Nobel laureate in Literature Herta Müller on the laborious assertion of her dignity in a totalitarian state Dignity and Empty Freedom The big question under dictatorship was how can you live The question wasn t really that simple It went much further with subordinate clauses that were basically the main part of it How can you live with what you think if you can t say it without going to prison for doing so How can you still show when it matters at a meeting or in an office or during an interrogation what you think without saying it How can you live to remain or to become what you are for yourself Or how do you keep from becoming what you don t want to be It was the question of dignity in oppression Actually I didn t have any idea what I wanted to be like who knows that about themselves In a certain sense I still knew it because every day I saw around me what I didn t want to be and could not become under any circumstances How can you live and bear yourself if you re not what you want to be because you re not allowed to be what you want to be I was constantly in conflict with the fundamental question of how to live I wasn t out to ask that question it inevitably asked itself It s always been there wherever I went with my life It was there before me as if waiting for me I didn t know this at the time it was the question relating to personal freedom and dignity From the distance of today I believe that in oppression there is a destructive fixation on the opposite on the freedom that cannot be lived It s present as an absence knowing that it s being crippled It is so violated that it immediately stops where it begins The end eats the beginning from the first moment onwards But because it always remains even if only as the opposite of itself it is more than mere projection of the mind It s not some mute image in the mind it s a terribly precise feeling Feeling is the right word Because feelings are in your head Or at least they originate from the head That one is aware of oppression means that one is aware of the lack of freedom It s this fatal pair of twins running through life It s a pair like chronic hunger always thinking about the lack of food Today I have to admit to myself most of what I ve learned about freedom and dignity I ve learned from the mechanisms of oppression Observing these mechanis ms and of course there s nothing else to do in a state of oppression is like deciphering the mirror writing of freedom The clearest thing I ve learned is easy to say freedom and dignity are always concrete They re there or they re missing in every single thing In general I can t even talk about it It won t lead me anywhere if I try I deal with the abstract word freedom and the feeling of dignity not as an idea but as an object A very concrete object Because freedom has its concrete place where it is present or missing It has its contents its weight In freedom is always a concrete situation Something s happening or it s being prevented These two categories are always present permitted and forbidden Under dictatorship almost everything I wanted to do was forbidden And what was permitted I had forbidden myself from doing because I didn t want to become like the ones who allowed me to do it Freedom is an object But in this life in Romania it was so far away you couldn t touch it And so it touched me all the more Essay 39THE MAGAZINE 1 19 TEXT Herta Müller ILLUSTRATIONS Felipe Suzuki

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