Voici ce que Peter Weiss a écrit sur l’hôtel de Pergame en 1938. Je m’excuse car je n’ai pas de version numérique allemande. On a détruit l’ancienne présentation où on on entrait dans une pièce consacrée à la contemplation de l’oeuvre antique. Là il semble que l’hôtel soit retourné afin de permettre de faire passer devant des dizaines de milliers de touristes par jour.
The Aesthetics of Resistance, Volume 1
All around us the bodies rose out of the stone, crowded into groups, intertwined, or shattered into fragments, hinting at their shapes with a torso, a propped-up arm, a burst hip, a scabbed shard, always in warlike gestures, dodging, rebounding, attacking, shielding themselves, stretched high or crooked, some of them snuffed out, but with a freestanding, forward-pressing foot, a twisted back, the contour of a calf harnessed into a single common motion. A gigantic wrestling, emerging from the gray wall, recalling a perfection, sinking back into formlessness. A hand, stretching from the rough ground, ready to clutch, attached to the shoulder across empty surface, a barked face, with yawning cracks, a wide-open mouth, blankly gaping eyes, the face surrounded by the flowing locks of the beard, the tempestuous folds of a garment, everything close to its weathered end and close to its origin. Every detail preserving its expression, brittle fragments from which the whole could be gleaned, rough stumps next to polished smoothness, enlivened by the play of muscles and sinews, tautly harnessed chargers, rounded shields, erect spears, a head split into a raw oval, outspread wings, a triumphantly raised arm, a leaping heel circled by a fluttering tunic, a clenched fist on a now absent sword, shaggy hounds, their jaws clamped into loins and necks, a falling man, his finger stub aiming at the eye of the beast hanging over him, a charging lion protecting a female warrior, his paw swinging back to strike, hands endowed with bird claws, horns looming from weighty brows, scaly legs coiling, a brood of serpents everywhere, with strangleholds around bellies and throats, darting their tongues, baring sharp teeth, bashing into naked chests.
These only just created, already dying faces, these tremendous and dismembered hands, these wide-sweeping pinions drowning in the blunt rock, this stony gaze, these lips torn open for a shriek, this striding, stamping, these blows of heavy weapons, this rolling of armored wheels, these clusters of hurled lightning bolts, this grinding underfoot, this rearing and collapsing, this endless straining to twist upward out of grainy boulders. And how gracefully curly the hair, how elaborately gathered and girded the lightweight mantle, how delicate the ornamentation on the straps of the shield, on the bulge of the helmet, how gentle the shimmer of the skin, ready for caresses yet exposed to the relentless rivalry, to slaughter and annihilation. With mask-like countenances, clutching one another and shoving one another away, strangling one another, clambering over one another, sliding from horses, entangled in the reins, utterly vulnerable in nakedness, and yet enrapt in Olympic aloofness, appearing indomitable as an ocean monster, a griffin, a centaur, yet grimacing in pain and despair, thus they clashed with one another, acting at higher behest, dreaming, motionless in insane vehemence, mute in inaudible roaring, all of them woven into a metamorphosis of torture, shuddering, persisting, waiting for an awakening, in perpetual endurance and perpetual rebellion, in outrageous impact, and in an extreme exertion to subdue the threat, to provoke the decision. A soft ringing and murmuring resounded now and again, the echoes of footfalls and voices surrounded us for moments at a time; and then once more, only this battle was near, our gazes glided over the toes in the sandals, bouncing off the skull of a fallen man, over the dying man whose stiffening hand lay tenderly on the arm of the goddess who held him by the hair. The cornice was the ground for the warriors: from its narrow, even strip they threw themselves up into the turmoil, the hooves of the horses banged upon the cornice, the hems of the garments grazed it, and the serpentine legs twisted across it; the ground was perforated at only one place: here, the demoness of the earth rose up, her face hacked away under her eye sockets, her breasts massive in a thin covering, the torn-off clump of one hand lifted in a search, the other hand, asking for a standstill, loomed from the stone edge, and knotty, long-jointed fingers stretched up to the profiled corbel as if they were still underground and were trying to reach the wrist of the open thumbless female hand, they moved along under the cornice, seeking the blurred traces of incised script, and Coppi’s face, his myopic eyes behind glasses with a thin steel frame, approached the letters, which Heilmann deci-hered with the help of a book he had brought along. Coppi turned toward him, attentive, with a broad, sharply drawn mouth, a large, protruding nose, and we gave the opponents in this melee their names and, in the torrent of noises, discussed the causes of the fight. Heilmann, the fifteen-year-old, who rejected any uncertainty, who tolerated no undocumented interpretation, but occasionally also adhered to the poetic demand for a conscious deregulation of the senses, who wanted to be a scientist and a seer, he, whom we nicknamed our Rimbaud, explained to us, who were already about twenty years old and who had been out of school for four years by now and were familiar with the world of labor and also with unemployment, while Coppi had spent a year in prison for circulating subversive literature —
