28 March 2013

A violent-peace: the IBA opens in Wilhelmsburg

How many officers would you deploy, if you were in charge of policing an event where between 300 and 1000 demonstrators were expected, who, according to the police's own statement, can be categorised as ''middle-class'' i, i.e. harmless ? One hundred, perhaps? - remember, you're putting in the officers in full riot gear, helmets, body armour, metre long truncheons. That must be enough, that would give you a ratio of one well-armed, potential combatant to, at the most, every lot of ten do-gooders. The head of the Hamburg police service, under the direction of Michael Neumann, Minister for Interior Affairs and Sport, decided to deploy six hundred and fifty police officers at the official opening of the IBA  – the city's proudest piece of gentrification – in Wilhelmsburg on Saturday evening. The presence of these six-and-a-half centurias on that one day has cost the city an estimated €100 000 ii. A spokeswoman for Hamburg police was unwilling to confirm this estimate, but also refused to present their version of the costs, even though the arithmetic involved is simple.

22 March 2013

Hamburg-Klopstock calling Goethe! Come in Goethe!

If the Duke continues to drink himself to the point of illness then he will succumb to that illness, and will not live long, instead of, as he claims, strengthening his body with the drink ... The Duchess may continue to suppress her current discomfort, due to her very manly way of thinking. But this discomfort will turn into sorrow. And will she be able to suppress that? Luise's [the Duchess's] sorrow! Goethe! -- ... ”

So wrote Hamburg poet Friedrich Klopstock to Goethe in Weimar in 1777. At that time, Klopstock was still seen as the fatherly head of all German language writers. Like Günter Grass today, he had many detractors who enjoyed the sport of mocking him, and yet nevertheless enjoyed a huge status. Goethe, 28 and already a famous writer, was making news with his rugby-player-after-five-pints sort of behaviour together with his patron & close friend the Duke of Weimar, Karl August. They slashed around themselves show-offishly on the market place with big whips, jumped on their horses, and rode through the villages playing sadistic practical jokes on the locals, knowing these people had no means of redress against such actions. Klopstock gets to hear of this in Hamburg and is incensed, it undermines his ideal of the poet as someone who rises on the sublime above all such iniquities. He also feels responsible, seeing Goethe as a promising but errant relative of the family of poets which he presides over. And so the letter continues:

Goethe! -- no, do not drape yourself in that glory, you do not love her as I do .... Up to know the Germans have been right to complain about their rulers, because these rulers haven't wanted anything to do with you scholars (=writers). Your friendship with the Duke takes him straight away out of that category. But if you continue to dance with the Duke to this old tune, there's no limit to the excuses the other rulers would have to make in their defence, [for not being interested in writers], if it actually one day will have happened, that thing which I fear most?”

Klopstock asks Goethe to show the letter to the Duke too. Whether Goethe did this or not we don't know, but we do know that he only answered two months later, in a tone of clear refusal: “Do spare us such letters in the future”, adding casually that he'd have no time at all for himself if he responded to all such letters and warnings.

Klopstock didn't like this not very veiled insult at all: “And as you even threw my letter into that category of 'such letters' or 'such warnings' – you express yourself as strongly as that ­-- my letter, containing the proof of my gift of friendship, then I declare you not worthy of that gift I gave you.” i The break between the two of them was final.

Goethe treated many people badly; and his response to Klopstock shows him as a careerist, understanding art as a career-ladder and the necessity of shoving people off the top of that ladder, to make way for himself. Or, as Yeats puts it in his poem, The Fisherman: “The beating down of the wise / And great art beaten down.” If you translated Klopstock's name literally into English you would get Knock-stick. Knocking his stick at Goethe didn't help Klopstock.

