glossen: aufsätze

Animal triste, tristesse animale
Susanne Hill

When Monika Maron published her novel Animal triste{1}in 1996, the critical reception was rather diverse. Not only was the text regarded as being tacky as far as the plot is concerned but also clumsy in terms of stylistics and form.{2} Reich-Ranicki, however, acknowledged the novel as "aufregend und aufbrausend und dennoch anmutig, hitzig und heißblütig und doch von erstaunlicher Ruhe und Reife."{3} Furthermore, he recognizes that with this text, Maron finally found her literary topic, "der Liebe Fluch und Segen". (189) This notion is based on the assumption that Maron was preoccupied with the observation and critique of her own country, the former GDR, which didn't give her much space for anything else: "Für die Liebe war da kein Platz." (187) However, as Allison Lewis pointed out already - it is misleading "to see love as in some way displacing the concerns of history and politics", while in fact the past of the two protagonists in Animal triste "looms larger than life".{4} Indeed, it is the summer of 1990 when the female narrator - an East-German paleontologist - falls in love with an ant-scientist from the West. Their romance is possible because of the wall finally being torn down.

Although Lewis is right by recognizing the impact of the end of communism on the personal development of the two main characters, I would argue that unbarable sadness is an even stronger factor in the life of the female narrator in the novel. Remaining nameless throughout the entire text, she is sitting in her apartment and is reminiscing about her romance from thirty or forty years ago, which comes to an end in the following fall when Franz - a fictitious name for the lover whose real name she can't remember - is leaving her for good. The ultimate death of the relationship leads to her final decision to end her life in society by staying in her apartment for the remainder of her existence: "Ich beschloß, den Episoden meines Lebens keine mehr hinzuzufügen" (AT, 10). What might sound like a suicidal threat is even worse than that. Separated from the world, she relives her encounter with Franz over and over again. And although she is still waiting for him to come back, she has realized for a long time now that she will be waiting in vain: "Wenn es möglich ist zu warten, ohne auf die Erfüllung zu hoffen, dann habe ich das getan, und eigentlich warte ich heute noch" (AT, 12).

In this paper, I will argue that the narrator's highly praised love affair with Franz is indeed the most painful story of her life. The lack of true joy in this romance reveals this story as a testimony of utter sadness, or "tristesse animale".

