Verwirrung am Markt

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

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

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

Ghosts of our Youth: On Hwang Song-yong’s "The Guest"

Hwang, Sok-yong (2001), Der Gast, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag
ISBN 978-3-423-24563-0
[translated from the Korean by Katrin Mensing, Young Lie and Matthias Augustin]

The well read among us are well acquainted with the presence of ghosts in literature, in good and bad books both. One of the best post 1945 novels employing that technique is Pedro Paramo. It’s this novel that Hwang Sok-yong’s novel reminded me most of, despite the numerous significant differences. I may be returning to this.

“The Guest” is about the time that Communism became the prevailing political ideology of North Korea, and about civil war like fights between fanatical Catholics and fanatical communists, both committing countless atrocities. The focus here is not, as usual and common in reports of atrocities committed by communists, on the evil reds. This tendency is so common in literature, especially with all the Gulag literature and the GDR literature, showing, iterating and reiterating ad nauseam just how unbearable life under socialism was, that I was irritated at the fact that it’s not the focus here, but ultimately positively surprised. Catholic fanatics. Well. What do you know.

The protagonist is an expat catholic priest, living in the US, who travels to Korea in his brother’s stead. His brother’s a catholic priest as well, apparently long tormented by guilt. He committed countless atrocities in his home country, murdering many communists in an attempt to seize control of their county before Communist backup arrived. The urgency of his youthful follies is apparent. The atheistic Communists, driven by an ideology that seemed imported from abroad, going against all traditions, political as well as religious, must have seemed an imminent danger to the priest-to-be.

The fact that they had large backers all across the country and abroad provided the urgency to do away with those in their home country once and for all. The same applies to the Communists, of course. After the brutal colonial rule of the Japanese, they looked to the north and east and saw new beginnings.They decided to make it new in their own country as well. And then the old retaliated, the old, politically as well as religious. Catholicism is so strict, so much of a ritual, that it’s the perfect fit for a religion that one sees as an obstacle, just like the Russian Orthodox Church was.

Both parties were in the wrong, so wrong it’s tough to find the right words for it, and yet one is tempted to refer to the atrociousness as “youthful folly”. Hwang Sok-yong found the perfect literary expression for this. There are so many problems with depicting the brutality en détail, not the least of which is the question whether a description will do justice to what happened, for the mind of the reader who is too young or too unkorean (yes, neologism) to remember. It’s like A.O. Scott’s musings on the American remake of Haneke’s classic “Funny Games”. The ghosts are the personified atrocities, they are the a Derridean trace (not really, I’m just joking), the personified lack. It shows to the reader who’s missing. Fathers, brothers, daughters, mothers. They are right there, looking him in the eye. And here’s where the author’s second brilliant move kicks in. He did not use the criminal brother as protagonists, even though he’s the one who originally saw the ghosts. He hands the reader a reader-like mirror, the brother who had nothing to do with it all.

For him, the ghosts help unravel the convoluted story, family tragedies, the tragedy of a country stumbling from one dark place to the next and then the following one. And they help us understand as well without trying to shock us with gratuitous violence. It’s not that I am not always up for copious amounts of violence, my deep adoration of Sarah Kane’s slim but brilliant oeuvre speaks for itself. But here this may be the wrong road to go down. Making the reader guess, look, see the lack and the aftermath has proven to be as effective a literary move as I’ve known, see for instance a work such as Semprun’s magisterial (ministerial) Le Grand Voyage. And it’s effective here. Read this book. While not as good as the abovementioned Pedro Paramo, which is absolutely mesmerizing, depicting a village tragedy as well, it’s something else. It’s necessary. Read it.

Ondjaki: Good Morning Comrades

Ondjaki (2008), Good Morning Comrades, Biblioasis
ISBN 978-1-897231-40-1
translated from the Portuguese by Stephen Henighan

What a novel. Ten pages in I hated it. There are some common literary mechanisms that I am getting tired of and this is one of the worst: a faux-naïve narrator, usually children or adolescents, describing his or her life in terrible circumstances, be it war or dictatorship or other regimes. Here it’s communist Angola, in the last year of a war that had lasted for several decades. A naïve boy is telling his tale. Simple style. I couldn’t decide whether it was the writer’s fault or the translator’s, but what I did know was that I regretted buying the book.

