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Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, Chapel Hill, Boston, Istanbul, Calgary, Washington DC, Austin, Tunis, Warszawa and counting

Monday, June 28, 2010

Eine Jugend in Deutschland

Ein spannendes Leben in einer aufregenden Zeit, leider kein herausragendes Buch. So lassen sich Ernst Tollers Erinnerungen Eine Jugend in Deutschland wohl beschreiben. Ich war ein wenig enttäuscht. Toller beschreibt seine Kindheit in einer gut bürgerlichen Familie, als deutscher, relativ wohlhabender Jude in einer deutsch-polnischen Region aufwachsend. Er studiert an einer sogenannten Ausländeruniversität in Grenoble, wird aber 1914, wie - fast - alle anderen auch vom Wind (Orkan?) des Patriotismus erfasst und meldet sich als Freiwilliger an die Front. Seine Erfahrungen dort bewirken einen Wandel und nach seiner Entlassung aus medizinischen Gründen beginnt er sich innerhalb linker Gruppen pazifistisch zu betätigen. Schriftstellerisch und politisch tätig steigt er bis in hohe Ämter der bayerischen Räterepublik auf und wird schließlich zu fünf Jahren Festungshaft verurteilt.

Ein faszinierendes, spannendes Leben, welches er - mit kaum 30 Jahren - beschreibt, leider nimmt seine minutiöse Beschreibung des Versagens der Räterepublik zu viel Platz ein. Außerdem erschien es mir, als ob die literarische Qualität seiner Autobiographie unter seinem politischen Anspruch gelitten hätte oder vielleicht gefiel mir seine allzu analytische ohne jedwede hyperbolische Wendung auch einfach nicht, weil ich sie als zu trocken empfand, vielleicht ist Toller als Autor hauptsächlich von Theaterstücken zu direkt, zu sehr seiner sozialistischen, einfach moralisierenden politischen Ansicht verbunden. Ich weiß es nicht genau. Ich las Eine Jugend in Deutschland zwar gerne und schnell - der erste, seine Kindheit beschreibende Teil war auch spannend - Toller fesselte mich aber nie vollkommen wie andere Autoren es konnten.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Life in Austin

Another year, another country. No, not really. But at least another US state. Texas. Austin to be precise. I work far too much to have gained a proper perspective on this place and I've also barely spent two weeks here, still a few first impressions are in order.

Texas evokes a certain kind of imagery of course: Conservatism, the death penalty, George W Bush, endless landscapes, cowboys, cattle. All of that undoubtedly is valid to a degree, I won't get into that here, but it also applies very little to the city of Austin. The place (house and area) I live in is in fact dominated by tattooed hippies - in its modern, inflationary meaning - all of whom seemingly play in a band while paying their bills through crappy day jobs. Life is dominated by concerts and cheap Lone Star beers. The atmosphere is great, too many outdoor bars to count, friendly communicative people (they are American after all). That's the personal side of the story.

On the other side you have the supermarket around the corner from my place (Fiesta) which few non-hispanic (not to say Mexican) customers seem to frequent. A harsh racial divide with my arrival in a black, family-run barbecue place surprising far too many people. My colleagues and friends here are white, disparaging comments about especially hispanics common. This is nothing new of course, but I had semi-forgotten it and economic differences perpetuate the racial separation in a manner here which is far less prominent than in most East coast cities. And keep in mind that the people I know and meet are the open-minded ones often boasting astonishing international experiences.

Finally, and this of course is a common theme of mine, aintellecetualism - even antiintellectualism - is a cultural trait far too popular in the US for my taste. Male and female roles are of stereotypical nature it is almost comical which is all the more shocking considering I know how reflected and intelligent people can be when prodded. This is not limited to gender issues evidently. One also sees it in the preponderance of fecal, sexual, racial and other pointless jokes; the obsession with asinine drinking games and in general the need to always do something. Quiet reflection is not popular. The TV has to be turned on, music blaring, a game to be played here, a video to be taken and viewed there. It's all about getting the most out of a short-lived moment of activity and anyone not up to said game, quip, joke, or simply looking to disengage himself from a group movement is not fun or at least weird.

