english

Whoosh

It’s already more than a year
since you died on us, just like that.
A little later they swept you,
a small heap of ash, into a black tin box and,
whoosh, lowered you down, an urnful of you,
topped off with a rosary, job done.

They tell me that in your final days
you selected that spot yourself,
chanting and talking nonsense,
joking with anyone who came to help you die,
they say that one as firmly rooted in belief as you
could even console the living in the end.

I, the non-believer,
unconsoled, only saw you later
not ascend to heaven
but descend into the earth
and with clenched fists trembled for you
that with your firm belief you’d be proven right,

first in that small black box and, whoosh,
in all that darkness which
swallowed it up in a flash.

Around the World in 180 Days

A Guinness parable

I.

Stop! said the curate, what’s the hurry, man? when I
had already grabbed the glass that he placed in passing
on the bar. That’s Guinness! You have to give it time, he said,
it’s still alive when it comes out the tap. See
for yourself – look at it seething, pale as ash, disturbed
before it settles down. Now give it three or four
more minutes till it’s set jet black in the glass, its foam
pure pearly white on top, no thicker’n half a dog-
collar, and strong enough to trot a mouse upon
but leave no tracks. Then and only then it was time,
then it was beer and not before. And until then,
reflect.

II.

Disgraced, I looked around: eight hundred years of thirst
looked back, encased in darkened wainscoting, and when
my time was come, the keeper used the tap to inscribe
the outline of a harp upon the foam. This was
the mark of the brewery. But once more: Stop! he said,
when I reached for the glass again. Full well he knew
that I was a stranger in his native town, and foolish
too. For crying out loud, don’t gulp it down. Enjoy
in moderation. Then look into your glass at the end:
You’ll see a line of rings going right down to the bottom,
a story in foam, the history of your thirst. It’s like
a parable. Of what? He didn’t tell. Anyhow,
cheers!

III.

So there I was. The glass stood before me, filled
with blackest smoke and fog, turf-smells, the sound of singing …
all this awaited me within. Far off, the tapster
busied himself at the other end of the bar with stories
of how he had nearly pulled the eejit over there
a lousy pint. The foreigner. Who now, timidly, raised
the glass at last to his lips, and though he didn’t drink, at least
he sipped.

Too Big a Fool to Refuel

(…)
Already I had turned away, had hidden in my silently glittering Chevrolet, in order to peacefully debate with myself what should be done next, when suddenly the voice rang out. A high friendly voice that poured over me like a torrential flood of vowels and consonants, from a speaker somewhere underneath the roof of the gasoline station. It poured over me, the Chevy, the gas pumps; loud and clear, and yet utterly incomprehensible.

I somehow managed to crawl out of my hiding place, looked around inconspicuously to see whether the guy with the hat had returned, perhaps amused by the lectures I had endured. I looked around in all other directions whether any other car might stop – another man with a hat might want to ridicule me. And discovered nobody. But as I was
standing there and didn’t dare reach for the gas nozzle, my eye fell beyond the gas pump – to the opposite side of the street: where the pumps of the competition where waiting. That was it, the solution !!! And it was so simple! In the twinkle of an eye I relaxed and: drove over to the other side.

Before refueling I observed the place and the things: they seemed to be exactly like the ones whose very complexities I had tried to grasp on the other side. Tailored replicas, merely the coloring had been rearranged from red-black to red-blue. Luckily, I was the only one in attendance and therefore had the choice between, oh, let’s see, roughly twenty possibilities: naturally I drove toward the one, which to the cashier – at least from the window where I suspected him to be – was the least bit visible. I stepped out, seized the gas nozzle with a casualness, as if it were a $10 bill shoved over a bar with ease, and pushed it – Relax! Relax! – into the nozzle of my Chevy. I chose the gas sort, pushed the red button, took a deep breath and – took another deep breath and – had to admit, that nothing happened. Nothing at all. Oh, I really could have howled, and since that was out of the question: I could’ve just smashed the whole affair to pieces, and since that was out of the question: tried to calm down.

After all it was not the first time that this country had left me speechless…

– In front of a pretty hot Texmex Chic at a pretty hot “Fuckerware Party” in Phoenix, who chatted me up – me of all people ?! – who immediately understood that I was a dimwit who clumsily tried to justify his stammering with “Sorry, I’m German.” She walked away, leaving me with a plain “Nazi”;

– In Manhattan, close to the Empire State building, where a nimble-fingered guy was shoving around three cards on a cardboard box with such provocative slowness – “Where’s my apple?” – until I was absolutely certain and lost $ 20 when the card I pointed to was turned around;

– At the entrance of a dump gorge in LA which I took to be at least the Laurel Canyon during my nocturnal search for a suitable parking space: where early the next morning the sheriff drummed his Billy club along the car roof, so that I, waking up, stared right into his colleagues’ barrel: “No overnight parking, Sir”;

– And also in a Chicago suburb, years ago, I was left dumbfounded, at B.L.U.E.S., where Johnny Dollar & The Scan’lous Band provided the evening program: lots of nobody’s, nevertheless better than any Fleetwood Mac or Chicken Shack, whom we had so far thought the greatest. Constantly somebody from the audience walked upon the stage and played along, so that there were more and more of them, unbelievable. But then, as the three incumbent Background singers glittered before me – “Shubidi – a, shubidu – a” – probably because I was the only one who hadn’t signed-up for the contest, as they held their three microphones in front of my face – “shubidu – a, shubidu – a” – where my mouth was supposed to be, only a horrified dullness reigned, there –

– suddenly the voice rang out. It rang out again, the voice from above, the voice from the speaker, it rang out again and a tremendous torrent of vowels and consonants poured over me, loud and clear – yeah, that’s right – but totally completely a hundred percent entirely incomprehensible again.

As the stream of syllables dried up with a small crack, I stood there fulfilled with noble simplicity and calm greatness; grace, dignity and a buzzing emptiness whirled through me from head to toe. I was nothing but a completed hollow body, a resonator of the Categorical Imperative, breathlessly surrounded by the gasoline pumps of this world. (…)

Lord of the Horns

All bright things fade;
darkness is lasting. As Broder Broschkus, declared enemy of all forms of Caribbean merriment, perspired his way up the steps to the “Casa de las tradiciones,” behind him a woman whom, after thirteen years of wedded bliss, he had all but forgotten, he still had only two words of Spanish to his name: “adios” and “caramba,” not counting yes/no, left/right and the numbers from one to ten. Dumbstruck with indignation at the brassy fanfares blaring out at him even here, he let his mind race through the hours remaining to be suffered through before their flight home, and felt tempted to give the bouncer not the expected tourist dollar but a good kick in the pants; naturally he had not the faintest inkling that he was to plunge to his death upon this very set of steps a mere two hours later. This package tour holiday was coming to an end, the suitcases already packed, and it was just before twelve on a Saturday afternoon beneath a colorless sky.
But how cool it was inside, a twilight haze! Although the percussionist was belaboring a horse’s skull with gusto, making the jaw emit a violent rattling sound, although the bass player had placed his lips to the curve of a jug so as to pluck sounds from its mouth with his thick, dark fingers, although the rest of the band was blowing into their axes with great fervor, the locals lay slumped in their rocking chairs, sipping from white plastic cups and smoking cigars that were being rolled for them by one of their number at the center of the room: When he raised his head to get a look at Broschkus—all the others seemed oblivious to his presence—the wrinkles fanned out across his coal-black face. Only a few small children—insofar as they weren’t busy playing hide and seek among the cowhide-covered stools and behind the squat rum barrels that served as tables—only a few children were dancing, right out in front of the musicians, their faces indifferent, their gyrations anything but. So this was it: the most famous bar in Santiago, whose praises Kristina had sung, citing the guidebook, in the most grandiose terms: crowning counterpoint to palm trees, water and sand, and she was doubtless about to declare it all “awesome” or “totally thrilling!” There was a smell of putrefaction, probably coming from the courtyard, chicken thighs or a dead cat rotting, there was a smell of spilled rum and sweaty shoes, with the occasional note of deep-frying or heavy perfume, and a fine thread of urine, acrid and precise, led the way into a back room where domino players were staring mutely at their tiles. If a warm breeze hadn’t just then come in through the window openings, Broschkus would surely have retreated on the spot.
As it was, however, he had scarcely traded the barman a pair of circular gestures of his index finger for a gap-toothed grin, had scarcely carried a mojito (for the señora, sí sí) and a surprisingly cold Cristal past a row of white-painted columns to the first available corner seat when he sank into a stupor. Beneath the music’s steady drone, the pink wooden walls with the photographs of famous singers—and even one of an enormous Jesus who towered up behind the in-the-flesh singers complete with a mitre and a snakelike writhing sword—dissolved into a diffuse Latin melancholy; only at great intervals were there little flies to be shooed, a sip of beer to be taken with half-closed eyes, and since the ceiling fans grated with such regularity, it would have been a simple matter for him to fall asleep, exhausted from two weeks of Caribbean sun and the silences accumulating on both sides. But before Broschkus dozed off altogether, he made a quick trip to the bar, whose countertop was nothing more than a barrel, sawed down the center lengthwise and splayed open, whose concave halves, he imagined, hid the peso bottles reserved for the locals; a second barrel had been split open in similar manner and mounted on the wall behind the bar, each half-torso fitted with a shelf for the official dollar-a-shot rum. Another? The gap-toothed barman grinned at him, apparently the only white man in the place, already with the bottle in his hand. Another, Broschkus nodded, already holding the dollar bill folded between index and middle fingers, almost as casually as a local.
Then he saw her.

Saw the two friends,
though hadn’t they caught his eye long before, sitting there giggling atop their stools, swapping secrets? Certainly they had, the younger one in particular: So young! he’d recoiled in shock, as pale brown as, who knows, what? Honey? Call it dark honey as far as I care, pretty damn dark—Broschkus had emerged completely from his stupor—and now look away.
Present, quite present she was all the same, the one with the honey-brown skin, with the long black ringlets and the shiny-toothed smile whose brilliance reached all the way back to the farthest corner of the room, the hiding place of the Broschkus couple; and lit up the entire region around the bar itself, where husband Broschkus was just dawdling over his exchange of an empty can for a full one. In order to note, just out of the corner of his eye: that this woman, whom one could no doubt still call a girl, that this girl, whom one could no doubt call, just barely, a woman, was dressed in a shabby pair of bicycle shorts, striped yellow and black just like her bustier, that her sandals were primitive, with soles probably cut from old tires, oh yes, even this detail Broschkus felt sure he had grasped. Nonetheless, the girl was transformed the longer she was gaped at in this stupid, surreptitious fashion—transformed by her laughter alone into, devil take it, into the purest grace, that’s right, Broder, for once the word is fitting, growl-grumbled Broschkus, and now beat it.
No wonder he couldn’t quite make himself remember the second of the two women later, just that she was much larger, above all in girth, not exactly fat, just substantial, downright muscular, alarmingly muscular, and—of this he would be quite certain after this fifth day of January—that she was much darker, as dark brown as . . . perhaps as the cigars the frail old man was rolling with such solemnity? That she was bedecked with blue-and-white and red-and-white necklaces, and where the hair should be had a dyed brownish clump of curls, a mop, whose natural black pigmentation was showing at the roots, and she also wore a rhinestone heart on her belt, didn’t she?
But now, now they were dancing.

Right away the horn players picked up the pace,
the drummers drummed with a bit more abandon, harder, the glistening skin of the two dancers was outdone only by the flashing white of their teeth.
Oh Lord, Broschkus thought, can’t someone do something about—
But no, no one seemed inclined to intervene, least of all Broschkus; the two women were dancing with such matter-of-factness that no one would have dared interrupt them, they were dancing so confidently with movements spawned from the very center of their beings, so complacently, so pleased with themselves down to the tip of each limb, with such undeniable self-love, even the darker woman, even she was glowing, and with her heavy flanks striking decidedly feminine sparks. And then the lighter, younger woman—oh, how dreamily she raised her arms above her head as she revolved around her own axis, watching her, it was difficult to take a sip without spilling. Her honey-hued skin, there was a light shining on it here and there as though the sun were shining indoors for her alone, now it lit up her thighs, now her belly, now her arms, constantly these spots of brightness were swirling around her body, the worst was when they crisscrossed the naked expanse of her shoulders.
As Broschkus set the can down, it seemed to him his eyes had fleetingly met hers, and when, a moment later, it was time to reach for the can again, and, feeling intimidated, he glanced in her direction surreptitiously, he felt a warm breeze pass through the room, felt it slip through the open door, crossing the dance floor to the back room and then out into the courtyard making his tongue strike his palate: Had she just gestured to him with her hand, a scarcely perceptible come-hither? Broschkus focused his attention on the man in the straw hat, the one standing next to him with two different shoes on, and finally the cigar-maker: He was wearing a necklace of little white plastic what—beads? Seeds? And how could the beer can be empty already? Or wasn’t it that little hand gesture again which could not have been meant for anyone but him, him of all people? The lightness and ease with which this—this person—was moving her hips, the directness with which she was openly smiling at him, the boldness of her two hands that kept grasping at her eternally flickering narrow hips, that slid up her body, slowly crossing her waist to meet in the middle, upon her naked belly, but then did not continue their upward journey to her breasts, no, that’s just what they didn’t do! instead they intertwined again only when they had reached her hair, ostensibly putting it in order, sweeping it up to one side so as to raise herself up and, proudly confident, commenting for quite some time on the dancing of the rest of the body with a splaying of the fingers: surely only for him, the stranger seated in the corner who was continuing to gape at her, was he not, continuing to smile at her, was he not, to whom above all others she was continuing to display herself? While she even made so bold as to prance a bit in his direction, playfully, in a moment there’d be a pirouette—
Broschkus choked so violently it made him start coughing.