Ten pages later I was hooked. The style turned out to be more of a pose, it created a voice, a believable voice for the narrator and protagonist, the novel immediately started to cohere, and it stayed that way until the end of the book. When I had finished it, I felt I knew Ndalu, as the narrator/protagonist is called, on a personal level, even though he shared few personal details with us, the readers. This evocative power in so young a writer is impressive. This novel will not be the last of Ondjaki’s novels I’ll read.

The main power of the novel, however is found in its background. It’s set in Angola, a former Portuguese colony, which was torn apart by decades of war afterwards. One was the civil war, described @wiki like this:

The Angolan Civil War (1975 – 2002), one of the largest and deadliest Cold War conflicts, erupted shortly after and lasted 27 years, ravaging the economy, disturbing social order and disrupting social stability in the newly independent country. Over 500,000 people lost their lives,[7][8] as the three main factions and several smaller ones struggled for supremacy. Millions of Angolan refugees suffered with the conflict and left the country or simply fled to other regions of Angola.

The other major war was between the Angolan forces, augmented by Cuban military and apartheid South Africa. The latter conflict ended when the Angolan/Cuban army defeated South Africa’s forces at the battle of Cuito Cuanavale. Good Morning Comrades‘ translator writes of this:

The battle of Cuito Cuanavale has been erased from history as it is taught in Western nations; yet this battle forced the Western world to accept Angola’s present boundaries, caused the fall from power of South African president P.W. Botha, and led to the independence of Namibia and the end of apartheid in South Africa. In many parts of the world, Cuban soldiers, rather than tepid sanctions by the Western nations, are credited with having dealt the apartheid system its death blow.

This ambivalence, between oppression and liberation, of communist dictatorship, which in the novel is presented as yet another kind of colonialism, with beaches just for the Soviets and Cuban teachers and inspectors, while not actively governing the country, are apparently in firm control of central infrastructural points, is important. So are others: now we get to the really tasty bits. The Cuban/Soviet colonialism is never reflected, but the former Portuguese is, in two different ways. One is an old man, Comrade Antonio, who is old enough to remember Portuguese rule and constantly insists on the fact that it hasn’t been that bad, in a way that reminded me of old GDR citizens, who remember the 40 yrs fondly.

The second way Portuguese colonialism reflected is trickier. A relative from Portugal visits. How is this important? Let me digress first: all of Ndalu’s description of Angola are refreshingly devoid of whining, describing his circumstances good-humoredly, without hidden judgment. Some things might seem strange or possibly oppressive to us, but not to Ndalu. It does raise the question whether judgment is valid at all, since it’s not part of the book, maybe it’s just our/my uptight anti-communism (not that I thought I harbored this sort of prejudice). However, and here’s where we return to the visit, we do get an outside view on this, which reveals the absurdity of many daily rituals Ndalu takes for granted.

But even within these absurd rituals, there are again contrarian elements. Take this piece of dialogue. The aunt brings three different chocolate bars and Ndalu automatically assumes that she must have borrowed her neighbor’s ration cards. She denies that:

“I don’t have any sort of ration card. In Portugal we make our purchases without a card.”
“Without a card? But how do they keep track of people? How do they keep track, for example, of the fish you take home?” I didn’t even let her respond. “How do they know you didn’t take too much fish?”
“But I make the purchases I wish to make, provided that I have the money. Nobody tells me that I took too much fish or too little…”
“Nobody?” I was startled, but not overly so, because I was certain she was lying or jiking. “Isn’t there even a comrade in the fish market who stamps the cards when you buy fish on Wednesday?”

There you go. We all know that the phrase introduced by “provided…” isn’t as unimportant as it seems. And we all know that we here have excellent means of keeping track of our customers. These things crawl throughout the book including through an action- and suspense-packed episode at the center of the novel. I called the book simple but it’s deceptively simple. There is so much hidden in between the sparse details, that it results in the picture evoked in this short novel being incredibly rich. Additionally, the history it’s based on is intriguing, and I really like Ndalu.

