Katharina Hacker: The Have-Nots

Hacker, Katharina (2006), Die Habenichtse, Suhrkamp
ISBN 978-3-518-45910-2
[Translated into English as The Have-Nots by Helen Atkins, Europe Editions]

It was with trepidation that I picked up this novel, an gift by a dear old friend. It won the 2006 German book prize, besting as good a novel as Ilija Trojanow’s Der Weltensammler. Whence the trepidation, you ask? Whatever books may be published off the radar, the body of books that constituted critically acclaimed German contemporary literature is a sad affair. Look at the 2006 short list. Both the Schulze and the Walser are so bad that I’d rate that year’s jury worse than this year’s Booker Jury. Dito other fêted writers. Judith Hermann? Pascal Mercier? If you listen closely you can hear me shudder right now. Oh, maybe I’m just picky. Anyway, to cut a long story short, Die Habenichtse is an excellent novel. Hacker may be somewhat sloppy with her prose at times, but more than makes up for it.

Oh, but what is it about? This basic question is hard to answer satisfactorily. Not that the plot is that convoluted or hidden, but this novel is necessarily about plot. A rough sketch of the plot could read like this: after 9/11 a Yuppie couple, he working as a lawyer, she working as a designer, move to London because the husband, Jakob, has been offered a job there. Dull alienation ensues, like straight from a mid-80s suburban novel. There are all the routine trappings. Man works too much, gets caught up in his work and his colleagues, wife (Isabelle) is lonely, consoles herself with a lover. The lover in question is a drug dealer. The dullness of this plot does not reflect badly on the novel though.

Katharina Hacker is an excellent writer, always in control of her matter. The plot, as we see quickly is one more tool in her nimble fingers. The novel is stuffed with these devices which directly evoke distinct references and feelings to the literate reader. There is the fact that it commences with 9/11, or that the law firm hiring Jakob is mainly concerned with the restitution of property stripped from Jewish fugitives by the Nazis.

Wir müssen hineingehen, sagte Jakob. Er bückte sich und hielt die Blumen, die gerade von seinem Rollkoffer rutschen wollten, fest. Isabelle? sagte er, wir können hier nicht stehenbleiben.

There are alcoholic parents, a brutally killed cat, a mistreated child and some highly erotic passages. And all of this in about 300 pages. The novel moves at an incredibly speed, hitting the reader with its images, characters, ideas, never letting up. This effect is all the more pronounced by the intricate construction: Jakob, Isabelle, the neighbor’s child Sara, Jim the dealer, their stories are told in interweaving chapters. What for? There is no conclusion where the different threads come together to produce surprise or shock. The structure does, however, emphasize the complexities of the novel, by emphasizing the general applicability of what may seem like particular problems. These problems are not hard to guess, they are not alluded to, the reader is bludgeoned over the head by them.

Thus, we turn again to the question of what the novel is about. A hint is found in Jakob’s ruminations upon researching details of the Shoah, buried in heaps of books, Bajohr, Friedländer and a shelf full of others. In a telephone conversation Jakob vents his shock

Ich habe mich noch nie so sehr mit Deutschland beschäftigt, sagte Jakob am Telefon zu Hans, – ich frage mich, ob ich all diese Bücher in Berlin hätte lesen können. –Warum nicht? sagte Hans empfindlich, und Jakob las ihm eine Passage aus Friedländers Buch […] vor, wie Kinder einen Juwelierladen stürmten im Juni 1938, wie sie ihn plünderten und ein kleiner Junge dem jüdischen Besitzer ins Gesicht spuckte.

There we have, in a nutshell, the reason why the novel is set in London. The distance to Germany allows the novel to treat Germany and its past without having to resort to the olde dance, the guilt game: y’know. Germans were victims, too, you can’t collectively blame Germans, and are we not nowadays grown out of the whole thing? It’s sickening, and Hacker brilliantly sidesteps the issue by having Jakob realize the extent of the disaster and also, time and again, the fact that it was man-made. We did this, and freed from Germany, Jakob awakens to that fact. Not just past Germans, he is also made aware of the hidden stashes of anti-Semitism in present Germany, and of the ways Germans hide behind alibi actions like, for instance, restituting property without truly coming to terms with what exactly caused Germans to persecute and industrially murder European Jewry.