The pirouette
he’d been waiting for, it didn’t come, instead—the cigar-maker, didn’t he have a white bracelet around his wrist as well?—she came parading through this light, through this noise, walking up to him quite openly, already he could see her protruding pelvic bones, the concave contour of the abdominal wall between them; he barely managed to put down the beer can before she had him by the hand, she pulled him from his stool like a little boy. Her gaze, emanating from the moist depths of coffee grounds shimmered-through with green, with a delicate light-brown, honey-brown rim, don’t keep staring into these eyes, don’t keep staring. As he stumbled off, Broschkus registered that the big girl, the girthy, heavy one, had approached the table as well and grabbed hold of Kristina—so the two were in cahoots—and already all four of them were in the middle of the room. Whereupon the band really started playing, a horse-skull-rattling diabolical spectacle, a few of the locals emerged from their stupors, there was some clapping along, some singing along, even the cigar roller briefly raised his gray-and-white frizzy head with the curve of the ears sticking out. Salsa!

Of course it had to be salsa,
which Broschkus detested. In a perfunctory way, he set his legs in motion, more the representation of a dance than the dance itself, he wanted to focus on the silvery toenails before him, on the brown feet in their cheap sandals, on the ankles, sinews, calf muscles; but the girl, swaying in wondrously soft motions, made him a gift of her long black tresses that snapped back and forth in syncopation with her every move, and when Broschkus dared to raise his eyes all the way, she laughed at him with dark lips, a miniscule black gap between her incisors. When she spun away from him, her hair flew into his face; and when she spun right back toward him, she let herself be spiraled in even closer than before, so close that she—reached for him as if in alarm with her long narrow fingers to avoid crashing into him outright, this, too, part of the same fluid motion, and of course her naked brown hips knew what they were doing when they swished against the hips of Mr. Broder Broschkus in passing and—only then did she glide past him, the girl, he felt her breath in his ear. Wafting about her was not some cloying perfume, as Broschkus noted with flared nostrils, but rather a powerful and unadulterated tang as she went on swaying to the beat as if she were all alone in the world and not located in rather dubious proximity to a slightly padded, slightly graying tourist. Oh how hideous Herr Broschkus found himself, how pale, how ungainly, and nonetheless he saw clearly before him the gentle slope of a pelvic bone, saw the sparkling hollows above and below it, perceived a sudden thickening of sound, it was either the beer in his head or a delicate whirring noise, for the fraction of a second he recognized Kristina beside him, Kristina whose properly suited limbs, under the guidance of the dark, heavier woman, had commenced a merry skipping about. Later he claimed to remember above all the way her neckline in back was sitting askew, this of all things, and in the next fraction of a second—? Was that a bite he’d just felt on his earlobe, a tiny bite? Or perhaps more a kiss?
Or just a coolness brushing past him at downy-hair’s-length, already the girl had pulled her head away—but why?—once more she was transformed into pure rhythm, an intricately accentuated pulsation about the midriff that left Broschkus a dumb and dizzy idiot, one moment the trumpet was thruting him forward, the next he was shoved back again by the brief solo on clay jug, now the bongos sent him lunging after the girl with enormous steps, now the guitar tore him away from her, and when, out of breath, all he could manage was to lurch this way and that, she just gave him a look, the girl, looked at him with such innocence, her cheekbone a slender shimmer, a smile upon her lips, that it had most certainly not been a bite, not a kiss, not even a random touch. She looked at him so hard, this girl, that her nostrils quivered, so nakedly, so directly was she looking at him, so ungirlishly all at once, she was all woman now, looking at him with her girlish, no, womanish eyes, something shone green in them, not as a hot promise but as cold desire that completely knocked Broschkus off the beat. Then he discovered it: the hairline crack in all the gleam, a colorless pale crystal embedded in the green of her iris, a millimeter-wide line traced in the left eye from the outer edge of the iris to the pupil, or rather the right eye, that’s right, the right eye, a fleck.
Any second now! —Broschkus didn’t actually think this, though he was certainly feeling it: Any second now the earth will split open and I’ll tumble down to Hell. How loudly the chorus of singers was calling to him, how mercilessly the brass players clamoring for him, how heavily his breath rattled in his chest! But then the woman, right in the middle of her gaze and the trumpet solo and who-knows-why, seized one of his awkwardly dangling hands, she was now all girlishly demure again, and without a word of explanation, led him to his seat.
Where no one was awaiting him, not even Kristina.
When Broschkus had sunk back onto his stool, finding no beer can he could have reached for, the girl bent over in a parting gesture and—kissed, no: bit him gently on his neck? The instant her teeth buried themselves in his throat, gooseflesh prickled up all over his body, I’m going mad, going on-the-spot here-and-now mad! But while he, blind from this surplus of happiness, dared not lift his eyes, he had already been left on his own again. Left sitting beside a properly coiffed lady who, wondrously, had reappeared at just that moment, before a beer can that was empty but, wondrously, back in its place again.
When one of the men seated near them clapped him on the shoulder, Broschkus did not feel it, but he accepted the proffered cigarette without a word of thanks. And smoked it down to a nub in a single drag, he, the self-proclaimed non-smoker, while laboriously attempting to remember where and what he was, surely he had remained an expert in economics (Ph.D.)? A time-tested department head and specialist for downward speculation and short sales? Or was he just another pasty-faced tourist incredulously fingering his throat with crumbs of tobacco stuck to his lips? The ceiling fan, even now it was swirling a tangy scent in his direction, or at least a breeze, the shirt was clinging to his chest, which was violently rising and falling, a disgrace. How greedily the little flies kept flitting about him!

That at some point he had wound up near the exit,
after an additional Cristal presumably and behind an elegant lady whose neckline dipped down in back occurred to Broschkus only after it was too late. Searchingly he looked around, but could see only the cigar-dark woman who appeared to him, now that she had plopped her necklace-laden weight onto one of the stools, who appeared to him, now that she had poked a pair of sunglasses with blue lenses shaped like butterfly wings into her frizzy mop, who appeared to him downright repulsive, yes, everything about her was too liver-spotted, too broad-nosed, too overstuffed, from her cheekbone to her brow she had a scar, and even when she was not speaking, her mouth thrust forward, a moistly glistening obscenity.
Your friend, where is she? Broschkus looked her in the eye, a wedge-shaped opening appeared in the dark-skinned woman’s face, a bright pink tongue-y laugh mixed with a rough torrent of syllables gurgling up from the depths of a rusted watering can. Outside, on the landing, stood the lady, who now turned around, reproachful—oh, of course, it was Kristina—, the horse-skull-rattler took a step in Broschkus’s direction, probably he was going to try to hit him up at the last possible moment. Where is she? Broschkus glanced over quickly at the cigar maker, but he didn’t even look up, just kept rolling tobacco leaves between his hands. Where? Broschkus looked at the barman, who grinned at him, rubbing his two extended index fingers together, Broschkus looked back outside. Kristina had meanwhile made her way down the stairs, clearing the way for a view of—a girl: So casually she was leaning up there against the railing beside the bouncer, so casually, a silhouette in the harsh light from the street.
Herr Broder Broschkus, at once he was filled again with a delicate whirring noise, anything and everything kept drifting into this gentle buzz; but as he spoke only two words of Spanish, not counting the numbers, he set himself in motion and, treading heavily, advanced towards, and then past, the silhouette. As he was already placing the tip of one shoe on the first step—how cool it suddenly was even outside!—he thought “¡caramba!” and said, no, mumbled, for his tongue remained affixed to the roof of his mouth: “adiós.” Then he fell down the stairs and to his death.

Well,
nearly. What had saved him, at least for now, was his wife; when he reached the bottom, ten steps further down, with a twisted ankle presumably and with Kristina, who had been knocked off her feet by the momentum of his stumbling, the sky was white.
“What a . . . conclusion . . . holiday!”
Now she even took him by the hand and dragged him away, into the middle of the street, in full view of all onlookers. What sort of conclusion was she talking about, what holiday?
“Everything . . ., Broder?”
Without awaiting a response, she started walking. But as Dr. Broschkus, the time-tested department head, reluctantly beginning to move, wanted to give a quick sidelong glance up the stairs, he stopped short where he was: Running down towards him two steps at a time was not the bouncer, no-no-no, but the girl, as if he weren’t standing there beside another woman, she came running toward him through this light, this noise, waving some paper money at him. He scarcely had time to twist free of Kristina’s solicitousness before she was standing there before him, trembling down to the flesh of her belly:
Could he please change this for two fives?
The numbers, Broschkus did know them, he understood them at once, there was no need for her to show him her long fingers, five fingers on her left hand, yesyesyes, and five on her right. All the same it was no simple matter to fish the desired bills out of his trouser pockets, it was impossible to look her in the face while doing so, concentrate, Broder, look at the ten peso bill, look at her fingernails, they aren’t silver, they’re white, and try not to breathe for a sec.
When he was finally able to hold out the two fives to her, he breathed all the same—once more inhaling the odor streaming from her body or, at the very least, the world, sank into the green of her gaze such that he had to steady himself by seizing the closest hand in reach, clearly visible was also the matchstick-thin line, the pale fleck in her right eye or rather, not-that-it-even-matters-anymore, her left.
“Hrmph, all this joie-de-vivre around here, this . . . isn’t it all a little . . .”
That had to be Kristina, who was holding him there, now it was time to chime in with a word of agreement, now it was time to just-grit-your-teeth, the joie-de-vivre, it was a little too what?
Listen, Broder, Kristina was pressing him. Didn’t he want to lie down for an hour before their flight “after all this”?
A few moments later, Broschkus was halfway back to the hotel, limping slightly, his right hand on his wife’s shoulder, in his left a crumpled ten-peso note, and his mouth was on fire.

So on fire
that at the next batido stand he didn’t hesitate for long, they had already crossed several alleyways in which there was not even a dog to be seen, and now finally here was something that would unstick his tongue from his palate: banana-juice-milk-and-sugar-water, on ice.
No-thanks, Kristina shook her head, these batidos were packed with indigenous products, she was going to stick with the precautions.
To a Broschkus, all such considerations were of no concern, and a batido the only thing he had developed a taste for over the past weeks. Only after he had emptied two pink plastic cups did he notice, but by then they were already passing the entrance to the cathedral where beggars lie in wait for one with their leg stumps, did he notice that he was now holding in his hand not the ten peso note but an assortment of coins.

And still was holding them
as Kristina already lay beside him on a slack-springed bobbing hotel bed where he was able to wonder in peace and quiet, had to wonder, why the girl had chosen him to hit up for change, when she might have gotten it from the bouncer or in fact from anyone else without the least effort—?
The Caribbean light was seeping in through the slats of the window blinds in long stripes, a constant screeching squealing honking cursing shouting, barely muted, forced its way in and, suddenly, an instant of silence—all the dully incubated misfortune that had been manifesting itself in Broschkus’s life and now, on a smaller scale, on this holiday was now swept away in a single instant, in a flash he was sober again: How could he have been so stupid! How sweetly Kristina lay there beside him with her fussily streaked hair that was in truth utterly unblond, how cluelessly sweet and fragile she looked, how very distant!
Broschkus felt horrifyingly certain he’d just committed a huge error: for possibly on the girl’s ten peso note he would have found everything he had been waiting for, not perhaps for all his life but certainly for the past few years: a name, a phone number, a confession. Even the mattress was beginning to oscillate with the intensity of his comprehension. How strange and white and soft Kristina was, lying there beside him, unapproachably proper even in slumber, it was enough to make a grown man weep.
But this time Broschkus wasn’t even thinking of resigning himself to his displeasure, on the contrary, he would set the error right again. At least this was his firm intention, from out of doors came the din of life, from outside the hotel room life was laughing and coaxing and calling him, already he was out of doors himself, hobbling along filled with determination. And in fact he was able to locate the drink stand without the least trouble.

