Three screenshots of the film ‘The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser’ by Werner Herzog, 1974

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle) by Werner Herzog, 1974. Official website, IMDb, Wikipedia.

This line is apparently authentical –i.e. was told by the real Kaspar Hauser– if we are to believe a comment made by Werner Herzog in the book Herzog on Herzog:

Are any of the lines that Kaspar speaks taken from the autobio- graphical fragment he wrote?

A few are, like the text of the letter found in Kaspar’s hand that is read by the cavalry captain, and Kaspar’s own very beautiful line, ‘Ja, mir kommt es vor, das mein Erscheinen aufdieser Welt ein bar- ter Sturz gewesen is? [‘Well, it seems to me that my coming into this world was a terribly hard fall’]. (London: Faber&Faber, 2002, p. 113; Google Books, Amazon)

Kaspar Hauser’s interpretation of his coming into being runs contrary to some common narratives. We tend to see such an event ―coming to life, coming to this world: birth, etc.― as something miraculous, magical and/or beautiful (thus the shocked reaction in the film of his guardian Herr Daumer). The actual act of creation could be said to be much more ambiguous and tormented, intrinsically associated with processes of de-creation.

This psychological aspects associated with this view were investigated in Sabina Spielrein’s fundamental essay “Destruction as the cause of coming into being” (first published in 1912):

The joyful feeling of coming into being that is present within the reproductive drive is accompanied by a feeling of resistance, of anxiety or disgust. This does not result from spatial proximity to the excreta or from the negativity of a renunciation of sexual activity; the feeling directly corresponds to the destructive component of the sexual instinct. (Journal of Analytical Psychology, Volume 39, Issue 2, April 1994, p. 157)

The description of the tumultuous and harsh process of coming into the world can be found both in Hesiod’s Theogony and in biblical narratives (the concept of the “fall of man” is treated in Genesis, chapter 3). In the latter, this ordeal is intimately associated with knowledge or, more precisely, with the ability to make distinction (which is very precisely the function of critical thinking in the etymological meaning of the word). In this sense, Kaspar Hauser’s “rehabilitation” into humanity could understandably be experienced as an abrupt fall.

In an essay she wrote about Herzog’s film back in 1981, art historian Kaja Silverman offer a psychoanalytical reading of his condition. I believe it is possible to offer an similar diagnosis from other perspectives as well:

Kaspar’s condition in the cave corresponds to what Freud calls the “oceanic self” or what Lacan refers to as “l’hommelette”; he is a human “egg” spreading in all directions, unshaped as yet by any limitations or boundaries. He has been exposed to none of those divisions by means of which the cultural subject is constituted ―self/other, male/female, unconscious/preconscious, need/desire- and is therefore incapable not only of speaking or thinking, but of hearing, seeing, dreaming or experiencing a sense of lack. He is outside of language and outside of difference. Much later, after acceding to subjectivity, Kaspar describes his entry into the symbolic order as a “terrible fall”; a fall from plenitude into difference, from all-inclusiveness into a partitioned world. (“Kaspar Hauser’s “Terrible Fall” into Narrative”, New German Critique, no. 24/25, Special Double Issue on New German Cinema, Autumn 1981 – Winter 1982, p. 74, PDF).

Kaspar’s condition could thus be understood as yet another exemplary illustration about the condition of our human coexistence: in a common fall, we share a partitioned world.

• • •

I mentioned Sabina Spielrein’s article before: see “On Madness” by Leon Tolstoy, 1910.
See also: Peter Sloterdijk: “We share the separator” (2005)


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