Tag Archives: Friedrich von Schiller

German fever. Beckett in Germany

Samuel Beckett is one of the most discussed and reviewed authors of the 20th century. The pessimistic, often hopeless view of the world that the author shows us in his work appears unbearable at first glance, but the apparent senselessness and absurdity of existence is softened by the black humor typical of Beckett.

For the audience of his pieces in the 1950s, this was an unusual, and for many also shocking, approach. Beckett, the deeply private and shy man, unwillingly turned into an existentialist author par excellence – even if he rightly saw himself as a literary loner – his plays became enormous theatrical successes, their author received the Nobel Prize (one of the few cases in which the committee in Stockholm was right), in many countries his work is read in school and the author has become a modern classic.

So, there is nothing more obvious than making Beckett the subject of a modest blog post. Especially since Beckett was – and is! – a very important author for my own intellectual development. And because, after everything I know about him, he must have been a very likeable person. As is well known, this is something exceptionally rare among writers …

Since so incredibly much has been written about Beckett’s works – comparable only to Kafka in this respect -, it is difficult for me to choose one of his works for a review. The danger of repeating something that some other and possibly more erudite mind has already written in a more interesting way seems too great to me.

Instead, a few lines will follow about a book that deals with a certain, rarely noticed, but nevertheless very important aspect of Beckett’s work: his relationship to Germany and to the German language and culture.

From November 2017 to July 2018, an excellent exhibition entitled German fever, Beckett in Deutschland took place at the Literaturmuseum der Moderne (Modern Literature Museum) in tranquil Marbach am Neckar in Germany. Documents from various archives and collections were made available to the public for the first time in an excellently curated form, including the so-called German Diaries, Beckett’s notes during his extensive trip to Germany from September 1936 to April 1937.

Marbach, Schiller’s birthplace, is the seat of the Deutsche Schillerstiftung (German Schiller Foundation) and the Deutsches Literaturarchiv (German Literature Archive), in which the bequests (and pre-bequests) of many German authors are stored and scientifically edited. In addition to various other series of publications of these institutions, the Marbach catalogs and the Marbach magazine appear on a regular basis. They showcase and document the exhibitions of the museum. A fantastic treasure trove for anyone interested in German literature and I can also highly recommend a visit to the museum itself.

The double volume of the Marbacher Magazin discussed here contains, in addition to the carefully compiled catalog section with images of the exhibits and their transcription and explanation, a longer essay by the authors of the volume, Mark Nixon and Dirk Van Hulle. The result is an attractive volume of almost 250 pages. It is particularly gratifying that the band is bilingual (German / English). 

In the summer of 1928, the young Beckett – at that time a poorly paid lecturer in Paris who was working on his first publications and occasionally assignments as an assistant and researcher for James Joyce – met his cousin Peggy Sinclair during a stay in Dublin and fell in love with her. At the end of August, Beckett traveled to Kassel for the first time, where Peggy lived with her parents, who were tremendously interested in art. Even before meeting Peggy, Beckett had begun to systematically study German literature and to learn German.

In the period up to 1931 there were numerous, sometimes extensive, visits to Kassel. Beckett was a welcome guest with the Sinclairs, who introduced the cultured young man to German-language literature and music. Peggy’s father was an art dealer and found in Beckett an inquisitive listener who, under the influence of the experienced Sinclair, got more and more interested in German art. Beckett was particularly fond of Dürer and his contemporaries, but also in contemporary art. Additionally, he used his stays in Germany to improve his German language skills and to deal more systematically with modern literature.

It may come as a surprise that Beckett’s all-time favorite novel (and not just in German) was Theodor Fontane’s Effi Briest. Even in later years he read the novel again and again with never-ending enthusiasm and recommended it to friends and colleagues. The fact that Effi Briest was also Peggy’s favorite novel may have played a role here, although admittedly it is an excellent novel.

Of course, Beckett also read the classics Goethe and Schiller. While he was not particularly impressed by Schiller, whom he found slightly too emotional and idealistic, he valued Goethe far more – which did not prevent him from breaking off reading Goethe’s Faust at a certain point. On the other hand, he was enthusiastic about Walther von der Vogelweide and especially Hölderlin, who was much closer to him as a person than the classics.  

Beckett’s love affair with Peggy ended as early as 1929, but his regular visits to Kassel lasted until 1931. In 1932 he visited Peggy, then terminally ill with tuberculosis in a sanatorium in Bad Wildungen. Peggy died there a year later, just 22 years old. Beckett processed his experiences in Kassel in his novel Dream of Fair to Middling Women, which was written at the time but was only published posthumously.

