The Devil's Blind Spot: Tales from the New Century


Scathingly clever short stories. Includes "The Devil in the White House" and "The Development of Iraq as a Case for the Files."

At once a genuine story-teller and a literary documentarian, Alexander Kluge's genius lies in the very special way he makes found material his own. Each of the miniatures collected here touches on "facts" and is only several pages long. In just a paragraph he can etch a whole world: he is as great a master of ...

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Scathingly clever short stories. Includes "The Devil in the White House" and "The Development of Iraq as a Case for the Files."

At once a genuine story-teller and a literary documentarian, Alexander Kluge's genius lies in the very special way he makes found material his own. Each of the miniatures collected here touches on "facts" and is only several pages long. In just a paragraph he can etch a whole world: he is as great a master of compression as Kafka or Kawabata.

Arranged in five chapters, the dozens of stories of The Devil's Blind Spot are condensed, like novels in pill form. The first group of stories illustrates the little-known virtues of the Devil. The second explores love from Kant and opera through the Grand Guignol. The third is entitled "Sarajevo Is Everywhere" and tests how convincing power is. The fourth group concerns the cosmos, and the fifth ranges all our "knowledge" against our feelings. In each piece, Kluge alights on precise particulars: on board the atomic submarine Kursk, for instance, we are marched precisely step by step through a black comedy of the exact, disastrous stages of thinking that lead to catastrophe. Sample titles include "The Devil in the White House," "The Development of Iraq as a Case for the Files," "Intelligence of the Second Degree," and "Love's Mouth Also Kisses the Dog."

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
In a work that intentionally defies categorization, the elderly German polymath Kluge, a film director as well as writer, offers commentary on love, war, the Devil and the cosmos, from the stars to the oceans, using myth, fables, the historical record and invented dialogues. Guided in spirit by Kant, Walter Benjamin, and Adorno, Kluge (The Battle, 1967, etc.) has assembled dozens of little essays and anecdotes, the idea being to stimulate the reader through unexpected perspectives. Thus Kluge looks at the sad life of Christina Onassis and sees a person who has attained maturity in the Kantian sense; then Kluge broadens the picture to show Soviet interest in its shipping fleet, and the way the heiress becomes a pawn of geopolitics; inserted into the narrative are thoughts on another victim, the Queen of Carthage. Why? "History moves in waves . . . narratives that are not causally connected may still be related." Kluge amplifies his point by turning to Sarajevo 1914 and the First Gulf War, reaching the startling conclusion that the only antidote to Sarajevo (shorthand for a world-war trigger) is for a nation to protect its own worst enemy. Elsewhere, he indulges in the puckish notion that the Devil has been spotted in a White House group photo by German Intelligence: Read this as a catcall from "old Europe." A section on homecomings after WWII is backlit by the world's most famous homecoming, that of Odysseus; the Chernobyl rescue operation brings to mind a poem by Schiller. Kluge's accounts of military planners supping with the Devil are mostly on target, whether it's a Pentagon "adventurer" trying to harness the spiritual powers of a rabbi or the Nazis' search for a "primitive warriortype." Still, a longish section on 9/11 fails to get a fix on the catastrophe. Kluge's frequent interrogatory dialogues on all these episodes throw up an array of talking-points that make his work ideal for an avant-garde reading group or post-graduate seminar, though less so for the solitary reader.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780811215954
  • Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 11/24/2004
  • Pages: 322
  • Product dimensions: 5.42 (w) x 8.24 (h) x 1.22 (d)

Read an Excerpt




Copyright © 2002 Alexander Kluge
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8112-1595-4

Chapter One


That so many different stories are told about the Devil is a sign of just how old this constant companion of the human race is. Reassuring, that the Devil makes mistakes. Occasionally to our advantage, sometimes to our disadvantage.

Born in 1932, I almost grew up without Hitler. A difference of 25 inches in December 1931 and the evil man would have died on an icy road (see below p. 30). The gap of two feet was one of the Devil's mistakes.

