­self as an author who con­tin­u­ous­ly blend­ed the spaces of fic­tion and biog­ra­phy, sign­ing let­ters, for exam­ple, with the names of her cre­at­ed char­ac­ters. She mythol­o­gized her­self, in one instance stat­ing that, though she was raised in Elber­feld, she, in fact, was born in Thebes (Durch­slag-Litt and Lit­man-Demeestère 14). In “Das Lied des Spiel­prinzen,” the sym­bol of the scarab and its regal set­ting reflect her inter­est in mythol­o­gy. It remains unde­cid­ed to what degree bio­graph­i­cal expe­ri­ence, in this case the real­i­ty of the rela­tion­ship between the two writ­ers, can be aligned with the poem. The poem’s title refers to a prince, recall­ing Lasker-Schüler’s repeat­ed ref­er­ences to her­self as the Prince of Thebes, there­by desta­bi­liz­ing any clear or sin­gu­lar iden­ti­ty. And yet, Lasker-Schüler invites entry into her biog­ra­phy by plac­ing the col­lec­tion under Benn’s name.

The comin­gling of fic­tion and biog­ra­phy echoes the way in which self and oth­er com­bine. In many of her texts, Lasker-Schüler includes the wish for a return to the mother’s body. In the poem “Chaos,” (“Chaos”) from the 1902 col­lec­tion Styx, the fol­low­ing words par­al­lel the move­ment of the I in “Das Lied des Spiel­prinzen”:

Ich wollte, ein Schmerzen rege sich/Und stürze mich grausam nieder/Und riß mich jäh an mich!/Und es lege eine Schöpferlust/Mich wieder in meine Heimat/Unter der Mutterbrust./Meine Mut­ter­heimat ist seeleleer,/Es blühen dort keine Rosen/Im war­men Odem mehr.--/….Möcht einen Herza­ller­lieb­sten haben,/Und mich in seinem Fleisch ver­graben. (Durch­slag-Litt and Lit­man-Demeestère 54-57)

I need a pain to pierce/To strike me cru­el­ly down/To rip me into my self!/O, for the pow­er, the will/To bear me back to my homeland/Beneath the mater­nal breast./My moth­er­land is soulless,/ Ros­es no longer bloom/In her warm breath./….Would I had my heart’s beloved,/To bury myself in his flesh. (Durch­slag-Litt and Lit­man-Demeestère 54-57)

In this poem, as in oth­er texts, the con­cept of home is equat­ed with the fig­ure of the moth­er (Snook 224-25). The desire for a return to the “mother’s breast” fig­ured as a return home attach­es to the desire for bur­ial. This fig­u­ra­tion of return becomes pos­si­ble only through the advent of the expe­ri­ence of pain; the desire for the mother’s body trans­mits the self’s shat­ter­ing or wound­ing. Bur­ial takes place in the heart of the “most loved” oth­er, some­one, in part, offered as sub­sti­tu­tion for the mater­nal object. The image of the mother’s death is con­tained in the lines in which breath ceas­es, a breath pic­tured here as relat­ed to life-giv­ing forces; the ros­es can no longer bloom in the mother’s pres­ence. It is, then, after an inter­rup­tion through a hyphen and ellipses that the I moves toward the space of incor­po­ra­tion; the poem reveals the oth­er to be male at its close: “his flesh.”

These lines from “Chaos” are sus­tained by the inte­gral con­nec­tion between mourn­ing and sex­u­al impuls­es or instincts. There is the often-not­ed upsurge in sex­u­al desire on the occa­sion of a loved person’s death. This desire works both sides of what devel­ops into ambiva­lence: on one side, Melanie Klein empha­sizes the tri­umph of ful­fill­ment of ear­ly death wish­es; on the oth­er side, Abra­ham and Torok refer to a “final, cli­mac­tic out­pour­ing of love” for the deceased (103). In “Chaos,” a poem that traces the effects of pain and death, a con­nec­tion is clear­ly estab­lished between the mourn­ing over the mother’s absence and the desire for incor­po­ra­tion. The poem returns to the mother’s death with the focus on the ces­sa­tion of breath. The poem’s call to rip or punc­ture the sub­ject echoes the author’s descrip­tion of the breach her mother’s death intro­duced. The desire for a return to the mother’s body can only spell desire for entomb­ment or bur­ial, as the mother’s body is an interred corpse.

