The Kindly Ones
Cultures - Article paru le 4 novembre 2006
Les Lettres françaises
Beaucoup de choses vont surprendre dans ce vaste roman écrit à la première personne, à commencer par le ton avec lequel le sujet est traité. En 900 pages le narrateur relate sa vie au service du IIIe Reich, dans les Einsatzgruppen, c’est-à-dire les unités SS chargées de besognes hautement criminelles sur les arrières de la Wehrmacht, en Pologne et en URSS. Il s’agit du massacre des juifs, des communistes et de toutes sortes d’indésirables. Après le stade du meurtre de masse, que l’on peut cependant qualifier de conventionnel, la direction des SS est amenée à passer au stade industriel, celui d’Auschwitz. Aussi le narrateur, l’Obersturmbannführer Aue, s’applique-t-il à exposer en détail tous les problèmes rencontrés, allant du comportement des victimes aux difficultés techniques pour mettre en oeuvre les exécutions, avec les troubles profonds qu’ils provoquent chez les SS et les affrontements entre hauts dignitaires en charge du programme. Sans oublier le rôle des groupes nationalistes locaux alliés des Allemands. Tout cela est rapporté avec une élégance de langage qui contribue à la clarté des faits mais leur donne une réalité quelque peu étrange, les privant de la part d’opacité propre à tout événement traumatique.
Car, concernant des faits qui sont insupportables, on a peine à admettre la description clinique qui en est donnée, même si elle est jalonnée d’interprétations audacieuses ou cyniques et de réflexions douloureuses propres au narrateur qui montrent qu’il n’est pas une marionnette. Cette clarté contribue à servir l’objectif qu’il poursuit en entreprenant son récit puisque la description des assassinats, le modus operandi, les intrigues et conflits qui en découlent occupent l’espace intellectuel du lecteur et lui permettent de refouler la question de leur justification profonde.
Dès la première partie du roman intitulée « Toccata », sorte de libre improvisation sur son sujet, Aue expose qu’il ne cherchera pas à cacher la réalité des actes commis par lui pendant quatre ans. Il a aidé à assassiner des millions d’êtres humains et personnellement commis des meurtres. Rien n’en sera dissimulé, ni des faits plus personnels qu’il ne rattache pas à ses fonctions, comme son homosexualité. Rester à la surface des choses ou en cacher une partie nuirait à l’objectif qui vise à faire admettre que, si tout cela fut criminel, et à un degré jamais égalé, tout un chacun, à sa place, en eût fait autant. Pris dans l’étau de l’histoire, assujetti à la puissance d’un État moderne, avec sa doctrine, ses institutions, ses intrigues de pouvoir, personne, selon lui, ne peut affirmer sans mentir qu’il n’aurait pas endossé le rôle d’assassin qui fut le sien. Ce qui est décisif ne serait pas le système de valeurs dont chacun est imprégné mais le fait d’être né à un certain moment de l’histoire, le poids des circonstances primant alors sur le bagage culturel dont tout être est porteur. Ce bagage n’a d’ailleurs jamais été une digue suffisante, en tout cas absolue, contre la barbarie. Non pas qu’Aue ne se sente pas coupable. Coupable il l’est, il le comprend, mais la seule question qu’il pose et qui vaille sans doute qu’on y réponde est celle de savoir s’il est possible de faire autrement.
Aue, qui s’est refait après-guerre une belle situation comme directeur d’une usine de dentelle, a beau jeu d’exposer que dans d’autres pays les hommes ont obéi à des ordres semblablement criminels, en tout cas d’essence criminelle. Sans être ensuite ni jugés ni rejetés. Quel pays n’a pas ses assassins décorés ? Certes. Mais se délester du mal sur l’État n’empêche pas celui qui prête la main au mal de s’y détruire.
C’est d’ailleurs un des problèmes. Les massacreurs sont minés de l’intérieur par le comportement de leurs victimes qui récupèrent dans le moment même de leur mise à mort le statut d’humain que les nazis leur avaient ôté. Ainsi un SS en train de diriger une effrayante boucherie est-il littéralement cassé par la demande d’un juif qui lui dit : « S’il vous plaît, monsieur l’officier, fusillez les enfants proprement ! » Les plus avisés des SS constatent qu’ils ne sont que des assassins, et que ces meurtres, voulus par leur État, sont contraires à toutes les règles admises. Ils sont donc coupables d’y participer, sans circonstances atténuantes puisqu’ils ont tout compris, y compris l’échec final à venir.
Mais justement, s’il est vrai que la responsabilité de chacun procède essentiellement du rôle de l’État, la question se déplace et devient : quelle est l’origine de l’État nazi, qui l’a mis en place, lui a donné les moyens de sa politique ? L’État selon Littell est-il une sorte de Moloch qui se crée lui-même sur lequel nous ne pourrions rien ? À travers ce problème, l’auteur pose celui de la violence dont le XXIe siècle semble aussi prodigue que son devancier, et de la capacité de chacun à s’y opposer. Problème angoissant dont on voit l’actualité tous les jours.
By George Walden
Last Updated: 4:47PM GMT 05 Feb 2007
George Walden reviews Les Bienveillantes (The Kindly Ones) by Jonathan Littell
After 150 pages of this book the reader assessing it for publication (I am reliably informed) felt like vomiting. Instead he told Gallimard they had to take it. Shrewd advice, it turned out: Les Bienveillantes (The Kindly Ones) has won both the Goncourt and Académie Française literary prizes, and has sold 600,000 copies in France alone.
The author, son of the bestselling spy writer Robert Littell, is a French-educated American, and his book is a fictional memoir by an SS officer who is French-educated too. What repelled the publisher's reader, I would imagine, is not the author's habit of lingering over fascist brutality, or the sex. More likely it was the clichéd mendacity of the hero's (and, we must presume, the author's) central message: that there is a Sturmbahnführer in all of us, ready-drilled and bursting to obey orders to slaughter millions, or gas the Jews. And from there it follows – does it not? – that our hero's murderous war career is only a relative evil, and that German guilt is relative too.
The sense of being served up discredited old hat as hot new fashion doesn't stop there. Predictably our Nazi hero is passionate about music, and a thoughtful fellow (confronted with an appalling atrocity, his reaction is to ask a fellow officer 'Have you read Plato?') Obviously he is bisexual ('Our doctors found women's underwear when they cut away the uniforms of the wounded more often than is supposed').
