Tag Archives: #germanlitmonth

#germanlitmonth 2016 – Robert Seethaler: The Tobacconist

The Tobacconist (Der Trafikant) is after A Whole Life (Ein ganzes Leben) the second novel by Robert Seethaler that was published in English translation. I read it in the original German, therefore my review cannot do justice to the English translation.

The year is 1937. Franz Huchel, the main character of the book, is a 17-year-old from the Austrian countryside, who grows up as a single child of a single mother. At the beginning of the book, Franz is very much a protected child, a namby-pamby, but after the unexpected death of his mother’s wealthy lover, the days of dreaming are over: he is sent to Vienna for work. His employer, Otto Trsnjek, is also a former lover of his mother from pre-WWI days, and is running a trafik, a shop where people can buy tobacco, newspapers, stationery. Otto Trsnjek lost a leg in the war and with his shop he is a well-known presence in the neighborhood; he is teaching Franz how to properly read and understand the newspapers, but also the psychology of the different customers of the shop, and the characteristics of the different varieties of cigars they are selling (although none of the two is a smoker); and a few lessons about life in general. Otto’s tobacco shop becomes the new home of Franz, and it is from there where he learns to adapt to the big city.

With his mother Franz stays in touch via the picture postcards they are writing each other; it is from these postcards his mother learns about the major changes in Franz’ life: Franz falls in love with Anezka, a girl from Bohemia, and he gets acquainted with an old gentleman who is a regular customer of the tobacco shop: Sigmund Freud who is living nearby in the Berggasse, is buying cigars from Otto Trsnjek.

While the buxom Anezka with the charming tooth gap is awakening Franz’ sexuality and lust, the professor, who is taken in by the persistence with which the simple country boy is asking him for advice regarding his sorrows related to love and lust, is reassuring Franz. The frailness of the old professor, his fight with old age and the illness from which he is suffering since many years – the permanent pain and the problems with his jaw prosthesis are a recurring theme -, but also his frankness about how little he actually knows about the human psyche, impress Franz very much and the moment when the professor teaches him how to enjoy the smoking of a cigar on a park bench belong for sure to Franz’ most happy moments.

What would be in other times a normal coming-of-age story gets a twist because of the political events that are taking place in Austria at the time the story of Franz unwinds: 1938 is the year of the “Anschluss”, Austria is uniting with Nazi Germany, a development that is changing things forever in the lives of many people. Professor Freud is emigrating in the last moment (thanks to the organizational skills of his daughter Anna), socialists and other leftists are arrested or forced into suicide, and the tobacco shop is vandalized, and finally Otto Trsnjek is arrested by the Gestapo, a development that is seen by some neighbors with obvious glee, particularly by the rather disgusting butcher from next door, a sadistic figure as if from a play by Ödön von Horvath.

And Franz? He is still in doubt about Anezka, who appears and disappears without note on various occasions, and who displays her naked body in a “Varieté” (a kind of music hall), finally starting a relationship with a young SS officer for whom she is deserting Franz. When Franz is arrested in the tobacco shop which he is running after Otto’s death in the hands of the Gestapo, he locks the doors of the trafik because “you never know”. But when Anezka passes by the shop in March 1945, briefly before a major bombing raid, all that is left from the previous tobacco shop are some chairs and a note on which Franz had noted a dream he had, a habit he developed after Freud convinced him of the usefulness of this practice. Obviously, Franz never came back after his arrest, and it is easy to guess why.

Did I like the book? Yes, very much! There are a number of reasons for this. Seethaler writes a beautiful, elegant, effortless prose, and I hope that also the English translation will give a good idea of his stylistic abilities. As a professional actor (you can see him here in the movie Youth), Seethaler has obviously a good ear for dialogues and for the individual way of expression of each of his characters. He succeeds with very simple means to give the reader a clear indication about how each of the major figures in the book is speaking. Anezka for example comes from Bohemia, a region whose people were famous for their problems with the German umlauts, and a very few examples are already enough to have her voice practically in your ear. Another beautiful element are the postcards between Franz and his mother which in the beginning are full of platitudes but which develop into a real correspondence parallel to the process of Franz’ intellectual and sensual awakening. The atmosphere of the growing paranoia after the Anschluss, the outbursts of personal violence and sadism on a large scale of otherwise “normal” citizens that was without precedence even in Nazi Germany; the seemingly im-probable and “impossible” friendship between the simple Franz and the sophisticated Professor Freud; and the fine characterization of the inhabitants of Vienna – all this made me enjoy the book.

Franz is a hero in the typical German tradition of the simple, good-hearted, noble fool (“reiner Tor”); but contrary to Eichendorff’s Good-for-Nothing, The Tobacconist has no ending in which “everything, everything was delightful” – the exact opposite is true in this case. A Happy End is not possible in the time of Nazism.

It was particularly interesting for me to read this book for this year’s German Literature Month after I reviewed last year The Tortoises by Veza Canetti, a work that covers the same period in Vienna. Considering the recent very strong support of right-wing extremists by the voters of those political forces in Austria who represent the ugly side of the Austrian national character in the latest elections in the country, the book had also sometimes a chilling effect on me. The mentality that showed its ugly face after the Anschluss in 1938 is still existing and very widespread in Austrian society; however, the wave of successful political movements which are based on hatred of certain groups within a society is unfortunately not limited to Austria alone these days.