Alexander Mitscherlich’s classic study of collective German repression, Die Unfähigkeit zu trauern becomes relevant in this context. The question “Und gibt es ein deutsch-jüdisches Zusammenleben? Ich bin gar nicht sicher” („Is there a German-Jewish cohabitation? I am not sure at all.”) is well asked given that in a city like Cologne right here, there is strong resistance against a Jewish museums while a couple of old geezers are allowed to host a major anti-Semitic installation on one of the most prominent and central places of Cologne. There is a strong and pronounced bitterness to many of these issues. The 9/11 reference at the beginning merely quietly contextualizes them. The Twin Towers make virtually no appearance once the book leaves the introductory passages and it’s a better book for it. Hacker knows which cards to play and which not to play. Thus, the novels feels heavy, but never heavy-handed (unlike this review).

In the meantime, in the present private disaster strikes the protagonists, especially, Isabelle and Jim. Here we return to what I called a dull plot. It is only dull if we expect a standard plot, if we expect to be moved or engaged by what shapes up to be, among other things, an unhappy love story. Victims, guilt etc are transposed to the private realm and then projected back again. The novel reduces everything to power structures, never more so than when it treats in-depth Isabelle’s affair with Jim. Hierarchies become painfully obvious. Gender hierarchies, economic hierarchies, even questions of anti-Semitism are transferred into the private realm. As I said, the writing is somewhat sloppy in places. It almost seems as if the writer isn’t particularly interested in crafting precise or poetic prose. Nothing about the rest, though, is the least sloppy, in my opinion. The novel is perfectly constructed, thoughtful, it works equally well on multiple levels, and, above all, and to counter the dry way I have been approaching it, it is endlessly entertaining. The speed, the writing and the pathos combine to form a truly great read, in my eyes.


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A Horrifying World

“It was a horrifying world, but it was a real one. How many of us can say we’ve made a new world out of the things that terrify and move us?” At least a few of the women writing horror today can say just that. And there’s no way to mistake the new worlds they’re making for the work of men.

That was from an overview of recent Horror fiction written by women and although I’m generally wary of the olde ‘women write differently than men’ claim, and have yet to find an instance of a decently argued statement of that claim, the quoted point is interesting.


The wonderful Andrew Gelman annotates his use of ‘Kafkaesque’ in the main body of a post of his with this great footnote-ish statement:

I think I am ideally qualified to use the term Kafkaesque, having never read anything by Kafka except the first two pages of that story they give you to read in high school, where Gregor Samsa wakes up as a bug. I’ve read too much Orwell to be comfortable with “Orwellian.”

He’s right, you know.


But when I think “tomorrow” there is a gap in my head, a blank – as if I were falling through emptiness. Tomorrow never comes. (Jean Rhys / Good Morning Midnight)

I have been in bed half the day, recovering from last night’s debauchery. In a way they produced a whole enjoyable day. Drinking and carnal excesses are mind-numbing enough, and feeling sick and tired half this day, too. Being thus numbed the present moment takes on a certain luminance.

These days I seem unable to think beyond the present moment or at best the next week. Looking at my calendar I am often surprised to see how fast time has marched by. But I don’t actually care. I have deadlines to meet and miss them continuously. It’s like I am waiting for everything to be, finally, over. The books and copies and the paper in the background – that’s just pretense. I am biding my time. There is no tomorrow. People are expecting you to plan for the future, apply for a job, a phd program, something. I don’t. I feel so unhappy at my present job, because I want to teach, write. The opportunities for me to do so are slim, however, decent phd programs only take the top of the crop and looking over the printouts to my left, I feel my grade to be turning out pretty bad. Not summa cum laude anyway, which is what I would need. I’d be happy to teach anywhere but no one’ll take me. Which is no biggie since there is no tomorrow ergo there are no plans to be made. There’s only now, and now may be over any time. I just need a little push or a shove.


If I could put it into words it might go, she was thinking. Sometimes you can put it into words -almost- and so get rid of it -almost. Sometimes you can tell yourself I’ll admit I was afraid today. I was afraid of the sleek smooth faces, the rat faces, the way they laughed in the cinema. I’m afraid of escalators and dolls’ eyes. But there aren’t any words for this fear.

from Jean Rhys’ story “The Sound of the River”

Es wird nichts geheilt.

