According to the rule of law, the Bible and the Talmud, revenge is forbidden. Just expressing a desire for revenge is taboo for many. The Jewish Museum in Frankfurt shows why revenge fantasies help, too.
Revenge is a common theme in stories: There are plenty of stories of revenge in literature, comics, films, and even the Bible. This abundance belies the fact that such stories are mostly fictional rather than historical facts.
Revenge fantasies as an antidote to brute force
The Jewish Museum in Frankfurt now wants to launch a debate on this topic. “Revenge. History and Fantasy” is the name of the exhibition and the volume of the articles. Museum director Miriam Wenzel boasts: Never before has a Jewish institution dared to confront revenge in such a public manner.
Wenzel says this has something to do with the fact that revenge often touches on toxic anti-Semitic clichés. The museum also plays with that. He presents the “Story of Vengeance” – that is, stories of revenge and fantasies of revenge – as a cure for brute force against minorities. This also makes the Frankfurt project interesting to non-Jews.
Revenge stories are good stories
Swiss cultural scientist Caspar Battegay contributed the idea for the exhibition. He sees revenge as a powerful driver in art and pop culture. A good example of this is Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.” Jewish resisters and Jewish fighters take revenge on the film. Hitler and the Nazis are pierced with bullets.
It’s fiction, of course – but it’s good in a way, since so few Nazis have been held accountable. Very few cases of genuine Jewish reprisals have been documented after 1945. The Inglourious Basterds only retaliate in the film. But this has a mitigating effect on viewers who have had to suppress fantasies of revenge against the killers for a long time.
Live the fantasy of revenge in the stories
These made-up stories are already in the Bible. For example the fairy tale of Queen Esther: With a sex appeal, Esther gets the king to prevent a planned genocide of the Jews in the Persian Empire. In the end, a Jew-hater named Haman is hanged along with all his sons. However, this story never happened. The opposite was often the case: pogroms and crematoria.
In the biblical story, Esther saves her people from destruction. In myth, biblical heroes like Esther bring a kind of satisfaction and justice that the Jewish people were in fact denied. Just like in ‘Inglourious Basterds’.
Because imagination purifies the soul
The Swiss cultural scientist Caspar Bategay compares the performance of such revenge stories with the style of humor: according to Sigmund Freud, “joke is a weapon of defenselessness.” Likewise, stories of revenge are forms of expression for vulnerable minorities.
This is exciting for everyone who does not get their rights in this world. They can in their imagination rewrite or at least “rewrite” what they have experienced. This is a method of psychoanalysis: those affected by violence must abandon the ego of the victim and become the master again, that is, take charge of their own life story.
Museum director Miriam Wenzel calls this: self-empowerment. And without bloodshed. This is how revenge stories work.
From March 18 to October 3, the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt dedicates an exhibition on revenge entitled “Revenge. History and Fiction ».
The book “Rush. History and Fantasy » with various essays, eg by Max Kzolk.