 

 

Robert Seethaler: Der Trafikant, Kein & Aber, Zürich 2012; The Tobacconist, Picador 2016, translated by Charlotte Collins

#germanlitmonth

(This review is part of the German Literature Month, again hosted by my two blogger colleagues Caroline@beautyandthecat, and Lizzy@lizzysiddal, who are doing a great job promoting German literature in translation since years.)

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-6. 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.

 


German Literature Month 2016

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Recently I have been not very active on my blog but this is going to change again very soon.

One of the reasons is the upcoming German Literature Month 2016, hosted again by Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat), and Lizzy (Lizzy’s Literary Life) in which I will of course participate with a few books – which ones I will decide at a later stage. 

I will also try to post some reviews from the past Bulgarian Literature Month which are still missing, and I have read also a few other interesting books which I may review here, if my time budget will allow it.

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-6. 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.

German Literature Month 2015 – wrap-up

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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.

On Gertrud Kolmar and some other “forgotten” authors

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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). I read Gertrud Kolmar’s poetry in November.

After the end of WWII a heated discussion took place between authors that stayed in Germany during the Nazi era and others who had emigrated.

The controversy was led by two rather mediocre authors, Frank Thiess and Walter von Molo on the side of those who decided to stay in Germany and by Thomas Mann on the side of the literary emigrants. This controversy has left traces until today and the work of W.G. Sebald for example can be only understood when you consider this historical backdrop.

What was it all about?

Thiess and von Molo considered themselves and those authors who were against the Nazis but stayed in Germany as representatives of the Innere Emigration (inner emigration). According to them they suffered consciously the horrors of the Nazi regime to bear witness and to – if possible – send hidden messages to their readers which they smuggled into their books (one reason for the particular popularity of historical novels during this time). While according to them they suffered terror, war and permanent personal threats under the Nazis, the literary emigrants like Thomas Mann or Lion Feuchtwanger lived according to their perception rather well and undisturbed in their comfortable exile and were now, after WWII trying to lecture the “inner emigrants” about moral and declaring the literature of this group of authors per se as worthless.

Thomas Mann who was directly attacked in a rather distasteful way was answering that all books published in Nazi Germany stank of blood and shame and should be destroyed.

Six decades after the end of WWII we can see this controversy in a more rational and distanced, less emotional way. I would say both sides had a point, and both were partly wrong in their judgement.

Indeed, the situation of writers and intellectuals who remained in Germany after 1933 and who were not joining the ranks of the Nazis was very difficult to say the least. Many of them were banned, some were imprisoned and there was a permanent threat on their lives which must have been a terrible strain on them. Some of them complied with the requests of the new regime, some made compromises and only a very few of them really resisted the Nazis completely. Some were discredited in the eyes of the Nazis by their political or racial background – those were the ones that were threatened most, but who anyway rarely had a chance to publish anything during that period. Therefore the term inner emigration is a quite mixed box which contains an assortment of cowards as well as real heroes and all shades in between. But to think that writers who had emigrated had it nice in their exiles is far from the truth that it is insulting and it shows simply the ignorance or mischievousness of the ilk of Thiess and von Molo. Most emigrants were destitute and permanently threatened by expulsion or by the secret agents of the Nazi and Stalinist regime that ruthlessly eliminated critical voices also abroad. The other problem that emigrant authors faced was the lack of publication opportunities and therefore lack of possibilities to make a living. Only Thomas Mann, Feuchtwanger or Stefan Zweig could live from their writing, all the others lived usually miserable from charities.

Also Thomas Mann’s verdict is rather harsh and with all due respect to this great author a bit exaggerated in my opinion. All literature published in Germany between 1933 and 1945 may be morally discredited by the fact that writing and publishing about things that didn’t offend the Nazis included silence about their unbelievable crimes and thus a silent acceptance if not endorsement – still I think that it should be scrutinized on a case to case basis since I am not a supporter of the collective guilt thesis even for books – the question of the literary value is something else. To give an example from the French literature: Celine was an insane anti-Semite who published appalling brochures in which he advocated the mass murder of millions of Jews – but at the same time he is the author of one of the literary most important French novels of the 20th century. Disturbing and disconcerting, but you see the problem here. Sometimes a book is so much better than its author.

There is quite a number of books that were published in Germany during the Nazi era by authors that were no Nazis and that are worth being read today. Some of these books are of high literary value. I want to just drop a few names and titles for those who are interested in finding out more about this interesting topic.

Eugen Gottlob Winkler (1912-1936), the author of excellent essays and an accomplished poet, committed suicide at the age of 24 in order to avoid torture and imprisonment by the Nazis. Unfortunately his slender oeuvre is untranslated in English.

Gertrud Kolmar (1894-1943), one of the most remarkable German poets of the 20th century could publish two collections of poetry in that period although she was Jewish. She was gassed in Auschwitz 1943 or died during the transport from Theresienstadt to the concentration camp.

Jochen Klepper (1903-1942), author of the novel Der Vater (The Father) and of posthumously published diaries committed suicide with his Jewish wife and stepdaughter after their emigration request was denied.

Albrecht Haushofer (1903-1945), fellow student of Rudolf Hess and son of NS geo-politician Karl Haushofer, but nevertheless a member of resistance circles wrote his Moabiter Sonette (Moabit sonetts) while in prison; the manuscript was found in his coat pocket after he was executed by an SS commando a few days before the end of the war in Berlin.

Felix Hartlaub (1913-1945), whose diaries are of highest literary and documentary value disappeared without traces during the final battle of Berlin in the first days of May 1945.

