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"DER TURKE WOLLTE, WIE DU BEMERKT HABEN WIRST, DURCHAUS nicht antworten" ["the Turk was most unwilling to answer me, as I daresay you observed"], (1) and one can appreciate the oracle's initial reticence. Here comes Ferdinand, the Romantic poet, and he wants to learn his rite, when the Romantic poet, by definition, has always already known his fate. The fate of the Romantic poet, as if the reader didn't know, is to lose the better, feminine part of his soul in early childhood, and to spend the rest of his life trying to restore that part, thus to regain the wholeness he once enjoyed. The question he puts to the oracle can only concern his anima, and his possible re-union with her: "die Geliebte meiner Seele ... die ich schon von fruher Kindheit an im Herzen getragen, die mir ein feindliches Geschick nur so lange entrissen, und die ich Hochbegluckter nun wiedergefunden" (S 336). (2) Because the poet has already cast "Schicksal" as the perpetrator of this primal tear, the only thing left for "Schicksal" to decide, or its spokesman to announce, is whether the poet's yearning to restore his wholeness will be fulfilled: "Werde ich kunftig noch einen Moment erleben, der dem gleicht, wo ich am glucklichsten war?" (S 337). (3) The Turk eventually obliges Ferdinand with an answer whose meaning is, at first sight, clear: "Unglucklicher! in dem Augenblick, wenn du sie wie dersiehst, hast du sie verloren!" (4) As Oedipus himself was forced to see, however, the most unambiguous, least enigmatic oracles are often the most treacherous, and fate manages to retain its strangeness even when it seems to speak most clearly, as indeed it must in order to remain fate. The paradox governing the oracle has always been that its true meaning can never become clear to the hero until after the mysterious work of fate has been completed. In this case, as we shall see, it is through the ambiguity of words such as "verlieren" that the Turk maintains his silence. In contrast to Oedipus' fate, however, Ferdinand's fate maintains its strangeness not by destroying him, but precisely by denying him the destruction he so fervently anticipates: his persistent conviction is that the fulfillment of the oracle, as the repetition of the primal tear, will bring his death. The trick that fate holds in reserve consists in denying the poet the fatal closure he so desires. I have summarized the tale in this tendentious manner in order to suggest that what is at stake in this confrontation is not the poet's fate per se, but the manner in which fate's alterity to the poet is enunciated, or encoded. The oracle in this case is not a human being, but an automaton--the "redende Turke" ["talking Turk"]--and so the awfulness of his pronouncement lies primarily not in the event that it predicts (whatever that may be), but in the source and medium of the pronouncement itself. Confrontations in Hoffmann's tales such as that between Ferdinand and the redende Turke are typically read in terms of the "fatal threat" posed by the other--thus following the poet's own suggestion--whereas what I take here to be the critical and characteristic feature of Hoffmann's treatment of alterity is that, for all its ineluctability, the form in which alterity "finally" (re)emerges remains to be decided. This tale does indeed participate in the universal problem of Hoffmann's poetics, namely that the sacred "inner life" of the artist is never secure from the trespasses of the profane, mortal sphere at its limit. (5) Ferdinand's friend, the composer Ludwig, gives expression to this typical anxiety in the loathing he directs towards the title character of the tale:

Professionali e tecnici
22 dicembre
Boston University

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