Author Archives: admin

About admin

"Origin, resume - all nonsense! We all come from some small town Jüterbog or Königsberg and in some Black Forest we will all end" (Gottfried Benn) Therefore just a stenogram: Thomas Huebner, born in Germany, studied Economics, Political Science, Sociology, German literature, European Law. Consulting firm in Bulgaria. Lived in Germany, Bulgaria, Albania, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Indonesia and Jordan. Now residing in Prishtina/Kosovo. Interested in books and all other aspects of human culture. Traveler. Main feature: intellectual curiosity

I was a German

The plays by Ernst Toller are occasionally still performed on stage, his poetry, however, is little read today. In the years after the end of WWI he was a celebrity and not just for literary reasons. The best-known book by him today is his autobiographical I was a German (Eine Jugend in Deutschland), which I discuss here. It was originally published in 1933 by Querido, one of the most important publishing houses for exiled German authors; one year later an English-language edition was printed by Paragon in New York.

Toller was born in 1893 in Samochin (today Samoczin), a small town north of Poznan, which belongs since 1921 to Poland. This region was characterized by a centuries-long coexistence of Germans, Poles and Jews. At the time of Toller’s birth, the city was already marked by a strong antagonism between mostly Protestant Germans and Catholic Poles; the Jews in the region were predominantly pro-German and usually identified very strongly with Prussia and with German culture. In the description of his childhood, Toller mentions that even as a child he was aware of this division of local society – the Poles were usually very poor and often did the physically hardest work. Among the Polish boys of his age, he had only one friend; he writes how he often had lunch at the family of this friend, where he noticed the poor diet; nevertheless the big family always shared without hesitation the little they had with an additional eater. This early experience of class differences and correspondingly divergent life perspectives should later become very important for Toller.

Toller, who showed already in school literary and poetic talent, was interested in French culture at an early age, an interest that was also reinforced by a French exchange teacher whom most other teachers at his school suspected of being a French spy, without reason as we can assume.

Despite the early death of his father Toller could complete his school education and he started to study in France, shortly before the beginning of WWI. However, he took little interest in attending lessons and spent most of his time in the circle of other German-speaking students. If you want to get an idea of ​​what an average student life of a foreigner at a French university looked like before the First World War, you will read the corresponding chapter with great interest. Particularly interesting is the description of rising tensions immediately before the outbreak of war, the strange atmosphere in which the majority of Germans in France considered a war to be very unlikely.

If one speaks of a key experience for Toller, one which shaped his future life and work, this was undoubtedly WWI, more precisely, the trench warfare on the Western Front in France. Like many others, Toller volunteered with some enthusiasm and optimism, but the terrible experiences in the trenches changed his attitude very quickly. He describes as particularly repugnant the inhumane propaganda of the domestic media, which denies the French enemy any humanity; At the same time he sees this as an insult and a degradation of the German frontline soldiers, who share the same experiences in the trenches with their French counterparts. One day, when repairing a ditch, he stumbles upon the remains of a human body, of which he does not know whether he was once a Frenchman or a German; and it does not really matter. The remains belong in any case to a man whose life was ended much too early by a war that Toller now finds pointless and completely wrong. Toller, who slowly admits his opposition to the war, wants to get away from the trenches and volunteers for the Air Force. Finally, a serious illness leads to his dismissal as unfit for military service and he can resume his university studies.

At the university, he encounters war cripples, a surprisingly big number of female students and professors, who are torn between national chauvinism and skepticism. By now most people realize that Germany can not win the war; the nutrition situation is getting from bad to worse. Turnip becomes a major food source. In this slowly changing atmosphere, a large conference organized by leading scientists and intellectuals, is held at Lauenstein Castle; Toller takes part in this event alongside many other students, but also professors, intellectuals, poets and supporters of the Lebensreform movement. The participants discuss their vision of Germany’s future. It quickly becomes clear that the restorative forces have the upper hand in this event. Romantic and backward-looking ideas of state far from a democratic society are preferred by the majority of participants; a real signal of departure for which Toller is waiting, is not coming. Toller is severely disappointed, but receives encouragement by the famous sociologist and economist Max Weber and the poet Richard Dehmel, who seek a real change in Germany and work towards the abolition of the authoritarian state and the monarchy.

The same period sees also an increased productivity of the author Toller and meetings with prominent colleagues, such as Rilke or Thomas Mann. Mann invites the by then almost unknown Toller to his home and is helping him editing texts. He is also providing valuable advice for his writing, something very encouraging for Toller. He mentions it in his autobiographical book with great gratitude.