Understanding no doubt that Liszt-loving, Plato-quoting, bisexual Nazis are well-trodden ground, Littell has his SS man push the boundaries a little further, for the hell of it, by fornicating with his twin sister and murdering his mother, liberties the author has since justified by reference to Aeschylus' Oresteia.
Contrived? You bet, but consistent, because everything here is manufactured. Vast chunks of the war lore have clearly been industrially researched (Littell relishes Nazi terminology such as Reichsicherheitdiensthauptamp – the central office for the security of the Reich, a dutiful glossary informs us), and similar muggings-up are evident in the hero's private life. Littell once translated de Sade and Jean Genet, and it shows, as does the influence of the 1930s apostle of the eroticism of violence, Georges Bataille.
Hence the author's weakness for sexual fantasy, to whose humorous aspects he seems blind, as when our SS officer rhapsodises solemnly about sodomising his sister on a guillotine.
No amount of high-toned chatter about Kant or Darwin can disguise the fact that, with its sex 'n' fascism horror comic theme, at heart this is a low, conventionally minded novel. The only thing missing is a bit of moral equivalence between Hitler's Reich and contemporary America, but the author has recently filled the gap in an interview in Figaro magazine. Donald Rumsfeld equals Adolf Eichmann, yeah, right.
Why has France fallen for such stuff? Partly, I fear, it is envy. Compared to the American novel French fiction is at a low ebb. There is a desperation for something plausibly imposing, and some prize judges (I am told) were thrilled to find an American writing a big fat book in French.
Then there is the Gallic weakness for the perverse and paradoxical – though it is heartening to hear of hesitations and sharp dissensions among the judges. As for the roaring sales, war stories with a faction element (Adolf Eichmann, Albert Speer and Hitler himself feature) are perennially popular, as is Nazi sex, especially when packaged in a validating intellectualism.
This is a work of high vulgarity and great cynicism, whose only attraction is its inadvertent humour. To make the point that his hero is ultimately his own man, Littell has his hero, when he is presented with a medal, tweak the Fuhrer's nose.
His mind perhaps on the inevitable film-rights, his final scene is one of unintentional Grand Guignol. As escaped elephants and chimpanzees roam Berlin in its dying hours, the narrator kills first a detective endeavouring to arrest him for matricide, then his best friend, to steal his identity. Following which he muses: 'I was sad, without really knowing why.'
If the translation (due later this year) of this absurd and odious novel finds an audience in Britain, the reasons to be sad will be clear enough.
November 7, 2006
By ALAN RIDING
PARIS, Nov. 6 — Jonathan Littell, a New York-born writer whose French-language novel about a murderous and degenerate SS officer has been the sensation of the French publishing season, on Monday became the first American to win France’s most prestigious literary award, the Prix Goncourt.
The 903-page book, “Les Bienveillantes,” was the strong favorite for the century-old prize that goes to novels written in French. Previous winners include Marcel Proust, André Malraux, Simone de Beauvoir and Marguerite Duras; non-French citizens including Tahar Ben Jelloun, Amin Maalouf and Andreï Makine have also won the Goncourt.
“Les Bienveillantes,” or “The Kindly Ones,” has been acquired by HarperCollins for publication in the United States and has already been sold for translation into German, Spanish, Hebrew and several other languages. Last month the book, which has so far sold some 250,000 copies in France, won the Académie Française’s annual fiction prize.
Mr. Littell, 39, who has tried to escape the circus atmosphere surrounding his sudden celebrity, even refusing to appear on television to promote his novel, recently moved to Barcelona and did not come to Paris for today’s announcement.
“He hopes his absence will not be misunderstood or, even less, be interpreted as disdain for the jury,” his French publisher, Antoine Gallimard, told reporters here. “He has no need for publicity, both out of modesty and because he believes that literature is not part of show business, that what’s important is the book.”
Still, part of the novelty of “Les Bienveillantes” is that it was written in French by an American, although one who grew up in France after his father, Robert Littell, a journalist-turned-thriller writer, moved the family here in the 1970s.
Later, after attending college in the United States, at Yale, Mr. Littell spent much of the 1990s working for the French humanitarian group Action Against Hunger, in conflict zones including Bosnia, Afghanistan and Chechnya.
In occasional interviews with French newspapers, he has explained that the idea for the project first came to him in 1989 after he saw “Shoah,” Claude Lanzmann’s landmark documentary about the Holocaust. But it was only in 2002 that he began research for the book, whose first draft he wrote in 112 days.
Mr. Littell eventually gave the manuscript to his father’s agent, Andrew Nurnberg, who offered it to four French publishers under the pseudonym of Jean Petit. Éditions Gallimard bought it for an advance of $38,000 (30,000 euros) and, this summer, printed 12,000 copies. Almost immediately French critics enthusiastically responded, with one even comparing it to “War and Peace” and other epic novels.
That said, “Les Bienveillantes” is an improbable best seller, not only because it comprises 903 pages of small print, but also because, apart from a long-forgotten science fiction book, “Bad Voltage: A Fantasy in 4/4,” published in the 1980s, this is Mr. Littell’s first attempt at fiction.
Written in the first person, it is the memoir of Maximilien Aue, a well-educated former SS officer who has managed to escape punishment after the war and reinvent himself as a lace manufacturer in northern France. It is not a confession, though, because Aue sees no reason to apologize. Rather, it is a matter-of-fact description of his decadence — homosexual sadomasochism and incest with his sister — and of his murderous role in the Nazi nightmare.
“Brother humans, let me tell you how things happened,” Aue begins, soon adding: “If I have finally decided to write, it is no doubt to pass the time and also, possibly, to clarify one or two obscure points, perhaps for you and for myself. Moreover, I think it will do me good.”
Born of a German father and a French mother, Aue notes, to explain his fluent French, that he attended secondary school and college in France. “Like most people, I did not ask to become an assassin,” he writes. “If I had had my way, as I said, I would have gone into literature.”
The war takes him to Ukraine during the massacre of Jews at Babi Yar; to Stalingrad, where he is wounded; and to Auschwitz. Like Forrest Gump, he meets historical figures, in this case infamous Nazis, among them Adolf Eichmann, Albert Speer, Rudolf Hess and, in the book’s final pages, Hitler himself. All in all he personifies Hannah Arendt’s famous notion — she applied it to Eichmann — of the “banality of evil.”