Friedo Lampe (1899-1945) published a novel that was immediately banned after publication, and another one that was censored by the Nazis. Lampe, who was probably the stylistically most advanced writer of his generation, was shot a few days after the end of WWII by a Russian soldier.

Most of these authors were never translated into English, which is a pity. Only Haushofer and Kolmar are so far known to the English-reading public.

Here is an example of Gertrud Kolmar’s (i.e. Gertrud Chodziesner) poetry:

Der Engel im Walde

Gib mir deine Hand, die liebe Hand, und komm mit mir;
Denn wir wollen hinweggehen von den Menschen ….
So lass uns fliehn
Zu den sinnenden Feldem, die freundlich mit Blumen und Gras unsere wandemden Füsse trösten,
An den Strom, der auf seinem Rücken geduldig wuchtende Bürden, schwere,
giiterstrotzende Schiffe trägt,
Zu den Tieren des Waldes, die nicht übelreden …
Wir werden dürsten und hungem, zusammen erdulden,
Zusammen einst an staubigem Wegesrande sinken und weinen…

The Angel in the Forest

Give me your hand, beloved, and follow me.
And we will go away from men. . . .
So let us flee
Unto the musing fields that will console our wandering feet with friendly flowers and grass,
Unto the river, bearing patiently upon its back the weighty burden of the full,
freight-laden ships,
Unto the forest animals that speak no ill ….
And we will thirst and hunger and endure together,
And together someday on a dusty roadside we will fall and weep …

(translation by Henry A. Smith)

Kolmar had the opportunity to emigrate but refused. She didn’t want to leave her old father unattended back in Germany. The exact date of her death is unknown. Since there is a record of her on the transport lists from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz from 2 March 1943 but no record in the lists of inmates in the concentration camp it means that she was most probably gassed immediately after her arrival there or died during the transport.

Reading her poetry (or works of any other victim of that regime) one should remember well her verses from the poem Die Dichterin (The Woman Poet):

Mein Herz wie eines kleinen Vogels schlägt
In deiner Faust. Der du dies liest, gib acht;
Denn sieh, du blätterst einen Menschen um.
Doch ist er dir aus Pappe nur gemacht.

My heart beats like that of a little bird
In your fist. You who read this, take care;
For see, you turn the page of a person.
Though for you it is only made of cardboard.

(translation by Henry A. Smith)

For those interested in Gertrud Kolmar’s poetry and life, I can highly recommend the biography by Dieter Kühn: Gertrud Kolmar. A Literary Life. Kolmar, like all the other authors I mentioned, is worth to be discovered.

Kolmar

Gertrud Kolmar: Das lyrische Werk, Kösel, München 1960

Gertrud Kolmar: Dark Soliloquy, transl. Henry A. Smith, Seabury Press, New York 1975

Gertrud Kolmar: A Jewish Mother from Berlin – Susanna, transl. Brigitte M. Goldstein, Holmes & Meier 2012

Gertrud Kolmar: My Gaze Is Turned Inward: Letters 1938-1943, transl. Johanna Woltmann, Northwestern University Press 2004

Gertrud Kolmar: Worlds – Welten, transl. Philip Kuhn and Ruth von Zimmermann, Shearsman Books 2012

Dieter Kühn: Gertrud Kolmar. A Literary Life, transl. Linda Marianiello, Northwestern University Press 2013

 

Eugen Gottlob Winkler: Dichtungen, Gestalten und Probleme. Nachlass, Neske, Pfullingen 1956

Jochen Klepper: Der Vater, dtv, München 1991

Jochen Klepper: Unter dem Schatten deiner Flügel. Aus den Tagebüchern der Jahre 1932-1942, Brunnen, Gießen 2005

Albrecht Haushofer: Moabit Sonnets, transl. M.D. Herter Norton, W.W. Norton, New York 2013

Felix Hartlaub: In den eigenen Umriss gebannt (2 vol.), Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 2002

Felix Hartlaub: Kriegsaufzeichnungen aus Paris, Suhrkamp, Berlin 2011

Felix Hartlaub: Italienische Reise, Suhrkamp, Berlin 2013

Friedo Lampe: Septembergewitter, Wallstein, Göttingen 2001

Friedo Lampe: Von Tür zu Tür, Wallstein, Göttingen 2002

Friedo Lampe: Am Rande der Nacht, Wallstein, Göttingen 2003

Friedo-Lampe-Gesellschaft e.V.: Ein Autor wird wiederentdeckt: Friedo Lampe 1899-1945, Wallstein, Göttingen 1999

Johannes Graf: Friedo Lampe (1899-1945). Die letzten Lebensjahre in Grünheide, Berlin und Kleinmachnow, Frankfurter Buntbücher, Frankfurt/Oder 1998

Patrick Modiano: Dora Bruder, transl. Joanna Kilmartin, University of California Press, Oakland 2014 – Modiano mentions Friedo Lampe and Felix Hartlaub in his novel.

© Kösel Verlag, 1960
© Henry A. Smith and Seabury Press, 1975
© 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.

Joseph Roth’s “Letters from Germany”

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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)

Joseph Roth was not only the author of some of the most remarkable novels of his time, he was also a very prolific journalist who published hundreds of articles in newspapers. In the second half of the 1920s and early 1930s he worked mainly but not exclusively for the Frankfurter Zeitung, the leading liberal newspaper in Germany, one of the few papers that openly supported the Weimar Republic and that was known for its high quality journalism.

