"Blissful, Torn, Intoxicated": Brinkmann, Fauser, Wondratschek and the Beats.
This thumb-nail sketch of the first couple of decades of life in the newly founded Federal Republic of Germany is extracted from a lecture given by WolfWondratschek in a number of North American cities in 1977. At that time Wondratschek was in the process of establishing himself as West Germany's most popular poet, indeed as the Pop Poet of his generation, at least in terms of sales and renown.  In the course of this essay we shall be arguing that Wolf Wondratschek (born in 1943), and two other writers, Rolf Dieter Brinkmann (born in 1940), and Jorg Fauser (born in 1944), belonged to a generation whose dates of birth exposed them fully to the multifarious manifestations of American politics, economics, and culture in post-war Western Europe. One of these manifestations was the writing, morality, and lifestyle of the Beats which Wondratschek was surely alluding to in the phrase "philosophized on asphalt-covered earth," for German thinking had hitherto been an activity carried out in solipsistic seclusion, far removed from public spaces and urban settings.
Wondratschek's slightly tongue-in-cheek evocation of the degree of Americanization of West German society and culture, especially youth culture, has to be understood historically if one is not to assume that throughout this century his country was slavishly dependent on foreign fads and fashions and little more than a colony for imported American values. Between 1933 and 1945 Germany's leaders had put into practice an ideology which effectively cut their people off from cultural trends which were internationalist, cosmopolitan, or even modern. Furthermore, during the thirteen years preceding the Third Reich, when the first (Weimar) Republic had been open-minded towards non-German ideas, art, and entertainment, their impact was limited to the big cities and to social classes which could afford to indulge in the newly emerging leisure pursuits. Nor did the intelligentsia uniformly welcome the westernization of Weimar Germany, some preferring to look eastwards (to the Soviet Union), others, like Bertolt Brecht, regarding it as being synonymous with full-blown capitalism, but many still seeing it as a bastardization of true Germanic values, spiritual as well as political. And there was still one further deeply entrenched attitude prevalent in learned and scholarly circles which became entangled with the reaction to the import of American ways of life after the First World War. This attitude reaches as far back as the early nineteenth century and is described succinctly by Lothar Jordan:
Lenau's declamation of 1832: "Brothers, these Americans are petty minded people who turn the heavens' stomachs. Dead to all things intellectual, as dead as a doornail" illustrates one of these stereotypes which are handed right down into the twentieth century and according to which German intellectuals and writers judge Americans. They are disappointed because of having too high expectations: the hatred of an inhuman and money-grabbing America which can only turn out cowboys and gunboat diplomats but no culture goes hand in hand with the predominant picture of a better life in a better country (politically, economically and in terms of natural environments). (Jordan 1994, 38)
Jordan's claim that his country's intellectual and artistic elites have consis- tently denied that Americans possess "Kultur" raises of course the question as to what Germans (and, to be truthful, European elites in general) understand by this term. The question is relevant, we believe, for the ensuing discussion of why the Beat Generation has been significant not only for our three representative German writers but as part of a broader movement in their country which has resulted in the gradual demolition of the very stereotype which Jordan has identified as having bedeviled American-German discourse. Here too it is helpful to refer to Wondratschek's 1977 lecture which turns the tradition of this discourse on its head, for early on in it he is already bemoaning the fact that "in a way literature in my country is repulsed by simple things, in fact by triviality, vulgarity and frankness in general; it's as if it detests ordinary life?' (1987, 269) Wondratschek's simple assertion goes to the very heart of the m atter. He is rejecting the conception of culture as only being about the creation and the appreciation of works of unique and lasting art and about the concomitant need to segregate the individual artist and his/her creativity from the everyday processes of humdrum reality. Instead he is making a revolutionary call, at least by German standards, for culture to encompass the entire gamut of human experience, customs, and values-- scholarly-rational and popular-visceral, verbal-creative and physical-sensual. For such an insight Wondratschek readily acknowledges his indebtedness to the American tradition:
There was something hovering above the books which I loved. A great weight, an enormous readiness for adventure, nausea, oddness, illness. They weren't authors, they were real people. The genre of the artistic work wasn't being obeyed, but a moral code. Jack Kerouac. Ken Kesey. Ginsberg. Burroughs. Later Dylan. Figureheads. Father figures who acted like adolescents, like madmen, like prophets, wicked, addicted, free. (Wondratschek 1987, 271)
Here were figures from the American counter-culture with whom it was easier for the war-baby generation of Brinkmann, Fauser, and Wondratschek to identify than with writers from their own German (or European) tradition. Indeed in expressing their affinity with modern American heroes, they were shunning quite consciously and provocatively their own fathers' generation of poets, novelists, essayists and, even more, were rejecting the social and political values of their country's leaders. All three writers had been involved in the Student Movement which in Germany had begun to ferment around 1966 and had reached its zenith two years later. This movement had vented its wrath against international ills and injustices, most notably the US involvement in the Vietnam War, and against domestic oppressiveness and repressiveness as inherent in the authoritarian structures of the German family, educational system, public institutions, and that which had come to constitute the West German establishment. The figure of the father, symbolic or real, became an object of the younger generation's ire, frustration, and disenchantment.  This is not so surprising when one remembers that it was the fathers' generation which had been personally involved in the rise of German fascism and its subsequent atrocities. This may well explain why Wondratschek explicitly referred to the American writers listed as being "father figures." But his reference to them using such overtly psycho-biological terminology does beg the question as to why American role models rather than home-grown ones? Here it may be instructive to mention West Germany's most important post-war literary institution, the Gruppe 47.