Ordering himself another cup of batido,
he asked the vendor, a sluggishly shuffling black woman who was supplementing her housekeeping money out of her living room window, asked her with an energetic circular motion of his index finger, to hand over the bundle of ten peso notes she had earned that day, yes-that’s-right, every last one of them, I’m paying in dollars, I’m a collector. When she had at last understood what this madman was after, she certainly had no objection, with great presence of mind she fetched other banknotes from other rooms, shouting for reinforcements all the while, and in the end Broschkus became the owner of all the ten peso notes that she and her neighbors and her neighbors’ neighbors had been able to come up with on such short notice.
Elated, Broschkus betook himself back to his hotel, a sizeable hunk of paper in his hand that felt sticky with sweat and utterly fabulous.

To his wife’s astonishment, he drank
a double whiskey the moment they boarded the airplane.
Broder, what’s gotten into you?
Hm, he didn’t really have the answer to this either, but in fact somehow he knew, and it felt pretty excitingly good—felt good in his chest, leftright, in his loins, leftright, even in his back pocket, here’s to you, sweetheart!
After the meal he had another whiskey, how pleasantly the airplane hummed as he drank, how pleasantly the dimmed-for-the-night lighting shimmered, finally Kristina pulled two plastic pillows out of her hand luggage to blow them up:
Listen, Broder. She found it slightly degoutant how relieved he was that their nice little holiday was over.
As Broschkus was making his way to the toilet, he had to steady himself on the back of nearly every seat. When the brightness flared up upon his shutting the door, he started in horror at the sight of that person in the mirror who kept staring at him, pasty-faced and wrinkled, and then went on shamelessly staring as he fingered his Adam’s apple, beside himself, but then started pulling peso notes out of his pockets with seventeen determined hands, carefully eagerly greedily studying them front and back. Staring as he once, twice gave out a little whistle, then a third one, whereby these whistles merely registered random scribbles on the banknotes, Lord knows nothing out of the ordinary.
Lord knows nothing, did he hear right, nothing out of the ordinary?
Clutching the three ten peso notes in his hand, Broschkus waved them around in front of his mirror image, his evidently clueless mirror image, just look, if you have eyes to see, here they are, ¡caramba! Even more than I was expecting, more than perhaps is necessary.
As his mirror image was clearly a bit slow to comprehend, he was forced to make himself a tad clearer: These notes are options, man, they’re—!
He dabbed at the base of the neck of the guy in the mirror with the corners of his three banknotes: A sort of business transaction, off-market trading, if you will, pretty bloody off, a matter of futures, if you prefer to put it in such terms, that is—what in the world are you grinning about?
“For once in your life follow your gut feeling, JUST ONCE!”
Broschkus flinched almost as dramatically as his mirror image, had that really been him just now, he who always handled his conversation partners with kid gloves, with the dispassionate manner he had worked for years to cultivate? At present, by contrast, everything was creeping away from him, threatening to slip off to the right or the left, why was everything so off-kilter all of a sudden? Why were the banknotes giving off such a stench? All right then:
“For once in your life set your sights high, get it?”
And then in a whisper:
“And above all make sure you act!”
And now uttered only in thought, thought as quietly as could be, as otherwise everything might have started spinning:
It’s about time, too.
How easy it was to make the three banknotes vanish from sight, how easily the notes that remained were dispatched with the aid of the toilet flush lever, no one saw a thing, no one suspected, adiós.
When he had found his seat again, Broder discovered an inflated cushion and next to it a woman already half asleep in her own ruff, oh, that was Kristina:
“Listen, Broder! I haven’t seen you as drunk as this in as long as I can remember.”
Whatever happens, don’t answer. As Broschkus was slipping the plastic pillow around his neck, he attempted to keep smiling straight in front of him—how paltry was everything he had experienced with Kristina! How paltry everything he had experienced without her! Except that, except that, except that which was now quivering in all his muscle fibers and the tips of his hair and his nerve endings and now lay in his wallet in the form of three banknotes, except—Broschkus felt the longing surge up in him so powerfully that his ears buzzed. He didn’t even know the name of the girl, not even one-two-three syllables he might have daydreamed deep into his interior. Kristina? What else did she want from him? Or was it the stewardess who was making some announcement, was that the visibly outraged voice of the stewardess? Who had discovered, regrettably, that it was necessary to request that a bit more respect be shown for the currency of Cuba, it wasn’t so lacking in value that it need be flushed down the toilet, that just plugs up the pipes, thank you. By this point, if not before, Broschkus was smiling, dreaming of a girl who gazed at him with eyes. Dreaming of eyes in which there was a fleck, and when he looked back like that, in his dream, he saw the fleck on her cheek as well, on her upper lip, her neck, the entire body of this girl was dotted with these flecks, a honey-brown body flecked with black, yes: With a smile on his face, Broschkus was dreaming.

The man who was a bear

ACTUALLY, WE HAD PLANNED on hitchhiking to Amsterdam back then. But since we came by a VW bus that had already taken loads of traveling people together with the corresponding number of Jew’s harps, guitars, and bongos on board, we changed our arrangements there and then. Perhaps we should have thought about it a bit longer.
Not that we would subsequently have had problems with our Amsterdam guidebook in Copenhagen to find the Little Mermaid or the colorfully barricaded Christiania where one could discover additional Jew’s harps, guitars, and bongos under a perpetual ganja cloud—oh no. But in the evening, when we—it was a Saturday, an exceptionally mild Saturday in September, where life was humming and drumming in all street cafes—when we, after enjoying a vegetarian smørebrød, which was skillfully hiding under eight slices of ham; at these Danish prices we could not afford more, in the evening when we just went with the tide—wherever we went, old undamaged façades were towering; wherever we looked, people were feasting, drinking, laughing—in the evening when we just drifted along with the stream of people that was finally surging around Nyhavn, between bright window fronts of restaurants and overcrowded tables at the quay where one could look at fake ivy and the water of the harbor, yachts lying at anchor: we were rather happy then, the two of us.
So we floated under a violet night sky where individual stars occasionally showed the tips of the masts, the clattering anchor chains, the storm lanterns on the tables, the waiters wrapped in white with their agile balanced movements, the umbrellas under which the radiant heaters were glowing, the tourists who continued to trip about in circles until someone of the locals would take pity with them, all those Saturday-evening idlers who abandoned themselves—in a cluster of people without beginning, without end—to the good mood: they ensured that we would have continued drifting forever in this wave of well-being churning along. If there had not been a jam in front of one of the restaurants, I believe it was the „Havfruen,“ and I „very nearly“ collided with the hand-holding person wearing shorts in front of me, a backup that would only dissolve hesitatingly: People struggled to push themselves past those sitting at the tables; again and again the line of people came to a halt, came to a stumble, gently pushing forward, gently being pushed forward, until—
—all of a sudden a dog appeared between the tables, panting, heading straight toward me while barking, straight towards me! Of all the people, I winced, and when I suddenly froze for lack of understanding, completely disappearing in my dumbfoundedness that it turned totally silent inside of me for a moment of shock

while a diver on a wreck in the Indian Ocean, forced by the strong current to hold onto even the dark places, was bitten in the finger surprisingly hard by a triggerfish.

when, suddenly, it had also become very quiet at the tables all around that I wanted to sink in between the cobblestones, there was nothing left to be sweet-talked. Because when I tried to size up the dog who just retreated between tables with an insulted look on his face and some rumbling and grumbling, just when I tried to resolutely size up the dog: it was no dog at all. But a person, a man who apparently pursued his Saturday-evening-fun on all fours, or rather: He seemed to be completely serious; even when retreating, he did not abandon his role, did not slaver for applause from those sitting around him, did not wink at any of the bystanders, no, even now he was all dog since he remained silent between all of the open laughter of gloating, oh yes, I had made a fool of myself, and let time pass. At any rate a few seconds, a few couples could stroll past unsuspectingly, then he rattled out again from his hiding place, a raging bull terrier, and snapped at a lady dressed in salmon pink who immediately turned into a small salmon-pink scream.
But in the next moment, she had to laugh along, in contrast to me, in contrast to me, and who, straightening out the beret that had slipped slightly, squeezed in and joined all those who had been enjoying the spectacle for a while. At that point, I looked at the woman at my side and tried to smile.
Oh no, I did not try to sweet-talk anything.
Meanwhile, the longer we—with one eye following the wild romping about, the startling of victims, the general gloating—the longer we argued about the motives of the man, the clearer it became that I would be hitchhiking back on my own the next day.

A decade later, I had a date in Paris; I was busy all day long to master the anticipation: at every corner a deli, a shoe store, a cake shop and café, shop windows everywhere with things I could not afford, boulevards, undamaged old house fronts—one suddenly really felt like becoming a megalomaniac, as small and superfluous one could feel here. I almost— despite continued rain but because of all the amazement—missed the last bus with which I could have reached my rendezvous fairly on time: an old bistro in St. Germain, I believe it was called „La Petite Chaise,“ for whose dignified visit I had moderated myself during the day with cafés au lait and croissants.
After happily climbing on the bus though—barely any space to stand was left, surrounded by well-dressed people and treasures in plastic bags, a tramp sat there and poked inside of his ear with a long chip of wood— but on the fully occupied bus that—it was already a quarter after eight and, therefore, high time; it smelled like wet umbrellas and all kinds of half sweated-out perfumes—on the overcrowded bus that was to take me to the beginning of a beautiful evening—we were currently in a traffic jam on the Place de la Concorde; the tramp pulled the wooden chip out of his ear, carefully looked at it and, finally, wiped it off with index finger and thumb—on the bus the head of a well-dressed man abruptly turned; it flashed through his neck muscles without any cause; and then he slumped, slowly and quietly, to the ground. He just collapsed. Which was almost prevented by the passengers standing close together; actually, he just slipped down gradually—didn’t anyone want to rush to his aid?— and even slower and deeper; when I, as the only one, finally made a move, it was already too late. With difficulty, I pulled up the man from the floor; none of the bystanders was willing to lend a hand; with difficulty, I pressed him outside at the next stop; fresh air would be good for him; and when he now stammered a few words of thanks, when he was still hanging in my arms with his full weight: he almost seemed a little familiar to me. Because I was not able find a bench for him, the rain took hold of his face, which would do him good, because I lowered him instead onto the stone parapet of a Metro entry, the man smiled at me with bewilderment but rejected as politely as helplessly any further measure in broken French: he certainly seemed familiar to me, certainly. But then another bus approached, and when it puffed open the doors in front of us, the man suddenly pulled himself onto his feet, pushing my arm aside, tore himself away from all of my care and—I motionlessly followed him with my eyes—agilely jumped onto the bus, very lively pressed himself into the crowd of passengers and, with doors already puffing close behind him, was not seen again. For a split second, I ran cold with lack of understanding, sank so completely into my amazement that it—maybe I was looking after the departing bus, maybe at the Ferris wheel and its lights in front of the Tuileries, at the tip of the obelisk shining golden, at the Eiffel tower decorated with small light bulbs—that it became totally silent inside of me

while on the night train to Algiers, where people and animals were sleeping on the open platform between compartments, in tremendously intertwined piles and until the edge of a rattling night: while someone who had been dangling only his legs in the dark silently toppled to the outside—one could rub one’s eyes, but the place where he had been dozing until just now remained empty …

so awfully quiet that I almost had to be sure of myself of being taken for a ride. To be precise, by just that madman—now I was completely sure—and by just that genius with whom I had dealt before. At any rate, my wallet was still where it belonged; he had merely been interested in the matter itself. But what does „merely“ mean here! When I finally arrived in the „Petite Chaise,“ completely soaked and, admittedly, rather late, I had to admit to myself that I had nothing more to lose here; my table had already been assigned to somebody else so that I would immediately turn around and drive home alone tomorrow.

