Dimension2: Contemporary German-Language Literature

Volume 4, Number 1


Ingo R. Stoehr

Again, another issue is ready, and another story can be told about it. But regardless of how this issue came into being, the literature selection is as exciting as ever. Of course, for me part of that excitement lies in the selection process itself, which is determined by various factors that range from which books are available to how to assign essays and translations. There is a core of good and reliable translators; however, I am always on the lookout for good translators to add to this core group (or if their time schedule does not allow that, at least for an occasional translation).
Before the translation, of course, comes the original text in German. Each issue has its own focus, and that determines the choice of texts. The September issues always have a thematic focus. The May issues present literary archives and often a wide range of other texts, especially poetry. Where possible, I try to connect the archives with the selection of other texts; for example, in the next two or three May issues I plan to focus on Austrian and Swiss literature respectively because literary archives from both countries will provide the focus.  
In this sense, the January issues are always the ones that are the most open in their selection because they present a first look at a few new pub-lications from the previous fall season, which is, of course, the main season for the literary market. While I try to have all German-language “literatures” represented, one country might predominate, for example, Austria in the last January issue. Also, the present issue contains, in addition to an interview with the Swiss publisher, Daniel Keel, more literary texts from Switzerland than previous issues.
As usual, all the texts in this issue are about something: If they were not published here, they would be fine contributions for a thematic issue. The most recent thematic issue focused on the classical tradition, which influenced Martin Mosebach's “Die Geschichte,” a retelling of the Trojan war from a (somewhat confused and confusing) child's perspective. By the way, the English translation is by Scott G. Williams, who was the guest editor of the September 1996 issue on the classical tradition.
Another thematic issue dealt with the image of the Third World in contemporary German literature. The present issue presents an excerpt from Urs Widmer's Im Kongo, a marvelously funny novel on the traces of Conrad's Heart of Darkness that shows us secret ceremonies only alluded to in Conrad's novel. In the process, Widmer's book uses racial stereotypes, which, though part of satire and challenge to its readers, may not be completely uncontroversial for some readers.
The first thematic issue brought a selection of texts about the “new Germany” after unification 1990. This is the time frame from which to understand Uwe Kolbe's essay and in which the excerpt, “Roter Baum,” from Uwe Timm's novel, Johannisnacht, is set although the narrator reaches much further back into the history of his family, i.e., back to the years after the Second World War and even to the years of the German empire around 1900.
The years immediately after the Second World War also provide the setting for the excerpts from Ingrid Noll's novel, Kalt ist der Abendhauch, and Ludwig Harig's “Ein Sonntag im Mai” from his novel, Wer mit den Wölfen heult, wird Wolf. Harig's autobiographical story centers on the day he felt that the war was over, that the Nazis were history. Christoph Lohmann' essay fits into this context, describing in personal terms his fascination with German literature that deals with the Nazi past.
The selection of poems by Inge Müller takes its beginning during the war years, to be precise: during the phase of bombing raids, one of which left her buried alive “Unter dem Schutt,” as the poem about this experience is called. It is taken from the volume with her collected poetry, prose, and diaries, Irgendwo; noch einmal möcht ich sehen.
In contrast to Müller's predominantly political poetry, Ernst Jandl's poems from his latest volume, peter und die kuh, are personal and, typical of Jandl, witty observations. Two other selections are also personal, but in a different sense because they dealt with the personal topic of love: two short prose pieces by Burkhard Spinnen from his collection, Trost und Reserve, and aphorisms from Felix Philipp Ingold's Freie Hand.
Finally, fantasy and science fiction are represented in two other selections. The sequence of short prose pieces, beginning with “Die Exekution des Pudels” from Gion Mathias Cavelty's Quifezit, presents the short novel's highly entertaining tour de force from one fantastic event to the next. The translator, Peter Hess, remarks that Quifezit is reminiscent of Rabelais with a touch of Ionesco. The excerpt from Jürg Acklin's Froschgesang centers on an ironic and dark Orwellian vision of the future in which personal computers have been given basic rights and humans are allowed only a limited life span.
All that's left for me now is to wish you an interesting and enjoyable reading experience.

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