The luck of the devil

The failed divorce

Eight bullets, evidence of an unjust execution

The thirst for secret wisdom

The devil's blind spot

Kepler saves his mother, the witch

Galileo, the heretic

Discovery of a "wild version of the criminal type"

The crunch effect

1 A comfort, that the sun rose

2 Material unleashed

3 A steel casing for Chernobyl

4 Treacherousness of causality an almost undecidable case of New York insurance law

5 Dramaturgical dead end

A dangerous moment

A story from the early days of motoring

In the fire storm

Zoo animals in the air raids

What is real about reality?

Origin of a sense of beauty in the ice episode from the first epoch of globalization

Unintentional stroke of luck episode from the age of asymmetrical warfare


A young woman threw herself from one of the parapets of Milan Cathedral. She was determined to put an end to her life. As she fell she screamed in terror, having overestimated her resolve.

By chance she fell on a car. Later she said that she'd been afraid she would not look very pretty as a corpse on the stones of the cathedral square. In fact, wrapped in so much metal, but her fall broken, she looked grotesquely injured.

At the hospital all the vital functions of the maltreated body (whose spirit had driven it to attempt self-annihilation but which the spirits of the cathedral had been able to protect) were diagnosed as intact. By the age of 35 Wilma Bison had managed to get to the West from Odessa, tried her luck, and as far as she was concerned found nothing but bad luck, and so had made her decision, which brought, however, a happy ending. Her escape, widely reported in the popular press, led to contact with a man from Lugano, who protected her from then on.


At the time of the West German Economic Miracle a married couple by the name of Pfeiffer, who had children (they had also built up a business together, then quarrelled dreadfully), planned to divorce. From a place south of Lüneburg Heath they drove towards Uelzen on a country road. After twelve years together, this was the last time (they thought) they would be sitting in the same car. They wanted to reach the county court in good time. It was a Wednesday morning, late summer weather.

That week a fire storm had taken hold of the local forests. Firefighting planes were brought in from Italy. Federal help was called up. The directors of the administrative districts in the Lüneburg Heath area (every one of them awarded the Knight's Cross in the Second World War) personally led the fire-fighting units to the edge of the fire zone. Roads in a wide radius were cordoned off.

From a long way off the Pfeiffers could already see the column of smoke above the forests to the north. They were urged to turn back. The couple stubbornly tried to reach their goal of separation along forest tracks. They began to talk to one another. By evening it was certain that there was no way of getting through the fire zone. They had missed their hearing before the county court.

- The Devil certainly upset the Pfeiffers' plans!

- If it was the Devil who set the forests alight.

- You could call it hellfire. Are there other known cases of the Devil lending a hand in reconciliations?

- Little is known of his good deeds.

In the dry late summer it was almost impossible to extinguish the fires. A West German army tank brigade from Hanover bulldozed a 500-yard-wide firebreak through the part of the forest where the blaze had not yet taken hold. Diggers cleared the tree trunks out of the way in a hurry. But already the fire had overcome the obstacle, pushing forward thanks to flying sparks and by way of roots and mosses on the dry ground. Even for the Devil, it was far too big an effort, just to keep the Pfeiffers together, said Pastor Eisenhardt, who had some knowledge of the Fiend.

In the spring a reconciliation child. The business flourished until 1991. The Pfeiffers stayed together. And ever since the children laughed at the two of them if they had an argument.


Sergeant Rowland Cole got hold of eight bullets from an execution of spies by firing squad carried out under martial law. He had dug them out one by one with his jackknife.

- What did you want to do with the bullets, Sergeant?

- A memento. Collect them.

- Sell them later, at home in Philadelphia?

- Maybe. But maybe just keep them.

- How did you know that these were spies?

- They had been shot. I asked.

- What was so interesting about the eight bullets? What did you find so interesting about them, after they'd been used?

- That they came from the people who had really been shot.

- Were you interested in the men who were shot?

- No, only in the question that maybe they were shot unjustly.

- But that's got nothing to do with the bullets you scraped out of the bodies.

- I think it does.

- Why?

