#tddl: Germany’s Next Literary Idol, 2019 edition.

If you follow me on twitter, you’ll see a deluge of tweets this week from Thursday to Saturday under the hashtag #tddl, let me explain.

I will be live-tweeting the strangest of events from my little book cave. Read on for Details on the event in general, what happened in the past years and what’s happening this year. CLICK here if you want to read a summary of Day One.

So what is happening?

Once a year, something fairly unique happens in Klagenfurt, Austria. On a stage, a writer will read a 25-minute long prose(ish) text, which can be a short story, an excerpt from a novel, or just an exercise in playfulness. All of the texts have to be unpublished, all have to be originally written in German (no translations). Also on stage: 9 to 7 literary critics who, as soon as the writer finishes reading, will immediately critique the text they just heard (and read; they have paper copies). Sometimes they are harsh, sometimes not, frequently they argue among each other. The writer has to sit at his desk for the whole discussion, without being allowed a voice in it. This whole thing is repeated 18 to 14 times over the course of three days. On the fourth day, 4-5 prizes are handed out, three of them voted on by the critics (again, votes that happen live on stage), one voted on by the public. All of this is transmitted live on public TV and draws a wide audience.

This, a kind of “German language’s next (literary) Idol” setup, is an actually rather venerable tradition that was instituted in 1977. It’s referred to as the “Bachmannpreis”, an award created in memory of the great Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann, who was born in Klagenfurt. The whole week during which the award is competed for and awarded is referred to as the “Tage der deutschsprachigen Literatur” (the days of German-language literature). Since 1989, the whole competition, including all the readings and all the judges’ arguments are shown on live TV, before, the public was only shown excerpts. The writers in question are not usually unknowns, nor are they usually heavyweights. They are usually more or less young writers (but they don’t have to be).

So what happened in the past years?

The 2016 winner was British expat writer Sharon Dodua Otoo (here’s my review of some of her fiction), who read a text that was heads and shoulders above the sometimes lamentable competition. And you know what, the German judges were still slightly upset about it the following year, which explains why 2017’s best writer by a country mile, John Wray, didn’t win. It’s the revenge of the Bratwurst. The 2017 winner, Ferdinand Schmalz, was…solid. A good example of the performance based nature of the event – having one effective text can win you the pot. It was overall not, you know, ideal.

Given the issues with race in 2016 and 2017, it was interesting that the 2018 lineup skewed even whiter and much more German. It was thus no surprise that the best text, a brilliant reckoning with Germany’s post-reunification history of violence, Özlem Dündar’s text in four voices, did not win. But the overall winner, Tanja Maljartschuk, a Ukrainian novelist, produced a very good text, and was a very deserving winner. And Raphaela Edelbauer (whose brilliant book Entdecker I reviewed here) also won an award. Three out of five ain’t bad folks, particular with people like Michael Wiederstein in the jury.

So what’s happening this year?

Michael Wiederstein is a bit of a caricature, it seems to me. I noted his invitee Verena Dürr and the dubious discussion of her text back in 2017 (go read it here), and this year he really, REALLY brought his F game. In the most dubious field of writers since I started writing about the award, he made the…ah, just the most exquisitely bad choice of all. His invitee, Tom Kummer is famous. Now and then there’s a famous writer – John Wray is an example. Tom Kummer isn’t famous for being a good writer. Tom Kummer is famous for being a plagiarist. Caught not once, but multiple times. For falsifying interviews first. For cobbling together texts from his own and others’ older texts. For falsifying quotes and using incorrect details. He was given chance after chance after chance.

German and Swiss tastemakers have decreed: this man deserves more chances. He is precious. He is our gonzo hero. The usually very good Philip Theisohn called Kummer’s elegy to his deceased wife – like all of his work of questionable originality – “moving.” What it is, most of all, is fucking awfully written. There’s a bad tendency in German literature to look at some American writers – Thompson, Salter, Hemingway – and see their simplicity as simple. All of this is facilitated by translation, of course. I love Hunter Thompson’s work. Thompson was a fantastic writer. Not always, not in all of his texts, but his stylistic sharpness and moral clarity are rare in literature. Philip Theisohn cites Kummer’s admiration of Thompson in writing that “Kummer, the last real gonzo, was led by the conviction that a world of lies doesn’t deserve truth either, only more lies, which led to his infamous fake interviews in Hollywood.” – #1 there are still New Journalist writers out there, and the masculinist veneration of “Gonzo” has always been suspect to begin with. and #2, if you ever read Thompson with dedication and care – he primarily cares about the truth. Post 1974-Thompson is a bit complicated in his approach to the self in his work, but the use of fictionalized self, and using your own perspective as a distortion to better see the truth has a profoundly moral impetus with Thompson, whatever other faults he had (he had a lot) – there’s none of that in Kummer, and even Theisohn knows better than to claim otherwise. Kummer, his deceptions, his toying with truth and originality never had a goal beyond the celebration of one Tom Kummer. This navelgazing white masculinity is all too common in literature, and at least half of the TDDL field often suffers from that; and Michael Wiederstein, the juror, is the perfect embodiment of this white male navelgazing element in German literary culture. Da wächst zusammen was zusammen gehört.

The rest of the field is also a bit dubious. Among the writers I have read in preparation, Ines Birkhan is very original but very bad, Andrea Gerster and Yannic Han Biao Federer seem flat and dull. Lukas Meschik is prolific, somewhat interesting, but boring. And then there are the three writers I have the highest hopes for. Ronya Othmann and Katharina Schultens are very good poets – Othmann in particular writes exceedingly well and should be immediately seen as a favorite, based on potential. And there’s Sarah Wipauer, who has not published very widely, but she has a blog here which contains short, exquisite prose, and I have read texts unpublished on- or offline, which are similarly exquisite. Wipauer, Othmann and Schultens, in my opinion, lead the field here, by quite a solid margin.

I have misgivings about the field! And yet…I cannot help but be excited. Follow along! There’s a livestream! You can also read the texts during the competition here. So here’s the full list, which I posted below, sorted by reading days/slots. You’ll see the whole thing kicks off with two of my favorites on day one, in the two first slots.

10.00 Katharina Schultens
11.00 Sarah Wipauer
12.00 Silvia Tschui
13.30 Julia Jost
14.30 Andrea Gerster

10.00 Yannic Han Biao Federer
11.00 Ronya Othmann
12.00 Birgit Birnbacher
13.30 Daniel Heitzler
14.30 Tom Kummer

10.00 Ines Birkhan
11.00 Leander Fischer
12.30 Lukas Meschik
13.30 Martin Beyer


Below is my list of all my posts about this year’s award:

#tddl: Germany’s Next Literary Idol, 2019 edition.
#tddl, Day One: Holes In Space
#tddl, Day Two: A Privilege Sandwich
#tddl, Day Three: Mollusks and Nazis


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

Wishful Thinking

Someone declares the death of canons again.

The idea of a “canon” is in tatters. A canon needs an established cultural authority, and there is no guiding authority in culture anymore. There are no real gatekeepers. […] So, with the collapse of the canon we’re a little bit lost, drifting amidst a sea of cultural troubles. But we’re also freer. The entire cultural landscape gets freshened up. We get to look at things anew and decide if we really do like them, and why. We step out from under the thumb of an authority that, for all its usefulness, often seemed arbitrary and authoritative merely for authority’s sake. There was power — too much power maybe — lurking inside the canon, with its terrible weapon of exclusion. That power has faded away. We’re alone again, confronting the world like children, barbarian children with only a few tattered and mutually contradictory maps to assist us.

Someone apparently hopes that this was true, which it’s patently not, but the death of canons (yes there’s an ‘s’) has been declared for several decades as the end of art has been declared for two centuries (Geulen’s treatise is helpful reading on that). In this case it’s accompanied by a severe case of political naivete, which is not less political for being about ‘culture’. People who think they are in an ideology-free zone, with fully emancipated individuals are sometimes cute, but mostly annoying. It tends to given even the nice and smart ones free reign to condone atrociously racist behaviour. Tiresome. Annoying. I’m out.

Simple Mistake

So if you’re a young and ambitious literary scholar, you could do worse than to learn something about modern psychology and linguistics, especially those concepts and techniques that can easily be applied to texts.

sayeth Liberman, who, as we already know, has the literary sensibility of that mug of coffee right there. And yes, it can be done. Doesn’t mean it should be. I can take a dump on my computer right now. Doesn’t mean I should. Simple Mistake.

Where have all the standards gone…

Oh, well done, folks, well done. The James Merrill Writer-in-Residence Program apparently offered the job to a Mr. Pjotr Gwiazda, whose book I called “exasperatingly bad” (we will not even mention his poetry). Good thing then, that the man who, according to McClatchy, insisted on his biography being written not by a homosexual, is now commemorated by a fool who wrote a whole damn book about Merrill’s homosexuality, basing his whole flimsy argument on that fact, practically wiping his arse with the man’s poems in the process. Whatever he’s going to do in that quaint house, he’s not going to “complete a project of literary or academic merit”, going by his past ‘accomplishments’. Oh, James.


As an old Plath fanboy I found this post on bookslut wonderfully correct and beautiful.

There were two kinds of ancient Celtic poets: bards, who learned songs and stories and recited them, minstrel-style, and filid. The fili were visionary poet-magicians. Like bards, they memorized ancient stories and lore, and wrote eulogies and satires. A bard’s satire was just a poem, but a fili’s satire was both poetry and magic. It was a curse, and if a poet sang a satire about you, it would hurt you or sicken you. It was no small thing to anger, betray or disrespect a poet.

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) was the premier satirist of postwar American girlhood, but that isn’t the only reason her work is so great. She was a lyric poet, unafraid of verse and the beauty, power and menace it can convey. We’re unlucky enough to live in an era when “no rhyming poetry” is a submission guideline for any number of bloodless literary journals, as if Plath and Eliot and Brodsky never existed. There’s a link between rhythm and power in poetry, and Sylvia Plath’s creepy nursery rhyme rhythms and refrains stay with you, viscerally, emotionally, like a comfortless lullaby in a frightening childhood.

Perloff Schmerloff

Interview from 2006

But on the whole, poets-as-reviewers are too biased; they have their agenda. To assign Charles Bernstein’s poetry to Glyn Maxwell, as the Times Literary Supplement did, is to ask for a negative review, and a snide one at that. The converse is also true: when Robert Pinsky is asked to review, say, Czeslav Milocz, he is obviously going to treat the Polish Nobel Prize winner, with whom he worked at Berkeley, with veneration. So one hardly gets an objective view. But I wouldn’t mind the lack of objectivity so much, if the reviewer were well informed and that’s too often not the case.

The nadir of reviewing, these days, is the New York Times Book Review. A recent issue carried a review of Elias Canetti’s posthumous The Party In The Blitz, the fifth installment of his autobiography, partly in note and diary form. I reviewed it for Bookforum, and found it to be fascinating. The Times gave the book to the notoriously snide, clever British (originally Australian) Clive James, a “big name”. I found his review almost libelous. He called Canetti a “twerp” and made fun of him. It was a case of THE REVENGE OF THE BRITS against a book by a Central European who dared criticize some of them. What a choice for reviewer!

Because, you see, Perloff is right and if James, whom I don’t particularly like myself, although he can be somewhat amusing, doesn’t agree with that he’s wrong. As easy as that. Because, you know, literary critics don’t have an agenda, why else would it make sense mentioning the poets’ agenda. Because, you see, Perloff’s proliferate output doesn’t show a clear bias every step of the way. No, wait…

Perloff Schmerloff

Interview from 2006

But on the whole, poets-as-reviewers are too biased; they have their agenda. To assign Charles Bernstein’s poetry to Glyn Maxwell, as the Times Literary Supplement did, is to ask for a negative review, and a snide one at that. The converse is also true: when Robert Pinsky is asked to review, say, Czeslav Milocz, he is obviously going to treat the Polish Nobel Prize winner, with whom he worked at Berkeley, with veneration. So one hardly gets an objective view. But I wouldn’t mind the lack of objectivity so much, if the reviewer were well informed and that’s too often not the case.

The nadir of reviewing, these days, is the New York Times Book Review. A recent issue carried a review of Elias Canetti’s posthumous The Party In The Blitz, the fifth installment of his autobiography, partly in note and diary form. I reviewed it for Bookforum, and found it to be fascinating. The Times gave the book to the notoriously snide, clever British (originally Australian) Clive James, a “big name”. I found his review almost libelous. He called Canetti a “twerp” and made fun of him. It was a case of THE REVENGE OF THE BRITS against a book by a Central European who dared criticize some of them. What a choice for reviewer!

Because, you see, Perloff is right and if James, whom I don’t particularly like myself, although he can be somewhat amusing, doesn’t agree with that he’s wrong. As easy as that. Because, you know, literary critics don’t have an agenda, why else would it make sense mentioning the poets’ agenda. Because, you see, Perloff’s proliferate output doesn’t show a clear bias every step of the way. No, wait…

"Good Female Fiction"

Ludicrousness at ABC, in this NY Times article

Kendall Hart “is a very aspirational character for women,” Mr. Frons said. “She’d come from a trailer park and had built up a cosmetics company, and we felt that was the stuff of good female fiction.”

Y’know. Not good writing or useless stuff like that. Asprational Characters. Right-o.

Postmodern Poetry

1. Modernism.

1.1. What We Won’t Talk About

In discussions of Postmodernism, three aspects in particular keep turning up which are of no or only of passing interest to the present text. One of these aspects is the one pursued in Jameson’s approach to the problem of the postmodern. Jameson claims that a purely literary approach to the postmodern cannot possibly work, as all the characteristics of postmodern literature were already present in certain modernist tendencies. The salient feature for a periodization is contained in the “gesellschaftliche Standort” (Jameson 48) of these branches of Post-/Modernism, which means that in order to distinguish the Postmodernism of two authors with similar styles we have to take into account the position of these within their respective society. Differences arise from changes and shifts within the society, in other words, the meaning of these styles changes.

Jameson’s theory is not useful for this text, because the break in Delmore Schwartz’s poetry took place when WW II as still ongoing and major changes in society had not yet taken place. It’s true that Schwartz lived and wrote for about twenty years in post-war America, but judging from the few published books of verse, there is no textual evidence for a break in his work after WW II which might be due to a Jamesonian phenomenon. There are breaks, as we will see, but they are due to other, personal rather than public, events.

The second aspect involves the postmodern as conceived of by McLuhan and the dawning of the “electric age” (Brown 7; cf. Brown 2ff.), it is unusable on account of Schwartz’s total disinterest in the new media. The third aspect distinguishes between various ‘waves’ of Postmodernism “auf einer historisch beschreibenden Ebene” (Huyssen 17), classifying different sorts of Postmodernisms as they emerged one by one. This approach is of no interest to us because Schwartz’s poetry belongs to a time when Postmodernism had not yet gone through more than one phase, when it was still Post-modernism (cf. n.3).

Moreover, there are certain aspects of Modernism which have been highlighted by late varieties of postmodern theory, such as queer (cf. Nelson 86) or gender studies (cf. 84), or studies concerned with race (cf. 87ff.). These are issues that would invite close readings of Schwartz’s texts and distract from the main issue in the present paper, which revolves around the problem of periodization.

This is not to say that we can entirely dispense with postmodernist readings of Modernism, as we should not forget that an approach to that period is not possible except through the -possibly distorted- lens of Postmodernism, as the former is inextricably “bound up with postmodernist wrangling” (Goldman 8, see also Pütz 56).

1.2. “The Poem of the Mind”

In order not to get too caught up in this ‘wrangling’, it might be helpful to consult some of the early post-war criticism: one of the most famous texts, The Continuity of American Poetry, posits the existence of “a series of basic poetic styles” (Pearce 12) and of a continuous “twin impulse” (6) in American poetry, torn between freedom and community (cf. 5f.). What, then, might the ‘basic poetic style’ of Modernism be? Even a cursory overview of the period will provide an idea of the difficulties posed by this question.

Not only are as disparate a group of poets as Eliot, Pound, Stevens and Yeats considered modernist poets, lately, emphasis has been put on the “short-lived […] avant-garde phase of Modernism” (Perloff, The “New” Poetics, 3). These groups are stylistically diverse and hard to combine under the banners of ‘freedom’and ‘community’[i]. Yet the basic styles are “given to a poet to […] accommodate to his sense of the possibilities […] for living life fully in his culture” (Pearce 13). We will see that there truly is a twin impulse in modernistic Amercan poetry, yet the two opposites have been accommodated to the culture of Modernism.

The present paper will take as its starting point the “preoccupation with ‘external reality'” (Dembo 1), the “awareness that stable patterning is absent from the external world” (Keller 10) which took different forms within Modernism. I will start out with Wallace Stevens and his quest for “The magnificent cause of being / The imagination, the one reality / In this imagined world” (Stevens 25). Even though Stevens wrote his share of long poems, his way to deal with the “exterior boundary between the world of the poem and reality” (McHale, “Postmodernist Lyric”, 26) only rarely extended to “structural organization [as] a way of knowing” (Bloom, American Poetry, 7), which makes him stand out in the company of his fellow modernists Pound, Stein or Eliot[ii].

Instead he resorted to a highly poetological poetry[iii], and endeavored to describe the difference between “things as they are” (Stevens 165) and what happens to them in the hands of the poet: “Things as they are are / Are changed upon the blue guitar.” (165) The important idea here is the distinction between reality and the imagination, and the difficulty of distinguishing the two, the imagination being “the one reality / In this imagined world” (25). If it is to cope with these difficulties, the modern poem has to be a “poem of the mind” (239), or, as Auden put it, a “painstaking adaption [from] Life to Art” (Auden 181). Poetry became “a cognitive tool” (McHale, “Postmodernist Lyric”, 24) for understanding reality.

Consequently, concepts arose of a ‘purification’ of reality, which could be achieved through the act of transcending subjectivity (cf. Dembo 3). The Objectivists in particular wanted “all associational or sentimental value [to] be dropped from verse” (Ruland and Bradbury 241). This, however, is not a concept that applies to all of Modernist poetry or even to most of it. Not only did Auden, one of the leading High Modernists, write lines such as “I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong” (Auden 141) but also within bulwarks of Modernism such as The Waste Land there are passages that are moving precisely because they seem to be intensely personal such as: “These fragments I have shored against my ruins” (Eliot 39, l. 430)[iv].

1.3. Fragments of Modernism

1.3.1. The Difficulties of Fragments

This is not, however, the only instance of Modernism presenting a very disparate image at one and the same time. The “brokenness of modernist poetry” (Keller 258) seems to extend to the period as a whole, one might call it symptomatic. In the present paragraph we will examine another major disagreement within the modernist canon, which is the attitude towards tradition and technique. Auden attacked the Sonnett and “viewed Romanticism as leading to fascism” (Perkins 9) and, at the same time, he wrote the “Sonnets from China” (cf. Auden 183-195). Pound “constantly advocated renewal of language” and at the same time he “returned frequently to […] forms [of the Past]” (both: Strand and Boland 41).

As to compositional technique: some Modernists tried to mirror the fragmentation of the world in a poetry of fragments (cf. Keller 258), but the same poets, Pound being one of them, turned to music for “a model for […] a non-material harmony and coherence” (Bucknell 1) and attempted to create “controlling patterns” (Keller 10), for example the structure of The Cantos or the structure of The Waste Land; or a mythical superstructure, suggesting “a mythic timelessness” (Bell 15), an instance of which might be Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium” (cf. Yeats 163f.).

Similarities, on the other hand, can be found in the modernist tendency of a “reification of poetic techniques” (Blasing 3), which means the belief of the correspondence between free verse and a free spirit or, conversely, a ‘reactionary’ form and a reactionary attitude. Even if modernist vers libre-writers take recurse to more traditional forms, these texts draw attention to them precisely because they are a rarity in these poets’ oeuvres. This heavy-handed attitude towards tradition seems to me a very characteristic attitude of Early and High Modernism[v].

Another similarity devolves from something that might be seen as another major disagreement within Modernism and concerns one of the two ontological dimensions of the poetic text, as outlined by McHale. He claims that “[p]oetry […] has a dual ontology, […] a two-world ontological organization” (McHale, “Postmodernist Lyric”, 22; his italics) one concerning the exterior boundary of the poem, between the poem and the world. The other one concerns the interior boundary, to which we will turn now, which runs between the opposing pair of textual surface and the “ideational structure of the text, its ‘meaning'” (22).

According to Perloff, avant-garde writers such as Gertrude Stein emphasize composition over representation (cf. Perloff, The “New” Poetics, 54) and thus “impel the reader to participate” (25f.), a poetics Perloff calls “literalism”. A closer look reveals, though, that Stein actually explicitly repudiates the concept of literalism (cf. Keller 8f.) and that literalism, as described by Perloff, can also be found in the conceptions of New Criticism, specifically in the concept of the “heresy of paraphrase” (Keller 9). This leads to what the modernists all have in common, that is the shelving of the question of interior ontology in favor of the epistemological function of poetry, which concerns the exterior boundary (cf. the discussion of Stevens earlier).

1.3.2. Resolving the Difficulties

One might end here and state the difficulties of describing the “basic poetic style” (Pearce 12) of Modernism, as Modernism and modernist poets seem to be so divided over so many issues, with similarities turning up only rarely. Yet the major disagreements, between personalism and impersonalism and between tradition and the urge to Make It New, can be resolved without having to resort to some higher dominion such as ‘society’.

The question of tradition has been resolved to some extent by Harold Bloom[vi] by pointing out the problem of influence in the creative act, and the “desperate insistence” (13), ultimately futile, of the creative mind to be free of influence, which results in an anxiety. This tension perfectly describes the tension in modernist poetry. On the one hand, there is no denying the heavy influence of romantic poets such as Swinburne and Browning on the early poetry of Pound and Eliot (cf. Ruland and Bradbury 215), even less the massive influence of Whitman[vii] on vast parts of modernist poetry (cf. Trachtenberg 195). On the other hand, there is in early modernist poetry, equally undeniable, an impulse towards a new kind of writing, free from tradition. Taking our lead from Bloom, we can see that the urge towards the new, the “questing for fire” (Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence, 79) is eclipsed by the flood of tradition, which, in the end, is inescapable and accordingly turns up in the poetry of Modernism, too. This explains the long poems which amass references and quotations from the realm of tradition: they are an attempt to coerce the inevitable into new forms, an attempt at containing history, that which “they found in the post-bag” (Pound 41), in complicated structures such as The Cantos or The Waste Land, and thus overcoming influence[viii].

As to the question of subjectivity and impersonality, this time the solution devolves from the very principles employed by the modernist poets: it is true that much of Modernist poetry tends towards impersonality and towards “a certain neutrality of description” (Nelson 68). It is incontestable, too, that personal lines slip regularly in between the poetry. These two facts do not have to be incompatible, though, as both tendencies overlap in the area of the individual mind. The main thrust of Modernist poetry, as we saw, proposes a “poem of the mind” (239), which imposes order on a world without order. The focaliser for this process, in other words, is the individual mind, but for modern poetry, the individual mind is fraught with weaknesses, the poetry is “a tune beyond us as we are” (Stevens 167), therefore there exists an urge towards some higher ordering principle[ix], whether it be myth or the idea of an ‘impersonal subject’[x].

Thus, when writing ‘impersonally’, the modernist poets have not left the sphere of the individual mind yet, but split it into an objective, impersonal part, the ‘mind’, and a subjective part, which they declared superfluous. Yet the writing of poetry cannot be divorced from this subjective part, as it is us, who “choose to play / The imagined pine, the imagined jay” (184). Hence, the modern poem projects both aspects of the writing subject, yet it cannot own up to the coexistence of these two aspects. This results in a tension, a tension at least as intense as the tension between tradition and the new.

All these tensions practically ‘produced’ the poetry of Modernism, as every major development of that period can be seen as a way to cultivate a style capable of overcoming these difficulties. The major development was the ideology of the mot juste, of “the potential exactitude of words or metaphors” (Keller 255), the view of the “poetic language as incarnational” (Blasing 9). If language is exact, the question of how to separate the objective part of the mind from the subjective or tradition from the genuinely new basically become a question of penmanship. You only have to write it right in order to succeed. The major developments of modernist poetry follow logically from this approach, the structures being merely a special way of arranging words. The huge amount of innovative modernist poetry is due to the tensions, which made modernist writing so difficult on the writers.