Mich wundert, daß er das Haus will. Diesen Ort, als wäre es ein noch unberührter Ort, der zu seiner Geschichte gehört. Als wäre das Alter und die Traurigkeit dorthin nicht vorgedrungen. Die Traurigkeit und das Entsetzen, daß es keinen Ort gibt, der unberührt geblieben ist, von der Wahrheit, der Kälte. […] Wir Juristen sind rückwirkend immer Historiker einer als gerecht gedachten Geschichte, einer Rechtlichkeit, die objektiv ist. […] Wenn es schon den Engel der Geschichte nicht gibt, nicht wahr, dann muß doch wenigstens etwas anderes zuverlässig sein. Gut, das finde ich auch. Aber warum kann es nicht der schiere Gegenwert von etwas sein? Warum auf dem bestehen, was verloren ist, warum darauf, daß etwas geheilt wird? Es wird nichts geheilt.

aus Katharina Hackers Roman Die Habenichtse

Paging Kulla! Paging Kulla!

Eine Runde Entschwörung bitte. Eine der durchgeknalltesten Verschwörungstheorien von denen ich in letzter Zeit gehört habe, die sich insofern von vielen klassischen Theorien unterscheidet, daß sie, jedenfalls in dieser Darstellung, als positive Chance zur Systemveränderung von oben gesehen wird. Wozu diese miese fiese Krise doch so alles gut ist. Hier ist der link zu der Kompletterklärung, und hier ein Ausschnitt:

Wegen der enorm durchgreifenden Änderungen, welche die Richtersprüche erfordern, wurde eine extrem strikte Schweigeverpflichtung über jeden verhängt, der direkt damit zu tun hatte, und die Aufzeichnungen des Gerichtsfalles sind versiegelt, bis nachdem die Reformen zustande gebracht sind. Um die Geheimhaltung aufrecht zu erhalten, wurden die Falldetails für die Prozesslistennummer, die an den Farmers Union-Fall ausgegeben worden war, verändert, so dass eine Suche nach diesem Fall fehlschlagen und nicht die korrekte Information ergeben würde, bis nachdem die Reformen publik gemacht sind. Bei jedem Schritt des Vorganges ist jeder, der direkt damit zu tun hat, verpflichtet worden, eine Zustimmungs-Erklärung zu unterzeichnen, die Vorgehensweise des obersten US-Gerichtshofes für die Durchführung der erforderten Reformen “geheim” zu halten, oder Anklagen wegen Hochverrat zu konfrontieren, worauf in Amerika die Todesstrafe steht. Um die geforderten Reformen praktisch einzuführen, verbrachten die fünf Richter Jahre damit, Zustimmungserklärungen darüber auszuhandeln, wie die Reformen stattzufinden haben, mit der US-Regierung, mit den Eigentümern der Federal Reserve-Bank, mit dem internationalen Währungsfond, mit der Weltbank, und mit zahlreichen anderen Ländern, einschließlich Großbritannien und Ländern der Eurozone. Die Reformen der US-Banken erfordern, dass das Federal Reserve-Bankensystem in das US-Finanzministerium integriert wird, und dass die betrügerischen Aktivitäten dieser Bank gestoppt werden, ebenso wie Entschädigungen an US-Bürger für vergangene Schädigungen durch Regierung und Banken. Die US-Banken-Reformen werden sich auf die gesamte Welt auswirken, und deshalb mussten der IWF, die Weltbank und andere Länder mit einbezogen werden.

Da die Vorgehensweise für die praktische Durchführung der Reformen nicht erfolgreich war, autorisierten die Richter, die Reformationen in die Form eines Gesetzes zu bringen, mit dem Namen National-ökonomische Sicherungs- und Reform-Akte (NESARA), welches geheim am 9. März 2000 unter der Clinton-Regierung verabschiedet wurde. Die Geheimhaltung wurde wieder durch die Abänderung der offiziellen Aufzeichnungen aufrecht erhalten; Details der Gesetzesentwurfs-Nummer für NESARA wurden abgeändert, um Erinnerungs-Merkmale abzuwehren, und sie wurden in jüngerer Zeit nochmals abgeändert. Die Mitglieder des Kongresses sind durch die obersten US-Gerichtshof-Richter angewiesen worden, die Existenz von NESARA “abzustreiten”. Deshalb tun alle Mitglieder des Kongresses so, als ob NESARA nicht verabschiedet sei, um die Schweigeverpflichtung der Richter zu befolgen.