The entomb­ment of the mother’s body addi­tion­al­ly requires the inges­tion of the favorite broth­er Paul’s body; Paul died eight years before the moth­er, who trans­ferred the unmourned loss of her child into his sur­viv­ing sib­ling (Rick­els 31). Through­out Lasker-Schüler’s work, there is a par­al­lel ide­al­iza­tion of both moth­er and broth­er. In a 1932 prose text, Die Eich­hörnchen (The Squir­rels), the broth­er is named a young king, a pres­ence echoed in the poem already bear­ing in its title the turn towards the prince­ly, “The Song of the Play­mate Prince” (Gesam­melte Werke 2: 604). Sig­nif­i­cant­ly, the mother/brother loss is repeat­ed through Lasker-Schüler’s lat­er loss of her own son, Paul, whom she named after her miss­ing broth­er, Paul. Upon her son’s death, the author inevitably repli­cates her own mother’s loss of her broth­er. Thus her inter­nal moth­er sup­ports her in her grief. Lasker-Schüler’s son’s death fur­thers iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the deceased moth­er.

The injunc­tion in Lasker-Schüler’s work to remem­ber and inscribe the dead inter­nal­ly and for­ev­er finds a corol­lary in the wish for oth­ers to remem­ber. The last stan­za of “Das Lied des Spiel­prinzen,” issues a guar­an­tee that the speak­er of the poem will be re-mem­bered by the oth­er:  “Find dann ein­mal morgens/Nur noch meine Kniee,/Zwei gelbe Skarabäen für eines Kaisers Ring” (Gesam­melte  Werke 1: 209). “Find then one fine morning/Only my knees left over,/Two yel­low scarabs for an emperor’s ring” (New­ton 169). Though only pieces of the self remain, the image of the knees, under­scor­ing bru­tal­i­ty and anni­hi­la­tion, is aligned with the divine and the mag­i­cal. The scarab, a sym­bol of divin­i­ty in ancient Egypt, is also used as tal­is­man. Though reduced to the lev­el of adornment—the knees described as two yel­low scarabs appro­pri­ate for an emperor’s ring—the remains of the speak­er, nonethe­less, become prized pos­ses­sions that, more­over, pos­sess divine pow­er. There is thus the mag­i­cal, which remains. Incor­po­ra­tion, as Der­ri­da under­scores in his dis­cus­sion of the ques­tion of crypt-keep­ing, is on the side of the fan­tas­ti­cal and mag­i­cal (Der­ri­da xvii). Not only will the oth­er be made to remem­ber through the forced inclu­sion of the speak­er into the other’s body, that which remains will install a type of pow­er over the oth­er. Lasker-Schüler’s repeat­ed depic­tion of the poet as pos­sess­ing divine pow­er is rein­tro­duced here via the image of the scarab. For her, it is the poet who can expe­ri­ence divin­i­ty (Gesam­melte Werke 2: 329).

The author’s link­ing of the mater­nal with the often mys­ti­fied or mag­i­cal realm of the lit­er­ary solid­i­fies the con­nec­tion through­out much of her oeu­vre between ghosts and the space of the text. The author’s moth­er is repeat­ed­ly iden­ti­fied as the one who induct­ed her into the world of lit­er­a­ture, mark­ing the mater­nal lega­cy as one dou­bly tied to lan­guage (Cohn 19). There is thus, hid­den with­in Lasker-Schüler’s under­stand­ing of lit­er­ary inven­tion as divine, anoth­er ori­gin lying in the ghost­ly; language’s mag­i­cal ele­ments are again tied to the dead. It is the moth­er who, in order to pre­serve a link to the entrance into the poet­ic, must be incor­po­rat­ed. Lan­guage itself, for Lasker-Schüler, the pos­si­bil­i­ty of its incep­tion, is per­haps always envi­sioned with­in the con­text of loss. Fur­ther­more, there is the notion of lan­guage as lost; a belief is pre­sent­ed through­out her oeu­vre in a myth­ic, ear­ly lan­guage which, pre­sumed lost, must be sought (Hedgepeth 48).

