Influences

Paths between Worlds

Literature emerges from reality (having no alternative = quote Beckett = quote Bible). Literature consists of language (having no other essence). Literature is part of our culture. Culture is part of our reality. It is only in a grammatical sense that reality is singular. Reality is a concept that we stuff things into. Reality as booty (always being in alternatives), conjugated by language, becomes (among other things) literature. Literature is goods as booty. Literature is goods. Reality, having emerged from the hidden plural form of realities, experienced intensely (stuffed into its concept), transposed into language, becomes reality in literature (essence in alternatives).

ANNETTE VON DROSTE-HÜLSHOFF
(1797 – 1848)

Anna Elisabeth Franziska Maria Adolphina Ludowica, brought up in a moated castle near Munster, a spinster, undertook in 1841 a special journey by water: she visited her sister who lived with her family in the castle at Meersburg on Lake Constance. „Nettchen“ had hardly arrived when Lewin Schücking appeared, a lively 17 years younger than the poet herself, ambitious, a recently-published Westphalian author.  Some speak of „maternal love“ – Droste’s poems from this period tell a different tale. In April ‚42 Schücking went away again. The poet Droste-Hülshoff, small, blond, extremely short-sighted—her eyes were rounded like a frog’s—once more went for walks on her own. Female worlds? Indeed; Annette was witty, cutting, satirical. Family use: look after nieces and nephews. She twice visited the castle in Meersburg again; there she lived in the „fried egg“ – an open view of the reflecting water of the lake. In 1844 Schücking, too, came again, freshly married with spouse. At auction, Droste acquired a house in Meersbug with a vineyard. Views of sky and lake. Schücking and wife stayed for three weeks, one can visualise what happened, afterwards he and Droste never saw each other again. She tested her fortune in grapes: gather, press, drink. And wrote poems about vaults, duties, about belief and about what is beyond belief. She liked to laugh. As a child she had already been ill and remained so throughout her life. Nervousness? Frailty? Nothing became of the grape-pressing. At the age of 51 she died in Meersburg, probably of a lung embolism, the only really indepedent female poet of the German language in the whole of the  19th century. Is that sad? Yes it is.

Further reading:
Emily Dickinson, Poems
Extract from „Schöne Frauen lesen“
by Ulrike Draesner
GERTRUDE STEIN
(1874–1946)

Broke off studies of medicine in the U.S.A, wealthy American family, in Paris from 1903 collecting art. Picasso, Matisse, Cézanne. In 1907 she met Alice B. Toklas, also an American, who became her life-partner. The first literary works appear. Stein writes poems, plays, an unmistakeable prose—a rose is a rose is a rose—which consists of the rhythm of sentences: through repetition and variation the language moves over the figures which it creates. Success comes with the book „The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas“. Written by Stein, from Alice’s perspective, it tells of Stein and her Paris salons: painters and writers come and go. Alice, according to this book with its narrative dislocation, cooks, sews, cares for Gertrude’s texts and her notorious dogs. Gertrude herself writes, knows how to read palms, her lines indicate that she will die at the age of 72. This is what happens. But long before this Gertrude, as Alice, says of herself: „Gertrud Stein, in her work, had always been possessed by the intellectual passion for accuracy in the description of inner and outer reality. She simplified things by this concentration and this led to the associated emotion being dissolved in prose and poetry. She knows that beauty, music, decoration should be the result of emotion, and never the origin; even events should not be the origin of poetry or prose.  They should consist in a precise reproduction of an outer or inner reality.“

Further Reading:
Novels by Henry James,  for example The Portrait of a Lady
Extract from „Schöne Frauen lesen“
by Ulrike Draesner
KARL VALENTIN
(1882 – 1948)