Heilmann explained to us the meaning of this dance round, in which the entire host of deities, led by Zeus, were striding toward vicory over a race of giants and fabulous creatures. The Giants, the sons of the lamenting Gaea, in front of whose torso we were now standing, had blasphemously mutinied against the gods; but other struggles that had passed across the kingdom of Pergamum were concealed under this depiction. The regents in the dynasty of the Attalids had ordered their master sculptors to translate the swift transience, paid for with thousands of lives, to a level of timeless permanence, thereby putting up a monu-ment to their own grandeur and immortality. The subjugation of the Gal-lic tribes invading from the north had turned into a triumph of aristocratic purity over wild and base forces, and the chisels and mallets of the stone carvers and their assistants had displayed a picture of incontestable order to make the subjects bow in awe. Historic events appeared in mythi-cal disguise, enormously palpable, arousing terror, admiration, yet not understandable as man-made, but endurable only as a more-than-personal power that wanted enthralled, enslaved people galore, though few at the top, who dictated destinies with a mere stirring of the finger. The populace, when trudging by on solemn days, scarcely dared to glance up at the effigy of its own history, while—along with the priests—the philosophers and poets, the artists from elsewhere, all full of factual knowledge, had long since walked around the temple; and that which, for the ignorant, lay in magical darkness was, for the informed, a handicraft to be soberly assessed. The initiates, the specialists talked about art, praising the harmony of movement, the coordination of gestures; the others, however, who were not even familiar with the concept of “cultured,” stared furtively into the gaping maws, felt the swoop of the paw in their own flesh.
The work gave pleasure to the privileged; the others sensed a segregation under a draconian law of hierarchy. However, a few sculptures, said Heilmann, did not have to be extracted from their symbolism; the falling man, the man of Gaul taking his own life, showed the immediate tragedy of a concrete situation; but these sculptures, replied Coppi, had not been outside, they had remained among the trophies in the throne rooms, purely in order to indicate from whom the shields and helmets, the bundles of swords and spears had been taken. The sole aim of the wars was to safeguard the territories of the kings. The gods, confronted with the spirits of the earth, kept the notion of certain power relationships alive. A frieze filled with anonymous soldiers, who, as tools of the higher-ups, fought for years, attacking other anonymous soldiers, would have altered the attitude toward those who served, boosting their position; the kings, not the warriors, won the victories, and the victors could be like the gods, while the losers were despised by the gods. The privileged knew that the gods did not exist, for they, the privileged, who donned the masks of the gods, knew themselves. So they were even more insistent on being surrounded with splendor and dignity. Art served to give their rank, their authority the appearance of the supernatural. They could permit no skepticism about their perfection. Heilmann’s bright face, with its regular features, bushy eyebrows, and high forehead, had turned to the demoness of the earth. She had brought forth Uranus, the sky, Pontus, the sea, and all mountains. She had given birth to the Giants, the Titans, the Cyclopes, and the Furies. This was our race. We evaluated the history of the earthly beings. We looked up at her again, the demoness stretching out of the ground. The waves of loosened hair flowed about her. On her shoulder, she carried a bowl of pomegranates. Foliage and grape vines twirled at the back of her neck. The start of the lips, begging for mercy, was discernible in the raw facial plane, which veered sideways and upward. A gash gaped from her chin to her larynx. Alcyoneus, her favorite son, slanted away from her while dropping to his knees. The stump of his left hand groped toward her. She was still touching his left foot, which dangled from his stretched and shattered leg. His thighs, abdomen, belly, and chest were all tensing in convulsions. The pain of death radiated from the small wound inflicted between his ribs by the venomous reptile. The wide, unfurled wings of the kingfisher, growing from his shoulder, slowed down his plunge. The silhouette of the burst-off face above him, with the hard line of the neck, of the hair, which was tied up and tucked under the helmet, spoke of the pitilessness of Athena. As she swung forward, her wide, belted cloak flew back. The downward glide of the garment revealed, on her left breast, the scale armor with the small, bloated face of Medusa. The weight of the round shield, her arm thrust into its thong, pulled her along to new deeds. Nike, leaping up, with mighty wings, in loose, airy tunics, held the wreath, invisible but implied by the gesture, over her head. Heilmann pointed: at the dissolving goddess of the night, Nyx, who, with a loving smile, was hurling her vessel full of serpents toward a downcast creature; at Zeus, who, in his open, billowing cloak, was using his woolen aegis, the goatskin of doom, to whip down three adversaries; and at Eos, the goddess of dawn, who was riding like a cloud in front of the rising team of the naked sun god, Helios.
