Du bist der Arme, du der Mittellose
Du bist der Arme, du der Mittellose,
du bist der Stein, der keine Stätte hat,
du bist der fortgeworfene Leprose, der mit der Klapper umgeht vor der Stadt.
Denn dein ist nichts, so wenig wie des Windes,
und deine Blöße kaum bedeckt der Ruhm;
das Alltagskleidchen eines Waisenkindes
ist herrlicher und wie ein Eigentum.
Du bist so arm wie eines Keimes Kraft
in einem Mädchen, das es gern verbürge
und sich die Lenden presst, dass sie erwürge
das erste Atmen ihrer Schwangerschaft.
Und du bist arm: so wie der Frühlingsregen,
der selig auf der Städte Dächer fällt,
und wie ein Wunsch, wenn Sträflinge ihn hegen
in einer Zelle, ewig ohne Welt.
Und wie die Kranken, die sich anders legen
und glücklich sind; wie Blumen in Geleisen
so traurig arm im irren Wind der Reisen;
und wie die Hand, in die man weint, so arm…
Und was sind Vögel gegen dich, die frieren,
was ist ein Hund, der tagelang nicht fraß,
und was ist gegen dich das Sichverlieren,
das stille lange Traurigsein von Tieren,
die man als Eingefangene vergaß?
Und alle Armen in den Nachtasylen,
was sind sie gegen dich und deine Not?
Sie sind nur kleine Steine, keine Mühlen,
aber sie mahlen doch ein wenig Brot.
Du aber bist der tiefste Mittellose,
der Bettler mit verborgenem Gesicht;
du bist der Armut große Rose,
die ewige Metamorphose
des Goldes in das Sonnenlicht.
Du bist der leise Heimatlose,
der nichtmehr einging in die Welt:
zu groß und schwer zu jeglichem Bedarfe.
Du heulst im Sturm. Du bist wie eine Harfe,
an welcher jeder Spielende zerschellt.
Rainer Maria Rilke, 18.4.1903, Viareggio
Rilke’s Du bist der Arme, du der Mittellose was written between April 13 and 20 1903 in Viareggio, Italy and forms part of the third book of Rilke’s Das Stunden-Buch (The Book of Hours). In The Book of Hours we, the reader, can follow Rilke as he travels on the old Romantics’ journey into the self, all the while speaking to God as part luminous deity, part needy neighbour.
Du bist der Arme, du der Mittellose has its genesis in the horrors of urban poverty that had confronted Rilke in Paris, as he described in a letter to Lou Andreas-Salome in July 1903:
One goes through smells as through many sad rooms…. And what people I met. . . almost every day: fragments of caryatids on whom the whole pain still lay, the entire structure of pain, under which they were living, slow as tortoises … and under the foot of each day that trod on them, they were enduring like tough beetles. .. twitching like bits of a big chopped up fish that is already rotting but still alive…. Oh what kind of a world is that! Pieces, pieces of people, parts of animals, leftovers of things that have been, and everything still agitated, as though driven about helter-skelter in an eerie wind, carried and carrying, falling and overtaking each other as they fall.
What Rilke explores via his poetry in The Book of Hours is the essential interconnectedness each of us has with each other and with everything that lives. This is not a political tenet as much as a profound experience in the core of one’s being, and the point of this post.
Pope Pius XII said, “The sin of the 20th century is the loss of the sense of sin.” It may be safe to say that, today, most people no longer understand what sin is; instead, they are completely numb to it. And, yet, it pervades all aspects of our lives. It’s the disease we refuse to cure. While the Pope was undoubtedly referring to spiritual sin, I see sin, as the title of this post suggests as a diminution of morality – as a failure in the effort to achieve a realization of the human quality itself.
This post itself has its genesis in a conversation I recently had with a Palestinian friend whose entire family had become innocent victims in Israel’s push for its own Liberstrum. While this in itself may seem an ironic twist of fate, the theory of Liberstrum as a failure in the effort to achieve a realization of the human quality itself is worth exploring more fully.
Because of the nature of the topic we were dicussing, the discussion eventually moved on to the process via which a otherwise normal person undergoes a metamorphosis and becomes a freedom fighter, or to use Che Guevara‘s phrase, a guerrilla. In the end, regardles of the individual circumstance informing the metamorphosis, it all comes down to a reaction to injustice. The injustice I’m speaking of is not the injustice of fortune or circumstance, but institutional injustice – institutional injustice has at its roots an inherent bias for or against certain classes of people. In my friends case the institutional injustice he was reacting against was the injustice of military occupation and the stereotyping, degradation and loss of human dignity that comes with it.
Interaction in the idea of law
Sociologist Georg Simmel in The Sociologist of Georg Simmel pp 250-67 observed that there is a kind of reciprocity between government and the citizen with respect to the observence of rules. Governments say to the citizenin effect, These are the rules we expect you to follow. If you follow them, you have our assurance that they will be the rules that will be applied to your conduct. When this bond of reciprocity is finally and completly ruptured by the government, nothing is left on which to ground the citizen’s duty to observe the rules.
The publication of rules plainly carries within the social meaning that the rulemaker will himself abide by his own rules. On the other hand, any attempt to conceive of a legal system as resting on a contract between lawgiver and subject not only stirs inconvenient historical associations, but has a certain incongruity about it, especially when we recall that in a democratic society the same citizen may be both lawgiver and legal subject.
