Tag Archives: Hans Henny Jahnn

Reading/Reviewing Plans

The end of the year is approaching with fast steps. This year I haven’t been so active as a blogger as last year until recently – German Lit Month brought me back to the usual pace – and I have done more blog posts on poetry and translations than the year before; also I did more posts in German and one in Bulgarian too. Book blogging is a dynamic process and the focus of such places will always be subject to small unplanned changes, but I will keep also in the next year my habit to publish reviews of books that were interesting to me.

As you already know when you follow this blog on a regular basis, my taste in books is rather eclectic. I am definitely not a person who is permanently scanning bestseller lists or is jumping in on discussions about books that were – usually for marketing reasons – the “talk of the town”. Therefore I avoided so far reviewing books by Houellebecq or Knausgård; it is difficult to not be influenced by the public discussion that focuses frequently on aspects that have very little to do with the literary quality of the books by such authors but a lot with their public persona and their sometimes very controversial opinions about certain topics. Not that the books by these authors are necessarily bad, but I prefer to read without too much background noise. So I will come also to these authors, but most probably not in the near future.

My blog tries to be diverse, but without quota. But of course my choice is subjective and I am aware of the fact that probably most readers will find many authors/books on this list that are completely unknown to them. If you look for just another blog that is reviewing again and again the same exclusively Anglo-saxon authors, then this might not be the best place for you. If you are eager to discover something new, then you are most welcome. 

There are no ads on this blog and this will also not change in the future. There is zero financial interest from my side to keep this blog alive, I do it just for fun. Please don’t send unsolicitated review copies if you are an author or a publisher. In rare cases I might accept a review copy when contacted first but only when I have already an interest in the book. All blog posts contain of course my own – sometimes idiosyncratic – opinion for what it is worth. In general I tend to write reviews on the positive side. When a book disappoints me, I tend to not write a review unless there is a strong reason to do otherwise.

These are the books presently on my “To-be-read” pile; which means they are the one’s that i will most probably read and review within the coming months. But as always with such lists, they are permanently subject to changes, additions, removals. Therefore I (and also the readers of this blog) will take this list as an orientation and not as a strict task on which I have to work one by one. 

Chinua Achebe: Things Fall Apart

Jim al-Khalili: The House of Wisdom

Ryunosunke Akutagawa: Kappa

Rabih Alameddine: The Hakawati

Sinan Antoon: The Corpse Washer

Toufic Youssef Aouad: Le Pain

Abhijit Banerjee / Esther Duflo: Poor Economics

Hoda Barakat: Le Royaume de cette terre

Adolfo Bioy Casares: The Invention of Morel

Max Blecher: Scarred Hearts

Nicolas Born: The Deception

Thomas Brasch: Vor den Vätern sterben die Söhne

Joseph Brodsky: On Grief and Reason

Alina Bronsky: Just Call Me Superhero

Alina Bronsky: The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine

Dino Buzzati: The Tartar Steppe

Leila S. Chudori: Pulang

Beqe Cufaj: projekt@party 

Mahmoud Darwish: Memory of Forgetfulness

Oei Hong Djien: Art & Collecting Art

Dimitre Dinev: Engelszungen (Angel’s Tongues)

Anton Donchev: Time of Parting

Jabbour Douaihy: June Rain

Michael R. Dove: The Banana Tree at the Gate

Jennifer DuBois: A Partial History of Lost Causes

Isabelle Eberhardt: Works

Tristan Egolf: Lord of the Barnyard

Deyan Enev: Circus Bulgaria

Jenny Erpenbeck: The End of Days

Patrick Leigh Fermor: Mani

Milena Michiko Flašar: I called him Necktie

David Fromkin: A Peace to End All Peace

Carlos Fuentes: Terra Nostra

Amitav Ghosh: In an Antique Land

Georg K. Glaser: Geheimnis und Gewalt (Secret and Violence)

Georgi Gospodinov: Natural Novel

Georgi Gospodinov: The Physics of Sorrow

Elizabeth Gowing: Edith and I

David Graeber: The Utopia of Rules

Garth Greenwell: What Belongs to You

Knut Hamsun: Hunger

Ludwig Harig: Die Hortensien der Frau von Roselius

Johann Peter Hebel: Calendar Stories

Christoph Hein: Settlement

Wolfgang Hilbig: The Sleep of the Righteous

Albert Hofmann / Ernst Jünger: LSD

Hans Henny Jahnn: Fluss ohne Ufer (River without Banks) (Part II)

