From the Feuilletons


Monday 3 July, 2006

Die Tageszeitung, 03.07.2006

Bahman Nirumand talks to Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji who was recently released following a six-year prison sentence. "In solitary confinement, I only had myself and my thoughts, I had no books, no radio, no television. I was completely isolated in a narrow room. My thoughts of course revolved around the problems of my country, my family and my friends. I kept thinking for example about the question of why our country has always been ruled by dictatorships. You see, we intellectuals have always glorified the people and put the blame on the ruling system. But I think every political system somehow fits the people it rules. Consequently all dictators who have ruled over us, should be seen in the context of our culture and our history. So if we want democracy, we should not only look at the state but also at the people."

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 03.07.2006

The paper previews the ideas of writer Hans-Ulrich Treichel, who will speak today and tomorrow about the autobiographical element in literature at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz: "This idea assumes that I have long ago formulated my own life narrative, and that I can fall back on it whenever I want. But that's not how things are. For this reason I tend not to be able to discover anything autobiographical at all in my books, even where there are clear correlations between literature and life, or alternatively between the author and the literary character. And that's because I can't discover anything autobiographical even in my own self."

In Sunday's Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Harald Staun warns against being taken in by the harmless appearance of the new ZIA (Zentrale Intelligenz Agentur) writers' collective of which Kathrin Passig, this year's winner of the prestigious Ingeborg Bachmann Prize (more here), is also a member. "All those who thought that the major German publishing houses would have the monopoly on the production of upcoming literature for all eternity; all those who see ZIA agents with their T-shirts as a flash mob or some invasion from a parallel universe, should take the opportunity to have a good think about their arrogance towards literature which isn't only produced in a dark little room. You might find the irony of the ZIA silly but do not not let it dupe you: it is but a warning sign behind (and on) which a new generation of authors is working very seriously indeed."

Süddeutsche Zeitung, 03.07.2006

Germany a country of immigration? Author Sonja Margolina is astonished by the lack of an active immigration policy in Germany, and that migrants who are willing to integrate are relegated to asylum centres and then deported: "Cases where talented and fully integrated youths are deported to their home countries cause a stir from time to time. But most of these dramas take place out of the public eye. This absurd waste of human capital in our ageing society, which is groaning under a lack of public funds, is hitting our country at the very core. That's because Germany is primarily becoming attractive for people who prefer to draw social and health benefits. There is no country of immigration that accommodates people from around the globe only to not let them work."

Saturday 1 July, 2006

Poet Robert Gernhardt has died

Robert Gernhardt, one of Germany's most loved contemporary poets, died on Friday at the age of 68. In 2004 he was awarded the Heinrich-Heine Prize for literature. He was also a painter and co-founder of the satirical magazine Titanic.

In the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Martin Krumbholz sings the praises of the poet. Gernhardt, though, has already written his own obituary: '"Dear God, I know it's hardly meek / But I know you know I'm unique / And you really should agree / That I am cleverer than thee. / So praise for ever my good name / Or it would only fade. Amen.' This poem, from the volume 'Besternte Ernte' (1976) (starlit harvest) which is cheekily titled 'Prayer', contains all the aspects of self-assertion: the allusion to one's own singularity, a huge dose of hubris and finally an open but empty threat. And yet in the affectations of the big mouth which this verse parodies, there is also a grain of truth, and this is what makes it so charming. That the megalomania revealed here is the flipside of a dreadful depression is all too clear and so the prayer becomes an intimate avowal: "I suffer from a fear of failing / Especially when writing poetry. / This fear has already taken its toll / on many a pretty rhyme.

Author Martin Mosebach writes in the Süddeutsche Zeitung: "Gernhardt engaged in a battle of poetic wits with his friends, and was neglected by the literature business. It's no exaggeration to say the form of poetry that relied heavily on the grand poetic tradition was cultivated in his day by comic poetry alone. Yes, form and humour only enhanced each other among the poets in Gernhardt's entourage. Form requires practise and handicraft, things that the solemn sphere of 'serious' poets only sniggered at, as they were not ready to laugh. While thousands of readers already knew many of Gernhardt's poems by heart, the feuilletons of the major papers published poems of which not a single line remained in the memory of the oh-so-awestruck readers."

Martin Lüdke reminisces about his friend Robert Gernhardt in the Frankfurter Rundschau: "They stopped coming out the small garden door a couple of weeks ago, first Bella, Gernhardt's dog, then him. I always enjoyed the sight. The dog turned right, Gernhard turned left – and then both of them would jerk when the leash tightened." And Michael Braun praises Gernhardt the poet: "You could certainly say a lot of things against Gernhardt's traditionalistic concept of poetry, and his tendency to over-emphasise the element of routine handicraft. Yet he never versified 'beyond his means,' like some ambitious 'modernists'. He was always very taken by the aesthetic charms won by updating classical forms." - let's talk european