Toller is tired of talking and wants to see actions that are geared towards ending the war. He joins the war opponent Kurt Eisner, who is trying to organize a strike of workers in the armaments industry. Toller is briefly arrested and locked up in a lunatic asylum.

The end of the war finally comes in November 1918. The sailors in Kiel and other port cities mutiny and refuse to follow orders, within a short time large parts of the army join, the emperor flees, the whole system is collapsing, the war is over. In this confusion Kurt Eisner proclaims in Munich the People’s State of Bavaria, a socialist Republic, supported by the leftist Independent Socialists (USPD), and the anarchists, who are traditionally very strong in the Bavarian capital. (The Communists refuse to join the revolution!) Eisner is elected Prime Minister, Toller is his right-hand man.

What follows in the next few weeks, is one of the most turbulent episodes of German history of the 20th century. While the government led by Social Democrats in Berlin enters into a pact with right-wing Freikorps to forcefully overthrow the Bavarian government in Munich, the writers, bohemians and anarchists (including the Freigeld theorist Silvio Gesell) prove to be largely ineffective to form an orderly cabinet. One example: the first action of one of the newly appointed ministers is to send telegrams to the Pope and Lenin, in which he complains that his predecessor has taken the toilet key! The good man is later transferred from his office to the care of a psychiatric clinic.

In the meantime, the Communists are also trying to come to power by overthrowing the Eisner government. In this confusion Kurt Eisner is assassinated by a far-right extremist and anti-Semite, Graf Arco. Toller becomes Head of State of the People’s State of Bavaria for a few days. He is 25 years old by now. The Communists, led by the Russian Eugen Leviné, seize power after a coup d’état and proclaim the Bavarian Soviet Republic. In the meantime, the Freikorps units – some of them already using the Swastika – march towards Munich. Toller tries everything to prevent a bloodbath on a large scale, which would be the result if it would come to battles between the Bavarian Red Army and the Freikorps.

It is known from history books that the revolutionary Munich episode was crushed with extreme brutality. Hundreds, if not thousands, of unarmed supporters of the left parties were shot on the streets of Muncih or simply beaten to death when the Freikorps marched in. Even today, 100 years later, it is hardly bearable to read Toller’s account of the murder of the pacifist Jewish writer Gustav Landauer, who was in police custody; In other cases, prisoners were “shot while fleeing”; a Munich publisher later boasted how he “shot down captive revolutionaries like rabbits”. Many of those who excel in murders later reappear under the banner of the Nazis.

Toller is able to hide for a while during these days with the help of friends. He is wanted for “high treason”. For a while he finds shelter with the actress Tilla Durieux (in the book her name is not mentioned; Toller only calls her “my friend” to protect her from persecution and slanderous allegations); Rilke also offers his help. In the apartment of a couple that hid him at great risk for themselves, he is finally caught. The Freikorps soldiers decide to murder him on the street together with several other prisoners, but in the last moment an “official” policeman prevents the worst.

The last part of Toller’s autobiographical book describes his time in various Bavarian prisons. He rejects a personal amnesty from the Bavarian government in 1920, as long as even one of his fellow revolutionaries was exempt from the amnesty. A defining characteristic of the Weimar Republic’s judiciary was that it often allowed violent offenders from the right-wing milieu to go unpunished, even for murders, whereas socialists or communists often received the most severe punishments for minor offenses. A fact that the statistician Emil Josef Gumbel has also clearly proven in his publications. The anarchist Erich Mühsam for example received a ten-year prison sentence, although, according to today’s legal understanding, he had not committed any criminal offense, while the putschist Hitler, on the other hand, received a minimal sentence, which he had quickly served in privileged conditions. It is no coincidence that Toller’s first depressive relapses fall into this period. He committed suicide in a New York hotel in 1940.

I was a German is still an astonishingly fresh confession of a man who became a fighter against war and for social justice as a result of personal experiences and inspiring meetings with some remarkable personalities. An important book, worth reading!

Ernst Toller: I was a German, Paragon (Tr. Edward Crankshank); Eine Jugend in Deutschland, Rowohlt

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

My Book Year 2019

The year 2019 is almost over and it is time to look back at my reading and blogging experiences.

After a hiatus, I started again to blog more or less regularly and I hope this will be also the case for 2020.

As for my reading, I didn’t keep a diary to track down the books I read this year, but the number is approximately 130, so roughly two and a half books per week, of which around 60% were fiction, 40% non-fiction. Almost all books I read were “real” printed books, only one book was read electronically. I read books in four languages (German, English, French, Bulgarian).