In addition to art and literature, philosophy also played a major role for young Beckett. For Joyce, who was working on Finnegans Wake at the time, he tracked down a volume of Fritz Mauthner’s work on the critic of language. It would be an interesting subject to examine Mauthner’s influence on Beckett’s work, which should not be underestimated. For Beckett, Schopenhauer’s pessimistic worldview became an antidote to the idealism of the German classics. In addition to Hölderlin’s Gesammelte Werke (Collected Works), Beckett also acquired the entire Schopenhauer in German and kept both editions throughout his life, reading and annotating them extensively.

Beckett was rather active as a writer in the 1930s, but much of what he wrote remained unpublished until after his death. During this time Beckett was more and more in doubt as to whether it was even possible to adequately express his thoughts in English. In addition to the influence of language-critical philosophy and a French-speaking environment, the fact that Ireland – and the English language associated with it – was traumatic for him also played a role. His recurring painful arguments with his mother, a woman who can easily be imagined in a play by Strindberg, also made it appear necessary for Beckett to radically free himself from this influence by “emigrating” into another language. The natural choice for this was French, although the exhibition makes it clear that Beckett also attempted writing in German.

In this situation critical for his development, Beckett undertook an extended trip to Germany, which he documented meticulously in diaries, the originals of which were also shown in the exhibition. From September 1936 to April 1937 he visited Hamburg, Berlin, Dresden, Halle, Weimar and Munich, among others.

The journals of the trip are on the one hand extremely interesting because the foreign visitor recorded and commented on the situation in Nazi Germany without illusions, but on the other hand they also provide information about the aesthetic development that Beckett went through during this time. In every city he visits he has a plan of which museums and exhibitions he wants to visit, he takes notes, finds intellectuals who quite openly flaunt their disgust for the Nazis. Occasionally, persuasion and a small bribe also helps to see works of the so-called degenerate artists, which, however, are also shown in special exhibitions by the Nazis – before these works are destroyed, sold or hidden in some storage room. Beckett knows it will be the last opportunity in a long time to see it all all over again. Here, too, it would be interesting to demonstrate in detail how Beckett was influenced in the post-WWII stage designs he had in mind for his plays by the art that he experienced during these years, especially during his visits to Germany.

A special surprise for me was the information that Beckett wrote his first play Mittelalterliches Dreieck (Medieval Triangle) in 1936 – in German! The play remained a fragment, but it becomes clear that Beckett toyed with the idea of becoming a German-writing author. He also translated his poem Cascando into German and created long lists of German words that document his seriousness with this undertaking.

Beckett, who had joined the French Resistance during the occupation of the country, soon sought contact with Germany again after the end of the war. With the publishers Peter Suhrkamp and later with his successor Siegfried Unseld he established a relationship that lasted for decades and that went well beyond the usual author-publisher business relationship. This relationship was to become of central importance for the worldwide outreach and success of his work. Beckett’s plays appeared in a trilingual edition (French / English / German), an idea that appealed tremendously to Beckett. It is also significant to note that Beckett played a major role in the German translation, which was a real co-production. Beckett was not very satisfied with Elmar Tophoven’s first attempts at translation and suggested that the young man, who was just in Paris, visit him and work on the translation together. The manuscripts in the exhibition show how painstaking Beckett’s work with the translator couple Elmar and Erika Tophoven was.

A nice character trait of Beckett was his personal loyalty and integrity. He made for example sure that “his” translators should translate everything from him and he also campaigned for this at Suhrkamp, his publishing house. Although Beckett was an extremely meticulous worker to whom every detail was important, the correspondence, especially between Beckett and Unseld, is warm and friendly, even amicable. Although both men were known to be averse to sentimentality, Unseld, who immediately recorded important writers’ meetings afterwards, was visibly touched when the seriously ill Beckett kissed him on both cheeks when they last met. (I imagine Unseld had to see Thomas Bernhard after that, and anyone familiar with the Unseld-Bernhard correspondence knows that Bernhard was infinitely more difficult to deal with).

The last two chapters of the catalog deal with Beckett’s work as a theater director of seven(!) of his own plays with the Schillertheater Berlin and his collaboration with the Süddeutscher Rundfunk on various television productions. Here, too, Beckett shows himself to be a hard worker, who always goes to great lenghts to prepare himself precisely, who learns his plays by heart in German and also uses German to a large extent at work. For each of his productions, he wrote a separate director’s book beforehand with detailed comments on the planned production. Occasionally he also changes little things in the text, still tweaking every little formulation. And again remarkable: his friendly treatment of a well-coordinated team that he trusts, above all his favorite actors Horst Bollmann and Stefan Wigger. His openness to the new medium of television and the possibilities it offers – and the freedom that Süddeutscher Rundfunk gives him for it – is all very well documented in this beautiful catalog book.