Thus, he said gently, a new day dawns after the dreadful butchery, and now the glass-covered room became noisy with the scraping of feet on the smooth floor, with the ticking echoes of shoe soles on the steep steps leading up the reconstructed western façade of the temple to the colonnades of the interior court. We turned back toward the relief, which throughout its bands demonstrated the instant when the tremendous change was about to take place, the moment when the concentrated strength portends the ineluctable consequence. By seeing the lance immediately before its throw, the club before its whizzing plunge, the run before the jump, the hauling-back before the clash, our eyes were driven from figure to figure, from one situation to the next, and the stone began to quiver all around us. However, we missed Heracles, who, according to the myth, was the only mortal to ally himself with the gods in the battle against the Giants; and, combing the immured bodies, the remnants of limbs, we looked for the son of Zeus and Alcmene, the earthly helper whose courage and unremitting labor would bring an end to the period of menace. All we could discern was a sign bearing his name, and the paw of a lion’s skin that had cloaked him; nothing else testified to his station between Hera’s four-horse team and Zeus’s athletic body; and Coppi called it an omen that Heracles, who was our equal, was missing, and that we now had to create our own image of this advocate of action. As we headed toward the low, narrow exit on the side of the room, the red armbands of the men in black and brown uniforms shone toward us from the whirling shifts in the throng of visitors; and whenever I spotted the emblem, rotating and chopping in the white, round field, it became a venomous spider, ruggedly hairy, hatched in with pencil, ink, or India ink, under Coppi’s hand, as I knew it from the class at the Scharfenberg Institute, where Coppi had sat at the next desk, doodling on small pictures, cards from cigarette packs, on illustrations clipped from newspapers, disfiguring the symbol of the new rulers, adding warts, tusks, nasty creases, and rivulets of blood to the plump faces looming from the uniform collars. Heilmann, our friend, also wore the brown shirt, with rolled-up sleeves, the shoulder straps, the string for the whistle, the dagger on the short pants; but he wore this garb as a disguise, camouflaging his own knowledge and camouflaging Coppi, who was coming from illegal work, and camouflaging me, who was about to leave for Spain. And thus, on the twenty-second of September, nineteen thirty-seven, a few days before my departure, we stood in front of the altar frieze, which had been brought here from the castle mountain of Pergamum to be reconstructed, and which, painted colorfully and lined with forged metals, had once reflected the light of the Aegean sky. Heilmann indicated the dimensions and location of the temple, as the temple, still undamaged by sandstorms or earthquakes, pillage or plunder, had shown itself on a protruding platform, on the terraced hill of the residence, above the city known today as Bergama, sixty-five miles north of Smyrna, between the narrow, usually dried-out rivers Keteios and Selinos, gazing westward, across the plain of Caicus, toward the ocean and the isle of Lesbos, a structure with an almost square ground plan, one hundred twenty by one hundred thirteen feet, and with a perron sixty-five feet wide, the whole thing dedicated by Eumenes II, to thank the gods for helping him in his war — the construction having begun one hundred eighty years before our era and lasting for twenty years, the buildings visible from far away, included among the wonders of the world by Lucius Ampelius in his Book of Memorabilia, second century a.d., before the temple sank into the rubble of a millennium.