Group 47 took its name from the year, 1947, in which the first meeting of an informal coterie of writers and publishers took place, several of whom had spent time in American prisoner of war camps.  They wished to encourage new German writing in a style that was purged of National Socialist trappings and which would deliver democratic, realistic works for a readership perceived as being in need of such literature after twelve years of incessant propaganda. One man, Hans Werner Richter, soon established himself as the organizer and leader (and father figure?) of the Group which never had an official constitution, nor an offical membership list, nor a fixed meeting place. Richter alone decided who should be invited to read their (unpublished) work at the meeting, sending a postcard to the selected person. Critics would also be invited. The readings followed a ritual designed to inculcate in the writer an acceptance of criticism and democratic debate which had been so conspicuously lacking in the Nazi German y in which they had grown up. The writer would sit in a chair (which soon became known as the "electric chair" for good reason), read for about half an hour until arbitrarily stopped by Richter who would then invite spontaneous reactions from the assembled writers and critics whilst the writer in question remained completely silent. A good "performance" frequently resulted in a contract being offered by a publishing house whose representatives were also there to spot new talent. A particularly benevolent guest at Group meetings was the young, charismatic editor of West Germany's anti-establishment news magazine Der Spiegel, Rudolf Augstein. His magazine, founded in the British zone of occupation in 1946 and modelled partly on American weeklies such as Time and Newsweek, gave considerable free publicity to the Group and to individual members. By the early sixties the Group had become more successful than it had ever imagined (or perhaps even intended), and many observers viewed it as being more or less represe ntative of West German literature per se. Eventually some of its "members" became embarrassed by its quasi-monopoly status and distanced themselves from it. In 1967 it held its last meeting.
There are some parallels to the genesis and philosophy of the Beat movement. It too was a loose grouping of like-minded spirits who strove to break free from their traditional national heritage or at least from dominant strands within it. It too was filled with a distrust of ideology, and its representatives used their power as intellectuals to challenge orthodoxy and conformism. The burgeoning materialism of their society was anathema to them. In an essay published in 1958 in Akzente, one of the Federal Republic's most influential literary magazines, Gregory Corso informed German readers: "He [the new American writer--AEW] despises conformity, the standard of the middle classes and money" (Corso 1958, 103). The Beats too sought to forge a new language, a new tone, and new rhythms to express a changing sense of identity, both as social beings and as writers. Finally, they too understood that some degree of organised activity and of self-publicity was necessary if the still relatively unknown writers were to break out of being a clique of friends and colleagues and have their voice, individually and collectively, heard in the wider public domain. But there was one decisive difference. The Beats embodied a more anarchic view of the world and consequently never evolved the structures and rites around which Gruppe 47 cohered for the best part of twenty years. The Beat movement seemed happy to mutate and dissipate, geographically, artistically, and collectively, with no attempt to impose a corporate philosophy, or to promote a unique identity, and thereby cultivate exclusivity.