Although the I of “Das Lied des Spiel­prinzen desires a bru­tal con­sum­ma­tion, desires her body to be con­sumed by the oth­er, simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, the pain that would be inflict­ed by the speak­er on the loved object is present. Aggres­sion in the poem is addressed to both self and oth­er, mim­ic­k­ing the fluc­tu­a­tions of sadism and masochism. The third and fourth stan­zas of the poem mark the vio­lence that would be inflict­ed on the loved object’s body through the speaker’s desire to become a part of that body: “Und deine harte Stirne,/Ich kann mich so recht an sie lehnen,/Sitz drauf wie auf einem Giebel./Und in deines Kinnes Grube/Bau ich mir ein Raubnest--/Bis—du mich aufge­fressen hast” (Gesam­melte Werke 2: 209). “And your hard brow,/I can lean myself against it,/Sit on it like a gable./And in the hol­low of your chin/I build a robber’s hideaway--/Until—you’ve eat­en me all up” (New­ton 169). The speak­er trans­forms the “hard brow” into a space that can be usurped for the emplace­ment of her own body in the other’s body, which must sup­port the speak­er. The sex­u­al com­po­nents with­in these images are also appar­ent. That the speak­er wish­es to sit on the other’s body shows, more­over, that sex­u­al desire here is tinged with vio­lence. The act of installing one­self inside the cut-open chin of the addressed you both objec­ti­fies the other’s body and inscribes in it this moment of vio­lence.

The ques­tion with which the poem begins—how might the speak­er and the addressee expe­ri­ence more love—would find an answer in ambiva­lence if it were not for the link to ear­ly child­hood giv­en in the poem’s title as allu­sion to play. That the song is sung by a “play­mate prince,” or by the prince of play, recalls ear­li­er modes of attach­ment. Incorporation’s prox­im­i­ty to oral instincts invites, in good part, this return to ear­ly states of relat­ing.

Writ­ten five years before “Das Lied des Spiel­prinzen,” the lan­guage of Lasker-Schüler’s 1912 novel­la Mein Herz, Ein Liebesro­man mit Bildern und wirk­lich leben­den Men­schen (My Heart, a Nov­el of Love, with Pic­tures and Real, Liv­ing Peo­ple) insists upon the pos­si­bil­i­ty of incor­po­ra­tion. Mein Herz is com­prised pri­mar­i­ly of let­ters addressed to Lasker-Schüler’s ex-hus­band, Her­warth Walden, whom she had just recent­ly divorced. Through­out the novel­la, we find nar­ra­tions of eat­ing and drink­ing that illu­mi­nate the impor­tance of con­sump­tion (Gesam­melte Werke 2: 369). The image of devour­ing is essen­tial and recalls the man­ic response to mourn­ing described by Freud. Freud explains that a response of mania entails the desire to devour objects (Freud 255). In one let­ter addressed to her ex-hus­band, Lasker-Schüler writes that she should be seen as com­pa­ra­ble to a pineap­ple by a painter who wish­es to paint her por­trait and clos­es the descrip­tion with a turn towards can­ni­bal­ism:

Ihr wollt es nicht glauben, aber der Maler mit der unge­heuren Hand­schrift wird mir glauben, daß ich von der Ananas stamme. O, dieser berauschende, wilde Fruchtkopf mit dem Häuptlings­blattschmuck! Ich habe noch nie davon gegessen, nicht ein­mal genascht, aus Pietät, und dabei kön­nt ich meine pflan­zliche Abkun­ft auf­fressen, wie ein Men­schen­fress­er. (Gesam­melte Werke 2: 362)