A decade later, at the closing of a conference in Seoul, during which we had also been instructed by several Korean participants in the art of drinking A-bombs—actually, one only had to yell „Gonbae!“ loud and clear into the round and drink down in one gulp a glass of beer in which a shot glass of whiskey had been dropped—a decade later, there was a closing reception. Once again, we were sitting at a table with nothing but tiepin-wearing men who were called Kim and looked like it, too; our female translator („Good evenin’, I am your translate!“) could not stop giggling due to continual confusion. Other than that, she carried out her task with great seriousness so that we had no cause for mistrust when one of our three Mister Kim let her introduce him as person-in-charge-of-wall-sockets, when a second one agreeingly stating more precisely: but only for the Bell Street district! Incidentally, he himself was a complete gilder in his main job, but the third one, a „Graduate Geopard,“ simply a famous man. In addition, he played a leading role in the development of a semi-automatic quotation-destruction-machine.
I beg your pardon, quotation-destruction-machine?
Oh, very practical.
Excuse me, graduate geopard?

Why not?
Yes, why not. Gonbae! Moreover, he, the graduate geopard, knew how to say „one don’ count!“ in English, which he did at every occasion; to be exact, he said it—without paying any attention to the particular circumstances of the conversation—so often and so resolutely that even the people at the neighboring table reached for their glasses. A conversation was impossible; at the beginning, one often felt like going insane but persistently persuaded oneself („Remain supple!“) that this was Korean small talk and, moreover, that the consumption of A-bombs would soon produce its effect.
It did. Though we had barely gotten the third round over with—at least, we did not have to empty any B-bombs: glasses of beer full of whiskey in which a shot glass of beer stood—the great hour of the poetry slam had come: Oh, how we knew how to praise the beauty of Korea and its women and fans, the deafening magnificence of its drummer troupes, the garlic mustard and the rice-leftover tea, the parking garages into which girls in miniskirts directed drivers, the subway cars in which a digital cuckoo call announced the next station; even about the subway platforms where bird chirping was played from a recording, we had only good things to report. The Kim gentlemen liked that, and when they presented their rejoinders, all three of them led to the question whether we had been blessed by the magnificence of the local hairdressers?
No, why should we have had to go to the hairdresser?
Well, why not?
Indeed, why not. One don’ count! Gonbae! There were slaps on thighs, and when they finally rose from the table, they did not let anything stop them from taking us to a karaoke bar; I believe it was called „Noraebang,“ in English at least „Merry Throat.“ After quite a few subway stations, which were announced by the cuckoo, matters became serious: they had hardly found something to their liking on the menu-like lists with the available canned music, a Korean folk tune with an orchestral opening, when the Kim gentlemen loosened the knots of their ties, presumably to smoothen their whistles. We, on the other hand, naturally not having stock-piled any German song materials, being on our own and, thus, men fighting a losing battle, we tried to make up for it with volume: „Look here, there’s a dead fish in the water,“ we were bellowing; „we’re gonna kill him,“ we were bellowing, „we’re gonna kill him,“ and since we didn’t know the rest of the words, we repeated it until the person-in-charge-of-wall-sockets, the complete gilder and the graduate geopard were bellowing along. Even the translator began to sway, one don’ count.
Nevertheless, the three took their leave („You goot. Make us happy“)—after all, they still had an appointment at the hairdresser—and staggered away under sincere laughter in order to catch a cab. Gonbae! When we tried to match them, it was almost midnight; now & then a young woman collapsed in the streets, passionately fighting the results of consuming alcohol without anyone paying any additional attention to it; no sign of a cab. The subway station lay almost deserted; even the bird chirping had already been turned off. A cripple was crawling over the distant end of the platform on some type of self-made tray with rollers, which immediately attracted the interest of my two colleagues: as a result, I stood alone with myself and the translator for a while. As I stood and wanted to be happy that we had put up a good showing, particularly when all of us revealed our identity as former circus jugglers, „Aaaah?“ And because a sample had been requested, we swiftly revived a „philosophy of the seven balls“ to the center of our earlier activities: that many could not be found in any karaoke bar of the world—as I stood and thought about whether this evening had consequently been a milestone in international understanding or rather not—after all, the three Kim gentlemen had immediately revealed themselves as members of Postcard Writers Anonymous („Each morning wake we up and must write a postcard first. Sometimes even two. We have already tried everything but …“)—as I stood with my thoughts threatening to become gloomier—always the same in other countries: one remained a puzzle to each other, no matter what one wanted to say, was even alone while laughing—as I stood there and threatened to drown in the melancholy of the person who was almost on his „way home“: a hand was placed on my shoulder. A hand that quickly grew into a paw—I dared to steal a glance at it only out of the corner of my eye—into a giant paw covered with thick and brown hair with black claws, and as I realized what was weighing so heavily on my shoulder, consternation inspired me and I tore myself away: whereupon the paw slipped off my shoulder and I, eye to eye, was facing a bear. A bear as tall as a man, in the middle of a city of thirteen million, please; I was paralyzed by lack of understanding for a fraction of a second, so completely turned to stone in my dumbfoundedness that it turned totally silent inside of me

while the man at the reception of an hotel in Ankara brought to the brink of ruin, notified by the only guest that the toilet in his room did not work, only shrugged his shoulders: Then he should just use the toilet in the neighboring room …

so quiet that I would believe the ground would open up and swallow me with horror, but to my not even small surprise simply stopped moving. And I

when the tourist appeared in front of him a short time later and said that the light was not working over there: Then he should just bring along a bulb from his room. Whereupon the tourist …

did not utter a sound. But the bear did. But particularly his muffled rumbling gave him away, life shot back into my limbs like a fire and reminded me that not every fur had to have a fur-bearing animal, that I had not been told a whopping lie by someone for the first time in my life about a bear who—correctly, this time again, was no bear at all.
But a man who obviously allowed himself a midnight joke here, or rather: he seemed to be dead serious about it even while he was pulling the bear’s skull off his head without hurrying; he did not abandon his role, could that be the graduate geopard? and as he hinted at a bow, one could clearly see how cheap his masquerade was, an extremely run-down piece from the equipment store of some theater in the suburbs. As he smiled at me, though, from the bottom of his heart, I was almost completely sure to have recognized him; purest honesty spoke from this look, nothing but beardom without any memory of the fact that a dog had already lived inside of him, one who occasionally experiences fainting fits, not even since he was significantly involved in the destruction of quotations and A-bombs in his last form of existence: in these moments, he was nothing but a bear.
Before he pulled the mask over his face again, he briefly placed his index finger over his lips—„Shshsh!“ and made me his ally: disregarding the smell of strong admixture of whiskey in his breath, I nodded; „One don’ count,“ I whispered, and when he toddled off behind a column to lie in wait for the next victim, I discovered the translator at my side and smiled at her.
Oh no, I did not dare ask anything.
But she shook her head, placed her index finger on her lips, and smiled back.

Novel on the Internet, or: Turning Forty

On September 16th, 1996, I received a phone call from a certain Gerald Giesecke. Innocently, he asked whether I could see myself writing my next novel – as a so-called “Novel in Progress” — on the Homepage of the German public TV-Program he was working for.
“We’ll take care of the rest,” he promised.
I fell straight into the trap.
Of course, I was a long way away from any “next novel” in 1996. I was still in the midst of working on “Weiberroman” (in English perhaps “The Book of Women”), the life- and love story of Gregor Schattschneider, which was published in July of 97. Because of its three parts and the three women with whom unhappy Gregor as a teenager, twenty-, and thirty-something engages in rather difficult relationships, the press characterized the book as “Weiber-Tryptichon” with all its typical Westernized “mythical” connotations.
However, “Weiberroman”, “The Book of Women” was originally conceived in four parts: “Kristina,” “Tania,” “Katarina,” and “Marietta.” Throughout the years, I had already collected material for “Marietta,” Part Four. Collecting “material” in this case merely meant gathering individual sentences and individual scenes, since I already knew the story itself anyway – or so I thought. I had furthermore decided that this fourth part was to begin with Gregor’s fortieth anniversary – which I considered to be a “magic” date.
Whilst working on “Weiberroman,” it became obvious that this “fourth part” would by far exceed the concept and frame of the novel, which is why my publisher suggested that I make it into a separate, “next novel.” So when Gerald Giesecke first appeared at my home in Hamburg, roughly half a year after his initial phone call, and soon revealed himself as “Dschereld Dschisaiki”, I didn’t need to think long for a topic. But, to write a novel on the Internet at that time seemed to be about the farthest thing from my mind. Of course, no one expected an actual “Internet-Novel,” consisting mainly of Hyperlinks, nervously flashing buttons, click-here and click-there icons, moving images, and as little text as possible. Quite the opposite, I was supposed to write a tedious regular novel which had to be written as a tedious regular text. Since nobody wanted me to produce any kind of “Cyber-Avantgarde,” or, worse still, Internet-Literature, but rather Literature on the Internet, and since the project of the public TV program seemed to result in some kind of a mixture of reality-TV and literary archive, I didn’t see why I shouldn’t take a chance.
Three weeks later, Gerald Giesecke appeared again, this time accompanied by a network graphic consultant and a network technician who took possession of my mouse and would not let go of it, until I had finally realized that from now on, things would not only change drastically on the hard drive of my Computer, but also inside me.

A Traditional Writer Goes Modern

For someone who usually writes in green ink exclusively, the strain imposed by technology is considerable.
So, why did I do this?
Certainly not because I wanted to dispense with my ink. I always wrote and still write every word on paper first, because I believe that you can tell from most texts whether they are purely “hand-made” or not. You can tell from the tiny and tiniest of details, like from originally properly placed filling words, which can quickly turn into needless, missing, or bothersome links, after the text has been cut and pasted a few times. But you can equally tell from the flow and “breath” of sentences which, I believe, can only be created through an organic, wholesome writing process, and not by pressing individual buttons. When working on building sentences it is rather a bother to have automatic hyphenation and a fully flushed paragraph on screen.
And since we’re talking about language – which of course means, writing in my native language, here is the first result of my going online:
The first change, as though it was the famous drop in the famous bucket, was of a linguistic nature: I now hate every word in English.
Not every English word, of course, but every English word in German. I hate every English word which has become part of the German vocabulary, if – and this is important! – there is no adequate German equivalent. The emphasis here is on adequate, since sometimes there truly IS no German equivalent, in which case I fully support the use of Gerglish. Most people, however, use English vocabulary in German in order to profile themselves and their supposed cosmopolitan nature, which I find utterly repulsive.
By the way and contrary to expectation: My writing style or my relationship with language has not changed at all, even after many experiences with “Cyberslang.” Why should it have? When I bought my very first PC, it also didn’t affect my punctuation. Besides, the Internet is an aesthetic, NOT a linguistic drug. It changes the way we see, not the way we write, and its linguistic range is rather poor, consisting only of a minimum of emoticons, abbreviations, and other emergency tools. To try and represent this in my new novel does not mean a change of writing style per se, but rather an addition of another form of artistic representation.

It’s Nobody’s Fault!

While virtual adventures seem to be the last true adventures of our time, as a beginner, one can only survive them if one is willing to consistently engage in new beginnings, or “re-starts.” With me, this is what happened: Whenever things seemed to go really smoothly, for instance when my search engine systematically turned out long lists of possible search results, or when I found myself in the midst of downloading some really flashy new software, “the bomb” appeared: The black symbol of a bomb with the delightful subheading “System Error 11” – which meant to go back and “re-start” from scratch.
Nevertheless, and without the help of any kind of network consultant, I finally succeeded in installing “Netscape Communicator 4.5” on my hard drive, and ever since then, my life is almost back to normal.
And this is where the second change caused by the Internet comes in. It is neither of a linguistic nor of a conceptual, but rather of a sociological-slash-cultural nature: With my cultural and social conditioning, probably consisting of relentless indoctrination some 40 years ago, survival on the Internet was all but impossible. I am referring here to the notion of always looking for all fault in myself.
“Quite the opposite, it’s NEVER your fault,” is what a friend kept reassuring me, when the people from the TV station could never read with their PCs what I had tried to send to them with my Macintosh. “It’s never your fault, it’s always the software’s fault.”
This short sentence changes everything, every outlook on the world, the digital as well as the physical one. I would even go as far as to say that we are dealing with nothing less than a major paradigm shift: From self-defying appropriation of the world towards a cool & relaxed laissez faire philosophy, from at first trying to fight all obstacles towards a more and more carefree letting-go, adapting to any situation: Zen or the art of smiling at a computer crash. While we in the 20th century were still under the impression of “we can do anything,” we are now at the beginning of the 21st experiencing a first glimpse of “anything does,” a curious state, this “anything does,” which we can only defy with an increased play instinct.