His stories: On Javier Cercas’ “Soldiers of Salamis”

Cercas, Javier (2002), Soldiers of Salamis, Bloomsbury
ISBN-13 978-1582343846
[Translation: Anne McLean]

There you go. It’s that time of drunk again, another review. This is the first half of what I wanted to be two joint reviews, one of Cercas’ novel and the other of Kertész’s novel Fiasko, because they are thematically related, just that one is great and the other’s decent. However, I mislaid my copy of Fiasko so I decided to shelve that miserable review and get on with this crapulicious piece.

So. I’ll start with the decent one, Javier Cercas’ novel Soldiers of Salamis, originally published in 2001. It is a nice novel, but not necessary reading. It’s short, light, entertaining and contains enough seriousness and originality to make up for the flaccid narration. This sounds harsher than intended, probably. It consists of three parts, chronicling the efforts of the protagonist to write an account of an incident in the Spanish Civil War. That protagonist is called Javier Cercas, and yes, this is a bad sign. It is an awkwardly postmodern construction, trying very hard to put a complex spin on the war, trying to exploit the complexities of memory and narration. I call it awkward, but it’s not bad. The parts are all there, lies, dead ends, conflicts between oral storytelling and written storytelling, distrust towards the written word, falsified evidence and a examination of what exactly authority in the telling of history constitutes. Plus, there are some nice touches. One endearing detail are the funny cameos, most prominently that of Roberto Bolano, recently deceased Chilean giant, who, in interviews in 2003 expressed his delight at being known more as a character in Cercas’ novel than as an actual writer. Bolano is similarly engaged in mixing fact and fiction yet his subtlety, so evident in The Savage Detectives, is nowhere near in evidence in Cercas novel.

The second thing is that the book can actually be forceful at times. It’s like a longer version of a passage from a far more mesmerizing Javier Marias novel in that it is powered by a strong interest in tracking down the historical truth about an incident that may seem isolated but is soon proving to be emblematic for the mire that the civil war and the ensuing dictatorship have created for Spain and its citizens, which, as the novel proves, has consequences for his country till today. And yet, Cercas manages never to overburden his novel with darkness and faux-serious historical signifying. Cercas manages his material well, he is confident in what he does, and the novel slowly unfolds like a well-laid plan. After finishing it, everything drops into place and whatever boredom may have forced you to spread the lecture of the novel over clearly too long a period, vanishes and is replaced with pleasure. Yes, pleasure.

And another positive aspect is that Cercas seems to be perfectly aware of his limitations as a writer, so much that the cameo of Roberto Bolano must be said to perfectly make up for a certain lack in his writing: humor. I said the tone is light but it’s not humorous, at least not in translation. The fact that it chronicles a dogged search for truth so so thoroughly done and expressed, and seems to require such an effort on the writer’s part that Cercas, needs to have recourse to someone else’s voice to make up for his lack. On the other hand, the fact that he is able to call on this voice and do it in such a satisfying way is indicative of his talents as a writer. The Bolano character steps up to the plate and boy does he smack the ball hard. The character is infinitely likeable, he’s nice, respectful, erudite, humorous and deeply serious at the same time. In fact he is the best drawn character in the whole book, the only one who jumps straight off the page. As a reader this is a strange experience, because it reminds you of all the flat characters, and that includes “Javier Cercas”.

The unevenness, however, is part of the novel’s technique, each section and each character serves a certain purpose (oh the banalities I write. Please do excuse me.), and after the first section, dealing with the hunt for truth, and the second section, consisting of an account of the events, the third section is what makes Soldiers of Salamis a novel, and a good one at that. On the surface, Bolano serves as a sauce thickener of sorts, by virtue of dispensing advice to “Cercas” who has trouble finishing the novel. On a different level, the character of Bolano itself does the same job, the warmth of the description and the elements that the voice of Bolano allows Cercas to add, cause the whole construct, which hitherto never felt more than just that: a construct, to finally gel.

Notice, I barely mentioned the whole postmodern novel-within-the-novel conceit, it’s because Cercas isn’t very good at that game and the less said, the better. It does demonstrate one important thing, though. As a historian you may end up with a straight tale, after years of research and digging for truth. This tale represented by the middle section of Soldiers of Salamis. The novel enveloping that section stresses, however, that history is hard to pin down, that it is always elusive, forming both all the straight tales to come, as well as influencing the interpretation of adjacent events and figures. This novel is not so much about history as it is about historiography. It provides insights into how historical accounts are written and it does that in a remarkably readable way.