Roth was at the time when he worked for the Frankfurter Zeitung the allegedly highest paid journalist in Germany, if not Europe. He owed this not only to his reputation as a novelist but mainly to his brilliant article writing skills. Benno Reifenberg, the editor of the Frankfurter Zeitung made great efforts to keep Roth as a Sonderkorrespondent (special correspondent) in Paris even when that cost the paper who had already a regular correspondent in Paris a lot. Roth, who lived at that period without regular home in the best hotels earned plenty of money, but he spent it also immediately.

Considering the amount of publicist work and also the great qualities of these articles it is worth to read Roth’s journalism. It contains the same outstanding qualities as does his novelistic writing but it is a part of his work that is virtually unknown outside the German-speaking countries. A small collection of well-annotated articles Briefe aus Deutschland (Letters from Germany) is a good example of this part of Roth’s oeuvre. (Almost needless to repeat my mantra that there is no English translation yet.)

Between November 1927 and January 1928 Roth wrote a series of seven articles under the pseudonym Cuneus and published by the Frankfurter Zeitung under the title Letters from Germany. It describes Roth’s impression when he travelled to the Saargebiet, a part of Germany that was after WWI and the Versailles Treaty under a special legal regime. It had an international government formed by representatives of seven countries that was established by the League of Nations, the predecessor of the United Nations and monitored also by troops from many countries, and it was agreed that after a period of 15 years’ international control the citizens of the region should decide if they wanted to become part of Germany, of France, or if they would prolong the Status quo for another 15 years. In the meantime, the real important player in the Saar region was France.

The Saar, a mining and steal producing region was of strategic and economic importance for France and Germany as well and the French used the opportunity that Versailles created to detach this part of Germany that contributed heavily to the production of weapons at least temporarily from Germany and exploit its resources. That was the situation when Roth travelled to the region.

Roth makes a stop in Metz where he meets Hermann Wendel, a socialist German-French publicist and politician and he makes also the acquaintance of one of Wendel’s political adversaries. But his real target is a few kilometres behind the border: the Saar. Roth describes his impression of the city Saarbrücken (by the way my birthplace) after his arrival – the area around the Central Railway Station has changed, but not so much since Roth’s time; it is still an urbanistic mess – , he has a look into shops, talks with the traders, with people in coffee shops, restaurants and beer halls, he goes to the cinema (Murnau’s Faust which he didn’t like a lot), he joins the coal miners for a day and visits the steel factory in Neunkirchen, he attends a worker’s meeting where Alexandra Balabanoff, a Russian socialist and feminist is speaking, he is telling us the story behind the monument for “King” Stumm, the industrialist Carl Ferdinand Freiherr von Stumm-Halberg, who governed his steel factories and his workers very much like an absolutist king and more interesting things.

Roth is filtering the thousands of impressions he has during his trip and is turning them into descriptions that speak vividly of his abilities as a writer. No subject is too small as not to attract his attention, no remark anyone makes is too unimportant as not to put it into an interesting context. Sometimes it is as if we watch a novelist taking notes for his next book, it is all so well written and interesting although it was written for the day – and “the day” in this case was almost 90 years ago. But it is still very fresh thanks to Roth’s great gift as a writer.  

A small example: while sitting in a café mainly frequented by not very wealthy people, Roth is watching some girl or young woman sitting alone at one of the tables. He is writing:

“Manches einsame Mädchen sitzt hier, schon sitzen gelassen oder noch nicht – und zwischen beiden Zuständen ist so wenig Unterschied! … Je länger ich die Frauen und Männer ansehe und vergleiche, desto grösser wird meine Angst, sie könnten sich ineinander verlieben. Wenn sie bald ein paar Männer herangezogen haben, die Mädchen, fang ich an zu weinen. Denn die Liebe könnte noch trauriger ausfallen als das Leben.“

„Some lonely girl is sitting here, already deserted, or not yet – and between both conditions there is so little difference! …The longer I look at the women and the men and compare, the bigger gets my fear that they might fall in love with each other. Soon when the girls have attracted a few men, I will start crying. Because that love could turn out even sadder than life.”

There are many paragraphs I would like to quote, but I will refrain myself with a second and final quote in which Roth is describing his surprise about the interest of people in literature and good books. After meeting a lawyer and later an owner of a department store both with a genuine interest in literature and art, he writes:

“Nirgends sah ich Bürger, deren Beruf es ist, Geld zu verdienen, so leidenschaftlich interessiert für Bücher, Wissenschaft, Kunst, Politik, mit so viel Begabung für Form und Manier und mit so viel Überlegenheit über jenen Matz, in dessen Zeitung sie inserieren müssen. … im Saargebiet treffen Sie noch Menschen, die sich um jede „Neuerscheinung“ kümmern und literarische Zeitschriften lesen, obwohl sie keine Literaten sind. Was mich betrifft, so habe ich zum ersten Male von Angesicht zu Angesicht Leser getroffen, denen ich in keinem Künstlerklub begegnet wäre. Es gibt noch Leser in Deutschland, die nicht schreiben.“

„Nowhere I saw citizens whose profession it is to earn money with such a passionate interest in books, science, art, politics, with so much talent for form and manner and with so much superiority compared to that fellow Matz (a local journalist who used this pseudonym to publish two articles that were denigrating Roth’s writing – T.H.), in whose newspaper they have to advertise…in the Saar you still meet people, who take care of each newly published book and who read literary journals although they are no literati. As for myself, I met for the first time face to face with readers that I could have never met in any artist’s club. There are still readers in Germany, that are not writing. (i.e. outside writers’ circles – T.H.)”