Franz Jung: Der Weg nach unten

Ismail Kadare: Broken April

Ismail Kadare: The Palace of Dreams

Douglas Kammen and Katharine McGregor (Editors): The Contours of Mass Violence in Indonesia: 1965-1968

Rosen Karamfilov: Kolene (Knees)

Orhan Kemal: The Prisoners

Irmgard Keun: Nach Mitternacht

Georg Klein: Libidissi

Friedrich August Klingemann: Bonaventura’s Nightwatches

Fatos Kongoli: The Loser

Theodor Kramer: Poems

Friedo Lampe: Septembergewitter (Thunderstorm in September)

Clarice Lispector: The Hour of the Star

Naguib Mahfouz: The Cairo Trilogy

Curzio Malaparte: Kaputt

Thomas Mann: Joseph and His Brothers

Sandor Marai: Embers

Sean McMeekin: The Berlin-Baghdad Express

Multatuli: Max Havelaar

Alice Munro: Open Secrets

Marie NDiaye: Three Strong Women

Irene Nemirovsky: Suite française 

Ben Okri: The Famished Road

Laksmi Pamuntjak: The Question of Red

Victor Pelevin: Omon Ra

Georges Perec: Life. A User’s Manual

Leo Perutz: By Night Under the Stone Bridge

Boris Pilnyak: Mahogany

Alek Popov: Black Box

Milen Ruskov: Thrown Into Nature

Boris Savinkov: Memoirs of a Terrorist

Eric Schneider: Zurück nach Java

Daniel Paul Schreber: Memoirs of My Nervous Illness

Carl Seelig: Wandering with Robert Walser

Victor Serge: The Case of Comrade Tulayev

Anthony Shadid: House of Stones

Varlam Shalamov: Kolyma Tales

Raja Shehadeh: A Rift in Time

Alexander Shpatov: #LiveFromSofia

Werner Sonne: Staatsräson?

Andrzej Stasiuk: On the Way to Babadag

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar: The Time Regulation Institute

Pramoedya Ananta Toer: A Mute’s Soliloquy

Pramoedya Ananta Toer: The Buru Quartet (4 vol.)

Lionel Trilling: The Middle of the Journey

Iliya Trojanov: The Collector of Worlds

Bernward Vesper: Die Reise (The Journey)

Robert Walser: Jakob von Gunten

Peter Weiss: The Aesthetics of Resistance

Edith Wharton: The Age of Innocence

Marguerite Yourcenar: Coup de Grace

Galina Zlatareva: The Medallion

Arnold Zweig: The Case of Sergeant Grisha

Stay tuned – and feel free to comment any of my blog posts. Your contributions are very much appreciated. You are also invited to subscribe to this blog if you like.

© 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.

“Terror is stronger in us than delight”

The wooden ship is the talk of the town. When the beautiful large three-master arrives at the unnamed port (maybe Hamburg, the author’s home city), the citizens are more than a bit puzzled. The wooden ship is all teak and oak and it looks much too elegant to be an ordinary freighter. (Hans Henny Jahnn, the author of The Ship, was not only a famous organ-builder but also the son of a ship carpenter, which helped him to make the description of the ship so convincing.)

Unknown cargo is unloaded, the owner is dismissing the crew and leaving just two guards (with whom he drinks almost every night on the ship). After a while a new crew is hired and under the supervision of a person who is referred to as the Supercargo – later we learn that his real name is Georg Lauffer – , the new cargo is being carried to the ship without further investigation by the customs.

And here, at the latest, it dawns on the reader that something must be wrong with the ship: neither the content of the coffin-shaped crates nor the destination of the ship are known to the crew or even the captain, and during the process of carrying the crates it comes to an eruption of violence from the side of the Supercargo. The reasons why he lets part of the crew to be beaten up are not exactly clear, but as a result part of the sailors are dismissed and replaced by seamen who will not ask questions and who will stay away from the mysterious cargo.

These events give the author an opportunity to make the reader familiar with his opinions about life in general:

“A human being who has suffered a disappointment turns to the laws of physics. A child who has just burned himself with a glowing red ember, tries, cautiously, to see if a stick of red sealing wax will injure him in the same way. And if Providence intends to give him a thorough knowledge of life, she lets him make the same test at regular intervals. And perhaps he will gain the knowledge that the red stuff—which is apparently always the same—is sometimes hot, and sometimes cool. And a small corner of the veil of What Happens if lifted. He looks into the abyss of causality and can see the face of time as a reflection of eternity. Certainty becomes questionable, the riddle more powerful than knowledge. He will no longer trust the chance that might burn him.”