Every book year brings interesting discoveries, pleasant surprises, some re-reads of books I enjoyed in the past, and a few disappointments. Here are my highlights of the last year:

The most beautiful book I read in 2019: Arnulf Conradi, Zen und die Kunst der Vogelbeobachtung (Zen and the Art of Birdwatching)

Best re-reads in 2019: Michel de Montaigne, Essais; Karl Philipp Moritz, Anton Reiser; Salomon Maimon, Lebensgeschichte (Autobiography)

Best novels I read in 2019: Marlen Haushofer, Die Wand (The Wall); Uwe Johnson, Jahrestage (Anniversaries); Jean Rhys, Sargasso Sea

Best poetry books I read in 2019: Thomas Brasch: Die nennen das Schrei (Collected Poems); Johannes Bobrowski, Gesammelte Gedichte (Collected Poems), Franz Hodjak, Siebenbürgische Sprechübung (Transylvanian Speaking Exercise); Yehuda Amichai, The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai; Anise Koltz, Sich der Stille hingeben (Surrender to the Silence); Mahmoud Darwish, Unfortunately It Was Paradise; Vladimir Sabourin, Останките на Троцки (Trotzky’s Remains); Rainer René Mueller, geschriebes, selbst mit stein

Best Graphic Novel I read in 2019: Art Spiegelman, Maus

Best SF novel I read in 2019: Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, The Doomed City

Best crime novel I read in 2019: Ingrid Noll, Halali

Best philosophy book I read in 2019: Ibn Tufail, The Improvement of Human Reason

Best non-fiction books I read in 2019: Charles King, The Moldovans; Charles King, Midnight at the Pera Palace; Timothy Snyder, The Road to Unfreedom; Adriano Sofri, Kafkas elektrische Straßenbahn (Kafkas Electric Streetcar); Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost; Lucy Inglis, Milk of Paradise; Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole, Sacred Trash; Sasha Abramsky, The House of Twenty Thousand Books

Best art book I read in 2019: Hans Belting, Der Blick hinter Duchamps Tür (The View behind Duchamp’s Door)

Best travel book I read in 2019: Johann Gottfried Seume, Spaziergang nach Syrakus (Walk to Syracuse)

Biggest book disappointment in 2019: Elena Ferrante, Neapolitan Novels

Favourite book cover in 2019: Ivo Rafailov’s cover for the Bulgarian edition of Marjana Gaponenko’s Who Is Martha? (this edition is upcoming in January 2020)

Most impressive translator’s work: Jennifer Croft’s translation of Flights by Olga Tokarczuk; Vladimir Sabourin’s translations in his Bulgarian poetry anthology Радост на Началото (The Joy of the Beginning)

Most embarrassing authors in 2019: Peter Handke; Christoph Hein; Zachary Karabashliev

Good as always: Vladimir Sorokin, The Blizzard; Clarice Lispector, Near to the Wild Heart; Ismail Kadare, The Traitor’s Niche; Jabbour Douaihy, Printed in Beirut; Georg Klein, Die Zukunft des Mars (The Future of the Mars); Phillipe Claudel, Le rapport de Brodeck (Brodeck), Kapka Kassabova, Border; Naguib Mahfouz, The Midaq Alley

Interesting Authors I discovered in 2019: Samanta Schweblin, Mouthful of Birds; Olga Tokarczuk, Flights; Isabel Fargo Cole, Die Grüne Grenze (The Green Border); Hartmut Lange, Das Haus in der Dorotheenstraße (The House in the Dorotheenstraße); Erich Hackl, Abschied von Sidonie (Farewell to Sidonia)

And which were your most remarkable books in 2019?

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Selbstkommodifizierung von Autoren

Auch in der Literatur hat sich in den letzten Jahrzehnten so etwas wie Commodification ausgebreitet. Bestimmten Autoren ist es gelungen, so etwas wie ein Markenartikel zu werden. Ein charakteristisches Beispiel dafür ist Ernest Hemingway, und in einer Besprechung eines seiner Romane habe ich darüber auch kurz geschrieben. Ein Autor, von dem alle ein bestimmtes Bild im Kopf haben, dass sich gewissermaßen von seinem literarischen Werk abgekoppelt hat und dieses häufig komplett ersetzt hat. Es soll Leute geben, die Hemingway als Lieblingsautor angeben, auch wenn sie noch nie ein Buch von ihm gelesen haben. (Mancher wäre unangenehm überrascht, wie schlecht und schwer erträglich manches von Hemingway ist, würde er ihn denn lesen.)

Dazu kommt, dass der Autor/in, der/die häufig in den Medien erscheint, in aller Munde ist und dadurch auch zum beliebten Gesprächsthema sich als gebildet betrachtender Menschen bei Cocktailpartys und dergleichen Gelegenheiten wird. Dabei ist es gar nicht unbedingt notwendig, herausragende Werke zu verfassen, entscheidend ist das soziale Interesse der Konsumenten.