The narrator and Franz meet for the first time in a natural history museum where she is in charge of a big brachiosaurus, the animal triste per se. The reason why she falls in love is mainly based on the fact that he seems to find the same beauty in the dinosaur as she does. For the woman, the extinct animal serves as a symbol for a higher meaning, a divine creature that puts herself into a subordinate role: " Er stand da, eine göttliche Behauptung mit lächerlich kleinem Kopf, und grinste herab auf mich, seine Priesterin" (AT, 16). She later claims to realize that Franz loved her for being just like the dinosaur: "Das Unbezähmbare meiner Gefühle für Franz [bestand] in ihrer Saurierhaftigkeit, […] etwas Uraltes, atavistisch Gewaltsames, jede zivilisatorische Norm mißachtend " (AT, 131). I would argue that it is rather Franz who resembles the animal triste in terms of being overpowering and destroying at the same time. Even the narrator herself acknowledges that Franz is a substitute for the animal. "Ich liebte, ehe ich Franz traf, den ewigen Brachiosaurus" (AT, 110). The woman is seemingly attracted to the unknown, the incomprehensible and mysterious existence of her charge presents her with a powerful draw. Just like the long history of the animal that will never be completely discovered, we are confronted with a romance that until the very end fails to expose the entire truth. This assumption is not necessarily based on the questionable disappearance of Franz at the end of the novel. Whether or not she really killed him, or even if he just left, is not really important here. Instead, it is little casual remarks about this acclaimed lover that make us wonder if she is not telling a completely different story between the lines. According to Lacan, the analyst - the reader, that is - has to analyze the subject's behavior in order to find in it what the subject is not saying. Thus, our task is to "pick up what is being heard", to realize the "direct transaudition to the unconscious by the unconscious."{5} Looking closer at some of the statements of the female character, we can find proof of what Lacan is referring to, when talking about the hysterical revelation of the past, that "presents us with the birth of truth in speech, and thereby brings us up against the reality of what is neither true nor false." (47) More than once, we hear about the "hechtgraue Augen" of her lover. Those little gray eyes seem to intrigue her quite a bit, "immer diesen auf alles und nichts gerichteten, ganz und gar grauen Blick" (AT, 25), but they ultimately reveal something else. While looking at a picture of Franz' youth, she focuses on his eyes looking at the sky above him: "Seine kleinen Augen bohrten sich in das Stück hechtgrauen Himmel über ihn, als wollten sie ihm die triste Farbe aussaugen" (AT, 58). Here, the narrator unconsciously compares Franz' eyecolor with the color of the sky, which she describes as "trist" in the sense of cold and unwelcoming. She also claims to have never been scared of Franz: "Das Ungewöhnlichste an Franz war, daß ich ihn von Anfang an nicht gefürchtet habe" (AT, 36). A statement like this leads to the conclusion that she has been scared of men her entire life. Does Franz really make a difference? I seriously doubt it. After learning that Franz is dreaming of actually being able to travel inside an ant colony, she imagines Franz as an ant. Looking up to the scientist above him, the ant perceives the fear of the unrecognizable: "Er wollte, was er nicht konnte: klein sein wie sie, […] aufschauen zu sich selbst, das Schrecken verbreitende Unerkennbare" (AT, 88). It is the same fear, I believe, that she unconsciously feels while being with Franz. We can't blame her for that. In all the dialogues between the two "lovers" that the narrator ambitiously reenacts for the reader, Franz doesn't reveal anything about himself. In fact, most of the important questions, the narrator asks, are answered in the same - noncommittal - manner all the time: "Für solche bekenntnisheischenden Fragen hielt Franz drei Antworten bereit: 'Vielleicht'; 'So wird es sein'; Weiß ich doch nicht'" (AT, 52). With short answers like that, he always seems to keep a low profile as if he had something to hide. Even the narrator realizes that his words signalize complete denial, "entschiedene Verweigerung", to engage in deeper conversations. His physical appearance goes along with his demeanor to hide from his lover. The narrator points it out herself when talking about his lower lip, "die er tagsüber ängstlich einzieht, weil sie ihn verraten würde" (AT, 36). Franz is not a congenial character. His appearance as well as his attitude are repulsive in every possible way. The cold gray eyes and his meager and pale feet lying on the black sheets in her bed remind us of a corpse rather than a living creature. The narrator even chooses to give him the name Franz, "ein schönes dunkles Wort wie Grab oder Sarg" (AT, 18). Comparing his name to a grave speaks for itself. Why would the narrator still love him the way she did? One obvious answer to this question is her quest for true love. Being convinced that she never really loved before she met Franz, she comes up with one of the leading sentences of this novel: "Man kann im Leben nichts versäumen als die Liebe" (AT, 23). She actually compares her love to a prisoner that had been captured in her body for her entire life, until it could finally escape after the narrator had verbalized what she was longing for. We know that her fateful encounter with Franz took place right after the wall came down. Not only her love is finally able to unfold itself, but also an entire nation of imprisoned people. The end of socialism - represented by "einer als internationale Freiheitsbewegung getarnten Gangsterbande" (AT, 30) - serves as a signal that everyone had been secretly waiting for. For the narrator however, not even the political changes in her own country can measure up to what she is experiencing with Franz. In fact, she even considers that the wall had been torn down only for her and Franz to find each other. Her belated discovery of what she calls a "Jugendliebe", a love she never had, brings her waiting to an end.

Nachträglich scheint es mir, als ergäbe mein ganzes Leben vom Tag meiner Geburt an nur einen Sinn, wenn ich es als ein einziges Warten auf Franz verstehe. Manchmal glaube ich sogar, daß auch die Mauer in Berlin nur eingerissen wurde, damit Franz mich endlich finden konnte (AT, 51).

Considering the fact that her entire professional life she wanted to trace the history of the bracciosaurus, it strikes us to witness her undecided behavior to make her travel plans to the States come true. Captured by a man, who leaves her every night to go home to his wife, she admits, "daß ich Franz niemals, auch nicht für einen Tag, freiwillig verlassen hätte" (AT, 127). This statement sheds some light on the nervous breakdown she has, when she learns of Franz' upcoming departure to Scotland for a vacation with his wife. All she recalls is a terrible scream that comes from the very inside of her soul, "ein einziger furchtbarer, wie aus dem Inneren der Erde heraufgrollender, […] feuerrot lodernder Ton" (AT,119). Franz' rather indifferent remark and her extreme emotional reaction mark a definite turning point in the story. In the narrator's eyes, it is the ultimate betrayal that she had never thought possible. Her inability to interfere with his plans and the awareness of not being capable to reach him beyond his outer appearance leaves her in total despair:

Die Unerreichbarkeit hinter der Franz sich verschanzt hatte, mein eigenes Ausgestoßensein, verfügt durch Franz, zu dem ich einzig gehörte, verdrängten jeden Gedanken und ließen nichts übrig als ein Gefühl höllischer Verlorenheit (AT, 158).