Unsurprisingly, “Les Bienveillantes” has been debated here as much for its historical accuracy as for its literary qualities, with Mr. Lanzmann lamenting that Mr. Littell “is fascinated by horror and the décor of death,” and other critics complaining that the novel is weighed down by documentation. But a more typical view, like this one from the weekly Le Point, is that the book “exploded onto the dreary plain of the literary autumn like a meteor.”
Every year what they call the “literary autumn” — or “la rentrée littéraire” — spawns a veritable avalanche of fiction, with no fewer than 475 new French novels and another 207 in translation published this season. In the summer French publishers choose which novels they will promote for various literary awards guaranteed to boost sales.
No less a ritual, though, is a heated debate about the maneuvering by French publishers that precedes these awards. Critics complain that, unlike those who select most American and British literary prizes, the same jurors for the French prizes sit in judgment for years on end, and that most are themselves writers closely aligned to leading publishers like Gallimard, Grasset and Le Seuil.
This year the credibility of the prizes was freshly battered by the timely publication of two books of journals. Jacques Brenner, a former senior editor at Grasset who died in 2001, described how publishers agreed to support one another’s books on juries. In one entry in 1985, he writes that, to thank Alain Robbe-Grillet for helping Bernard-Henri Lévy win the Médicis prize the previous year, Grasset “will publish a bad erotic novel” by Robbe-Grillet’s wife.
More topically, a diary published last month by Madeleine Chapsal, a longtime juror for the Prix Femina, included a bitter observation that last year’s verdict was determined before the jury even met. This prompted the Femina jury to expel Ms. Chapsal; another juror, Régine Deforges, then resigned in solidarity.
Still, this year’s Femina prize, awarded to the Canadian-born writer Nancy Huston for her new novel, “Lignes de Faille,” or “Fault Lines,” was considered well deserved. And with “Les Bienveillantes” winning 7 of 10 votes in the Goncourt jury, no one has suggested that this result was fixed.
==== JERUSALEM POST
Mar. 12, 2009
AKIN AJAYI , THE JERUSALEM POST
The Kindly Ones
By Jonathan Littell
Translated by Charlotte Mandell
995 pages; $29.95
'Oh my human brothers, let me tell you how it happened," begins The Kindly Ones, an extraordinary contemplation on the true nature of evil. "I am not your brother, you'll retort, and I don't want to know."
This first sentence sets the tone for the 900-odd pages to come; willfully provocative, it is a challenge to accompany the narrator as he explores the depravity of Hitler's Final Solution. But at the same time, it turns the spotlight onto the unnamed reader - and this could be any one of us - and asks: Are you prepared to go into this, are you secure in the knowledge that you'll think the same of yourself by the time it's all over?
That said, one should not mistake this particular narrator as one motivated by a higher obligation toward the truth. Maximilian Aue is erudite, cultured and highly educated; he was also an SS man, a bureaucrat and an active implementer of Hitler's perverted obsession. Living in bourgeois anonymity in France many years after the war, he is moved to state his case not out of remorse or repentance but instead self-righteousness and arrogance; "…people forget, I see it every day. Even those who were there hardly ever use anything but ready-made thoughts and phrases to talk about it."
"It," of course is the war, and Aue's account is personal history, a detailed account of his service over the course of five years, from Kiev to Stalingrad to Auschwitz and finally Berlin in the final days of the Third Reich. A middle-ranking administrator, he was tasked with ensuring maximum efficiency in the primary functions of the German army - the removal of "enemies of the Reich" - Jews, Bolsheviks, partisans and Gypsies.
The "It" of The Kindly Ones is an obscenity, a pornographic panorama of violence without limits, and Aue narrates bluntly and without sentimentality, uninterested by the moral questions that usually ensue when one man kills another for no other reason than his ethnicity: "In most cases the man standing above the mass grave no more asked to be there than the one lying, dead or dying, at the bottom of the pit."
Jonathan Littell, the American-born author, has observed in the past that he was more attracted to the idea of placing an SS officer as the protagonist of his Holocaust fiction than a victim, because "they are the ones doing something and changing the reality... [from the] attempt to give a voice to the perpetrator, lessons can be learned that will affect the way we look at the world today."
Littell's portrait of Aue is an intriguing one. A lawyer by training, Aue has a sophisticated appreciation of the abstract, and frequently engages in theoretical examinations of the necessity of their - the Nazis' - actions. On the eve of an Aktion in Ukraine, retaliation against a presumed subversive Jewish population, he considers coolly the morality of the forthcoming slaughter: "I thought the method adopted very unfair... If we were committing an injustice we ought to think about it, and decide if it was necessary and inevitable, or if it was only the result of taking the easy way out, of laziness, of a lack of thought."
He expresses disdain for the "genuine anti-Semites" among their number, those who actively embraced the act of mass murder. But these are weasel words, sophistry, and one concludes that Aue is an intellectual coward if not an opportunist, able to conjure up the perfect argument in defense of National Socialism at will, but unable to recognize the sheer speciousness of his rationalizations.
Still, it is a stance that suits him well as he progresses upward through the SS hierarchy, a journey set against a rich and detailed historical tapestry of the period, replete with appearances from many of the Nazi elite: Himmler, Speer, Bormann, Mengele, Goering and, most significantly, Adolf Eichmann, the "talented bureaucrat" often considered the true architect of the Final Solution.
Eichmann's extended cameo is significant because it brings into sharp focus the primary thrust of The Kindly Ones. Littell has stated that this fiction was an attempt to consider how one might behave if placed in the same milieu as his antihero; the conclusion he seems to lean toward is that the Nazis were not necessarily the psychopathic monsters of contemporary history, but rather creations of a unique combination of social and political factors, albeit with a deranged lunatic as their leader.
This thesis is not new, of course; Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem comes to much the same conclusion. Cheekily, Littell even has Eichmann deferring to Aue on the finer points of the Kantian categorical imperative (an irony this, as Aue muses afterward that he "didn't have much of an idea... I told Eichmann pretty much whatever came into my head." Arendt, in her account of Eichmann's trial, argues that his attempt to rely upon this as an explanation for his actions was bound to fail, since he misunderstood it in the first place.)
Aue as an everyman in extraordinary circumstances is an interesting conceit, but it is one that is fatally undermined by a concurrently evolving psychological profile, a portrait that presents a man with a significantly disturbed emotional hinterland. Discounting his status as "invert" - obviously a problem in Hitler's new Germany - nonetheless a picture unfolds social dislocation, a troubled childhood and adolescence dominated by a hated mother, and disturbing fantasies concerning his twin sister, Una. The material is psychologically compelling, but undermines any presumption that Aue was ever fully compos mentis.