German fever opens up an unfamiliar view of an author you think you know. A book that I can recommend to anyone who is even a little interested in Samuel Beckett and his work. Kudos to the people in Marbach and elsewhere who make such meaningful exhibitions and publications possible.

Mark Nixon/Dirk Van Hulle: German fever. Beckett in Deutschland, Deutsche Schillergesellschaft, Marbach am Neckar 2017, Marbacher Magazin 158/159


© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-22. 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.



Einige Anmerkungen zur neuen bulgarischen Celan-Ausgabe

Nachdem zwei frühere Auswahlbände mit Gedichten von Paul Celan aus den Jahren 1998 und 2002 längst vergriffen sind, ist es ein erfreuliches Ereignis, dass Ende 2019 erneut ein Band mit ausgewählten Gedichten Celans in bulgarischer Übersetzung vorliegt. Grund genug für mich, mir diese Ausgabe anzuschaffen. Ein paar Gedanken zu diesem Buch:

Zunächst einige Äußerlichkeiten, die mir allerdings bei einem Werk gerade eines mir so kostbaren Autors wie Celan wichtig sind. Der vorliegende Band ist handwerklich offenbar gut gemacht und hat eine ansprechende Einbandgestaltung (unter Verwendung eines Gemäldes des Dichters Roman Kissiov). Sehr erfreulich ist die Tatsache, dass es sich um eine zweisprachige Ausgabe handelt; der des Deutschen kundige Leser kann hier jeweils direkt das Original und die Übersetzung, die sich im Druckbild gegenüberstehen, miteinander vergleichen. Für die Entscheidung, die Gedichte auch im deutschen Original zu bringen, ist der Verlag sehr zu loben. Ich würde mir derartige zweisprachige Ausgaben auch in anderen vergleichbaren Fällen wünschen.

Auch die Auswahl der in den Band aufgenommenen Gedichte erscheint mir im allgemeinen gelungen; es versteht sich von selbst, dass jeder Celan-Leser seine Lieblingsgedichte hat, die er gerne in einem solchen Band sehen möchte. Und es versteht sich ebenfalls von selbst, dass jede Auswahl subjektiv ist und daher auch der neue Band ein paar aus meiner Sicht bedauerliche Lücken hat. Vor allem das Fehlen des Gedichts „Todtnauberg“, das auf Celans sehr wichtige Begegnung mit Martin Heidegger anspielt und in seinem Werk eine Schlüsselstellung einnimmt, erscheint mir allerdings als ein wirkliches Manko. Ein grosses Plus wiederum ist die Tatsache, dass Celans einzige längere programmatische Äußerung zu seiner eigenen Lyrik, die „Meridian“-Rede, die er 1960 in Darmstadt anlässlich der Verleihung des Georg-Büchner-Preises hielt, in den Band aufgenommen wurde.

Celan ist für jeden Übersetzer, der sich an seinem Werk versucht, eine Herausforderung. Er ist aus verschiedenen Gründen schwer zu übersetzen bzw. nachzudichten. Das gilt besonders für seine späten Gedichte, in denen die Syntax und die Sprache allgemein immer stärker „aufgebrochen“ wird und die bei Celan ohnehin vorhandene Tendenz zu grosser Ambiguität hinsichtlich der Aussage und des Inhalts der Gedichte oft so weit getrieben wird, dass der Leser vor großen Herausforderungen steht. Dass die Übersetzerin Maria Slavcheva sich trotzdem an das Werk dieses sehr komplexen Dichters gewagt hat, verrät Mut und eine gute Portion Selbstbewusstsein.

Literarisches Übersetzen, zumal von Lyrik, erfordert vom Übersetzer viele zum Teil schwierige Entscheidungen zu treffen. Bei der Besprechung der Übersetzung eines Lyrikbandes sollte es daher auch darum gehen, ob die vom Übersetzer getroffenen Entscheidungen in der Regel plausibel oder nicht plausibel sind. (Es gibt hier oft kein klares „richtig oder falsch“; von groben sinnentstellenden Fehlern einmal abgesehen.) Mein persönliches Urteil ist hier überwiegend positiv: in vielen der übersetzten Gedichte trifft die Übersetzerin den Sinngehalt und auch die Form, die Celans Original vorweist. Einige kritische Anmerkungen sollen allerdings an dieser Stelle nicht verschwiegen werden.