Ein Autor, der das ganz ausgezeichnet verstanden hat, ist Peter Handke. Schon bei seinem allerersten Auftreten in den 1960er Jahren provozierte er das gesamte literarische Establishment der Gruppe 47; später kam dann seine Publikumsbeschimpfung dazu, in der er das Theaterpublikum auf ähnliche Weise provozierte. Die Leute finden das natürlich unterhaltsam und man kann sich je nach Naturell auch wunderbar darüber aufregen. Beides ist gut für den Autor in unserer heutigen Aufmerksamkeitsökonomie. Und egal, welchen Skandal Handke später lieferte – körperliche Gewalt gegen die Lebensgefährtin, Fausthiebe gegen einen Literaturkritiker, zahlreiche abgebrochene Interviews des sich jeweils provoziert fühlenden Autors, Beschimpfungen aus der Genital- oder Analsphäre gegen kritische Zeitgenossen vorzugsweise weiblichen Geschlechts, eine fast zweistellige Zahl von Büchern, in denen er mal mehr, mal weniger subtil sein geschichtsrevisionistisch-völkisches Jugoslawienbild zeichnet und nebenbei Propaganda für serbische Kriegsverbrecher macht, Interviews in denen er einen Genozid leugnet oder relativiert -, er erinnert die Öffentlichkeit mit diesen Skandalen immer wieder daran, dass es ihn gibt und das verschafft ihm enorme Medienresonanz, die er mit seinen Romanen, Erzählungen und Theaterstücken allein nie auch nur annähernd erreicht hätte. Die Folge sind neue Leser und Literaturpreise wie am Fließband, zuletzt auch der Nobelpreis. Alle wissen heute, wer Handke ist – er ist ein Markenartikel.

Im Zeitalter der sogenannten Sozialen Medien ergeben sich natürlich noch mehr Möglichkeiten als früher. Wenn man sieht, wie ungehemmt narzisstisch sich viele Autoren auf ihren Social Media-Auftritten in Szene setzen, kann das ebenfalls als mehr oder weniger erfolgreiche Strategien der Selbstkommodifizierung sehen. (Ich nenne hier ganz bewusst keine Beispiele; jeder kennt solche Peinlichkeitsorgien.) Daneben gibt es aber auch die Autoren, die hauptsächlich damit beschäftigt sind, ihre Bücher zu schreiben. Und als Leser interessieren mich selbstredend Bücher mehr als irgendwelche Schriftstellerselfies, inszenierte Skandälchen oder Selbstvermarktungsstrategien von medienhungrigen Schreiberlingen.

Um nur ein einziges Beispiel zu nennen: ich kann mich nicht erinnern, jemals auch nur ein einziges Interview mit Hartmut Lange gelesen zu haben – wahrscheinlich gibt es ein paar, aber sie sind mir nicht erinnerlich; ich weiß nicht mal, wie er aussieht. Und auch sonst hab ich ihn noch nie weder in einer Talkshow gesehen – ok, das ist jetzt ein wenig geschummelt: ich habe nämlich seit vielen Jahren keinen Fernseher mehr -, noch ist er mir als Unterzeichner irgendwelcher Appelle, Propagandist irgendwelcher zweifelhafter Thesen oder Sympathisant irgendwelcher dubioser politischer Gruppierungen erinnerlich. Wie steht er zum Klimawandel? Keine Ahnung, wahrscheinlich so wie ich auch. Seine Werke lassen einen hochintelligenten und reflektierenden Menschen vermuten. Das ganze markenartikelhafte Gehabe gibt es bei ihm (und vielen anderen Autorinnen und Autoren) überhaupt nicht. Es gibt nur, so zuverlässig wie bei einem Schweizer Uhrwerk, Jahr für Jahr aufs Neue diese relativ schmalen, aber großartigen Bücher von ihm. Erzählungen und Novellen hauptsächlich. In einer sehr schlanken, eleganten und verdichteten Prosa geschrieben. Egal, zu welchem der rund zwanzig Bände in der Diogenes-Backlist man greift, man wird einfach nie enttäuscht, sondern auf intelligente Art unterhalten und oft auch zum Nachdenken angeregt. Da lasse ich die ganze langweilige, ärgerliche Markenartikelliteratur gerne links liegen.

Anstatt jedem Hype und jedem Skandal hinterherzuhecheln, sollten wir die richtig guten Autorinnen und Autoren lesen.