He comes from Munich, everything outside the city is, for him, ‚abroad’. Despite this he travels to Berlin in 1936 where, „stupidly“ he arrives half a day too late for the Olympic Games. There he sits, completely alone, within the extensive circle that is the new National-Socialist stadium and has missed all the triumphs! This is worth at least a sketch. For more than 20 years he’s been building his career as comedian and film pioneer, Liesl Karlstadt has been giving him strong support in this as his stage partner. In their lives off the stage, both have different names, but there too they are also „a pair“. Valentins family situation (wife, daughters) tends towards complications; the political situation similarly. He turns down any appearances on stage in the service of Nazi propaganda, jokes about Hitler are attributed to him, he denies being their source. The War forces him to leave Munich, Valentin tries to make his way by sharpening scissors, yearns to be back home on the banks of the Isar. In 1947, asked about his attitude to National Socialism, this remarkable man, who wanted to initiate the German film of the grotesque, who admired Charlie Chapin and was intensely involved with psychology, gave a remarkable interview. It goes something like this, in Bavarian dialect:
A journalist from Munich or Switzerland asks: „Of course, Herr Valentin, you were never a member of the Nazi Party, isn’t that so?“
„No“, says Valentin, „But you know, they never came to see me.“
‚And if they had come to see you, you would of course never have become a member.“
„Oh yes I would have, you know. If they’d come, yes I would have! But they never did come.“
The journalist is lost for words, incomprehending, embarrassed smile, anger:
„What? You? … Ah, you’re having me on! You would never have joined this party of criminals.“
„Oh yes I would have! If it had been necessary, because I was scared, you know, scared!“

Further reading:
Georg Ringswandl, songs, texts, films
Harold Pinter, Plays (Dialogues)
Extract from „Heimliche Helden“
by Ulrike Draesner
JAMES JOYCE
(1882 – 1941)

It was definitely not easy to place oneself within the brackets of the initials JA:AJ. It was definitely not easy to become Stepen Dedalus. It was definitely not easy to be a stretch of Dublin beach. It was definitely not easy to be Circe. It was definitely not easy to leave Ireland. It was definitely not easy to leave Trieste. It was definitely not easy to write Ulysses. It was definitely a Satanic pleasure to write Ulysses and to continue by writing Finnegan’s Wake. It was definitely not easy to teach students English. It was definitely not easy to be cleverer than a dictionary. It was definitely not easy to be anything but satisfied with one’s own poems. It was definitely not easy to be constantly worried about the family. It was definitely not easy to go on reading when one was half blind. It was definitely not easy to invent the phrase: „Three quarks for Muster Mark“ for quantum physics. It was definitely not easy to inspire Jacques Lacan to coin his ,sinthom’ (in the place of ‚symptom’) It was definitely not easy to be James Joyce. It was surely a pairing: hellish and beautiful.

Further reading:
Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons and other short prose works
Italo Svevo, Zeno Cosini (or Zeno’s Conscience)

Slavoj Zizek, Liebe Dein Symptom wie Dich selbst
Extract from „Heimliche Helden“
by Ulrike Draesner
FRIEDERIKE MAYRÖCKER
(*1924)

Her flat in Vienna is legendary. Her writing also: an extravagance of notes, a storm of pages, a melting-pot that makes life and writing impossible to separate. For a long time she stayed where she was; for a long time, from 1954 until his death in 2000, she lived with the poet Ernst Jandl. Mayröcker makes early starts on her writing: she gets going at four o’clock in the morning. Her writing is based on her life: Mayröcker writes up what she sees, feels, lives. Poems, prose, mixed forms, radio plays. At the age of 83 she is still developing, changing, inventing, seeking. For a long time she was in Jandl’s shadow,; she was also at odds with her times. This too seems only to change as she gets older. Or perhaps it has it to do with our difficulties in coming to terms (see, for example, the reception of Ingeborg Bachmann) with the works of female writers: who do we permit them to be? Where do we hear their voices, and how do we hear them?  Mayröcker’s prose proceeds easily, in great leaps. This includes poking fun at herself, irony and great generosity in her dealings with others. Her writing tackles  our concepts of being a unified person, identity memory. She likes to hid her eyes under a long, black fringe.