You won’t believe it, but the painter with the ter­ri­fy­ing hand­writ­ing will believe me, that I am descend­ed from the pineap­ple. O, this intox­i­cat­ing, wild head of fruit, the chieftan’s orna­men­tal bon­net! I have nev­er eat­en one, not once nib­bled at it, because of my piety, and yet I could devour my veg­etable ances­try, like a can­ni­bal. (Heart 20)

She uses the word “Abkun­ft” (descent, lin­eage, or parent­age) to dis­cuss the pineap­ple. It is the plant or veg­e­ta­tive form of her parent­age that could be eat­en, a pos­si­bil­i­ty then tied to the act of a can­ni­bal, a “Men­schen­fress­er.” There is thus a link drawn between inher­i­tance or the famil­ial and the ques­tion of incor­po­ra­tion. This inclu­sion of the famil­ial may inevitably refer to loss, the deaths of fam­i­ly mem­bers recalled. Implic­it, as well, in this moment is the speak­er as object of con­sump­tion, her com­par­i­son to fruit sig­nal­ing her own fan­ta­sy of being devoured or incor­po­rat­ed by the oth­er. There is the wish that the oth­er will fol­low the call to can­ni­bal­ism by recog­ni­tion of the speak­er as object avail­able for con­sump­tion. Addi­tion­al­ly, when the speak­er asso­ciates her­self with exot­ic fruit described as intox­i­cat­ing, she uses iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, in part, as lure.[2]

Though not explic­it in this pas­sage, it is cru­cial to note that in many sec­tions of the novel­la, the loss of the rela­tion­ship with Her­warth Walden, the addressee, is direct­ly tied to the speaker’s expe­ri­ence of suf­fer­ing. It was, in fact, com­ment­ed that the novel­la was too heav­i­ly based on the author’s biog­ra­phy (Falken­berg 76). The fan­ta­sy of incor­po­rat­ing the lost loved object attends iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with acts of can­ni­bal­ism. The novel­la incor­po­rates the oth­er; the major­i­ty of the epis­tles are addressed to the author’s ex-hus­band. In effect, through lan­guage, the text becomes a space that can devour or swal­low up oth­er objects, which are then con­tained or stored with­in.

Just three short sec­tions after can­ni­bal­ism is first intro­duced in the novel­la, the theme returns in anoth­er of the novella’s entries. In this exam­ple, the act of devour­ing is turned inwards. The speak­er describes a type of self-encounter, one sus­tained in terms of man­ic jubi­la­tion:

Ich bin nun ganz auf meine Seele angewiesen, und habe mit Zagen meine Küste betreten. So viel Wild­nis! Ich werde selb­st von mir aufge­fressen wer­den. Ich feiere blutige Götzen­feste, trage böse Tier­masken und tanze mit Men­schen­knochen, mit Euren Schenkeln. Ich muß Geduld haben. Ich habe Geduld mit mir. (Gesam­melte Werke 2: 365)

I am now entire­ly depen­dent on my soul, and have tread upon my shores with fear. So much wilder­ness! I shall be devoured by myself. I cel­e­brate bloody pagan rites, wear the masks of evil ani­mals, and dance with human bones, with your thighs. I must have patience. I have patience with myself. (Heart 20)

Evo­ca­tions of Dionysian fes­ti­vals or feasts fol­low, align­ing the speak­er with play­ful dis­po­si­tion of human body parts. A prim­i­tive world is traced here in which a belief in spir­its and ghosts is at home. As in the poem, named after a prince who plays, here too, play becomes syn­ony­mous with acts of a bru­tal nature. The addressees—the let­ter is addressed both to her ex-hus­band and her friend Kurt (most like­ly her ex-husband’s trav­el com­pan­ion at the time)—become objects of aggres­sion. Their bod­ies are now sim­ply frag­ments, pieces or remain­ders that become objects of play for the speak­er.