I am glad I read this book about my home region that is very carefully edited. It contains also photos, facsimiles of Roth’s articles and the two articles by “Matz” to which I was referring above, a letter of Roth to Benno Reifenberg and some excerpts from Roth’s diary of that period. An instructive essay by the Germanist Ralph Schock and additional annotations make this small book a real gem.

If you love Joseph Roth and read German, don’t miss his journalistic work; and why not to start with this well-edited small book?!

Joseph Roth

Joseph Roth: Briefe aus Deutschland, Gollenstein, Blieskastel 2008

The quotes by Joseph Roth are translated by Thomas Hübner

© Gollenstein Verlag, 2008
© 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.

Anecdotes about writers: an example

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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)

One of the by-products of my reading experiences is that I am collecting also anecdotes about writers. Good anecdotes can shed a light on certain aspects of the author’s life or work in a very concise, sometimes even funny way. As an example may the following anecdote serve.

1826, one year after the German author Jean Paul had died, the Morning Chronicle, an English newspaper, published an article The Mirror of Fashion from which I take the following quote:

“The works of JOHN PAUL RICHTER are almost uninteresting to any but Germans, and even to some of them. A worthy German, just before RICHTER’S death, edited a complete edition of his works, in which one particular passage puzzled him. Determined to have it explained at the source, he went to JOHN PAUL himself, and asked him what was the meaning of the mysterious passage. JOHN PAUL’S reply was very German and characteristic. “My good friend,” said he, “when I wrote that passage, God and I knew what it meant. It is possible that God knows it still; but as for me, I have totally forgotten.””

The last two sentences can be considered authentic. They definitely sound very much Jean Paul. (But of course I strongly disagree with the first sentence of the quote as you can easily guess when you read my previous short Jean Paul review.)

© 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

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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)

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!

Kubin

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

de Bruyn

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.

Magister Tinius – Priest, Book Collector, Killer

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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)

The Books Murderer (Der Büchermörder) by Detlef Opitz is a novel that is remarkable for various reasons. It is an extremely well-researched historical novel; it is a novel that tries to resolve the mystery of a series of crimes – including murder – that are all linked to the insane passion of a priest for books; and it is a novel that uses in a most virtuous way probably all existing writing styles in German language from the 18th to the 21th century.

As an additional interesting element there is a “we”-narrator that takes certain liberties in filling in the gaps that the documents that he uses leave in order to tell us the story of his “hero” – and who this “we” is, a single person or indeed a small group of persons the reader will never know for sure. And even if the “hero” really committed those terrible crimes is not absolutely sure…

I am a quite compulsive book buyer and collector myself, and maybe that’s why I am particularly drawn to novels or stories about obsessive book lovers. That was what made The Name of the Rose so appealing to me, that was why I immediately grabbed The House of Paper by Carlos Maria Dominguez when I saw it in a book store some time ago. Peter Kien and Don Quijote belong of course also in this category of book addicts. I even collect news stories from the media about obsessive book lovers, such as the story of the civil servant from Darmstadt (a city where I worked for a few years) who stole about 25,000 books from libraries – not for pecuniary reasons but because of his wish to own a big library himself.

No wonder I stumbled sooner or later over a quote by Arno Schmidt from his The Stony Heart (Das steinerne Herz):

“Ich dachte lange an den Magister Tinius, den Bücherverfallenen, der mit seinem Hammer durch die öden Heiden des Fläming schlich: wenn andere das Geld haben, und er braucht doch die Bücher?!”

“I thought for a long time about Magister Tinius, the book addict, who creeps with his hammer through the barren heaths of the Fläming: if others have the money, but he needs the books?!”

Arno Schmidt, a great expert when it comes to obscure German writers of the 18th and 19th century must have been referring to a real, not an invented person, so I thought. And indeed, the “Neue Pitaval” (“New Pitaval”), a very popular collection of real crime stories that was used as source material by many German authors contains a chilling story about a man who had turned from a small protestant Parish priest to a biblio-maniac, and finally to a criminal and murderer as a result of his insane book love.

Johann Georg Tinius (1764-1846) was a priest in a small town in Saxony who had aspirations to be a writer and scholar and who loved books. So far, so good. But somehow things got out of hand and over the years he bought more and more books and had even to rent a barn for his library. People were getting suspicious: how was it possible that a priest with an income that was a mere pittance could acquire such a vast and expensive book collection? The good priest may have been the beneficiary of a small inheritance and his wife who died comparatively early (some suspected foul play) came from a family with a small wealth; too bad that at that time financial irregularities regarding the budget of the parish church were also becoming obvious and an investigation started. But somehow the priest was able to pledge for “not guilty” and because the final evidence that he was the reason for the sudden disappearance of a certain sum of money from the coffers of the church was missing, he got away – this time.

After his wife had passed away, Tinius hurried to remarry a wealthy wife. And, you guessed correctly, he started immediately to put his wife’s money (much to her dismay) to a good use, i.e. by buying much more books. After his book collection had reached a number of 50,000 to 60,000, he ran again out of money. And almost at the same time, robberies, and even a murder and an attempted murder happened in which everything hinted at the man in black with the book hobby.

Tinius got arrested and the court proceedings lasted almost ten years. His defence strategy was very simple: “I am innocent”. Nevertheless, the evidence was overwhelming and he got a long prison sentence. He lost everything: his wife divorced him, and – much worse for him – his book collection was auctioned off. Even Goethe bought books from the auction!