Celans wohl berühmtestes Gedicht „Todesfuge“ ist wahrscheinlich auch sein am häufigsten übersetztes. Auf bulgarisch kenne ich ein halbes Dutzend verschiedene Übersetzungen dieses Gedichts, von denen mir die Version von Emanuil Vidinski als die mit Abstand gelungenste erscheint. Im Original finden sich diese Zeilen:

„… der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland sein Auge ist blau / er trifft dich mit bleierner Kugel er trifft dich genau…“

Die Tatsache, dass Celan hier – aber eben auch nur hier – einen Endreim in diesem Gedicht verwendet, deutet auf die geradezu zentrale Rolle dieser beiden Zeilen im Gedicht hin. Der Endreim ist kein Zufall – wie ja auch sonst nichts in den Gedichten Celans Zufall ist.

In der vorliegenden Ausgabe werden diese Zeilen wie folgt übersetzt:

“…смъртта е майстор от Германия със сини очи / той те улучва с оловен куршум улучва те точно…”

Im Vergleich dazu heißt es bei Vidinski:

„…смъртта е германски маестро окото му е синьо / улучва те с оловен куршум улучва те точно…“

Die zweite Variante ist sowohl sprachlich näher beim Original, als auch hinsichtlich Reim und Rhythmus des Gedichts eindeutig vorzuziehen.

Neben einigen weiteren für mich schwer nachvollziehbaren Entscheidungen gerade bei diesem Gedicht, hat die Übersetzerin unglücklicherweise einen meiner Meinung nach ausgesprochen schweren Lapsus in der bulgarischen Fassung der „Todesfuge“ begangen, der durchaus in den Sinngehalt des Gedichts eingreift und welcher Leser, die mit Celan und seiner Geisteswelt nicht oder wenig vertraut sind, auf eine vollkommen falsche Spur führt.

Wenn Celan in dem Gedicht

„dein goldenes Haar Margarete / dein aschenes Haar Sulamith“

schreibt, evoziert er damit eben nicht nur irgendeine blonde (deutsche) Margarete und irgendeine (jüdische) Sulamith mit aschfarbenem Haar, sondern er spielt natürlich auf Margarete aus Goethes „Faust“ und Sulamith aus dem Hohen Lied Salomos an, zwei emblematische Dichtungen für das deutsche und das jüdische Volk – wie ja überhaupt, das Deutsche und das Jüdische bei diesem Dichter geradezu schicksalhaft miteinander verwoben waren.

Celan, der die Möglichkeiten deutscher Dichtung nach dem Holocaust erneuert und erweitert hat wie kein Zweiter, beherrschte die deutsche Sprache virtuos; zu den Schuldgefühlen, die er wegen des Todes seiner Eltern hatte, gesellten sich gerade deshalb die Schuldgefühle, in der Sprache der Mörder seiner Eltern zu dichten und seine meisten Leser im Land der Täter zu haben. Wenn die Übersetzerin in ihrer Fassung aus Margarete eine Margarita macht (твоята златна коса Маргарита / твоята пепелива коса Суламит), verfälscht sie die Aussage des Gedichts vollkommen; der Leser wird vielleicht an Bulgakov denken, aber mit der offensichtlichen Autorintention von Celan hat das absolut nichts zu tun. Ein wirklich unnötiger und sehr schwerer Fehler in meinen Augen (den auch Tekla Sugareva und Edvin Sugarev in ihrer Version seinerzeit gemacht haben), der die Vermutung nahelegt, dass die Übersetzerin wohl mit den Hintergründen von Celans Dichtung verhältnismäßig wenig vertraut ist.

Gestolpert bin auch über eine Fußnote zu einem der zentralen Gedichte Celans, „Mandorla“. In der Fußnote erfährt der Leser, dass Mandorla die „mandelförmige Aureole, die in der christlichen Ikonographie verwendet wird“ sei. Zwar ist es zutreffend, dass der Heiligenschein christlicher Heiligenbilder als Mandorla bezeichnet wird; trotzdem ist die Fußnote irreführend, da eben nicht nur in der christlichen Ikonographie eine solches mandelförmiges Halo verwendet wird. Es findet sich unter anderem auch im Buddhismus und – für Celan sicher sehr wichtig – in der Kabbala, der jüdischen Mystik.

Das Gedicht „Mandorla“ gehört wohl zu den am schwersten zu deutenden Gedichten Celans und ich will mich hier keineswegs an einer weiteren Deutung versuchen. Eine Anmerkung, die den Eindruck erweckt als habe sich Celan hier eindeutig auf die christliche Ikonographie bezogen, führt den Leser aber in die Irre. Eine solche Eindeutigkeit ist der Dichtung Celans wesensfremd; darauf hat zu Recht Hermann Detering in seinem Aufsatz „Religionsgeschichtliche Anmerkungen zu Paul Celans Gedicht „Mandorla““ hingewiesen – aus dem Gedicht selbst lässt sich die in der Fußnote der Buchausgabe suggerierte Eindeutigkeit keineswegs ableiten. Anmerkungen sollen dem Verständnis des Lesers dienen; die hier angesprochene Fußnote tut dies nicht, sie führt im Gegenteil den Leser zu einer abwegigen und verengenden Lektüre des Gedichts.