The I of the text is alone, or rather, left alone, as though all oth­ers have depart­ed. There fol­lows the ges­ture toward mak­ing one­self into the oth­er, where­upon a dis­so­cia­tive incli­na­tion appears. The self can be made oth­er in the psy­che that stores or retains the dead as oth­er. The self can turn on itself in order to devour a self rela­tion oth­er­wise addressed as a sui­ci­dal urge. There is ecsta­sy in this moment of cel­e­bra­tion that allows the speak­er to enjoy the ani­mal­is­tic. The fig­ure of man­ic intox­i­ca­tion aris­es. Per­haps the turn to the self is described as joy­ous because it marks the moment of hav­ing let go the objects that have been suc­cess­ful­ly mourned. These objects are not only the ones from which the speak­er has detached her­self, but also objects upon which the speak­er can unleash aggres­sion. There is also a turn towards the self as the one upon whom one can depend. There is the pos­si­bil­i­ty of hav­ing patience with one­self. The sub­ject becomes able to treat her­self as oth­er. The self can be judged and viewed, and, fur­ther­more, act­ed upon with­out the pres­ence of oth­ers. There is the fan­ta­sy, then, of incor­po­rat­ing one­self into one­self; per­haps cel­e­bra­tion here stems from this pos­si­bil­i­ty of ulti­mate return. At the close of the let­ter, the speak­er states that she is her­self, her only “immor­tal love.” The self alone can usurp the role that might be or was once played by oth­ers (Heart 21).

Lasker-Schüler insists on the pos­si­bil­i­ty of turn­ing towards the self as oth­er. Begin­ning with her moth­er, Lasker-Schüler’s imag­in­ings pre­serve a space for the unin­cor­po­rat­ed oth­er; the self could become the “oth­er” in an already famil­iar process. The writ­ing sub­ject who is inhab­it­ed by the dead may thus always be writ­ing with the effects of ghosts or lost objects, the voice of the I becom­ing mul­ti­ple. This ques­tion of mul­ti­plic­i­ty applies indeed to Else Lasker-Schüler, who took on the per­son­al­i­ties of her invent­ed char­ac­ters, sign­ing let­ters in their names and dress­ing her­self in the cos­tumes that she had assigned them. Iden­ti­ty is seen as plur­al with the haunt­ed self too appear­ing as a plu­ral­i­ty of iden­ti­ties. She claimed she had con­ver­sa­tions with ghosts. In Lasker-Schüler’s texts address­ing or inter­ro­gat­ing desire, the traces of loss­es can­not be erased. Instead, the urge or wish to ingest the oth­er with­out thought of let­ting go, and the rec­i­p­ro­cal desire for the loved oth­er to do the same, is repeat­ed­ly pre­sent­ed. Desire is pro­ject­ed through the lens of loss and often includes the wish for a return to the sym­bi­ot­ic rela­tion between moth­er and infant that can be recon­struct­ed through process­es of incor­po­ra­tion.


[1] See Jacques Der­ri­da The Work of Mourn­ing.

[2] The ques­tion of intox­i­ca­tion enters into a dis­cus­sion of mourn­ing.  As Avi­tal Ronell sug­gests, the user of the drug or elixir often turns toward intox­i­cants either to con­vene with or dis­miss phan­toms. The hal­lu­ci­na­to­ry prop­er­ties of drugs facil­i­tate the emer­gence of the fan­ta­sized object. See: Avi­tal Ronell, Crack Wars: Lit­er­a­ture, Addic­tion, Mania 5.

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---. Gesam­melte Werke in drei Bän­den, Band 1. Frank­furt am Main: Suhrkamp Ver­lag, 1996. Print.

---. My Heart, a nov­el of love, with pic­tures and real, liv­ing peo­ple. Trans. Shel­don Gilman and Robert Levine. Web. 1 Nov. 2010.   www​.bu​.edu/​e​n​g​l​i​s​h​/​l​e​v​i​n​e​/​m​e​i​n​h​e​r​z​.​htm.

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