Elsewhere, narrative fact and hallucinatory imagination blend to a disconcerting degree; Aue at times struggles to distinguish between life as it is and life as he imagines it to be. It's all a bit annoying, and at times it seems as if Littell was hedging his bets with respect to his leading Nazi.
This is not to say that The Kindly Ones is not a useful book in its own way. Finely researched, it is at times as convincing a historical document of the decline and fall of the Third Reich as any specialist treatise. But as fiction?
I'm not so sure. When one embarks on a project as ambitious as The Kindly Ones, it is with the implicit understanding of some significant intellectual reward at the end. But, in fact, one concludes with a sense of emotional exhaustion, overcome by the sound and light but still unsure as to what - if anything - tangible that has been left behind.
A real morality play
By Ina Friedman
The Kindly Ones
by Jonathan Littell (translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell), Harper, 984 pages, $29.95
Addressing us as "my human brothers" in the opening line of "The Kindly Ones," former SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Dr. Maximilien Aue, the fictional author of this sprawling wartime memoir, implores the reader to "let me tell you how it happened." In return for the gift of our attention, he promises a tale that is admittedly bleak, but edifying too - "a real morality play, I assure you" - and one that definitely "concerns you: you'll see that this concerns you."
Yet in the same preface to his story, Aue
signals that he really doesn't give a damn whether or not we indulge his
request. For "if after all these years I've made up my mind to write," he
writes, "it's to set the record straight for myself, not for you."
By the time he takes up his pen, Aue (pronounced "Ow-eh") is comfortably ensconced in France (where he spent most of his childhood) as an unremarked bourgeois husband, her and manager of a lace factory. He describes himself as having emerged from World War II as "an empty shell, left with nothing but bitterness and a great shame." But to preclude any charge of misleading us, he also clarifies that, unlike some of his former colleagues, he has never been driven to write a memoir "for the purpose of self-justification, since I have nothing to justify. ... I did my work, that's all." Nor will he be "pleading Befehlnotstand, the just-obeying-orders so highly valued by our good German lawyers," he reassures us, for he acted with "my eyes open, believing that it was my duty and that it had to be done, disagreeable or unpleasant as it may have been."
If anything, Aue's purpose in embarking on this literary effort is to ascertain whether he can revive his own deadened affections, "to get my blood flowing, to see if I can still feel anything, if I can still suffer a little."
If, after this collection of caveats, you still care in the least, or are even curious, about what this erstwhile SS lieutenant colonel has to say for himself, be further forewarned that what follows is an exhaustingly long, excruciatingly detailed and often tedious narrative that nevertheless, and infuriatingly, does succeed in drawing us in. For Max, Aue proves to be a man toward whom, God help us, we readers fail to exhibit the same indifference (the highest form of contempt) that he flaunts. And indifference, in a word, is key to what this book is about.
Written in French, the novel was first published in 2006 as "Les Bienveillantes" to acclaim (winning both the prestigious Prix Goncourt and the Academie Francaise's Grand Prix du Roman) as well as outrage (from "Shoah" director Claude Lanzmann, for one). German, Spanish and Hebrew editions preceded Charlotte Mandell's skillfully fluent translation into English.
Author Jonathan Littell, 41, who was born in the United States and raised mostly in France, undoubtedly had ample opportunity to observe the effects of man's cruelty to man while working for the humanitarian-aid group Action Against Hunger in places such as Bosnia and Chechnya. He must also have invested considerable research before embarking on the writing of this novel. Still, it's hard not to be dazzled by his breadth of imagination, not to mention sheer stamina.
Max Aue, who holds a doctorate in law but tells us he would have preferred to study literature and philosophy - and indeed impresses us as well-read in these fields - is recruited into the SS by Thomas Hauser, who thereafter alternates as a mentor and savior. In 1941 he encourages Aue to join a field unit on the eastern front, vaguely explaining that his duties will include "special actions, SP and SD [security police] work, the security of the troops to the rear, intelligence, things like that."
"Does it surprise you that I didn't even hesitate?" Aue remarks. "What man of sane mind could ever have imagined that they'd pick jurists to assassinate people without a trial?"
Those assassinations begin for him in Ukraine, where Aue serves in Einsatzgruppe C as it follows in the wake of the German army and secures the rear against acts of resistance and sabotage by systematically eliminating Bolsheviks, Jews, Gypsies, thieves, looters, farmers hiding their grain, and anyone else who could be vaguely construed as an enemy of the Reich. Aue is a bureaucrat, not an executioner. His job is to observe, analyze and write reports. Only once, under orders, does he actively take part in an Aktion, administrating the coup de grace to victims who have fallen wounded into a ravine outside Kiev (read: Babi Yar). Arguably the book's most harrowing scene, it includes a "Waltz with Bashir"-like moment in which Aue flips out and runs through the ravine, shooting wildly in every direction, until "finally, out of breath, I stopped and started to cry."
'Then I'd understand everything'
Afterward, Aue reflects that "we had invented something compared to which war had come to seem clean and pure." It was something "extraordinary," seemingly "crucial" and if he could only understand it, he muses, "then I'd understand everything and could finally rest." Aue admits he was not devoid of options. He could have asked to be transferred; other officers had, he tells us, and one even landed a cushy job in Berlin. "So why didn't I?" he now asks himself. "Probably because I hadn't yet understood what I wanted to understand."
That is the extent of the explanation we get for Aue's choices, even at this remove. Throughout his posting in Ukraine, however, Aue struggles with his conscience, his feelings, and with questions of logic. He's outraged by the sadism and "emotional anti-Semitism" of some of his fellow officers. He opines to Hauser, in strictest confidence, that the murder of the Jews has "no economic or political usefulness," that it's "a waste, pure loss." And from the Kiev Aktion onward, he suffers frequent bouts of nausea and vomiting, as though his superego had turned somatic. Still, he tells us that although "no one required it," he went back regularly to witness the "executions," noting that the officers who had been involved from the start seemed particularly inured to the task. "I must have been like them," Aue reflects. "One got used to it, and in the long run stopped feeling much." What he was trying "desperately but in vain to regain," by returning to watch the massacres, "was actually that initial shock, that sensation of rupture, an infinite disturbance of my whole being." He never does.
