Obituary: Markus Helen

“The body is over.” Markus Helen decreed back in 1998. “and it is what we want.  It’s all we’ve ever wanted.”  Too spiritual for nihilism.  Too misanthropic for anarchism.  Markus Helen, whether as philosopher, father, friend or husband, inspired and frustrated all who fell into his orbit.  He passed away this week, leaving behind a wife, a son, and a legacy of misunderstood hope.  Born to a musician father and an accountant mother on the rural outskirts of Innsbruck, surrounded on all sides by, what he described as the “physical, visceral poems of humanity”, or, as anyone else would call them, cattle and smog.

To call his father a musician would be to define him within the discipline that paid him; though said payments were meagre and seldom.  By his father’s own definition, he was an artist.  Young Markus grew up being overshadowed, literally, by his father’s creative endeavours.  Towering grotesque sculptures, unfinished for years, could not be touched or moved from the place where he had seemingly abandoned them.  His father’s easel would transport from room to room in search of an ephemeral ‘inspiration’ that always seemed to be eluding him; at times the scrawny Markus was made a refugee from his own bedroom to make way for his father’s next endeavor.  Among this chaos, Markus drew to his mother, cultivating a comfort in the logic of math and a rich vein of derision for anything creative – upon discovering Marx, he would go on to lambaste Marx for missing the fact that “all was opium”.  ­­

Moving to Frankfurt to study economics he passed many years at the exchange with merit, but also suspicion.  A quiet man and with a firm glare, many found him to be a discomfiting presence.  The Frankfurt exchange had been a powerhouse since his childhood and the FinanzentrinkenTischGeschwätz culture was in full flow.  Being teetotal, and seemingly uninterested in the copious amounts of sex that the men of the exchange pursued, he was nicknamed ‘Der Mönch’. This he did not mind, though he was angered that his reticence to play the social games of the Frankfurt society, would result in missing out on several key positions during his time with DB Securities.  He was rewarded with a substantial pay rise, equal to the value of his work, but no rise in status.  Years later he would surmise that the group were foreseeing the huge quake in the market that would puncture Europe’s markets for almost a decade and were quite sure that ‘Der Mönch’ would not be an able spokesman to justify the Exchange’s course of action – which was, in Helen’s own terms, to “…Keep sailing towards iceberg at full steam and the vain hope that the glacier was brutal monolith made of flawless diamond”.  Contained within the data, and sealed off from the bigger picture, he witnessed the crunch, we now call the ‘Wind Crash’ first person.  It was an epiphany for Markus, now in his late-30’s, that the markets had hollowed the state into a cadaver.  He took his severance package and sent the vast majority to his mother, whose pension (supporting both her and her father) had collapsed along with millions of others around Europe, and he began to write.  A process that would, in his inexperience of writing, take almost a decade.

His first articles, usually excerpts from his first (at the time) unfinished book “Restitution of the desert”, appealed to the liberal-right and were published in the streams of the Economist, FT and Wall Street Journal.  There was much interest in the publishing rights of “Restitution…” and the front-runner to secure the deal was Furl Press of Munich.  However, upon reading the first manuscript, Furl dropped Helen like a hot potato – and it would not be the last time that Helen’s output horrified those who had come to believe him to be an ally.  His saving grace was Albert Langmann, a controversial publisher of both academia and pornography.  His intrinsic reason for acquiring Helen’s book was to uphold his reputation as a peddler of controversy and to ruffle the feathers of the establishment, but would come to realize later in life that Helen was the only person who ‘truly adored mankind’.  Awareness of Helen’s ideas of life and existence bloomed outside of academia, his ideas were picked up and brought to life by the famed Estonian director Rikki Harma in his Palme d’Or winning title “Rectangle”.  Suddenly a young generation picked up on the ideas and he became a big draw on many of the university campuses across Europe – with an occasional foray in America.  He remained, however, an isolated individual in the main academic circles.  His popularity was deemed only an attraction to students outside of the disciplines and philosophies he was claiming to be a part of.

He saw no issue with being regarded as an oddity, taking umbrage only with being labelled by some quarters as an atheist.  In God, Helen fervently believed.  He advocated that science progressed far more effectively in history when those carrying out research were not looking into creation, or beginnings.  He did not believe in beginnings – for him, when reading any religious text on ‘creation’ one would find that the description was ambiguous: “creation is intentionally rushed, even those writing the foundations of humanity, as its most basic form, knew that this was unimportant.  Seven days – yes, who cares? – the lord put the world together in seven days and let’s be done with it! Eden is where our engagement with our imprisonment begins!”   Despite his faith, he struggled with church attendance and any institutional order to faith.  When he met Igor Patakovic, an outcast and pseudo-anarchist priest, in former Sarajevo, he moved there to live for the rest of his life.  They formed a firm friendship, their examination of faith was unbound by concepts of sin, they believed the Bible to be a story of survival and a dictionary of the struggles of the soul confined (confined in the body).

At 46 he gave in to what many identified as his biggest contradiction.  He married Marta Golovkin, adopting her two children, and having one daughter of his own.  In the spawning of children he was asked if this compromised any of his ideals. “The body is a prison, but we all reach out between the bars and grasp for each other.  With a clearness of soul and disobedience to the ideal of servitude we can pass our time here with this space in gladness and colour.”

Though isolated from the world stage, he remained diligent in following world politics and economic policy, he became a reliable (if incoherent) barometer for many conflicts.  His articles on the mis-information of the de-financing of Brookers and LIT insurance, along with his stark warnings of a collapse in the raw iron value, were the two prominent, among many, predictions that were ignored and subsequently proven to be right.  His ability to dissect large swathes of data and compute beyond the economic cost, in order to calculate the human cost, was a gift that seldom blesses an era.  That he was perceived as a ‘holy fool’, and oft ignored because he chose a different reality to perceive, is a fault of our own rather than his.

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