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Fundstück (3)

„Irgendwann mal würde ich gern mit ein paar Freunden auf einer kleinen Insel leben, sie müßte ja nicht zu den Bahamas gehören. Vielleicht eine Bar betreiben, nichts Mondänes, ein kühles Plätzchen am Hafen, durchs Fenster kann man die Boote sehen. Vielleicht ein paar Stühle draußen unter der Markise, für die Touristen. Ein Tagesgericht, sonst nur Sandwiches und Drinks, aber die besten der Gegend. Man könnte fischen gehen, ab und zu auf die Nachbarinsel, wo es ein Spielkasino gibt. Jeder macht in aller Ruhe das, was er will. Einmal in der Woche ginge ich mit dem Vizekonsul und dem englischen Romanschriftsteller und dem Schnapsschmuggler ins Bordell, der Geschichten wegen. Ich weiß, du magst keine Geschichten, aber vielleicht brauchst du keine. Erinnerungen sind ja Scheiße, aber Geschichten halten das Leben zusammen. Manchmal, wenn du den großen Horror hast, ist eine gute Geschichte das einzige, was noch hilft.“

aus: Jörg Fauser, Der Schneemann

© Jörg Fauser 
© Diogenes Verlag 
© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Fundstück (2)

London, den 19. April 1770

...Ich habe in meinem Leben sehr viele schöne Frauenzimmer gesehen, aber seitdem ich in England bin, habe ich mehrere gesehen als in meinem ganzen übrigen Leben zusammengenommen, und doch bin ich nur zehn Tage in England. Ihr außerordentlich netter Anzug, der einer Göttingischen Obstfrau einiges Gewicht geben könnte, erhebt sie noch mehr. Die Aufwärterin, die mir täglich Feuer im Kamin macht und mein Bett wärmt (mit der Bettpfanne, versteht sich, Gevatter!), kommt zuweilen mit einem schwarzen, zuweilen mit einem weißen seidenen Hut…in die Stube, trägt ihre Bettpfanne mit soviel Grace als manche deutsche Dame den Parasol, kniet sich vor dem Bette…mit einer Nonchalance nieder…und spricht dabei ein Englisch, wie es in Euern besten englischen Büchern kaum steht, Gevatter! Wenn Euer Herz etwas aushalten kann, so kommt herüber, ich stehe Euch dafür, Ihr sollt das Englische weghaben, ehe Euch das Bette vierzigmal ist gewärmt worden.”

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg: Brief an Johann Christian Dieterich    

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ein bescheidener Vorschlag

Verschiedene Handke-Adepten (darunter auch einige, die ein Eigeninteresse daran haben, etwa weil sie ihre akademische Laufbahn auf dem Werk dieses Autors aufgebaut haben oder Bücher über ihn geschrieben haben) bezeichneten in den letzten Tagen ihre Feinde – das Wort „Gegner“ passt hier wegen des extrem militanten und menschenverachtenden Habitus nicht – mit recht entlarvenden Ausdrücken. Entlarvend nicht für die so Bezeichneten, sondern für die, die ein solches Vokabular benutzen.

Als “windschiefe Gestalten” und “karge Lemuren” – das sind nur zwei Beispiele, man könnte leicht noch viel mehr in diesem Ton finden – werden in der laufenden Diskussion um Peter Handkes Nobelpreiswürdigkeit mittlerweile diejenigen tituliert, die die Frage stellen, ob es wirklich eine gute Idee war, ausgerechnet diesen Schriftsteller mit einem Preis auszuzeichnen, der an einen Autor oder eine Autorin gehen soll, deren Werk in idealistischer Weise herausragend sein soll.

Eine solche hasserfüllte Sprache ist entwürdigend und zutiefst unmenschlich. Wer, wie Handke oder seine Jünger so schnell den guten Ton vermissen lässt – Handke schlägt bei Kritikern ja wohl auch gelegentlich gerne mal mit der Faust zu oder bezeichnet Kritikerinnen als „Westhuren“ -, der sollte nicht arg so empfindlich sein, wenn Menschen Handkes Werk zitieren oder nochmal detailliert Revue passieren lassen, was der Autor gesagt, geschrieben und getan hat.

Niemand von Handkes Kritikern hat gefordert, dass seine Bücher nicht mehr gelesen oder verlegt werden sollen. Niemand von Handkes Kritikern hat gefordert, dass er ausgebürgert werden muss. In der peinlichen Solidaritätsadresse, die jetzt veröffentlicht wurde, wird so getan, als habe Handke seine Existenz aufs Spiel gesetzt, als sei er ein Dissident usw. usw. Davon ist nichts, aber auch gar nichts wahr. Er publiziert, wird gelesen (wahrscheinlich erheblich mehr als ohne seine provokativen Jugoslawien-Texte und die ganze Diskussion darüber), er bekommt Literaturpreis um Literaturpreis. Er ist gut im Geschäft, könnte man sagen. Er gewinnt neue(?) Freunde (Kubitschek & Co.).