1.3.3. The End

These tensions surely belong among the ” basic poetic styles” (Pierce 12) of Modernism. They are the “twin impulse[s]” (6) of modernist poetry and an impulse always implies a direction. Where postmodern poetry will have a multitude of impulses, which propel it in many directions at once, Modernism has two kinds of twin impulses, but they do not combine. Between the two opposites modernist poetry had to escape in the only direction possible: forward. It had to, in order to not get caught between Scylla and Charybdis. When one of the most perceptive readers of his period, Randall Jarrell, declared the end of Modernism, he wrote that Modernism had already “exhausted” its means (cf. Jarrell 259), an exhaustion the tensions and that curious dynamic obviously played a major role in.

Modernism yielded to its tensions, “all [the] romantic tendencies [were] exploited to their limits” (Jarrell 259). There came a point when this system of tensions which produced so many great poems did not produce more, because “Modernism is a limit” (259). A limit comprised by the two-dimensionality of its approach, which translated into a dynamic movement in one direction only, trying to be ‘more’: “more violent, more disorganized, more obscure, more -supply your own adjective-” (259). Until there was no ‘more’ to be had, and Modernism ended. Yet 1942, the year Jarrell wrote his essay, the New Criticism was fully under way.

1.4. The New Criticism

1.4.1. Making it Better

The New Criticism[xi], finally, is the last stage of Modernism. The New Critical poets strove to Make It Better, writing in a “densely structured [style], crammed with learned allusions, witty metaphors [and] verbal ambiguities” (Breslin 17). They were mainly influenced by Eliot, not by his style, but by his “set of attitudes and values” (15), his “wrestling to find the mot juste” (Perloff, 21st-Century Modernism, 159), which, as we saw earlier, had in some way been present throughout the whole of Modernism. In New Criticism, this notion resulted in the “well-wrought poem” (Keller 260).

Remembering the conclusions of the previous part, one might wonder how the New Criticism fits with the basic styles of Modernism, even whether it should be considered a modernist phase at all. After all, the theory of the New Criticism reigned over academic discourse on poetry until well into the 1970s, but most accounts of Modernism end at 1940 at the latest (cf. Goldman 21). However, it is hard to seriously indicate when the inception of Modernism takes place (cf. Riha 19), so why should it be different at the other end of the period[xii]?

If New Critical poetry ist to be modern in this paper’s reading of Modernism, it must display the same tensions as high-modernist poetry did, but the abovementioned allusions seem to be indicative of a freer relationship to tradition, as influence and predecessors become an integral part of poetry. New Critical poetry existed “[t]hroughout its whole career in an intellectual symbiosis with a school of critics” (Perkins 76). Through books on the ‘right’ way to read a poem, the New Critics both told the readers where and how to look for the allusions and imposed the allusions upon the writers. In this fashion, “a narrow orthodoxy had evolved” (Keller 260), a system far more closed than High Modernism.

This system, however, turns out to be just one more way to deal with the modernist tensions, as there is no freedom in the relation to tradition to be had: there is one proscribed way to deal with it and there are no alternatives allowed. Whereas the modernist ideal was a self-proscribed one, this one is imposed, more often than not, by an elite group of theoreticians on the large body of American poets, by usurping the categories of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Furthermore, the New Critical ideology comes with a whole system of rewards and punishments: inclusion into the American Canon or total exclusion from the academia.

1.4.2. Canonizing Modernism

The New Critics were the first to provide a cogent definition of poetry in the “institutional history of English departments” (Golding 71), so even though the dawn of New Criticism broke slowly, in the end it conquered academia, as it had nearly no serious theoretical competition on university grounds all around the country (cf. Perkins 6). This meant that they were also the first to really establish a canon of American poetry accepted throughout the United States. In light of the fact that “criticism creates or preserves canons” (Golding 75), the New Criticism was well equipped to carve its canon out of the bulk of American poetry, and in doing so created the parameters that decide which future texts can be included and which cannot be (wertungskanon?), it also revised the past, that is tradition, by emphasizing those lines of influence that they deemed good and healthy.

This canon, revolving around the idea of the good, that is, well-crafted poem, has of course changed, since what we today see as the Canon (with a capital ‘c’) includes much that was not included by the New Critics, i.e. Pound and Sandburg. These were re-introduced by later generations, who revised the Canon by re-defining ‘well-crafted’ and in this way included several other strands of tradition. Either poets that were completely revived after the war, such as Pound, or alternative canons, which developed in little magazines, such as Olson’s “Origin” and were later canonized (cf. Golding 114), or the alternative canons of women’s writing as well as African-American literature. These inclusions, though, represent exceptions to the rule rather than a change of rule (cf. Matthews 13).

2. Postmodernism

2.1. “Many Things At Once”

In the 1960’s, Postmodernism was suddenly there, unmistakably different from what was known as Modernism and it was “practically from the start, many things at once” (Bertens 4). As I have indicated at the beginning of the chapter on Modernism, it is not very helpful to talk about postmodern culture, as the results of such a discussion would not be readily applicable to Delmore Schwartz’s poetry. Instead, I will pursue certain lines of tradition and influence that show what Postmodernism was, which forms it took. In other words I will be talking about the actual poetry.

Following up the idea that “Postmodernism follows from Modernism […] more than it follows after Modernism” (McHale, Postmodernist Fiction, 5; italics are his) we can see that whatever forms post-modern poetry took in the 1950’s, it was nearly always a reaction to Modernism in its last incarnation, New Criticism. This style was dominating the idea of ‘literariness’ in poetry to such an extent that, in order to be able to work free from New Critical pressure, one of these new poets, Ginsberg had to deny his own literariness[xiii] on the one hand (cf. Breslin 55) and his immediate predecessors in poetry; he did the latter by constructing his heritage from prose modernists as Dos Passos and the ubiquitous Whitman[xiv] (cf. Ruland and Bradbury 327). Yet as many faces as Modernism had, Postmodernism has a similar amount of those. So many, in fact, that it is still uncertain which poet of the 1950’s is post-modern and which is merely late late modernist.

2.2. Against Form, Against Sense

2.2.1. Experimental Postmodernism or…

One group of poets that was nearly immediately recognized as postmodernist, once the theorization of Postmodernism was under way, were the experimental poets, Ashbery, O’Hara, the Black Mountain poets and others. Critics recognized that the new poetry “cho[se] to live on the frontiers of language” (Stepanchev 1), that it was “anti-symbolist” (207) and “presenting unmediated experience” (Breslin 55). Poets such as Ashbery “ha[ve] little of the modernists’ faith in the […] exactitude of words” (Keller 255), something that becomes clear when we compare Ashbery’s long, sometimes rambling poems with the tense exactitude of The Waste Land, or O’Hara’s detailed impressions that are not “exemplary and stable” (Keller 256) as are the details in modernist poetry. This new poetry celebrates “a world governed by randomness” (256): “arbitrariness is foregrounded” (McHale, “Postmodernis Lyric”, 29). Some strains of postmodernist poetry invents devices in order not to fall for the same tensions as modernist poetry, “textual machines” (26) for instance, which eliminate the subjective part of the mind completely and transfer the objective part to a machine-like device. They lead a “rebellion against form” (Bawer 127) and do not submit to “the commands of sense” (Perloff, The “New” Poetics, 164). This list could go on for pages.

The equation of postmodern poetry with experimental poetry has been so persistent that a book such as the Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Poetry features only experimental poets. Granted, it has to omit many poets due to the limits imposed by the criterion of size, but the omission of a whole branch of poetry is apparent: there is no poem at all included by Merrill, Lowell, Bishop, Berryman or Plath, all of whom are important American poets, all of whom are most certainly not avant-garde or experimental writers. Hoover, the editor of this book, admits his bias freely: “[a]s used here, ‘postmodern’ […] suggests an experimental approach to composition […]. Postmodernist poetry is the avant-garde poetry of our time” (Hoover xxv). He strikes out against tradition, especially against british influence (cf. xxvii) and traces its inheritance to the modernist avant-garde (cf. xxxix). Postmodern American poetry, according to him, needs “a home-grown idiom”[xv] (xxvii).

2.2.2. …late late Modernism?

This last paragraph states a poetics that should sound oddly familiar to us, as it restates in slightly modified form several of Modernism’s claims. The basic ingredient is there, pronounced as clear as possible: renouncement of tradition and the urge to Make It New. Hoover polemicises against other anthologies which represent a different sort of canon, one which is “more traditional, formal and refined” (Hoover xxvii). If we project, as I suggest we can, Hoover’s position as the opposite to this canon, a picture of a poetry emerges that wants to be “more violent, more disorganized, more obscure” (Jarrell 259).

More modernist than the modernists, this experimentalist view of Postmodernism buys totally into “a modernist aesthetic ideology” (Blasing 2) and the “modernist reification of poetic techniques” (3) we mentioned earlier. With Hoover’s simplistic view of postmodern poetry, it becomes hard to distinguish one clearly from the other, so that to some critics, quite understandably “the modern/postmodern divide has emerged as more apparent than real” (Perloff, The “New” Poetics, 164). The very existence of postmodern poetry suddenly becomes doubtful[xvi]. If we want a clear picture of Postmodernism to surface, we need to extend our approach beyond avant-garde poetry.

2.3. Open Forms, Open Minds

2.3.1. The Middle Generation and others

The Middle Generation “consist[s] of Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell, John Berryman and Lowell” (Bawer 3), sometimes Elizabeth Bishop is included whereas Schwartz is omitted (cf. Travisano). This group of poets are joined not for their formal similarities, but for their overall aesthetic approach, which can be described as a deviation from modernism. A deviation, however, not only from New Critical orthodoxy, but from the “basic poetic style” (Pearce 12) of the whole period. All of them started out as a very modernist breed of poets: “every line of poetry that they wrote during their early years was […] shaped by Eliot’s doctrines.” (Bawer 60) With Bishop and Jarrell this became not so obvious as both of them did not start to publish poetry until late in their careers when they had already crossed the line. The others, however, each published at least one modernist book of verse, until their poetry changed: Lowell published even two, Land of Unlikeliness (1944) and Lord Weary’s Castle (1946), Berryman published The Dispossessed (1948) and Schwartz In Dreams Begin Responsibilities (1938). Lowells second book as well as Berryman’s debut were not pitch-perfect modernist books, each carried the seed of Postmodernism within it. It was Lord Weary’s Castle which prompted Jarrell to exclaim that “Mr. Lowell’s poetry is a unique fusion of modernist and traditional poetry […]. [I]t is essentially a post- or anti-modernist poetry.” (Jarrell 213). And there, in a nutshell, are the characteristics of these early postmodernists.

Others, most notably James Merrill, have also written highly formalized poetry, leaning strongly on tradition, eschewing avant-garde aesthetics in favor of a free play with tradition and of the new aesthetic of the personal, as established by the Middle Generation (see below). They took part in the “movement from constriction to liberation” (Jarrell 211), they were able to take up different styles without having to gravely place themselves in a tradition (cf. Pordzik 28). Together with the Middle Generation poets they developed an openness that is all the clearer because they seem to be writing in closed forms. “Because [these poets] are not avant-garde writers, it is their participation in these trends that argues most persuasively for […] a genuine shift in attitudes” (Keller 14).

2.3.2. A Postmodern Aesthetic

In the following two sections we will examine this shift in attitudes. The poets discussed in the preceding two sections created “one of the earliest and most persistent […] aesthetics” (Travisano 9) of post-modernism, an aesthetics that consisted, simply put, of an openness of content (cf. 9). Whereas modernist poetry had been a “cognitive tool” (McHale, “Postmodernist Lyric”, 24), and thus could not do without a determinate meaning, postmodernist poetry “undermines every sort of certitude” (Axelrod 265). Not only is there a “tolerance of uncertainty” (Keller 252), but also a whole process of active undermining of epistemological certainty is taking place in the postmodern text, clustered around two key strategies.

The first one could be called the attention/intention divide, stressing not the intention of the author but “the ‘attention’ that produced it” (Ashton 18). This development of “mak[ing] meaning a matter of someone’s experience […] rather than of someone’s intention” (13) is often traced to Ashbery (cf. 13ff.), yet I find that principle much clearer expressed in Lowell’s Life Studies (1959), where the protagonist of the poems[xvii] conveys line after line of experienced facts of his surroundings: “Screens as black-grained as drifting coal / Tockytock, tockytock / Clumped our Alpine, Edwardian cuckoo clock” (Lowell 163; italics his)[xviii]. There is none of that meticulous system of quotations as in The Waste Land, these are quotations, if you will, from life. Clearly, the world is something to be observed, but there is no longer a sharp demarcation between the world and the poem. The relationship of the two is no longer a central concern in this poetry. When in “To Delmore Schwartz” (cf. Lowell 157f.) Lowell misquotes Schwartz misquoting Coleridge (cf. Bawer 147), a strong unconcern with truth becomes obvious. He gives up, at least tentatively, his “personal control over the production of meaning” (Ashton 25).

This production of meaning is undercut as well by the strategy of erasure, as sketched out by McHale. Of the different levels this strategy can operate on, we will only pick one, “erasure at the level of language(McHale, The Obligation toward the Difficult Whole, 252; italics his). This kind of erasure involves “self-cancellation […] whereby poems ‘unmake’ themselves as they go along” (252). This implies a system of self-contradictions that extends the simple New Critical method of paradox. This erasure “is not in the service of some higher truth” (McHale, “Postmodernist Lyric”, 42), quite the reverse, it leaves “a bitter impression of absence” (41)[xix]. This unmotivated erasure can be found particularly often in the poetry of Berryman. Meaning becomes hard to grasp in lines such as: ” […] where I am / we don’t know. It was dark and then / it isn’t.” (Berryman 32).

Apart from the question of indeterminacy, there are two other accomplishments of the postmodern aesthetic in the first two decades after WWII, the first of which touches the question of the personal/impersonal tension in Modernism. Postmodern poetry, as it is represented by the Middle Generation, “record[s] […] the soul under stress” (Gustavsson 123). One might argue that the brokenness of modernist poetry has exactly the same effect, but this would only mask the difference: the new poetry is more concerned with “individual psychology” (Keller 258). “[A]utobiographical energies play an increasing role” (117), something which hasALREADY been already implied in our discussion of the attention/intention divide, because it is not about the truth-value implicit in ‘true’ autobiography, it is more about the gesture of autobiography, the idea of ‘seen this, done that’. Through this leaning on the emotional part of the individual person, the modernist bias in favor of rationality has been dispensed with. This time it is about a “nonrational way of knowing” (Keller 115)[xx].

Postmodern poetry seems to be chiefly interested in feeling, yet the mind still has its uses in the new poetry. For instance when the question of tradition arises. The Middle Generation poets, as well as the other postmodern writers, recognized that it is impossible “to stand free of conventions” (Keller 12), they felt free to make use of tradition as they pleased because they were under no illusions concerning their capabilities of Making It New, so they appropriated whatever they deemed interesting and shed those parts of it that they considered boring. Against all expectations, however, this approach, as far as it related to past and contemporary styles, did not lead to the same kind of arbitrariness in form that dominated content (cf. McHale, “Postmodernist Lyric”, 29). Form became the major concern of postmodern poetry, as “the epistemological function [lost] its priority [and] the ontology was foregrounded” (26), interior ontology, that is.

2.3.3. Postmodern Form

The question is not any longer how best to describe reality, it has rather become a question on how to make a poem, which words, forms, sound to employ. This explains why, although the content of the poetry of Postmodernism seemed to be a whole lot more liberated from constraints than previous poetry was, the poetry itself was remarkably complex and finely crafted. This has lead some critics to claim “a return to artifice” (Perloff, Radical Artifice, 27). This artifice does not necessarily imply a highly formalized poetry in the cenventional sense of the term ‘form’. According to Jonathan Holden “postmodern poetic form is predominantly analogical” (Holden 8)[xxi]. He seems to be making a point similar to Jameson’s discussion of the pastiche (cf. Jameson 62f.), but Holden’s point is more subtle. He concurs with Perloff in that artifice involves a “recognition that a poem […] is a made thing” (Perloff, Radical Artifice, 28; italics hers), but he extends the notion of formal categories beyond those traditional forms that everyone includes, such as the villanelle or the sestina, to a different type of formal categories (cf. Holden 7f.). One of his categories would be the “‘conversation’ poem” (9) or the lyric (cf. 10f.).

Conventional styles are “mentioned rather than used” (McHale, The Obligation toward the Difficult Whole, 11)[xxii] in postmodern poetry, this implies that the making of the postmodern poem involves new categories. Holden’s taxonomy, sketchy though it may be, matches our approach to postmodernist content brilliantly. He orders the formal categories “along a scale […] of their degree of ‘personalization'”, which makes perfect sense in a poetry that is to such an extent dominated by the idea of the personal[xxiii].

Returning to the lack of arbitrariness in form in postmodern poetry, we need to recognize that one of the centerpieces of postmodern poetics is the playfulness of its forms (cf. Perloff, The Dance of the Intellect, 176). By relying upon assonances, rhymes and traditional forms on the one hand, and Holden’s new categories on the other hand, the language of the poem is favoured over its content. The textual movements, as they concern “the coercive power of a rhyme-scheme or other sound patterns” (McHale, “Postmodernist Lyric”, 28) , become “operations of some sort of machine” (29), the formal aspect of the poem being this machine . Of course, this does not necessarily make the form determinate, but it further undercuts the determinacy of meaning on the level of content. Thus, postmodern poetry becomes a poetry of the personal without ever succumbing to a poetics of intentionality because of the multitude of textual strategies undermining the truth-value of the poetry.

[i] Although, interestingly, you might contrast Eliot and Pound along the lines of community and freedom, respectively. This, however, is not the subject of the present paper.

[ii] Stevens found his mode of writing early, settled into it quickly and changed little over the years, as Jarrell perceived correctly, talking of “his later mold in which he cast himself” (Jarrell 120).

[iii] “[S]o-called ‘intellectual poetry'” (Gregory and Zaturenska, 328) PUNKT?

[iv] Compare that to the impersonalized reprise in The Cantos: “These fragments you have shelved (shored)” (Pound 28).

[v] The idea of a American tradition of a new writing which results from a re-reading of tradition, as “creative reading” (Herd 34), has been examined as a possible modernist strain but it has proven to be unhelpful to any useful categorization of poety, as the great modernists are very divided on this issue (cf. Herd 35). On differences between Eliot and Pound in respect to tradition, see Rabaté 214ff. He shows that both have a strained relationship to tradition and it shows how they cope with it. In Eliot’s concept of tradition, which strongly smells of Jungian psychology, the other modernist tension, too, is implicated via the “individual talent” (cf. Rabaté 215f.).

[vi] I do not, however, concur with the whole of his theory, especially not with his psychologically tinged emphasis on the mind of the individual, biographical author. His theory is of some use inasmuch as it clarifies some general structures of influence and the violence of the new (cf. Vendler).

[vii] The fact that Whitman’s influence was not blocked as the influence from Romanticism was, can be explained by considering the modernist textual strategy of the reification of poetic techniques, as outlined earlier. The Whitman they appropriated was not the whole Whitman, but only the idea of an American tradition, new and free. It suited their other ideas well. The whole Whitman was not revived until the advent of the Beat Poets (cf. Trachtenberg).

[viii] Little did they recognize that the very idea of the new long poem was itself part of their romantic heritage.

[ix] I concede that it may be not so felicitous to quote Stevens in this context, who never succumbed to the “rage for order” (Stevens 169); yet the question of the poet’s mind has in modernist American poetry

never been expressed in a better way than in the poetry of Stevens. Similar expressions can be found in Eliot’s or Pound’s essays yet I am reluctant to use both essays and poetry by the same poet, without accounting for the differences that are bound to arise. This, however, is far beyond the scope of this paper.

[x] Basically, this is a Kantian approach: Kant talks of man as a “sinnlich affiziertes Vernunftwesen” and wants to separate the “sinnlich affiziert” part from the “Vernunftwesen”.

[xi] The principles of style in this period are virtually indistiguishable from the principles of criticism at that time (cf. Perkins 75f.), that is why I will adopt the term “New Criticism” for both phenomena.

[xii] Especially if, as I will suggest, modernist poetry was still written in the 1970s and possibly still is.

[xiii] Note the postmodern tendency towards a non-literary culture described by Renner (cf. Renner 13).

[xiv] Whitman’s influence seems to have increased even more (cf. Garrett 232: “Everybody claims him”) in the early decades of Postmodernism.

[xv] It is interesting how selective his view of tradition and influence is, especially British influence. Compare Diggory’s account of the way that some influential British poets immersed themselves in the American tradition of Emerson and Whitman and how this influence seeped into American poetry later on (cf. Diggory 11-31 and elsewhere).

[xvi] Notice that I do not call into question the validity of the term postmodern, but ‘postmodern’ means something else for each cultural subcategory. Brown in particular has argued that postmodern poetry treads on paths that modernist prose has long been using (cf. 8).

[xvii] These are supposedly autobiographical poems and the dates and names match Lowell’s biographyKOMMA yet I am uneasy with this designation. Nevertheless, the poems in Part 4 of Life Studies are clearly narrated by the same character, which in my view amply warrants calling him the “protagonist” of these poems.

[xviii] Certainly, in Ashton’s understanding, the experience is not communicated so plainly to the reader (cf. Ashton 24), but compared to the impersonal modernist poem, these are major developments; what’s more, Lowell’s progress is made in his poetry whereas Ashbery’s ideas are communicated in lectures and essays, in other words: outside of his poetry. The validity of poetological statements made in respect to one’s own works should be -and has been- severely questioned.

[xix] This, of course, does represent some higher truth as well. McHale tends to overlook these kinds of implications. Yet basically, his idea is sound. The point is, that the paradox, if that is the form the self-erasure takes, is not constructed so that it will yield some truth by being understood, as was the case with New Critical poetry which took its hints from the metaphysical poets such as John Donne (cf. Perkins 38). The postmodern paradox leaves the reader with a feeling about the world, but not with knowledge or even a semblance of such knowledge.

[xx] Compare Kristeva’s remarks on the ascendancy of a literature that partakes of “the asymbolicity peculiar to psychosis” (Kristeva 139). This stress on the value accorded to a major weakness of the mind fits well with our discussion.

[xxi] Holden recognizes the fact that there is an “analogical approach to form implicit in poetry of the High Modernist period” (Holden 16), but he resolves this problem by explaining the taxonomy of the postmodern variation of that approach, as we will see shortly.

[xxii] Cf. Jarrells observation that “‘The Quaker Graveyard’ is a baroque work […] yet all the extase of baroque has disappeared” (Jarrell 211; italics his).

[xxiii] So that even the impersonal becomes a category of potentially personal poetry.

Just dumb

Well. Yesterday I was poking fun at Nigel Beale’s absurd idea of how to read literature and art. This is from the first post of his on this topic.

Based on what we have here, what I know of Proust’s life , and my experience reading Holmes and Coleridge, Marchand and Byron, Ellmann and Joyce, Steegmuller and Flaubert, for example, I’m with Sainte-Beuve. Knowing about Coleridge’s life struggles, his politics, his relationship with women (and I’m relying on the accuracy of Holmes’ research), knowing Coleridge this way, enriched my experience of his work, influenced the way I understood it, and increased my appreciation and enjoyment of it. The text remains the same. Its intrinsic aesthetic qualities remain the same, what changes is my reception of them. Because of the biographical information additional layers of interpretation open themselves up to me. Because of the new tenderness I feel for the man, my reading is more sympathetic. Biography obviously doesn’t replace close reading, it augments it.

Well. If you look at yesterday’s post, you’ll notice that actually, in his case, as in most cases, it may open layers of interpretation, but it closes many many more. In my reading experience as a reader of literature and as a reader of literary criticism, inclusion of biographical facts almost always leads to a narrow interpretation.