For those of you out there who want to get more into the Klopstock feeling, come along to the annual Hamburg "Poetry Slam in a Church" event, to be staged  in what's known as the Klopstock-Kirche - the Christianskirche in Altona - where you can even see Klopstock's tomb. My Writer's Room colleague Hartmut Pospiech is hosting the evening (around the 3rd weekend in June.) My biggest question is whether Hartmut will allow sexually explicit or explicitly political poetry in the church - and how the vicar will respond. The fact that this is my biggest question seems proof of an infantile part of my mind, concerned with scandal & smut, a quality of mind that Goethe hung onto for a long long time, well into his late thirties.

i For the original German version of the quotes from the letters from Klopstock & Goethe, and for the historical background to the above post, please see: Friedenthal, Richard. Goethe. Sein Leben und seine Zeit. Piper, 1996, Munich. p.190 – 191.

13 March 2013

Luscious faith, left-wing activism and one poet: Michael Buselmeier.

Dante’s German: The Catharsis (2)

by Michael Buselmeier.  
Pained-lust, chained burden, you say, you are the field

of God’s graveyard world; you are of life

in chewy circles of death. I’m the bread, the breath

the wine in chalice bright, the word of stone, 

tanned hide, the flag red and white,

the limes’ blossom in the park, the birches’ call,

the incense-smell, the talk of birds, the bells

so near in the wind, as I, half-blind with sleep,

threw open the shutters, and there the children knew

kneeling on the petals, O and A, A and O.    

Will we be the last, to feel God lead us

under the canopy of cloth, winding through the lanes?

to swing ourselves heavenwards, wreathed in jasmine,

singing songs that strawberry ice-cream’s spilt on? 

And at the rear the shimmering monstrance.

(In publishing this workshop-translation, I'm making use of the German "right of citation" or "Zitatrecht". All rights for the original German text, "Dante deutsch: Die Läutering (2)", remain, of course,  with Mr Buselmeier's publisher, Das Wunderhorn Verlag, Heidelberg, Germany. I, Henry Holland, reserve rights for that part of any future published translation of Mr Buselmeier's poem, which uses my text above.)
       Blogs aren't meant to be finished things. Why should they match the academic & aesthetic standards that you'd expect from a printed book on the same subject? As most bloggers aren't being paid, it would be foolhardy of them to invest too much time in their online writing. 

      That said, here's a snapshot of a poetry & a poet who needs to be talked about now, before there's time to finish & perfect, time to smooth him for a chapter in a book. The poet's Michael Buselmeier, the poetry book could be called Dante's German in a not-yet written English edition; the German title is Dante deutsch, and came out last year. The section of that poetry quoted & translated by me above is a depiction of the processions for the Feast of Corpus Christi, a religious event still celebrated with vigour in small towns & villages in Catholic southern Germany & in Austria. Carpets made from petals, painstakingly laid out to picture, for example, a smiling Mary embracing an angel, adorn the ground in front of houses & the sides of streets. The consecrated bread, the circular host, is carried in the "monstrance", something like a mini sedan-chair – covered in gold & jewels with sides open so the public can see in – & paraded through the towns.

     For those of you filled with ambivalence or even antipathy for all things Catholic, the fact that Buselmeier originally made a name for himself in the early 80s with a novel in which a left-wing protagonist passionately protects his threatened urban habitat, may add a twist of lemon to the story -- (The Fall of Heidelberg / Der Untergang von Heidelberg, 1981).** On first sight German Catholicism and the grassroots-left are two worlds which could not be further apart. But look again, and you will find attitudes & behaviours shared by the two groups. A commitment to the cause that goes miles beyond the bounds of reason. A belief that the end (the triumph of Catholic values or the triumph of left-wing goals) can justify the means. And a need to do the same thing again and again, the need for ritual. Parading the streets following a piece of chewy dry bread, transformed into the body of Christ. To be seen again this year on the 30th of May. Or the left marching on the 1st of May, same old slogans, same old beer & sausages; the more energetic among them staying up to nightfall of that day, when the ritual throwing of bottles at the riot police, the ritual retaliatory riot police charge, the ritual sofa burning on the streets of Hamburg & other larger German cities commences.

** I made extensive use of Michael Braun's article about Michael Buslelmeier, p. 18, issue 3, 2012, of the print edition of Volltext to write this blog post.