Diejenigen, die im Gegensatz zu Peter Handke wirklich ihre Existenz aufs Spiel gesetzt haben, sind die, die Handkes Freunde von den Hügeln rund um Sarajevo über viele Monate beschossen haben, diejenigen, die damit rechnen mussten, dass sie täglich, beim Überqueren einer Strasse in der belagerten Stadt, aus der sie nicht herauskonnten, von einem Scharfschützen ermordet werden. Aber laut Peter Handke war das alles berechtigt, da ja „nur“ Revanche. Oder es hat gar nicht stattgefunden. Oder er hat es nicht so gemeint, falls er es gesagt oder geschrieben haben sollte. Oder er kann sich nicht genau daran erinnern, so was gesagt zu haben. Oder er hat es zwar gesagt, hat es dann aber nicht autorisiert. Oder er hat sich „verhaspelt“ (ein Schlüsselwort für das Wirken von Peter Handke). Und eigentlich wollten diese Leute, die da gemordet haben, seine Freunde, nur Indianer spielen.   

Für diejenigen, die es immer noch nicht verstanden haben: die Kritik an Peter Handke hat er sich verdient. Nicht, weil er „Medienkritik“ übte, wie das jetzt einige Baudrillard zitierende Zeitgenossen behaupten – „Lügenpresse“ zu sagen (und nichts anderes tut Handke), ist keine Medienkritik, es ist dumpfe Propaganda -, sondern weil er seit Jahrzehnten das völkisch-geschichtsrevisionistische Narrativ von Leuten, die buchstäblich Blut an den Händen haben, verbreitet, weil er absolut jede glaubhafte Empathie mit den Opfern der von Serben begangenen Verbrechen vermissen lässt, weil er Täter zu Opfern umlügt.

In diesem Zusammenhang mache ich einen bescheidenen Vorschlag hinsichtlich des Literaturnobelpreises 2020:

Der Schwedischen Akademie schlage ich vor, nächstes Jahr Paul Goma mit dem Literaturnobelpreis auszuzeichnen, der ebenfalls ein geschlossen völkisch-revisionistisches Weltbild hat. Und wenn Goma den rumänischen Holocaust als Rache an den jüdisch-bolschewistischen Kommissaren entschuldigt oder sogar rechtfertigt, Opferzahlen herunterrechnet und Täter-Opfer-Umkehr betreibt, folgt er dem gleichen Muster wie Handke. Am Ende waren die Mörder die armen Opfer und wenn sie was Schlechtes getan haben, muss man für die Armen doch Verständnis haben, es war ja allenfalls überzogene Notwehr oder Vergeltung, also eigentlich menschlich verständlich und irgendwie gerechtfertigt. Und dann die schlechte Presse – wie unfair, über diesen Genozid (war es denn einer, werden Gomas Verteidiger fragen) – so einseitig zu berichten. Dahinter steckt bestimmt eine amerikanische PR-Firma. Eine solche Auszeichnung an Goma ist wahrhaft „idealistisch“, wenn ich die Schwedische Akademie richtig verstanden habe. Und im übrigen: Holocaustrelativierung hin oder her – man muss doch Autor und Werk immer schön auseinanderhalten… Wer das dann kritisieren wird, ist “hasserfüllt”, eine “windschiefe Gestalt” oder zählt zu den “kargen Lemuren” (die ja eigentlich keine Menschen sind.). Und mit solch minderwertigem Gesindel müssen sich wahre Humanisten und Idealisten wie die Freunde von Handke oder Goma in Stockholm und anderswo nicht abgeben.

(Sarkasmus-Taste „Aus“)

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Fundstück (1)

“Kunst war nie ein Mittel, die Welt zu ändern, aber immer ein Versuch, sie zu überleben.”

aus: Thomas Brasch, Eulenspiegel (abgedruckt in: Kargo. 32. Versuch auf einem untergehenden Schiff aus der eigenen Haut zu kommen, Suhrkamp 1977)

© Thomas Brasch
© Suhrkamp Verlag
© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Transylvanian Speaking Exercise

Poetry is a genre that is rather neglected by the book blogging community. And I think that’s a real pity. Therefore I didn’t want to let this year’s edition of German Literature Month pass without including one or two posts about German-language poets.