I hold that the critic is free to consider biographical material for inspiration. But it can never, ever, turn up later as a way of argument. Beale doesn’t understand this crucial division, as is visible in his own abysmally poor remarks, for instance on Picasso. Moreover, such a biographical reading should never be mixed up with a marxist reading, such as Lucien Goldmann’s take on Racine and Pascal in Le Dieu Caché (which is fraught with errors of its own, but that’s a different story). I think I sorted the two out somewhat in this essay.

Biography, in short, doesn’t augment close reading, instead it hampers it. Thousands of essays done this way are ample proof of this, pick up any one of it, I have never read one that wasn’t frustrating, after all was said and done. If you want an example: Gwiazda’s book on Merrill and Auden is exasperatingly bad, not because the author’s such an idiot, but because you can see how the author’s bothered by the weights imposed on him by the biographical details, so much indeed, that the whole book reads like a bizarre experiment in bad literary criticism.

It’s a whole other kettle of fish, of course, when you are reading for fun. I have, personally, read dozens of biographies, I am currently aswim in the wonderful letters of Schwartz and his publisher Laughlin. When literary criticism is not concerned, it’s different. Then, often, it’s also less about the texts as texts, instead, the texts are part of the biography, even as the biography can never be part of the texts.

Nigel Beale, it appears, is a twat.

Dumb and Dumber

See someone making a good objection (discussing the innateness of artistic genius is somewhat dumb) and then jumping to equally dumb, no, wait, even dumber conclusions. Witness this and cry:

Why did Picasso depict women in such ugly, distorted ways in his paintings? Because Picasso is Picasso? Or because he treated women like tissues…soiling and discarding them in his wake. As Jean-Paul Crespelle writes in his book Picasso and his Women:”…Just as he kept old matchboxes or pencil stubs, so he kept his old mistresses ready in hand. Just in case…” Which is the more interesting response?

What a twat.

Lit Crit Bullshit and Literary Prizes

See? See? I continuously make a distinction between newspaper lit crit and sound Literaturwissenschaften. This, described in a perceptive article over at the Complete Review, is typical newspaper lit crit bullshit:

Over the weekend The Times was kind enough to make quite a fuss about Katie Price’s Perfect Ponies being named a finalist for the ‘WH Smith Children’s Book of the Year’. The issue they take with it, as explained, for example, in Ben Hoyle’s Katie Price shortlisted for WH Smith Children’s Book of the Year is that: According to her publishers, Price, one of the most commercially successful writers in the country, is a “brand” and it is impossible to quantify how much of the book she wrote.

The Society of Authors has been inundated with complaints from concerned members. Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring, who chairs the organisation, said: “I’m shocked. I’m amazed the publishers even put the book up. If it’s ghost-written then it’s inappropriate that it should be shortlisted. I am disappointed by the judges.”

And then there’s Erica Wagner’s commentary, asking: So is it fair — especially in a category that is so influential in the forming of future readers — to pit books that have actually been written by their authors (yes, it does happen) against books that have been, as the saying goes, ghosted ?
It doesn’t seem so to me.

[…] most of this to-do seems to us […] proof yet again that the publishing industry and too many reviewers focus on the wrong thing, the author rather than the book.
The award in question is the ‘WH Smith Children’s Book of the Year’. The operative word is book. But just as with the Man Booker and almost every other book-prize, the media focus tends to be on the author. But surely all that matters is the book, regardless of who wrote it.

[…] Nevertheless, it seems clear to us that as far as book prizes go — even silly ones like this one –, authors simply don’t (well: shouldn’t) count (except, of course, to the extent they’re part of the selection-criteria, insofar as the prize is restricted — as most usually are — by nationality, age, sex, or whatnot).


If we’re concerned with honouring authors, well, that’s what author prizes are for[…]. Personally, we’re much more for glorifying the work — but in the US and UK it is, bizarrely, the work that is usually given the prize (from Man Booker to the Pulitzers, National Book Award, etc.) but it’s the author who winds up getting most of the media attention.

Pilgrimages: James Merrill and the Poetics of Travel

[This is a summary of my M.A. Thesis which is not finished, but I had to hand in a summary, so I wrote this. If anyone has any ideas or criticism or wants to point me in a direction he or she might think I didn’t think about, he or she is more than welcome. I have forgotten to include Jaynes in the voices part at the end and chronotope in the middle somewhere but that’s not important]

James Merrill’s is, quite explicitly, a poetry concerned with places. An early volume is called The Country of a Thousand Years of Peace, which refers to Switzerland, and his last volumes include as transparently named poems as “Overdue Pilgrimage to Nova Scotia” and “Walks in Rome”. The speaker(s) of Merrill’s poetry travel(s) to Greece, Italy, Turkey and other countries, coming from the United States. Additionally, he meets fellow travelers. Hans Lodeizen, the Netherlands poet, “The Summer People” and, finally, souls of the dead who travel from the afterworld to spend leisurely nights at the Ouija board with JM and his partner DJ.

At first we will be looking at actual travel and its reflection in the poetry, starting off with a look at the different places the speaker(s) in Merrill’s poetry end up in. The first of these places and arguably one of the most important, is Greece, where hellenism’s historic sites provide a colorful background to tales of loss (Tony: Ending the Life) and love (Days of 1964). Greece is mostly a place to visit: the speaker and his friends are guests, and are never shown to be anything other than that, which makes for a curious inbetween state in poems that seem to be about fixed places and which even develop their own sort of family imagery. Not so with the second group, which is New England, especially Boston and Stonington, Connecticut. Merrill’s childhood poems (The Broken Home) are for the most part set against a refined Bostonian backdrop and it’s chiefly in Stonington where he will receive the visiting souls in his Ouija board sessions. New England is both: a place where others visit Merrill and his friends and the place where Merrill’s at home, born and raised.

Both Greece and New England are such an essential part of his poetry that they are rarely introduced. Names and references are enough to put the reader on the right track. Other places such as Rome and Istanbul/Byzantium have to be introduced by name: “Istanbul. 21 march. I woke today / With an absurd complaint.” (The Thousand and Second Night). However, poems such as “Days of 1964” also contain a considerable amount of description that might well enable a local to situate the poem into a specific time and place. Places have left their traces all over James Merrill’s poetry. That said, it should be added that descriptions and explicit reference is not the only or even the most important way in which these places have left their traces. The most important -and most relevant for the purpose of this paper- way is via their cultural context.

Places such as Athens or Boston imply clear-cut cultural contexts. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Merrill’s poetry is filled with references to specific cultural contexts. However, they are almost always blended with other contexts, other travels past and present which have left their mark on his poetry. Greece especially is a treasure trove, informing both Merrill’s ecphrastic poems like “Bronze” and leaving traces of philosophy (“We love the good, said Plato? He was wrong. / We love as well the wicked and the weak.” (Matinées)), myth (“I call up / Graces, Furies, Fates,” (An Urban Convalescence)) and language (“Goods, bads, kaló-kakó, cockatoo-raucous” (To my Greek)) everywhere. Greek cultural references are special in that they mostly appear in poems which are set in places outside of Greece. In this, naturally, Merrill reflects the enormous influence Hellenism has had on western culture and literature. Interestingly, Greece as a culture reverses the guest/visitor relation that we saw when looking at (fixed) places. One could see Hellenism as a visitor, appearing in all kinds of settings, in different guises, clad in Rilke, for example.

The opposite, of course, is true for the New England context, which is evoked almost only in the New England poems. These poems refer to a well documented cultural context which has probably found its best decription in Robert Lowell’s Life Studies, depicting New England as a place of meetings, where ships and trade arrive and leave, where a certain jet set levity cannot hide a darker, menacing undercurrent (especially in “Skunk Hour”). A consideration of the New England context is helpful in figuring out deceptively simple poems like the sonnet sequence “A Broken Home” and goes a long way towards explaining the dark note in poems such as “18 West 11th Street”, where genealogy is decribed as ‘hatching’ “another generation / Of strong-jawed, light-besotted saboteurs”. Echoes of the skunk mother who “will not scare” reverberate in poems such as “18 West 11th Street”, promting the speaker, for example, to remark upon “The girl’s / Appearance now among us […] / Naked, frail but fox-eyed.” The religiousness of New England culture has also left its traces in Merrill’s poetry, especially in The Changing Light at Sandover, where he evinces a strong spirituality, if in a mocking spirit and definitely not in a Christian vein.

The third group of places, with cities as Istanbul (The Thousand and Second Night), Rome (Walks in Rome), Venice (Investiture at Cecconi’s) or Alexandria (Tony: Ending the Life), is, interestingly, often portrayed in the past and the present within the same poem. It is obvious that these places are as important for their cultural context, which is inscribed into their very names, as for their reality in a narrative that may take place in modern times. The way that, for instance, Istanbul is sometimes referred to as Istanbul and sometimes as Byzantium, is a giveaway. These places, similar to the New England poems, contain ample reference to Hellenism, for instance, but keep their own cultural contexts to themselves. An exception of sorts is Italy. Neither Rome nor Venice, taken by themselves, do that, but Italy as a whole does provide an important cultural context that the travelling speaker carries with him back to the United States or to Greece. To be more precise, when I write ‘Italy’ I should probably write ‘Tuscany’ because between Dante and Macciavelli and others, these references do not stray outside of that enchanting swathe of Italy. However, as Tuscany is not named, to my knowledge, I have to assume that it is not a category of the poem and the italian refernces refer to the cultural context of ‘Italy’ as a whole.

Now that we have examined places and the other aspect of places, that is to say, cultural contexts, or, as we will refer to them from now on: cultures, we can turn to the, by now, famous theory of “Traveling Cultures” of the eminent anthropologist James Clifford. He claims that for the anthropologist of recent decades, a different sort of travel has arisen as an issue to be dealt with: cultural travel. There are two kinds of cultural travel to be considered. The first one is actual, bodily travel, in the common sense of the word. In this way Merrill’s speaker(s) travel to Rome, Greece, Boston etc. This received idea of travel has informed the commonly used concept of culture quite a lot, the idea being that cultures can be relatively stable concepts, even if they are no longer anchored to a well-defined place or to the local as the person who lives there. Exceeding the scope of a phenomenon such as Hellenism, in the modern age travel has been radically facilitated, so that adherents of a certain culture can travel the world, without, ultimately, being connected by ethnicity nor by nationality to the traditional place associated with that culture. Diaspora and connected concepts are important here. The cultures travel piggyback on a traveler’s figurative shoulders, he or she brings his own cultural contexts. In the case of Merrill it will be a point of interest whether claims made in previous sections (New England culture only in New England poems) can be upheld: doesn’t he carry his contexts with him as well?

The second sort of cultural travel could be called figurative travel. Cultures can travel without the members of the culture moving corporally, for instance through receiving visitors or through being subjected to medial influences, such as television or literature. This time there is a double travelling. Culture travels to the readers/watchers and those on the receiving end are travelling in a sense, too. Reading a book about Greece and visiting Greece might have roughly the same impact in ternms of cultural influence. This is especially relevant for James Merrill’s poetry, as it is swamped in book lore: Byzantium, Dante’s Tuscany, these have, of course, never been visited by Merrill in a literal sense. Yet, as we will see, the impact on his poetry is similar to the impact left by his ‘real’ travels. To not regard these two as two specifictations of the same basic phenomenon is to not understand the importance of travel in the broader sense, as Clifford uses it, to Merrill’s poetry.

These two kinds of cultural influence, which can be viewed as a complex system of visiting and hosting cultures, especially in a writer who travels as extensively and often as Merrill did. The first group of exchanges are the most obvious, between New England and Greece. The wealth of Hellenistic references that populate the New England poems are indisputable and have been remarked upon. A point of interest would be to what extent the New England culture informs the Greece poems. This formulation is crucial. Of course, the New England culture doesn’t influence the Greek culture, as it would in Clifford’s model (Well, it might but we are not interested in anthropology.). The impact of travel will, ultimately, be shown to be something that is part of the poetry, not necessarily of ‘the real world’. As we will see, travel and poetry are intimately connected in Merrill’s oeuvre. A final remark: we will dispense with other cross-references, such as New England/Tuscany, New England/Rome etc., as the most interesting question, whether Merrill could be said to form a sort of tiny New England diaspora would have been answered already and neither Rome nor Tuscany or Istanbul could provide illuminating angles.

The second group of exchanges are between childhood and adulthood poems. Almost all of the childhood poems are situated in New England, whereas, even though a large portion of the adulthood poems are provided with a Greek backdrop, there are many locations in them. Thus it is not possible to juxtapose two distinct locations in comparing these two kinds of poems. I maintain, however, that it still makes sense to talk about child- and adulthood as locations in a figurative sense and to talk about a variant of cultural/fugurative travel taking place between the two. Merrill’s adulthood poetry is so replete with echoes from his past as chronicled in the childhood poems that it’s no wonder so many critics felt justified in scooping with both hands material from the psychoanalytic slop pail. I maintain that to discuss the traces of childhood in the adulthood poems in terms of travel (or, as we will see later: intertextuality) is a cleaner method, and on top of that I will attempt to show that it’s a method that does more justice to the specific requirements of poetry as poetry. To return to the adulthood/childhood travels, we will find that, of course, the travel concept works both ways. The childhood is consistently seen through the lens of the adult speaker, which might seem trivial, but actually contributes to the overall picture in which adulthood emerges as the figurative ‘home’ and childhood as the foreign country visited by the grown-up speaker.

The concept of travel and the importance of this concept for Merrill’s poetry and poetics becomes even clearer once another kind of travel is added. This is the traveling undertaken by the souls of the dead in the Ouija board poems, most notably in The Changing Light at Sandover. This doesn’t fit in the narrow literal/figurative dichotomy established heretofore. Of course, it takes a giant leap of faith to assume the ‘reality’ of the spirits. I would argue that it is a strange idea to take that leap in the context of a poetry where, for instance, the speaker of “The Broken Home” needs assurance of as ‘simple’ a fact as the one “[t]hat you and I are as real / At least as the people upstairs” but this is not an important point anyway. Looking at the poetry the question whether these are real voices or whether these are passages invented by David Jackson or whether this is all just a conceit, is not of interest because the fact of the matter is, within the poem, the visitors from the afterworld are clearly just that: visitors. And this time, too, there is a reciprocal element in all this. As will be shown, contact with JM/DJ does not leave the afterworld unchanged.

After the term ‘travel’ and its connection to Merrill’s poetry has been examined, it is now time to look at the implications of all this for Merrill’s poetics. Clifford’s theory of Traveling Cultures is, at the root, a theory about communication and that term fits Merrill’s poetry like a glove. I’ll show is how that which we leaned about travel can be translated to common literary terms such as intertextuality. First, however, I will expound on the centrality of dialogue to the previous discussions of travel. Encounters with other countries in Merrill’s poetry almost always involves dialogue, foreign languages, etc. This culminates in The Changing Light at Sandover, where dialogue is not only central but basically the only means of travel, as the spirits never appear, their presence is solely signalled by the letters DJ dictates to JM.

The voices speaking, whispering, beseeching, commanding, in The Changing Light at Sandover, are not the only voices. In fact, I will suggest that dialogicity, that well-worn concept of Mikhail Bakhtin’s, is an excellent tool to decribe the poetical implications of travel as we have come to understand that term. There are several elements to this, the first and most obviously being plain intertextuality, which roughly corresponds to what we have called figurative travel early on. The influence of cultures transmitted via books or other media. Another element is translation, which develops from intertextuality, because on the one hand it is a form of intertextuality but it’s a special enough variant of it. Merrill translated poems, used translated phrases (literally translated Greek idioms for instance) and at the same time, translation was always part of the poetics of travel. It is shown to be a facilitator of ‘real’, that is, literal travel, as it is the precondition for communication. Similarly, intertextuality would, without translations, not work as well: Merrill’s poems would teem with German, Greek, Tuscan, French phrases and as such be understandable only to a choice coterie of readers. The best explication of the workings of translation can be found in Lost in Translation. The third element, again, is basically a sort of intertextuality, but, again, it’s special enough to be discussed as a special issue. This is Merrill’s attitude to form and to tradition in general. This wraps up tzhe dialogicity chapter because, of course, using a certain form or genre evokes old and buried voices, Petrarca, Dante, Rilke and many many others. Thus, maybe, The Changing Light at Sandover is a brilliant concretion of this concept, with all these poets, first and foremost of course our dear Wystan, literally speaking to Merrill through David Jackson. I am naturally brief in this part of the summary as this part of the paper relies a lot, and will reference a lot, conclusions drawn in the previous parts.

Travel mediates between contexts: the merging of places -figurative and literal- creates a sort of shared cultural space. Merrill’s poetry can be seen as pursuing just this. I will show that this works on almost every level of his poetry, including form and formulation. His use of metre, pun and metaphor, his descriptions of places and travels, the way he handles autobiographical material, all of this is part of the project of mediation.

Wissenschaftlichkeit der Literaturwissenschaft nach Peter Szondi

Ist Literaturwissenschaft wirklich eine Wissenschaft, im gleichen Sinne, wie die Naturwissenschaften es sind, oder sollte man dem Habitus des Englischen folgen, das nur von literary criticism redet, also von Literaturkritik, und das wissenschaftliche Moment der Literaturwissenschaft als reine begriffliche Fehlschöpfung und im Prinzip nicht vorhanden betrachten? Die Antwort auf diese Frage ist eng mit der speziellen Art der Erkenntnis der Literaturwissenschaft verknüpft, der philologischen Erkenntnis, die für den Unterschied zwischen ihr und den Naturwissenschaften verantwortlich ist.

Peter Szondi sieht in seinem Traktat über die philologische Erkenntnis diese im Einklang mit Schleiermachers Forderung nach einer Hermeneutik „für ein vollkommenes Verstehen einer Schrift“ (263) als „bloßes Textverständnis“ (263) an.
Dabei mag das Wort „bloß“ falsch gewählt sein, ist das Textverständnis doch nachgerade keine simple Tätigkeit, vielmehr ist es so, dass das Textverständnis die einzige Aufgabe der philologischen Erkenntnis ist, die nicht in Gebieten ihrer Schwester, der natur-wissenschaftlichen Erkenntnis wildern sollte, des logischen Deduzierens aus Beweisen.

Anders als in den Naturwissenschaften darf philologisches Wissen nie „Wissen“ im naturwissenschaftlichen und im landläufigen Sinn, also aufgeschriebenes, auswertbares und als Beweis heranzuziehendes Wissen werden.
Philologische Erkenntnis kann sich nicht auf ein statisches, griffbereites Wissen verlassen, im Gegenteil, der Prozess des philologischen Erkennens setzt eine Bewegung der gegenseitigen Abhängigkeiten voraus. Philologisches Wissen ist nämlich dynamisch, es muss immer wieder auf Erkenntnis zurückgeführt werden und durch Erkenntnis geprüft und bestätigt oder verändert werden. Philologisches Wissen kann nur bestehen, indem es immer wieder mit dem Text oder dem Kunstwerk konfrontiert wird. In dieser Konfrontation muss es immer bereit sein, im Zweifelsfalle einer Revision unterzogen zu werden.

Dieser Text, beziehungsweise: dieses Kunstwerk ist auch immer gegenwärtig, das Buch oder heute auch: den geposteten oder gespeicherten Text kann ich immer wieder aufschlagen, ausdrucken oder herunterladen, um ihn wieder und wieder zu lesen und so zu einem Verständnis zu gelangen. Auch wenn ein Exemplar des Textes verbrennt oder verloren geht oder vergilbt, gibt es den Text immer noch irgendwo. Die Aufgabe der Literaturwissenschaft ist, ihn zu finden, ihn zu lesen, zu verstehen und schließlich Erkenntnis aus ihm zu gewinnen. Mag es auch ein großer Text der Weltliteratur sein, der schon unzählbare Male Gegenstand philologischer Untersuchungen geworden ist, man hat sich nie völlig an ihm abgearbeitet, man kann nie das Buch schließen und nun das vermeintlich gewonnene und bewiesene Wissen heranziehen als Basis für Erkenntnis.

Sicher kann auch die Literaturwissenschaft nicht verzichten auf Beweise, etwa durch die Lesartenmethode, die das Erschließen des Wort- oder Metaphernsinns meint, unter Berücksichtigung anderer Worte, die in früheren Textfassungen an gleicher Stelle stehen, oder der Parallelstellenmethode, in der sich der Sinn erschließt durch andere Stellen, in denen das gleiche Wort steht, idealerweise im gleichen Zusammenhang.

Oft genug werden die durch diese Methode gewonnenen Indizien wie klare Beweise behandelt, indem die Parallelstellen in einer Fußnote oder einer Anmerkung bekräftigend aufgeführt werden: quod erat demonstrandum. So einfach verhält es sich jedoch nicht.

Diese Belege müssen ihrerseits mindestens so gründlich untersucht werden, wie die eigentlich zu interpretierende Stelle selbst. Was sagt mir denn, dass das wirklich der gleiche Zusammenhang ist? Oder, die Lesartenmethode betreffend: was sagt mir, dass der Dichter nicht zwischen der einen und der anderen Fassung einfach seine Meinung und den Sinn der untersuchten Passage geändert hat und sich aus der Änderung gar keine Konsequenz für die Interpretation ableiten lässt? Gerne wird auch aus einer, durchaus legitimen, Aussage über den allgemeinen Wort- oder Metapherngebrauch des Dichters heraus ein Ausschluss einer Deutungsmöglichkeit begründet.

Jedoch ist diese Art von Verfahren den Naturwissenschaften allein eigen. Eine philologische Untersuchung muss den zu interpretierenden Text als Individuum betrachten und nur aus Erkenntnis, die wiederum nur aus interpretierendem Textverständnis erwachsen kann ihre Interpretation begründen. Sie kann nicht verzichten auf die Belege, schließlich ist es der einzelne Beleg, aus dem sie ihre Erkenntnis schöpft, allerdings ist der philologischen Erkenntnis eine zirkuläre Bewegung eigentümlich, die die Interpretationsnotwendigkeit immer wieder auch auf die Belege ausweitet.

Man darf nicht vergessen: philologische Erkenntnis ergibt sich aus einem Textverständnis, das ein Verstehen des dichterischen Wortes meint und dem Dichter als kreativer Persönlichkeit immer wieder das Recht einräumen muss, sich im Einzelfall eine völlig neue, im Gesamtwerk einmalige Bedeutung für ein gegebenes Wort oder eine Metapher zu überlegen. Das heißt aber nicht, dass der Interpret abhängig wäre von einem „divinatorischen Funken“, wie manche Schleiermacheradepten es vielleicht fordern würden.
Im Gegenteil. Das „Verständnis“ ist ja kein „Dichterverständnis“, wie man Verständnis für eine Person haben kann, sich einfühlen kann in ihre Gedanken- und Gefühlswelt, um Verständnis für eine ihrer Handlungen zu haben. Richtig heißt es ja Textverständnis, also ein Verständnis, das aus einleuchtenden Gründen zwar den Dichter als kreative Person respektieren, das jedoch die philologische Erkenntnis auf den Text zurückführen muss und nur auf den Text.

Die angebliche Autorintention kann sogar eine Krücke für die Interpretation sein, dann nämlich, wenn sie zum Vorwand genommen wird, eine Eindeutigkeit bei einer bestimmten Metapher oder einem bestimmten Wort festzustellen und die objektiv vorhandene Mehrdeutigkeit des Wortes einfach übergeht. Die Textbelege sind zwar subjektiv und müssen auch wahrgenommen werden als subjektiv vermittelte, darin aber liegt ihre Objektivität, die einzige, die ihnen möglich ist.
Ein Text kann nicht untersucht werden auf einen ihm einfach unterstellten Sinn hin, ein Text muss befragt werden und die Erkenntnis muss dieses Fragen und die Antwort wiederspiegeln, die der Text gibt, in ihrer –womöglich- Unentschiedenheit und der ihm eigenen Färbung und Sprache. Die Erkenntnis kann nicht für sich stehen, der Text ist ihr stets komplementär.