And has this mass of stone, Coppi asked, which served the cult of princely and religious masters of ceremony, who glorified the victory of the aristocrats over an earthbound mix of nations—has this mass of stone now become a value in its own right, belonging to anyone who steps in front of it.
It was no doubt highbred figures who trod barbaric mongrels underfoot here, and the sculptors did not immortalize the people who were down in the streets, running the mills, smithies, and manufactories, or who were employed in the markets, the workshops, the harbor shipyards; besides, the sanctuary on the thousand-foot-high mountain, in the walled district of the storehouses, barracks, baths, theaters, administration buildings, and palaces of the ruling clan, was accessible to the populace only on holidays; no doubt, only the names of some of the master artists were handed down, Menecrates, Dionysades, Orestes, and not the names of those who had transferred the drawings to the ashlars, had defined the intersections with compasses and drills, and had practiced expertly on some veins and shocks of hair, and nothing recalled the peons who fetched the marble and dragged the huge blocks to the oxcarts, and yet, said Heilmann, the frieze brought fame not only for those who were close to the gods but also for those whose strength was still concealed, for they too were not ignorant, they did not want to be enslaved forever, led by Aristonicus they rebelled at the end of the construction, rising up against the lords of the city. Nevertheless the work still incorporated the same dichotomy as at the time of its creation. Destined to emanate royal power, it could simultaneously be questioned about its peculiarities of style, its sculptural persuasiveness. In its heyday, before falling to the Byzantine Empire, Pergamum was renowned for its scholars, its schools and libraries, and the special writing pages of cured, fleshed, and buffed calfskin made the fruits of poetic invention, of scholarly and scientific investigation permanent. The silence, the paralysis of those fated to be trampled into the ground continued to be palpable. They, the real bearers of the Ionian state, unable to read or write, excluded from artistic activity, were only good enough to create the wealth for a small privileged stratum and the necessary leisure for the elite of the mind. The existence of the celestials was unattainable for them, but they could recognize themselves in the kneeling imbruted creatures. The latter, in crudeness, degradation, and maltreatment, bore their features. The portrayal of the gods in flight and of the annihilation of urgent danger expressed not the struggle of good against evil, but the struggle between the classes, and this was recognized not only in our present-day viewing but perhaps also back then in secret glimpses by serfs. However, the afterdays of the altar were likewise determined by the enterprising spirit of the well-to-do. When the sculptural fragments that had lain buried under the deposits of Near Eastern power changes came to light, it was once again the superior, the enlightened who knew how to use the valuable items, while the herdsmen and nomads, the descendants of the builders of the temple, possessed no more of Pergamum’s grandeur than dust.
But it was a waste of breath complaining, said Heilmann, for the preservation of the showpiece of Hellenic civilization in a mausoleum of the modern world was preferable to its traceless entombment in Mysian detritus. Since our goal was to eliminate injustice, to wipe out poverty, he said, and since this country too was only going through a transition, we could imagine that this site would some day demonstrate the expanded and mutual ownership intrinsic in the monumentality of the formed work. And so, in the dim light, we gazed at the beaten and dying. The mouth of one of the vanquished, with the rapacious hound hanging over his shoulder, was half open, breathing its last. His left hand lay feeble on the forward-charging leather-shod foot of Artemis, his right arm was still raised in self-defense, but his hips were already growing cold, and his legs had turned into a spongy mass. We heard the thuds of the clubs, the shrilling whistles, the moans, the splashing of blood. We looked back at a prehistoric past, and for an instant the prospect of the future likewise filled up with a massacre impenetrable to the thought of liberation. Heracles would have to help them, the subjugated, and not those who had enough armor and weapons. Prior to the genesis of the figurations, there had been the bondage, the enclosure in stone. In the marble quarries on the mountain slopes north of the castle, the master sculptors had pointed their long sticks at the best blocks while eying the Gallic captives toiling in the sultry heat. Shielded and fanned by palm branches, squinting in the blinding sun, the sculptors took in the rippling of the muscles, the bending and stretching of the sweating bodies. The defeated warriors, driven here in chains, hanging from ropes on the rock faces, smashing crowbars and wedges into the strata of glittering, bluish white, crystalline-like limestone, and transporting the gigantic ashlars on long wooden sleds down the twisting paths, were notorious for their savagery, their brutal customs, and in the evenings the lords with their retinues passed them timidly when the stinking prisoners, drunk on cheap rotgut, were camping in a pit. Up in the gardens of the castle, however, in the gentle breeze wafting up from the sea, the huge bearded faces became the stuff of the sculptors’ dreams, and they remembered ordering one man or another to stand still, opening his eye wide, pulling his lips apart to view his teeth, they recalled the arteries swelling on his temples, the glistening nose, zygomas, and forehead emerging from the cast shadows.They could still hear the lugging and shoving, the stemming of shoulders and backs against the weight of the stone, the rhythmic shouts, the curses, the whip cracks, the grinding of sled runners in the sand, and they could see the figures of the frieze slumbering in the marble coffins. Slowly they scraped forth the limbs, felt them, saw forms emerge whose essence was perfection.