The middle section of the book is a respite from genocide that Aue spends partly in Stalingrad (in itself no picnic), recovering from a head wound sustained there, and on an ill-fated trip to France. He tries to get himself posted to Paris, then Denmark, but willy-nilly is again assigned to the atrocious East, this time to raise the efficiency of the slave labor working in the concentration camps for industries vital to the war effort. Tasked now with saving Jews - and, of course, any other prisoners who, having mastered needed skills, are a pity to lose - Aue is pitted against fellow officers (most prominently Adolf Eichmann) working in the service of the Final Solution. His encounters with the hidebound, irrational Reich bureaucracy attest that he's been charged with an impossible mission.
Ironically, though, this assignment restores, however briefly, Aue's capacity to feel. Intent on ensuring, for example, that the overwhelmingly able-bodied Jews of Hungary being transported to Auschwitz in the spring of 1944 are channeled into the war industries, Aue fails miserably. Of the 400,000 Jews whom Eichmann had succeeded in deporting, he informs us, barely 40,000 were "retained" for industry. "Shattered, horrified by so much incompetence, obstruction, ill will," Aue writes, he returns to Berlin "sick and exhausted" and ends up collapsing.
I would be truant to omit that "The Kindly Ones" also has a rather indelicate subplot centering on Aue's personal life. Suffice it to reveal here that he is the product of a broken home and has a record of sexual deviance that begins in his unhappy childhood and clouds his life for years thereafter. Can such a troubled history explain Aue's choices and acts as an adult? He claims no dispensation to that effect (no "I'm depraved on account-a I'm deprived" here), and we should be wary of granting it. At the climax of this subplot, when Aue withdraws into lurid fantasies (or perhaps hallucinations) that feed a frenzy of solo sex, it's tempting to regard him as having descended into madness. And his weird physical assault on the Fuhrer in the course of being decorated for his service to the Reich would appear to support that view. Yet as the Russians close in on the heart of Berlin and it's every man for himself, when Aue commits serial homicide for the sake of self-preservation, it strikes us - the context of the six years of carnage that took 26.6 million lives on the eastern front alone, for an average of a new corpse every 4.6 seconds, by Aue's calculation - as an act finally perpetrated for an arguably sane reason. Still, only then does he develop a concern that the Kindly Ones (the avenging Furies of Greek myth) "were on to me."
Why do we keep reading?
The question that nagged me at the close of this novel was not whether - Aue's protests notwithstanding - it actually is a sly, postmodern all-narratives-are-equal justification of the acts of a senior officer in a mass-murder machine, but rather why we feel compelled to keep reading a narrative that, while not void of drama, is constructed largely of a crushing pile of pedantic, eminently forgettable details (names of obscure people and places, to say nothing of the arcane acronyms of Reich agencies), countless characters who are for the most part not developed and about whom we couldn't care less, faux-scholarly expositions (at one point the intellectual Aue holds forth to the unschooled Eichmann on the significance of Kant's categorical imperative, only to admit to us afterward that he'd said "pretty much whatever came into my head"), quotes of both sides of dialogues within the same run-on paragraph so that we must strain to keep track of who's saying what to whom, and rambling ruminations that call up shades of "Portnoy's Complaint" (and consider the construction of this sentence but a mild taste of what periodically awaits you in the novel). Two hundred pages before the end, Aue confesses that he himself is exhausted and bored by "all these details" and "uninteresting bureaucratic episodes," only to pick up where he left off.
I have no doubt that this style is a literary device designed to wear us down and drain us of feeling - Aue's very description of the effect of his job on him. And we can perhaps appreciate why Aue the compulsive memoirist has no choice but to soldier on, so to speak. But we readers do have a choice. So why would we continue to subject ourselves to this grueling saga?
In our abiding bewilderment about the Holocaust, it's possible that we slog through the numbing details and all the blood, gore, vomit, shit and stench that assault our senses in these pages in the vain hope of earning a wisp of understanding of it, no matter how odious the source.
But I have a different take, which evolved as I reached for a pithy way to characterize this novel, and it suddenly came to me: This is grisly picaresque. Then some curious elements began falling into place: improbable plot developments courtesy of a deus ex machina character; the pair of Colombo-like criminal detectives who crop up in the most unlikely places to hound Aue; even the oddly wicked expression on Littell's face in his jacket photo. But only toward the end, where the book dips into out-and-out farce, did the penny definitively drop for this persistently earnest reader (for who could be otherwise when engaged with the subject of the Holocaust?): "The Kindly Ones" is a satire on the Nazi endeavor, a matter in itself so black and so exaggerated that one can be forgiven for missing the trick Littell is playing.
And like all satire worth its salt (think Voltaire or Swift), it plants a seed of suspicion that something of us may be mirrored here - that "in a given set of circumstances," in Aue's words, we too are capable of growing hardened and indifferent to what may once have seemed outrageous and of surrendering ourselves to the flow, that the arrogant Aue may have had a sliver of a point when he declared at the start that "this concerns you." And we read on, and on, essentially in a quest to dispel those disturbing thoughts, without realizing, of course, that the degree to which we succeed is in inverse proportion to the degree we deserve to.
Ina Friedman, a Jerusalem correspondent for the Dutch daily Trouw, is co-author of "Murder in the Name of God: The Plot to Kill Yitzhak Rabin."
February 24, 2009
By MICHIKO KAKUTANI
THE KINDLY ONES
By Jonathan Littell
Translated by Charlotte Mandell.
983 pages. Harper. $29.99.
Originally published in France in 2006, “Les Bienveillantes” (“The Kindly Ones”) won the Prix Goncourt, that country’s most prestigious literary award, as well as a prize from the Académie Française. The novel, told from the point of view of an unrepentant Nazi and written in French by the American-born Jonathan Littell, was hailed by the weekly magazine Le Nouvel Observateur as “a new ‘War and Peace.’ ” It became an international best seller and the talk of the Frankfurt Book Fair, and its English-language rights, Publishers Weekly reported, went for “1 million-ish” dollars. A review in Foreign Policy magazine hailed the book as “one of the greatest accomplishments of postwar fiction.”
The novel’s gushing fans, however, seem to have mistaken perversity for daring, pretension for ambition, an odious stunt for contrarian cleverness. Willfully sensationalistic and deliberately repellent, “The Kindly Ones” — the title is a reference to the Furies, otherwise known in Greek mythology as the Eumenides — is an overstuffed suitcase of a book, consisting of an endless succession of scenes in which Jews are tortured, mutilated, shot, gassed or stuffed in ovens, intercut with an equally endless succession of scenes chronicling the narrator’s incestuous and sadomasochistic fantasies.