In dieser Interdependenz muss sich die Erkenntnis an einem einzigen Kriterium messen lassen: der Evidenz, die keineswegs das gleiche ist wie ein naturwissenschaftlicher Beweis.
An dem Unterschied zwischen Evidenz und Beweis ist die Natur der ganzen Literaturwissenschaft auszumachen.
Die Literaturwissenschaft ist schlecht benannt. Durch den Begriff „Wissenschaft“ wird suggeriert, dass es hier, wie in anderen Wissenschaften um das Wissen geht, während die Literaturwissenschaft auf philologischer Erkenntnis aufbaut, die ihrerseits nicht von einem „Wissen“ im landläufigen Sinn abhängig sein darf. Kann es also Literaturwissenschaft geben? Oder handelt es sich nur um eine unwissenschaftliche Methode, wenn von philologischer Erkenntnis die Rede ist?

Bei genauerem Hinsehen aber ist die Wissenschaftlichkeit doch, strenggenommen, nicht abhängig von einer bestimmten Methode. Naturwissenschaften haben ihre Methode doch dem Gegenstand ihrer Erkenntnis angepasst: anders kann man Biologie, Chemie oder Physik nicht betreiben, als über Deduktion. Ebenso hat die Literaturwissenschaft ihre Methode ihrem Gegenstand angepasst, darin liegt ihre Wissenschaftlichkeit. Ohne die methodischen Einschränkungen würde sie der Literatur, der Dichtung, ihrem Objekt nicht gerecht, ihre Untersuchungen wären von vornherein mit Fehlern behaftet und sie selbst damit schlicht unwissenschaftlich.

Außerdem wird „wissenschaftlich“ gemeinhin definiert als Vorgehen „nach Forscherart“. Wenn aber der Prozess des Forschens bestimmt ist von einem Vorgang des „Fragens und Suchens“ (267), dann ließe sich schon daraus der nur scheinbar unüberbrückbare Unterschied zwischen den Naturwissenschaften und der Literaturwissenschaft erklären: entscheidend hierbei ist das Motiv des Fragens. Die Literatur als befragtes Objekt der Wissenschaft unterscheidet sich darin grundlegend etwa von den Zahlen, dass ihre Antworten abhängig sind von dem individuellen Text, den man befragt. Bedeutungen sind nicht ohne weiteres auf andere Texte, wie wir bei der Parallelstellenmethode gesehen haben, übertragbar, noch weniger auf Texte anderer Autoren, die zufälligerweise die gleiche Metapher, das gleiche Bild oder nur das gleiche Wort benutzt haben. Die Rose im lyrischen Werk von Paul Celan und im lyrischen Werk von Friedrich Hölderlin tragen andere Konnotationen wenn nicht sogar fundamental andere Bedeutungen. Die 5 jedoch ist immer eine 5, wenn nicht ausdrücklich etwas dazu gesagt wird. Wenn die Interpretation von Literatur evident sein muss, dann muss sie unbedingt auf solche Unterschiede Rücksicht nehmen, ebenso wie auf explizite und implizite Bedeutung.

In der Mathematik ist jede Bedeutung explizit, Änderungen der Bedeutung werden angezeigt, durch hochgestellte Zahlen, Klammern oder andere Zeichen im Umfeld der Zahl. Die Änderungen in literarischen Texten sind meistens jedoch implizit und selbst wenn es explizite Verweise gibt, etwa in poetologischen Texten, dürfen sie nicht bei ihrem Wortlaut genommen werden sondern müssen wie alle literaturwissenschaftlichen Belege ihrerseits wiederum interpretiert werden, um als philologische Erkenntnis zugelassen zu werden.

Entscheidend ist nicht die Beweisführung, sondern die Evidenz der Interpretation, sie wird damit zum Wissenschaftlichkeitsmerkmal der philologischen Erkenntnis. Wenn man die Beweisführung der Mathematik als ihre eigene Spielart der „Legitimation durch Verfahren“ ansieht, einem Begriff der Jurisprudenz, der aussagt, dass etwas schon dadurch legitimiert ist, dass das Verfahren, durch das es zustande gekommen ist, fehlerlos und legitim ist, ein Beweis, der leicht zu führen wäre, könnte man das gleiche für die Literaturwissenschaft einklagen.

Das literaturwissenschaftliche Verfahren ist nämlich nicht beliebiger als das mathematische. Auch hier gibt es ein Urteilen über „richtig“, „falsch“ und die Kategorie der Unentschiedenheit, aber statt in einem logischen Beweis sind literaturwissenschaftliche Urteile begründet in der Evidenz. Dieser Unterschied, wie bereits dargestellt, folgt aus der Natur der Literatur. Philologische Erkenntnis, die aus logischen Verfahren gewonnen wäre, wäre falsch, im gleichen Sinne, wie „2 + 2 = 5“ falsch wäre. 2 + 2 ist fast fünf, der Fehler ist ein relativ kleiner, aber er ist da. Im Vergleich dazu wird der Fehler in logischer Literaturanalyse vermutlich ein grundsätzlich verfälschtes Ergebnis erzielen.

Literaturwissenschaft ist notwendig, als die einzige Wissenschaft, die eine angemessene Untersuchung von Literatur leisten kann, aber ihre Möglichkeit ist abhängig davon, wie sie in Angriff genommen wird. Lediglich wenn sie als Tätigkeit, wie Wittgenstein es von der Philosophie forderte, gesehen wird, kann sie Wissenschaft sein, jedoch nur wenn sie das Wesen ihres Gegenstandes, die Literatur, berücksichtigt und die Konsequenzen, die dieses Wesen für die der Literaturwissenschaft eigene Erkenntnis hat, die philologische Erkenntnis.

On Delmore Schwartz

Schwartz, “the genius of the old partisan group” (Atlas 378) left his mark on a whole generation of poets and it is sad that this aspect of his is even less recognized than his poetic prowess (He has at least a Bollingen Prize to show for that, which makes it somehow hard to deny altogether). Lowell, whom we pegged earlier as one of the pioneers of Postmodernism, observed in interviews that he had “never met anyone who has somehow as much seeped into me”, Berryman revealed in similar interviews that he thought Schwartz was “the most underrated poet of the twentieth century” (both quotations: Atlas 378). Also, “[m]any of the new writers looked back to Delmore Schwartz [who] was known […] as a writer’s writer” (Ruland and Bradbury 336). Kenneth Koch went to Princeton in order to become a student of Schwartz’s (cf. Atlas 268) and John Ashbery notes that

of all the […] poets who have influenced me […] Schwartz is the one whose work is least known today and therefore the one most in need of elucidating for the benefit of anyone […] who might be interested in my work. (Ashbery 3)

Indeed, many elements of Ashbery’s poetry can surely be found in Schwartz’s work, but the most influential aspect of Schwartz’s poetry might well be his unconcern with dogma, without being downright rebellious in the way that Ginsberg was. Early Ashbery poems such as “Glazunoviana” or “The Grapevine” sound so Schwartzian in their structure and (postmodern) form that its easy to see the correspondence.

The poet who was most influenced by Schwartz was John Berryman, whose Dream Songs are a landmark of postmodern literature. “[T]he gullible Berryman” (Atlas 209) so admired Schwartz that he “became inarticulated in his presence and […] relied on Delmore’s advice in literary matters” (209); Schwartz was probably the first one who saw in Berryman’s early derivative poetry the promise of considerable talent, as he “did everything he could to promote [Berryman’s] reputation” (210). Additionally, the influence of Schwartz on individual poems “crucial to [Berryman’s] development” (Matterson 1) has been demonstrated satisfactorily (cf. Matterson 1ff.).

This takes us to the point where we have to consider the reasons for Delmore Schwartz’s bad standing today. If he was as influential and innovative as I claim, why is he not more famous today? Why do critics claim that “his best poetry was behind him after 1939” (Bauer, “The Figure of the Film Critic as Virile Poet”, 118), when Genesis was unwritten, as was most of the brilliant later poetry? There are several reasons for this. A particularly simple explanation might be that the rejection of Schwartz’s later poetry might be due to a reactionary strain in post-war criticism which had also tried to muffle or outright silence the poetry of the Beat poets (cf. Thurley 210f.); this reactionary strain represents a continuity of New Criticism. But Schwartz was also rejected by his friends and even by his admirers. Even as perceptive a critic as Jarrell denied the worth of Schwartz’s post-1939 poetry (cf. Travisano 20). This cannot be explained away with snobbishness.

The real problem was twofold. At first, Schwartz’s postmodernism was not a case of slight or subtle variation, it was a full shift. For this shift, however, “the taste and critical vocabulary […] had not yet been invented” (Kirsch 223) when Schwartz initiated the demise of his reputation with Genesis in 1943. The literary system had not changed with him, and the function of his post-modern aestetic was not able to unfold properly (cf. Tynjanov 439ff.), as it would’ve had twenty years later. Elizabeth Bishop could not help but call the late poetry of Schwartz “really bad” (Travisano 19). New Critical ideals even noticeably influenced the negative attitude towards the late poetry by Schwartz’s own biographer, James Atlas (cf. Bawer 147). Certainly, there are poets who made their way despite being marginalized by the literay world. These are those poets who establish alternative canons, such as Olson and the Black Mountain poets or the budding New York School of poets, which stared to form in the 1940’s, whereas Schwartz was not able to detach himself from mainstream criticism.

After the Middle Generation poets on the one hand, and experimental postmodernists on the other hand, had established themselves during the 1970’s in academic discourse, the way for a reevaluation of Schwartz was clear, but it never happened. When his new style finally fitted the literary system, it was too late. The trias of Berryman, Bellow and Atlas had already destroyed the basis for an unbiased evaluation of Schwartz’s poetry. The emerging canon of postmodern literature was partly dominated by confessional poetry (Which was and is easier palatable than Schwartz’s pioneering efforts in the 1940’s, as his poetry of that time is burdened by a grave, complicated language, whereas the easy, flowing lines of the late Lowell or Sexton can be understood easier and faster), and partly by experimental poetry, as we saw earlier. Schwartz’s poetry fits neither category. When, finally, in the 1980’s (cf. Huyssen 17f.) political aspects were becoming important factors for inclusion into the canon, Schwartz’s way into the canon was closed once and for all, on account of his blatant ignorance of all things political.
All of this meant that he had never a chance to be recognized as a poet of Postmodernism.

The themes of Schwartz’s poetry “are chiefly […] awe and abyss” (Ozick 12; italics hers). He writes with an intensity which became rare in modern poetry since Swinburne had lost his spark. ‘Awe’ and ‘abyss’ are fine descriptions of his work, they show why he was exceptional. He was filled with ‘awe’ of his literary forebears. Ford in particular has meticulously shown how indebted Schwartz was to the French modernist poets and Schwartz’s correspondence with the great modernist poets such as Pound, Stevens, Eliot and Auden showcases his deep admiration of their faculties (cf. Atlas 178 and elsewhere). Yet he evinced the abyss, too, in his work, the pessimism, the doubt that what he believed to be true was really right. He was one of the first to explore the possibilities of a poetry that breaks with modernist ideals. His courage to write the kind of revolutionary poetry he wrote, should be admired. But he failed, and the body of verse he left us is contradictory and uneven. It is hard to come to terms with this poet.

There are more problems than simply prevailing critical opinion. There is also the confusion about a definition of Postmodernism, which seems to change every time someone writes a book about it. In postmodernist poetry, the case is even more complicated, as even McHale, the author of one of the clearest and finest definitions of postmodern novels, surrendered to the difficulties of such a definition,. He conceded that he had not “been able to identify any ‘umbrella’-model capable of accomodating the full range of postmodernist features” (McHale, The Obligation Toward the Difficult Whole, 251). The best accounts of postmodern poetry similarly shy away of ‘umbrella’-models, such as Lynn Kellers brilliant study. But this retreat into particulars just postpones the problem, in my understanding. However, the seeds of a theory of postmodern poetry have been planted in McHale’s approach to postmodern novels, where he uses a term of Jakobson, the change of dominant (cf. McHale, Postmodernist Fiction, 6ff.). It seems to me that this is a direction worth pursuing. A fellow Russian Formalist, Jurij Tynjanov, has proposed a theory of literary evolution, where the text, its elements and the literary system surrounding it form a cohesive unit. The question of how to evaluate literary evolution becomes a question of relation between the elements of the literary system.

To explain the changes from one set of relations in the literary system to another, you have to take into account not only stylistic changes, McHale’s échec demonstrated this sufficiently. You have to also take literary evaluations into account, not only criticism, but also the different types of canons and their functions within the system. You will have to be prepared to suspend the kind of schematic chronology inherent in the term ‘tradition’, so you can find changes and influences (See for instance Wilson’s account of the difficult relation between the work of Yeats and Delmore Schwartz, which defies critical wisdom on how tradition worked within Modernism) where you might not have expected them, for instance the autobiographically tinged poem of Schwartz’s in his first collection of poems. In such an approach one might demonstrate how the poetry of Wilbur, Olson or Creeley is, for all intents and porposes, modernist and the poetry of Schwartz postmodernist.

Thus, the gift of Delmore Schwartz to literature is threefold. One aspect are the texts themselves. The second aspect is the influence on many poets of Postmodernism, whereby he might have shaped the literary style we call postmodern. The third and last aspect is the potential gift of clarity: we might arrive at a better understanding of postmodernism and modernism if we try to understand Delmore Schwartz.

Do you hear, do you see? Do you understand me now, and how
The words for what is my heart do not exist? (Schwartz, Summer Knowledge, 228)

"Radikal zuerst zerstören": Über die Auseinandersetzung mit der Konservativen Revolution in Thomas Bernhards Romanen "Frost" und "Auslöschung".

[Das Folgende habe ich in wenigen Tagen geschrieben, und es ist auch schon was älter. Wie immer verweise ich gerne darauf, daß es trotz seiner *hust* Schwächen durchaus informativ sein kann.]

1. Einleitung

Das Werk des österreichischen Autors Thomas Bernhard gibt seinen Interpreten auch nach Jahrzehnten ergiebiger Forschungsliteratur immer noch Rätsel auf. Zwischen den ‘Österreichbeschimpfungen’ und komplexen Auseinandersetzungen mit Philosophen von Schopenhauer bis Wittgenstein bietet es Ansatzmöglichkeiten für eine Vielzahl an Deutungen, “weil divergente […] Interpretationsinteressen daran herangetragen wurden”[1], auch im gesellschafts-theoretischen Bereich, in dem sich die vorliegende Arbeit bewegen wird.

Eine Nähe oder wenigstens eine poetische Korrespondenz zu Werken der Konservativen Revolution hat man Bernhard bislang nicht nachgewiesen[2]. Zu überzogen schienen die apodiktischen Urteile von Bernhards Figuren, als daß sich dahinter eine “dezidiert politische”[3] Meinung, die sich nicht auf einen Holocaustkommentar[4] beschränkt oder sich lediglich in rüden Beschimpfungen erschöpft, verbergen könnte.

Genau diese Nähe jedoch wird die vorliegende Arbeit nachweisen. Es gilt zu zeigen, daß Bernhards Texten eine klare Position abzulesen ist, die mit dem schlichten Urteil ‘Kulturpessimismus’ nicht zu fassen ist. Vielmehr scheint diese Position, die sich im Laufe seines Werkes immer weiter verästelt und verfeinert, gut mit Kategorien der sogenannten Konservativen Revolution erklärbar zu sein.

Es wird der vorliegenden Arbeit mehr um eine Darstellung von Bernhards Text und seinen Argumenten zu tun sein, als um eine Diskussion des Begriffs ‘Konservative Revolution’. Aus diesem Grund wird auf lediglich zwei Texte dieser Bewegung[5] Bezug genommen. Hofmannsthals “Das Schrifttum als geistiger Raum der Nation” sowie Borchardts “Schöpferische Restauration” dienen als programmatische Schriften für das, was im folgenden unter dem Begriff der Konservativen Revolution gefasst wird..

Nach einer kurzen Darstellung der beiden Texte folgt eine Untersuchung zweier Bernhardscher Romane unter den erarbeiteten Gesichtspunkten. Diese Texte sind sein erster Roman, Frost, und sein letzter, Auslöschung. Es wird sich zeigen, daß Bernhards Werk sich von einer umfassenden Kulturkritik hin zu einer Untersuchung der Möglichkeiten einer Restauration bewegt, die Visionen der Konservativen Revolution, wie sie Hofmannsthal und Borchardt verstanden, fest im Blick.

2. Die Konservative Revolution

2.1. Die Textauswahl

Hermann Rudolph schreibt:: “Der Begriff der Konservativen Revolution ist zwar nicht von Hofmannsthal geprägt worden, sein Plädoyer für ihn in der Rede ‘Das Schrifttum als geistiger Raum der Nation’ scheint aber nicht unwesentlich zu seiner Fixierung im Bewußtsein der Öffentlichkeit beigetragen zu haben”[6]. Nun ist es nicht im Interesse der vorliegenden Arbeit, Definitionen des Begriffs der Konservativen Revolution gegeneinander abzuwägen, sich gar auf das Gebiet der soziologisch-politischen Untersuchung zu begeben. Hofmannsthals Rede scheint den Geist jener politischen Bewegung getroffen zu haben[7], dieser Umstand, sowie der hohe Grad an Erwähnungen dieses Textes im Rahmen von Diskussionen der Konservativen Revolution, sprechen für eine Verwendung der Rede.

Es ist jedoch nicht ausreichend, die Analyse Bernhardschen Konservativismus allein auf Hofmannsthals Rede zu stützen, schon aufgrund ihrer wenig spezifischen Diskussion des Kritisierten, ihre “formelhaften Wendungen ließen viele Möglichkeiten der Interpretation und der Realisierung offen”[8]. Als eine Ergänzung bietet sich Rudolf Borchardts Rede zur “Schöpferischen Restauration”[9] an, da ihre Kritik an der deutschen Gesellschaft weit konkreter ausfällt, Borchardt sich in ihr eindeutiger festlegt[10] und sie somit hilfreicher im Rahmen der vorliegenden Untersuchung ist.

Die Borchardtsche Rede hat zwar nicht denselben Bekanntheitsgrad wie die Hofmannsthalsche, jedoch ist sie geeignet, um die vielen dunklen Ecken von Hofmannsthals poetisch überladenem Text auszuleuchten, da Borchardt sich auf Details des von Hofmannsthal skizzierten Programms “eine[r] konservative[n] Revolution von einem Umfange, wie die europäische Geschichte ihn nicht kennt”,[11] einläßt. Im folgenden werden kurz zentrale Punkte der beiden Reden referiert, um den Boden für die Lektüre von Frost zu bereiten.

2.2. “Das Schrifttum als geistiger Raum der Nation”

Diese Rede, “eine Art Zusammenfassung seines Weltbildes”,[12] hielt Hofmannsthal zwei Jahre vor seinem Tod und ein Jahr vor Borchardts Rede. Wie später Borchardt das 18. Jahrhundert als Parallele zu seiner Gegenwart konstruiert, so beschäftigt sich Hofmannsthal in seiner Rede zunächst mit dem, was die französische Kultur der deutschen voraus hat[13].

Der wichtigste Vorteil der Franzosen scheint nun nach Hofmannsthal zu sein, daß sie über eine “reine Sprache”[14] verfügen, mit deren Hilfe sie den in der deutschen Kultur allgegenwärtigen “Riß […] zwischen Gebildeten und Ungebildeten”[15] überwinden können. In der Sprache “redet Vergangenes zu uns, […] wir ahnen dahinter ein Etwas waltend”[16], nämlich “den Geist der Nationen”[17]. Es handelt sich hierbei nicht um gesprochene Sprache, sondern um Schrifttum, “Aufzeichnungen aller Art”[18].

Die Deutschen sind zwar nach Hofmannsthal beherrscht von den sogenannten Bildungsphilistern, aber auch unter ihnen regt sich Widerstand. “Das geistige Gewissen der Nation”[19], sind die Suchenden, “Träger […] dieser produktiven Anarchie”[20], was die genaueste Beschreibung der Konservativen Revolution ist, die man im Text finden kann. Zentral in der Bewegung der Suchenden sind verschiedene Führergestalten, die außerhalb der gesellschaftlichen Ordnung stehen. Gleichwohl ist nicht Individualismus, sondern Einheit der Leitgedanke von Hofmannsthals Vision: “[a]lle Zweiteilungen […] sind im Geiste zu überwinden […]; alles im äußeren Zerklüftete muß […] dort in eines gedichtet werden, damit außen Einheit werde.”[21]

“Hofmannsthal sagt nirgends klar und eindeutig, was er unter konservativer Revolution versteht.”[22] Dafür muss erst Borchardt kommen, mit seiner Eloge auf die Romantik und seiner Verdammung des modernen Menschen in seiner Rede zur schöpferischen Restauration.

2.3. “Schöpferische Restauration”

Borchardt entwickelte die Idee der schöpferischen Restauration als Teil einer Redekampagne[23]. So hat sie auch, anders als die etwas zerfahrene Vorgängerrede Hugo von Hofmannsthals, eine ausgeklügelte rhetorische Struktur, die sich des Hauptstilmittels der Analogie bedient.

Ohne Umschweife erklärt Borchardt früh, wem seine Sympathien gehören und wen es anzugreifen gilt. Auf der einen Seite sind die “Schöpfer, Begeisterer und Former”[24] der Romantik, und auf der anderen Seite sorgt das restliche 18. Jahrhundert für die “Unterjochung dessen, was noch Philosophie heißen kann”[25]. In seine ausführliche, beißende Kritik an den Entartungen, die dieses Jahrhundert hervorgebracht habe, streut Borchardt wiederholt Analogien,[26] so daß die Zuhörer seine Anmerkungen auf ihre eigene Zeit anwenden. Er macht klar, daß bloße Ideen diesen Zustand, damals wie heute, nicht ändern können, dazu wäre eine “Schöpfergestalt”[27] vonnöten, ganz im Sinne von Hofmannsthals “Suchenden”[28].

Borchardt betont stärker als Hofmannsthal die herausragende Rolle der Romantiker im gemeinsamen Geschichtsbild. Seine Romantiker sind nicht nur Suchende, sie sind jene, die einst fanden, wonach heute gesucht wird. Sie haben erkannt, woran es der Welt mangelt, sie hatten Teil an “der klaren, der siegreichen, der seherischen Erkenntnis”[29]. Jedoch, Erkenntnis ist nach Borchardt eine notwendige, nicht aber eine hinreichende Bedingung für den Wechsel.

Erst die “politische Katastrophe der Welt”[30] habe damals die Welt in einen Zustand versetzt, in dem sie bereit für einen Wechsel gewesen sei. Aber die Welt habe ihre Chance nicht genutzt, trotz der Romantiker und ihres weltweiten Einflusses hätten sich entscheidende Entwicklungen “erst nach der Schicksalsstunde und schon in der Stunde verfallenden Rechtes”[31] eingestellt.

Diese Analyse ist der entscheidende Teil der Rede. Was folgt, ist eine harte Kritik am modernen Massenmenschen: “[d]er historische Begriff des Volkes ist zersprungen [und] durch den der neuen Massen ersetzt”[32]. Der moderne Mensch ist nun “auf der Pöbelstufe”[33]. Borchardt bietet nun, da erneut ein Krieg die Weichen für eine Veränderung gestellt hat, seine Idee der schöpferischen Restauration an, und zwar “nicht als Reaktion […], sondern, wenn […] das Wort Revolution hier bedenklich klingt, als eine Reformation an Haupt und Gliedern”[34]. Zu den Maßnahmen dieser Reform gehört eine Stärkung des Nationenbegriffs zuungunsten des Volksbegriffs und ein Aufspüren des Urdeutschen in dem, was heute noch deutsche Kultur und Sprache ist.