Corso's essay, published under the title "Dichter und Gesellschaft in Amerika" (Writer and Society in America), is nevertheless evidence of the desire by German intellectuals and publishers to present their readers with the work and ideas of contemporary writers around the globe--after twelve years of Nazi isolationism a laudatory undertaking. Nor was it accidental that Corso had been approached to produce this personal and up-to-date portrait for Akzente. One of Akzente's joint editors was the ubiquitous and immensely prolific Professor of English and American Literature, Walter Hollerer. Hollerer, it should be added, also happened to be one of Gruppe 47's resident critics and therefore a crucial conduit for post-war German-American literary relations. That Hollerer had clearly approached Corso for the article as a personal friend and colleague, can be gleened from Hollerer's own lengthy, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic essay published just one year after Corso's essay entitled "Junge amerikanische Dichtung " (New American Writing). Hollerer, uniquely to our knowledge, explained the word "beat" for the benefit of German readers, gave very acceptable translations of it, quoted at length from poems by Ginsberg, Corso, and Koch and finished by giving a brief portrait of every principal and subsidiary new American writer. Corso and Hollerer went on to edit an anthology for the Hanser Verlag entitled Junge amerikanische Lyrik covering no fewer than 39, mainly young, writers. Another member of Gruppe 47, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, has played a role equally crucial as Hollerer's in the reception of the new American poetry. In 1962 his translation of and introduction to the poems of William Carlos Williams brought to the attention of German readers for the first time the work of an older American poet who, ironically, had been better known before Enzensberger's translation as the enthusiastic promotor of Ginsberg's poems for German readers. He called Williams the "doyen and patriarch of a poetry which has prised itself a way from dependence on Europe and spread across a whole continent from New York to San Francisco" (1962, 29).
Whilst Hollerer and Fnzensberger had in fact visited Ginsberg in Paris in 1957 (Jordan 1994, 165), Enzensberger's poetry, considered by many critics to represent some of the very best West German poetry produced in the fifties and sixties, shares few common characteristics with the Beats' output. On the other hand the very title of Wondratschek's collection of poems from the seventies betrays his "torn" American-German identity. It is called Chuck's Zimmer. Not only does it contain some poems actually written in English, it also presents poems inspired by his travels in America, including the following one to which he gave an English title (1981, 204), referring as it does to a famous site in the States of California and Nevada;
The dead straight road went on and on.
I hummed the same tune over and over.
I felt the muck of a hundred cigarettes
on my tongue. I drove an old Chevy.
The wind whistled through old gaps in my teeth.
To the left and right desert,
the end of mankind
a Genesis without God,
stones, little hares and the sign
LAS VEGAS 78 MILES.
I was looking forward
One is instantly struck by the un-poetic, un-aesthetic texture of this prosaic hymn to the American West. It is a hymn sung most fervently by Kerouac, certainly in the age of highways and automobiles. It is also a landscape and an experience immortalized in dozens of road movies and documentary films. It has been relived by countless tourists. It is infinitely reproducible. The author knows this pre-history, plays with it, and gently parodies it ("an old Chevy"). It is nevertheless still defiantly personal, the "I" being reiterated four times in a twelve-line poem. German writers steeped in Beat art like Wondratschek have been encouraged by its unfettered and unembarrassed subjectivity and autobiographical authenticity. The personal subject matters, is part of the reality being evoked, and wants to draw the reader into that real individual's world. And what a subject he is! De-glamourized, de-intellectualized, and pretty kaput, like the old Chevy he is driving. The final word "losing" laconically reinforces t he subject's sense of self and of his existence in general. The starkness and infinity of Death Valley fail to inspire him to lyrically extol nature and its pantheistic qualities, rather, just when his imagination is turning towards metaphysical ruminations ("a Genesis without God") the muse is rudely cut short by the intrusion of metropolitan realities ("LAS VEGAS 78 MILES") writ large to emphasize their concreteness. The asphalt cowboy alias the lyric narrator is thankfully nearing the end of his pilgrimage to a mecca with decidely materialistic overtones, and one which promises worldly, though elusive pleasures ("I was looking forward to losing"). Las Vegas, the embodiment of global popular culture, is the very antithesis of that world of higher, more refined, and sublime pleasures and emotions one traditionally associates with "true" poetry. Such a myth was well and truly shattered by Williams and the Beats, and Wondratschek is following merrily and self-ironizingly in their tire-marks.
The Beats not only taught Wondratschek to look at their country in a particular way and also to record his feelings in an idiom which brought it closer to German vernacular than many of his German predecessors but also encouraged him to look at his countrymen in a detached, critical yet realistic way. For whilst it is certainly true that the Beats achieved a style of writing which broke free from European patterns and conventions, they did not deploy this style to then pen anthems to America but rather to excoriate certain elements of it whilst celebrating other aspects. In other words from "Howl" onwards their poetry, fiction, and essays have never shied away from embracing political topoi both on a small and a large scale. Let us move then from Death Valley back to Germany. "Deutschlandlied" is the official name of the German national anthem. Wondratschek has also entitled one of his poems "Deutschiandlied" (1981, 154-56), but its spirit is aggressively non-jingoistic and iconoclastic.
