At irregular intervals we present here a text from anders - Journal of Psychological Morphology. It will only be online for a few weeks. At another peak of the Corona pandemic - it is January 6, 2021 - we want to recall a text that elaborates the human art of survival on a true story. It is Wolfram Domke's column "Survival - Self-preservation instinct or fairy-tale metamorphosis"" from anders 6/2011. The drawings in the text are by Wilhelm Salber.

Tungsten Domke

Survival - self-preservation instinct or fairytale metamorphosis?

Again and again, there are dramatic stories of survival that people everywhere follow with growing sympathy. Existential fates, hardly thought possible achievements of human self-preservation in the face of the most adverse life circumstances - that obviously attracts us. But from a psychological point of view, the question arises as to what this 'self-preservation', so unbrokenly taken for granted in everyday life, actually is. It always sounds as if we have a permanently installed 'skill' to save ourselves in an emergency, which only needs to be activated. But the phenomena are not so clear-cut, neither preserving nor so firmly determined, and certainly not as ready as the assumed 'instinct of self-preservation' suggests. A closer look reveals disturbing contradictions and astonishing counter-currents. An old survival story that happened in Chile almost 40 years ago makes this particularly clear. The story is about the crash of a plane in the South American Andes. On board was a Uruguayan rugby team, along with relatives and friends, on their way from Montevideo to away matches in Santiago de Chile; together with the crew, a total of 45 people.

All the passengers had long been presumed dead when, 70 days after the crash, two survivors turned up in a Chilean valley, which rescue teams were then able to lead to 14 other living people at the plane wreckage in the mountains. Since this happened the day before Christmas Eve, the gratefully moved public referred to it as a "Christmas miracle." After a few days, however, the public's high spirits changed drastically when it became known how it had been possible to survive at all in the eternal snow at an altitude of 4,000 metres at night temperatures below minus 30 degrees and without any food supplies worth mentioning. Not by eating rabbits and mountain herbs - as one would like to believe in romanticizing transfiguration - but only by eating the flesh of dead people. The heroes who had just been celebrated were suddenly seen as despicable man-eaters. Many no longer wanted to have anything to do with such disreputable survival.

Strangely different was the condition of the survivors themselves. In the hospital, to which they were immediately admitted, they first called for a Father, for it urged the faithful Catholics to confess. After absolution, one of the rescued expressed himself - in the same way as the others - as follows: "No one can imagine what it was like. But up there, where I experienced so many miracles, where I was so close to God that I could almost touch him, I changed. Now I ask God to give me the strength not to become again what I was before." (P. P. Read) This was guilt and intoxication at the same time! They had all fed on the flesh of the dead. They made no secret of this, but neither of the nearness to God they had experienced; they were ashamed of the human bones lying about, and at the same time peculiarly animated with charity; they had tenaciously preserved their lives, and at the same time felt miraculously changed-how do such counter-courses fit together? They fit together when reality - including survival - is viewed in the categories of a paradoxical and fairy-tale metamorphosis. All fairy tales are about the possibilities and impossibilities of psychic life in a certain field of tension of reality. They even often depict this in terms of figures eating other figures: these can be wolves and goats, giants and thumblings, or witches and children as in Hansel and Gretel. With the help of this fairy tale, the internal structure of the survival story dealt with here will now be briefly sketched.

The immanent basic tension of the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel can be characterized, in gross simplification, by the poles of house and path. The house gives spiritual developments a firm, caring, loving shape with its own anchor and support, while the path makes them mobile, opens them up to others (fire and water) and takes them on journeys. In between, the essential happens: Both sides come together in the transformative moment of a return that can move "both in the direction of death and preservation and in the direction of a challenge of newness" (Salber; Fairy Tale Analysis). The plane crash first highlights the risks of any journey: figures on journeys can make 'navigational errors', lose their bearings and crash into obstacles they have supposedly already overcome. The tail of the plane and its wings break off in collisions with mountain edges, the front part of the plane flies a little further and finally lands hard on a snowy plateau.