3. Frost

3.1. Der Pöbel

Thomas Bernhards Erstlingsroman Frost fasst bereits alle kritischen Einwände in Bernhards Werk gegen die Moderne zusammen, die sich später in anderen Formen in seinem übrigen Texten wiederfinden lassen. Der Protagonist, der Maler Strauch, sagt dem ihn beobachtenden Famulanten mit, wie dieser die Welt zu verstehen habe. Das Bild, das Strauch von der Welt zeichnet, ist düster. Wie viele der frühen Romane Bernhards ist auch Frost auf dem Land angesiedelt. Die Städte in Bernhards späterem Werk, darunter Salzburg, Wien und Rom, sind hier noch ferne Orte.[35] Besonders deutlich wird dies in Frost, da keiner der beiden Protagonisten ursprünglich aus der Ortschaft Weng stammt, in welcher der Roman spielt. Mit dem Betreten von Weng betritt der junge Student gleichzeitig die dunkle Welt von Strauch, seine Aussage, Weng sei “der düsterste Ort” den er “jemals gesehen habe” (F 10),[36] könnte sich genauso auf Strauchs Inneres beziehen, schließlich steht Strauchs sich stetig verschlimmernde Krankheit “in korrelativer Beziehung zu dem Auflösungsprozeß in Weng”.[37]

Weng löst sich tatsächlich auf, und zwar ist nicht die Natur die Ursache, obwohl auch der Wald “von einer eigentümlichen Bedrohlichkeit gekennzeichnet ist”[38], vielmehr ist es die moderne Welt, die den Ort in Besitz genommen hat. Weng, das doch eigentlich in einer ländlichen Gegend liegt, ist bevölkert vom Proletariat, das “im Laufe von drei Jahrzehnten ins Tal hereingeschwemmt worden ist” (F 109). Die auf diese Weise neu zusammengesetzte Bevölkerung ist krank, “[d]as Tal ist berüchtigt wegen seiner Tuberkulosefälle” (F 149). “Die Bäuerlichen” (F 109) werden nach und nach verdrängt von dem Proletariat, das mit der modernen Industrie ins Tal kommt, welche die Krankheit mit sich bringt. Die Tuberkulose nämlich “scheint mit den Abwässern der Zellulosefabrik zusammenzuhängen” (F 149), eines der drei Industriemerkmale in der Gegend neben dem Kraftwerk (vgl. F 214f.) und der Eisenbahn.

In der Trennung, die zwischen den Bauern und dem Proletariat verläuft, befindet sich ein deutlicher Anklang an Borchardts Pöbel einerseits und seine Trauer um das verlorene “Volk der Romantik”[39] andererseits. Die Macht des Pöbels nimmt in Weng zu, die Bauern, die mit dem Katholizismus[40] identifiziert werden, haben “ausgespielt”, denn der “Kommunismus schreitet weit aus. In ein paar Jahren gibt es nur noch den Kommunismus. Und Bauerntum ist dann nur noch ein Traum.” (F 109)

3.2. Träumen

Der eigentliche Traum aber hinter der gehässigen Wengbeschimpfung des Malers, die auch auf den Famulanten abfärbt, ist der einer “vorindustrielle[n] aristokratische[n] Utopie[]”[41], etwas, das überdeutlich wird, wenn Strauch von den “Herrenhäusern[n] und Schlösser[n]” (F 230) schwärmt. Diese sind nicht eindeutig als Nachtträume erkennbar, zumindest werden sie vom Maler als wahrhaftig beschrieben, jedoch geschieht dies in einem von Paradoxa übervollen Monolog. Zudem hat Gößling mit Recht darauf hingewiesen, daß die Mitteilungen des Malers, die nicht vom Protokoll führenden Famulanten überprüft sind[42], “den inhaltlich auf diesem lastenden Wahnverdacht”[43] erhärten.

Träume schaffen im Träumenden eine zweite Wirklichkeit, was in Frost für Nachträume wie für Visionen gleichermaßen gilt, “[i]nnen ist jetzt der andere Schauplatz, und er stimmt mit dem Schauplatz draußen nicht überein”[44]. In wenigen Bernhardschen Werken sind der Traum und der Wahnsinn so präsent wie in Frost und die Tatsache, daß sich Strauch diesen Dingen aussetzt, kann gelesen werden als “Resultat eines Denkens, das an das äußerst Mögliche gehen will […] im Interesse der Präzision”[45], wenn man das Hofmannsthalsche Diktum in Betracht zieht, daß “[a]lle Zweiteilungen […] im Geiste zu überwinden”[46] sind. Strauchs Anspruch ist eben ein solcher Hofmannsthalscher, am Rand des Möglichen, ein Denken bzw. eine Sprache, in der es “keine Irrtümer” gibt und ” der Zufall und das Böse […] ausgeschlossen” sind (F 230). Es ist “alles unerfüllbar” (F 30) und doch muß man Strauchs Bemühungen lesen als ein Versuch, durch möglichst starke Verdichtung und Präzision, “bis in die höchsten Vorstellungen der Verfeinerung hinauf” (F 82), sein Ziel der inneren Einheit zu erreichen.

3.3. Das Alleinsein

Ob Strauch nun aber wirklich ein “synthesesuchender Geist”[47] im Sinne Hofmannsthals ist, ist nicht abschließend zu klären. Der Traum bietet eine alternative Lesart des Wahns und Antriebs der Figur Strauch an. Da der Traum, den Strauch versteht als “den Eintritt in das höhere Staunen” (F 269), bei Bernhard fungiert als “das subversive Potential, die anarchische Dimension”[48], schließt er sich nahtlos an Hofmannsthals Diskussion des geistigen Gewissens der Nation an, das “Spannungen und Beklemmungen hervorruft”[49]. Strauch, obwohl er vielleicht nicht der ersehnte Führer ist, versucht doch, die innere und äußere Einigung zu erzwingen, die Entindividuation, die am Ende der Konservativen Revolution stehen soll. “Die erhoffte Entindividuation soll durch ein Höchstmaß […] an Individuation verwirklicht werden. Von dieser wird erwartet, daß sie auf eine mystische Art und Weise in jene umspringt”[50].

Die Individuation des Malers vollzieht sich in Frost mittels des Alleinseins, des “Eingeschlossenseins in sich selbst” (F 29). Er muß Mitteilungen aus sich lösen, “er reißt die Worte aus sich heraus wie aus einem Sumpfboden” (F 137). Dies ist gleichzeitig, neben einer Denkmethode, ein Selbstschutz[51] gegen die feindliche Umwelt. Eine ähnliche Doppelfunktion findet sich auch in dem titelgebenden Frost. “Der Frost frißt alles auf” (F 247), “[p]lötzlich ist es so kalt, daß einem die Stirnhöhle einfrieren kann” (F 246) und andererseits ist die “Kälte […] der scharfsinnigste Zustand”, der “im Hirn den Verstandesklöppel anschlagen läßt” (F 247). Die Kälte, die auch sinnbildlich für ein versagendes, da bewegungsloses[52] Gesellschaftssystem ist, das wir in der Ordnung von Wolfsegg wiederfinden werden.

Strauch scheitert, er findet keine Antwort, und wenn “der Geist keine Antwort zu finden vermag, übernimmt […] der Körper für den Menschen die Antwort”[53]. Strauch versagt in seinem Vorhaben und sein Körper versagt mit ihm. Nicht, weil durch seinen Einsatz sich die Welt oder doch wenigstens Weng nicht verändert hätte, sondern weil er niemandem ein Führer, das heißt: Lehrer war. Gegen Ende formuliert er es so: “der Eintritt in das höhere Staunen, wissen Sie, und ganz allein” (F 269). Seinen Gesprächspartner, der sich in der Sprache wiederfindet als ‘Sie’, kann er nicht in seine Traumwelt mitnehmen.

3.4. Sprache und Ordnung

Der Famulant schließt seinen Bericht mit den knappen Worten: “[a]m Abend des gleichen Tages beendete ich meine Famulatur und reiste zurück in die Hauptstadt, wo ich mein Studium fortsetzte.” (F 316). Als sei nichts gewesen, fährt der Student in seinem Tagewerk fort. Jedoch hat, still und heimlich, eine enorme Veränderung statt gefunden. Aus den Worten, dem “bloßen Verständigungsmittel”[54] wurde durch des Famulanten Tagebuchaufzeichnungen, die, zusammen mit ein paar Briefen, den Roman Frost konstituieren, echtes Schrifttum. Wenn Kritiker wie Huntemann die Tagebuchform als “Reflex [einer] schreibskeptischen Einsicht”[55] begreifen, so ist ihnen unbedingt zu wiedersprechen, drückt doch die Fixierung in Schrift Vertrauen in eben jene aus. Durch die Schrift kann der Famulant, der sich Strauch “ausgeliefert” (F 304) fühlt, genug Distanz aufbauen, um den Maler als “Wortfetzen und verschobene Satzgefüge” (F 214) begreifen zu können.

“Was fange ich mit seiner Sprache an?” (F 137) fragt sich der Famulant, weit entfernt davon, sich tatsächlich Strauchs “Herzmuskelsprache” (F 137) auszuliefern. Statt dessen bildet er von außen jenes Strauchsche Denken nach, das, wie hier bereits festgestellt, ein nach innen gekehrtes ist, mithilfe der Schrift als Ordnungssystem der Sprache. Sie als solche zu begreifen, bietet sich an in einem Text, in dem nicht die Zerstörung von Natur beklagt wird, sondern eben die Zerstörung von Kultur, von von Menschenhand geschaffener Ordnung[56], die von Strauch wiederholt als Utopie beschrieben wird: “ein Park […] der unendlich sei, […] eine Schönheit, ein kunstvoller Einfall reihe sich in diesem Park an den anderen.” (F 82). Wenn Hofmannsthal in bezug auf die Konservative Revolution verkündet, “[i]hr Ziel ist Form”[57], so kommt das den Strauchschen Vorstellungen schon sehr nahe. Aber anders als bei Hofmannsthal und Borchardt ist in Frost kein Prozeß über den sprachlichen hinaus zu sehen. “Der Maler redet und ich höre zu” (F 225), diese “Urszene der Bernhardschen Gesprächskunst”[58] hat hier noch keine Auswirkung.

Sie hat aber wenigstens erkenntnisfördernde Funktion, denn durch die Sprache, die “der Konstruktion des Denkens, dem Ausdruck als Denksystem”[59]dient, merkt der Student als Hörer dieser Sprache, daß die Sprache, aus dem tiefsten Innern “in die Welt, in die Menschen hinein” (F 137) führt und bestätigt somit das Ausmaß der Strauchschen Innerlichkeit. Die Sprache des Malers ist die komprimierte “Worttransfusion” (F 137), die für den in der Welt stehenden Famulanten zusammenhangslos scheint, aber auf den zweiten Blick “ungeheure Zusammenhänge” (F 137) hat, nur eben im Maler.

Der Sprachschwall, der nur in eine Richtung erfolgt, fordert den Famulanten heraus, der ihm zunächst keine Ordnung zu geben vermag. Erst später ist er imstande Bericht zu erstatten (vgl. F 309f.). Durch diesen ‘Erfolg’ wird in Frost eine Gegenüberstellung von redendem und schreibendem Subjekt konstruiert, mithilfe derer eine weitere Dimension des Strauchschen Versagens offenkundig wird, Strauch vermag eben gerade nicht, aufzuschreiben, Bericht zu erstatten, er muß stets aufhören “nach dem dritten oder vierten Wort” (F 316). Hofmannsthals Diktum, daß nur in der Schrift “[a]lles Höhere, des Merkens würdige”[60] überliefert werde, hinterlässt seine Spuren im Versagen von Strauch. Der lehrende Protagonist der Auslöschung ist hingegen auch ein Schreiber[61].

4. Auslöschung

4.1. Wolfsegg

Franz-Josef Murau, der Erbe von Wolfsegg, verschenkt diesen “gigantische[n] Besitzklumpen” (Aus 37), nach der Beerdigung seiner Eltern. Als Privatlehrer von Gambetti, einem jungen italienischen Mann aus gutsituierter Familie, verdient er gut, ließ sich aber immer finanziell von seinen Eltern unter die Arme greifen. Der Grund für sein Handeln kann also kaum finanzielle Unabhängigkeit sein. Einer der vielen möglichen Gründe liegt in der Konstitution von Wolfsegg. “Murau […] ist gleichzeitig ein Teil und ein Opfer von Wolfsegg. Er ist daher unfähig zu erben”[62]. Wolfsegg, wie Weng in Frost, ist mehr als ein Ort, mehr als Wald, Schloß und Felder. Es ist eine “Kindheitslandschaft” (Aus 599), in der nicht nur die Kindheit Muraus abgebildet ist, sondern vielmehr auch die ‘Kindheit’ des modernen österreichischen Staates[63]. Wolfsegg ist konstruiert aus verschiedenen widerstreitenden Elementen. Erstens die “sogenannte Kindervilla” (Aus 184), in der ein Kindertheater untergebracht ist, ihr Gegenstück ist das Haupthaus von Wolfsegg, der Ort der Erwachsenen, wo sich das Familienleben “mehr oder weniger abspielt” (Aus 183). In Nachbarschaft zur Kindervilla befinden sich die anderen beiden, einander als Gegensätze präsentierten Häuser, das Jägerhaus und das Gärtnerhaus.

“Die Jäger waren niemals meine Freunde gewesen” (Aus 185) schreibt Murau, und nicht zufällig klingt in diesem Satz ein kindlicher Ton nach. Denn nahezu alle Wolfseggerinnerungen Muraus verbindet dieser mit der Kindheit[64] oder der frühen Jugend. Als Erwachsener erfährt Murau daß seine Eltern nach dem zweiten Weltkrieg “ihre nationalsozialistischen Gesinnungsgenossen”, Nationalsozialisten hohen Ranges, in eben der “geliebte[n] Kindervilla” (Aus 184) versteckt hatten. Die Jäger “waren die Faschisten” (Aus 192), sagt Murau später zu seinem Schüler Gambetti, aber es bleibt ungeklärt, wie in weiten Teilen des restlichen Romans, wieviel er tatsächlich erinnert und wieviel sich in seiner Erinnerung sich verändert hat, da eine objektivierende Instanz, wie sie der Famulant in Frost wenigstens ansatzweise darstellte, völlig entfällt.

Auf der anderen Seite stehen die Gärtner, die Murau, damals wie später, lobend unter die “einfachen und ungekünstelten” Menschen zählt. Als Kind ging er gerne und oft zu den Gärtnern, “die ich liebte” (Aus 257), wie Murau schreibt. Die Gärtner sind eng verbunden mit der Natur, mit einem restaurierenden natürlichen Kreislauf, nicht wie die Jäger, die auf alles schießen, das ihnen vor die Flinte kommt und seien es unbescholtene Bürger (vgl. Aus 192). “Die Gärtner in Wolfsegg” hingegen “hatten immer eine heilsame Wirkung ausgeübt” (Aus 334). So ist es im Rahmen der Konstruktion von Auslöschung nicht überraschend, daß Murau darauf besteht, daß wenigstens einer der drei Särge von den Gärtnern getragen werden soll (vgl. Aus 412f.).

Die Gärtner sind “die reinen Menschen” (Aus 334), eine Formulierung, die wirkt, als habe Murau in ihnen das Volk der Romantik wiedergefunden, und tatsächlich redet er, kaum daß er in Wolfsegg ankommt, zuerst mit diesen Gärtnern. Sie sind die “die natürlichsten” (Aus 399), in einer Umgebung, die von Ritualen und “eine[r] unerträgliche[n] Künstlichkeit” (Aus 108) dominiert ist. Während in Frost weite Teile des Romans im Wald stattfinden, bei Spaziergängen durch die steifgefrorene Natur, sind in der Auslöschung, soweit es Wolfsegg betrifft, die Räume entscheidend, die vier Häuser, die eben beschrieben wurden, aber “[d]er Raum zwingt zum Ritual […] Jeder Versuch, gegen diese Ordnung aufzubegehren, wird bestraft”[65]. Murau, als Kind in Wolfsegg, steht unter Dauerbeobachtung in diesen Räumen, alles, was er seinen Eltern sagt, kann als mögliche Lüge aufgefasst werden, besonders schwierig scheinen die mit der Bibliothek zusammenhängenden Belange zu sein. Auch wenn Murau schwört, “zum Lesezweck” (Aus 259) in einer der fünf Bibliotheken gewesen zu sein, wird er der Lüge bezichtigt, man unterstellt ihm, er sei dort seinen “abwegigen Gedanken” (Aus 259) nachgegangen, ohne daß die Natur jener Gedanken je spezifiziert wird.

4.2. Das geheime Denken

Gedanken, Bücher, Ideen sind gefährlich in Wolfsegg, es gibt dort Kästen, in denen “[d]ie Voltaire und Montaigne und Descartes […] ein für allemal versiegelt sein” (Aus 147) sollten, Kästen, die Muraus Onkel Georg, das enfant terrible der Familie, einmal geöffnet hatte und die nach Onkel Georgs Abreise und Umzug nach Cannes, “an dieser Teufelsküste” (Aus 148) wieder fest verschlossen wurden, “sie hatten dabei die Schlüssel nicht nur einmal, sondern gleich zwei- und dreimal umgedreht” (Aus 148f.). Denken scheint gefährlich zu sein, und “[d]as geheimgehaltene Denken ist das entscheidende” (Aus 161).

Dieser letzte Punkt scheint mir ein in der Bernhardforschung unterschätzter zu sein[66], das Denken muß nicht geheimgehalten werden, weil die Gedanken inhaltlich gefährlich sind, oder weil Denken überhaupt eine gefährliche Tätigkeit ist, deren Ausübung man dann natürlich verbergen müßte. Es geht im Gegenteil darum, nicht zu verraten, daß unser Kopf “vollkommen leer” (Aus 160) ist, das kommt ab und zu vor, und dann empfinden wir “einen solchen fürchterlichen Schmerz, daß wir nur fortwährend aufschreien müssten” (Aus 160), was man tunlichst vermeiden sollte, denn das würde “das Ende bedeuten” (Aus 160). Es ist also die Leere, die das geheime Denken darstellt, das Verzweifeln. Das macht auch Sinn im Zusammenhang mit den Attacken der Familie gegen Muraus Bibliotheksaufenthalte, denn nie wird er bestraft für das Lesen indizierter Bücher, man vermutet vielmehr dunkle Beweggründe. Diese könnten durchaus das Nichtdenken sein.

Eine weitere Verbindung ergibt sich hier zu Frost. Nachdem er seine Unfähigkeit erklärt hat, einen kohärenten Text zu Papier zu bringen, beschreibt der Maler Strauch einen “unvorstellbare[n] Schmerz” (F 316), der von seinem Kopf ausgeht. Es ist in der Auslöschung genau die umgekehrte Problemlage. Murau vermag sehr wohl zu schreiben, die auch in der Auslöschung vorhandenen Dialoge dienen zur Erzeugung einer “Mündlichkeitsfiktion, wie sie nur im Medium der Schrift möglich ist”[67]. Durch die an den Anfang und an das Ende gesetzten “schreibt Murau” wird der Schriftcharakter der Murauschen Monologe weiter forciert. Wenn also Murau, der nirgends von derartigen Schmerzen an seinem eigenen Körper berichtet, einen ähnlichen Schmerz beschreibt wie Strauch, könnte man daraus, geht man von einem Werkkontinuum bei Bernhard aus, auf eine weitere Abwertung der Strauchschen Geistesleistung sprechen, denn das leere Blatt und der leere Kopf wiedersprechen sich womöglich nicht unbedingt.

4.3. Auslöschung

Ganz so einfach aber sieht es nicht aus in der Auslöschung. Eva Marquard weist mit Recht darauf hin, daß der Text der Auslöschung gar nicht von Murau geschrieben ist, “sein schriftlich abgefasster Text mit dem Titel ‘Auslöschung’ wird lediglich mitgeteilt”[68], ohne daß es Informationen gibt, wer der Herausgeber, beziehungsweise der Erzähler ist, ob das Manuskript tatsächlich den Titel ‘Auslöschung’ trägt[69] und welchen Umfang es tatsächlich hat, denn diesbezüglich gibt es weder Informationen noch Markierungen irgendeiner Art im Text. Das Projekt der Auslöschung, das Murau wiederholt ankündigt, wird so aus dem Text herausgetragen, auch durch den Trick, daß Murau Gambetti aufträgt, “Amras von Thomas Bernhard” (Aus 7f.) zu lesen, nun ist es aber “keine fiktive Tatsache, sondern eine tatsächliche, daß […] Bernhard diesen Text geschrieben hat, Auslöschung bezieht sich damit explizit auf die textexterne Wirklichkeit”[70]. Das Projekt der Auslöschung bekommt damit auch Gewicht außerhalb der narrativen Struktur von Auslöschung, eine Voraussetzung, damit es als gesellschaftstheoretisches Konzept im Rahmen der Konservativen Revolution angemessen diskutiert werden kann.

Zunächst einmal bezeichnet Muraus Konzept der Auslöschung seine Rebellion gegen den “Herkunftskomplex” (Aus 201), gegen die lebenslängliche Auseinandersetzung mit den immergleichen Themen. Es ist ein autobiographisches Projekt, nur daß er in diesem Bericht, den er Auslöschung zu nennen gedenkt, “alles” auslöscht, seine “ganze Familie wird in ihm ausgelöscht ihre Zeit wird darin ausgelöscht, Wolfsegg wird ausgelöscht in meinem Bericht” (Aus 201).

Es ist hier nicht wörtlich seine Familie gemeint[71], oder ihre ‘Zeit’, es handelt sich mehr um das, was seine Familie repräsentiert, “die infame Provinzhölle” (Aus 295). Die Wolfsegger Ordnung ist starr, dort sitzen die Bildungsphilister[72], die kein Interesse an gesellschaftlicher Bewegung haben. Wenn also Murau behauptet, “Wolfsegg […] auseinanderzunehmen und zu zersetzen” (Aus 296), obwohl er eigentlich Wolfsegg für den Leser überhaupt erst erschafft, dann kann seine “Geistesarbeit” (Aus 613) sich nur gegen diese Ordnung, die “etablierten Strukturen”[73] richten, die nicht eine überkommene ist, sondern nur eine zu starre. Die Wolfsegger sind nicht bereit, “in ihre fürchterlichen Geschichtsabgründe hinein und hinunter” (Aus 17) zu schauen, es mußte erst Onkel Georg kommen, um den jungen Murau “auf den Gegenweg” (Aus 147) zu bringen. Die Tatsache, daß es um eine Besinnung auf die alten, jahrhundertelang missachteten Bücher in den Bibliotheken geht, um eine rückwärtsgewandte Geschichtsbetrachtung, legt nahe, daß es sich beim Projekt der Auslöschung tatsächlich um ein Projekt im Geiste der Konservativen Revolution handelt. Murau blickt nicht in die Zukunft, ohne gleichzeitig in die Vergangenheit zu blicken.

4.4. Restauration und Konservierung

4.4.1. Restauration in Wolfsegg

Murau hat genaue Vorstellungen, was er in Wolfsegg erreichen will, als er dort ankommt. Im wesentlichen handelt es sich hierbei um zwei Dinge. “Es wird mein erstes sein, […] in Wolfsegg den eingesperrten bösen Geist [die eingesperrten Bücher; M.I.] auszulassen, […] und die Bücherkästentüren werde ich […] weit auflassen für immer” (Aus 150), ein Vorgang, bei dem Murau offenbar trachtet, Vergangenes wiederzubeleben, um damit wiederum die Gegenwart zu beleben, “die Geschichte des deutschen[74] Geistes […] wieder erbau[en], bewahr[en]”[75]. Diese Geschichte sucht er “in den alten Büchern, auf den alten Stichen” (Aus 115).

Sylvia Kaufmann hat überzeugend nachgewiesen, daß Muraus Buchpräferenz “reinstates the Romantic antagonism of artist and philistine”[76], so daß auch die verhandelten Bücher selber eine Verbindung zu Borchardts “seherischer Erkenntnis”[77] herstellen. Den Ahnen, denen er nachspürt in den fünf Bibliotheken, fühlt er sich verbundener als den Philistern seiner Gegenwart, “sie hatten ein naturgemäßes Bedürfnis nach Geist und Denken” (Aus 263) lobt er und schwärmt: “Was waren das für Zeiten” (Aus 263). Nach einem ähnlichen Prinzip suchte er sich seinen Wohnort Rom aus: “für den Kopf des Altertums ist Rom die ideale Stadt gewesen, für den heutigen Kopf ist es wieder die ideale” (Aus 207). Seine Ahnenverehrung treibt er sogar soweit, daß er in einem obskuren Portrait den Familienphilosophen zu erkennen glaubt, an “diese[m] charakteristische[n] Descartesbart und [der] hochgezogene[n] Descartesbraue” (Aus 360), dessen Existenz nur gerüchteweise bestätigt ist.