I realize that most of this post is of a rather damning nature. Let me put a bit of a disclaimer on this thus. Austin is a great town, from what I've seen so far, Texas is a very interesting state that I hope to see more of, but, as one of my new friends put it, deconstruction, criticism, is the order of the day - I cannot for the life of it remember which philosopher he attributed this to. Was it Nietzsche? Accordingly - or not, seeing as I had been doing that for a long time and before he ever quoted this to me - I rarely praise and often attack.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


I work too much. No time to actually write much here. I apologize. In related news, I've started writing short sentences. Well, I hope that's something I'll shake again.

I started my time back in the US off with another Faulkner novel I had had lying around for quite a while, Sartoris. It was one of the first he wrote and the very first to introduce the world to Yoknapatawpha County and its main city, Jefferson. Considering it might not come as a surprise then that it is not his strongest novel ever. Absalom, Absalom, The Hamlet, or The Town clearly are in a different league. Yet, if you are not choosing Sartoris as your introduction to one of the greatest writers ever (I'm trying to be objective here, that's why I added 'the one of the' part), it is still a very good book.

In a way it sometimes feels as if Faulkner is testing what he explored in further detail and fashion in his later novels. We are introduced to a Snope (it's not Flem), the Sartoris family and Jefferson life and history in general. Without going into detail I also had the impression that Faulkner tested out some of the descriptive technique which make reading him so fascinating and complicated in this book.

In a few words only, Colonel Sartoris is a legendary founding figure of Jefferson. Faulkner portrays his sister, son and great-grandson, who in Southern - or should I say Faulknerian - fashion fail to live up to their ancestor's celebrated past. The way the South never managed to live up to its billing after reconstruction. How does one reconcile a self-perceived history with a miserable and poor present?

What was fascinating to me, was how Faulkner's portrayal of his - secondary - black characters differed from those who appear in his later novels. He does of course have strong black character, Lucas Beauchamp et al, which is something Sartoris is not blessed with, but instead one black character coming back from the war here actually puts into question blacks' subordinate role in the South in a (semi-)provocative manner. It seemed a bit different.

What does that leave us with then? Clearly that I need to read through the rest of Faulkner's novels and then pick up again those which I read a long time ago. He's worth it!

Saturday, June 05, 2010


Comme Allah n'est pas obligé Nedjma est un autre exemple de la littérature francophone sans être française. Son auteur Kateb Yacine grandit dans l'Algérie français des années 1940, participa aux manifestations contre la colonisation française du 8 mai 1945 et fut arrêté et emprisonné après. Comme beaucoup d'auteurs de qualité (ce qui est mon impression peu scientifique ni experte en tout cas) les événements dans Nedjma ont été inspirée par sa propre vie. Quatre jeunes hommes tombent amoureux d'une femme mariée (Nedjma) qui appartient à leur cercle d'ami ou même leur propre famille (ce qu'il paraît Yacine ait vécu aussi.) L'histoire prend place dans une Algérie dominée par une naissante mouvement d'indépendance, par la répression française et le racisme quotidien des européens envers les algériens.

Le livre comme soit est impossible de récapituler ici et dans peu de mots. La narration saute d'une perspective à l'autre, d'une personnage principale à l'autre, d'une période historique à l'autre. Il est difficile de suivre le fil de l'histoire parfois, même de simplement comprendre ce qui se passe dans certaines scènes (ce que j'admets volontairement d'être possiblement due à ma manquante connaissance du français aussi). Mais Nedjma est un chef-d'œuvre qui d'une façon presque magique fait naître l'ambiance d'un pays en occupation (ironiquement au moment exact que la France soit libérée), d'un peuple (autant que je n'aime pas ce mot et ai du mal à croire à la validité du concept soi-même) discriminé et opprimé par cet occupant.

Cette littérature est fascinante déjà pour l'ambivalence linguistique de quelqu'un opprimé par la France mais qui écrit en français. Yacine arrêta d'écrire en français plus tard mais vécut en France ainsi qu'en Allemagne (s'entretenant longtemps avec Brecht selon Wikipedia). Elle , cette littérature francophone sans être française) est intéressante à cause de la constellation spécifique politique de l'Algérie, sa situation pre-post-coloniale. Mais Nedjma est plus que ça, elle est simplement un livre très intelligent et fort qui n'a pas besoin d'être présenté comme un œuvre minoritaire qui soit méritoire à cause de cela seulement. Ceci est vrai aussi, mais le bouquin vaut le coup comme soit sans ces aspects accessoires.