Eleven Mariettas

Excuses to not even begin writing turned out to be plentiful. Gerald Giesecke had scheduled the casting of the female main character for October fourth ‘97, only two months after he had first appeared on my sofa. Eleven students from an acting school in Hamburg presented themselves. Up until that fourth of October, I had been fairly certain about “my” Marietta, about the way she looked (including the most delicate details), about her so-called character, about all her ticks and secrets, and of course about her charming personality, which she showed off so well when talking; in short, I was pretty certain about everything and thus put a brief description on the Website:

1. [first] She does not have a pierced nose
2. [second] A foot of hers is a foot – and not one of those sad, lifeless beings
3. [third] She chews coffee beans between her Whiskeys
4. [fourth] Her Tamagotchi’s name is “Percy”
5. [fifth] Kashmir could mean something to her
6. [sixth] On the phone, she sometimes sounds as though she were wearing glasses…

… and so on, up to point number 38, so that the readers of the “Novel in Progress” were already somewhat informed on her half Italian descent, her half-functioning marriage to a Professor of German, all the neurotic little habits of a thirty year old living a somewhat problematic life of luxury on the banks of Starnberger See just south of Munich, someone who is basically predestined for the non-conformist aspects of extra-marital affairs. After all this, the colorful Marietta-being was reduced by Giesecke into a snappy six-line slogan. “You are chatty? Bright and sunny? An intellectually playful work of art? Appear elegant – without giving in to aesthetic cliches? Then you are the woman we’re looking for!” Each of the eleven candidates had one film scene to translate this into – well, at least 38 points. What she did and how she did it was up to her; the TV station caught everything on camera, and then put eleven short video clips on the Website. Within a month, users could vote by Email for the one they wanted to be my main character.
And I? Abstained. I could have had eleven thousand Mariettas to choose from, but the one who came into being over the years, in front of my so-called “inner eye,” would not have been among them. Instead of this one fictitious Marietta that I was so certain of, I now knew eleven pseudo-Mariettas, who in the course of one single day of casting and filming had managed to shatter my original figure: So many new sentences, glances, head positions, that now the story could definitely no longer be told.
Has this ever happened? An author who actually meets his main character, and in eleven versions, before he has written one single line of the affiliated novel? I do not mean situations in which an author finds someone incredibly inspiring for one reason or another, and thus creates a novel around that person afterwards. No, in my case I already had the figure, and now – because of those eleven real-life versions – I had, and this is the third change, much more and much less than before: Everything was up for grabs again.

The Effects of One Straw Hat

Of course my writer’s block was not alleviated by the fact that the winner had been chosen by the end of the Leipzig book fair in ‘98: It was Maike Schiller, 23 years old, blond, and from Hamburg. However, as soon as we started shooting at the banks of Starnberger See, from May 21 to May 23, the crisis revealed its creative value. (By the way: The films were later put on the Website as Video Clips, and a short movie was shown by the TV station). Not only did Maike try everything in order to “become” all the 38 points of Marietta for those two days (for instance: she colored her hair so it would be closer to the north-Italian red blond of the description), she also contributed much of herself to the role, points 39 and following so to speak. Among those contributions was a pink straw hat, which she happened to have brought with her, and which instantly appealed to us. The next day, a bright, sunny, typical May day at the Starnberger See, she not only convinced us, she truly entranced us all: Gerald Giesecke, the camera man, the sound man, and … the author, who thus had no other choice: This pink straw hat would have to appear in the novel, would in fact have to take on a central role, perhaps even as a leitmotif. All this despite the fact that in all those years I had, and I swear, not even one single time thought of a pink straw hat.
And whoever may think that this fourth change of the original writer’s impetus is only marginal, does not fully understand what it means to write. Writing lives off such spontaneous, intuitive images, which is why this abundant supply of images from real-life was the best thing that could have happened to my writing process, even by way of an Internet project. But beware! here comes a trap for literary critics: I do not mean any kind of deeply embedded meaningful motive or structure, which may be very useful for an interpretation of the text as a whole. When I show myself to be this impressed with a pink straw hat, it is neither because it could be a symbol for, say, the innocence of the person wearing it, nor because I want to point to some hidden subtleties in the text. The reason is that it is a pink straw hat which has a pink silk band around it, whose pink ends reach into Marietta’s collar, and sometimes a light breeze coming from the lake playfully blows the two ends of the silk band, and then you can almost smell it, the summer – and this is the reason why.
Of course the pink straw hat was by no means the only thing that Maike added to her role and thus to my main character. Sometimes, we used to meet after shootings, and she would suddenly say or do something I had to write down. Of course, I was again not working on the novel, but at least the collection of material grew, plus there was something special in the fact that I, the author, could just go and meet my main character. Though, I have to admit that I could never forget my very own half-Italian Marietta-creation.

Parallel Forums

With Giesecke’s first visit, we also decided on establishing a so-called parallel forum, since projects on the Web are supposedly interactive, through User-Feedback, so why not also via the possibility of spontaneous co-authorship. Although the novel itself was not supposed to be changed into some unruly exercise in self-sacrifice, into some kind of literature on the Net where the original idea gets changed and split so often that in the end nobody knows any more what is going on and what is being told, let alone why anything is being told. No, this kind of democratic “everyone –competing–with everyone” was not what we had in mind. The actual “text” of the novel was – rather conservatively — supposed to remain the domain of the author alone, whereas the Users had their own space which in turn I was not able to interfere with or impose on. This was the “parallel forum,” in which anyone and everyone could follow along the narrative strands of the actual novel — or counter them, as often and as extensively as desired. Anything was possible: the only rules for both forums were a detailed outline of the actual events of the story, an explicit description of the two main characters – Gregor and Marietta. To my surprise, already by the time of the book fair of ’97 a good number of parallel-writers had come forth. It wasn’t long before they struck, violently, fast, and anonymous, coming from the depth of space and disappearing into the depth of space. Only on the Internet did I discover how paralyzing to one’s own creativity other people’s creations can truly be. Of course you also KNOW as an Offline-Writer that behind every third German apartment-door there is some typing going on, from morning ‘til night, our 80 000 new releases every year do have to come from somewhere, after all – but to actually SEE it with your own eyes – is quite another story.
Despite all of this, four main narrative strands from the parallel forum took serious shape. There were, first, the observations of Marietta’s maid, Ernestine, then, second, those of a private detective, whom Marietta’s jealous husband had spying on Gregor, as well as, third, comments of a future editor of the book, and, fourth, the major outrage: The diary of Gregor’s child born out of wedlock, who had started out on a journey to get to know her biological dad. What?! Gregor was supposed to have a daughter, to top it off, by the name of Laura? And this Laura would want to start working as a maid at Marietta’s of all people? This certainly could not be true!
But it became true, and it became more true every week. The creator of Laura’s diary seemed to have made it her special project to take vast strides with her text. Gerald Giesecke, in the meantime, did not miss an opportunity to enthusiastically inform the press of the “creative pressures” that the co-authorship from hyperspace supposedly had on me, and which was supposed to turn me, the author, into some kind of stage director rather than an author-authority. In reality, however, I was consumed by a rather non-creative vacuum, a kind of an “I’ll see-where-this-is-going-to-lead”- attitude, an “I-first-want-to-watch-this-from-a-distance” –kind of feeling. While my innate desire to procrastinate was thus reinforced, my waiting was not at all unproductive, since some of the details that my co-writers came up with were certainly inspiring. For example: “On the phone, she sometimes sounds as though she were wearing glasses” – this is how it appeared, and this is how it now stands in my 38 points describing Marietta. To top it all off, one day there was — and still is — in the parallel forum, sub forum “Laura’s Diary,” something about a letter that Marietta was supposed to have written to Gregor, and then there was Laura’s comment: “From the way she writes, I immediately thought that she must be wearing glasses.” And whoever may think that this is again just a minor detail, may be reminded that the entire novel after all consists of such minor details – pink straw ones and those with glasses. What else could be made of that superficial idea from back then? If one would take a quick look into Marietta’s handbag, or, from Gregor’s perspective, sniff into Marietta’s handbag, while she had to excuse herself for example, would it perhaps smell as though she was wearing glasses? And what about her wardrobe? And finally her skin: Would it taste as though… well, I hope not!

In the meantime, by the way, the four who in the end stuck to the parallel forum and I already have delivered some communal readings, and I am looking forward to the day when they will be presenting without me, where I will perhaps sit in an armchair at the edge of the stage, and they will demonstrate to the audience, how the thing “itself” grew with and out of the parallel forum, the actual novel!
But first, and despite all of those hopeful perspectives, change no. 5 remains: Writing on the Internet occasionally brings on co-writers who not only raise a painful awareness of one’s creative limitations, leading to insecurities, but also, as with the unexpected daughter of Gregor’s, arouse doubts in the conception of the whole. All this comes at a time when one’s own fantasies are still in a delicate state and even one’s spouse can only correct them gently and with utmost care. In short: Writing on the Web brings on the whole brutality of another mind’s fantasies – and thus a first measure for the staying power of one’s own.

Virtual Work, Virtual Author

And other than that? This literary exhibitionism, necessarily part of the “Novel in Progress” project, leads into “The Great Wide Open,” into a formerly unknown shaky feeling of in-between, change no. 6, which I never encountered when writing the traditional way. It hits immediately, though, as soon as the first draft section of text is being thrust into the open of a potentially worldwide audience. As soon as I received the first comments by Email, it got even worse: The feeling of publishing something which was not yet meant for publication – at the same time, the feeling of not “really” having published it, only virtually. After all, on my Mac at home I didn’t really notice the 5000 hits per week that the “Marietta” Homepage was receiving. Of course things got very serious once I suddenly discovered the name of my editor among the entries in the electronic guest-book, and the next day that of my former publisher. Things got even more serious when invitations to lecture were not based on the publication of my last novel, but rather I was invited to read from a novel of which not one single line actually “existed!”
Those absurdities reached a new high as the “Novel in Progress” went from the Internet into other media, such as German weeklies and dailies. There, it was reviewed and criticized as though it were a finished product. “This is how mainstream is made,” one critic claimed to know, and another daily even believed that the self-presentation of the eleven Mariettas on the Web was my own fault, and added: “He probably wouldn’t have dared to write this on paper!” Another critic from an extremely prestigious German weekly even thought, and – attention! two mistakes in one — I had created my own Website because I was addicted to the Internet.
Well, I am not quite there yet, as I have not even gotten used to my own virtual existence, but if things had continued this way, I would have had to ask myself whether writing books was actually still worth it. Perhaps for some readers, it might be more interesting to write about what one would write if one ever got to it…