Further reading:
Jacques Derrida, Friedrich Hölderlin, the diary of Gerard Manley Hopkins, in addition music by, for example, Schubert, Bach.
Extract from „Schöne Frauen lesen“
by Ulrike Draesner
GUSTAVE FLAUBERT
(1821 – 1880)

Achet Chufu, the horizon of Cheops—in December 1849 Flauber and his friend, Maxime du Camp are standing facing the 140 meter tall Great Pyramid of Giza. Flaubert is „in the pride of manhood“, a number of bathhouses are visited, numerous girls and boys are subjected to close scrutiny. Gustave is infected with syphilis, otherwise things go according to plan: Maxim and Gustave sleep in a tent at the foot of the pyramid in order to attempt the climb next morning before the temperature rises. Gustave, „in the prime of life“, unfortunately rather plump, balding, totally unfit, needs help: two Egyptians push, two others pull him up. At the top friend Maxime is already waiting, Flaubert finds a visiting card, set out as an Easter Egg: Humbert, erotic masseur Rouen. This is typical of their kind of humour: of course, it is Maxime who has placed the card there. But, even better: Flaubert himself brought the card to Egypt, had already at home thought out the pyramid coup. Coups, improbable congruences, coincidences and connections. Flaubert liked making fun of the bourgeoisie, but when Madame Bovary was a success he took pleasure in Paris social life—in a way that was not so different from his Emma.  He even wore the cross of the Legion of Honour across his chest just like that ridiculous Bovary-chemist Homais. But the realms of ironic self-mirroring are endless—the French call this mise en abîme—„placed at the edge of the precipice“. Let your legs dangle, enjoy the horizon. At home, Gustave lives with his mother and his niece, From each generation, out of the family which had once been large, only one remained alive. Later, when he was alone, he bought a greyhound and dreamed of prose about nothing. He died suddenly, only 58 years of age; when he was found, his fist was clamped so firmly shut that it was impossible to take a hand-print. This too—a horizon. Moreover, Flaubert was extremely short-sighted; he was good at scrutinising pores.

Further reading:
Gustave Flaubert, L’Education sentimentale
Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot
Extract from „Schöne Frauen lesen“
by Ulrike Draesner
VLADIMIR NABOKOV
(1899 – 1977)

Vladimir Nabokov slips through Pnin into Spring in Fialta in order to telephone to the USA as HH. When I was studying in Oxford I knew a very tall, very thin fellow-student of philosophy who hung from branches as if they were gymnastic bars because his long spine had to be stretched out. The local police soon got to know him as well and sounded their horn when they drove past the „treeman“ (the German). He had a shrine to Lolita in his room: the book with its Lolita-pink, heart-shaped spectacles, wound round with a string of lights which flashed in different colours. All Italianate Madonna installation.
It would not have taken much more to put me off reading Nabokov for good.

Further reading:
Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad
Ali Smith
, To be Both
Auszug aus den Erinnerungen als Studentin in Oxford
VIRGINIA WOOLF
(1882 – 1941)

Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, London: a small commune kept shouting its message of free love, the British Museum Library was around the corner, the editorial offices of Fleet Street nearby. In summer 1904, Vanessa, Adrian and Thoby Stephen moved into the bright old house at No. 46; the fourth in the group, Virginia, was sick and being treated in Cambridge. After the death of their father in February of that year, the siblings had been on a journey around Europe, at the end of which Virginia heard voices, suffered migraines and heart problems, and threw herself out of a window. It was winter before she came to London, her life was now to change: the siblings who had already lost their mother in 1895 were at last together, Thoby’s university friends came to visit, one of them was Leonard Woolf. Seven years later, after having spent time in English colonial service in India, he saw Virginia again. For their wedding in August 1912 he quit the service and entered a dual pact with his wife. She didn’t want any sex, he wanted her to write every morning. Now the Woolfs lived in London and in the country; time and again Virginia fell ill, was treated in clinics. When she was healthy, she gave lectures, wrote reviews, trenchant essays on (English) literature and her first book of fiction. It was printed in 1919. The marriage  seemed to be good for Virginia, the author, in quick succession in the twenties she publishes her most important novels. She can sit in gardens now, having her photo taken, wearing a broad-brimmed hat with a large white feather, a lace blouse, frilled skirt, with a cigarette in her mouth, neck thrust forward so that the larynx is visible, and gaze as a man would do. She doesn’t seem to be aging.  In order to rest between novels, she writes in 1933 a short book, Flush, about the dog which belonged to the married poets, the Brownings—a few years later she is sitting with a silky-haired setter in the garden of her country house, leaning against an urn full of flowers. Now her gaze is that of a confirmed spinster, her body is long and lean, her eyes downcast, her dress unassuming—she gives the impression of being at once present and absent. In January 1939 the Woolfs visit Dr Freud in Hampstead. The Second World War breaks out. Virginia Woolf writes, with difficulty, her last novel, Between the Acts.