Tinius used the time in jail to try to prove his innocence; he wrote a short autobiography which is for sure one of the strangest texts of the 19th century, so utterly inadequate is what Tinius has to say about his book addiction and the crimes he had obviously committed.

After twelve years in prison, Tinius was released because of his old age and poor health. He lived another eleven years in obscurity, some distant relatives had taken care of the man in his last years.

As I said already, Opitz’ novel is not only well researched, it is also extremely well written – but the virtuosity of the language may be a reason why it is untranslated so far. Still, I hope this masterpiece will be available one day also to readers who don’t read German.

The author, and that’s a nice irony, had collected a huge library himself in his younger years – but he lost it all in a game of poker. (And if it’s not true, it’s at least well invented.)

Opitz

Detlef Opitz: Der Büchermörder, Eichborn Verlag 2005

 

Johann Georg Tinius: Merkwürdiges und lehrreiches Leben des M. Johann Georg Tinius, Pfarrers zu Poserna in der Inspektion Weißenfels. Von ihm selbst entworfen. Mit einem Essay von Herbert Heckmann, Friedenauer Presse, Berlin 1986 (written 1813)

Julius Eduard Hitzig / Georg Wilhelm Heinrich Häring (eds.): Der Neue Pitaval, Brockhaus, Leipzig 1843

Arno Schmidt: Two Novels: The Stony Heart and B/Moondocks, translated by John E. Woods, Dalkey Archive 1999

Translation of the Arno Schmidt quote by Thomas Hübner

© 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.

Under the Linden Tree

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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)

Very little is known about the life of Walther von der Vogelweide, the most remarkable German poet before Goethe; neither the birthplace of this troubadour (Minnesinger) – probably in Austria, but maybe also in Northern Italy –  nor his exact years of birth (ca. 1170) and death (ca. 1230) are known. He was obviously the loyal servant of a bishop and was rewarded with an amount of money sufficient for an expensive fur coat once – the only official mentioning of his name in the records and proof of his comparatively elevated social status.

Walther’s poetry is written in Middle High German (Mittelhochdeutsch) which is surprisingly intelligible to modern-day native speakers – especially when you are from Southern Germany or Austria. It covers a number of topics and genres but his love poetry features most prominently. While a big part of it worships an aristocratic, married and therefore inaccessible frouwe from a distance, Walther’s poetry also covers other, to us modern readers more familiar grounds that make his charming poems still very fresh and appealing until this day. I am therefore recommending his works to anyone with a genuine interest in German literature.

In the following Taglied the poet lends his voice to a girl after her spending a night with her lover (most probably a man of higher social status).

Under der linden

Under der linden
an der heide,
dâ unser zweier bette was,
dâ muget ir vinden
schône beide
gebrochen bluomen unde gras.
Vor dem walde in einem tal,
tandaradei,
schône sanc diu nahtegal.

Ich kam gegangen
zuo der ouwe:
dô was mîn friedel komen ê.
Dâ wart ich empfangen
(hêre frouwe!)
daz ich bin sælic iemer mê.
Kust er mich?
Wol tûsentstunt:
tandaradei,
seht wie rôt mir ist der munt.

Dô hete er gemachet
alsô rîche
von bluomen eine bettestat.
Des wirt noch gelachet
inneclîche,
kumt iemen an daz selbe pfat:
bî den rôsen er wol mac,
tandaradei,
merken wâ mir’z houbet lac.

Daz er bî mir læge,
wesse’z iemen
(nu enwelle got!), so schamte ich mich.
Wes er mit mir pflæge,
niemer niemen
bevinde daz, wan er und ich,
und ein kleinez vogellîn:
tandaradei,
daz mac wol getriuwe sîn.

Under the linden tree

Under the linden tree
on the heather,
where we shared a bed
there you may find
lovely together
broken flowers and grass.
Near a forest in a vale,
tandaradei,
beautifully sang the nightingale.

I came to meet him
at the green:
there was my beloved come before.
Such was I received
(Queen of Heaven!)
that I am blessed for evermore.
Did he kiss me?
Perhaps a thousand times and some:
tandaradei,
see how red my mouth has become.

There he had been making
for luxury
a bed from every kind of flower.
It sets to laughing
delightedly
whoever comes upon that bower;
by the roses well one may,
tandaradei,
mark the spot my head once lay.

If someone knew
he lay with me
(may God forbid!), for shame I’d die.
What did he do?
may none but he
ever be sure of that — and I,
and one tiny bird,
tandaradei,
that may well not say a word.

(Translation by Thomas Hübner, after Graeme Dunphy)

Walther von der Vogelweide

For those who read German, I can recommend the edition of Walther’s poetry in the legendary Reclam Universal Edition (bi-lingual, High German/Middle High German), Stuttgart 2013 (“Gedichte – Auswahl”); there is an English edition “Selected Poems of Walther von der Vogelweide: The Minnesinger”, translated by Walter Alison Phillips in 1896 and republished by Cornell University Library in 2009; another more modern translation of the poem in English can be found in Raymond Oliver’s “To Be Plain: Translations from Greek, Latin, French, and German”, Robert L. Barth, 1981

© 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.