Indeed, the nearly 1,000-page-long novel reads as if the memoirs of the Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss had been rewritten by a bad imitator of Genet and de Sade, or by the warped narrator of Bret Easton Ellis’s “American Psycho,” after repeated viewings of “The Night Porter” and “The Damned.”
There are pages and pages in which the narrator, Max Aue, tries to rationalize the Nazis’ anti-Semitism, and pages and pages in which he describes the dead bodies he saw on the Eastern front in Russia, and later, at Auschwitz, where he served as a kind of efficiency expert, worrying about the overloading of the ovens and the basic rule of warehousing: “first in, first out.”
We are subjected to pages and pages of Max’s grotesque sexual fantasies (like sodomizing his twin sister, Una, on a guillotine plank); his leering descriptions of the genitalia of male lovers and female corpses; and his frequent bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. He also tells us about his hatred of his mother and stepfather, both of whom he has possibly murdered, and his killing of his best friend.
Although Aue contends that he is “a man like other men,” “a man like you” and depicts himself as a cultivated intellectual who reads Flaubert and Kant, his story is hardly a case study in the banality of evil. Whereas the heroes of the play “Good” and the movie “Mephisto” were ordinary enough men who out of ambition or opportunism or weakness turned to the dark side and embraced the Nazi cause, Aue is clearly a deranged creature, and his madness turns his story into a voyeuristic spectacle — like watching a slasher film with lots of close-ups of blood and guts.
Unable to understand Aue, much less sympathize with him, the reader is not goaded, as in the case of “Good” and “Mephisto,” to question his or her own capacity for moral compromise. Instead Mr. Littell simply gives us a monster talking at monstrous length about his monstrous deeds, encouraging us to write off Nazis as cartoonish madmen — strutting psychopaths in black SS uniforms, murdering Jews out of the same Freudian kinks that might drive them to murder members of their own families. And he does so while wallowing in the most sordid details of Aue’s story.
When Aue isn’t talking dispassionately about the mechanics of rounding up Jews (spreading rumors that they were going to Palestine so they would not panic) or the difficulty of disposing of bodies (“it wasn’t so much the gassing that posed a problem, but the ovens were overloaded”), he’s describing grotesque scenes of degradation and slaughter: Jews being lashed with a horsewhip; a baby being cut out of its dying mother by Caesarean section, then smashed to death against the corner of a stove; hanged men with “their tongues sticking out,” streams of saliva running “from their mouths to the sidewalk”; emaciated prisoners covered in excrement, forced to defecate “as they walked, like horses.”
Aue’s own remarks tend to be insufferably pompous (“Doctor, I suffer from only one disease, sexually transmissible and irremediably fatal: life”), while those of associates tend to devolve into raw, anti-Semitic rants. Asked about the unsanitary condition of the prisoners, one man says: “Anyway, Jews are like venison, they’re better when they’re a little gamy.” Another talks of building “an anthropological garden” in Krakow, Poland, a kind of zoo where “we will gather together specimens of all the peoples who have disappeared or are about to disappear in Europe.”
No doubt the author intends such remarks to convey the horrors of the Holocaust, but “The Kindly Ones” instead reads like a pointless compilation of atrocities and anti-Semitic remarks, pointlessly combined with a gross collection of sexual fantasies. That such a novel should win two of France’s top literary prizes is not only an example of the occasional perversity of French taste, but also a measure of how drastically literary attitudes toward the Holocaust have changed in the last few decades.
Whereas the philosopher Theodor Adorno warned, not long after the war, of the dangers of making art out of the Holocaust (“through aesthetic principles or stylization,” he contended, “the unimaginable ordeal” is “transfigured and stripped of some of its horror and with this, injustice is already done to the victims”), whereas George Steiner once wrote of Auschwitz that “in the presence of certain realities art is trivial or impertinent,” we have now reached the point where a 900-plus page portrait of a psychopathic Nazi, dwelling in histrionic detail on the barbarities of the camps, should be acclaimed by Le Monde as “a staggering triumph.”
A Leering Look at the Holocaust
By Melvin Jules Bukiet
Saturday, March 7, 2009; C04
THE KINDLY ONES
By Jonathan Littell
Translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell
Harper. 984 pp. $29.99
Hire some nice young people. Tell them to copulate. Take a picture and you're a pornographer. But add a caption and you're a documentarian. Better yet, frame the picture and voilà! you're an artist. Best of all, turn that picture into half a million words, slap on a cover and you're a writer. Jonathan Littell's expansive and repulsive first novel -- an award-winning bestseller in France, where it was originally published -- is part literature, predominantly documentary and most memorably pornography.
"The Kindly Ones" begins in the present, when Maximilien Aue, a former Nazi bureaucrat who has adopted a modest new identity as the manager of a lace factory in France, decides to write his memoirs. In the opening pages, Aue sets the terms for the book. He is unapologetic about his role in the Holocaust, but neither is he rabidly anti-Semitic. Instead, he insists, perhaps correctly, that his atrocities were a function of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Of course, the 6 million Jews murdered by the likes of Aue during the 1940s were in a worse place, yet who can say whether, if circumstances were reversed, many of them wouldn't have bowed to authority as he did?
On the other hand, the Jews didn't have that choice, and there's a difference between an active, if reluctant, participant in genocide and a victim who might have been a perpetrator in an alternative universe. Littell sees through the specious arguments of the good doctor (of jurisprudence, not medicine) Aue and then allows the man to hang himself, figuratively.
Aue enters the intelligence branch of the SS because it offers career opportunities. This allows him to travel and drink fine wine while observing and organizing mass murder, if never quite pulling the trigger himself. Initially, Aue is assigned to one of the mobile killing units that executed hundreds of thousands of Jews in shtetls throughout the Ukraine. Sure, he feels compunctions; it's a messy business. He disdains some of his sadistic co-workers and absurdly claims, in "all honesty . . . I had doubts about our methods." Still, he completes his tasks, rising consistently in the ranks.
The pressure does, however, wreak havoc with Aue's digestive system. He vomits before he has half-digested his food, and he seems to have diarrhea for the entire second half of the war. But it's likely that some of his problems precede his stressful labors because we also hear a tale of obsession dating from childhood with his twin sister. This unresolved personal history leads, near the end of the book, to an explicit sexual fantasy before a feverish, Boschian climax in which Aue finally kills several people he actually knows.
