Sunday, July 15, 2012

Writers on Dance: Herta Muller (2)

Herta Muller (photo from Wikipedia)

Continuing my current reading of German-speaking Romanian Herta Muller and her style of using folk music and dance in her writing, I'm continuing this scene from The Hunger Angel.  This short take comes before the previous post. This section shows how people reach out to each other despite the horror of their collective condition. It's raw.  Dance and being in the body becomes resistance.  The desperate and joyless dancing and music disturbs me almost to the point of feeling sick, yet I am convinced that nothing but dancing and music could be so necessary to these characters.  Dancing makes you "think what you have to think even if you don't want to."

This horrible, deft balance between the reader's discomfort and the characters' groping, physical need for each other despite the hunger that has moved them beyond the possibility of recognizing their pain, is part of Muller's haunting and singular skill in this work.

From The Hunger Angel:

After the break comes La Paloma.  I dance with the other Zirri.  loni Mich, our singer, stands half a step in front of the musicians.  For La Paloma she takes another half step forward because she wants to have the song all to herself.  She keeps her arms and legs completely still, but her eyes roll and her head sways.  Her small goiter trembles, her voice turns raw like the undertow of deep water:

"A ship can go down very fast, And all of us sooner or later Will breathe our last, So it's anchors aweigh, We all reach the day, When we're claimed by the sea, And what the waves take away, Never comes back."

Everyone has to keep silent while dancing our pleated Paloma.  You go mute and think what you have to think, even if you don't want to.  We shove our homesickness across the floor like a heavy crate.  Zirri lets her feet drag.  I press my hand against the small of her back until she regains the rhythm.  She's had her head turned away from me for some time, so I can't see her face.  But her back is quivering, and I can tell that she's crying.  The shuffling is loud enough so that I don't have to say anything.  What could I say other than she shouldn't cry. 

Herta Muller signs "The Hunger Angel"
 for me at the 92nd Y, May 2012.

It's impossible to dance without toes, so Trudi Pelikan sits on a bench off to the side, and I sit down next to her.  In the first winter, her toes froze.  The following summer, they were squashed by the lime wagon.  That fall, they were amputated because worms got under the bandage.

From Herta Muller's The Hunger Angel translated by Philip Boehm.  New York: Metropolitan Books, 2012.

Other posts on Herta Muller:
Another dance at the concentration camp
Herta Muler, Orientalism, and Dance Scenes

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