“And a wave of primitive remembrance came over them, the beginning of all thought and its magical expiration, which came out of the darkness of the room. Laws, still unclear which must therefore have been repealed. Metals, malleable as wax, melted in fire and not congealed. Wood as pliable as a reed. Bodies that have no weight, no face. Stones that can float. Magnetic mountains. A reversal of the senses. The vast kingdom of the unreliable.”

“The lights were on in the great sky dome, flickering in infinite space. Their cold glow, uplifting the heart or destroying it, conveyed the deceptive marvel of edifying ideas. Millions of human beings—and who knows if the animals don’t do the same thing—look up at the night with uncomprehending eyes and turn inward to a forlorn or frightened breast, their own. They see themselves as chosen or rejected. Or what is far away is as far away for them as it pretends to be. It does not penetrate the miasma of their martyred blood. And then again storms spread their noise across the vapors of the earth. Now it was the gleaming dew of loneliness that trickled down upon it.”

“Just as the pit of a mine was a hollow amid rock, a ship was a hole in the water in which lungs could breath. A human being had to fear mountains and water.”

“The conclusion is inescapable that he must have been jammed into the space or sucked up. The wall has to be there.”

“We have witnessed the horrible again and again, a transformation no one could foresee. A healthy body is run over by a truck, crushed. Blood, once secreted, once feeling its way blindly through the body, pulsating in a meshwork of thin streams, spreading the chemically charged hormones and their mysterious functions like a red tree inside man—this blood now runs out shapelesssly in great puddles. And still no one grasps that, in a network of veins, it has form. But even more horrible—the death struggle itself, in which the innumerable organs, which we believe we feel, take part. Terror is stronger in us than delight.”

“The miracles of life turn out to be preparation for a gigantic disillusionment and at the end stands old age. Extraordinary things are nothing but steps that lead to crime, and the corruption of the senses seems to be the order of the day.”

“When we begin to think… we are more naked than at birth and more helpless. And we are strangled in the noose of the shriveling umbilical cord.”

The captain of the ship, Waldemar Strunk, is bringing his daughter Ellena on board, because he doesn’t want to leave her alone at home. Her fiance Gustav Horn decides to come on board as a stowaway. When the ship is leaving port, the owner is mysteriously missing, and Gustav and Ellena are suspecting that for some unknown reason the owner might also be on board as a stowaway.

The ship is becoming more and more a mystery to the passengers and the crew. While Ellena and Gustav are in Ellena’s cabin, they realize that the lock is not working properly, and thus the secret of Gustav is uncovered by the Supercargo. After it is officially known that Ellena’s fiancee is on board, Gustav is walking around on board and makes the acquaintance of the crew. Some characters, like the cook, the ship’s carpenter Klemens Fitte, and the youngest sailor Alfred Tutein (who whispers on several occasions “Danger!” into Gustav’s ear) are introduced more closely. Between Gustav and Tutein there seems to grow a strange mutual attraction, although we readers can only guess the nature of this obvious attraction.

Gustav, the main figure of the novel, is listening full of fascination to the stories of the primitive, vital and virile sailors. This is a simple world where the men are following their animal instincts, a world that is completely new to the educated Gustav.

“And he discovered that he was inferior to these men. They had had experience in every direction. At fourteen they had already mistaken the joys of Hell for the bliss of Paradise, and, later, stood again and again with empty hands in a completely illuminated world . . . Gustave envied them, not for their miserable experiences, but for the particular smell of reality which would never be his because he didn’t have the courage, wasn’t sufficiently carefree, to let himself be torn to shreds for no good reason.”

At the same time, some process of estrangement seems to take place between Gustav and Ellena, who is meeting the Supercargo several times without Gustav’s knowledge. Gustav becomes jealous when he realizes that his fiancee has secret conversations with Lauffer, because he is suspecting that there is much more to them than Ellena wants to make him believe.

“‘You are suffering,’ she said simply. ‘Why?’

‘I can present my parables in a different connection or in a different order,’ he said. ‘Millions of ears hear the magical sound of universal sadness, true or false, and fall prey to it. There exists only one pain, one passion, on death. But they glitter limitlessly in infinity, in motion everywhere. And every ray, the known and the unknown, hums this consuming rhythm, this melody of downfall. He who lays himself open to it founders, goes up in flames, succumbs. Perhaps the greatest work of art is the masterpiece of omnipotence which is everywhere with a soft voice. And we, its servants, are being summoned to all things at every moment. But often we refuse. We shut ourselves off. But when are we so completely healthy or invulnerable that pain cannot reach us? When could we call ourselves out of the reach of death? Where is there peace and justice, a condition without condemnation, that we could let sadness go from us with impunity?’