Until that finale, his work puts him in contact with nearly every major figure in the Nazi party hierarchy. He reports to Heydrich and Himmler. He negotiates with Speer for slave labor and attends musical evenings at the Eichmann household. Ultimately, he meets Hitler.
"The Kindly Ones" eagerly displays vast amounts of research. We are treated to several pages on the languages of the Caucasus as well as a remarkable description of Jawizowitz, a subcamp of Auschwitz about which virtually no one who didn't survive its lethal mines would know. All of this documentation may be impressive, but the research begins to feel like an excuse for a giddy "If this is Tuesday, it must be Madjanek" itinerary as Aue hopscotches from the mass execution of Kiev's Jews in the pit at Babi Yar to the destruction of the German army at Stalingrad to several major extermination camps to the underground V-2 missile factory at Mittlebau-Dora. I couldn't help but wonder, "Will he make it to the Führer's bunker?" and, sure enough, he does. Aue is a Zelig of the Holocaust.
Throughout Aue's morbidly picaresque travels, the tone is leering. A phenomenon that can only be called death porn saturates "The Kindly Ones." Despite its many, potent set pieces that vividly render the misery and insanity of war, the effect is voyeuristic as Aue, Littell and the unfortunate reader rubberneck at the innumerable bodies -- gassed, shot, hanged, strangled, burnt, bombed, eyes gouged, intestines unwound, limbs severed, brains spattered -- heaped in piles by history's roadside.
Two years ago when it won France's Goncourt and Grand Prix de Littérature, "The Kindly Ones" was compared to Tolstoy's "War and Peace," presumably because of its length and scope. But it more aptly sits beside -- rather, beneath -- Christopher Browning's nonfictional examination of the Einsatzgruppen, "Ordinary Men," and William T. Vollmann's novel "Europe Central." Without a hint of the prurience of "The Kindly Ones," "Ordinary Men" makes many of the same points through hard evidence and sober restraint. In fact, Browning notes that few of the killers were as tormented as Aue claims to be. This makes one wonder whether Littell's intent is to create a mundane functionary or a monster, or both. Yet after nearly 1,000 pages, we can't quite tell because Littell fails to explore any of the moral dilemmas that compose Vollmann's multifaceted vision of real people at pivotal moments in Germany and Russia during the 1940s.
Not that a reader necessarily seeks a lesson, but fiction and nonfiction ought to approach the subject as more than an opportunity to wallow in the worst humankind has to offer. In "The Kindly Ones," event follows event without any sense of individual character or dramatic motion except for that of the war itself. The book is narratively empty and intellectually incoherent. It leaves us feeling like tourists, gawking.
Bukiet is the author of seven books of fiction and the editor of three anthologies. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.
March 1, 2009
The Sunday Times review by Peter Kemp
The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell
trans Charlotte Mandell
Chatto £20 pp984
This novel took France by storm. Its publication in 2006 was greeted with rave reviews that compared its author (an American who spent most of his early years in France and writes in French) to Balzac, Stendhal, Flaubert, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. It was awarded the prestigious Prix Goncourt and the Académie Française's Grand Prix du Roman. Its sales in Europe exceed 1m copies.
Now made available to English readers in a translation by Charlotte Mandell, The Kindly Ones will surely cause jaws here to drop with a different kind of amazement. For Jonathan Littell's 984-page book is so bloatedly inept that its reverential reception across the Channel seems barely comprehensible.
Despite its length, the novel is rudimentary in setup. Calling for attention with his portentous opening line (“Oh my human brothers, let me tell you how it happened”), its narrator Max Aue, a Nazi war criminal who has escaped retribution by creating a new existence for himself as a respectable-seeming family man and factory manager in northern France, recounts with pitiless prolixity his experiences as an SS officer: in the Ukraine, at Stalingrad, in occupied France, Auschwitz, bomb-battered Berlin and the Führer's bunker.
The first of the book's numerous improbabilities is Aue's prodigious capacity to recall in profuse, minute detail all that was done and said (often in voluminously voluble speeches) more than 50 years earlier. Inability to forget isn't his only elephantine characteristic. Thumping ponderousness resounds through his mammoth monologue. Large tracts of it are little more than mounds of mugged-up fact: itemisings of military rankings in the SS or the Wehrmacht, of Nazi organisational structures, technical terminology and acronyms (“We receive our orders from the RSHA, via the Gruppenstab, and from the HSSPF. Is that clear?”). Littell doesn't lay on his research with a trowel: he uses a fleet of dumper trucks. Slurries of data are tipped across his storyline as it meanders through seemingly interminable paragraphs. Typically, a remark about the Caucasus, where Aue is convalescing - “This is not the place to expand on the peculiarities of this fascinating region” - is followed by a six-page dissertation on its idiosyncratic dialects (“it's mainly a question, together with Abaza, Adyghe, and Kabardo-Cherkess, along with Ubykh which is almost extinct and can still be found only among a few speakers in Anatolia, of a single language with strong dialectical variants. The same goes for Vainakh, which has several forms, of which the main ones are Chechen and Ingush. On the other hand, in Dagestan, it's still very confusing . . .” etc etc).
Littell's reams of documentation seem designed to back his perception that the Third Reich grotesquely combined barbarity and bureaucracy. Another familiar view - that culture and carnage could bizarrely coexist within it - also gets heavy emphasis. Brimming with atrocities, slaughter, torture and sadism, Aue's narrative is divided into sections named after movements (Sarabande, Menuet, Gigue) from suites by Bach, whose works, along with those of other classical composers - Rameau, Mozart, Chopin, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms - repeatedly counterpoint horrors in the novel.
The cultural overlay that Littell most insistently imposes on his book's welter of abominations is Greek tragedy. His novel takes its title from a name for the Furies. And Aue, you're left in no doubt, is a latter-day version of a famous fugitive from those avenging spirits, Agamemnon's son, Orestes, who murdered his mother and her lover. Seen perusing Sartre's essay about Orestes and performing in Sophocles's play about his sister, Electra, Aue often replicates the young man's behaviour. After he visits them in Antibes, his hated mother and her second husband are found strangled and axed to death. Like Orestes he is passionately attached to his sister. Indeed, true to the novel's penchant for overkill, he soon reveals that he had a rawly intense incestuous relationship with her when they were young.
Her refusal to continue this into adult life has, we're given to understand, turned him into a homosexual with a craving to be manhandled by rough trade (one physiologically baffling scene has him “plunging into the luxuriant forest” of a pick-up's genitals). Still harbouring embittered yearnings for his sister, he breaks into her country house and, in a sequence remarkable even by this novel's frequently feculent standards, defiles it by soiling every available surface.
