Dimension2: Contemporary German-Language Literature

Volume 9, Number 3 / Volume 10, Number 1

Forward! -- Editorial


The choice of the Rhineland-Palatinate as the first German Bundesland to be highlighted in DIMENSION2 was obvious for personal reasons. The state is part of two life stories connected with this magazine. One story is that of Christoph Zuschlag, who has been a trusted friend and advisor in all things “art” for DIMENSION2. While not born in Rhineland-Palatinate, he grew up there; while not attending university there, he now teaches there as professor of art history at the University of Landau. Then there is my own story: when I first went to college, I attended the Johannes Gutenberg Universität in Mainz, the capital of Rhineland-Palatinate.

There are other reasons as well. One reason is certainly the quality of literature and art produced in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Christoph Zuschlag selected for publication in this issue the work of Günther Berlejung, an artist colleague at his university. I shall sketch some of the connections of regionalism and internationalism of the literature. A second reason lies in the cultural policies of Rhineland-Palatinate, and yet another reason is the network of institutions that collaborate in producing a favorable environment for literature.

The longer I am involved with literature, the less comfortable I am making generalizations; I always seem to want to add various qualifications. But let me just say it: any literature worth reading is likely to receive its power from blending its regional roots and international reach. Literature, after all, may be seem as a discourse into which individual texts enter.

The focus of this issue is on writers who are connected in some way to Rhineland-Palatinate. Texts by writers who were born and raised or now live there may be regionally rooted to the extent that they identify specific places, as does Norman Ohler in his essay. Gerd Forster’s poetry is another prime example. But all these texts also go beyond any locality. Ohler’s essay revisits his connection to his home in the context of his experiences in the big world, from New York to Berlin. Forster’s poems have a wonderful sense of calm about them. These poems are about personal experiences that ponder both metaphysical issues (for example, the experience of time as an expression of the relationship between humans and things of the natural world) and political questions. Writing in a region of Germany where American soldiers are stationed, he creates an amazingly quiet poem evoking the Iraq war.

Following advice that Hans Bender gave me when I started as the editor of DIMENSION2, I am including not only texts that “belong” to the focus on Rhineland-Palatinate (those that are identified with the superscript “RLP” in the table of contents). My rationale for including these other texts was to underscore that quality literature is literature no matter where it is written and it engages in a multi-level discourse on various themes and topics. I can only highlight a few points here.

The essays all reflect challenges that writers face when identifying their own roles in literature as well as contemplating the future of literature. Norman Ohler writes about literature in a world “flattened” by globalization. Hans-Jürgen Heise looks at the same circumstances and considers the three options that he believes writers have at the beginning of the new millennium. Ludwig Harig considers the question of truth in the context of his autobiographical novels. And Wilhelm Genazino wonders about why some authors have to wait for the success they deserve. Most of these essays reach back into literary history and into the literature of other countries: they range from the Greek poets Archilochos and Homer to Robert Musil and Undine Gruenter and to Emily Dickinson and William Faulkner. In other words, to understand German-language literature, they lay claim to world literature—which is, with its prescriptive dangers and its liberating potential, the topic of Durs Grünbein’s essay.

Just as the essays already participate in the discourses of world literature, so do the literary texts. First, texts may participate in the widespread project of keeping the classical tradition alive. Some of Elke Schmitter’s poems refer to Homer’s Odyssey. The late Thomas Kling playfully reinvents aspects of Virgilian myth of Aeneas, adding modern or not so modern, yet still anachronistic, touches (the rivet spectacles are a medieval invention). Dirk von Petersdorff searches for the mythological realm of contemporary life. Brigitte Oleschinski’s eerily epigrammatic poems seem to evoke their own mythologies. Second, Claudia Becker’s opening poem takes a notation from cinema, that is, from Wings of Desire or, rather, from its original German title, which literally translates as “Heaven over Berlin.” Third, texts may respond to British and American texts—this is a category that seems of specific interest for a magazine that prints German-language literature for an American audience. The selection of Dagmar Leupold’s poems begins with a reference to the British romantic poet Byron but includes other poems that respond to poems by Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams. Likewise, Katharina Schultens answers in two of her poems to lines by Hart Crane.

There is also a personal connection to America for many of the writers in this issue. Beyond short visits, several of them (for example, Ohler, Leupold, Schultens, and Weingartner) have lived in the United States for while, and others have settled down here. Claudia Becker contemplates her new American home in one of her poems. And Patrick Roth’s story takes place in Roth’s home of more that twenty years, Los Angeles.

All narrative texts (that is, stories and excerpts from novels) in this issue focus on a central insight or realization. Roth’s story lets Moss McCloud tell his story about how he was trying to get his daughter back after his wife left with her. The moment when he realizes the right choice is presented as a modern-day, secular epiphany. This is a difficult feat for serious contemporary literature; and Roth accomplishes it beautifully. In contrast, Ror Wolf chooses a humorous approach. The subject of “soup” takes center stage in Wolf’s typical blend of mock-serious philosophical discourse and an almost slapstick chain of events—until narrator and reader understand the status of noodle soup, probably.

The texts of Sarah Alicia Grosz, Michael Köhlmeier, Dieter Wellershoff, and Burkhard Spinnen offer further takes on contemporary life. Grosz’s text evokes life in a typical contemporary German Siedlung, a combination of apartment complexes with an infrastructure of shops; her narrator attempts to break out and realizes the importance of his relationship to the “girl.” Köhlmeier wrote a series of short vignettes on a central activity of modern society: the (late-night) phone call. In the vignette printed here, the narrator teases his friend about an encounter with a beautiful woman that the friend never noticed. We meet the narrator in Wellershoff’s story in another typical contemporary situation: mass transportation, here traveling by train. He finds himself in a dilemma of how to get to know a fellow passenger and, ultimately, realizes that he is stuck because of his own value system. And Spinnen’s story—which is presented separately in a short section on Translation Studies—takes us to yet another area of the modern world: the entertainment industry and fan culture. The narrator realizes that he probably wasted his life being a fan.