The novel isn’t perfect, I am too much of a stickler for style to claim that, since Ondjaki or his translator isn’t interested in style at all. Yes, I said it works, but its accumulative. Pick any page, read it, it’s not a particular pleasure. read a whole chapter and the pleasure returns. It’s not my kind of book, but unquestionably good. On many levels. And he has four more novels already published in Portuguese, one of ’em translated. Lots of great literature to look forward to.


Bei Kulla eine knappe aber konzise Kritik an einem Angriff des Gegenstandpunkts auf die Marxismusbücher von Michael Heinrich. Dabei folgt der Angriff einem bekannten und alten Denkmuster (das ich persönlich ‘Lukacs-Marxismus’ nenne, obwohl das unfair dem großen Herrn Lukacs gegenüber ist), das Kulla korrekt aufdeckt:

Hier scheint nun Heinrichs Argument falsch zu sein wegen des unerwünschten Schlusses, bei dem er “landet”. Auch im folgenden wird Heinrich dafür kritisiert, daß er “ganz auf der Ebene der moralischen Schuldfrage” bleibt und sie verneint; daß ihm “offenbar nichts wichtiger” sei, “als die ökonomisch Mächtigen aus der Schusslinie zu nehmen”; ja, daß er “die Kapitalisten” “entlastet”. Dabei haben wir es hier weitgehend mit Unterstellungen zu tun.

Heinrich weist lediglich immer wieder darauf hin, daß das Handeln der “ökonomisch Mächtigen” nicht schlimmer ist als das, was alle anderen tun, sofern sie das Funktionieren des kapitalistischen Systems aufrechterhalten. […]

Und was ist mit den Arbeitern? Die gelten dem GSP vor allem als “Opfer der Produktionsweise”. Von ihrem eigenen Interesse als Lohnarbeitskraftbehälter und Warenbesitzer – keine Rede. Von ihrer immer wieder demonstrierten Bereitschaft, die herrschende Ordnung zu verteidigen, ja noch zu verschärfen – kein Wort.

Bemerkenswert – und lesenwert (wenn auch schwerlich informativ) auch die auf die auf den Post folgende, außerordentlich knochenköpfige Diskussion.

On Revolution

Why don’t they know that this is impossible to do without, that this really must be accomplished, that it certainly will be – so that no one will ever be poor or unhappy again? Isn’t this what they’re all saying? No, they feel sorry, but they really think things will always stay just the way they are – maybe a little better, but still much the same. […] Yes, it’ll be wonderful when there are no more poor people, when no one can coerce anyone else.

– Nikolai Chernyshevsky, What Is to Be Done? (trans. Michael R. Katz)

Solzhenitsyn RIP

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, flawed and fabulous giant of Russian letters has died. Quoth the Associated Press:

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prize-winning author whose books chronicled the horrors of the Soviet gulag system, has died of heart failure, his son said Monday. He was 89.

Stepan Solzhenitsyn told The Associated Press his father died late Sunday, but declined further comment.

Solzhenitsyn’s unflinching accounts of torment and survival in the Soviet Union’s slave labor camps riveted his countrymen, whose secret history he exposed. They earned him 20 years of bitter exile, but international renown.

The following quote is from a ten-year-old review in the NYT book pages and I feel it can stand as an epitaph of sorts here

But for Vera Moseyeva, a retired clerk who remembers the first book by Mr. Solzhenitsyn that she ever laid her hands on (it was almost in rags by the time it had been carefully and secretly passed to her), it does not matter what he writes.

”Whatever he says is always interesting,” she said, after buying three copies of ”Russia in Collapse.” “[…] Does he scold too much? Given the way life is these days, how can one not be scolding?”

Scolding, inspiring, and, going by interviews, essays and the like, a writer eminently interested in his language and its riches. As a thinker he may be questionable, but he was a writer like few others, and looking at the desert that contemporary German literature is, I wish we had a writer as keen on language and as energetic and driven as Mr. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. He will be sorely missed.