Überhaupt, die Fußnoten. Nach meinem Eindruck sind sie manchmal überflüssig, an anderen Stellen, wo sie auf bestimmte Bezüge von Celans Dichtung erklärend hinweisen könnten, die den meisten bulgarischen Lesern nicht geläufig sind, fehlen sie. Dazu ein Beispiel aus dem Nachwort des Bandes, das wie folgt beginnt:

„Jedem Text bleibt sein „20. Jänner“ eingeschrieben. Wenn auch an einem 23. April begonnen trägt auch diese Übersetzung einen „20. Jänner“ in sich, von dem Celan sich herschrieb.“

In einer Fußnote erläutert die Übersetzerin, dass der 23. April der Welttag des Buches sei. Inwieweit dies für das Verständnis von Celan bzw. für den Leser von Interesse ist, ist mir schleierhaft. Viel wichtiger wäre eine Anmerkung gewesen, die den Bezug zu der Behauptung der Übersetzerin erläutert, dass sich Celan von einem „20. Jänner herschrieb“. Ich vermute stark, dass den bulgarischen Lesern in der Regel vollkommen unverständlich ist, was es mit diesem 20. Jänner im Zusammenhang mit Celans Dichtung auf sich hat. Zwar steht als Motto über dem Nachwort ein Zitat aus Celans Meridian-Rede in der er fragt

„Vielleicht darf man sagen, dass jedem Gedicht sein „20. Jänner“ eingeschrieben bleibt?“,

allerdings ist dies nicht dasselbe wie die Behauptung, Celan habe sich „von einem „20. Jänner“ hergeschrieben“.

Was also hat es mit diesem 20. Jänner auf sich (Celan verwendet sowohl in der Meridian-Rede als auch im Gedicht „Tübingen, Jänner“ diese eher ungewöhnliche regionaltypische Form des Monatsnamens Januar, was allein schon ein deutlicher Hinweis ist)? Eine Fußnote hätte hier deutlich mehr Nutzen gestiftet als das später im Nachwort folgende Namedropping – Szondi, Gadamer, Derrida, Hamburger (die Hinweise auf Ingeborg Bachmann und Bertolt Brecht sind dagegen angebracht, da es einen konkreten Bezug von im Band abgedruckten Gedichten gibt).

Dass der „20. Jänner“ sich auf den Anfang von Georg Büchners Erzählung „Lenz“ bezieht – wie viele bulgarische Leser wissen das? Und dass das Gedicht „Tübingen, Jänner“ auch darauf anspielt (Hölderlin war ein interessierter Leser von Lenz und erlebte ähnliche lebensgeschichtlich bedeutsame Enttäuschungen mit den Weimarer Titanen Schiller und Goethe) und dies ebenso wie die programmatische Rede Celans als Auseinandersetzung mit den Klassikern der deutschen Dichtung und als Gegenposition zu deren Dichtungsverständnis gesehen werden muss, gegen das sich die Lenz, Hölderlin, Büchner gewandt haben – auch dies hätte man gerne in einem solchen Nachwort, das leider sehr an der Oberfläche bleibt, gelesen.

Mein Urteil über diese Ausgabe ist – daran möchte trotz der oben angeführten Kritik keinen Zweifel lassen – insgesamt eher positiv. Eine überwiegend respektable Übersetzerleistung, die aber nicht in jedem Gedicht das hohe Niveau hält. Das Beiwerk (Fußnoten und Nachwort) finde ich fast ein wenig ärgerlich. Eine Ausgabe, die ganz darauf verzichtet hätte, wäre aus meiner Sicht vorzuziehen gewesen.

Wie ich gehört habe, soll eine weitere bulgarische Celan-Ausgabe in Vorbereitung sein. Eine gute Nachricht, denn ein solch anspruchsvoller und wichtiger Dichter sollte noch mehr Aufmerksamkeit beim Lesepublikum finden; und der Vergleich der verschiedenen Übersetzungen wird sicherlich zu weiteren interessanten Diskussionen führen. Ich bin jedenfalls gespannt.

Паул Целан: Избрани стихотворения, Gutenberg, Veliko Tarnovo 2019 (Übersetzerin Maria Slavcheva)

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-2020. 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.