There is an old-fashioned legal term that may offer an escape from our aforementioned predicament. The word is intendment. Our institutions and our formalised interactions with each other are accompained by certain interlocking expectations that may be called intendments, eventhough there is seldom occassion to bring these underlying expectations accross the threshold of consciousness. In a very real sense when I cast my vote in an election my conduct is directed and conditioned by an anticipation that my ballot will be counted in favour of the candidate I actually vote for. In this sense the institution of elections may be said to contain an intendment that the votes cast will be faithfully tallied, though I might hesitate to say, except in a mood of rhetoric, that the election authorities had entered a contract with me to count my vote as I had cast it.
Likewise and again in a very real sense when I go the the Australian Federal Police or indeed any police service and complain of being physically assaulted, racially vilified and subjected to an unremitting campaign of racial hatred, my conduct is directed and conditioned by an anticipation that my complaint will be dealt with accrding to the terms of the reciprocal entered into between citizen and government. In this sense the institution of the Australian Federal Police may be said to contain an intendment that my complaint will be faithfully investigated in accordance with the rule of law, as the Australian Federal Police have entered into a contract to treat all citizens equally regardless of ethnicity, religion or social standing.
On this point, it is worth remembering the words of Lilburne – England’s Birth-Right Justified, 1645:
It is desired that our learned lawyers would answer these ensuing queries…whether ever the Commonwealth, when they chose the Parliament, gave them a lawless unlimited power, and at their pleasure to walk contrary to their own laws and ordinances before they have repealed them?
Lilburne is here suggesting that underlying the institution of parliamentary government is an intendment – that is, a generally shared tacit expectation – that parliament will act toward the citizen in accordance with its own laws so long as those laws remain unrepealed. A tacit commitment by parliament to that effect is so taken for granted that, except when things go wrong, there is no occasion to talkor even to think about it.
It is, I am aware, rather unfashionable in Canberra to say such things as institutions, such as; the ACT Legislative Assembly, the Australian Parliament or the Australian Federal Police have or contain intendments. One might cast about for some linguistic cover more acceptable to the facile tasts of our modern public service; one might, for example, speak of the role expectations that accompany the assumption of legislative powers. But by whatever name we call it, we must not ignore the reality of the commitment implied in lawmaking, nor forget that it finds expression in empirically observable social processes; it is not something projected on those processes by a moralistic outside observer.
Silent testimony to the force of this commitment can be found in the strenuous efforts people often make to escape its grip. When a person in authority is asked to make some concession in a particular case they will not infrequently insist on an understanding that this action will not be taken “to set a precedent.” What they are seeking to escape is the commitment contained in the ‘rule of law’: to conform their actions towards those under their direction to general rules that have explicitly or tacitly been communicated. That the stipulation against setting a precedent often turns out in practice to be ineffective simply provides further evidence of the force of the commitment people tend to read into the acts of those having authority over them.
An interesting example of the power of precedent can be found in the racist attitudes of Australia’s Canberra based public servants. A situation I have discussed previously on Blak and Black is the disparity in treatment meted out by the ACT Department of Treasury to an Indigenous Australian and an Australian of European extraction. The Indigenous Australian (“Pat”) and the Australian of European extraction David Butt were both SES Level 1.3 in the ACT Department of Treasury. Both had grievances brought against them. While Pat was subjected to a racially motivated campaign of hate by the Australian Public Service Commission and was eventually fitted-up and sacked by the Department of Treasury. David Butt the Australian of European extraction was sent home on full pay with no investigation. After a ten month sojourn on full pay, David Butt returned to work and that was the end of the matter. Showing clearly that in Australia there are two sets of precedents operating side-by-side, one for Australians of European extraction and a different and less favourable one for Indigenous Australians.
The commitment implied in lawmaking is not, then, an element in someone’s “conceptual model”; it is part of social reality. The essence of what my Palestinian friend and I were discussing and what is the actual point of this post is that obedience to rules loses its point if the man subject to them knows that the rulemaker will not himself pay any attention to his own enactments. The converse of this proposition must also be kept in mind, namely, that the rulemaker will lack any incentive to accept for himself the restraints of the ‘rule of law’ if he knows that his subjects have no disposition, or lack the capacity, to abide by his rules; it would serve little purpose, for example, to attempt a juristic ordering of relations among the inmates of a lunatic asylum, oops, pardon me, I meant to say Australia’s Canberra based public servants. In reality, the proper functioning of a legal system depends upon a cooperative effort – an effective and responsible interaction – between law giver and subject. An effective and responsible interaction between law giver and subject would, in my view, exclude fitting-up, sacking, prosecuting and persecuting an Indigenous Australian public servant because a “pillowcase wearing gutless wonder” subordinate objected to reporting through a “fucking boong cunt.”
A complete failure in the proper functioning of a legal system is so remote from ordinary experience that the significance of the interaction itself tends to be lost from our intellectual perspective. Yet in numberless instances, all about us, we can perceive the ways in which the success of law depends on a voluntary collaboration between the citizen and his/her government, as well as a coordination of effort among the various agencies of government concerned with the making and enforcing of law.
Finally I come back to the process via which an otherwise normal person undergoes a metamorphosis and becomes a freedom fighter. The process of metamorphosis, I suggest, begins when one citizen is treated differently and less favourably than another, based solely on race, religion or political persuasion. The difference in treatment afforded to Pat and David Butt by the Australian Public Service Commission and the ACT Department of Treasury is a point at hand.