lunes, 1 de febrero de 2016

Pérdidas de memoria

Puede leerse en el último número del European English Messenger un artículo conmovedor, escrito por Martin Kayman, antiguo editor del Messenger, en memoria de Helmut Bonheim, que fue presidente de la Sociedad Europea de Estudios Ingleses (ESSE). Aquí puede bajarse en PDF, poniendo la clave Hermes. Recomiendo leerlo en plan memento mori, y recordatorio de en qué acaban nuestros esfuerzos, incluso los de una persona admirable y admirada como Helmut Bonheim, que llegó a los reconocimientos más altos en su profesión, y es recordado por muchos por su talento, su actividad y su generosidad personal.

Me lo presentaron, creo, en el congreso fundacional de ESSE, o quizá en algún congreso de AEDEAN donde vino como conferenciante invitado. En Galicia, quizá; y algo hablamos, o al menos siempre me escuchó muy educadamente. Ya lo conocía por sus libros; en especial había usado en mi tesis su libro de narratología The Narrative Modes. Me reclutó para donar revistas a las bibliotecas de Europa del Este, que era uno de los proyectos que llevaba entre manos; eran los 90, años muy movidos para él. Luego desapareció, tras regalarnos a nuestro departamento una colección entera de una revista sobre Joyce, al jubilarse. Me extrañó algo entonces, ahora me extraña menos. También se ocupaba de volver a poner en circulación bibliotecas de profesores jubilados. Esto nos dice Kayman sobre él, quince años después de sus últimas noticias.

Losses of Memory
As I was researching an article for the Messenger last February, I came across the sad news that the first regular editor of the newsletter (1991-94) and two-term presidente of ESSE (1994-2000), Helmut Bonheim, had passed away three years previously on 13 February 2012.1  He had been followed a few months later by his wife, Jean. We knew that Helmut had suffered from Alzheimer's for a number of years, so the news of his death was not entirely unexpected among those who had worked closely with him in the past and had been friends with the Bonheims. What was shocking was the realisation that ESSE had been unaware of his passing. It turned out that the James Joyce Quarterly had formally noticed his death, as, I'm informed, had the Deutsche Anglistenverband, but past and present editors of the Messenger were unaware that Helmut had passed away, as were the past and present Secretaries, Treasurers and Presidents of the Society whom I was able to contact. Alzheimer's attacks short-term memory, but how is it possible that ESSE had 'forgotten' the man who had given the Messenger shape and purpose and established it at the Society's heart, and who had thereafter successfully presided over a period of major expansion? As Ado Haberer (President 2001-7) put it, with the end of Helmut's presidency, 'a page in ESSE's history had been turned', the 'romantic "great adventure" some thought [the Society] ass destined to be' had come to an end in the face of 'the realities of life', and the organisation had come into an age of 'maturity, stability and responsibility'. (...)
1 Printing the Messenger: The End of an Era', European English Messenger 24.1 (Summer 2015): 6-9.bonheim

Remito al artículo de Kayman para los detalles de cómo llevó Bonheim la complicadísima gestión de una organización internacional, en tratos con decenas de asociaciones nacionales de anglistas, en los años que siguieron a la caída del Telón de Acero. Pero me quedo con dos de los testimonios personales que recoge, uno de Robert Clark (que bajo los auspicios de ESSE comenzó, como yo, la edición de una gigantesca bibliografía):

Personally, it seemed to me that Helmut was a 'displaced person', having been brought up in America by Jewish parents exiled in the 1930s, and having chosen to return to Germany in 1965... I suppose this personal history was the origin of Helmut's highly philosophical irony: he was and was not German, was and was not Jewish. He was not American, though educated there, and not British, though married there and spending much of each summer in St John's Wood. It seemed to me he lived in what Thomas Mann called 'the pathos of the middle', constitutionally within and without his social situations. Perhaps this is why he was such a genial broker of a unifying Europe: he was thoroughly aware of our need for an Europe that would resist narrow islands of the mind.14

A esto comenta Kayman:

"For myself, despite many years of proximity, I was unaware of Helmut's origins, although I may have suspected them, being Jewish myself. It was then not so much his Jewishness as his relatinoship to it inthe context of his (inter)national heritage that is important here. Cambell observes: 'Jewish identity is another distinctive matter. Helmut declared himself entirely uninterested in his Jewish heritage, and felt no discomfort living in a country with a savage anti-Semitic past. He did not, he said, dwell on the Holocaust.' It was perhaps this that made Helmut such a positive, almost deliberately innocent, European, a learned philologist with his eye on the future. One should not mistake this for romanticism in any dismissive sense."

Si un judío tiene tendencia a ser un hombre de ninguna parte, un judío que ignora sus raíces quizá está doblemente desenraizado, y se vuelve un ciudadano del mundo sin más, o quizá un europeo— algo que según Henry James sólo un no europeo puede ser, pues los europeos son siempre además franceses, ingleses o alemanes. También era un tanto alemán, es cierto—un alemán de Danzig. Terminaré con el testimonio de uno de sus estudiantes y colegas de Colonia, Ringard M. Nischik, transmitido a Kayman:

When I travelled from Konstanz to visit him in the nursing home in Kóln-Porz, I first saw the door to his room with the sign: 'Helmut Bonheim' (no titles, anymore). He was lying in bed, in a slumber, still good-looking. I was amazed how little, relatively speaking, his appearance had changed even though he was by then in his eighties. After more than two decades, I was looking at the person to whom, because he had set me on the path, to a significant extent I owed my professional happiness.
    When I returned an hour later, I saw him sitting in the common room in a wheelchair: slumped, head down staring at the floor... I carefully approached him and slowly and cautiously, yet repeatedly, tried to tell him who I was. I told him how grateful I was to him for making it possible for me to choose a profession I have found so rewarding and fulfilling. By and by, I got the impression that he started to vaguely remember or that at least some of my urgent words got through to him in some degree. tears were running down his cheeks, yet he hardly said anything. I saw a copy of Joyce's Ulysses on the bookshelf in the common room, no doubt deposited there by his daughter. I took the book and put it in his hands. It was immediately obvious that this was a person who had spent a great deal of his life with books. He looked at the book as if at a very precious object, handled it very carefully, and slowly thumbed thorugh it, page by page, probably unable to read anymore. This went on for some minutes. Then seemingly purposefully he shut the book, carefully haded it over to me, and ceremonially placed it into my hands—from the teacher to his former doctoral and postdoctoral student, as if he wanted to tell me that it was now up to others to continue the work, and that his time was over... That was the last time I saw Helmut Bonheim. He died five weeks later. Memories of his kindness live on, together with profound respect for his extraordinary personality and his life achievement, and with deep gratitude.


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