Das zweite Projekt, das er sich in Angriff zu nehmen vornimmt, ist die Restaurierung der Kindervilla, die “vor rund zweihundert Jahren in der Art gebaut worden [ist] in der Art der florentinischen Villen” (Aus 184).. Dieser Bezug nach Italien ist gleichzeitig, im Kontext der antiken Figur Rom, wie oben dargestellt, zu lesen als zeitlicher Rückbezug. Zum einen in die Antike, und zum anderen, auf der expliziten Ebene, um 200 Jahre zurück, zur Zeit der Habsburger, kurz vor dem Verfall des KuK.

4.4.2. Habsburg

Zwar wird die glorreiche österreichische Vergangenheit selten explizit thematisiert in der Auslöschung, dennoch ist der Schatten des “habsburgischen Mythos'”[78] immer zu spüren[79], nicht zuletzt durch den vielsagenden Vornamen des Protagonisten, Franz-Josef, der zwangläufig solche Assoziationen auslöst[80]. “Der Untergang der Monarchie wirkt bis heute traumatisch nach”[81] in der österreichischen Literatur und in Bernhards Werk besonders deutlich. Bei einer näheren Betrachtung ist die Angst vor dem dräuenden Kommunismus in Frost übersetzbar in die Angst vor einer der Monarchie radikal entgegengesetzten Gesellschaftsform.

Dennoch ist sich Murau in der Auslöschung nicht zu schade, eine wiederholte, mehrseitige Katholizismusbeschimpfung zu unternehmen, deren erste Beschimpfungswelle in der Behauptung gipfelt: “[w]ie kein anderes Volk hat sich das unsere von der katholischen Kirche ausnützen lassen” (Aus 146) und deren zweiter den Ausdruck “unser nationalsozialistisch-katholisches Volk” (Aus 444)[82] enthält. Der Katholizismus ist aber in der Auslöschung nicht mit der habsburger Zeit assoziiert, sondern mit der starren faschistoiden Ordnung von Wolfsegg, denn “gegen den Katholizismus,” das “bedeutete […] gegen alles” (Aus 147.).

4.4.3. Literatur und Sprache

Zuletzt bleibt die Frage des Umgangs mit den literarischen Traditionen. In Hofmannsthals Rede wurde der schlechte Umgang mit dem “nationalen Besitz”[83], das heißt, Kulturbesitz beklagt. Man ehre “die wahren großen deutschen Epiker”[84] nicht in ausreichendem Maße. Besonders auffällig sei es im Falle von Goethe, zu dessen Werk es keinen Konsens gebe. Scheinbar reiht sich auch Murau in jene von Hofmannsthal kritisierten ein, die Goethe nicht als Teil der Tradition begreifen oder sogar diese Tradition, und Goethe mit ihr schlicht verwerfen, Goethe, “den Gesteinsnumerierer, den Sterndeuter, den philosophischen Daumenlutscher der Deutschen, der ihre Seelenmarmelade abgefüllt hat in ihre Haushaltsgläser” (Aus 575).

Bei genauerem Hinsehen entpuppt sich jedoch diese Goethebeschimpfung als ein Angriff auf die Goethepietät des Bildungsphilisters im Sinne Hofmannsthals, der die “nicht ganz angenehme[] Goethevertraulichkeit der Philologen und [die] Goethepietät der Einzelnen”[85] kritisierte. Die Attacke Muraus gilt nicht Goethe, dem großen Dichter, sondern Goethe, dem “philosophischen Kleinbürger”, der “den Kopf in den deutschen Schrebergarten gesteckt hat” (Aus 575). Nicht die Tradition wird angegriffen, sondern der falsche, starre, geistig unbewegliche Umgang mit ihr[86]. Murau, der die Gedichte seiner Lieblingsdichterin Maria “immer geliebt hat” (Aus 511), erklärt, diese hätten “den Wert der Goetheschen Gedichte, die [er] am höchsten einschätzt” (Aus 512). Es geht um ein tieferes Verständnis von Literatur, das sich auch in seinem Selbstverständnis als Schriftsteller widerspiegelt[87]: er sieht in sich “nur ein[en] Vermittler von Literatur”, “[e]ine Art literarischer Realitätenvermittler” (Aus 615).

“Das Werk ja, habe ich zu Gambetti gesagt, aber seinen Erzeuger, nein” (Aus 616), schreibt Murau und setzt damit eine wichtige Trennung. Der Text geht ein in die literarisch-kulturelle Tradition, sei der Autor auch noch so gefangen in seiner Gegenwart. Eine ähnliche Trennung in der Betrachtung findet statt, wenn Murau feststellt: “die deutschen Wörter hängen wie Bleigewichte an der deutschen Sprache […] und drücken […] den Geist auf eine diesem Geist schädliche Ebene” (Aus 8). Nation heißt für Borchardt “wie in Urzeiten und allen Zeiten mit seinesgleichen eins”[88] sein. Im Rahmen dieses Konzeptes müssen auch die widersprüchlichen Kommentare Muraus zur deutschen Sprache und Literatur gelesen werden.

Die Trennung von der deutschen Gegenwart, sowie die heftige Romanophilie in der Auslöschung, die übrigens auch ihr Pendant in Hofmannsthals Rede hat, hat in Bernhards Text jedoch eine ganz besondere Dimension, die weder von Hofmannsthal noch von Borchardt vorhergesehen werden konnte, nämlich Auschwitz und die Möglichkeiten und Schwierigkeiten mit dem ‘Deutschen’ und der deutschen Sprache nach Auschwitz, findet sich doch der Nationalsozialismus, wie auch in dieser Arbeit mehrfach angeklungen ist, an prominenter Stelle im Herkunftskomplex der Auslöschung wieder.

4.5. Konservative Revolution

4.5.1. Abschenkung

Wie Borchardt erkennt Murau, daß es “einen weltweiten Verdummungsprozeß” (Aus 646) gibt[89] und erklärt lakonisch, im Angesicht dieses unaufhaltsamen Prozesses gebe es nur die Möglichkeit, sich umzubringen. Dies schlägt zwar einen Bogen zu Muraus Auslöschungsfantasien, aber zeigt sich, im Rahmen der Konstruktion der Auslöschung, als rhetorische Figur. Murau ging, war er “unglücklicher als erträglich”, “[z]u den Gärtnern, […] nicht zu den Jägern” (Aus 191, Hervorhebung Bernhards). Auch in dem gerade beschriebenen Verzweiflungszustand ginge er, führte man diesen Denkvorgang fort, nicht zu den Jägern, die sich “durch ihre Vernichtungswut die Illusion verschaffen, Herren über Leben und Tod zu sein”[90], sondern zu den Gärtnern. Auslöschung bedeutet in der Auslöschung nicht Vernichtung, dafür gibt es kein Indiz. Am Ende des Romans verschenkt Murau Wolfsegg, ein folgerichtiges Ende in der Lesart der vorliegenden Arbeit, der Israelischen Kultusgemeinde in Wien (vgl. Aus 650f.). Es ist insofern folgerichtig, als daß Murau damit die starre Ordnung von Wolfsegg völlig auflöst, indem er sie abtrennt von dem Geschlecht und der Befehlsgewalt der alten Schlossherren, aber nicht zur Erreichung von Chaos oder Anarchie, sondern um Wolfsegg in eine andere Ordnung zu überführen, denn von der Schenkung ist ja nicht eine Privatperson betroffen, sondern eine ganze Gemeinde, die über ihre eigene Struktur und Ordnung verfügt. Ausgelöscht wird also nicht Wolfsegg im wörtlichen Sinne, sondern Wolfsegg im übertragenen Sinne, die Ordnung von Wolfsegg.

4.5.2. Zerstörung

Analog zum Wolfsegger Vorgang vollzöge sich auch -in der Theorie- die Konservativen Revolution in der Welt. “[N]ur eine tatsächlich grundlegende, elementare Revolution […] kann die Rettung sein” (Aus 146) schreibt Murau, eine “Reformation an Haupt und Gliedern”[91] gewissermaßen. Murau, der nicht ähnlichen kleinbürgerlichen Hemmnissen ausgesetzt ist wie Borchardt, hat keine Scheu vor dem Begriff der Revolution, und auch keine Scheu davor, zu erklären, man müsse, ehrlicherweise, “die Welt […] ganz und gar radikal zuerst zerstören, beinahe bis auf nichts vernichten, um sie dann auf die [Murau] erträglich erscheinende Weise wieder herzustellen” (Aus 209). Dies mag, an der Oberfläche, kollidieren mit dem Element der Restauration, bzw. mit dem “‘konservativen’ Aspekt der Konservativen Revolution. Jedoch, wie man bereits an der angekündigten Auslöschung und ihrer tatsächlichen Abwicklung gemerkt hat, geht es Murau nicht um Vernichtung.

Der wichtigste Aspekt scheint mithin das “wieder herzustellen” sein und die Zerstörung hat ihren Gegenpart in Borchardts Postulat einer “politische Katastrophe der Welt”[92]. 1983 kann Murau sich allerdings nicht auf den 2. Weltkrieg als Katastrophe besinnen, restaurative Handlungen zu Muraus Gegenwart fänden “erst nach der Schicksalsstunde und schon in der Stunde verfallenden Rechtes”[93] statt und wären somit, ganz im Sinne Borchardts, sinn- und wirkungslos.

4.5.3. Führung

Sowohl Borchardt als auch Hofmannsthal betonen die Rolle des Führers, beide haben gewisse Einwände in mögliche Führerfiguren, wie Hofmannsthal sie skizziert[94]. Die Notwendigkeit einer solchen Figur jedoch steht für beide außer Frage. Wie in der Betrachtung von Frost festgestellt wurde, scheitert dort die Führerfigur Strauch und die Schülerfigur des Famulanten hat keine Entwicklung hin zu einer solchen Figur durchgemacht. Das Problem könnte in einer zu starren Ordnungsstruktur liegen, einer “geistigen Abhängigkeit”[95] zwischen Lehrer und Schüler. Von einer vergleichbaren Abhängigkeit kann in Auslöschung jedoch nicht die Rede sein. Ganz im Sinne des eins seins mit Sprache und Tradition gibt es hier eine “Identitätskette”, in der die Beteiligten “einander ihr Denken beeinflussen”[96].

Im Fall der Auslöschung ist Gambetti der “kommende[] Philosoph[] und Revolutionär” (Aus 209). Der Ausblick auf die Zukunft ist wichtig, weil, Analog zu Borchardt, sich die Gleichgesinnten erst sammeln müssen, denn “[w]ir sind jetzt eine geschwächte, tatsächlich geistlose österreichische Menschheit […] der das Grundlegende und Elementare gar nicht möglich ist” (Aus 146). Es ist eine Krise des österreichischen Geistes, dieser ist in der stetigen Gefahr der Verdummung.

Murau versucht, als Lehrer Gambettis, bei diesem den Hebel umzulegen, ihn auf den “Gegenweg” (Aus 147) zu bringen. Deshalb füttert er ihn mit Literatur, mit Jean Paul, Broch, Schopenhauer. Während Murau seine Phantasien, etwa die Herrichtung der Kindervilla, nie umsetzt, ist Gambetti “nicht nur der geborene Phantasierer, er ist auch der geborene Ausführer seiner Phantasien” (Aus 544). In Gambetti lebt die Hoffnung auf eine Konservative Revolution, wie sie Muraus skizziert, weiter. Das ist die entscheidende Volte, die Bernhards Werk zwischen Frost und der Auslöschung vollzogen hat. Der Frost ist am Ende des gleichnamigen Romans immer noch da, Strauch ist gestorben und der Famulant hat das Weite gesucht, ohne irgend ein Interesse, die Lage zu ändern. Der Frost in der Auslöschung, in Form der starren Strukturen[97] Wolfseggs, ist durch die Abschenkung beseitigt und die entsprechende Schieflage der Welt, die sich “augenblicklich in einem chaotischen Zustand befindet, während in Wolfsegg die Ordnung herrscht” (Aus 369), soll durch Gambetti bereinigt werden. Es ist eine Utopie, die am Ende der Auslöschung steht, deren Möglichkeit in den Raum gestellt wird, ohne Hinweis auf Gambettis Handlungen nach dem Ableben von Murau und ohne Untersuchung des Ausmaßes der möglichen Selbsttäuschung des Ich-Erzählers Murau.

5. Schluss

“In welches Gespräch mischt sich dieser Monolog?”[98] fragt Ingeborg Bachmann in einem unveröffentlichten Prosatext über das Frühwerk Thomas Bernhards. Die vorliegende Arbeit hat hoffentlich gezeigt, um welches Gespräch es sich, unter vielen anderen, Schopenhauer und Wittgenstein sind sicher die am häufigsten genannten Namen in der Forschungsliteratur, handeln könnte: ein Gespräch mit den Dichtern und Denkern der konservativen Revolution, insbesondere Hofmannsthal und Borchardt.

Mit Recht ist der Prozeß der Auslöschung und Zerstörung, der im Zentrum des komplexen letzten Romans steht, immer wieder auf Auschwitz bezogen worden, am prominentesten im Aufsatz von Irene Heidelberger-Leonard[99] und umgekehrt Frost auf den Solipsismus in der literarischen Tradition, aber die vorliegende Arbeit hat hoffentlich eine weitere Lesart nahe gelegt, die man auch auf das restliche Werk Thomas Bernhards hätte ausdehnen können. Am Beispiel des ersten und letzten Romans jedoch konnte eine Entwicklung untersucht werden, die von Gesellschaftskritik in Frost, der dort noch keine positive Theorie entgegengesetzt werden konnte, hin zu einer voll entwickelten Auseinandersetzung mit der Konservativen Revolution in Auslöschung.

Die enorme Komplexität des Bernhardschen Werks bringt es jedoch mit sich, daß auch diese Lesart sehr selektiv vorging und das Thema eigentlich nach einer genaueren Studie verlangt, die hier aber, im beschränkten Rahmen der vorliegenden Arbeit nicht geleistet werden konnte.

6. Bibliographie

6.1. Ausgaben

Bernhard, Thomas: Frost, Frankfurt a.M. 1972.

Bernhard, Thomas: Auslöschung. Ein Zerfall, Frankfurt a.M. 1988.

Borchardt, Rudolf: Reden, Stuttgart 1955.

Hofmannsthal, Hugo von: Prosa IV, in: ders.: Gesammelte Werke in Einzelausgaben, hrsg. v. Herbert Steiner, Frankfurt a.M. 1988, Bd. 10.

6.2. Forschungsliteratur

Bachmann, Ingeborg: Watten und andere Prosa (über Thomas Bernhard), in: dies.: Kritische Schriften, hrsg. v. Monika Albrecht und Dirk Göttsche, München 2005, 453-458.

Bozzi, Paola: Der Traum als Wiederkehr des Körpers. Zum anderen Diskurs im Werk Thomas Bernhards, in:

Schweizer Monatshefte 9, 2000, 30-34.

Breuer, Stefan: Anatomie der Konservativen Revolution, Darmstadt 1995.

Curtius, Ernst Robert: Europäische Literatur und lateinisches Mittelalter, Bern 1954.

Eickhoff, Hajo: Die Stufen der Disziplinierung. Thomas Bernhards Geistesmensch, in: Thomas Bernhard. Die Zurichtung des Menschen, hrsg. v. Alexander Honold und Markus Joch, Würzburg 1999, 155- 163.

Gößling, Andreas: Thomas Bernhards frühe Prosakunst. Entfaltung und Zerfall seines ästhetischen Verfahrens in den Romanen Frost – Verstörung – Korrektur, Berlin 1987.

Greiner, Ulrich: Der Tod des Nachsommers, München 1979.

Heidelberger-Leonard, Irene: Auschwitz als Pflichtfach für Schriftsteller, in: Anti-Autobiografie. Thomas Bernhards ‘Auslöschung’, hrsg. v. Hans Höller und Irene Heidelberger-Leonard, Frankfurt a.M. 1995, 181-196.

Helms-Derfert, Hermann: Die Last der Geschichte. Interpretationen zur Prosa von Thomas Bernhard, Köln 1997.

Hoffmann, Dieter: Prosa des Absurden. Themen- Strukturen – geistige Grundlagen von Beckett bis Bernhard, Tübingen 2006.

Höller, Hans: Kritik einer literarischen Form. Versuch über Thomas Bernhard, Stuttgart 1979.

ders.: Thomas Bernhards Auslöschung als Comédie humaine der österreichischen Geschichte, in: Thomas Bernhard. Beiträge zur Fiktion der Postmoderne, hrsg. v. Wendelin Schmidt-Dengler, Adrian Stevens und Fred Wagner, Frankfurt a. M. 1997, 47-61.

Huntemann, Willi: Artistik und Rollenspiel. Das System Thomas Bernhard, Würzburg 1990.

Jansen, Georg: Prinzip und Prozeß Auslöschung. Intertextuelle Destruktion und Konstitution des Romans bei Thomas Bernhard, Würzburg 2005.

Jurdzinski, Gerald: Leiden an der “Natur”. Thomas Bernhards metaphysische Weltdeutung im Spiegel der

Philosophie Schopenhauers, Frankfurt a.M: 1984.

Jurgensen, Manfred: Die Sprachpartituren des Thomas Bernhard, in: Bernhard. Annäherungen, hrsg. v. Manfred Jurgensen, Bern 1981, 99-123.

Kappes, Christoph: Schreibgebärden. Zur Poetik und Sprache bei Thomas Bernhard, Peter Handke und Botho Strauß, Würzburg 2006.

Kauffmann, Kai: Rudolf Borchardt und der ‘Untergang der deutschen Nation’. Selbstinszenierung und Geschichtskonstruktion im essayistischen Werk, Tübingen 2003.

Kaufmann, Sylvia: The Importance of Romantic Aesthetics for the Interpretation of Thomas Bernhard’s “Auslöschung. Ein Zerfall” and “Alte Meister. Komödie”, Stuttgart 1998.

Kern, Peter Christoph: Zur Gedankenwelt des späten Hofmannsthal. Die Idee einer schöpferischen Restauration. Heidelberg 1969.

König, Josef: “Nichts als ein Totenmaskenball”. Studien zum Verständnis der ästhetischen Intention im Werk

Thomas Bernhards, Frankfurt a.M. 1983.

Le Rider, Jacques: Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Historismus und Moderne in der Literatur der Jahrhundertwende, Wien 1997.

Madel, Michael: Solipsismus in der Literatur des 20. Jahrhunderts. Untersuchungen zu Thomas Bernhards

Roman Frost, Arno Schmidts Erzählung Aus dem Leben eines Fauns und Elias Canettis Roman Die

Blendung, Frankfurt a.M. 1990.

Marquardt, Eva: Gegenrichtung. Entwicklungstendenzen in der Erzählprosa Thomas Bernhards, Tübingen 1990.

Mittermayer, Manfred: Ich werden. Versuch einer Thomas-Bernhard-Lektüre, Stuttgart 1988.

Prohl, Jürgen: Hugo von Hofmannsthal und Rudolf Borchardt. Studien über eine Dichterfreundschaft, Bremen 1973.

Rudolph, Hermann: Kulturkritik und konservative Revolution. Zum kulturell-politischen Denken Hofmannsthals und seinem problemgeschichtlichen Kontext, Tübingen 1971.

Ryu, Eun-Hee: Auflösung und Auslöschung. Genese von Thomas Bernhards Prosa im Hinblick auf die ‘Studie’, Frankfurt a.M. 1988.

Schmidt-Dengler, Wendelin: Der Übertreibungskünstler. Zu Thomas Bernhard, Wien 1986.

Schneider, Franz: Plötzlichkeit und Kombinatorik. Botho Strauß, Paul Celan, Thomas Bernhard, Brigitte Kronauer, Frankfurt a.M. 1993.

Steuer, Daniel: Thomas Bernhards Auslöschung. Ein Zerfall. Zum Verhältnis zwischen Geschichtsschreibung, Autobiographie und Roman, in: Reisende durch Zeit und Raum. Der deutschsprachige historische Roman, hrsg. v. Osman Durrani und Julian Preeze, Amsterdam 2001.

Süselbeck, Jan: Das Gelächter der Atheisten. Zeitkritik bei Arno Schmidt und Thomas Bernhard, Frankfurt a.M. und Basel 2006.

Vellusig, Robert: Thomas Bernhards Gesprächs-Kunst, in: Thomas Bernhard. Beiträge zur Fiktion der

Postmoderne, hrsg. v. Wendelin Schmidt-Dengler, Adrian Stevens und Fred Wagner, Frankfurt a. M. 1997, 25-46.

Weinzierl, Ulrich: Bernhard als Erzieher. Thomas Bernhards Auslöschung, in: Spätmoderne und Postmoderne. Beiträge zur deutschsprachigen Gegenwartsliteratur, hrsg. v. Paul Michael Lützeler, Frankfurt a.M. 1997, 186-196.

Zimmermann, Peter: Der Bauernroman. Antifeudalismus – Konservativismus-Faschismus, Stuttgart 1975.

[1] König, “Nichts als ein Totenmaskenball”, S. 22.

[2] Abgesehen von einem Vergleich Höllers, der Bernhards Ordnungsbegriff mit dem Paul Landsbergs vergleicht. Vgl. Höller

[3] Weinzierl, Bernhard als Erzieher, S. 192.

[4] Zur Rolle des Holocausts bei Bernhard vgl. Süselbeck, Das Gelächter der Atheisten, bes. S. 448-531.

[5] Unklar ist, ob sie überhaupt als mehr oder weniger einhaltliche Bewegung zu bezeichnen ist. Vgl. Breuer, Anatomie der konservativen Revolution. Breuer unterschlägt allerdings sowohl Hofmannsthal als auch Borchardt in seiner Betrachtung, was im Rahmen der vorliegenden Arbeit umgekehrt einen Verzicht auf die konservativen Revolutionäre des neuen Nationalismus’ erleichtert.

[6] Rudolph, Kulturkritik und Konservative Revolution, S. 263f.

[7] Vgl. Rudolph, S. 266.

[8] Prohl, Hugo von Hofmannsthal und Rudolf Borchardt, S. 238.

[9] Borchardt, Reden, S. 230-253.

[10] Vgl. Prohl, ebda.

[11] Hofmannsthal, Prosa IV, S. 413.

[12] Kern, Zur Gedankenwelt des späten Hofmannsthal, S. 93.

[13] Hier ist der vielleicht deutlichste Bruch mit der von Breuer und anderen skizzierten nationalistischen Konservativen Revolution: “Nun ist aber ein Erkennungszeichen der ‘konservativen Revolution’ gerade die erbitterte Kritik an der französischen ‘Zivilisation’, die sie der tugendhaften deutschen ‘Kultur’ gegenüberstellt.” Le Rider, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, S. 273.

[14] Hofmannsthal, S. 391.

[15] ebda.

[16] Hofmannsthal, S. 390.

[17] ebda.

[18] ebda.

[19] Hofmannsthal, S. 399.

[20] Hofmannsthal, S. 400.

[21] Hofmannsthal, S. 411.

[22] Kern, S. 93.

[23] Vgl. Kauffmann, Rudolf Borchardt und der ‘Untergang der deutschen Nation’, S. 166-192.

[24] Borchardt, S. 230.

[25] Borchardt, S. 232.

[26] Angezeigt durch z.B. “ganz wie, mutatis mutandis, bei uns”, Borchardt, S. 234.

[27] Borchardt, S. 235.

[28] Hier ist übrigens anzumerken, daß eine Linie von dieser Rede zur Rede über “Führung” führt, deren Nähe zum Nationalsozialismus in der Aufnahme nach dem zweiten Weltkrieg, nach Auschwitz, die Rezeption dieses Elements der Rede stark einschränkt. Vgl. Kap. 4.4.3.

[29] Borchardt, S. 236.

[30] Borchardt, S. 237.

[31] Borchardt, S. 239.

[32] Borchardt, S. 241.

[33] Borchardt, S. 242.

[34] Borchardt, S. 252.