One of the best German poetry books I picked up in the last years is the collection Transylvanian Speaking Exercise (Siebenbürgische Sprechübung) by Franz Hodjak. The book collects the best poems of several previous poetry books by him and includes also a few that were published in journals only. An instructive afterword by the poet and editor of the volume Werner Söllner gives additional valuable information on the author and his background.

Hodjak was born 1944 in Sibiu (Hermannstadt) in Romania and lived later for many years in Cluj (Klausenburg). Transylvania and the Banat are home to a German-speaking minority since hundreds of years; also a Hungarian minority lives there. The number of native German speakers is dwindling, migration to Germany has reduced the minority considerably in the last decades. Especially in the villages very few Germans have remained until today and it is not clear if this minority will survive as such the next generation, despite the fact that the President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, is a prominent member of this ethnicity.

Romania has had a thriving German-language literary scene until recently; Herta Müller is the most prominent author among these, but there are plenty of other important writers. In Communist Romania there was a period from the mid 1960s to approximately the mid 1970s when Romanian literature written by ethnic Hungarians and Germans was promoted, and the censorship was for a few years relaxed to a certain extent. During this period, Franz Hodjak published his first poems and worked as an editor in a publishing house that would publish also Romanian-German literature. Hodjak, who publishes also prose, is additionally a congenial translator of Romanian literature. In 1992 he emigrated to Germany. He lives in Usingen near Frankfurt am Main. 

Below you can read two of his poems in the original German and in my translation. Hodjak is an author whose work I like a lot and I am publishing this post in the hope to make a few more people aware of this poet who deserves to be read and also published in other languages. I would love to see a collection by him in English translation or any other language one day.

small elegy 

ignorant were even then 
those who went along. snow dug them in  
or a blooming torrent of words.  

the socks are hanging on the balcony, it 
is march. 

up in the cemetery,  
the blackbirds are conferring. 

is there a death that grants death   
a meaning? 

posterity beckons from the train. 

kleine elegie 

unwissend waren schon damals 
die, die mitgingen. schnee grub sie ein 
oder blühender wortschwall. 

die socken hängen auf dem balkon, es 
ist märz. 

oben, im friedhof, konferieren 
die amseln. 

gibt es einen tod, der dem tod  
sinn verleiht? 

die nachwelt winkt aus dem zug. 

Kelling 3

about ten die per year,
eleven wander off to the city,
twelve drive off to the brother.

the acacias, small and crippled, bloom
with the courage of despair.

Kelling 3 

zehn etwa sterben im jahr, 
elf wandern weg in die stadt, 
zwölf fahren zum bruder. 

die akazien, klein und verkrüppelt, blühn 
mit dem mut der verzweiflung. 

(Kelling/Câlnic is a village near Alba Iulia.)

Franz Hodjak: Siebenbürgische Sprechübung, Suhrkamp 1990

© Franz Hodjak
© Suhrkamp Verlag, 1999
© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Death of a Poet

Everyone has their own way of dealing with the death of a friend or relative. I am very quiet on such occasions, turned inwards, and want to be left alone with my mourning. And certainly, the idea to exhibit my friendship and emotional closeness with a recently deceased by posting about it in social media is something alien to me, something I cannot understand at all.

Now that the news has become known that a very talented Bulgarian poet, Nikolai Atanasov, has died at the age of 41 years only, dozens of my FB friends expressed their grief and shared poems. But many also wrote very detailed personal reminiscences, anecdotes, descriptions of experiences, the respective person has had with the deceased, analyzing his life, his poetry, his health, his sexual orientation, his character, and what not.

What struck me and made me infinitely sad: out of everything what the friends of the deceased wrote, one thing became clear: here someone had died, who for a very long time was very sick, poor and socially completely isolated, someone who had practically no emotional support, according to many of his friends, someone who over the years showed clearly signs of poor and deteriorating physical and mental health. I would have wished that among those who claimed to have been friends with the deceased only one would have proved to be a true friend, and would have done something to save the poet from the abyss in which he now obviously perished. Maybe he would be still alive.

But that’s the way it is: once an artist or poet has died in misery, those who have let him/her down and who didn’t extend a helping hand when it was desperately needed, celebrate themselves and their “great friendship” with the dead post mortem. I wonder if at least one of these friends feels ashamed?!

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Magic Hoffmann

West Germany, a short time before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Fred, Nickel and Annette are three young people from the South Hessian provincial town of Dieburg. They dream of the big wide world, more specifically of Canada. They do not have any real ideas about this distant country, only that there everything is much nicer and more interesting than in their godforsaken hometown. Fred “Magic” Hoffmann, the one of the three who has a reputation of being a prankster, wants to plant an apple orchard there and produce apple wine (Eppelwoi), the signature drink of their home region – a project that seems almost as realistic as growing pineapples in Alaska.

