22/06/2005

From the Feuilletons is a weekly overview of what's been happening in the German-language cultural pages and appears every Friday at 3 pm. CET.. Here a key to the German newspapers.

Süddeutsche Zeitung, 22.06.2005

In a fascinating article Swedish writer Richard Swartz explains why the Balkan states are having such difficulties wresting free from the grip of the military apparatus, which in its unwillingness to hand over war criminals Karadzic, Mladic and Gotovina, has effectively taken an entire region hostage. "The word from Belgrade and Zagreb is always that they can't get hold of them because they have disappeared underground and nobody knows where they are hiding. They might even be abroad. But these are just lies and excuses. (Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor at den Haag, is more diplomatic and says that Belgrade and Zagreb are cooperating "insufficiently" with the court.) However their deceit conceals not so much defiance and ineptitude as fear. The political classes fear conflict with the military and the police: those under search warrant – with the exception of Karadzic – are generals in uniform, they are part of the military-police apparatus and are protected by it. Anyone calling for their arrest does it in the knowledge that their orders will probably be ignored and their powerlessness exposed to the light of day."

Ijoma Mangold describes how in the Berlin Republic, as today's Germany is often referred to, power and creative intellects have come together in a very "undemonstrative way". Indeed, she writes, some of the encounters must have been traumatic indeed: "For some authors, any mention of an invitation to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is an absolute taboo. Just thinking about it makes them shiver in disgust. It's like the unpleasant memory of an extremely mortifying one night stand that you only agreed to under the influence of alcohol, and they don't want anyone to know about their hour of weakness. 'The king receives his artists, that's how it was', they say. And: 'No, I would prefer you didn't mention my name.'"
See our feature by Arno Widmann for his characterisation of The Berlin Republic.


Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 22.06.2005

Austrian writer Peter Handke published a lengthy invective in this month's Literaturen magazine denying the Serbian crimes, in which more than anything he explains his unwillingness to bear witness at the Milosevic trial in den Haag although the statesman expressly asked him to. Matthias Rüb attempts to make sense of Handke's words: "On the one hand Handke claims to be more precise than the journalists, whom he famously holds in such low esteem. On the other hand, the poet wants to fathom the deeper truth of the incidents, while illuminating the soul of the story - something that naturally remains impenetrable to the malicious or simply clueless wordsmiths of the daily journalistic grind. But Handke's text fails on both counts: it shows neither precision nor soul." See our Magazine Roundup for an excerpt of Handke's text in Literaturen.)


Die Tageszeitung, 22.06.2005

The taz reports on the judgement of the Bundesgerichtshof, the German Federal Supreme Court, to uphold the ban on writer Maxim Biller's heavily autobiographical novel "Esra". The reasons: with his realistic depiction the main character "Esra", the author has infringed upon the private sphere of his ex-lover. In his commentary, Dirk Knipphals writes that this judgement must remain an "individual case" but admits to feeling very ambivalent about it: "Certainly you can understand the plaintiff's anger – the details divulged in the novel are extremely personal. But still, it's very hard to congratulate her on her victory. Ultimately, every banned book is a banned book too many. But on the other hand it's also difficult to adopt the sublime role of the disappointed defender of literary freedom – Maxim Biller would not have broken a single jewel in his literary crown by making the subject of his novel less familiar. Wherever you stand on in this trial, you've always got one leg in the manure."


Die Welt, 22.06.2005

Uwe Wittstock recapitulates the quarrel between two of Germany's most prominent literary figures, literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki and historian Joachim Fest, tracing it back to an article written by historian Ernst Nolte in 1986 in the feuilleton of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. This article also sparked the "Historikerstreit", or 'historians' controversy', which had German historians at loggerheads over the question of whether the writing of German history was revisionist. "The dispute between Reich-Ranicki and Fest is exemplary of the relationship Germans have to their history," writes Wittstock, who himself has written a biography of Reich-Ranicki. "And it will be no wonder if it breaks out once more. Because critics are now charging Fest with his contradictory roles of being 'an interrogating editor' of the memoires of Albert Speer, Hitler's armaments minister (that is, in editing the memoires, Fest so to speak interrogated their author to discover if he was aware of the scale of Nazi attrocities – ed.) and with having a hand in firming up Speer's own public image by backing in his own books Speer's now disproved allegation that he knew little of Hitler's crimes against the Jews."


Berliner Zeitung, 22.06.2005

Ingeborg Ruthe has visited an exhibition "Künstler. Archive – Neue Werke zu historischen Beständen", which opened on Sunday in the new headquarters of the Berlin Academy of Arts, just a stone's throw from Brandenburg Gate. In it, nine conceptual artists have been asked to create new works on the theme of the academy's historical archives, which have over six kilometres of shelves containing more than one million documents, including individual archives of personalities like Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht and Heinrich Mann. "Jochen Gerz has searched through the archives and put together a book of hours with 800 letters, poems, newspaper articles, communist party reports and administrative documents from the German Democratic Republic. The file containing intellectual as well as bureaucratic testimonials on the defunct state lies on the table. Over the course of the exhibition, 320 men and women volunteers will read from it in two hour shifts. The floor is lit up with colourful patches, and the whole thing takes on a surreal touch. The broken utopias of Brecht's verse 'Anmut sparet nicht noch Muehe' (Spare No Charm And Spare No Passion), and the bureaucratic phrases about the 'fight against formalism' sound very distant, even comical."

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