A Public Intellectual

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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)

He is probably the most important living German poet, an essayist whose publications are usually a reason for major public discussions, an author of novels, stories, plays, children’s books, a book about mathematics, several poetological books and a scholarly work on Clemens Brentano, the co-author of a poetry automaton, the editor of the famous book series Andere Bibliothek, the founder of the Kursbuch, for a long time Germany’s most important journal for political debates, and of Transit, another important journal, a film regisseur, a librettist, a congenial translator from French (Moliere, Denis Diderot, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Jean de la Varende), Italian (Franco Fortini), Spanish (Cesar Vallejo, Federico Garcia Lorca), English (William Carlos Williams, Charles Simic, Stanley Moss), Hungarian (Gyorgy Dalos), and Swedish (Lars Gustafsson), amongst others, and and and…It is impossible to write about him in a few lines.

Hans Magnus Enzensberger (born 1929) is the public intellectual par excellence, a very urban and unique figure in German literature. 

Fortunately quite a number of his books are available in translations, and a new poetry collection (New Selected Poems) has just been published – so maybe this is a good opportunity to discover at least the poet Enzensberger for now. Here are three exemplary poems in German and English translation:

ins lesebuch für die oberstufe

lies keine oden, mein sohn, lies die fahrpläne:
sie sind genauer. roll die seekarten auf,
eh es zu spät ist. sei wachsam, sing nicht.
der tag kommt, wo sie wieder listen ans tor
schlagen und malen den neinsagern auf die brust
zinken. lern unerkannt gehn, lern mehr als ich:
das viertel wechseln, den paß, das gesicht.
versteh dich auf den kleinen verrat,
die tägliche schmutzige rettung. nützlich
sind die enzykliken zum feueranzünden,
die manifeste: butter einzuwickeln und salz
für die wehrlosen. wut und geduld sind nötig,
in die lungen der macht zu blasen
den feinen tödlichen staub, gemahlen
von denen, die viel gelernt haben,
die genau sind, von dir.

In a College Textbook

don’t read odes, my son, read timetables:
they are more exact, unroll the sea-charts
before it is too late, be on guard, don’t sing.
the day will come again when they paste blacklists upon the door
and place their mark on the no-sayers,
learn to pass unidentified, learn more than I:
how to change your living quarters, passport, face.
understand the small betrayal,
the sordid daily escape, useful
are the wide-spread fire starters,
the manifestoes: wrapped-up butter and salt
for the defenseless. anger and endurance are necessary
to blow a fine deadly dust 
into the lungs of power, ground up
by those such as you who have learned much
and are fastidious in their ways.

Translated by Jim Doss, Loch Raven Review, Summer 2008

Privilegierte Tatbestände

Es ist verboten, Personen in Brand zu stecken.

Es ist verboten, Personen in Brand zu stecken,
die im Besitz einer gültigen Aufenthaltsgenehmigung sind.

Es ist verboten, Personen in Brand zu stecken,
die sich an die gesetzlichen Bestimmungen halten und im Besitz einer gültigen Aufenthaltsgenehmigung sind.

Es ist verboten, Personen in Brand zu stecken,
von denen nicht zu erwarten ist, daß sie den Bestand und die Sicherheit der Bundesrepublik Deutschland gefährden.

Es ist verboten, Personen in Brand zu stecken,
soweit sie nicht durch ihr Verhalten dazu Anlaß geben.

Es ist insbesondere auch Jugendlichen,
die angesichts mangelnder Freizeitangebote und in Unkenntnis der einschlägigen Bestimmungen sowie aufgrund von Orientierungsschwierigkeiten psychisch gefährdet sind, nicht gestattet, Personen – ohne das Ansehen der Person – in Brand zu stecken.

Es ist mit Rücksicht auf das Ansehen der Bundesrepublik Deutschland im Ausland davon abzuraten.

Es gehört sich nicht.

Es ist nicht üblich.

Es sollte nicht zur Regel werden.

Es muß nicht sein.

Niemand ist dazu verpflichtet.

Es darf niemandem zum Vorwurf gemacht werden,
wenn er es unterläßt, Personen in Brand zu stecken.

Jedermann genießt ein Grundrecht auf Verweigerung.

Entsprechende Anträge sind an das zuständige Ordnungsamt zu richten.

Nota bene. Wer diesen Text in eine andere Sprache überträgt, wird gebeten, an Stelle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland versuchsweise die offizielle Bezeichnung seines eigenen Landes einzusetzen. Diese Fußnote sollte auch in der Übersetzung stehen bleiben.

Privileged Facts of the Case

It is forbidden to set people on fire.

It is forbidden to set people on fire in possession
of a valid green card.

It is forbidden to set people on fire who uphold
the laws and are in possession of a valid green card.

It is forbidden to set people on fire who
are not thought to endanger the continuance
and security of the United States of America.

It is forbidden to set people on fire who do not
arouse suspicion with their behavior.

This particularly applies to youngsters who, in view
of the lack of leisure opportunities and their ignorance
of the relevant regulations or because
of difficulties in orientation are psychologically endangered,
are forbidden to set people on fire they do not respect.

In consideration of the reputation of the United States of America
abroad it is urgently advised against.

It isn’t proper.

It isn’t normal.

It shouldn’t become the rule.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

No one is obligated.

No one will be reproached if they decline
to set a person on fire.

Each enjoys a fundamental right to refuse.

Suitable applications are to be submitted
to the Municipal Office of Public Order.

Translated by Jim Doss, Loch Raven Review, Summer 2008

John von Neumann

1903 – 1957

Doppelkinn, Mondgesicht, leichtes Watscheln –
das muß ein Komiker sein
oder ein Generalvertreter in Teppichböden,
ein Bonvivant aus dem Rotary Club.