‘That is a theory of how suffering spreads on this earth, from the stars or from somewhere or other.’

‘But I don’t want it that way,’ he said. ‘I want to experience everything but I want to remain as virtuous as matter, which is unaware of its own manifestations. I want to stand at my own side when I scream or sink to the ground in convulsions. I am not prepared to let myself be put on trial as to whether I am a useful or an objectionable male animal. I have come into being and intend to make myself at home in the condition as I please. I don’t escape the voice, I swing and twitch with it, but I don’t want to feel it as everybody else feels it.’

‘You are crying.’ The words come from her forced.

‘I know,’ he said. ‘But it doesn’t mean anything to me.’ “

Things are escalating quickly after the illiterate carpenter Klemens Fitte, the son of a prostitute, is telling one of the strangest stories you will ever read in your life: the story of Kebad Kenya, a man who wants to be buried alive and who makes his neighbors who will inherit his big fortune kill his favorite horse without any apparent reason.

“After all, it was his intention to die without the help of death, and the effort to become motionless and cold took every ounce of his vigilance and strength.”

The story of Kebad Kenya leads the sailors to suspect that the coffin-shaped crates contain dead (or living) human bodies and they rush to break into the cargo room and open the first crate that proves surprisingly to be empty.

Ellena disappears suddenly after a visit at the Supercargo’s cabin. Is she hiding in the ship? Has she jumped over board? Was she killed – and by whom? A search is started during which the ship is so damaged that it is sinking and the crew has to be evacuated. Most of them will be saved by an approaching ship, but Ellena’s fate remains a secret and mystery.

“Then it was over. They climbed across the cargo toward the door by which they had entered. Gustav, in a last effort to come closer to the content of the cargo, threw himself down on one of the coffin-like crates. He made the effort, even if with dwindling will power and filled with a premonition of futility, to establish some sort of relationship with the mysterious thing. It seemed foolish to him, an error of human perception, that anything could remain hidden which could be approached until only a few centimeters lay between. But it was the usual thing to be struck with blindness. Who could recognize the sickness of his neighbor with his eyes even though it lay palpable under the skin? When Gustav arose from the crate a few seconds later, he had assured himself that the icy aura which filled the hold had infected the crates or, perhaps, they were its sources. He felt as if he had thrown himself down on the snows of a wintry field. And a white wraith of cold crept up to him.”

This lengthy synopsis doesn’t answer the question what happened to Ellena because The Ship (the title should be The Wooden Ship – in German it is Das Holzschiff and not Das Schiff) is just the overture to a true monster of a novel. Fluss ohne Ufer (River Without Banks) has about 2500 pages of which only the first part is translated into English.

True, The Ship is a stand-alone novel. But still it is such a pity that this great and in many ways unique novel is not available in English. (It has been translated to French though).

It’s author, Hans Henny Jahnn, was a unique figure, and the book is unlike any other book you will come across during your life. In a way, it is devastating and it might be one of these books that have the potential to change your life.

In Jahnn’s world there is no God, no metaphysics. Traditional concepts of moral, guilt, progress, are rejected. Man is not superior to the rest of the creatures, the animal is his equal and in many ways even superior. (Jahnn was an early advocate of animal rights and also a leading figure in the movement against nuclear arms).

That Jahnn’s novels, plays and stories are full of controversial topics like sado-masochism, homo- and bi-sexuality, incest and others that will repel a part of the readership, did not exactly help his popularity. But this is a pity, because despite all that, Jahnn is such a great author. Other reasons why Jahnn is not popular were given by literary critic Ulrich Greiner in his essay “The seven deadly sins of Hans Henny Jahnn”. He writes:

“There is no consolation. “It is what it is, and it is terrible.” No God is conceivable, enlightenment a fiasco, reason only a flatus vocis, progress a catastrophic joke. No matter in which direction Jahnn thinks, no matter which ways his painful heroes are pursuing, no matter which vision is lighting up in the moment: the aporia is indissoluble, the novel cannot be concluded, the artistic effort a failure. At the end, there is only darkness. That leaves a bitter taste. This is not very digestible.”

Many of the mysteries of The Ship are uncovered in the untranslated part of River Without Banks. Where is the publisher that makes this masterpiece that has no similarity to any other novel, available to anglophone readers?

I intend to return later to the untranslated part of the novel.

jahnn_ship_peterowen_small

Hans Henny Jahnn: The Ship, translated by Catherine Hutter, Peter Owen 1970

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. 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.