Tuesday, May 23, 2006

does innocence invite its own murder, part 2

I’m dividing the songs for this topic into two areas: Songs dealing with the murder or death of inauthentic innocence (also known as pseudoinnocence), and songs dealing with the affirmation of innocence. The nexus between the two points is the authenticity of the innocence in question, i.e., it depends upon whether the innocent is deliberately avoiding complex issues and his own complicity with evil. This post will cover “Rosenrot,” “Spring,” and “Hilf mir.” “Ein Lied” with some caveats, may serve as a warning about innocence and action, but that will come in a later post.

“Rosenrot” is fascinating, especially after referencing the texts “Heidenröslein” and “Schneeweißchen und Rosenrot.” The Goethe poem is in some respects a rape fantasy. The boy is ravished by the sight of the rose, and in reaction, he plucks the rose, ignoring the wounds that the rose futilely deals him. The implication is that the rose earns its demise because of its showy display. This parallels to some extent the actions of the boy in the Rammstein song; like The Fool on the Tarot card, the boy is not mindful of his own well being while on the mountain. Similarly, Rose-red in the Brothers Grimm story is the sister who goes out into the meadows and forests, while the more practical Snow-white stays indoors. (Snow-white is the one who uses her scissors to help the dwarves, and who finds a clue about the true identity of the bear, presumably while Rose-red was telling the Big Bad Wolf which way Little Red Riding Hood had gone.) However, the song turns the perspective around from the female to the male. We follow the boy as he climbs the mountain to fetch the rose and please the girl. Unfortunately, his preoccupation is his demise: While reminding himself that this effort will ultimately be worth it (“Tiefe Brunnen muss man graben / wenn man klares Wasser will”), he loses his footing and falls to his death. Here, the innocent is not the girl, but the boy, and his innocence is inauthentic because he blinds himself to reality.

“Spring” addresses the violence that accompanies the death of innocence. In an almost Hitchcockian or Pinteresque scene of sacrifice, a man climbs onto a bridge, claiming he only wanted to see the view, but is murdered by the narrator of the song in order to appease the mob that gathers under the victim. The narrator senses the shame that the man feels at his own cowardice and at his refusal to redeem the mob by fulfilling their expectations of a spectacle. Any innocence claimed by the man is automatically inauthentic by virtue of his cowardice. The chill the man feels is amplified by the ripple effect that this one sacrifice has, i.e., the “thousand suns” that burn for him. The man’s identity, history, and feelings are unimportant; his only value is in his death, and his greatest moment of significance is the moment before he dies. The narrator understands that to fear death at one’s own hands is an irredeemable flaw—a flaw that every member of the mob possesses, since if they possessed that kind of courage, they would not need to call for the man’s sacrifice. And because those thousand suns will continue to burn, more innocence will have to be sacrificed. The death of the man becomes inevitable.

Unlike the victims in “Rosenrot” and “Spring,” the little girl in “Hilf mir” knows on some level that she is complicit with her own death:

Immer wenn ich einsam bin
Zieht es mich zum Feuer hin
Warum ist die Sonne rund
Warum werd ich nicht gesund

At first, it seems she is too young a figure to be held fully accountable. However, she speaks of the fire as a lover (“Das Feuer liebt mich”) and she does not resist it when it reaches for her. In fact, once she is dead, she even reaches toward the sun as the ultimate source of fire. This is not pure, childlike innocence at all, yet neither is it utterly prurient. It is an innocence that leads to self-destruction, a death without a sense of sacrifice to ennoble it.

I am inordinately proud of myself for not adding more songs to the list.

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