German Literature Month 2015 – wrap-up

literatur_2015_gold-2 German Literature Month in November was again an extremely interesting event, just like last year. The two unfatigable hosts Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat) and Lizzy (Lizzy’s Literary Life) once again created an event with plenty of opportunities to join in. In the end 44 bloggers had published 166 posts, mainly about fiction and poetry, but also including some featured articles and several non-fiction reviews. Over the years, this event has become increasingly popular and the index on the website that links to all articles that were published in all editions of the German Literature Month has become a major resource for anyone who wants to get informed about German literature. Check it out, the variety of authors and opinions is truly amazing! (Thanks, Lizzy!) Interestingly, the most reviewed author this year was Stefan Zweig (14 reviews of 12 works), followed by Schiller (10 posts related to Schiller’s works and books about Schiller). Goethe on the contrary was ignored by everybody – maybe we should include a Goethe week next year? After several months of being not very active, this event has brought me back to blogging on a more regular basis. I discovered plenty of new books, got reminded of some others I should re-read again in the future and I also discovered a few book blogs which I hadn’t known before but will follow in the future. It was fun to read the comments and to comment myself sometimes. I read literally all reviews, but time restrictions prevented me so far to comment on all of them.  Just like last year  I thoroughly enjoyed this event, and just like last year, I won a giveaway, Ulrich Plenzdorf’s Werther novel which I will review one day of course. (Thanks, Caroline!) This year, I published ten posts – compared to eight last year. Beside a featured anecdote about Jean Paul, nine of the posts were reviews: Veza Canetti: The Tortoises Thomas Kling: Collected Poems Schilleriana (9 publications of Deutsche Schillergesellschaft) Hans Magnus Enzensberger: New Selected Poems Walther von der Vogelweide: Poems Detlef Opitz: The Books Murderer Jean Paul: The strange company at New Year’s Eve Joseph Roth: Letters from Germany Gertrud Kolmar: Poems Several of the books I had intended to read for German Lit Month, I had to postpone for the time being, while others popped up in the last moment. I reviewed/presented more poetry than last years and a bit less prose by contemporary authors. Who knows what I will be up to next year?!
© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. 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.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An early “Dying Earth” scenario

literatur_2015_gold-2

This blog post is part of the German Literature Month, hosted by Lizzie (Lizzies Literary Life) and Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat)

The narrator of this story, a man with a rich imagination, and prone to both bouts of migraine and frequent visions is walking up and down his study for hours. It is New Year’s Eve of 1799, the last day of the 18th century. The writer waits for the return of his wife who is out for a visit to a sick friend, promising that she will be back “still in this century.”

The last day of a year, and even more so the last day of a century is reason for contemplation, but our narrator has again a terrible migraine attack – and suddenly it happens:

after closing his eyes for a while and upon reopening them again he realizes that there is a group of five people, among them a little child in his room and he has no idea who they are or how they entered. The group’s appearance is rather odd, not so much frightening and a dialogue between the narrator and the group is developing that covers most of the story. This dialogue deals mainly with the prospectives for the future. The tone, partly serious, partly humorous keeps a kind of balance that makes us readers wonder what the author is up to. One of the narrator’s guests gets more and more excited and develops a truly apocalyptic scenario for the future that is the climax of this story:

“Es gibt einmal einen letzten Menschen – er wird auf einem Berg unter dem Äquator stehen und herabschauen auf die Wasser, welche die weite Erde überziehen – festes Eis glänzet an den Polen herauf der Mond und die Sonne hängen ausgebreitet und tief und nur blutig über der kleinen Erde, wie zwei trübe feindliche Augen oder Kometen – das aufgetürmte Gewölke strömet eilig durch den Himmel und stürzet sich ins Meer und fährt wieder empor, und nur der Blitz schwebt mit glühenden Flügeln zwischen Himmel und Meer und scheidet sie – Schau auf zum Himmel, letzter Mensch! Auf deiner Erde ist schon alles vergangen – deine großen Ströme ruhen aufgelöset im Meere.”

“There will one day be a last man – he will stand on a mountain under the Equator, and look down upon the waters which welter over the wide earth – firmly from the poles gleams upward the unchangeable ice – the moon and the sun hang broad and bloody over the little earth, like two eyes full of hate. For the earth’s spiral orbit has brought it nearer and nearer to the sun, and the moon’s spiral has enlarged the face with which it looks ever steadfastly toward our planet, and their strong attraction caused the oceans to roll together round the Equator – and then the whole atmosphere with its vapors rushes up from the poles after the water, and still as the attraction increases, a frightful flood of electric fluid pours and swells over all. The clouds, piled up in mountain-towers stream quickly across the sky, and plunge into the sea, and then rush upward again, while the lightning  on burning wings flashes from Heaven to the Ocean and cleaves them asunder. Look up to the Heaven, thou last man! All on thy earth has disappeared – all its rivers have been swallowed up in its sea.” (translation by J.F.C., The Western Messenger, November 1838) 

Believing that midnight is approaching, the uninvited guests are leaving – but it turns out that when the authors wife comes home from her visit it is one hour before midnight. Remarking her husband’s mood, the wife sings and plays on the piano one of his favourite tunes and the usual order of things is re-established. The vision was most probably something only imagined by her husband. 