SONG OF GERMANY
"We just are the best in the world in certain things"-
I heard that over cocktails,
one person had read all of Nietzsche
Another is a Nazi only in private
Lovers of music, something German
like a love of pets and hatred of people
this industry in thinking, in killing-
every hungry dog that creeps across an empty street
would make life so much nicer
than your brand new Mercedes.
But the world successes of the West bore me.
A hundred little crooks appeal to me more
than this ensemble of butter and theory,
the subconscious half ajar
self painted water colours
a negro's prick from hell
the whole stirring atomic age.
A rundown cafe at the end of the world
has more to offer,
the objects have exchange value
something as primitive as light and air
reason comes home from the heads
into the bodies.
You can finger my balls,
you German tourists
you men of arrogance
I saw whole stretches of country become ugly
I saw you browbeating a foreign smile
and ruling the world
The German mind--welded together
from blood and soil
"we just are the best in the world in certain things"-
(edited by the author-translators)
Of course Germany has its own impressive tradition of political verse which evokes and comments on its nation's past and present. It stretches from Holderlin through Heine and Brecht to Enzensberger. Wondratschek will have been familiar with all these major figures, at least two of whom, Heine and Brecht, had to go into exile on account of their anti-nationalist stance. What characterizes this poem is what has been emanating from the USA since the mid-fifties. There is a passion driving it which is frequently concealed by his earlier fellow-writers beneath layers of irony and erudition. Wondratschek certainly wants us to think about his critique but wants us to feel and empathize with his anger and his estrangement. He discards modernist "alienation effects" taking us straight into the lion's den in the very opening line. Moreover, he vents his disillusionment with the directness we take for granted now in a post-Beat culture: "But the world successes of the West bore me"; "A rundown cafe at the end of the w orld / has more to offer"; "A hundred little crooks appeal more to me". Indeed, is not this last line an allusion to the Beats' strong sympathies for crooks like Huncke and others who flouted the laws of the land? And if there are such allusions to the Beats' moral code, are there not also citations of certain stylistic hallmarks? When the narrator exclaims "I saw whole stretches of country become ugly / I saw you browbeating a foreign smile" we are reminded of the opening of "Howl": "I saw the best minds of my generation etc.," especially since Wondratschek too is intoning a negative vision. The reference to a negro's prick" and the sarcastic exhortation "You can finger my balls" echo Ginsberg and others' sexual explicitness far more than any pre-1968 indigenous writing which had certainly treated and evoked the erotic but in a "tasteful" and almost self-censoring way. Plain vulgarities, sub-cultural vernaculars, everyday images, pedestrian street scenes imbue his "Song of Germany" with a very contemporary a nd demotic realism.
Considerable space has been given so far to the critical thoughts of Wolf Wondratschek, as well as to two contrasting poems, and further attention will be paid to the Beat leanings of Jorg Fauser. This has been a conscious decision by the authors to broaden the base of what might be termed the "alternative canon" of contemporary German literature. Hitherto one name has been pinned to the mast of that "alternative canon" and with very good reason. The author in question is of course Rolf Dieter Brinkmann, and certainly in the second half of the sixties Brinkmann's desire to move not only his native literature but also his native culture into another gear and down another highway (Highway 68?!) was pursued with crusading zeal and gutsy determination. Britain and the United States were major catalysts for his evolving aesthetics (Waine, 1992), and his forewords to three anthologies written in the space of 18 months in 1968 and 1969 are significantly new milestones in the ongoing West German reception of the Bea ts which has already been briefly documented. However, the reception that took place in the late sixties was not only quantitatively different but also qualitatively so. The earlier Hollerer-led appreciation was part of a post-war "Nachholbedarf" (need to catch up). This is symbolized in the anthology edited by Enzensberger in 1960 entitled Museum der modernen Poesie (Museum of Modern Poetry). Whilst Hollerer and Enzensberger quickly established trans-atlantic friendships with the new American writers, the cultural climate of the Federal Republic, even in the early sixties, was still rather conservative and conformist, with bohemianism expressed through adherence to existentialist credos and private forms of social dissent. Furthermore, the generation preceding the arrival of Wondratschek, Fauser, and Brinkmann was, spiritually, deeply affected by the knowledge of their nation's sinful past. Consequently they confronted their responsibility both to help atone for these sins and to prevent fascism from ever ag ain being cultivated in the German soil.  Wondratschek's "Song of Germany" demonstrates how even the following generation of post-war writers, though so much more Dionysian and trans-atlantic in their outlook, is still haunted by this legacy.