- If the spies were innocent, then these were instruments of murder. Something like that has got to be kept safe.

- And it didn't occur to you, that what you were doing constitutes theft, looting from the dead on the battlefield?

- I did think of the dead. And that I would like to take something from them with me. If I had taken their shoes or something from their pockets, that would have been looting. The bullets didn't belong to them.

- They belonged to the firing squad?

- The firing squad had thrown them away.

- So they belonged in the bodies of the dead.

- But they didn't belong to the dead-they didn't want the bullets.

The court-martial took a long time to reach a decision. Cole's defense counsel, a lieutenant who had studied law at Stanford for three semesters, insisted that the firing squad had deliberately given up ownership of the bullets, but that the condemned had not accepted this gift, either because they had already been dead before the bullet reached its final resting place in their body, or because, in general, experience shows that no one voluntarily allows himself to be shot.

It was known that through his family the law student had connections in the Pentagon and the Senate. Thus the court did not want to add a second Draconian judgment to the arbitrary verdict which had preceded the execution of the alleged "spies" Yes, said the looter Cole after the main hearing, he had only taken the bullets in order to underpin his protest against such unjust shootings. He had taken them as a form of evidence. Cole's division had meanwhile advanced further into the center of Germany, in the direction of Magdeburg. There was no time to waste; so the accused was acquitted and, supplied with provisions, put in a jeep, which was to bring him to a spa in Brittany.


"History disproves the dualism of God and Devil" -J. G. Droysen, Grundrisse der Historik

In a stretch of country northeast of Naples, now being leveled by Berlusconi's bulldozers, there lives in an earthen hut Rabbi Bekri, the last scholar who can trace a direct line of descent from Rabbi Yehuda, known as Hakadosh the Holy. The destructive bulldozers are unable to harm his hiding place. The engines die at a distance of 40 yards from the hut, so that the trees and bushes close to the scholar remain untouched. The phenomenon is easily explained: The bubble protecting this plot of earth, was of a spiritual nature.

- Rabbi Bekri turned down an Israeli passport and a call to a chair at Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Why?

- He didn't make any comment on that.

- He also refused to work with a science foundation in the United States. Why? It would have made a lot of things easier for him.

- They didn't want his knowledge, they wanted his power.

- What does that consist of?

- He didn't comment on that.

The Kabbalists call the first movement of the Godhead revealing Himself MEMRA, the Word (logos) also CHOCHMA, wisdom, equals strength JAH. The first emanation of the Godhead is called by them Adam Kadmon, the primordial man, whose divine power extends to all degrees of light. What the Kabbalists study is the result of a withdrawal and concentration of God's essence so that there would be room for the Creation. This withdrawal, say the Kabbalists, left behind traces of emancipation, something akin to the circles caused by a pebble thrown into water. These traces are called Sefirot. There are ten such traces, hence also ten names of God, ten orders of angels, three heavens with seven planets, and the human body's ten members.

- But Rabbi Bekri's books are not in the hole in the ground?

- It's not a hole in the ground, more like a rock cave. Wood paneled inside.

- But too small for his vast number of manuscripts and books (virtually from three millennia)?

- Mold is a great threat to books and reed-based papers. The caves are not free of mold. The books are stored in barns in Sicily, hidden away. The Rabbi doesn't need them. Everything the texts contain he has in his head.

The number of evil spirits is inexpressible, says Rabbi Bekri. They are piled up around each person, like the earth thrown up around an embankment, because each has a thousand to his right and ten thousand to his left. Their usual dwelling place is a dark chamber below the moon. As it says in the Zohar, the impure spirits settle on a man's hand while he is sleeping and there is no barring and bolting of rooms or houses which can prevent it. And so a man must wash himself when he awakes.