The unbalanced investments in this relationship have never been more obvious before. Her total and utter readiness to commitment meets with complete indifference on Franz' side. Her sadness brings back two childhood memories where she experienced the same feeling of abandonment that she is going through now. Back then, her parents had locked her in the apartment for not cleaning up her room and just like now, her only way of dealing with it was screaming to the point of total exhaustion. Years later, she spends the night in the staircase of her boyfriend's apartment, waiting in vain for him to come home. It is quite possible that those memories triggered the rising urge for revenge that the narrator finds herself confronted with. The wrongfully punished child, the jilted teenager turns things around and follows the couple to Scotland - in her thoughts. She forces herself to watch the couple doing everything, a married man and wife do. Over and over again she nourishes her pain - and her sexual excitement - by observing the copulating couple in their hotel room. Especially Franz' wife becomes the target of her spying, "immer wieder zwang ich sie, die Kleider abzulegen, um mich wieder und wieder von dem Ekel erregen zu lassen, der mich beim Anblick ihres nackten Körpers überkam" (AT, 153).

Her obsessive demeanor, however, reveals a much deeper neurosis than just being abandoned. Once again, we have to go back to the narrator's childhood to find the roots for her behavior. Reaching puberty, the girl realizes her body going through appalling changes: "Ich ekelte mich vor Weiberfleisch, auch vor meinem eigenen" (AT, 74). The reason for her disgust with her own physique, the total denial of what one considers a natural biological occurrence, can be found in her abhorrence towards her mother's body, which she describes as "alarmierend weiblich" (AT, 74). Watching her mother displaying her body in a shameless way, the narrator decides to do everything to hide her own femininity. She even marks her experiences as a possible reason for not having a high school sweetheart, the "Jugendliebe", for whom she had been desperately seeking and had finally attained in her lover Franz. Depriving her own body of any kind of sexuality back in her teen age years, she now transfers this rejection to Franz's wife. The almost clinical observation of the woman's body results in total denial on the narrator's side: "Die Zeichen des Alters hafteten ihm ebenso an wie meinem, […] er hatte alles, was auch ich hatte, und trotzdem verweigerte ich ihm die Anerkennung meines Geschlechts" (AT, 153 f.). In her critical approach to Animal triste, Allison Lewis suggests that both, the earlier disguise of the narrator's body and the later denial of any similarities between the body of Franz' wife and her own are "symptomatic of a blocked or repressed identification with the mother and with the castrated position of normative femininity." {6} This notion is certainly true, considering the narrator's aversion towards her mother's body. Nevertheless, I would argue that we can't determine her attitude only by looking at the past of this woman, but also by focusing on the very moment of the situation. Sitting in her apartment in Berlin, her only way of dealing with the situation is to become a voyeur in a foreign hotel room where she experiences sexual excitement and emotional destruction at the same time. Since the narrator is not in the position to really interfere with Franz' behavior up in Scotland, her only defense is to bereave his wife of her femininity, thereby pretending that it is not really a woman with whom Franz is engaging in physical love. This immature behavior is similar to her attempts to send electric signals to Scotland that are supposed to hit Franz right in his heart. Here, the narrator reveals her wishful thinking that she has some sort of power over Franz but she also realizes right at this point, that her relationship is very much doomed to fail. Feeling abandoned, the narrator tries to find comfort with the bracciosaurus, the animal triste that had always provided some sense of certainty in her life. But even her betrayed love will not furnish her with the highly anticipated ease of her pain. While sitting under the skeleton, a long forgotten verse emerges from her inside: "'Doch von zwei Dingen schnell beschloß ich eins / dich zu gewinnen oder umzukommen'"(AT, 132). Thinking of Kleist and his "Penthesilea", she foresees her upcoming life quite well. And even if she later admits her being rather "demütig, aber ebenso halstarrig" (AT, 175) like the "Käthchen von Heilbronn", she knows deep inside that her stubbornness won't bring Franz back in her life.