This short story by Jean Paul Friedrich Richter – known in Germany as Jean Paul only – Die wunderbare Gesellschaft in der Neujahrsnacht (The strange company at New Year’s Eve) is rather typical for this remarkable and not well-known author who wrote in the traditions of Swift and Laurence Sterne and who had a tremendous influence on authors like Hoffmann, de Quincey (who wrote an essay about him) or Arno Schmidt and among the contemporary German authors I could mention Walter Kappacher and Ludwig Harig (who was by coincidence my teacher when I was a first grader) as examples of novelists that are writing in Jean Paul’s tradition.

The story from which I quoted is witty, well-written and despite the bleak quote very entertaining. And it is according to some SF experts most probably the first literary Dying Earth scenario ever published – and thus a kind of predecessor of a certain category of the Science Fiction genre.

Jean Paul lived most of his life in pre-Wagner Bayreuth, but he paid also longer visits to Weimar (Goethe and Schiller were rather distanced, partly because of literary reasons, partly because of the fact that Jean Paul, then a bachelor had several relationships with women which were considered a scandal; Wieland and Herder on the contrary liked him very much), and to Berlin – here he made friends with the Schlegel brothers, Schleiermacher, Fichte, and other important intellectuals.

Jean Paul is a great master of the German language; and he is also a master of the digression – his novels are usually very long because he is a true follower of Laurence Sterne here.

Who wants to discover this literary giant who was standing between Classicism and Romanticism can start with this rather short work that inspired also many famous illustrators (I have a beautiful edition with sketches by Alfred Kubin.). Unfortunately it seems that there is no collection of stories on the market that contains this story in English translation. Why, dear publishers?

A book I can heartily recommend for those with an interest in Jean Paul is Günter de Bruyn’s biography Das Leben des Jean Paul Friedrich Richter (The Life of Jean Paul Frederick Richter), a beautiful dedication by the novelist de Bruyn to his literary ancestor Jean Paul.  I fell a bit under the spell of Jean Paul after I had read this well-researched and brilliantly written book.

A translation of this book and a recent good edition of Jean Paul’s shorter works in English is missing – but who knows, maybe a publisher is already working on it. That would be a great pleasure!

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Jean Paul: Die wunderbare Gesellschaft in der Neujahrsnacht, dtv, München 1979, ill. by Alfred Kubin

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Günter de Bruyn: Das Leben des Jean Paul Friedrich Richter, S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. 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.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Schilleriana or The Pleasures of a Literary Archive

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This blog post is part of the German Literature Month, hosted by Lizzie (Lizzies Literary Life) and Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat)

Friedrich Schiller Week opens the German Literary Month this year officially and I am looking forward to reading what my blogger colleagues will post in this context. Lizzie, one of the co-hosts of German Literary Month has just published a very interesting introduction to Schiller’s life and works, obviously inspired by a recent visit in Weimar.

Weimar is definitely worth a visit and not only because of Schiller as you know. But there is a second place which can be similarly inspiring if you are interested in the work of this literary genius: Marbach am Neckar, his birthplace. It is not only the house in which he was born but of course also the Deutsches Literatur Archiv (German Literary Archive; address: Schillerhöhe 8-10) that preserves an incredible amount of manuscripts and belongings of German writers, and that showcases frequently extremely interesting exhibitions. The catalogues and other publications of the Archive are a treasure for those that are interested in German literature (and with a knowledge of German).

Great plans and projects: Schiller was usually thinking big. But the fact that he was not wealthy and his life a permanent struggle to secure an income and regular employment influenced his writing. For some time he took a break from drama writing in order to focus on the more lucrative publication of historical works. These tensions between his idealistic plans and his precarious existence as a writer who was not independent from market requirements were in 2005 the subject of an important exhibition at the Deutsches Literatur Archiv (DLA), and the beautiful catalogue is a treat for Schiller fans.

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Frank Druffner und Martin Schalhorn: Götterpläne & Mäusegeschäfte. Schiller 1759–1805, 2nd edition, Marbacher Katalog 58, Deutsche Schillergesellschaft Marbach 2005

It was for sure a very tough experience for Johann Caspar Schiller, Friedrich’s father, when his son – then a regiment doctor – deserted from the army and fled Württemberg. Not only was Johann Caspar a loyal officer in the same army from which his son ran away, he was also for 21 years the responsible supervisor of the Duke’s garden at Schloss Solitude and therefore in a quite close working and personal relationship with the Duke and thus in a particularly delicate position. The letters written by the father to his famous son are interesting documents; while after young Schiller’s desertion shame and disappointment are the dominating feelings from Johann Caspar‘s side, he had later to acknowledge that his son achieved more than his father could hope for.