If you are interested in the Spanish Civil War and want a good and moving read which is better than its component parts, get the book. I was glad to have read it, yet I am not the least curious about any of his other books. That may convey you this reader’s impression best, I think. In sum, a cautious recommendation. Maybe it’s the contrast with Kertész’s novel I finished a few days before starting the Cercas. Kertész (review forthcoming) wrote a necessary novel, moving, brutal, vivacious. Cercas didn’t. He wrote a good one, which is rare enough these days. More power to him.

Love this Song (27)

Heard this twenty times today. May delete this later when I stop loving this. I still don’t like her delivery but this song hit me hard when I saw the video today. IT’s so well done, not just matters of gender but also race, power etc. Look closely. Not subtle but really great. And the song gets better as it progresses.

Ricks on Artists and Critics

Literary criticism – unlike, say, music criticism or art criticism – enjoys the advantage of existing in the same medium (language) as the art that it explores and esteems. This can give to literary criticism a delicacy and an inwardness that are harder to achieve elsewhere. But, at the same time, this may be why literary critics are given to competitive envy[.]

And then there is the age-old difficulty and problem of intention. Briefly: I believe that an artist is someone more than usually blessed with a cooperative unconscious or subconscious, more than usually able to effect things with the help of instincts and intuitions of which he or she is not necessarily conscious. Like the great athlete,the great artist is at once highly trained and deeply instinctual. I believe that Dylan is conscious of all the subtle effects of wording and timing that I suggest, I am perfectly happy to say that he probably isn’t. And if I’m right, then in this he is not less the artist but more.

from Christopher Ricks’ Dylan’s Visions of Sin


Es geht mir hierbei gar nicht um die Sache an sich, sondern um so Geschichen wie disfranchisement und so. Im Zusammenhang mit dem Islam in D gerade besonders eklig, jüngstes Beispiel, SPON berichtet über ein Kopftuchverbot an einer Düsseldorfer Schule:

“Wir leben in einem Land, das an christlichen und demokratischen Werten orientiert ist. Das Kopftuch wird von uns als Symbol der Unterdrückung der Frau und fehlender Gleichberechtigung betrachtet. (…) Wer unbedingt möchte, dass seine Tochter in der Schule ein Kopftuch trägt, sollte sich gut überlegen, ob die Anne-Frank-Realschule die richtige Schule für seine Weltanschauung und seine Tochter ist.”

und dann später im selben Artikel

Laut Bezirksregierung erklärte der Rektor, er habe bei berufsvorbereitenden Praktika seiner Schüler oft die Erfahrung gemacht, dass die Gesellschaft immer noch große Vorbehalte gegen Muslime mit Kopftüchern habe. Nur deshalb habe er die Schülerinnen ermutigen wollen, in Schule und Beruf auf das Kopftuch zu verzichten.

"Outrages à l’hymne national"

Wacky outrage in France. And note that it’s not necessarily the non-Frenchies doing the booing. Dude, here’s something German football fans should try. Boo the national hymn. I’ll come to that game.

Le gouvernement a affiché, mercredi 15 octobre, sa volonté de mettre à l’avenir immédiatement fin à un match en cas de sifflets contre la Marseillaise, au lendemain d’incidents avant France-Tunisie qui ont déclenché une tempête politique. Une telle mesure pourrait cependant être difficile à appliquer, ont averti des responsables du football mondial. “Il faut bien voir les modalités pratiques, avec 80 000 personnes à évacuer, ça peut poser problème”, a estimé William Gaillard del’UEFA.

Le président de la République, qui a jugé “scandaleux” que l’hymne national ait été copieusement sifflé mardi soir au Stade de France, a convoqué à l’Elysée mercredi matin le président de la Fédération française de football (FFF) Jean-Pierre Escalettes. Après cette réunion, la ministre des Sports, Roselyne Bachelot, a indiqué que tout match avant lequel la Marseillaise serait sifflée serait “immédiatement arrêté”, les ministres présents devant quitter le stade.

