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A Distancing from Prose

An essay (“Entfernung von der Prosa”) on this novel by this German author.  You can find the original in this collection.

Many might think that, owing to his strict upbringing, it would be painful for an author to let go of his figures and personages, to let them "take shape"; yet this is pain I do not feel. On the contrary, as soon as the manuscript printed black on white is left to the imagination of others, I am amazed to see that the stage dimensions render the novel more alien than is normal to an author. Had someone asked me how I would imagine a character from the novel – tall or short, blond or dark – I would not have been able to say; of his nose, his mouth, his clothes I wouldn't have even had the slightest inkling. During stage testing for The Clown, the protagonist Reinbacher appeared once in the guise of Saint-Just from Danton's Death. He was trying out for both plays at the same time, and strangely enough I found the Saint-Just outfit (green jabot, black boots) perfectly suitable for the role; I would have had no objections to letting him play Hans Schnier in such an outfit. As far as I'm concerned he could also appear as a sort of "Hans in clover," although his story hardly ends "in clover." It might even be possible to have all the characters come out all at the same time in costumes from different plays. The Father in a Lessing role, Marie like the Marie from Woyzeck, the Mother as the queen, a lady of the court, a brothel madam, or Mary Magdalene. As far as I'm concerned they could also all come out in street clothes, maybe getting out of a bus, streetcar or automobile. I do not feel like I am their lord and master who has predetermined what they would wear; I can't even be sure of their dialogues. An actor should not have to say those things that "do not roll off the tongue." 

Whatever their director tells them to say is an entirely different matter. I would only interfere when asked or when a fragment of a sentence or monologue simply hurt my sensibilities or, in my judgment, those of the actor because it – as we usually found out in tandem – was no longer correct. When the novel came out seven years ago, its coherence was very different from what it is today. The problems, the subject matter, the constellation of characters, the self-fulfilling process of casting out a human being – all of this has not lost a drachma of relevance; only a handful of political and societal details now differs from how things were in 1962 when the book was composed. The novel took shape as we in the Federal Republic of Germany were still officially and publicly prepared not only to confuse denomination with religion – no, a terror of denomination was carried out that yielded high political costs. Here is neither the right time nor place to question expressly and emphatically the C in CDU/ CSU: the party itself is doing so as we speak – well, at least the first party is. And the time may come when this awkward letter is discarded like that part of a pair of antlers which has been of great service in many a campaign to curry favor with voters.

What is important for me is that many political and societal sidelights still possess some kind of "historical" value in the sense that someone could say: "So that's how it was in 1962" – one hundred and fifty years ago. This historical ballast does not encompass everything and it would not be hard to do without it completely; if it were a picture, one might say it needed to be dusted off a bit. Because of this the problems and subject matter have gained in relevance: the casting out of a human being who, unknown to all parties involved, bears Religion as a form of leprosy in itself. Instead of a guitar he could have had a rattle in his hand and it may have been nothing more than a carnival rattle, which was originally a instrument used to warn and protect, an early version of a bomb siren: careful! Here is a person who has no bacteriological hand grenades with him, but instead a bug that unleashes rules and concepts of social order, mentally and physically.  

One could talk at length about "misunderstandings" and the misunderstandings to which the novel was subjected. I admit that I prefer "misunderstandings" when someone claims to understand something that I myself do not completely "understand." A writer who does not permit any kind of understanding of what he has just spent one hundred pages talking about I consider lost and rather hopeless. It may be that the form "work of art" is dying out; this novel, in my view, did not belong to that traditional category in which a secret formula existed, perhaps something akin to –+––+, which would make it impossible for the author to clarify in black and white what he had just constructed. Nothing is more embarrassing than to be asked how I meant this or that, or how this or that could be taken. I simply do not know; and if I ever knew I have long since forgotten the detail because many of the contexts and intricacies of the novel have escaped me: conversations, expressions, considerations, thoughts, witticisms, perhaps a newspaper article or a word that I heard on the radio or saw on television; an apple hanging from a tree, a bird that I saw sitting on a branch, a song, a couple of sounds, and more conversations. Of course a "work of art" arises within and from such coherence, but also from sudden "ideas," the majority of which are rejected. Yet no one, not even the author, can reconstruct these contexts. They could be fragments from a film (perhaps even quite kitschy at that), or borrowings – I could not say for sure. I would require a very calibrated computer with an enormous array of detection tools if I wished to commit myself to statements on these contexts. 

One context that I do remember and will give away, however, is the occasion of its composition. With some friends I once published a journal called Labyrinth; before having to give up the journal we were embroiled in incessant debates about the "deceptive" aspect of all art concealed in every artist. Naturally, all these discussions led to the myth of the labyrinth itself which we reinterpreted in conversation to make Theseus into Christ and Ariadne into Mary, and the labyrinth the world in which the Minotaur prowled. For sure, these discussions were the occasion for the writing of the novel; they comprised a single detail of the contexts, but certainly the most important; and perhaps the novel was an attempt to continue the journal in another way. With the revelation of such a context a possible interpretation arises that is almost too clear. What is certain is that many people got upset for nothing over the novel because they were not meant at all, they were merely the material for a modern-day labyrinth, foundation stones that although used were ultimately discarded. But here I wish to console the official and organizational representatives of visible German Catholicism: your trouble is not in vain. It is very useful, even for a writer.

I am happy to have had the opportunity to thank my friends with whom I created the Labyrinth: the late Werner von Trott zu Solz, Walter Warnach and HAP Grieshaber. Maybe even they did not notice that something of their work was continued here which in another form had failed.

Seven years later the material and themes are still dear to me, only the nursery in which the seeds were sown has become alien. With the result that I can almost talk about it as if I were an outsider.

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