Digital Scraps

Contrary to common assumption that the Internet makes our lives faster, more efficient, and more goal-oriented, for me, it lead to a rapid decrease of the writing process, to a long-lasting period of waiting, of not moving forward. Of course, it never came to a complete standstill. Oh no, even I wrote – although not in the forum “the novel,” which for a long time didn’t grow beyond the initial few pages.
Before I can ever get myself to an initial draft, I usually spend years collecting notes – after all, I somehow know what I would like to write in the big scheme, I just don’t know how to resolve all the details. Instead, the outside world knows: By delivering sentences, or even entire scenes, which sometimes, at the very moment when I witness them, are just perfect for this or that particular sequence of the planned novel. Sometimes they are actual sentences I overhear, often sentences and ideas are inspired by scenes I observe.
All this is noted, collected, and … finally adds up to a rather large pile of scrap pieces: the raw material of the novel to be. And then? Individual scraps will be arranged and sorted according to the overall outline of the novel. When I finally write my draft, it often turns out that not all the scrap pieces are being used at the exact place they were meant for, but used they usually will be — up to 90%.
The reader, in the end, of course does not notice anything of this scrapbook technique. However, with a Novel in Progress (while everything was already in progress except for the novel itself), I thought it should not be missing, since it does contain the smallest individual piece of creative fantasy. In a certain sense, these individual scraps really contain more of the novel than the novel as a whole could ever be, since the final text has to be concerned with length and coherence. Also, a writer has to know a lot more about his subjects, places, scenes, etc. than that which will in the end be documented in the book.
Thus, we encounter the seventh change of the former writing process, and this is a significant one: Normally, I would read an individual scrap piece, attach it to a certain point in the outline, and only come back to it once I reach that particular point in my writing. This time, however, I had to come back to my scraps right away, since they had to go on the Web, and for that reason I not only had to type them, but also make sure they could be understood. This forced me to change the tiniest splinters of my fantasy, which I had on paper, into not-so-tiny-splinters on the Internet. Which in turn altered the unwritten, unspoken, and diffuse parts of the original splinters, the creative aura, so to speak, into very precise ideas once they were formulated. For example:
“Has a drink, Whiskey,” it said on one of these scraps, “has a drink, Whiskey,” that was it. To whom was this referring? When in doubt it is usually Gregor, our main character. Did this still match his character, now that I already knew him much better than back then, God-knows-when-I-had-this-idea-about-having-Whiskey? Why not, although he had profiled himself in the meantime as a beer drinker. But, why not. So, when could he…? I decided on point 4 part b subsection 4 on the outline. After an uneventful evening at several bars Gregor comes home and – does NOT go to bed immediately, like he normally does, but instead decides to have a Whiskey. Which is something he would normally only do in the company of others, and therefore rather infrequently. So why does he pour himself one that particular night? Because – he has turned forty in the meantime! This is how the novel starts, this is what it is about, and this will also be its title: “Turning Forty.” So what could it mean for someone like Gregor to suddenly turn forty? For instance: To try something, that would never have occurred to him during the previous forty years. Or something that he would have rejected before? Or simply something he never did, no matter why. So Gregor comes home, sees the dusty Whiskey decanter, and says to himself: Great, now I am finally old enough to drink, even by myself, even when there is no occasion.
Perhaps you yourself can actually do something to nicely round off days like this one – instead of waiting continuously for something to happen – take matters into your own hands. We’ll see.
The fact that this will turn out not to have been his very best idea, is already another story, a bad-morning-story, including a little hangover, and belongs to point 4 part c point 1 of the outline.
And all of this I have to take down tediously as an Online-writer in order to portray approximately what it was that I wanted to remind myself of with “has a drink, Whiskey.” And by doing so and posting it on the Web, I suddenly find myself with a small, perhaps not too unimportant scene: A scene, in which Gregor understood something important about his development. Of course he only grasped it in his action, not on an abstract level, and not on a level beyond drinking Whiskey. And therefore, some other evenings, he could perhaps again … exactly. This could already be the next leitmotif.
This I could never have imagined, had I stayed with my usual habits of ordering the scenes, the way I used to. The pressure of documenting every step, which the Internet creates, forces the novel gradually to reveal its little secrets, and this at a time when it would never happen without the Internet.
And there, under http://novel.zdf.de it could be found a long time before its publication, in its small and smallest particles. In order to read it, you just had to make the links between the individual points of the outline in your mind, and put together the big picture. For those who know how to read like this (and who would want to!) the online-version is with all its 50 scrapbooks and in its 496 pages of total scrap pieces so totally filled with all kinds of thoughts and fantasy-splinters, some of which the published, shorter version “Turning Forty” could never contain.
This idea, however, the idea that the printed and bound version of the novel could never catch up with the promise of its digital pre-stage, this knowledge is so very disheartening for somebody who was in love with green ink for 30 years that, in keeping with Gregor’s character, one really cannot talk about it. Instead, one has to remain silent.
Let’s remain silent, then.

The American Dead End of German Literature

After his best-selling Weiberroman (1997), the fictional record of a male protagonist’s views on gender issues in Germany’s 1970 and 1980s, Matthias Politycki entered the debate on contemporary German literature by staking out new territory for the ‘78ers generation (as opposed to that of the ‘68ers). Politycki’s essays echo his generation’s call for a new aesthetics in German literature, one that neither sells out to the “trivial” best-seller narratives influenced by (American) creative writing schools, nor one that remains aloof from its contemporary German readership. Instead, German literature needs to find its own voice by inventing both a language and a narrative technique that is entertaining, yet sophisticated. A trained “Germanist,” Politycki is often attacked for his polemics against the current literary scene, which also target high-profile critics and publishing houses. His similarly controversial position on the “Americanization” of German language and literature should be read within the context of his call for a new German aesthetics.

Is it not doing well, the most recent German literature, now that we don’t even know how to keep up with all those trendy new movements (such as pop literature, the renaissance of the narrative, New German Readability, and the so-called “Frolleinwunder”)? Oh yes, German literature is finally doing well again, the only question is how long will this last? Today’s German literature faces immediate extinction, since there seems to be a lack of new themes, and since its language, the German language, is becoming increasingly estranged from that which it is trying to depict, from “reality.” We now lack vocabulary for significant portions of our lives, because we have become too complacent to invent new terminology, and because we render our own vocabulary senselessly into Anglo-sized or Americanized idioms, whose rich, century-old meanings and connotations we cannot fully comprehend let alone use effectively. This is why we receive “reality” as a second-hand commodity, a commodity crafted by someone else, for someone else, while our own linguistic identity slowly begins its descent into oblivion.
Meanwhile, we are well beyond just assimilating a few words or expressions. It now has to be a full phrase or sentence – thereby slowly abolishing our grammatical structures, as well as, more importantly, the very core of our language, which determines the way we think and feel. Our self-manipulation has grown so sophisticated that, I submit, in most cases we are completely unaware of it.
One small example: “Das macht Sinn” swept over Germany like an epidemic a few years ago, as a direct translation of “it makes sense.” Within months, the centuries-old “Das hat Sinn” was completely eradicated. Is this a purely arbitrary process? Certainly not. “Es hat Sinn” carries the slight connotation of something positively “German.” It has sense, all by itself, completely without our intervention, just as the idiomatic lamp in Mörike’s poem: Whether we gaze at it or not, whether or not we imply any sense or meaning for it, it carries its meaning in itself, it rests within itself, perhaps it just seems to rest within itself, by just shining for itself – we’ll never know for certain. In any case, there seems to be some deeper force at work, justifying the meaning of a thing or a process in itself. You may consider this an eccentric over-interpretation. But perhaps you’d like to take the opposite, the clear-cut, simple phrase “it makes sense,” and ask yourself: Who is this person supposed to be, he or she who first has to make, or create, sense or meaning? Can it be us, who inspect a matter for as long as it takes us to logically dissect it into its individual units? What hypocrisy! And if it is not us, in any case someone or something has first to become active in order to create sense or meaning – some fateful “it”! Whoever or whatever “it” is that “makes” sense, we see here the full extent of the discrepancy between Anglo-American rationalism and German romanticism. I consider the functionalist-operative term of “making” sense completely lacking the modesty of “having” sense or meaning, and no matter how cool I’d like to be, something in me revolts.
The sum of those individual examples of linguistic de-individualization, however, constitutes a whole paradigm. And this is what I am concerned with, as someone who not only depends on the German language, but who also loves it. If this, my, our language loses its power to assimilate, it will expire, just as when Latin slowly dissolved – and something very beautiful emerged, i.e. Italian. In our case, it’ll be “Anglogerman-Newhighpidgin,” which also means no less than the beginning of an “Anglogerman-Newhighpidgin” literature. However, the necessary by-product, the end of a German literature, seems less desirable to me, which has nothing to do with any kind of reactionary nationalism, quite the opposite. Let’s not leave this highly problematic subject to those who could misuse it, let’s instead claim it for ourselves!
But of course, the problem never was a purely linguistic one. With the end of WWII, Europe (and, actually, most parts of the world, with the possible exception of Bhutan or Burundi) was re-colonized by the U.S., which at first was probably good and necessary. After a few decades of cultural imperialism, however, the face of Europe has changed radically. We now know this face of ours much less than ever before, whereas we know the American mid-West not only up to the last corner of its living-room furniture, but also down to the bottom of its bowls of popcorn, which are being consumed in those living rooms, whereas the living room of, let’s say, a Finnish peasant, is as foreign to us as the interior core of the individual popcorn. But who knows, perhaps there would be more to discover in the interior of a popcorn than in the entire popcorn bowl, and certainly more than in the mid-Western living room, where those popcorn bowls are being emptied by us and for us – the audience of T.V. soaps — exactly the same way, day in and day out. By now, we can even simulate a Mid-Western living room scenario when we’re at the movies, where we, eating popcorn, watch others in their Mid-Western living rooms, eating popcorn, watching movies.
But the fact that we find ourselves not only at the beginning of the end of a German-speaking but also a German-speaking culture, seems well established by now. A certain Natan Sznaider even claimed recently in an article entitled “Amerika, Du hast es besser” [America, you’re better off] that the U.S. had made certain after 1945 “that we all [and he means all Europeans] were able to become Americans” – were able to, past tense! And since this seems to be a fait accompli for the sum of our culture, it certainly cannot be kept out of literature. Even as readers, as writers and novelists, we are in a constant process of self-“Americanization.” In German book stores, the creative-writing imports from the U.S. abound, and according to several influential critics at home, our German literature would do much better if only we’d learn to use those same proven techniques. But what if German literature is not incapable of learning, but rather just doesn’t want to go down this road? To deliver an entertaining one-way-novel where, after one quick read-through, nothing remains – is this the kind of literature worth writing for a non-American?
So they come across the Atlantic in their cream-colored suits, the Tom Wolfes, usually not offering more than the forced façade of their Dandy-like appearance, and in German feuilletons aren’t even embarrassed to lecture us on European literature! But who the hell is Tom Wolfe? Certainly not someone whose writing I’d miss for one day, either as a reader (who likes to be skillfully entertained) or as a writer (who likes to learn about new techniques).
It’s time to counteract this trend. U.S. literature by Wolfe, Boyle, Auster, etc., which, for years now has dominated sales in Germany (and I am here not speaking of writers such as DeLillo, Gaddis, or Brodkey) is terribly boring in its calculated state of continued excitement. We already know all of these stories from TV soaps and the advertising industry, so why read them, since they have nothing to do with our lives? Because of their highly-rated entertainment value? But entertainment is now available in German literature for the same price, and besides, according to Martin Hielscher, editor of Kiepenheuer & Witsch, “entertainment value is more a side effect of an interesting text; the real question is whether or not it can provide us with an actual experience.”
No, literature in Germany is certainly not in any kind of danger, and I’m not concerned with the “world status” of any kind of German literature. Only individual authors reach world status, and on this level it really doesn’t matter where they’re from. But if the world is interested in them, it may actually be their regional origin that makes them so interesting, and this is what annoys me: Not only do we want to be the “better” Americans, but we also voluntarily give up our so-called “national” identities, not in order to foster an international synthesis of world culture, as some people claim, but to foster the world-wide imperialism of a U.S. monoculture.
Now, don’t think of me as a proponent of either some kind of leftist or rightist Anti-Americanism, but what seemed appropriate yesterday may be wrong today, and, returning to German literature, may tomorrow be a death sentence. In the meantime, we are not only deciding on the concept of “Germanness,” however that may be defined, we are also dealing with our identity as Europeans, as the entire “old world” turns into a pseudo-USA. We have begun to neglect each other, ceased to be interested in one another, to engage with each other, we have recently become ignorant of each other. Translations today usually favor mediocrity, texts written in an ordinary, easily digestible and cheaply translatable style. From such books, no longer conceived in an original way, and thus no longer capable of conveying the unique world of an author, or of an entire culture, from such books we only learn what we already know. I am referring here to the absence of “learning” (in terms of an aesthetic experience) drastically interfering with a reader’s curiosity about other, neighboring, cultures. Some publishers even go so far as to say that we now have a harder time understanding our immediate neighboring cultures than U.S. culture, and thus more often than not decide against contracting a translation. Something fundamental seems to have been lost here, the idea that it is precisely the specific “otherness” of a book, even if it is difficult to translate, that makes it attractive, and that inspires us to read in order to find out about something different from our own experience. Because of this confusion, the non-German speaking world today is under a gross misconception concerning contemporary German literature, the conception of some sort of Grass-Süskind-Schlink literature. And who knows what misconceptions our image of French literature may contain, not to mention Finnish literature. We probably only perceive those non-German texts that might as well be from the U.S. — I am here, of course, speaking in general terms only — and wouldn’t it be important to counteract those trends with a new pride as a European? Otherwise, we may soon be not only at the end of a German literature, but rather at the end of any non-U.S.-type literature.
My counter proposal envisions a European aesthetics, which imagines itself on equal footing with that of the U.S. Once we have reached the era of post-national literatures, our aesthetic judgment based on contemporary German literature will at any rate no longer be sufficient, and we won’t have a choice except to go with a European vision. A European vision, however, which reaches beyond cape Gibraltar and the Ural mountains, since “European aesthetics” should not simply be equated with a new form of regionalism, but is meant to serve as a new model. But if we continue to avoid the question of our own perspective, an attitude easily camouflaged as progressive liberalism, we German writers should at least be consistent, and should engage Faust II using creative writing techniques, and then translate it into Anglogerman-Newhighpidgin, so that people will still be able to understand it. And we should, of course, always turn up in cream-colored suits, so people may still recognize us as writers.
So what could this be, what I’d call “European aesthetics” for lack of a better expression, though I am aware that it may sound single-mindedly. At any rate, it is not meant as a geographic category – I am thinking of Nabokov here as an example. And of course, it cannot be about the introduction of a unifying normative aesthetics to foster European unification as a sum of all the specific national characteristics. It is rather about the opposite, about the discovery of deeply-rooted “European” characteristics within all the national specifics. Why not start by looking at France, which has always proven productive for Germans! With this, we may just as well have reached the end of German literature, but I’d consider a fully “Europeanized” end to be far preferable to the impending partially Americanized end now quietly under way. Thus, what could we propose as cultural common denominators to combat the dominance of the creative-writing aesthetics? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Commitment to detail instead of an exclusive commitment to plot: Narrative strategies that are not just functional, but as ends in themselves that do not require any particular reason — as, for example, with respect to the construction of the plot as a whole.