Germany's recent political history was not the only troubling inheritance German writers faced. There was also the entrenched notion of the poet's lifestyle and social function. The preconceived image was that of a rather remote figure, inhabiting a world of "Geist" (spirituality wedded to intellect), romantically possessing gifts not found in the nether world of quotidian reality and commercial imperitives, and aspiring upwards to an ethereal sphere of "Kunst" (real art) and "Sein" (true being). The Beats gave Brinkmann new signposts. "The new American literature" he declaimed "like the whole new cultural scene in the USA begins in the present with contemporary material and does not have any set, internalized patterns to lose . . ." (1982, 224). Brinkmann set out to deconstruct such "set, internalized patterns," especially those surrounding the aforementioned notion of the writer. In his introduction to the poetry of Frank O'Hara, a poet who, incidentally, had been popularized in Germany as part of the Beat Generation, Brinkmann informs his German readers:
The professional title of "poet" possesses hardly any further attractiveness for the new American writers since the arrival of the Beat authors as the social conditioning expressed by that word has been more or less consciously seen through by the individual authors. The literary products seem to arise alongside other matters, seem to have come about coincidentally--the fact that one has done them is important, writing is conceived as doing. (Brinkmann 1982, 218-19)
Four further legacies were bequeathed directly or indirectly by the Beats to this young German cultural urban guerilla. They were, firstly, the belief that images or pictures were as influential as words for the contemporary author; secondly, the need to place the sensual (be it tactile, erotic, optical, artificial or natural) above the academic (or "academicized" as he liked to pejoritively term it) and rational; thirdly, to savour popular culture and utilize its materials, styles and rhythms in a poetry which expresses the core psychological-biochemical mind as opposed to its cultivated parts; and, finally, not unrelated to the first three, the legitimate use of mind-altering and expanding drugs to seek a new awareness of temporal and spacial being and movement.
In the essay "Der Film in Worten," from which some of the above quotations are taken and whose title was directly inspired by Kerouac, Brinkmann takes his countryman Enzensberger to task for having taken some words uttered by Kerouac out of context and for accusing the latter of being close to fascist thought.  His defence of Kerouac revolves around the dichotomy of intellect versus sensuality:
Enzensberger's rejection of Kerouac's statement can be regarded as symptomatic of the well-known lack of sensuality in the thinking of Western intellectuals who today quite rightly see themselves as being excluded from a movement which demands an increased sensuality which has digested thinking and reflexivity in a quite natural way. Indeed I cannot understand why a thought should not have the attractiveness of the tits of a nineteen year old which one enjoys fondling. (Brinkmann 1982, 227)
This last sentence, printed in 1969, was considered shocking especially coming from a person purporting to be a serious writer. But Brinkmann was bringing into German literary discourse a new tone, and in his championing of sensuality, a new texture and mood in keeping with the era of post-modernity dawning in Western Europe.  This era was to be partially characterized according to another of Brinkmann's North American mentors, Leslie Fiedler, by the bridging of the gap between high and popular culture, and Brinkmann certainly sensed amongst the Beats a non-discriminatory attitude towards this realm, indeed a readiness to participate in and derive pleasure from it. Finally, when in the knowingly named anthology ACID Brinkmann writes, "At the same time William Burroughs 'the one at the mixing machine, boys, that's me' showed the direction 'Breakthrough in the Grey Room,' by which he meant the brain, a grey room constricted by regulations and paralysed as a taboo" (1982, 229), we infer that part of this brea kthrough is to be effected by drugs which allow one to overcome the regulations and to unlock the taboos (Kramer 1995, 156).
