by Frank Schnittger
Sat Jul 27th, 2019 at 05:41:47 PM EST
Derek Scally, Irish Times Berlin Correspondent, has written a sensitive article about a 31 year old German woman and blogger who studied for her Doctorate in Trinity College Dublin, and worked for Intel in Leixlip near Dublin. She died suddenly last week, apparently by her own hand, a few weeks after Der Spiegel published an exposé highlighting her invention of 22 Holocaust victims, many of them supposedly in her own family.
I have written a letter to the Editor in response:
Well done to Derek Scally for his sensitive article on the death of Sophie Hingst following her exposure as a fantasist by the German periodical, Der Spiegel. (The life and tragic death of Trinity graduate and writer Sophie Hingst, News, Jul 27, 2019).
If Sophie had been a journalist providing copy for Der Spiegel, their zeal in exposing her falsehoods would have been understandable, especially in the wake of the Claas Reloitius scandal where their correspondent had largely invented 14 supposedly factual features for Der Speigel. But the reality is she was a private blogger hurting no one but her self and those who cared for her.
I suppose (Holocaust memorial organisation) Yad Vashem would also have had cause for complaint had her invention of 22 Holocaust victims, many in her family, provided ammunition for Holocaust deniers. But as Derek Scally makes clear, it didn't take a clinical psychiatrist to divine she was a troubled women in need of help, not exposure. As it is, Der Spiegel could be giving aid and comfort to neo-Nazis who claim that stories of Nazi atrocities are much exaggerated.
With a good job in Intel in Ireland she had her life in front of her if she could have accepted therapeutic intervention and perhaps some public embarrassment. But it seems her whole persona had become so completely wrapped up in her "alternate reality" she could envisage no other life. Her family and friends will be devastated. Our sympathies go to them.
Blogging as an art form can embrace many genres, from citizen journalism to outright fantasy and fiction. It appears her work veered towards the latter end of the spectrum. Her only fault was to identify herself with one of her characters so completely she could no longer tell the difference between fact and fiction. Perhaps in her world, her death was just the end of a chapter. She may even be right.
But it falls to us to write the next chapter.
Mental illness is a scourge which has blighted the lives of many an individual and family and the available therapeutic and medical interventions all too often don't seem adequate or even appropriate. Many of us have active fantasy lives and the border between fact and fiction can sometimes become blurred. Who can write revealingly about the politics of De Pfeffel or Trump without being able to enter their fantasy lives, and without realizing that the facts often seem to matter much less than the fantasy.
Politics is often about the collision of rival fantasy worlds with each other and with reality, and even that "reality" is socially constructed around the experiences of many. Yes, objective realities may intrude, but the ways in which they are perceived depends very much on who is doing the perceiving and for what purpose.
Sophie Hingst may have felt a need to identify with the victims of Nazi atrocities and to distance herself from the perpetrators. Who knows what dark secrets may lie in her family's past and certainly Germany itself is still trying to deal with a legacy of war guilt. But we also have to try to transcend our own origins and deal with the challenges of today in a more constructive way. There is a role for fantasy and fantasists in re-imagining history and what it must have been like to live through that reality. Those who fail to learn from the mistakes of history are condemned to repeat them.