With Franz' departure, he not only physically separates from his lover but also sets the path for leaving her for good. Disappearing in the airplane that will take him to Scotland, Franz becomes the animal triste, a symbol not only for the narrator's passion but also for the transience of her love. Rediscovered from a forgotten area - the narrator never thought of actually being able to love again - the dinosaur as well as the love affair itself transcend into something utterly unreal. The very thought of this development accumulates in the narrator's decision to cheat on Franz. Her getting involved with another man bares all signs of revenge and only serves for her satisfaction to treat Franz the same way he treated her: "Ich konnte nichts anderes empfinden, als daß Rainer nicht Franz war, […] daß ich endlich auch tat, was Franz mir Abend für Abend tat" (AT, 172). Just like she wants Franz to realize that his wife is not a suitable replacement for her, the man in her bed has no other function but proving the same for her.

On the day of Franz' return, the narrator goes through all kinds of emotional distress. She actually admits that she no longer counts on his coming back and is quite aware of the fact that her affair is over: "Ich wußte, daß etwas vorbei war, daß nur noch bewiesen werden mußte, daß es vorbei war" (AT, 173). When he finally arrives, she is unable to reveal her true feelings about his disappearance. Still humiliated for being left alone, she falls silent in view of her lover. Franz' paltry attempts to start a conversation fail as well. According to Lacan, even "completely worn out speech" retains its value as a link between two people: "Even if [speech] communicates nothing, the discourse represents the existence of communication; even if it denies the evidence, it affirms that speech constitutes truth." (Lacan, 43) The truth that is revealed in this specific pattern of communication is painful and enlightening at the same time. The abandoned woman finally has proof of what she was afraid of for a long time. The narrator claims, that this is the first time in their relationship, they are captured in speechlessness, "es war das erste Mal, daß wir in solcher Sprachlosigkeit gefangen waren wie in einer Schlinge, die sich bei jedem Ausbruchsversuch enger um den Hals schließt" (AT, 179). I would argue, however, that communication models like the example above have taken place before. When the narrator recites the Stalin-hymn for Franz during one of their guitar sessions, she feels somewhat uncomfortable about his non-verbal reaction towards her willingness to relinquish her old faith: "Schon während ich sang, hatte ich das Gefühl, daß in Franz, obwohl er sich vergnügt gab, etwas aufglomm, das verächtlich zu nennen wohl übertrieben, befremdlich aber zu geringfügig wäre " (AT, 105). Franz' unspoken negative response demonstrates the lack of full speech in this relationship, in fact, it causes the narrator to look for the first signs of betrayal on his side.

During their last encounter, Franz is prepared to leave his wife to finally move in with his lover. Overcoming the shadow of his own father who left the family for another woman, he seems to be ready for a new commitment. But even in this very moment, his eyes already lay bare the signs of final betrayal as if they could not conceal his true feelings: "Die Augen ohne Versprechen, das kleine Lächeln bittet schon um Verzeihung. Er wird nicht wiederkommen" (AT, 237). As a reader, we will not be able to figure out if these looks promoted his violent death. Whether or not the narrator pushed him under the approaching bus doesn’t really seem that important, it might even be possible that Franz is still very much alive. The tragic end of this relationship was pre-programmed a long time ago and could not have been avoided. Franz' disappearance marks the end of a so-called romance that never really existed. It originated in the strong belief of the narrator that the only thing she had missed in her life was true love. Upon Franz entering into her life, she was more than willing to apply her dreams to this man, who knew from the very beginning that he wouldn't give up his old existence for her. With him being dead or even just gone, the narrator is left behind with not only her sheets being marked permanently, but also her soul. Her final revelations about Franz provide her with the strength to stop waiting for him: "Heute werde ich mich bis ans Ende erinnern und dann niemals mehr. Heute werde ich aufhören, auf Franz zu warten" (AT, 198). It seems as if the woman found peace for once. Secured in between her sheets, she becomes one with the animals that form the pattern of her bedspread. Her unsuccessful search for the truth is finally laid to rest. "So bleibe ich liegen" (AT, 239).


{1} Monika Maron, Animal Triste (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1997). All further references to this text will appear as AT.

{2} e.g. Gustav Seibt, "Alte Liebe," FAZ February 24 (1996) and Werner Fuld, "Fossilien küßt man nicht," Die Woche February 16 (1996).

{3} Marchel Reich-Ranicki, "Der Liebe Fluch," Der Spiegel February 12 (1996) 187.

{4} Allison Lewis, "Re-Membering the Barbarian. Memory and Repression in Monika Maron's Animal Triste," German Quarterly 71.1 (Winter 1998) 30.

{5}Jacque Lacan, "The function and field of speech and language in psychoanalysis," Ecrits. A selection (Tavistock: London, 1977) 30-111.

{6} Allison Lewis, "Remembering…" 36.

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