With the plundered people transferring their energies into relaxed and receptive thoughts, degradation and lust for power produced art. Through the noisy maelstrom of a school class we pushed our way into the next room, where the market gates of Miletus loomed in the penumbra.
At the columns flanking the gates, which had led from the town hall of the port to the open emporium, Heilmann asked whether we had noticed that inside, in the altar room, a spatial function had been inverted, so that exterior surfaces had become interior walls. In facing the western perron, he said, we had our backs to the eastern side, the rear of the temple, that is, in its merely rudimentary reconstruction, and the unfolded southern frieze stretched out to the right while the relief on the northern cornice ran to the left. Something the viewer was to grasp by slowly circling it was now surrounding him instead.
This dizzying procedure would ultimately make us understand the Theory of Relativity, he added when, moving a few centuries deeper, we walked along the claybrick walls that had once stood in the cluster of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian towers, and we then suddenly stepped into an area where yellowing leaves, whirring sunspots, pale-yellow double-decker buses, cars with flashing reflections, streams of pedestrians, and the rhythmic smashing of hobnailed boots demanded a readjustment in our bearings, a new indication of our whereabouts. We are now, said Coppi, after we crossed the square between the museum, the cathedral, and the Armory Canal, in front of the motionless fieldgray steel-helmeted sentries at the monument, whose dungeon still has room enough for the mangled marchers who, having bled to death, are en route here, willing or not, in order to lie down under the wreaths with silk ribbons. Heilmann, beneath the foliage of the Lindens, pointed between the Brothers Humboldt, who, enthroned loftily in armchairs with griffin feet, were brooding over open books, and he motioned across the wide forecourt, toward the university, where, reckoning with an accelerated high school diploma, he intended to study foreign affairs. He already knew English and French, and at the night school where we had met him, he had been seeking contacts for teaching him the taboo Russian language.
The municipal night school, a gathering place for proletarians and renegade burghers, had been our chief educational institution after Coppi had left the Scharfenberg School Island at sixteen, and I, one year later, had likewise taken my last ferry to the mainland near Tegel Forest. Here, basic courses on Dostoyevsky’s and Turgenev’s novels served for debates on the prerevolutionary situation in Russia, just as lectures on economics guided us in our perusal of Soviet economic planning. The Association of Socialist Physicians plus scholarships from the Communist Party, where Coppi belonged to the Youth Organization, had enabled us to attend the Scharfenberg School, a progressive institution at that time. Our chief advocate had been Hodann, a municipal physician, head of the Health Office of the Reinickendorf district and director of the Institute of Sexology. We had met him at the question-and-answer evenings in the Ernst Haeckel Auditorium, and until his imprisonment and escape in nineteen thirty-three we often participated in the regular discussions on psychology, literature, and politics taking place every second week at his home in a settlement on Wiesener Strasse, Tempelhof. After the summoning of the National Socialist government, known as the Machtübernahme, the takeover of power, when it was no longer possible for us to go to school, Coppi had begun training at Siemens, and I had gotten a job as a shipping clerk at Alfa Laval, where my father had been foreman in the separator assembly department.