Aber wehe, wenn Jánsci aus Budapest
anfängt zu denken!
Unerbittlich tickt unter der Schädeldecke
sein weicher Prozessor,
ein Flimmern geht durch den Datenspeicher
und blitzartig wirft er ballistische Gleichungen aus.

Eichmann und Stalin hat er mattgesetzt
in drei Zügen: Göttingen-Cherbourg,
Cherbourg-New York, New York-Princeton.
Erster Klasse verließ er die Todeszone.

Mehr brauchte er nicht als vier Stunden Schlaf,
reichlich Schlagobers auf den Mohnstrudel
und ein paar Bankkonten in der Schweiz.

Auch wer nie von ihm gehört hat
(und das sind die meisten),
der setzt mit der Maus in der Hand
seine Schaltalgebra in Gang.
Und was die Künstliche Intelligenz betrifft –
ohne die seinige wäre sie vielleicht heute noch
ein Wechselbalg ohne Adresse.

Ganz egal, ob es um eine Knobelpartie
oder um einen Hurrikan geht,
um fruchtbare Automaten oder um Schußtabellen,
die Kreide in seiner Hand hinkt hinterher –
so schnell ist sein neuronales Netz.

Manisch kritzelt er Hilbert-Räume,
Ringe und Ideale hin. Unbeschränkt
operiert er mit unbeschränkten Operatoren.
Hauptsache: elegante Lösungen,
um den Planeten zum Tanzen zu bringen.

Ein altes Wunderkind mit Schnittstelle zum Geheimdienst.
Wummernd landen die Helikopter auf seinem Rasen.
»Fat Man« auf Nagasaki: reine Mathematik.
Der Krieg als Droge. Eine zu große Waffe
kann es nicht geben. Immer gut gelaunt

beim Lunch mit den Admirälen.

Eigentlich ist er schüchtern, und es gibt Rätsel,
vor denen seine Black Box versagt.
Die Liebe zum Beispiel,
die Dummheit, die Langeweile.

Pessimismus = Sünde gegen die Wissenschaft.
Energie aus der Dose, Klimakontrolle, ewiges Wachstum!
Island in ein tropisches Paradies zu verwandeln –
kein Problem. Der Rest ist nebbich.

Dann der Betriebsausflug auf eine andere Insel,
im Zweireiher, mit geschwärzter Brille: Bikini.
»Operation Wendepunkt.« Der Test war gelungen.
Zehn Jahre brauchte der Strahlenkrebs,
um seine Synapsen abzuschalten.

John von Neumann (1903–1957)

Moon face, double chin, waddling gait:
a stand-up comedian, most likely,
or a salesman for fitted carpets,
bon vivant from the Rotary Club.

But as soon as he starts to think
watch out for Jáncsi from Budapest!
The soft processor under his skull-cap
will relentlessly tick away,
and with a mere flicker of his memory chip
he will produce a rush of ballistic equations.

In three moves he checkmated Eichmann and Stalin:
Göttingen-Cherbourg, Cherbourg-New York,
New York-Princeton. First Class
he escaped from the Final Solution.

All he needs is four hours’ sleep,
plenty of whipped cream on his Viennese strudel
and a couple of Zürich bank accounts.

Even those who have never heard of him
(and most of us haven’t)
switch with a click of the mouse
into his algebraic circuitry.
Without his own brand of it,
Artificial Intelligence
might never have got off the ground.

Whether it’s a question of playing dice
or detailing a hurricane — you name it..
self-fertilising automata or firing-tables
the piece of chalk in his hand
will lag behind the speed of his mind.

A maniac scribbling down Hilbert spaces,
rings and ideals, operating beyond all limits
with unlimited operators. A few new ideas,
he says, and we could jiggle the planet.

An elderly wunderkind with an interface
to the CIA. Helicopters roaring down on his lawn.
‘Fat Man’ on Nagasaki: pure mathematics.
War is his cocaine. There is no such thing
as too big a weapon. Always in high spirits,
lunching with admirals.

A shy fellow at heart. Mysteries
his black box cannot cope with.
Love, for example,
stupidity, boredom.

Pessimism = a sin against science.
Energy out of the can, climate control,
eternal growth! To turn Iceland
into a tropical paradise — no problem!
The rest is nebbich.

Finally: staff outing to another island,
in business suit and blackened glasses,
Bikini. ‘Operation Turning-point’.
The test was successful. The cancer from the radiation
took ten years to turn off his synapses.

Translated by Hans Magnus Enzensberger

Enzensberger Enzensberger2 Enzensberger3 Enzensberger4

Several collections (most of them bi-lingual) of Enzensberger’s poems are available in English:

Hans Magnus Enzensberger: Selected Poems, bi-lingual edition, translated by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Michael Hamburger, Fred Viebahn and Rita Dove, Sheep Meadow Press, Rhineback 1999; Kiosk, bi-lingual edition, translated by Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Michael Hamburger, Sheep Meadow Press, Rhineback 1999; Lighter Than Air, bi-lingual edition, translated by Reinhold Grimm, Sheep Meadow Press, Rhineback 2000; New Selected Poems, bi-lingual edition, translated by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Michael Hamburger and David Constantine, Bloodaxe Books, Hexham 2015

© Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Suhrkamp Verlag, 1957ff.
© Jim Doss and Loch Raven Review, 2008
© Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Bloodaxe Books, 2015
© 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.