The highest-ranking and most influential good demon is METATRON, the Angel of the Presence, altogether of everything great and sublime. In him the Kabbalist recognizes Enoch, who after his ascension became Metatron. Rabbi Ismail learned the arithmetic calculation of the dimensions of God from Metatron. Namely from the place of the seat of His Glory upwards is 1,180 leagues and from this seat downwards just as many. From his right arm to his left is a distance of 77,000 leagues, a league being reckoned as 4.4 miles. The distance from his right to his left eyeball comes to 3,000, the circumference of his head to 30,000 leagues. On his head he wears 60,000 crowns.

The LORD is surrounded by no less than nine million good spirits, whose number, however, rises up to infinity, since each man who observes a law of the Torah creates a good angel, just as a violation creates an evil one. But when it comes to the question of the origins of the evil spirits there is less certainty. The views of the Kabbalists are divided. According to some sources God is said to have created a she-devil, LILITH, with whom Adam fathered the demons. Other Kabbalists are of the opinion that this only added to their number. Rather, the evil spirits (Satanin, Shedin, Seitim, also Malache, Shabbalah and the angels of corruption) were created at the final moment of the week of Creation, but because of the beginning of the Sabbath not completed; in this respect they were no more than fragments. According to some commentators Lilith appeared as the first woman simultaneously with Adam, who divorced her because of her quarrelsomeness and thereupon married Eve, who had been made from his rib. Mashkith is also mentioned as well as Lilith; there are said to be frictions and acts of violence between the two she-devils. Lilith is said to have at her command more than 480 troops of evil spirits, Mashkith more than 478. Less frequently mentioned is Iggareth.

- Can spiritual beings be made use of in political conflicts, (e.g., in war)? Like the experiments the Otto Rahn research group of the Central Reich Security Office was still undertaking at the end of 1944, to acquire the knowledge to deploy spiritual powers against Bolshevism?

- You mean in an absolute emergency? Calling on the SEVEN JUST MIEN?

- Against an enemy of mankind, for example?

- No serious Kabbalist would agree to lend a hand to that. He wouldn't even discuss it.

- And unserious ones have no power?

- None.

Recently in the Pentagon a four-star general was appointed to take charge of the planning of the U.S. national interests in space. The usual disruptions, that occur in filling a large new section, made up of a number of special staffs, washed a couple of adventurers into the new department. They were already thinking about the next steps. Ultimately the defence of TERRA cannot be guaranteed, unless you bring into the picture control of the Milky Way and the neighboring galaxies at least. And since the sluggish forces of natural science and of technology are insufficient for that, they wanted to kidnap Rabbi Bekri, bend him to their will, and incorporate his spiritual power in their boundless project. However, the scholar, flown to Nevada by a special unit, turned into a kind of leather sack, all shrivelled skin. The usurpers were left holding a lifeless something. In fact, the kidnapped Rabbi Bekri remained in his hiding place in Italy, in defiance of all attempts to lay hands on him. Those skeptical of the project, for example NASA, were proved right. An experiment of this kind won't lead anywhere.

- Why does Rabbi Bekri emphasize that there is no substance which comes from nothing?

- He gave a lecture about that at Stanford.

- A lecture? In a lecture theater?

- No. He sat in a darkened room, notes with questions were passed through to him, he read them by the beam of a flashlight and wrote down answers.

- Which were interpreted outside by his students?

- Exactly. A long chain of intermediaries must always be present, so that the remarks or thoughts-the commentaries-whatever one wants to call them, are expanded. They have to pass through ten minds, in order to produce one proposition.

- Now, in the Stanford science department, they know very well that the shining lights of the universe spread out more or less in straight lines, i.e. they come from something that must be a zero point, flat as a skin or membrane. That was how it was put on one of the question notes: Is this really an example of NOTHING?

- The Rabbi got out of that one elegantly enough.


Excerpted from THE DEVIL'S BLIND SPOT by ALEXANDER KLUGE Copyright © 2002 by Alexander Kluge. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

1 Little is known of the devil's good deeds 1
2 Love as a foreign language 41
3 Sarajevo, no matter what the place is called 99
4 Flying blind 161
Stories of the cosmos 163
Submarine stories 183
Can a body politic say I? 209
Homeward bound 243
Man without a head 257
5 The devil in the White House 279
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