(…) Et le parquet de Bobigny a annoncé dans la soirée avoir ouvert une enquête préliminaire pour “outrages à l’hymne national”. L’enquête est confiée à la Brigade de répression de la délinquance contre la personne, dépendant de la préfecture de police de Paris. (…)

S’indignant de sifflets “irresponsables”, l’ambassadeur de Tunisie à Paris a (…) rappelé que les sifflets peuvent aussi être franco-français. En mai 2002, Jacques Chirac avait ainsi quitté momentanément le Stade de France, la Marseillaise ayant été sifflée notamment par des Bastiais, avant la finale de la Coupe de France Lorient-Bastia.

Nobelnews (1)

A comment on JMG Le Clézio’s Nobel win is forthcoming, but here’s a thing. Paul Krugman won the Nobel prize in Economics today. Although he was widely expected to win, it was still a pleasant surprise. One of these days I’ll delve a bit deeper into his books and remember those already read…I’ll comment more in-depth then, but in the meantime here is his column at the Ny Times.

Beer is obvious

In response to this, the following wonderful paragraph was emailed me by M. Majistral of tabula rasa, the best non-professional literature blog I know (I publish it with his assent):

I guessed as much (and I had seen the slogan on your blog in the past) but it was too tempting to comment on content (especially since I know people who say that). I can’t read German but I do sort of understand the simple words (ie those with some similarities to English or Dutch words) and truth be told “Nein, nein, das ist nicht der Kapitalismus” is not the hardest thing to get. It picqued my interest so I had a closer look. Bier was obvious, sagen too, Köpfe I knew from the Dutch Kop, abends from God knows were and jetzt from a friend from the german-speaking part of Belgium who used to have a sticker with “Ich Bums Jetzt Jeden Tag !”. I then bablefished the whole thing to put the pieces together — which confirmed my hinch regarding Börsianer. So you see that was a long winded process that should lead you to one conclusion: more than one simple sentence, I can’t read.

Paris Confidential: On Ariel Dorfman’s “Konfidenz”

Dorfman, Ariel (2003), Konfidenz, Dalkey Archive
ISBN 1-56478-293-X
[Original Publication: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995]

Konfidenz. The title sounds German, the author’s name vaguely German as well, yet neither novel nor writer are. Ariel Dorfman is a Chilean writer living and teaching in the US. He is most famous for the play “Death and the Maiden” which was turned into a movie by no less a genius than Roman Polanski. Konfidenz is his 4th novel, published in 1995, written in English. And it’s strange, strange. I have read it once all the way through (well, it’s a short novel) and reread several portions of it, and I still fell unable to decide whether it’s a great or horrible novel. The writing is usually a good sign, but not here. I’ll return to why this is the case.

At the center of the novel is a telephone conversation between a woman in a Paris hotel room and an unknown man who watches her from across the street, unbeknownst to her. It starts off as a thriller, along the lines of a ‘cat-and-mouse’ game. The reader is never apprised of the solution to what appears to be a riddle. During the conversation details are revealed, by and by. We learn who the woman is and get told who the man is and whence he knows her. Apparently he is a forger, lending his services to a clandestine organization, writing fake letters, constructing alibies, like these new agencies constructing an alibis for cheaters. The last person’s alibi he constructed and buttressed by forged letters was the unknown woman’s husband’s. This means he knows all sorts of details, enough to warrant saying that he knows her.

This may sound pretty straightforward with a plot we’re used to from many other genre texts. It’s written in a plain language, unadorned to the point of becoming repetitive. These are not rhythmical repetitions or anything, they rather read like repetitions borne from a severely limited vocabulary. The language is functional, not the least musical and, as I said, very repetitive. The novel is ‘saved’ by several intriguing inserts, reminiscent of Paul Auster (who is a similarly ungifted stylist), with two men watching each other, One of them is the one having the telephone conversation, the other one is just spying on him. Clearly he knows his subject well. Is he from the resistance movement, too? Has he been at this long? He never undertakes action, and later, when his actions are required, he recuses himself from that responsibility.

Still, even with these inserts, the first half of the novel appears to be pretty simple, promising genre appropriate surprises or something along these lines. The reader is kept guessing. Who watches whom, what’s up with the woman and is something wrong with her husband? And then the novel just implodes. The french police breaks up the conversation, and grueling police questionings ensue. In a way this accelerates the process of revelation as explanations follow upon explanations. Now, however, the crux: they are contradicting each other. The conversation itself was already replete with non-sequiturs, and odd ideas and coincidents. Now we are up against completely different versions of the truth and we, the reader come to agree with a character who says:

You know – I couldn’t care less if you’re telling the truth or of this is all just a gigantic tall tale.