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Jean-Baptiste Joly: Johann Caspar Schiller auf der Solitude, Spuren 27, Deutsche Schillergesellschaft Marbach 1994

Schiller’s older sister Christophine wrote memoirs of Schiller’s youth which are a valuable source for Schiller scholars. Although she was like most women of her time forced to lead a life according to social conventions that limited women mainly to homework, education of children and representative tasks, she had an artistic talent of her own, as her drawings and watercolors that are in the possession of the DLA show. The reproductions of her works are one of the highlights of a small catalogue dedicated to her.

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Edda Ziegler in cooperation with Michael Davidis: »Theuerste Schwester«. Christophine Reinwald, geb. Schiller, Marbacher Magazin 118, Deutsche Schillergesellschaft Marbach 2007

The catalogue „Aus dem Leben eines Hofrats“ is the indispensable guide book if you visit the Schiller House in Marbach in which Friedrich Schiller was born.

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Michael Davidis and Sabine Fischer: Aus dem Hausrat eines Hofrats, Marbacher Magazin 77, Deutsche Schillergesellschaft Marbach 1997

An original way to approach the person Schiller and his work is via some of his belongings which are now a part of the DLA collection: a hat, headband, three vests, two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks, seven shoe buckles, finger rings, hand warmers, toothpicks, dressing gown button and pocket, a walking stick and numerous curls attributed to him – all of these items have their own history, a history that says a lot about the person Schiller and about his work.

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Heike Gfrereis, with an essay by Wilhelm Genazino: Autopsie Schiller. Eine literarische Untersuchung, Marbacher Magazin 125/126, Deutsche Schillergesellschaft Marbach 2009

While still in Württemberg, Schiller visited the poet, journalist and musician Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart in his prison at Hohenasperg in November 1781. Schubart was incarcerated for ten years without trial and verdict, the most famous victim of the „justice“ of Duke Carl Eugen. A slender booklet informs the reader about this fascinating episode in Schiller’s life that triggered his escape from the Duke’s service and that left literary traces especially in Schiller’s play „Kabale und Liebe“.

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Wolfgang Ranke: Schiller, Schubart und der Hohenasperg, Spuren 86, Deutsche Schillergesellschaft Marbach 2009

From September 1793 to May 1794, Schiller could visit for the first time after his desertion his home region again. On May, 4, briefly before Schiller’s return to Jena, the then almost unknown publisher Johann Friedrich Cotta invites Schiller on a coach ride from Stuttgart to Untertürkheim and to the Kahlenstein hill near Cannstatt. During this day trip, the two men discussed Schiller’s plan for his new journal project „Die Horen“. It turned out that this ride was the beginning of a long friendship and a for both sides very fruitful author-publisher relationship. A small booklet documents this crucial moment in Schiller’s life.

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Martin Schalhorn: Ein Sonntagsausflug von Schiller und Cotta nach Untertürkheim am 4. Mai 1794, Spuren 69, Deutsche Schillergesellschaft Marbach 2006

In May 1804, Schiller visited Berlin for about two weeks. This time is extremely well documented – whom he met, what theatre and opera performances he visited, where he had dinner and what was going on regarding his planned academic posting to Berlin. All this from Schiller’s own notebooks and other sources, but also a comparison of the intellectual climate of Berlin and Weimar and beautiful illustrations you can find in another nice exhibition catalogue.

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Michael Bienert: Schiller in Berlin oder Das rege Leben einer großen Stadt, 2nd edition, Marbacher Magazin 106, Deutsche Schillergesellschaft Marbach 2005

Until the first half of the 19th century, monuments were only erected in honor of Kings or other aristocratic persons. The Schiller Monument in Stuttgart, created by Bertel Thorvaldsen and inaugurated in May 1839 was the first public monument in Germany in honor of a poet and had therefore a great impact for the democratization of Erinnerungskultur (memorial culture). A small booklet describes the public contemporary debate that preceded and followed the inauguration of the Schiller monument in Stuttgart.

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Michael Davidis: 150 Jahre Schiller-Denkmal in Stuttgart, Spuren 4, Deutsche Schillergesellschaft Marbach 1989

All publications are available directly from the DLA online shop or at the DLA premises in Marbach.

A lot of Schiller, I know. If you are now feeling inspired to write like him, buy yourself an antique standing secretary desk as was used by Schiller (and Goethe), and get in Marbach one of those neat nibs he used for writing (9 Euro; it comes with a small gift case and description).

But don’t forget the famous rotten apples for a really authentic Schiller feeling!

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. 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.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.