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  • "Body Missing" at Berggasse 19
  • Lydia Marinelli
    Translated by Joy Titheridge

We were talking about what a museum is, the functions it can fulfil, the conditions it requires. "I don't think you deserve the name. You shouldn't call yourselves a museum, what you have here has nothing to do with a museum. Museums exhibit works of art or collections, but this. . . . " The participant in the course for aspiring museum experts broke off mid-sentence. The course instructor tried to complete the sentence by explaining the shift in the definition of the concept of museums, which this training course sought to convey. But despite this foray into an extended history of the concept, even the most liberal experts appeared to retain an affective remnant that was triggered by this place.

The reservations expressed concerned the Sigmund Freud Museum in Vienna, which had been branded the product of name usurpation. A more appropriate designation would be memorial site, but not the conceptual horizon of the museum, the participants concluded. No reasons were given for this in the discussion that briefly flared up, but their very unspoken-ness was immediately understood by those present: It was not a matter of revising the definition of "museum" or of less outmoded objectives for the institution. What was being expressed here was the inadequacy of this place itself, the incongruity between the notion and the location, the idea and the social institution, which initially eluded conceptual systematization. This sense of incongruity is caused by the fact that this museum does not offer to the eye what the associations surrounding the institution demand; instead of satisfying visitors' expectations, it disappoints them. [End Page 161]

The misgivings caused by this incongruity and that arise on arrival provide one of the many links to the work of Vera Frenkel. Her installations and Freud's rooms cross-reference each other on many levels. One level that is related to this sense of unease is her exploration of emigration, placelessness, forced departures, uncertain arrivals and their linguistic and narrative forms of representation. In her installation, " . . . from the Transit Bar," people on video monitors casually relate scenes from their life in exile in off-screen voices that are not their own. The faces do not tally with the voices, the voices do not tally with the stories, and it remains unclear whether these biographical fragments are real or fictitious. This acoustic overlayering of different stories, voices, and individuals, of reality effects and fiction, creates a space between the particular experience of the individual and the collective history that tries to take its place. What at first appears to be straight dubbing proves on closer listening to be a new story in a new language. Language as the medium through which experiences are presented is fragmented into language of the present and that of the past, such as Polish and Yiddish, spoken by unseen actors. While the stories have little in common, the different languages can be wholly aligned.

When psychoanalysis asks what is being expressed in each language, the question also applies to what is being withheld. The transfer of one language onto another cannot take place without the silence that emerges when the translation fails to supply an analogous expression. The impossibility of transferring experiences into a new language occupied Freud during his first weeks in exile. A friend, Raymond de Saussure, expressed his sympathy for Freud's fate in a letter in which he endeavored to understand the emigrant's position and listed the losses an exile incurs. But the list remained incomplete, because Saussure had forgotten one crucial point. Freud answered his letter with the following words: "You left out one point that the emigrant experiences as particularly painful. It is—one can only say: the loss of the language one has lived and thought in and that in spite of all efforts towards empathy one will never be able to replace by any other. With painful understanding I observe how otherwise familiar means of expression fail in English and how even every fibre in me wants to struggle against giving up the [End Page 162] familiar gothic handwriting. And yet one has heard so often that...


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pp. 161-167
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