Princess Lizard (1)

Imagination is inflamed by women who lack, precisely, imagination. They have the brightest aureoles who, turned unwaveringly outward, are wholly matter-of-fact.

Their attraction stems from their lack of awareness of themselves, indeed of a self at all: Oscar Wilde coined the name unenigmatic Sphinxes for them.

They resemble the image designated for them: the more they are pure appearance, undisturbed by any impulse of their own, the greater their likeness to archetypes, Preziosa, Peregrina, Albertine (2), who convey a sense of the illusoriness of all individuation, and yet must again and again disappoint by what they are.

Their lives are construed as illustrations, or a perpetual children's festival, and such perception does no justice to their needy empirical existence.

Storm touched on this in the deeper meaning of his children's story 'Pole Poppenspaler' (3). The Frisian boy falls in love with the little girl of the travelling players from Bavaria.

When at length I turned round, I saw a little red dress coming towards me; and truly, and truly, it was the little puppet player; in spite of her faded clothes she seemed surrounded by a fairy-tale radiance. I plucked up courage and spoke to her:

'Will you come for a walk, Lizzy?'

She looked at me mistrustfully with her black eyes.

'A walk?' she repeated slowly -'Ah - you're a fine one!'

'Where would you like to go then?'

'To the drapers shop, that's where!'

'Do you want to buy yourself a new dress?' I asked, awkwardly enough. She laughed out loud.

'Go on with you! - No, just rags and tatters!'

'Rags and tatters, Lizzy?'

'Of course. just a few rags to make clothes for the puppets; they never cost much!'

Poverty compels Lizzy to make shabbiness - 'rags and tatters' - her guide-line, although she would herself like something else. Uncomprehending, she must mistrust as eccentric anything that has no practical justification.

Imagination gives offence to poverty. For shabbiness has charm only for the onlooker. And yet imagination needs poverty, to which it does violence: the happiness it pursues is inscribed in the features of suffering.

So Sade's Justine, who falls from one torture-trap into the next, is called 'notre interessante heroine', and likewise Mignon, at the moment of being beaten, the interesting child. (4) Dream princess and whipping-girl are the same, and she suspects nothing of it.

There are traces of this in the relation of northern peoples to the southern: the prosperous Puritans vainly try to get from the dark-haired denizens of foreign countries what the course of the world, which they control, denies not only to them but all the more to the vagrants.

The sedentary man envies the nomadic existence, the quest for fresh pastures, and the painted wagon is the house on wheels whose course follows the stars.

Infantility, fixated in desultory motion, the joylessly restless, momentary urge to survive, stands in for the undistorted, for fulfilment, and yet excludes it, inwardly resembling the self-preservation from which it falsely promises deliverance.

This is the circle of bourgeois nostalgia for naivety. The soullessness of those in the margins of civilization, forbidden self-determination by daily need, at once appealing and tormenting, becomes a phantasm of soul to the well-provided-for, whom civilization has taught to be ashamed of the soul.

Love falls for the soulless as a cipher of living spirit, because the living are the theatre of its desperate desire to save, which can exercise itself only on the lost: soul dawns on love only in its absence.

So the expression called human is precisely that of the eyes closest to those of the animal, the creaturely ones, remote from the reflection of the self.

At the last, soul itself is the longing of the soulless for redemption.

Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (Reflections From Damaged Life) 1947

1. In North-German folklore, lizards are reputed to be princesses, transformed into them by magicians, for their vanity.

2. Preziosa: heroine of the play of the same name by Pius-Alexander Wolff(1821), set to music by Carl Maria von Weber. Peregrina: subject of the cycle of love-poems by Eduard Morike (1804-75), originally in his novel Maler Nolten. Albertine: mistress of the narrator in Proust's A La Recherche du Temps Perdu.

3. Theodor Storm (1817-88): Frisian writer, friend of Morike; his main works were melancholy novellae. Pole Poppenspaler was written in 1874.

4. Mignon: leading female character in Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre.