Beginning with an ouch and some altogether unrelated non-literary news (which, however, will excuse to some extent my complete awol from the blogosphere): My hand is f*%& up from doing work at my father’s farm weeding in his potatoe fields – maaaan it hurts. My wrist crackles and fizzles! Fascinating on one side, and completely turning on my gagreflex on the other. I have enclosed photographic evidence to corroborate this little tale and as proof that it is pretty hard to write with this thing on my arm, and it hurts if I strain my wrist too much. No snide comments a-thank-you-very-much!
So, I have been at home on the Faroes for two weeks now and I am kind of surprised at how good the weather has behaved – usually I can use rain and storm as an excuse to sit up in my room and read all day, but when the sun is shining I get my productive on! Which means I have not read that much. But my bread-making skills have been amped quite a bit (another ouch point for my wrist).
One of my favorite things to do when I’m home is going to my mother’s bookshelves – it’s like therapy to me. 5 days into my trip on the Faroes I was already rummaging through my mother’s bookshelf about three times a day. One morning I found a collection of class struggle songs, including of course “The Internationale” and just about every theme under the sun, whether it’s women’s lib or an alternative tune to celebrate Christmas. Some of the songs are quite funny and others are downright disturbing, but as a whole we could do with a lot more united singing to build morale these days when the right/liberal/conservative political power is rising to disturbingly new hights every day.
But back to literature:
After a long brake from Herta Müller‘s “Der Mensch ist ein großer Fasan auf der Welt” I started reading it again on the plane home. It’s harder than I thought picking up the nuances of literature when it is in German (or maybe it’s just Herta’s style), but then again it is also a totally different reading experience – paying a lot more attention to the language, and looking up words along the way, having to reread the senctences and going back to passages that need further clarification – where I normally gob up pages. The poetic language takes precedence in this case, and the textual layering is beautiful – I could spend hours at passages reading and rereading to find new meanings and hints open up in the language. I would really like to read it in other languages to see what the translators do with this text.
The German-minority family Windisch in Romania are waiting for an exit permit to the West. It is 1980s Ceaușescu-land and Herr Windisch is dreading the stagnation of time and mind. The Romanian proverb ‘Man is a great pheasant in the world’ transmits the awkwardness of the broken-winged bird wildlife to human clumsiness and evil. And there is plenty evil and baseness in this short but brimmed novel. And I am in awe over how weightily Müller uses literary techniques with seemingly straightforward (but not pretentious) ease. And she approaches very tough and far-reaching tematics through this strong hold on the poetry of language, using it as respectively a light and a sword to enlight and cut through the experiences and actions of her characters. One of my favorite passages is called “Die Grassuppe” and is about Mrs. Windisch, Katharina and her time in a Russian work camp. It’s composition is reminiscent of a fairy tale albeit a grotesque postmodern one. I won’t recount it here, only note that the repetitive style in language is complementing the issue of intense survival instinct.
The political implications and how they are conveyed through literature is totally different to someone like say, Sofi Oksanen. Oksanen’s approach seems more with emphasis on the storyline, expressing the anger in the dialogue and thought processes and having characters acting counter to the events – whether it be detremental to themselves or others. And her narratives are also beautifully executed.
But Müller’s characters and setting in “Der Mensch ist…” are a product of this stagnant, cynical aura that destroys human’s from the inside out and betray’s sides of humanity we in good times try so hard to avoid to talk about and surpress with fervor. Makes you think what we could accomplish if we utilized this passion to positive change, instead of ending with yet another tale of ideology turned sour and dictatorical – are we really that thick that we to this day still lack the level of abstraction that can change this cycle of a history doomed to repeat itself in different shades and locations? I will end with a quote from “Der Mensch ist ein großer Fasan auf der Welt”.
Der Nachtwächter hat Windisch erzählt, daß der Pfarrer in der Sakristei ein Eisenbett stehen hat. In diesem Bett sucht er mit den Frauen die Taufscheine. “Wenn’s gutgeht,” hat der Nachtwächter gesagt, “sucht er die Taufscheine fünfmal. Wenn er gründliche Arbeit leistet, sucht er sie zehnmal. Der Milizmann verliert und verlegt bei manchen Familien siebenmal die Gesuche und die Stempelmarken. Er sucht sie mit den Frauen, die auswandern wollen, im Lagerraum der Post, auf der Matratze.” Der Nachtwächter hat gelacht. “Deine Frau”, hat er zu Windisch gesagt “ist zu ihm zu alt. Deine Kathi läßt er in Ruh. Aber deine Tochter kommt auch noch dran. Der Pfarrer mach sie katolisch, und der Milizmann macht sie staatenlos. Die Postfrau gibt dem Milizmann den Schlüssel, wenn er im Lagerraum Arbeit hat.