Or several tall tales. And the further the story progresses the more the reader seconds another character’s thought:

It’s useless … there’s nothing you can do. Nothing you can do, that is, but ask why.

Why all these stories? Why the confusion? The why is not to be found in the stories themselves. This is not a detective novel – remember McHale’s explication of the modern/postmodern divide? – the genre elements are a red herring. The key is found in the settings, 1930s France and a concentration camp. The Shoah is not an easy tale to tell, as we have known for quite a while. It’s not just Felman’s “crises of witnessing”, I’d say Dorfman’s novel takes its consequences from Levi’s “here there is no why” and what McHale correctly analyzed as a shift in literary sensibilities.

The detective caper and traditional narrative logic is at odds with what needs to be told. A synonym of the title is ‘trust’ and Konfidenz‘s suggestion is that maybe we should not put our trust in the usual, conventional stories. The forger protagonist, after all, constructed fake stories intended to fool close relatives, people who are hard to fool. The success of his forgery depended, yes, on his skill as an imitator of a person’s handwriting and writing style, but at least to an equal extent on the fact that people do not mistrust letters written by their husbands and wives. Letters as genres are allotted a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. There are things you do not expect from letters from people you know. Same goes for detective stories. The title just emphasizes the distrust towards conventional stories Dorfman says is needed.

Needed not just because of a general linguistic fraudulence we are beset by as a culture and as members of a society, but because the Shoah clearly showed us the limits of our old ways to tell a story. Writers like Semprun demonstrated how fragile ‘truth’ in this context can be, and that you may be well advised to approach this truth from several ‘untruths’ first. Truth may turn out to be the dark hole in the middle of the web of storytelling. Telling the truth in a straightforward manner may distort it, hide it behind the intricate folds of convention or fancy language (hence, maybe, the bare-bones language in the novel). Konfidenz is another novel that shows how to circumvent this, how to repair storytelling, how to restore its power. A power that’s needed in order to learn from the past so that what happened once will never, never happen again.

"Hope is the thing with feathers"

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

– Emily Dickinson

Verwirrung am Markt

Zu einem schreiend komischen Interview mit dem Haushaltsexperten der FDP-Bundestagsfraktion, Jürgen Koppelin, (lesenswert), schreibt Sebastian bei alarmschrei

Andererseits stelle man sich mal vor, es ist Markt, und keiner kommt hin. Ich werde mich jedenfalls demnächst nicht mehr über »Der Straßenverkehr läuft wie geschmiert, die Leute fahren nur wie Sau«, »Die Artenvielfalt ist nicht bedroht, die Viecher sterben einfach weg« und »Der Krieg ist sauber, es sind die Generäle, die den Arsch offen haben« wundern.

Und dabei kann man den Markt jedenfalls teils tatsächlich verteidigen, die subprime loans waren ja echt nicht ein Problem des Marktes (der ganze andere Mist aber schon), aber dazu kommt Herr Koppelin in seinem überforderten Köpfchen nicht mehr. (via)


But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face. The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or something horrid. Look at the successful men in any of the learned professions. How perfectly hideous they are! Except, of course, in the Church. But then in the Church they don’t think. A bishop keeps on saying at the age of eighty what he was told to say when he was a boy of eighteen, and as a natural consequence he always looks absolutely delightful.

from Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray

Look! A Monkey!

I am thinking about how to phrase/frame a certain issue when this post @ Girls read Comics caught my eye, expounding on the same issue:

The aftermath has included some excellent discussions […].

It has also included numerous fascinating examples of that amusing phenomena I like to call “Look! A monkey!” wherein someone will defend something they or someone else has said, not on the grounds that the thing itself is defensible, but because this person has done or said other things that were laudable. Or has acted in support of the group that they have now pissed off. Or in the most egregious examples, have a girlfriend/black friend/gay brother/transgender roommate/Jewish teacher, so it is totally unfair to call them out on the misogynistic/racist/heterosexist/transphobic/anti-Semitic thing that they have just said.

This is a good person and you are hurting their feelings! Stop taking this out of context of the rest of their lives! Can’t you concentrate on the positive? LOOK: A MONKEY.