By Jean Amery
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Extra info for At the Mind's Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities
I went abroad and didn’t know much more of Paul Eluard than his name, but I regarded a writer named Karl Heinrich Waggerl as an important literary figure. I have twenty-seven years of exile behind me, and my spiritual compatriots are Proust, Sartre, Beckett. Only I am still convinced that one must have compatriots in village and city streets if the spiritual ones are to be fully enjoyed, and that a cultural inter nationalism thrives well only in the soil of national security. Thomas Mann lived and discoursed in the Anglo-Saxon, international atmosphere of California, and with the strength of national self-assurance he wrote the exemplarily German Doktor Faustus.
Many things do indeed happen approximately the way they were anticipated in the imagination: Gestapo men in leather coats, pistol pointed at their victim —that is correct, all right. But then, almost amazingly, it dawns on one that the fellows not only have leather coats and pistols, but also faces: not “Gestapo faces” with twisted noses, hypertrophied chins, pockmarks, and knife scars, as might appear in a book, but rather faces like anyone else’s. Plain, ordinary faces. And the enormous perception at a later stage, one that destroys all abstractive imagination, makes clear to us how the plain, ordinary faces finally become Gestapo faces after all, and how evil overlays and exceeds banality.
The mere fact that one could not decipher people’s faces was frightening. I was having a beer with a big, coarse-boned, square-skulled man, who may have been a respectable Flemish citizen. How Much Home Does a Person Need? 47 perhaps even a patrician, but could just as well have been a suspicious harbor tough about to punch me in the face and lay hands on my wife. Faces, gestures, clothes, houses, words (even if I halfway understood them) were sensory reality, but not inteTpretable signs. There was no order for me in this world.