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Laurence A. Rickels
MINE


[intro] [first] [second] [third] [shaft] [notes]


The accident happened, because it recurred.

A young miner, Matts Israelson was his name, disappeared in any one of the cave-ins going down in the copper mines of Falun, Sweden, between 1676 and 1677. He went down alone that night, they say, to light his pyre. To his fellow miners he was known as Fet Matts, presumably because he had a weight problem, or perhaps because he was just the type to sweat a lot, like Hamlet. He definitely had a problem waiting. His disappearance, which in turn disappeared, never getting a real date, began to be reversed when, in 1719, a young man's corpse was discovered during renovations or expansions of the same old mine which was by then so steady-state, production-wise, that the company was going for more, and more accessible, infrastructures of profit and savings. It was a connecting tunnel that yielded the spectacular disconnection of a loss come back, intact and undisclosed. While the body the miners discovered still marked the spot of accident, what with legs severed but lying by, as parts with their whole, nevertheless this unidentified object was, science fiction aside or inside, perfectly preserved. Even the tobacco in the dead miner's matching container was decay-proofed by the mineral solution which treated the whole corpus to mummification.

It was also a flashback to the inaugural image for the introduction of discourse into mining. Preceded only by a long itemized dedication, the opening line of Georgius Agricola's De Re Metallica calls the metallic arts to assembly lines of part for whole: "Most illustrious Princes, often have I considered the metallic arts as a whole, as Moderatus Columella considered the agricultural arts, just as if I had been considering the whole of the human body; and when I had perceived the various parts of the subject, like so many members of the body, I became afraid that I might die before I should understand its full extent, much less before I could immortalise it in writing." [1]

Fear of dying and the body building of a discourse out of parts and compartments animate mining for a monstrous parting. Just add a century or so and we have the mummified body. The "and" Agricola dealt us with his representation of the science of mining in terms of his relationship to his own corpus or body, dead or alive, enters the stage left without recognition or identification. Because the body without context did acquire a witness, and thus made the primal scene, when an old woman arrived just in time to identify the preserved corpse as that of her fianc▄, lost forty-three years ago. What cuts in right here is the scene, with names and places forgotten or displaced to protect the innocent of mourning. Once the forgettogether was in place it could also skip a context, even a country. This scene became the primal opening of a certain German Romantic reception, an opening which belonged, between those lines, to a death cult inside our mass media culture, our state of ongoing technologization.

The skipped beat, which Sweden had to hand to Germany to protect, project, and police, was picked up in 1808 by Gotthilf Heinrich von Schubert who recorded the incident in his Views from the Dark Side of the Natural Sciences. The volume was turned up full blast, and the reception of the mining scene finely tuned, throughout the movement or momentum that was German Romanticism. While Wagner too planned an opera around the synapse of this connection, but only in synopsis form, Johann Peter Hebel, Achim von Arnim, Friedrich Hebbel, E. T. A. Hoffmann, and Hugo von Hoffmannsthal worked it on out and built it into the corpus of a reception. Here is von Schubert's opening cover. It is the scene as it gets encapsulated right at the opening of a reception, and right before it is swallowed whole, on eternally postponed time release:

In like manner, that remarkable corpse, the one described by H╚lpher, Cronstedt, and the Swedish scholarly journals, also decayed into a sort of ash, even after they had placed him, to all appearances transformed into stone, under glass to keep out the influence of air. This former miner was found in the Swedish iron mines in Falun in the course of tunneling a connection between two shafts. The corpse, saturated in sulphuric acid, was at first soft and supple, but then petrified through contact with the air. Fifty years he had been lying low at a depth of three hundred meters in that acid water and no one would have recognized the unchanged facial features of the youth who died in the accident, no one knew the time he had passed in the shaft, since the local records and legends concering all accidents were unclear, if it had not been for the recognition of his once beloved features, recollected and preserved within an old faithful love. For as the people crowded around the salvaged corpse to gaze on his unknown still-youthful physiognomy, there arrived a little old gray-haired mother, on crutches, who sank to her knees with tears in her eyes for the beloved dead man who had been her betrothed, and she praised the hour that had granted her, right at the portals of her own grave, such a reunion, and the people watched with amazement as this odd couple was reunited, the one who retained his youthful appearance even in death and down in the deep crypt, and the other one who had preserved the youthful love inside her faded and decaying body. The group looked on as this fifty-year silver wedding anniversary transpired between the still youthful bridegroom, stiff and cold, and the old and gray bride, so full of warm love. [2]

So who's mourning now? Who's dying now? This was the beginning of the Romantic safe text: a text of disconnection in place of sexual union, a text or corpus kept safe, in the safe-like preserve of a mine shaft or in Snow White's coffin of see-through chemical embalming. It's a scene we're still making in our mass-media sensurround. We still count down as German Romanticism's late arrival. E. T. A. Hoffmann, whose Sandman story Freud would read to great special effects in the essay "On 'The Uncanny,'" provides the missing link, the link with the missing, between us and them. Hoffmann's "The Mines of Falun" reorganizes the subterranean disconnection as lying between equal but nonsuperimposable plots, one of Oedipus, the other of Burial, a force field of tensions sparking between technology and haunting. What Freud himself referred to, in the closing line of his essay "On the History of the Psychoanalytic Movement," as "the underworld of psychoanalysis" fills the space between, the space, as always, of "being two." It's the deep space of what is mine.

Psychoanalysis remains, to this day, the owner's manual to our ongoing technologization and group psychologization over the undead body of the other, who always goes first, and thus renders us at once immortal and suicidal. The story of this underworld accident -- which gives us two chances, the one that gives us pause, the preservation of the hiding of loss, the other that gives us the outside chance of ultimate mourning or unmourning through the big reunion that's also a major disconnection -- belongs, therefore, primally placed, within the psychoanalytic transmission of our mass media sensurround.



[intro] [first] [second] [third] [shaft] [notes]