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Mascha Dabic: Reibungsverluste.

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Losses through Friction.
Sample text
(pp. 35-7):

She found it distressing: the way in which the story of a person's life, which began to take shape in the course of many conversations, like a mosaic, could be reduced to a 'story of torture' in the language of bureaucracy, and was then dissected into its individual parts – number and roles of the perpetrators, frequency of torture, methods and instruments used, physical and psychological results. The human being, whose lips she had been glued to for hour after hour in order to record meaning and expression in as complete and as undistorted a way as possible, became a 'victim' or a 'survivor' on the form, everything summarized compactly on a maximum of three A4-pages. The form was then sent in English translation to a building of the United Nations in Geneva, where it probably landed on a desk in an office, would then be stapled together with other forms and put into a folder so that at the next board meeting it could be used by a well-meaning woman working for the United Nations to show why precisely this society should continue to receive subsidies.

It made Nora feel uneasy when she had to translate these reports because, paradoxically, she found the compact, summarized story of torture in black and white much more difficult to bear than the stuttered story which was squeezed out or came in a torrent of words in the midst of tears in the therapy session. When torture or rape became a topic in therapy, and sooner or later that was the case with every client, then Nora kept desperately to her observations, studied the facial expression of her client attentively, stared at the collapsing potted plant in the window, took a mouthful of water, watched her client's hands or even fiddled around with a handkerchief, concentrated on translating, on that alchemical process in the course of which what was said in a particular combination of words penetrated through the auditory canal into her head and then left again through her mouth in a different form, with as little damage as possible and as little affected as possible by losses due to friction. Any damage which might be caused to the channel, that is to say Nora's head, by this transaction, was not of interest. Communication should proceed without friction – that was the ideal, no friction, no losses. In the process any losses due to friction were nothing else but heat, to be precise the conversion of kinetic energy into thermal energy, but language was probably not subject to these laws, and sometimes heat is only generated when language ceases.

When the critical moments had passed Nora, together with her client, felt relieved that the unspeakable had after all been spoken and had even found its way into another language; she was happy to have played a part in getting these words out into the world, where they would be well looked after, where they could not, as she experienced with, for instance, the police or a court, be used at any time against the exhausted speaker and tested for any contradictions.

After such therapy hours Nora felt infected and sullied by a horror about which she wanted to know nothing, penetrated by the certain knowledge that human beings did terrible things to one another, and not just people at some place, at some time, but, right there, here, sat such a person, to whom something like this had been done, a person who was not only a victim but also the witness of the atrocities which a war produced or, however, simply brought to light – on this point Nora was not completely sure.

And it was not only always victims, sometimes Nora also had to deal with perpetrators – soldiers or freedom fighters, bojewiki, brawny men of military appearance, who had murdered and tortured and whose stories about the war exhausted themselves in vague hints. To give a head and a voice to men who had done such things demanded not inconsiderable will power from Nora, but sometimes she also caught herself thinking that some of these perpetrators were themselves victims of the war and that under normal circumstances they would have been sports teachers, craftsmen or plumbers and used their muscle power for peaceful purposes. Since, however, they lived at a time when one gunshot led to another, these men had instantly taken up arms and events had inexorably taken their course.

© 2017 edition atelier, Vienna
English translation: Leigh H. Bailey, 2017

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