[35] vgl.: “Die Hinwendung zur Stadt ist die Hinwendung zu Ordnung und Künstlichkeit und zu den sublimen Tätigkeiten des Menschen wie Musizieren, Malen und Schreiben. Das Stadtleben ist ein Leben gegen die Natur und ein Leben für den Geist.” in: Eickhoff, Die Stufen der Disziplinierung, S. 158.

[36] Mittels der Siglen F für Frost und Aus für Auslöschung, sowie nachfolgender Seitenangabe werden Zitate der zu interpretierenden Romane im fortlaufenden Text nachgewiesen.

[37] Ryu, Auflösung und Auslöschung, S. 41.

[38] Jurdzinski, Leiden an der Natur, S. 99. Vgl. F 75.

[39] Borchardt, S. 247.

[40] Der “nationalsozialistisch-katholische” (Aus 292) Österreicher hat in Frost noch nicht die Bühne betreten.

[41] Höller, Kritik einer literarischen Form, S. 12.

[42] Dass etwa die Trauer um die Bauern nur zu Strauchs Vision gehört und im Text nicht als ‘objektiv’ wahr konstruiert wird, zeigt sich am Ekel des Famulanten vor den Dorfbewohnern (vgl. F 85). Sie ist allerdings nicht Teil eines Strauchschen Nachttraums, vielmehr treffen sich in der Welt des Wahns in Frost der Traum in der wörtlichen und übertragenen Bedeutung.

[43] Gößling, Thomas Bernhards frühe Prosakunst, S. 101.

[44] Bozzi, Der Traum als Wiederkehr des Körpers, S. 31.

[45] Schneider, Plötzlichkeit und Kombinatorik, S. 132.

[46] Hofmannsthal, S. 411.

[47] Hofmannsthal, S. 412.

[48] Bozzi, S. 31.

[49] Hofmannsthal, S. 399.

[50] Madel, Solipsismus in der Literatur des 20. Jahrhunderts, S. 57, vgl. auch S. 34.

[51] Vgl. Mittermayer, Ich werden, S. 40.

[52] Dazu passt auch die Episode mit dem totgefrorenen Schwein, das Strauch antreiben will, in das er aber statt dessen mit seinem Stock hineinsticht (Vgl. F 247).

[53] König, S. 195.

[54] Hofmannsthal, S. 390.

[55] Huntemann, Artistik und Rollenspiel, S. 69.

[56] Vgl. Gößling, S. 91.

[57] Hofmannsthal, S. 413.

[58] Vellusig, Thomas Bernhards Gesprächs-Kunst, S. 37.

[59] Jurgensen, Die Sprachpartituren des Thomas Bernhard, S. 110.

[60] Hofmannsthal, S. 390.

[61] Am Anfang und am Ende der Auslöschung steht “schreibt Murau”, ein deutlicher Verweis auf den Unterschied zu fast dem kompletten restlichen Werk, wo im Allgemeinen der Hörer schreibt und berichtet.

[62] Steuer, Thomas Bernhards Auslöschung. Ein Zerfall., S. 67.

[63] Vgl. Höller, Thomas Bernhards Auslöschung als Comédie humaine der österreichischen Geschichte, S. 48ff.

[64] Beachtenswert ist in diesem Zusammenhang die Beziehung, die Helms-Derfert zwischen der Kindheitsverklärung in der Auslöschung und romantischen Märchen zieht, vgl. Helms-Derfert, Die Last der Geschichte, S. 218ff. und der dort später angeführten Verbindung der Jäger zur modernen Entzauberung der Welt, die ja mit dem Kindheits- und Märchenmotiv interagiert, welches leider nicht Eingang finden kann in die vorliegende Untersuchung, vgl. Helms-Derfert, S. 225.

[65] Schmidt-Dengler, Der Übertreibungskünstler, S. 121.

[66] Kappes beschäftigt sich zwar mit dieser Phrase, zieht aber die falschen Schlüsse aus der Passage. Vgl. Kappes, Schreibgebärden, S. 60.

[67] Vellusig, S. 28.

[68] Marquard, Gegenrichtung, S. 58.

[69] Darauf deutet der Satz “[…] und wo ich diese Auslöschung geschrieben habe, […] schreibt Murau” (Aus 151) hin, nicht zuletzt aufgrund der kursiven Schreibweise des Wortes ‘Auslöschung’, das an die literaturwissenschaftliche Zitierweise von Monographien erinnert. Allerdings gibt es so viele kursive Worte in Bernhardschen Texten, auch in der Auslöschung, daß dies ein eher schwaches Indiz ist. Vgl. Jansen, Prinzip und Prozess Auslöschung, S. 110f.

[70] Steuer, S. 69.

[71] Es ist eine bittere Entdeckung, die Murau machen muß, daß seine Familie tatsächlich “ausgelöscht” wurde, wie es eine lokale Zeitung später verkündet (vgl. Aus 404).

[72] Vgl. Aus 76

[73] Hoffmann, Prosa des Absurden, S. 395.

[74] Zur Frage des deutschen, siehe 4.4.2.

[75] Borchardt, S. 249.

[76] Kaufmann, The Importance of Romantic Aesthetics for the Interpretation of Thomas Bernhard’s “Auslöschung. Ein Zerfall” and “Alte Meister. Komödie”, S. 72.

[77] Borchardt, S. 236.

[78] Greiner, Der Tod des Nachsommers, S. 53.

[79] Vgl.: “Hofmannsthal empfand sich als Erben der habsburgischen Tradition” (Curtius, Europäische Literatur und lateinisches Mittelalter, S. 153.)

[80] Vgl. Höller, S. 54.

[81] Greiner, S. 15.

[82] Es scheint dies übrigens auch eine von der Geschichtswissenschaft in letzter Zeit gemachte Verbindung zu sein, so daß sich Bernhard auch in dieser Hinsicht als scharfsichtig erwiesen hat. Vgl. Süselbeck 451f.

[83] Hofmannsthal, S. 396

[84] ebda.

[85] ebda.

[86] Vgl. Süselbeck, S. 299.

[87] Zur Verbindung der Auslöschung mit der Schriftstellerdiskussion, vgl. Ryu, S. 100.

[88] Borchardt, S. 249.

[89] Vgl. Borchardt, S. 242f.

[90] Hoffmann, S. 396.

[91] Borchardt, S. 252.

[92] Borchardt, S. 237.

[93] Borchardt, S. 239.

[94] Vgl. Prohl, S. 235.

[95] Ryu, S. 111.

[96] ebda.

[97] Achtung, es handelt sich nicht um ‘progressive’ Kritik, es ist nicht die Rede von überkommenen Strukturen, vgl. Aus 489.

[98] Bachmann, Watten und andere Prosa, S. 455.

[99] Vgl. Heidelberger-Leonard, Auschwitz als Pflichtfach für Schriftsteller.

Understanding Language in Babel-17

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Kingsley Amis wrote in his treatise on Science Fiction that the motto „‘Idea as Hero‘ is the basis“ (137) for SF. In Babel-17, Samuel R. Delany’s sixth novel, the importance of language and linguistics is emphasized. It does both to an extent that is very unusual in a SF novel (cf. Aldiss and Wingrove 292) and its interest in language runs deeper than in the ordinary SF novel, where strange words abound or some new language or dialect is invented, as in Burgess‘ A Clockwork Orange. Evidently, language is this novel’s hero.

Babel-17’s interest in language and how it portrays the mechanisms behind language is the subject of this paper. It has the goal of mapping out the political and the epistemological consequences of the text’s treatment of language, which, as will be made clear, works in several ways. Some of the examiniation is done out in the open by Rydra Wong, a famous poet who is commissioned to decipher Babel-17, a code allegedly used by terrorists to coordinate their acts of sabotage, which soon turns out to be a language. In other parts, the examinition is provided by the character’s actions and emotions and by the events. Finally it will be pointed out, that the interest in language even informs the structure of the novel down to the generic markers it employs. It will be seen that SF is a kind of language itself which has to be understood by the reader of SF, because „knowing a genre is also knowing how to take it up“ (Broderick 39).

This is also the way most criticism has been reading the novel, but none of that criticism has noted, that it’s not just ‘about’ language, it is about understanding language as one of the basic givens of humanity. Its influence reaches deeply, into communication and thought. That is what the first two parts are trying to show. The last part amply demonstrates, that even when something in not language, is may be language-like, such as the genre SF.

SF is „What If Literature“ (Landon 6) and, as remains to be shown, Babel-17 poses some of the more powerful what if questions, trying to help people to recognize science’s „potentialities for social change“ (Asimov 162). This paper’s thesis is, that at the end of the trail that this reading of Babel-17 provides, one can see some possibilities of a brighter, more humane future, or a darker future. Babel-17 indicates the potentialities of communication and language that humanity has squandered for thousands of years and it poses some potent questions about free will and about the truth we take for granted. What questions these are, this paper will attempt to demonstrate.

Babel-17 is written in English and the characters that shape events, or are shaped by them, are speakers of English. One might be tempted to think that this impression only derives from the fact that the novel is written in English, just as an English novel about France would feature no, or not very much, French dialogue, even if all the characters were French. It becomes clear, though, that the first impression is correct once we note that comparisons to other languages always are comparisons of English to other languages (cf. Delany, Babel-17, 111). Also, the English-speaking characters never have to translate anything, everybody who takes part in this novel’s events speaks English and should be able to communicate perfectly with anybody else.

Although English is the predominant language, it is not the only one. The political background to the story is a war between the Alliance, part of which forms the earth , and the Invaders. Both probably consist of several nations, having several languages each (cf. 24). Of the Invader’s languages we encounter none. Eight earth languages are mentioned, other than English: Finnish, Sioux (as an example for North American Indian languages in general), French, Hungarian, Spanish (all five: cf. 111), Basque (cf. 77), Old Moorish (cf. 115) and an unnamed african language that is spoken in the „N’gonda province in Pan Africa“ (54, cf. 51f.). Sample words are not provided from Basque, Finnish, Hungarian or Sioux, only one word from Spanish and Old Moorish each, about five French words and generous eight sentences of the African language. These languages are not important to the story, they only demonstrate certain linguistic points, such as the grammatical differences between Sioux and and Finnish noun cases.

Thus, the main focus, of course, is on the mysterious language, Babel-17. Babel-17 is described as „the most analytically exact language imaginable“ (210). It does not know the words ‚you‘, ‚I‘ nor the words derived from them, such as ‚your‘ and ‚mine‘ (cf. 139) so speakers of it cannot even conceive of the principle of the subject. Also, Babel-17 „contains a preset program […] to become a criminal and saboteur“ (215). This means it curtails the range of options the speaker of Babel-17 has so severely, it even imposes a „schizoid personality into the mind of whoever learns it“ (215), which means that a second personality is programmed into the person that can even grab hold of all the willpower of this person. The speaker of Babel-17, who thinks only analytically and cannot talk or think in categories of subjectivity, is massively hindered in the choices his mind allows him to make, for example „thinking in Babel-17 [you might] try and destroy your own ship and then blot out the fact with self-hypnosis“ (215).

In trying to crack the structure, the grammar and vocabulary of Babel-17, Rydra Wong, the poet that turned linguist by virtue of her „total verbal recall“ (9), finds that it „scares“ (22) her. For a language that one does not understand, this, introduced at an early point in the narrative, is a novel idea. Everybody would agree that it is possible to be afraid from something said and understood or even by a menacing way of delivery that a language can have, but being afraid of the language itself must seem strange to the reader.

As we have seen, there are passages in Babel-17 that compare different languages to each other. This process, however, is never focused on. The comparisons are drawn to make points about the nature and the properties of language itself. The vocabulary that is often used to make these points is scientific vocabulary, stemming from linguistics, but the person doing the scientific work is not a scientist. Rydra Wong, as mentioned above, is an artist, a poet, whose linguistic explorations are more of a hobby or a vocation. There are many weighty passages treating issues of linguistics but they are counterbalanced by the epigraphs introducing the five chapters, taken from Marilyn Hacker‘s poetry.

The differences sketched here between science and art run deeper. The first thing that is learned about language is that it is not a code and that the two should not be confused. A code can simply be deciphered, but a language has to be understood in a more organic way (cf. 6ff.). Suddenly voices, circumstances, contexts become important. An artist‘s intuition becomes useful, her „knack“ (10). This intuitive approach is contrasted with the government scientists, who, „although they know a hell of a lot about codes, […] know nothing of the nature of language“ (8). This kind of disparagement has lead some to claim that, in this novel, language is part of the arts and not of science (cf. Weedman 136). This approach mistakens the pervasiveness of science. If in this text art is valued more highly, it is only because „today a person who learns the rules of art well is a little rarer than the person who learns the rules of science“ (48).

So, even if Rydra’s advantage might be her intuition, her art still has to confer to rules. More often than not, she uses linguistic terms to talk about these rules, in a word, she uses science. As Walter E. Meyers points out though, she misuses these terms often enough: „The uninformed reader of Babel-17 receives misinformation“, and the novel „is inaccurate at almost every turn“ (both: Aliens and Linguists 180). It seems as if all the linguistic terms that are heaped up (cf. Delany, Babel-17, 111) are nothing but words, or names. Outside the text the rules spread out in the pages with linguistic rambling might be scientific nonsense or inaccurate, but in this text, her rules lead Rydra Wong to an understanding of Babel-17.

The critic who tries to establish a rift between science and art in Babel-17‘s treatment of languages is mistaken because he does not understand that the novel’s discourse is concerned with language itself. Language is its own „ordering principle“ (Fox 97), not art or science. The two ways to approach the nature of language, art and science, do not preclude one another. It is important to note, that each takes part in solving the mystery of Babel-17. So cannot be about linguistics or poetry, it is about their object, language.

The most important fact is the all-pervasiveness of language. Early in the novel, a customs officer has some kind of sexual encounter and, trying to cope with the ensuing depression, he turns to the means of language. He tries to describe his loneliness in a way that perfectly describes one of the limits language imposes on its speakers, the emptiness of language (cf. 47). In the dense phrasing of structuralism: you „cannot ‚mean‘ and ‚be‘ simultaneously.“ (Eagleton 170), the thing you talk about is absent in the language, language is empty. Later Rydra, awakening from sleep, is caught between English and Babel-17 and thereby experiencing a kind of double consciousness (cf. Littlefield 223). She is not able to gather her thoughts, reflecting on the nature of language: „If there’s no word for it, how do you think about it?“ (Delany, Babel-17, 111). The nature of language, one learns from Babel-17, evidently is defined by the limits it imposes on us.

During a voyage through space we learn of ghost-like beings, called ‚Eye‘, ‚Ear‘ and ‚Nose‘, who are part of a space ship‘s crew, and who are responsible for sensual reconnaissance. They report how an approaching space port looks like to the captain of the ship who has no windows or anything to „see“ for herself (72f.). Through a helmet she can partake of the three sensory impartations, each of which can explain the whole situation as is witnessed by the simultaneous answers to the captain’s question of where to dock in the space port and for the verbal description of each the words seem deficient.

„In the sound of the E-minor triad.“
„In the hot oil you can smell bubbling to your left.“
„Home in on that white circle.“ (73)

This passage amply illustrates the point, that language is not enough, but everything recurs to language, in the end, you have to listen and make the best of it. Aristotle said man is a social being and society consequently depends on communication, or, to phrase it differently, on language.

Limited as we might be because of language, we might think, that we might possibly cope completely without language. The one area, though, where everybody might agree that language is essential, is communication. And it is communication that turns out to be one of the three most important aspects of language in Babel-17, the other two being the diversity of languages and language itself.

This novel is shock full of characters who try to communicate with others and fail or who don’t even try. The latter case is evident in the interplanetary war between the Invaders and the Alliance. In the whole novel there is not a single instance where the two parties communicate in any way. Until the last chapter, the Invaders are only twice encountered in person and then from a considerable distance, only as a red light on a radar screen (cf.124ff.). The unspoken question lingers in the text whether the war could have been evaded or, once under way, stopped by both parties communicating their differences. There are indications of both possibilities in the text. For one thing, both parties refer to the other party as the „one-who-has-invaded“ (215), which implies a misunderstanding . For another, as Rydra Wong sets out to put an stop to the war at the end, one of the first measures she takes, is to talk to the Invader’s Commander (cf. 218).

More interesting than the political misapprehensions are the numerous implications that aberrations in communication might be part of the conditio humana. The thought of the General: “Sequestered, how could this city exist?” (3) might well be applied to humans in general, as this same General, becoming infatuated with Rydra, mentally despairs of not being able to tell her his feelings, thinking: “My god […] all that inside of me and she doesn’t know! I didn’t communicate a thing!” (14), even though Rydra understands him perfectly through his non-verbal language, the “[b]reathing pattern, curls of hands in lap, carriage of shoulders” (197), also called “[m]eaningful motion [or] kinesics” (Meyers, Aliens and Linguistics, 59) in linguistics. This communication comes so naturally to humans that its total absence can cause “horrifying” (Delany, Babel-17, 197) shocks. The Butcher, as a speaker of Babel-17 loses the concept of ‚I‘, he is badly handicapped when it comes to communicating with others, but as he does not have the verbal means to efficiently communicate subjectivity the Butcher subconsciously resorts to non-verbal language (cf. 151), such as thumping his breast to express something that would be filled by speakers of English with the word ‚I‘ or ‚me‘ . Obviously, even if we do not talk we always use language or language-supplements such as a gesture to communicate.

Sometimes in Babel-17, communication takes place neither through speech nor through non-verbal language. Sometimes it takes place through telepathy, which is interesting, considering the interpretation of the General’s statement stated above: sequestered from other people, how can man exist? Telepathy is often seen as a way out of the solitariness of modern man (cf. Milner 298) and a way to cut the distance to others and to short-circuit communication if problems arise (cf. Bogdanoff 247). It is consequently of high importance that the person who solves the communication problems surrounding Babel-17, Rydra Wong , is telepathic (cf. Delany, Babel-17, 198).
Reading the thoughts of animals she comes up with pictures (cf. 205), but with humans the mind-reading always results in grammatically correct sentences. The difference between man and animal must clearly be language . Humans being „creatures whose choices are limited to killing or talking“ (Meyers, The Language and Languages of Science Fiction, 211), the emphasis on good communication in Babel-17 indicates a strong inclination to the latter, moreover it demonstrates a way to circumvent the former, if we bear in mind the political misapprehensions we talked about.

As we have seen, language has many uses in Babel-17, reaching from a comparison of different languages to an examination of the nature of language and, further still, to the necessity of communication. Communication has been the bottom line of all these implications of language. There is one other use of language, though, which concerns the practice of ‚naming‘ things.

The first kind of naming, using names as intertextual devices in a way that Bakhtin labeled „discourse“ (Eagleton 146), enables communication, not between the characters but between the reader and the text, as well as between this text and others. It is obvious at first glance that names are eminent for the construction of the text, as the five parts of Babel-17 are each named for one character, thereby signifying his or her importance for that particular part. Names, apparently, carry meaning in this text.

Most names in the text are invented, they seem like anagrams but there is no way to determine from the text itself where they point to, they might as well be part of the strange names of SF . The first of the three which are indeed decipherable is the name of the battleship on which Rydra encounters the Butcher, the only person really speaking Babel-17, though not uttering a single word of it in the text, and learns that language: Jebel Tarik. We are informed, that this means ‚Tarik’s mountain‘ in Old Moorish (cf. Delany, Babel-17, 115). It also is the Old Moorish name for the small peninsula called Gibraltar, one of the pillars of Herakles. What exactly this reference means we can only speculate upon. One way this can be construed is that it is indeed Herakles, the hero of greek myth, who is meant. This is indicated by the only openly mythical reference in the text (cf. 126), which also refers to greek myth and Herakles‘ quest , two parts of which took place on Gibraltar. As Babel-17‘s events ressemble a series of quests (cf. Barbour 26), calling the battle ship ‚Jebel Tarik‘ might be a move of the text placing the novel’s events square in ancient quest traditions.

The second name is the name of the novel as well as of the mysterious language: Babel-17, which is obviously a biblical reference to Babel, also known as Babylon. There are two significant biblical passages pertaining to Babel-17. The first is situated in and is concerned with God punishing Babylon for its arrogance. The punishment consists of „confound[ing] their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.“ (Pinker 231) This passage may well be read as a mythical explanation for the diversity of languages, the origin of many misunderstandings that arise in human communication. The second one is found in , where the downfall of the Great Whore Babylon is described in detail. At first glance, this passage might seem a little weird, having nothing to do with language or communication at all. Maybe, on second glance, it describes the consequences of mis-using language, of failed communication, of using words for war-mongering. In this reading of Babel-17, could the accusation that „die auf Erden wohnen, sind betrunken geworden von dem Wein ihrer Hurerei“ () not be talking about humanity whose mind was clogged by misleading words? In short, clogged by the limitations of language, just as, in a more obvious way, the Butcher’s mind is clogged by Babel-17.

The last name is less complicated than the first two. It is the protagonist’s name: Rydra Wong, which, spoken aloud, sounds like „right or wrong“ and may be a play both on critical processes within a language and on sublime messages in otherwise inconspicuous speech. The first reference might have something to do with the fact that within Babel-17‘s structure everything that can be said seems logically correct and intrinsically right, including the criminal actions programmed into it. It takes Rydra Wong to detect the manipulation inherent in the language. SF-editor Hartwell claims that „the dream of SF is to control reality by creating it“ (95) and Babel-17 tries to do just that. It creates a world where all possible propositions are true, it pretends that that each and every possibility is exhausted. As Wittgenstein said: „Man kann [einen Satz] verstehen, ohne zu wissen, ob er wahr ist.“ (33). Babel-17 pretends that every proposition that can be understood is true. This pretension is questioned by Rydra, introducing external criterias for evaluating truth into the language.

Names are of a great value to the structure of Babel-17. This holds true, as we have seen, for some particular names. Also, as we have seen, the process of naming things, for instance naming chapters or naming the novel, is an important part of the process of developing Babel-17‘s themes. We get an idea of exactly how important the process of naming actually is if we read that „[w]ords are names for things.[…] But were words names for things, or was that just a bit of semantic confusion? Words were symbols for whole categories of things“ (Delany, Babel-17, 112; italics his).

What I mean by „process of naming“ is the process whereby someone or something gets assigned a name and, through the name, the person or thing suddenly can be categorized, be used as a thing one can finally be sure of. Naming is trying to rid yourself of issues of undecidabilities, trying to rid yourself from ambiguities inherent in the person, thing or idea. Naming is a continuous series of „attempts at ‚image control‘“ (Tucker 13). That process is nicely illustrated early in the text, when a customs officer sees something he has never seen before, he is intimidated accordingly, so he tries to name the thing. He starts by calling it „the Silver Dragon“ (35), a name, that is more like a title than a name. Its gender or sex is not specified yet, that happens in the next sentence, starting off with „[s]he“ (35). The naming is complete, relieved that he could assess the creature, the customs officer can now allow himself to be astounded and exclaims: „It‘s a woman!“ (35). The same reasoning leads him shortly afterwards to tag someone a „Pervert[]!“ (43). This quick tagging seems to be the easy way of handling complicated situations.

There are two more ways that naming is employed in the text. One is the use of euphemisms and codes. A euphemism occurs, for example, when the General talks about the terroristic sabotage as „accidents“ (12). Codes are used far more often and in these codes names are used as simple placeholders for the encoded words, for example in radio contact in a space fight (cf. 129) or, more simply in assigning a code name to the language which the terrorists use to communicate with each other, Babel-17.

The last crucial act of naming concerns the naming of one’s self. According to Jacques Lacan, we are least ourselves while we talk about ourselves (cf. Eagleton 170), yet the attempts to define one‘s self by talking or thinking about it crowd the text. Be it the elusive desire that one wants to seize by naming it (cf. Delany, Babel-17, 14) or one’s vague feelings that seem less vague once they are named: „I am amazed, surprised, bewildered.“ (5). This process is reflected in the text itself in a most interesting way: when Rydra is trying to teach the Butcher the concept of ‚I‘ and ‚you‘, he turns that same concept nearly on its head by turning ‚I‘ and ‚you‘ respectively into proper names.

