Towards the Forum ZADIG-VIENNA
The guests she called
For as long as I can remember, my grandmother has been talking about the many companionships that would have taken place in her home. She has always lived with her family and her house and garden have always been the scene of celebrations and gatherings of all kinds. There was mostly “big company”. Her family, friends, acquaintances and other guests of all kinds, including some “weird creatures”, had visited on a regular basis. For some years now my grandmother has lived in this house alone; her parents are deceased, child and nephews have moved and are now with their own families in their own company.
In the last few months my grandmother’s dementia progressed rapidly. In summer I was quite surprised when I visited her and she warned me that she had some guests with her at the moment. Where I could only see decorative cushions, my grandmother found her “strange, uninvited guests”. She talked to them and implored them to leave the house. She told me it was very unpleasant, the strangers would seek shelter with her, but were not ready to leave now. My grandmother told the doctor what had happened, amused – something “strange” had happened to her; strangers had made themselves comfortable on her sofa, at her table and even in her bed and would no longer leave. “How odd that this is happening to me”, she laughed. When the doctor asked her if the strangers scared her, my grandmother replied: “No, no, I’m fortunately not afraid, but it’s really odd.”
Since the hallucinations continued and my grandmother was persuaded to move furniture, leave her shoes to the strangers and prepare meals for them, the situation became uncanny enough, especially for us relatives, to advocate a medication that would make the “ghosts” vanish from grandmother’s house and garden. After all, my grandmother also said that some of the guests were rude and would grimace from time to time.
After my grandmother had taken her antipsychotics for a few weeks, the foreign guests were successfully expelled and no longer appeared in her speech. During one of the first visits without her invisible roommates I asked my grandmother how she was . She told of past times, of the “big company” that had been with her and that it was now quite different to live alone. She seemed dejected.
I wonder what intimates have been taken from her by taking away the strangers.
My innermost partner
J.-A. Miller says, “The extimate is that which is most proximate, most interior, without ceasing to be exterior. The extimate is not the contrary to the intimate, since the extimate is precisely the intimate, it is even the most intimate. This word indicates, nonetheless, that the most intimate is in the exterior, like a foreign body…. There is a difficulty in situating, in structuring, and even in accepting extimacy.”
For me, as the son of two Polish Jewish survivors of Auschwitz, and growing up in a small Bavarian town, being foreign was my fundamental situation. The illusion of a “simple, smooth” identity therefore was never possible for me. However, for many years I tried to change and maybe solve this disagreeable situation by making alterations in my social life; for example, by emigrating to Israel and joining a political party with whose aims and values I could identify. But I had to learn that even belonging somewhere and identification could not cover up the radical strangeness in me, even though the above-mentioned steps in the social field had positive effects for me. The foreign, the not being a part of something, remained an intimate companion of mine, so to speak my innermost partner, whom I located outside, and who attached himself to me like a parasite.
Only my analysis made it possible for me to recognize that I unconsciously take up this position actively in relation to the world again and again, also in order to distract from the fact that the status of being a foreigner, of being foreign, of being excluded is located in one’s own intimacy, which no kind of belonging can solve. Only after having really accepted this, can I belong to something.
 Miller, J.-A., ‘Extimate Enemies’, The Lacanian Review, No. 3, NLS, Paris, 2017, p. 30
The exile of barren words
I’ve always looked with desire at women with headscarves. It is self-evident to me, I wouldn’t know how I could look differently. When I was little, my great-grandmother always wore one. Bound, just like the old women did when they marched in black to the early Mass. My grandmother had bound it the same way, but it wasn’t black, but usually had a rose pattern. My mother only wore a headscarf from time to time. But that was something special. There was always something subtle about it, a bit like Audrey Hepburn. At work she sometimes tied it at the back of her neck, just like I imagine Romanian farmers’ wives do today. And when she painted a room, her headscarf had a pirate look. Sometimes you saw more hair, sometimes less.
There are more women with headscarves on our streets and on public transport nowadays, and I look at them the same way. You could even say I gape at them. I search for details that give me a kick and turn away disgusted from any details that don’t seem sexy to me. And in my imagination I invent stories about where these women come from, what their activities are and, of course, what it would be like to have sex with them. Anything is possible, from a princess from The Thousand and One Nights to an ugly lump.
If you look closely, each headscarf is different, bound differently, with or without visible hair, a unique frame for the face. An infinite palette through which my desires rummage with a wealth of words. There are those, at least that’s my fantasy, who want to show more than hide with their headscarf, and those who want to hide more than show, and who hope for uniformity. But none escapes my desire. And when they are anxious to add a personal touch to their headscarves and how they wear them, I look for it.
For me, a headscarf is not a religious symbol, not for a moment. And when I then sometimes meet people who look at women with headscarves disparagingly or express themselves disparagingly about the women who wear headscarves, I often think what a barren and impoverished mental landscape must actually exist behind it if one no longer uses a richer language for one’s own perception. Their meagre choice of words, which no longer allows me to draw from the abundance of my vocabulary, is also an exile.
The woman doesn’t exist, says Lacan, by which he means there is no category under which women could be classified and summarised. Each one is for herself, but you can only enjoy her if you look more closely and separate yourself from any populist impartiality.