Further reading:
Michael Cunningham, The Hours
Extract from „Schöne Frauen lesen“
by Ulrike Draesner
GOTTFRIED BENN
(1886–1956)

In 1905, the parson’s son from the rural region east oft he Elbe who had attended grammar school in Frankfurt on the Oder, was at last able to do what his father had prevented up to that date: Gottfried Benn began to study medicine in Berlin. He had gained a place in the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Academy training doctors for the Military; „The studies cost almost nothing but in exchange one had to commit oneself to serve one year as a military doctor for each year of study.“ Benn was passed „fit for service“ though he was barely of the minimum height of 170cm (5’ 7“). From Summer 1912 he served as a doctor with an infantry regiment in Berlin-Spandau, however he was dismissed from service as early as March 1913. He had collapsed during a ride. The official reason: floating kidney. A vague medical finding. Benn emphasises that he left voluntarily; as a poet, thanks to the poems published in the collection Morgue in 1912, he has in the meantime become famous (or rather, notorious). In 1914 he goes off to the First World War. He is fortunate, already in October he is stationed as a doctor in Brussels and in 1917 returns to Berlin to open his first practice as specialist in dermatology and venerial diseases. The pattern repeats: almost 20 years later, in 1935, he takes flight into the Wehrmacht. He himself describes this step as „an aristocratic form of exile“. In the chapter „Block II, Room 66“ of his biographical work Double Life he reports on his work in the recruits’ barracks in Landsberg an der Warthe. Recent recruits, both very young and quite old ones, are trained here for three weeks. „Then one night they assemble with knapsacks, rolled up coat, groundsheet, gas mask, sub-machine gun, rifle–almost a hundredweight in all—and off they go to be transported in the dark. A band that can’t be seen is in the lead, playing marches, lively rhythms, behind it is the silent column which is moving off into oblivion.“ In particular on photos later on Benn looks out on the world with a melancholic, reflective gaze. This „poetic“ expression is given emphasis by the left lower eyelid which droops a little. His brother Theodor reports that, at Christmas 1908,  Benn appeared at his parents’ house with a fresh duelling scar. A fellow-student had „landed a perfectly timed blow“ which hit the bone to the left of the eye, cut halfway through the nose, damaging the eyelid. Benn’s pious father was dismayed (how would that look in the community?); Gottfried came up with a lie; the facial expression remained.

Further reading:
Holger Hof, Gottfried Benn. Der Mann ohne Gedächtnis. Eine Biographie, Stuttgart 2011
Jahrbuch der Lyrik, hg. von Christoph Buchwald u.a., alle Jahrgänge seit 1979
Extract from „Heimliche Helden“
by Ulrike Draesner
HEINRICH VON KLEIST
(1777–1811)

There he stands, scarcely more than 20 years of age, and has no idea what is to become of him. The first career as soldier in the royal-Prussian army—all-out attacks, long marches, drill, obedience, mortal danger—he has broken off, has broken with the traditional family calling as an officer. In 1788 his father died, in 1793 his mother too; six years later Kleist returns as an orphan to the family home in Frankfurt an der Oder. He searches, follows his imagination, becomes engaged to Wilhelmine von Zenge, daughter of a neighbouring family, occupies himself with mathematics and philosophy, goes off in the company of his friend Ludwig von Brockes to Würzburg. In an open carriage the two young men travel under the stars. When it rains they creep under the tarpaulin, and intensify their day-dreams about the future become. As Kleist decides in 1802 to become a peasant the engagement is broken off. The author-to-be moves to Thun in Switzerland, rents a cottage on an island in the middle of the River Aare—and begins, „quite surrounded by Alps“, to write his first play.

Further reading:
Günter Blamberger, Heinrich von Kleist. Biographie
Christa Wolf, Kein Ort, nirgends
Extract from „Heimliche Helden“
by Ulrike Draesner