The main concern of naming is finding the „real name“ (69) of things, and thereby their irrefutable meaning. Later Rydra asks herself „[i]f there‘s no word for it, how do you think about it?“ (111), how do you assess it? This question echoes the questions that arise from the posthumously published works of American linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf, his central claim being the following:

We are thus introduced to a new principle of relativity, which holds, that all observers are not
lead by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe, unless their linguistic
backgrounds are similar, or can in some way be calibrated. (Whorf 214)

The so-called principle of linguistic relativity states that fundamental differences in grammatical categories or in categories of words correspond to fundamental differences in thought. We cannot think independently of the language system we are part of, because „we cannot but ‚see and hear and otherwise experience‘ in terms of the categories and distinctions encoded in language“ (Lyons 304). This is the strong formulation of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, which is highly controversial.

The weak formulation ‚merely‘ states that „the structure of one’s language influences perception and recall“ (307), meaning that memory is selective and depending on the language systems it will recall different things in different language systems. Some hold, that, although Whorf might have been wrong in his strong hypothesis, the weak version ist too weak and they formulated their theory between these two versions, taking into account the culture as a whole of the society in question (cf. Gipper 225).

In respect to two different language systems, the last issue to be discussed is the difference between translation and understanding. Even if it were true that translation is impossible, because metaphors and connotations are seldom translatable and never without losing some of the connotation, this would not mean that understanding is impossible (cf. Lakoff 311). It is crucial to differentiate between two languages having a different „conceptual system“ (311), which is what makes translation difficult (cf. 311f.), and the „conceptualizing capacity“ (310), of which Lakoff assumes that it is shared in general by people. This capacity allows for understanding even in cases when the conceptual systems are radically different (cf. 311f.).

One need not go very far in looking for an example of the difficulties implied by the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis in Babel-17. The two most significant languages in the text, English and Babel-17, are not very similar to each other, their conceptual systems are fundamentally different. Babel-17 is “an exact analytical language” (Delany, Babel-17, 215), while English is claimed to be “analytically clumsy” (210). Speakers of Babel-17 seem to have an “angular brutality” as well as an “animal grace” (both: 131). The English language, by contrast, lends itself well to poetry, it is beautiful when it is polished, it is a very subjective language, expressing peoples thought and opinions (cf. 17f.), whereas in Babel-17’s conceptual system the grammatical category of subjectivity and self-reflexiveness is missing (cf. 139).

These conceptual differences make translation difficult, certainly. That is why the Butcher, the original speaker of Babel-17, who does not speak a single word of it within the text, has trouble communicating properly in English, he sounds harsh and brutal (cf. 146ff.). These difficulties do not, however, prevent him from learning in English the concepts of ‘I’ and ‘you’ that are missing in the conceptual system he operates with. His being able to understand Rydra’s teaching is the proof that the text offers for the validity of Lakoff’s distinction between understanding and translation.

The closest the text gets to simply restating Whorfian theory is when Rydra claims that “language is thought” (23, italics his) and the closest it gets to refuting the same theory is by saying that although “the original words were lost, the translation remained” (77). What may seem simply like a contradictory statement turns out to be, another one of the textual tactics of Babel-17, namely intrducing a contardiction to shake the readers grip on the meaning of the text and to leave him with questions. Similarly, the explanation of Babel-17’s function as programming its speaker “to become a criminal and a saboteur” (215) is so blatantly unscientific and implausible that it should quickly be realized that the text is not concerned with simple endeavors such as fictionally exploring Whorfian theory. On the contrary, it uses Whorf’s theory to make its own points.

Sometimes the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is also called Sapir-Whorf-Korzybski Hypothesis, named after the founder of General Semantics, whose Motto is ‘The Map is not the Territory’ (cf. Eco 124f.), something we already encountered in Lacan’s thesis. Interestingly, this corresponds nicely with Broderick’s assertion that SF “maps utopia” (107). This connection should encourage us not to look for literalizations of utopias in works of SF, but to look instead for hints, absences, the “naturwissenschaftliche Wunderbare” (Todorov 54). Also, we should remember Moylan, who claimed, that we should not expect utopias in modern literature but only expressions of utopia (cf. Moylan 36). A cursory glance at Babel-17 reveals that there is no utopia in the narrow sense of the word. Still, there is a map of a certain, utopian change, as closer scrutiny will show. Babel-17 traces the contours of that change in the murky waters of language.

Naming things and using manipulated speech have been part of everyday language for several years now. The text shows just how manipulative everyday language can be by using the extreme example of the schizophrenia-inducing Babel-17 in several subtle ways. For instance it is pointed out that Babel-17 manipulates its speakers by using manipulative vocabulary: “the word for Alliance in Babel-17 translates literally into English as: one who has invaded.[…] It has all sorts of little diabolisms programmed into it.” (Delany, Babel-17, 215). This particular diabolism it shares with English, as we never get to know the word for the Invader’s home planets, they are just that: Invaders, meaning, those-who-have-invaded.

It is not easy to blame Babel-17 on the Invaders, as they used Babel-17 as a tool which only worked because it turned a weapon which was the Alliance’s all along, against the Alliance (see footnote 6). Babel-17 encourages us to look at language as an object, not as a given. “[T]he tool is not the weapon; rather the knowledge of how to use it” (213). This is where linguistic relativism comes into play. Some, among them Robert Anton Wilson, have claimed, that English is a highly manipulative language, with lots of possibilities to shroud the speaker’s intentions. That’s why they invented E-Prime, which appears to be sort of a new and improved English, wherin one is not allowed to use the verb ‘(to) be’ or any of its compound varieties (cf. Wilson 97-107). Changing the conceptual system changes minds, they claim. Exactly the same claim is made by Rydra Wong. After having uncovered every secret of Babel-17 and having stopped the sabotage she corrected Babel-17 “to build it towards truth” (Delany, Babel-17, 218).

Turning around what I said in the previous paragraph, I may also claim that its easy to blame Babel-17 on the Invaders, because the names suggest that. It is an „alien language“ (7) and the nameless Invaders wrought havoc with it (cf. 214f.). Sure, the Butcher was the Alliance’s tool, but it took the Invader’s cunning , the „knowledge how to use it“ (213) to make him a weapon. If it is that easy to change truths, how can Rydra believe herself to be able to make Babel-17 truthful?

Wittgenstein famously wrote: „Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen“ (Wittgenstein 111). Not to talk about something equals in this case not being able to say anything about that something that can have any claim to truth. Babel-17‘s status as a work of fiction and the loads of contradictions of which we have encountered several already, almost represent that Wittgensteinian silence. At the end of the day, what, really, has been said? What has been named? If „[a]ny given fiction reveals what it excludes“ (Broderick 133) the possibilities of what is revealed in Babel-17 are great, as it nearly never mentions the government, society, anything that borders on the issues of language is excluded from the text but not from the text’s discourse. Some kind of utopia is discernible in the text, but it’s precise shape is never named, which makes it all the more pervasive.

In Babel-17, we have earned, language is present in many ways, as language, linguistics, poetry and in the process of naming. There is one last aspect left, the one about the language-like qualities of SF. Samuel R. Delany encourages the reader of SF to think of it „as a language that must be learned or as a mode of writing as distinctive as poetry.“ (Landon 7). Each SF text is embedded in a „generic [SF] megatext“ (Broderick 59), which consists of all the other SF works that have been written and all the works that will be written. This means that every SF text has numerous references to numerous other SF texts which must be „not so much understood as simply recognized as proper names.“ (Broderick 57). Most importantly among those references figure certain stock terms that keep cropping up and the individual SF text is characterised by the way he takes up these stock terms and uses them in his own narrative.

This, of course, is nothing else but the notion of intertextuality that we already discussed. It is only now, however, that all the necessary elements for a sensible discussion of the dialogical functions of the SF megatext have been gathered. Babel-17 „showcas[es] the possibilities of SF’s invented languages“ (Malmgren 9) and a comparison with the SF megatext shows that Sfspeak is just another language in the bulk of the many already presented, but it is the process of naming that will become most important for the discussion of SF vocabulary.

Many SF texts play on the so-called „quest formula“ (Aldiss and Wingrove 393). These texts constitute a whole subgenre of SF: the space opera, which first appeared in the 1920s in pulp magazines such as Amazing and Astounding. (cf. Landon 72 ff.). Kingsley Amis remarks that what space operas resemble most are „horse operas“ (44) and Susan Sontag noticed, apropos of SF films, that their predictability remind her of Westerns (cf. 209). Space opera’s plots involve all the magic ingredients, space ships, black holes, hideous aliens, big guns and in a focal position: the heroic men who conquer the unknown universe (cf. Bogdanoff 82 f.). Space operas not only reinforce certain stereotypes, they also have social relevance in their advocacy of capitalism and colonialism (cf. Bogdanoff 85f.) They are propelled by a „missionary fervor and a sense of purpose“ (Landon 81). This crusade leads to frequent encounters with aliens. These encounters can be subsumed under the so-called first contact theme.

First Contacts are not restrained in their appearance nor are they more likely to appear in a space opera than in any other SF subgenre. They are first contacts with that which is alien, that which is the other. This theme is so pervasive that it has lead Broderick to say that SF both „writes the narrative of the other“ and „the narrative of the same, as other“ (51, italics his), which is a major insight, as C.G. Jung points out: „the alien is that which exists within humanity but which civilized humanity believes to have conquered“ (Golden 73). Also, according to C.G. Jung, the quest of the hero is a new myth (cf. 31) and corresponds with „the perennial human quest for meaning and wholeness“ (29). Fighting a war against an alien perceived as hideous would mean what the hero really fights is that within himself which he perceives as hideous. He finds himself a substitute enemy.
Turning to SF it soon is noticeable that the main problem in first contact scenarios is a failing of all kinds of communication, verbal as well as non-verbal (cf. Bogdanoff 244). In SF films the appearance of the alien usually is accompanied by silence (cf. Seeßlen 435), which in written SF texts is impossible to realize. As in the movies, however, the appearance of the alien has its importance. According to Bogdanoff communication works better the more human the alien appears. (cf. 230). This raises the question of what is really human: the humans, their shadow counterparts or both? What makes someone human ? It might well be language.

When talking about mythical references in the novel we already noticed the quest motive in Babel-17. Indeed, the novel has been derisively called a space opera often both by members of the academia (cf. Schulz 151) as well as by members of the SF ‚scene‘ (cf. Keim 503). It has been claimed that space opera’s underlying world view prevents any criticism of society or language (cf. Keim 514). In contrast, I would claim that the text „shows the need to understand codes and conventions“ (Samuelson 168) in order to work with them.

The stereotypes of space opera are conspicuously absent. The hero is a woman, who has weak moments (Delany, Babel-17, 15f.). She is a poet, not a warrior and although fights take place they have nothing to do with what turns out to be the hero’s victory. There’s none of the stereotypical male cocksureness in the events. It is poetry, science and Rydra and the Butcher‘s love that wins the day, not the big guns. The crew on Rydra‘s ship which is all the society the text permits us to see works in ways together that seem more like kibbutzim, working together as equals, work and love closely related. There is no trace of capitalism; colonialism, however, is hinted at, the headquarters of the Invaders are in a city called „Nueva-nueva York“ (218), a clear reference to New York and American colonial history. The missionary fervor, too, has its place in Babel-17, but it is a different fervor, a different purpose. In the end, Babel-17 is accorded no cultural value that could result in a cultural colonisation, it is assigned to other tools, it works as a go-between.

Speaking ‘SF’ means understanding the stereotypes and using them. Moylan wrote that he believed the productive powers of phantasy were situated in art (cf. Moylan 33). Using one’s phantasy to speak to the reader with the intent of swaying him to the cause, that aspect of Moylan’s belief are well taken care of by SF.

The key to the space opera motive in Babel-17 is found in Jung‘s observation as stated above: „the alien is that which exists within humanity but which civilized humanity believes to have conquered“ (Golden 73), a dark force within humanity. And language is exactly that, a manipulative force that we believe to have conquered through writings, through codes, through the disambiguation that we believe to occur in the process of naming. By transposing the palpable figure of the alien with something as vague as language, Babel-17 demonstrates what we should be afraid of: ourselves. „Who is this animal man“ is asked early on (Delany, Babel-17, 3). If we as human beings dump our fears of our shadowy side on the character of the Alien, this process assures that in the figure of that Alien can we ourselves be traced (cf. Golden 161). In language we can also be traced with all our arrogance in full display, all our weaknesses.

Language in space operas, we have found, mirrors the capitalist society from when they originated. Language mirrors our selves, but, as we learned, those same selves are absent in the language. Compared to other utopias, the traces of utopia visible in Babel-17 are not to do with enshrining a particular language or culture, as utopias generally have the tendency to do (Gordon 205). Languages, we learn, are deficient. English as well as the mysterious Babel-17. Communication also is deficient, personal as well as global, we have learned that, too. Maybe society, and we, too, who are mirrored in it are also deficient.

Language is mended as the events turn to a close (218f.). Another thing that is on the way to being mended is the political situation, meaning the interplanetary war, as Rydra and the Butcher are resolved to stop it. About earth society we receive nearly no information, we only encounter two earth people from the government, the General and a customs officer. Both are unhappy. The General, because he thinks that he cannot communicate with others. The customs officer seems to be unhappy with his whole life situation. He changes because he communicates with others, he changes his language system in parts: the process of naming is recognized as bad. This, actually is not portrayed in the novel, but when Rydra returns to earth the customs officer’s lifestyle resembles a lifestyle he claimed was perverted (cf. 191f.). Rydra’s quest, one might assume, mirrors the officer’s journey through his language in an allegorical way.

In his foreword to Delany’s seventh novel The Einstein Intersection, Neil Gaiman reviews some of the ways that particular novel has been read by all kinds of readers and interpreters. He closes that section of the foreword without passing judgement on the validity of these readings but instead he comments: „if that were all the book was, it would be a poor type of tale, with little resonance for now. Instead, it continues to resonate.“ (Gaiman ix). That holds equally true for Babel-17, which has been read as a black novel (cf. Weedman), as a gay novel and as an arrogant and trashy novel (cf. Keim)

SF, Delany says, is „a tool to help you think about the present […] in a way that allows you to question them as you read along in an interesting, moving and exciting story“ (Landon 35). This statement perfectly captures the effect of Babel-17, an exiting story about language and its mechanisms, questioning our sense of ourselves. Notions of free will and truth are under fire in this novel. That its narrative is open-ended is fitting. It leaves us with questions, not with answers. Questions that are about language, not about codes.

Languages have to be understood. When Rydra sits down with her tapes and transcriptions and works out all the grammar and vocabulary before passing judgment on Babel-17, maybe that is the text’s way of telling us to sit down likewise and consider the implications.Rydra’s understanding of herself and her understanding of the language happen at the same time. Babel-17 suggests, that it is always that way as understanding ourselves means understanding language first.

SF „shows human kind groaning in chains of its own construction, but nearly always with the qualification that those chains can be broken if people try hard enough“ (Amis 77) In Babel-17 these chains are language. Changing your life means changing your language. This is where mainstream criticism errs, which assumes that Babel-17 is about language and problems of language. They cannot see that it is about change. Trying hard enough not to succumb to the manipulations of language or to reflect the manipulation. These consequences are political as well as epistemological. Changing society also means changing yourself and your language, which is the lesson Wilson implemented when he started to advocate E-Prime.
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Writing about Travel Studies, James M. Buzard directed his reader’s attention to the multiple ways in which default assumptions about travel often guide discourse and cripple serious thought. His call for a treatment of travel that is both wider and narrower than the common treatment (cf. Buzard 43f.) seems to stem from strong misgivings as to the acceptability of bad yet commonly accepted definitions. However, as we will see in the course of the present paper, ‘travel’ is not the only concept in need of clarification. The other central concept is ‘theory’.

Edward W. Said’s essay “Traveling Theory” is firm on what theory is and under which constraints it works . Theory, in Said’s reading of philosophical history, cannot be separated from its author and its author cannot escape the circumstances of his or her time. Thus, theory is firmly anchored to a time and place, because its author is. This means that, being a reader of theory in a different set of circumstances, one is prone to misread the theory, as “[n]o reading is neutral or innocent” (Said, WTC , 241), because the reader, too, is bound to his own set of circumstances.

However, later generations of writers can take this theory and put it to use in their own set of circumstances, different as it is from the original set. The theory, as it resurfaces in the works of these second-generation writers, has, in a way, travelled through time and space. As we will see later on, Said keeps silent about the actual traveling. His sole interest is in the point of departure and the point of arrival.

The present paper will provide a critical reading of Said’s essay and the concepts it is based on, but at the same time, it will provide a defense of the essay, an apologia, in a way. It will be shown that the first step in an analysis of traveling theories must be a clarification of the status of theories before the travels can be considered. Subsequently, it will be shown, what, once the meaning of ‘theory’ has been ascertained, this means for the possibilities of travel and traveling theories and “Traveling Theory”.

The major example in Said’s essay for the theory he is proposing, is centered around Lukács’ theory of reification and the way that theory has been taken up by Lucien Goldmann in his magisterial study of Pascal and Racine Le Dieu Caché. We will now briefly sketch, without going into the theoretical details, how Said’s example is structured.
He begins with the writings if the then young and ardent revolutionary Lukács, who, according to Said, wrote an “astonishingly brilliant” (231) analysis of his time. Lukács’ major achievement appears to be an analysis which Said considers “an act of political insurgency” (232). Lucien Goldmann, who took up Lukács’ theory and applied it to an analysis of Jansenist thought and writing has diluted that theory by having textualized the parts of the theory that were directed at the external world. This is not to be called a misreading, as both writers are determined by their historical and social situation.
This must suffice as a summary of Said’s central example. In the next part we will turn to Said’s concept of theory.

“Traveling Theory” is based on the idea that theory, arises from and responds to a historical situation (for the Marxist background, see Schleifstein 39). This claim is buttressed by Said with a lengthy explanation of a theory by Lukacs and the changes which this theory underwent at the hands of subsequent critics. These changes are claimed to be inevitable and they can be counted on to either dull the fervor of the theory, so that it becomes “a dogmatic reduction” (208) or to implode by activating aporias within itself, that were already there. Travel, in other words, is necessarily negative, as “[l]ater versions of the theory cannot replicate its original power” (Said, Reflexions on Exile and Other Essays, 436).

In a recent essay called “Traveling Theory Reconsidered” (cf Said, Reflexions on Exile and Other Essays, 436ff.), Edward Said rethinks his approach to the problem of traveling theories and admits that his analysis was marred by a “common enough bias” (436). To the possibilities of change he adds a way that travel might affect a positive change in the theory, something he claims will happen only if a “traveling theory [becomes] tougher, harder, more recalcitant” (440).

Even though he does not discuss the process of travel, he leaves no doubt as to how that change is effected and what he is focusing on: the mind of the theorist, be it Lukács, Adorno, Fanon or somebody else. Saying ‘mind’ in this case entails talking about their personal, emotional involvement with the situations they write their theory in, more than any rational aspect. Thus, Said spends quite some time investigating Fanon’s development as a writer and reader (cf. Said 446ff.). Except for the quotes Said provides, the theoretical text never makes an appearance. Dismissing formalism out of hand, Said concentrates solely on content. What the theory means is not up to the textual aspect of the theory, but up to the author’s intention, which is shaped in turn by the time and place this author lived in. According to Said, theory is an object crafted by an individual mind and the emphasis of Said’s reading is always on the maker. It is not primarily Lukács’ theory but Lukács’ intentions which are revolutionary and it is primarily Lucien Goldmann’s scholarly intentions which dull the sharp edges of the original theory, not Le Dieu Caché.

If we keep the two elements of our previous explication of ‘theory’ there is a second possibility as to the nature of theory. Until now we distinguished text and a reader willing to read the text with regard to practice but located the actual theory in the reader’s mind. In doing so, we might have fallen prey to the commonsensical idea of needing to allocate a well-defined place and shape to theory.
However, if we are prepared to jettison this figurative concept, if we are wiling to take “the parallax view” (Žižek), a different possibility opens up. Parallax is a concept in use for instance in astronomy to describe “the apparent displacement of an object […] caused by a change in observational position that provides a new line of sight” (Žižek 17).
Transposing this concept on our discussion of theory results in a re-objectification of theory. Theory, in this concept, is external to the reader’s mind, even though the reader’s practical reading is pivotal here, too, since it is the reader’s reading which constitutes him as the observer in the parallax concept. A reader who reads the same text purely as a work of literature does not belong to the class of observers who are crucial to our understanding of theory in this variation . Thus formulated, however, we seem to have lost the element of travel altogether, as we are left with a single, unmoving object.

Then again, the apparent displacement is anything but objective. Žižek claims that “a ‘epistemological’ shift in the subject’s point of view always reflects an ‘ontological’ shift in the object itself” (Žižek 17). This does not refer to ‘real’ changes, because this is not the debate Žižek is leading here . Instead, the statement reflects the impossibility of ascertaining the reality of the object. All we have, in a way, are the observer’s accounts. So, as in the previous case, a comparison of theories will involve a comparison of theorists. Although, this time, it is the theory which moves (with the text remaining a stable force or minor importance behind it), it is impossible to compare the two readings directly, as there “is no rapport between the two levels, no shared space – although they are closely connected (4).
We find in both of our reworkings of what constitutes theory one common element: in both cases the text gets short shrift, as it does in Said’s essay. While the text is important, a close reading will not resolve any of the methodological difficulties of such a comparison. It is the readers who will have to be read and the tentative ideas on a future anthropology which James Clifford puts forward in the first chapter of Routes and the concept of traveling culture(s) offer fascinating tools for this kind of project.

The possibility of positive change, as explained earlier, is not the only new element in “Traveling Theory Reconsidered”. The other major development is the inclusion of a theoretical writer of postcolonial studies such as Fanon. Whereas the first essay charted lines of influence within Western Europe’s academia, Said now turns his attention to fields connected to postcolonial studies, a development anticipated by Clifford’s critique of “Traveling Theory” as too focused on travels within Europe, “within an unmarked ‘Western’ place and history” (Clifford, “Notes on Travel and Theory”, 4).

Once the element of non-western culture enters the discussion, the mapping of travels become less easy, as the mapper “runs the risk of distorting the new object” (Shen 218).There is a difficulty inherent in this kind of discussion, giving rise to “non-linear complexities” (Clifford 8), that Said sidesteps elegantly by not once referring explicitly to culture. However, moving away from the simple revolutionary/bourgeois dichotomy which dominated the earlier essay, and moving towards other cultures and other academic fields, he opens up his own theory to a discussion of culture, which calls for a reformulation of the basic tenet of his essay: “Reconsidering Traveling Theory” is based on the idea that theory, like any other text, arises from and responds to culture.

As James Clifford has shown, culture is not a monolithic entity, nor does it make sense equating it with a location. Cultures travel, too, and the circumstances of the reader/writer of theory, do not only consist of his local situation, the cultures he belongs to must be considered as at least as decisive a force in shaping his subjectivity and consequently his reading, writing and understanding of texts. Arguably all of this takes place under the Überbau of Marxist theory, we did not stray too far from that path, but the circumstances of Said’s theory cannot be simply equated with Marxist terms, thus the inclusion of culture(s) can by all means be called an extension of Said’s circumstances.

Cultures can travel without the members of the culture moving corporally, for instance through receiving visitors or through being subjected to medial influences, such as television or literature (cf. Clifford, Routes, 27f.). On the other hand, cultures can maintain their integrity even while travelling and being integrated into the local culture (cf. 25f.).

As a member of such a culture, our projected reader/writer cannot be regarded simply as a local, or, to use the anthropological expression, as a native, as the culture(s) he belongs to are constantly shifting and changing, travelling, in a multitude of ways. Whereas one could say that Said claimed to be able to reduce his own reader/writer to the village he lives in, to use a trope of Clifford’s, we cannot do such a thing.

On the contrary, we have to recognize that the inbetween of the process of travel is filled by the shifts in cultures. Books may travel to the reader’s culture or the reader may travel to the country where the books are printed, the reader may or may not have read books on a similar topic, he or she may or may not have in-depth knowledge of that particular text’s field of expertise etc. A similar amount of factors can be found at the writer’s end of the process as well. It appears that it is a plentiful wellspring of possibilities that surrounds the process of traveling theories.

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