Though in the course of the next five years, 1970-1975, Brinkmann was to revise certain ideas and modify some of his attitudes, his prose and his poetry still showed him adapting for his own work the materials he had so assiduously researched and collected during the previous decade. His last published volume of poetry, Westwarts 1&2 (1975), contains examples of verse which marry the two traditons, German and American, in a manner unsurpassed subsequently by German poets. He did for German cities like Cologne what Frank O'Hara had done for New York, and which Gregory Corso summed up in a beautiful line of a poem which he had written as a retrospective on the Beat Generation and their subsequent personal developments. He spoke of "a subterranean poesy of the streets" (Honan 1987, 34). Here is Brinkmann's own attempt to do the same:
HEARING ONE OF THOSE CLASSIC
black tangos in Cologne at the end of
August, where the summer's already
turned to dust, shortly after shops
shut, coming out of the open door of a
pub which is owned by a Greek, is almost
a miracle: for a moment a
surprise, to pause for a moment,
respite for a moment in this street
which nobody loves and which makes you
breathless while walking through it. I
wrote everything down before
this moment evaporated
in the cursed hazy
paralysis of Cologne.
Brinkmann's muse for this poem (1975, 25) is unashamedly metropolitan. He, the poet, is responding viscerally as well as verbally to a few moments of unadultered street culture. And although this piece of music is exotically foreign (originating as sensual South American dance music with African rhythms), it is nevertheless well-known (a "classic"). The street is a well-trodden one too and one presumes in the very heart of the city. The music is not live but recorded, one of those pieces played often and in many public places. It is indeed coming from a pub, probably one which the poet frequented himself as he knows its owner, a Greek. Brinkmann therefore takes great care to stress that he has not experienced some unique vision of artistic beauty but something banal, familiar, almost mechanically reproducible. Yet it is so profoundly and sensuously moving that it stops him in his tracks and compels him to capture in quite plain diction, striking an almost colloquial tone, simultaneously the uniqueness and th e ephemerality of the metropolitan experience. The uniqueness and the ephemerality are captured in the word "moment," used four times no less. The almost obsessive concern with the miraculous moment and his decision, recorded in the poem itself, to commit it instantly to paper, produce in the reader a strong sensation of spontaneity. This spontaneity is conveyed syntactically to the reader as both s/he and the narrator participate from the opening image of the title down to the first and only full stop in the suddeness, strength, and elementariness of the process of hearing and responding. Counterpointed with this moment of magic, and yet strangely interwoven with it, is the city of Cologne, as we are told twice, at the beginning and the end. It would seem to be a barren landscape, having "turned to dust," with streets "which nobody loves" and "which make you breathless" and which, for good measure, is inanimated by a "cursed hazy paralysis." The poet's malaise about the city is frankly articulated. Yet, para doxically, he is able to turn this malaise into a statement about the real possibility of transcending the condition and experiencing perhaps even a beatific state: "is almost a miracle."
In a foreword, written in 1969, for the anthology of American poetry, Silverscreen, Rolf Dieter Brinkmann spells out his own poetic philosophy at that time, which would result in little masterpieces such as "Hearing One of Those Classic." He celebrates a refreshing, new sensibility to be found in these American poems, "that first and foremost they are just there" (1982, 248). They are unaffected expressions of existence which do not pretend to transcend the parameters of the text; they immortalize instances of wonder at the immediate or present (they meet the reader "there"), moments of epiphany. Moreover, the poet notes approvingly that his American counterparts are not writing in order to further the concept of "literature," they feel no compulsion to tackle any of the grand narratives, their efforts are instead channeled into realizing themselves. His compendium, Standphotos (1980), furnishes early examples of this evolving (post)modern aesthetic.
The valedictory poem of this compendium, "Wolken" (Clouds; 1980, 361) illustrates Brinkmann's retreat from "the imperious gesture of knowing-it-all, of instruction" (1982, 249) which had become a standard trait of the poetic figure. From the title one may surmise that Brinkmann is dealing with nature, even a metaphysical, discursive theme. However, the opening lines place him firmly on the ground refuting any omniscience or indeed any wish for such omniscience, "A few clouds more or less up there / I don't mind.... I can't grasp the whole picture." At the same time he is empowered, in that his subjective agency is the driving force of the poem, his aesthetic judgement determines what is assimilated, "A few words....A few which I like." Through this he registers a delight at his own creativity so that at times one is left to wonder whether he is making an observation or writing a running critique of the poem itself. On picking up a tissue in his room he notes, "That is a beautiful contrast to the blue / betwe en the clouds." The poem is furthermore infused with spontaneity in this way since Brinkmann shares with the reader the trivial, everyday dilemma of whether to finish reading yesterday's paper, and makes him /her participate not just in the unfolding of this snatch of experience but in the production of the poem. Insights are to be gained in the personal rather than universal sense, "When I've got [less than][less than]high[greater than][greater than] enough, these things become clearer," writes Brinkmann. The "high" here is marked off as it denotes not the lofty overview one might associate with poets and clouds alike but quite the opposite, a heightened, drug-enhanced sentient perception of minutiae in Brinkmann's immediate, domestic environment: the tissue on his floor, for example. This holds no secondary, metaphorical meaning; it is merely a tangible item which holds a meaning for Brinkmann as it contains something of his life, "A Tempo tissue, in which you are." As if to reiterate this he then uses it t o blow his nose. By the end of the poem all barriers between his surrounding reality and the poem have been erased, as he looks to the clouds and notes, "They are the same which are in the word clouds, on this piece of paper, in my room, inside of me, blue."