The remaining stories—those of Ursula Krechel, Gabriele Weingartner, and Christiane Neudecker—are topical but revisit history. Based on her own historical research, Ursula Krechel wrote a novel on about the Jewish emigration to Shanghai from Nazi-Germany. In the excerpt printed here, the protagonist begins to understand how to make a living as an art consultant. Weingartner also sets her story in the past, the Paris of Marcel Proust, literally. That is, Marcel Proust pays a late-night visit to look at the young daughter of a woman whom he admired as a young man. The young daughter starts pondering her role in a male-dominated society, although she remains an innocent narrator; therefore, it remains up to the readers to draw the conclusions. Likewise, it is the audience who realizes the impact—that of continually challenging our own world views—of Neudecker’s hilarious story, which rewrites the biblical creation story.

The cultural policies of Rhineland-Palatinate deserve to be presented with more room than in a brief editorial. Part one of this issue of DIMENSION2 aims at providing this room—yet not for dry reports but, rather, for personal accounts. In his speech, Hans Till almost literally sings the praises of the support the state has given to writers. Part one, however, begins with an interview with Sigfrid Gauch, who has had a position in the Cultural Ministry—or, as we would say here in Texas, the Education Agency—of Rhineland-Palatinate that has connected him with many policies supporting literature.

The interview highlights notable achievements, such as literary prizes and the state’s financial support for regular series of publications. But it also addresses the state’s philosophy for supporting its authors, that is, the state’s generous definition of who is an author “from” Rhineland-Palatinate. Although I believe that this issue of the magazine offers an interesting literary cross-section, a quick look at the encyclopedia of authors from Rhineland-Palatinate reveals that is only a short cross-section—to have a look, go online at www.literatur-rlp.de. And whoever is interested in the state as well as in its past and current authors can find an online version of the state’s literary travel guide at www.literarisch-reisen-rlp.de.

Even at a first look, it is clear that the cultural policies encompass several components, such as supporting authors, making information available to the interested public (not just the traditional readings but, for about the past decade, online information), and maintaining a network of state and independent institutions. The last point includes cooperation with publishing houses in an effort to make authors from Rhineland-Palatinate available in print. This takes me to the final section of my editorial, but is it also the appropriate moment to thank the Ministerium für Bildung, Wissenschaft, Jugend und Kultur des Landes Rheinland-Pfalz for its financial support for this issue of DIMENSION2.

In addition to financing (partially or fully) individual publications, Rhineland-Palatinate has long-standing ties with publishing houses that print whole series of books. Gauch also mentions these endeavors in the interview. There are three publishers that stand out.

There is the Edition Schrittmacher in the Rhein-Mosel-Verlag in Alf on the Mosel. A series that has been continually growing since its inception in 2004, it is represented here with excerpts from two poetry collections: volumes 2 and 7, by Katharina Schultens and Gerd Forster, respectively.

Then there is the literary yearbook, the Jahrbuch für Literatur, which has been published for the last fourteen years by Brandes & Apsel in Frankfurt/Main. With about 300 pages, each yearbook gives established authors and newcomers alike an opportunity to be published—an opportunity that is, as Gauch explains in the interview, often tied to the competitions for the annual literary prizes. In this issue of DIMENSION2, three authors from the yearbook are represented here: Sarah Alina Grosz, Norman Ohler, and Hans Thill.

And, finally, Gabriele Weingartner’s short story from her book Die Leute von Brody was published in the Edition Künstlerhaus, an example of one of several series by the publishing house Das Wunderhorn in Heidelberg with the support from Rhineland-Palatinate. I mention Wunderhorn last, not out of disrespect, but to dwell on it a little longer—again not out of disrespect for the others, but simply as a consequence of the serendipity of our travel plans that made it possible to meet with Manfred Metzner, one of the cofounders of Das Wunderhorn. Of the original group of cofounders, Hans Thill and Angelika Andruchowicz are also still with the company.

In our conversation, Manfred Metzner outlined the development of the publishing house from its inception to this year’s thirtieth anniversary. By training a lawyer and by temperament interested in theater, Metzner joined with other undogmatic and spontaneous students in Heidelberg to inject “culture” into the student movement. After the waning of the student movement, the impulse to be involved with culture (rather than practicing law) prevailed. In part because of their close contact to Alexander Kluge, Metzner and the others decided to create their own public space of culture. Believing that books are probably going to last the longest, Metzner said, they started Das Wunderhorn in 1978 with 5,000 marks and one IBM typewriter.

Metzner gave credit to Micheal Buselmeier for convincingly arguing for the name “Das Wunderhorn,” which harkens back to German Romanticism and was, therefore, suspected by some of not being too forward-looking. But the name suits them well because it is connected to Heidelberg and was, as Metzner recalled, just in the air at the time. Wunderhorn’s first three books still embody today’s publishing philosophy for Metzner. These books are Micheal Buselmeier’s poems Nichts soll sich ändern (Nothing is supposed to change); the poems by Jörg Burkhard, Heidelberg’s first leftwing bookseller, In Gaugins alten Basketballschuhen (In Gaugin’s old basketball shoes); and Felix Guattari’s Wunsch und Revolution (Revolution and Desire). For many years, a good number of Wunderhorn books have been tied to the projects sponsored by the Künstlerhaus Edenkoben. And so we came full circle in our discussion. Manfred Metzner sees all Wunderhorn books connected with each other. I hope the same is true of the texts in this issue.

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