Incontinence is a big problem for Aue, whose virtually incessant bouts of diarrhoea and lengthy nightmares about unstaunchable bowel motions are chronicled copiously (the one literary award this novel could credibly receive, you feel, would be for Most Loose-Sphinctered Fictional Narrator). All of this leaves Littell with a problem on his hands in trying to convince you that Aue is a kind of Everyman (“I tell you I am just like you!”) unluckily born into the wrong historical circumstances.
Real-life monsters - Eichmann, Mengele, Himmler, Hitler - cross Aue's path. But, in accord with Littell's taste for the outlandishly overblown, the novel's most malign presence is an imaginary evil genius, Dr Mandelbrod. Hugely obese, “like an Oriental idol”, he is wheeled around on a throne-like chair, stroking a cat with his pudgy finger, emitting a fetid odour and tended by a bevy of lookalike blonde “amazons” (Hilde, Helga, Heide and Hedwig) fetchingly got-up in fetishistic rig-outs such as male riding breeches. A melodramatic figment that James Bond might have encountered, this creepy cliché, accompanied by a villainous sidekick with a glass eye, epitomises the lurid unreality that leaves this Third Reich novel, for all its plethora of detail, carrying as much conviction as a plastic Iron Cross.
THE NEW REPUBLIC
Night and Cog
Ruth Franklin, The New Republic Published: Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Read this article here
Epopeya del horror nazi
JOSÉ-CARLOS MAINER 27/10/2007
Sobre la memoria histórica -que es plural, egoísta y, sobre todo, personal- es muy difícil legislar. Conviene hacerlo sobre las consecuencias indeseables de la memoria sectaria del poder, pero, en lo que toca a las memorias personales o grupales, lo que procede es que se confronten, se rebatan y se repiensen. La novela contribuye poderosamente a ello porque es la manera más fértil de reducir la Historia a conciencia crítica del pasado. Y por eso, la narrativa prospera a favor de los periodos de transición, de las jornadas inciertas, cuando se está en el límite mismo de los olvidos. ¿Nos extrañará que todas las novelas británicas de los ochenta hablen en el fondo de la cercana catástrofe Thatcher? ¿O que muchas grandes novelas francesas recientes resuciten la lejana II Guerra Mundial, ya sea con la piedad crítica de Patrick Modiano, la sabiduría simbólica de Michel Tournier o la memoria en carne viva de Irène Némirovski (en la feliz recuperación de Suite francesa)?
Para confirmarlo, Jonathan Littell un escritor jovencísimo (nacido en 1967), norteamericano, ha escrito en un francés -peculiar pero espléndido- Les bienveillantes (Las benévolas), un relato de más de setecientas páginas que le granjeó los premios Goncourt (y de la Academia) de 2006 y la nacionalidad francesa. Gracias a la traductora María Teresa Gallego Urrutia, los lectores españoles tienen ahora la posibilidad de zambullirse en esta larga pesadilla que no ha brotado de la memoria, sino de la bibliografía, y que, a modo de rapsodia, enlaza ficciones e ideas previas acerca del mundo del nazismo. Me explico: la convicción del autor acerca de la "banalidad del mal" procede de Hannah Arendt (y le ha inspirado inolvidables perfiles novelescos de Eichmann y Himmler), pero Littell también ha visto El ocaso de los dioses, de Luchino Visconti, que asoció incesto, tragedia y suntuosidad al recuerdo del nazismo, igual que ha leído a Vassili Grossmann para evocar los días de Stalingrado y conoce muy bien las letras colaboracionistas de los olvidados Lucien Rebatet y Robert Brasillach, a los que ha hecho amigos de su protagonista.
Y se ha inventado, sobre todo, un diabólico personaje y narrador: Maximilien Aue es el hijo de una alsaciana y de un alemán, que combatió en las crueles tropas especiales en la Guerra Europea de 1914. También es homosexual, o mejor todavía, una suerte de hermafrodita que prefiere ser penetrado para no perderse el goce femenino. Es incestuoso, como ya he apuntado. Y es un criminal inaccesible a la idea de culpabilidad, aunque también es un joven cultísimo. Eligió ser alemán y, huyendo de una redada de la policía en medios homosexuales de Berlín, ha sido reclutado por las SS, donde llega a ser teniente coronel. Durante la guerra, vive sucesivamente la experiencia de la liquidación de judíos y comunistas en Ucrania, las pintorescas especulaciones étnicas de los científicos nazis en el Cáucaso, el espanto de Stalingrado, los lager de Polonia, y llega a dirigir el uso de mano de obra hebrea en Hungría, para concluir en el Berlín del hundimiento final. Y se ha salvado para poder contarnos -con una mezcla de probidad de funcionario, egoísmo de adolescente caprichoso y sentido poético- esta historia siniestra que esconde unos cuantos asesinatos a sangre fría. ¿Y la culpa? ¿Y el horror? En esta novela, la culpa y el horror se expelen. La repugnancia de Max por algunas servidumbres de su trabajo le lleva a padecer diarrea permanente, y esa dolencia se repite durante su idilio berlinés, aunque la complacencia en lo fecal también preside la caracterización de su mentor inválido, el pestilente Mandelbrod. Sangre y mierda: en pocas novelas se hacen tan físicamente evidentes estas dos respuestas y signos de la vida humana. Y porque está muy familiarizado con ambas, Aue puede reducir su testimonio a un estremecedor, meticuloso e imparcial relato, tocado de finos detalles de paisaje. Y puede justificarse, él y todos, gracias al venenoso concepto de Weltaschuung, visión personal del mundo. Precisamente por ella debe salvarse: porque sabe que todo ha debido ser así y hasta osa llamarnos "hermanos" a sus lectores.
Lo somos, por supuesto. No me parece casual que este Fausto perverso sea un refinado músico y helenista. Los largos capítulos del relato se titulan como las partes de un concierto barroco, su armonía predilecta: allemande, courante, sarabande, gigue... El título original, Les bienveillantes, traduce -como sabe cualquier lector francés de Esquilo- el nombre de las Euménides, los seres protectores y benévolos cuyo coro dio nombre a la última tragedia de La Orestíada, toda ella dedicada al horror y la venganza; pero las Euménides habían sido previamente las Erinias, el coro que hostigó a los personajes hacia el espanto. Y Aue ha sobrevivido indemne, para contárnoslo, bajo tan ambigua protección.