For some critics the poet was highly influential in awakening German literature and culture to the excitement of surface detail. As Hermann Peter Piwitt puts it, "He taught us to see" (Geduldig and Sagurna 1994, 169). He had the ability to reproduce a familiar scene with the astonishment of one registering it for the first time. The simple picture he reproduces in the poem of the same name ("Einfaches Bild") is the seductiveness and sensuality of a passing girl in black stockings as registered by the spectator, the male gaze. It is not multiple imagery but minimalism which captures this captivating scene. The girl's appearance is not elaborated beyond her ladderless stockings and so strikes one more as the product of synchronic observation than subsequent deliberation. The circular structure mirrors Brinkmann's gaze as it pans 180 degrees, while this fixation is consolidated by the attachment of the adjective "schon" (beautiful) to both her approach and departure; her sexiness is located in her movement. Iro nically, this symmetrical, highly visual poem has no core; its central lines seem to lose sight of the girl, "Her shadow / on the street / her shadow / on / the wall" betraying the fleetingness of such a sight. Still, the girl remains tantalizing until the last; her stockings have no ladders, Brinkmann unclear as to whether this perfection continues or trails out under the skirt.
Finally, we shall consider the reception of American culture in general and the Beat generation in particular as evidenced in the writings of Jorg Fauser. In a short, selective biographical essay on Jack Kerouac, Fauser recalls the first time he read On the Road as a late teenager in the early 60s. The book's impact was, not surprisingly, physical rather than intellectual, "like a dig in the ribs, a casual clicking with the tongue; pure jazz: Go, man, go!" (1985, 61). It prodded and lured Fauser like a cool, vitalizing, immediately familiar stranger from the stewing, ruminating humanism, terminal "Vernunft" (common sense) and phlegmatic conservatism which had grown out of the war's rubble. His generation, the "children of the war rubble," had known nothing else but this steady adherence to an equally steady "reconstruction," the ubiquitous insipidity and a country dominated (indeed governed) by grey-haired old men; tedium festering in "eternal Sunday afternoons with the mowing of lawns" (1985, 61). Initially then, Fauser received "Beat" as in the interpretation, "beatific" which he, in turn, translates as "Gluckselig, zerrissen, berauscht" (blissful, torn, intoxicated). By breaking down this first adjective one is left with the instructive noun "Gluck." Alternatively translated as "happiness" or "luck," there is (because of the relatively transparent nature of the German language) always cross-field resonance: that is to say, the two meanings are never entirely separable. Certainly in Fauser's understanding of "happiness," luck, chance, risk, and contingency play an important role. "Gluck" is not a state (unlike a cognate such as "Zufriedenheit," literally "being at peace") but ingrained in the process of ruddering one's fate in serendipity and discovery, instead of bowing down to grand narratives such as history and progress. In other words, "Gluck" expresses no sense of an earned happiness or spiritual fulfilment; it is happiness where one can get it. Notably, "Gluck" forms a central theme in Fauser's serious thriller Der Schneemann (1983) and finds its way into his 1979 collection of poetry Trotzki, Goethe und das Gluck. In both it emits a sense of hedonism which had previously been denied by a remorseful cultural dominant. Meanwhile, to be "zerrissen" is to rupture the idea of "re-construction," to embrace the irrational, to skirt even on the edge of "madness." This is closely linked to the third adjective listed by Fauser, "berauscht." To be Beat was to be intoxicated not only by the exhiliration or "Rausch" (rush) of perpetual motion but also by the intake of "Rauschmittel" (drugs) which pushed the writer to the extremes of experience.