2. A feeling for atmosphere, instead of maximizing the amount of information that is being mediated. An atmospheric concentration, not as a retarding element that impedes the narrative flow, but as pleasure, a pleasure that adds to the narrative itself.

3. The art of the non-narrative, rather than always insisting on stories, stories, stories. Now that even the Germans have learned the American lesson, the non-narrative should again be understood as an important part of the narrative, the seemingly purposeless beyond any kind of story line.

4. Multiply-coded texts instead of just textual surface: The story line of a narrative may be sufficient for 90% of readers, but it can only be the surface of a “European” text. The other 10% are moved by the thing itself: the stimulation of allusions, the choice of metaphors, the use of aphorisms, the playful reconfiguration of established narrative structures, characters, scenes, motives, rhetorical figures, even of individual words. In a European text, a long tradition is embedded, but not as a burden or barrier for readers, but as an additional pleasurable offering for those who know the rules of the game and feel inclined to participate.

5. Indirect fulfillment of expectations. To not immediately satisfy reader expectation is more interesting, more productively unsettling and forms a more lasting impression. When someone buys a ticket for a buggy ride, but in the end returns from a roller coaster ride, he will probably have had an important experience.

6. Mediation of an experience instead of pure entertainment, in order to deliver more subtle pleasures than just the suspense of a good story. A book can transform its readers, a book can provide an experience of intense joy, well beyond its entertainment value. Of course, entertainment is a prerequisite to draw a reader in.

7. A slow-paced unfolding of the narrative, rather than creating suspense from the very first line. If you invest in a broader scope at the outset, you can really speed up later on. A slow pace is also – contrary to assumptions — the opposite of boring or draining reading, whereas the hysterical and artificial creation of suspense (a dead body on the first page, then another one every 30 pages) is indeed uninteresting, since it’s usually done much better in film.

8. An emphasis on style, instead of using words purely for their narrative function; a rhetorical structure that may also appear disturbing. Every book conceived using European aesthetics is by definition unique, whereas a product of a creative-writing school is always a copy of other success stories, a product of a compromise designed to draw in as many readers as possible. Perhaps we could agree that a certain amount of friction and initial obscurity is characteristic for European literature?

Obviously, such suggestions are not exactly met with enthusiasm these days. Euro-centrism in times of multiculturalism? In times of a weak Euro Dollar? In times of a general weariness of all things European fueled by the empty jargon of our so-called political leaders? Admittedly, the thought of a European aesthetics seems rather annoying, especially now that German publishers are, astonishingly enough, finally focusing on German literature again. But it is necessary, nevertheless. Till now, the eternal debates on the current state of German literature have barely managed to go beyond the prejudices linked to an outdated aesthetics mainly centered on the Gruppe 47. This housecleaning has been more than necessary. And now? We’re more or less empty-handed, since current literary criticism has been reduced to judgments of taste. A new phase in the debate would be crucial, a phase in which new criteria are suggested.
Whoever wants to misunderstand me may do so. Yes, indeed, the buzzword of a European aesthetics is nothing but a cover name, and meant to sound like really old hat, something that may already have existed in Ancient Greece. This old hat seems to have gone out of fashion with all the craze about baseball caps (or tailored suits, but that is a different story, the story of those who say “hello, I do pop literature,” and will be told some other time). My entire appeal for a European narrative comes down to that which has always been expected of great literature – because we are about to abandon those expectations.
In the end, our choice is between a hostile and a friendly takeover, since German literature as we know it will no longer exist in the near future. We are thus living in a time that will soon come to an end. For those who do not just want to enjoy this end, for those who desire to retain some of what is about to expire for a new beginning, for those it may be worthwhile to think along the lines of a new European aesthetics.

What now, white man?