For half of the passengers, this is the end of the road; they are already dead or will die of their injuries in the coming hours and days. For the other half, the fuselage of the aircraft now becomes their survival home. Only here is there protection from the extreme hostility of the ice desert surrounding them. At least in the beginning, there are still some leftovers of food inside, which are soon used up despite the strictest rationing. One lives most of all on the hope of an imminent rescue from outside. Almost all of them are studied and also spoiled sons 'from a good home'; in daydreams that last for hours they comfortingly imagine how they will soon return there.

After about three (!) weeks, however, it is clear that this rescue will not come. In disbelief, one hears on the weakly receiving transistor radio the news that the search has been stopped. Two 'impossible' images now arise in the minds of the starving and increasingly debilitated, first silently, and then spoken aloud: Eating the flesh of the dead and setting out on their own. Both require breaking through existing boundaries of rotation: one more inward, to the tabooed consumption of one's own (the dead are one's own friends, siblings, mothers, partners); the other more outward, to the perilous seeking out of others. For a time, these directions struggle against considerable internal resistance, until another event becomes a tragic aid to development. A nighttime avalanche buries the fuselage of the plane, burying those sleeping inside. For eight more people, the survival house thus becomes a deadly trap. Now it becomes easier for the rest to set out and to overcome the question of food. An expedition of three men - as well equipped as possible under the circumstances - is to find the rear of the plane, salvage the battery inside, and bring it back to the radio in the fuselage so that they can send calls for help themselves. So now one actually goes new ways, but a part remains behind like in a fairy tale, and also with the departing ones everything is aimed at an early return.

After two tediously slow day's march and a night in the open always threatened by frostbite, they reach the broken rear. Here still lie many suitcases, in which they jubilantly find warm clothes, chocolate, biscuits and cigarette sticks. So the stern becomes a tempting 'witch's house', inviting them to stay for a long, filling time. They eat the house dry, but conversely the house threatens to eat them by their lingering. The radio remains silent. The further Development is once again or still on its own. Only now can the step into the open, the unknown really be dared: to go to Chile under one's own steam. You don't know where you are exactly, but you know Chile is in the west, beyond the Andes. A mountain rises in front of them, blocking access to valleys to the west. Once this obstacle is overcome - so the hope - a saving region should be reachable. Again a group of three is determined and for a time - against the food envy of the others - downright fattened for the upcoming way.

The expedition starts. The ascent is difficult and forces them to take risky steps again and again. Shortly before reaching the summit, one of the three gives up exhausted and makes it back to the plane with the last of his strength. On top of the summit, the other two are confronted with a devastating picture: instead of the expected green valleys, only more mountains can be seen as far as the horizon. As if the fairy tale figures in the two men were now embodied, one wants to return disappointed, while the other looks undaunted forward. At a remotely promising spot, he thinks he can make out mountains without snow. That's where they finally continue together. Following a valley, after a few days they actually reach a snow-free area where they meet a goatherd. Through him, the necessary measures are initiated to save the others as well.

In the Catholic Communion, the survivors found an image that helped them to cope better with the transgression of the taboo, both in the situation at the time and afterwards. They imagined that the souls had left their dead bodies, and agreed to use their bodies to keep the others alive. Morphologically, what took place in the drama described was not only a communion of the living with the dead, but also a communion of the authoritative relations of home and way, preservation and change, form and journey. As history shows, such polarities do not simply come together; in the course of development, one-sidedness, repressions, reversals, splits can always occur. But if 'it' does come together, if the metamorphosis succeeds, then that is also a communion. For this also means 'transformation', which finally brings us to the other, mostly hidden side of self-preservation. We look into our abysses and up to our heights of form and can thereby have a paradoxical experience of construction: Where it is seemingly only a matter of naked survival, a strange more of life - of intoxication and guilt - becomes perceptible at the same time.