What distinguishes this youthful dropout fantasy from many others is simply that the three go one step further than many peers in a similar situation. They are planning a bank robbery, which should give them the necessary seed capital. And they are not stopping at the planning phase: astonishingly, their robbery of a bank branch in a neighboring village is successful; the 600,000 marks, are not a gigantic sum, but enough to build an existence in Canada. But Fred gets caught – planning and executing the bank robbery is dealt with in the novel in a few lines only – and sentenced to four years in juvenile jail, which he does with stoic patience and without betraying his partners in crime – finally he has one goal: when he gets out, his share of 200,000 and his friends are waiting for him, and then: off to Canada! (After all, he uses the prison time to teach himself some English, which he then uses in every appropriate and inappropriate opportunity in his dialogues.)

How great is his surprise when his friends do not pick him up at the prison gate and their postal addresses turn out to be no longer correct. It must have come something in between and the friends also did not want to make themselves suspicious and therefore had little contact with Fred during his detention. Finally, the unsuspecting Fred finds out that his friends are now living in Berlin and he is soon on his way to meet them there. But in Berlin he experiences one surprise after another, and most of them are not at all pleasant …

We are in the novel Magic Hoffmann (that’s the title in the German original) by Jakob Arjouni, who has become famous for his books about the German-Turkish private detective Kemal Kayankaya. If you expect Kemal to appear here as well, you will be disappointed; however, what works quite similar to the Kayankaya novels is Arjouni’s art of developing a character, his often witty dialogues, his eye for the absurdity of certain things and situations, and his unsentimental view of Germany in the late 1980s and early 1990s, his seemingly cynical remarks and his sympathy for his main character, who, despite everything, is quickly taken to the heart of the reader.

The book is also largely a Berlin novel – whereby the city’s description pleasantly differs from many works that want to sell us the old-new German capital as the navel of the world. When Fred comes to the city for the first time, he is quite disappointed: Berlin looks the same way as Frankfurt, Darmstadt or Wiesbaden, except that the Berlin people obviously do not understand Fred’s special kind of humor; Berliners are regularly rude and unfriendly in this novel, a fact with which Fred has difficulty to cope with. And then there are things that are completely new to Fred: the reunited Germany, the frequent talk of the nation, the anti-Semitism, the presence of violent neo-Nazis in the subway, the police, who are not too eager to do their job and to protect the law, Russians who are doing all sorts of illegal business behind a legal cover, petty criminals and extortionate taxi drivers to watch out for, young people like Nickel and Annette, who think of themselves as progressive and hip, but who behind this façade, often have reactionary opinions and extremely conservative ideas about their aims in life. And everywhere it smells bad and the sky is gray in this city. Berlin can not really impress a Magic Hoffmann. Maybe it’s because he’s just passing through.

He realizes that his friends have changed a lot. Nickel studies to become a teacher, he has a family and the money of the robbery well-hidden in an investment scheme in Luxembourg. Fred has a lot of patience with him, but then he has to use some serious pressure to get his share. And Annette works on film projects that never get beyond the planning and discussion stage, otherwise she lives in her bubble of pseudo-artists who are looking down on someone like Fred with contempt; it is telling that both of them are very surprised when Fred asks them when they will be leaving for Canada, since neither for Nickel nor for Annette, this has been ever a serious plan.

But luck seems to embrace Fred nevertheless. He encounters the freaky dancer Moni, who does not bother with his completely unfashionable clothes, his strange look or his crime “career”. The two are getting closer and Fred is forging plans for a life together with Moni in Canada before fate is striking mercilessly.

A great novel in my opinion: it has a high pace, interesting characters and dialogues, it has wit and it allows the reader to take an unusual but very revealing look at the reunited Germany. Unusual because the reader identifies very quickly with the main character Fred Hoffmann. Fred is a modern literary relative of Eichendorff’s Good-for-nothing; he is an outsider for various reasons: bank robber, small town boy, traveler, a person without exaggerated artistic or intellectual ambitions, he is everything that would be described in Berlin as the opposite of hip. But unlike his fake friends, Fred has remained true to his dreams and ideals, with a mixture of naivety and mother wit that makes him very likeable.

The German edition of the novel I read has almost 300 pages; I read the book in one sitting. Highly recommended! What a great loss that Jakob Arjouni died relatively young!

Jakob Arjouni: Magic Hoffmann, Diogenes 2012; Magic Hoffman, Old Castle 2000, No Exit Press (Tr. Geoffrey Mulligan)

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.