The waiting and grumbling has suddenly come to an end. The general despondency in Germany is visibly giving way to an unexpectedly bustling sense of awakening. Lead articles and manifestos are being eagerly written, and above all eagerly awaited, demanded, even obtained by force, as if this were a way of at least foisting on others the determination one still lacks oneself. The creeping decline of multi-party democracy, as we have been experiencing it for years in the form of „rule by television“, the oppressive simulation of the opinion polls and talk-shows with their stock moral cudgels that render authentic speech near impossible, has brought about a dangerous power vacuum which not only „frustrated people“ (as CSU leader Edmund Stoiber recently called the inhabitants of Germany’s eastern states- ed) but above all the intellectual centre of our society now wants filled. But even if they were to succeed in this (incidentally accomplishing the feat of turning a deeply indebted country in need of serious restructuring into a flourishing, relaunched Federal Republic), a far greater European problem would remain: the impending decline of the former „West“, already explicitly doomed as „Old Europe“, a culture and way of life that has been cultivated for generations. The postmodern age with its corrosive „anything goes“ marks the end of the Enlightenment: sceptical free-thinking has gone so far that today, instead of serious visions, all it develops is a jaded blanket irony, a shoulder-shrugging laissez-faire, disguised by the concept of „tolerance“, towards everything and everyone. The corresponding strengthening of domestic and international „margins“ will bring us countless subcultures and parallel worlds, ultimately resulting in a radical compartmentalisation of society ‹ not least on account of passive elites who have no means of countering the breakdown of the whole into the mere sum of its parts and who have also long since given up wanting to. This far-from-euphoric opening notwithstanding, the author is not a resigned former supporter of the SPD/Green Party coalition, and certainly not a closet right-winger hoping that his theory of the „decline of the white man“ will terminally alienate all those responsible for women’s and multicultural issues and then usher in a straight-laced neoconservative revolution. On the contrary, this is already part of the problem: most of the people I have spoken to recently ‹ all of them committed democrats ‹ belong to a majority that has been silent for too long, people who discern among their political representatives almost no one by whom they feel adequately represented. Which is why, now that this politically rootless, dangerously vacillating centre must find a new language, a discussion is at last getting underway that channels an intensified expression of dissatisfaction on the part of free-floating intellectuals, and which amounts to the return of something like an extra-parliamentary opposition. This emerging movement, which is trying to break out of traditional left/right thought patterns and reconcile its traditional socialist/liberal impetus with conservative values, is the only one I would allow myself to be considered part of. Those who have journeyed a little outside of Europe, less as a tourist than as a traveller, and who, like me, have been lucky to come through certain situations shaken but unscathed, may already guess what I am trying to get at with the following examples when I speak of the „decline of the white man“. I want to emphasize that I am using this term for purely polemical reasons ‹ as an abbreviation for what I understand by the core-European version of Western culture, a culture still committed to the Enlightenment. The link to actual skin colour is purely metaphorical. The fact that this choice of metaphor may lead to some Wild West associations should not prevent it from being used for more complex trains of thought. After all, the best way to unmask reality is to begin by reducing it to a clichZˇ. While researching my new novel, I spent several months living in Cuba, in the predominantly Black south of the island, avoiding dollar tourism and operating with pesos wherever possible. It was an unforgettable time, in the course of which I had to rethink all the positions I had previously stood by unquestioningly. And a time that was so hard, both physically and spiritually, that I was often reduced almost to tears. The brutality of life, taking no notice of the moral (or aesthetic) standards of an Old European, this unfettered wildness of the will that not infrequently burst out in sheer violence ‹ was it permissible for me to despise it as a lack of culture? Or was I supposed to admire it as a superabundance of vitality for which I was never going to be any match? Punching one’s way into a bakery after waiting in line for bread for one or two hours I could understand; but fisticuffs over a seat on a bus seemed to me to point to more than just the struggle for survival, at the very least an energy surplus that we here in sated Europe simply have no idea of. At times I was so totally embarrassed by these eruptions of physical force that I tried to convince myself that I felt the epochal exhaustion of the entire Old World in my white skin. Faced with the facts, such attempts to camouflage sheer weakness as the superiority of refined powers of reason were no help whatsoever. On the contrary, I could soon feel the power of these people even when they observed me from the roadside. At times there was such a sense of being watched in the air that as a European, you had to really pull yourself together in order to keep your head held high as you went on your way. The biggest mass brawl I saw was, admittedly, in the Black southern tip of India, here too in the role of the (only) white man who tried to conceal his physical inferiority behind the superiority of discreet reserve. In Trivandrum, a sad village with a population of millions whose sights could not fill more than half a day at best. That left the zoo. Surprisingly, I was not the only person waiting at the entrance, and when the ticket booth finally opened, a serious fight broke out in no time at all, not over bread, just over places. The police had to intervene, striking at random with their batons in a bid to re-establish order, as least temporarily. The would-be zoo-goers took the blows without complaint, cowering towards the ticket booth, since they were not about to abandon their objective ‹ and not long after they were seen strolling leisurely about. What was that all about, you ask yourself as you look at the infected knee of a llama. What is this mighty will in every single one of these emaciated fellows that had them all get into the zoo before the stolidly waiting European? And why, in such scenarios, am I always the only person who takes refuge in the blanket irony of the one who supposedly knows better? And the most threatening case of being watched? I still get a bad feeling when I think of a situation in Burundi which only looked like a peaceful street scene at first glance. During a hiatus in the civil war between Tutsis and Hutus that had already led to nocturnal killing sprees of unimaginable proportions, we drove into the country’s capital Bujumbura in a converted truck, and to this day I can feel the intense watchfulness that met us from the roadside, from every doorway. There was a physical sense, palpable even to the enfeebled instincts of whites, that the deceptive calm could be over at any moment, that something could break out and probably sweep us and our truck away. In this situation, did we at least wish we had weapons? We didn’t even dare, conscientious objectors and committed humanists that we were. And besides, we had enough on our hands trying to conceal our own worst fears from one another: For God’s sake, they wouldn’t, would they? They uphold the same ethical values as we do, surely they couldn’t just, all of a sudden? But oh, they would indeed, they didn’t in the slightest, and they certainly could. At this juncture, I am reminded of the words of a farmer from Zimbabwe that were reported in the press: at a time when mobs of agricultural workers were on the rampage, resulting increasingly in the execution of white landowners ‹ crimes silently tolerated by the state ‹ the worried farmer asked his own workers whether they were thinking of doing something similar to him, after all, he had been a good employer to them for decades. „God forbid!“, they said: „Each of us will go to neighbouring farms, however long the journey“. How comforting! And that is why I am describing these experiences. They pay tribute not to a secret desire for violence, but to a form of unadulterated fear that people in the heart of Europe no longer know ‹ most clearly in sub-Saharan Africa, still very strong in Caribbean slum areas, and in homoeopathic doses even in a country like India as soon as you leave the main tourist centres and find yourself confronted with a way of life whose archaic harshness initially leaves one utterly stumped for a response. For of course there can be no question of undoing the cultural development that has made us into a relatively peace-loving species capable of well-mannered communication ‹ that would be to declare ourselves spiritually bankrupt. Moreover, the problem is not a purely a physical one. In the Far East, we experience our feebleness on a more intellectual level, as the fear of failure in the face of an economic expansion drive whose unfettered energy fills us less with specific ethical worries than with a fundamental feeling of impotence, particularly in everyday situations. Anyone who has had to make their way through such monster capital cities as Seoul, Tokyo or, more recently, Shanghai knows the slight feeling of terror when the pedestrian signal turns green and hundreds of people start moving towards one another in tight ranks, quite obviously more determined and sure of where they are headed than you are. Or the major shock when the Shinkansen high speed train zooms past the platform at 300 km/h like a long-range missile. Seconds later, everything is smoothed over again by a deceptive politeness, and soon you no longer know what movie you’re in. The aggressiveness which makes turbo-capitalism in the Far East so successful, and so threatening to us, only lowers its mask fleetingly under the influence of alcohol. „Of course we want to rule the world!“, one hears from drunken Japanese managers, whose economic megalomania draws on an alarmingly unbroken sense of their nation’s mission, an undiminished pride in their own „superior“ culture. The European markets, you are told on such memorable evenings, are actually easier to conquer than the newly awakened China. And indeed, Mao’s heirs, too, are working with alarming verve to build the future. The unscrupulous demolitions, resettlements and flooding of heritage, with entire new cities planned from scratch, are only the blatantly obvious signs of a far more profound development that goes as far as new restrictions on individual freedom to the greater glory of the flourishing overall system. Back in the days of the Cold War, did Capitalism not use to be something like freedom’s younger brother? This is not a pretty picture. But in a confusingly fascinating way, it is a very real and solid presence. And it is efficient. With the stamina of an unwaveringly strong will ‹ in this part of the world, force expresses itself less in impulsive eruptions than in tenacious persistence ‹ the key industries of the West are being conquered. It is said that the USA can now only maintain its economic leadership because 40 percent of its hi-tech sector is being run by Asian immigrants. In all but name, the production of PCs at IBM had already been taken over by the Chinese Lenovo group, the television divisions of the companies Schneider and Thomson by TCL. Just a few years ago, news like this would have been hailed as an April Fool’s joke. The global economic order is out of joint; the global cultural order will be next. For the Far Eastern enthusiasm for innovation cannot be disconnected from a sense of cultural mission: in the globalised economic race, this tremendous success is due to the fact that giant steps towards the future are taken with an intact historical sense of identity. After all, living heritage is not least a store of potential thoughts, structures and behavioural patterns, a source of inspiration for all kinds of current tasks. Meanwhile, we in Central Europe are on the verge of willingly abandoning the last vestiges of our own thousand-year heritage ‹ the diversity of languages and the associated identities ‹ in favour of a rife pseudo-Americanisation. And, in the process, exchanging what could, in its networking of highly distinctive cultural achievements, be understood as our economic base, our version of an Old European position, for a weak drifting along in the current of the globalised culture industry. After the shocking realization of one’s own physical and economic weakness, the final humiliation for Europe is coming in the form of cultural orientation towards a new world power that is already beginning to involve itself actively as a global player in the general current of world culture. Significantly, our deficit is seen most clearly not from China, but from the Arab world ‹ a region of the world which is primarily known for the remains of former civilizations, but which presents them with the conviction of someone who is nonetheless sure of his superiority. I have no wish to deny the undeniable cultural achievements of Islam ‹ but the current everyday reality in North Africa, for example, has precious little to do with the image of the enlightened Muslim. Where else in the world is one eyed with such contempt, as a representative of a godless society of clowns and whores (as encountered in „shameless“ films and video clips), as in Morocco? Few cultures manifest themselves in so phallically, and as a European it is only natural that one has no desire to keep up when uninhibited young men put on courtship displays in an effort to get their testosterone levels under control. Natural? Of course! Faced with the machismo of the Maghrib, anyone whose chief commitment is to a dignity in keeping with their years, taking refuge in the superiority of „having no need of all that“, is sure to lose in the game of evolution. Rather than the embarrassment in the face of such unfettered displays of virility, however, the most disturbing thing about such travel experiences is the cultural ‹ or, to be more precise, ideological ‹ weakness that we are made to feel too acutely. After all, even an enlightened Muslim acts on the basis of a coherent world view, is always in possession of the truth, while we as individualists have to search it out each time on a case-to-case basis: a hare and tortoise constellation in which we tend to have a losing hand from the start. And whereas in the past, one could expect to be met in such conversations with didacticism and pity, since bin Laden’s highly emotional declaration of war, the tone has become significantly rougher, irreconcilable even. Tolerance? But ours is the one and only truth and path to bliss! Enlightened scepticism? A world view for weaklings! Compared with the unbroken pathos of a faith that is 600 years younger than Christianity, meaning that in terms of its unfolding in time, it is currently at the stage of the Inquisition. In this light, it could actually be seen as a sign of Islamic humanism that free-thinking tourists are punished not with beatings but merely with scorn. The decline of the white man, as it emerges clearly from the „clash of cultures“, is categorically linked with the religious vacuum that we have managed, since Feuerbach and Heine, to fill with a succession of ersatz religions (e.g. „culture“, „nation“, „reconstruction“), the last of which, however (the „freedom of the West“) has, since the collapse of the East Bloc, left a gap that could only temporarily be filled by a culture of fun and games. Never before has our ethical horizon been swept so clean as it is today. Never before have we, as representatives of a late-decadent civilization (something which in the USA is barely understood, let alone named), been so helpless in the face of challenges beyond Europe. Does the Islamic world urgently need an injection of critical reason (as friendly, green-leaning utopians seem to believe), or is it us who need to reduce our doses of this drug, to simplify an all-too-complex world view as a way of returning to its vital roots? Maybe the many humiliations currently experienced by Old Europeans on many levels, all the challenges in physical, economic, cultural and above all religious terms, maybe they can teach us one thing: to accept this challenge and develop a self-image that enjoys consensus across society, one that turns consumers back into human beings, people who seek happiness beyond profit forecasts and tax incentives. And to express this in terms that are comprehensible, if need be, even to fundamentalists: maybe what we need (and I can only express this in the form of a paradox) is to become, in an anti-fundamentalist way, not fundamentalist, but fundamental. But where might a European fundamentalism lead, if not to a more robust mandate for freedom, tolerance and dealing politely with all the impolite people of this world? It sounds perverse, positively perverse, to want give the decrepit fundamental tolerance of the West an injection of intolerance to allow it to survive in the global conflict of juvenile worldviews, and it certainly should not be done after the fashion of American imperators. Tolerance does not have to be based on weakness, spinelessly nodding through everything that is the case. There is also a tolerance based on strength, one that emerges from a consciously adopted position and which has the courage to cultivate a certain distance until mutual respect is established. What value does a completely enlightened ‹ i.e. godless ‹ society have with which to counter a (partially) unenlightened one? This is the fundamental problem that has sealed the downfall of many great civilizations. Now, then, the mission of the white man ‹ as pursued since the dawn of the Modern Age ‹ is the next to come to an end, not least on account of its increasing focus on earthly things. Outside the Western world, few are prepared to forego the roof of a protective and meaningful transcendence if the dubious fruits of nihilism are all that is offered in return. Now, as it appears to degenerate into a purely consumerist doctrine, the enlightenment of the unenlightened, as it has been practised for centuries, is itself the object of a form of counter-mission. Even in the cradle of this enlightenment, we who have established our lives so comfortably in an all-encompassing critical distance to positions of any kind are now unable to oversee the ubiquitous signs of a longing for fixed positions, amounting to a gentle counter-enlightenment ‹ a new, eclectic religiosity consisting of esoteric fragments patched together according to individual tastes, as a provisional reaction to the intensity of religious sentiment we have been confronted with from outside for some years now. And what if we ourselves, as the last advocates of the Enlightenment, were actually fed up with our free-floating lack of ties, what if we were longing for a new sense of rootedness and were ready to risk a crossover between all-corroding reason and irrational vision? During my months in the Caribbean, I often asked myself why, when I was exhausted by the vitality of others, it was in the Afro-Cuban cults, of all places, that I regained my strength. Why, of all things, the sect-like rituals of the Santer’a and Palo Monte gave me a sense of security whose effect even lasted a while on my return to everyday life. And the answer I reluctantly gave myself again and again was that besides giving us a great deal, Enlightenment finally takes away that which makes life easier and brings happiness closer ‹ certainty beyond knowledge, steadfastness in spite of all trials and tribulations ‹ and precisely this was rendered palpable by every practising Santero or Palero. It was only during these hours of ritual that I felt once again the cathartic trembling before the superhuman which in Christian churches has vanished in the programme of „love thy neighbour as thyself“. Who wants bread and wine when they can have blood and (sacrificed) flesh? Who wants a benevolent god in some abstract realm who has withdrawn from his creation (with a shepherd-in-chief who always appears uncertain, in spite of the hype surrounding the Pope), when they can have priests who give clear instructions and certainty in life, when they can have communication with the dead, when they can have gods who violently possess their followers to dance, smoke and drink with them? Anyone who has experienced the undiminished, African intensity of religious belief in the Caribbean ‹ with all its fear and horror, dread and terror, to the point of barbarity ‹ knows that in the long term, our godless society cannot defend itself against this with a private brand of individualist esotericism. Because what use to us is all the „freedom from“, when we are no longer able to use it as „freedom for“? Even the project of the Enlightenment, that supreme philosophical achievement of Old Europe that has made its triumphant progress around the world, obviously by no means marks the end of the evolution of worldviews, except for the „happy few“ of a free-thinking elite that is required by any society. Enlightenment or counter-Enlightenment, that is the alternative that most certainly will not be resolved on September 18. Faced with the fundamental problem at hand, which party is entrusted with the destiny of the „responsible citizens“ is totally irrelevant. Economic growth, homeland security, zero unemployment? No! The things we seem not to be able to do without in the long term are Faith, Hope and Love. And this is what we must now comprehend, without malice, even the committed atheists among us who continue undeterred in their quest to prevent (or even promote) the grinding down of our familiar word in the mill of globalization by purely political means. Otherwise, we are history.

Too Much a Fool to Refuel

(…)
Already I had turned away, hid in my silently glittering Chevrolet, in order to debate with
myself in peace what should be done next, when the voice rang out. A high friendly voice
which poured like a torrential flood of vowels and consonants over me, from a speaker
somewhere underneath the roof of the gasoline station, poured over me, the Chevrolet,
the gas pump, loud and clear, but completely incomprehensible.

At least I again crawled back out of my hiding place, looked around inconspicuously
whether the guy with the hat had returned and due to the lectures I had suffered, burst out
in amusement. Looked around in all other directions whether any other car might stop,
another man with a hat might want to ridicule me. And discovered nobody. But as I was
standing there and didn’t dare reach for the gas nozzle my eye fell beyond the gas pump
to the opposite side of the street: where the pumps of the competition where waiting. That
was it, the solution, and it was so simple. In the twinkle of an eye I relaxed and: drove
over.

Before I started refueling I observed the place and the things: they seemed to be exactly
like the ones whose innermost being I had just before tried to grasp, tailored replicas,
merely the coloring had been rearranged from red-black to red-blue. Lucky me, I was
momentarily the only one in attendance and therefore had the choice between, oh, let’s
see, roughly twenty possibilities: naturally I drove toward the one which to the cashier, at
least from the window where I suspected him – was the least bit visible. Stepped out,
seized the gas nozzle with a casualness, as if it where a $ 10 bill shoved over the bar with
ease, and pushed it – Relax ! Relax ! – into the nozzle of my Chevrolet. Chose the
gasoline sort, pushed the red button, took a deep breath and – took another deep breath
and – had to admit, that nothing happened. Nothing at all. Oh, I could really have howled,
and since that was out of the question: could have just smashed the whole affair to pieces,
and since that was out of the question: tried to calm down. After all it was not the first
time that this country had left me speechless…

– In the face of a pretty hot texmexchic at a pretty “Fuckerware Party” in Phoenix, who chatted me up, me of all people, but then immediately understood that I was a dumb wit who clumsily tried to justify his stammering with “Sorry, I’m German”, and walked away leaving me with an unequivocal “Nazi”;

– in Manhattan, close to the Empire State building, where a nimble-fingered guy shoved around three cards with such provocative slowness – “Where’s my apple ?” – on a cardboard box until I was absolutely certain and: lost $ 20 ante, as the card I pointed to was turned around;

– at the entrance of a dump gorge in LA which I took to be at least the Laurel Canyon during my nocturnal search for a suitable parking space: where early The next morning the sheriff drummed his billy club along the car roof, so that I, awakening, stared right into his colleagues barrel: “No overnight parking, Sir”;

– and again in a Chicago suburb, years ago, I was left dumbfounded, at B.L.U.E.S., where Johnny Dollar & The Scan’lous Band provided the evening program: lot’s of nobody’s, nevertheless better than any Fleetwood Mac or Chicken Shack, whom we had so far thought the greatest. Constantly somebody from the audience went upon the stage and played along, so that there were more and more of them, unbelievable. But then as the three incumbent Background singers glittered before me, Shubidi – a, shubidu – a, probably because I was the only one who hadn’t signed-up for the contest, as they held their three microphones in front of my face, shubidu – a, shubidu – a, but where my mouth was supposed to be, only a horrified unimaginativeness reigned, there –

– suddenly the voice rang out. Rang
out again, the voice from above, the voice from the speaker, rang out again and a
tremendous torrent of vowels and consonants poured over me, loud and clear, yes indeed,
but totally completely a hundred percent entirely incomprehensible again.
As the stream of syllables dried up with a small crack, I stood fulfilled with noble
simplicity and calm greatness, from head to toe grace and dignity whirled through me and
buzzing emptiness, I was nothing but a completed hollow body, a sound box of the
categorical imperative, breathlessly surrounded by the gasoline pumps of this world. (…)