And Fauser definitely did push his frame to these extremes. His thinly veiled persona, Harry Gelb, in the autobiographical novel-cum-documentary Rohstoff (1984) even manages to flabbergast the scarcely calvinist William S. Burroughs by his reckless indulgence. On learning that Gelb has taken raw, untreated opium intravenously, Burroughs tells him, "You must have been completely mad." As revealed by the same passage, it was Burroughs who introduced Fauser to Apomorphine and recommended that he spend some time in the notorious Junkies' Colony in Istanbul in order to beat his addiction. If Fauser's awareness of the possibilities of literature owes a great deal to Kerouac, he has Burroughs to thank for averting an even more premature death.
While this life of excess, as promoted by the Beats, is poles apart from conventional, settled ways of life, it shares according to Clive Bush (Lee 1996, 131-32) the same "psychological goal," namely exhaustion. Nonetheless, unlike the former who press themselves into a ready-made rut of "homogeneous repetition," that is, convince themselves of the scarcity of possibilities, of the exhaustion of alternatives and desire that nothing will happen, the Beats set out to exhaust as much of the apparently infinite available experience as they can. A peculiar and paradoxical mixture of appetite and exhaustion threads its way through Fauser's poetry. On the one hand, he is beset at times by a pathological fear of missing out, as crystallized by a text such as "Alt genug" (Old enough; Fauser 1979, 58) where he tells his female bedfellow, "I would very much like to take you in my arms / but world is world / and roars by." Perpetual motion through experience is the only antidote to an inherent feeling of insuffiency and inadequacy. If one skims over the titles included in Trotzki, Goethe und das Gluck (1979), this hungry motion appears to be echoed in a cosmopolitan welter of place-names and addresses such as "Tanger Sutra" (Tangiers Sutra), "Nevada," "Back in the USSR," "Bar Brazil" and "Paris, im Vorubergehen" (Paris, in Passing). Yet these belie a frequent and pronounced sense of stagnation and deja vu in his work, a waning belief in unique experience per se. Even in the exotic, far eastern setting of "Eine Art Abschied" (A Kind of Departure), Fauser understands himself to be just another conduit-like sensor for this particular experience, "Later the taste of cold sheets / and smell of a flat / which tomorrow is left." His location in time and space is blurred and blunted in contrast to the pinprick present of Brinkmann's work which strips away all other times and places to leave senses of epiphany. If Brinkmann imagines himself to be a pioneer, Fauser writes as a shadow engaged in second-hand consumption and never leave s the reader in any doubt that theirs is third-hand.
One explanation for this difference could be attributed to their respective relationships to drugs and the function these drugs serve in their poetry. While Brinkmann experimented with mind-altering chemicals, Fauser was, it should be remembered, a heroin addict. As such the former had a much tighter control on the effects of his drugs since they only extended and intensified his perception, while Fauser's encroached upon his body, nervous system, and emotional faculties. One's impression is that Brinkmann's poetry is written from within the state of mental stimulation, of the "high" induced by LSD and so on, whereas Fauser pens his work while in some state of withdrawal or come-down. As a result Fauser registers little of the romance and wonder in the present as does Brinkmann and displays none of the emotional intensity found in Kerouac's On the Road, for example. While a number of his poems read like a physical stream of consciousness, Fauser tends to rationalize emotion, perhaps in order to regain the co ntrol surrendered while intoxicated on heroin. Certainly in a poem such as "Vor der Tagesschau" (Before the Daily News; Fauser 1979, 9) the onus seems to be on the poet holding himself together both psychologically and emotionally; the repetition, cluttering of concrete nouns, and vertical imagery betraying an almost paranoid need to delineate order.
Bound up with Fauser's preference for the primitive and physiological is a rejection of the political posturing, sloganizing, and foisting of empty ideals in the 1960s. He trusted rather his thirst, libido, addictions; these become the only things worth believing in and following. Again, this precipitates a kind of exhaustion which brings to mind Walter Hollerer's interpretations of "Beat" back in 1959 where the writer is "worn-out by a supply of propagandistic arguments and contradictory educational slogans" (1959, 30). That the mottos being bandied around Germany in the 60s tended to deny and exclude the everyday wants and concerns of the individual was inevitably redressed by a trend emerging in the early 70s, labelled "New Subjectivity." This encompassed a brand of poetry which, in terms of form and language, bordered on rhythmatic prose and, in terms of subject matter, tended as little toward the esoteric as pop music, homing in on quotidien activities of the poet, trips to the cinema or pub, highly sub jective accounts of travel, friendships and relationships. As noted by Manfred Durzak the birth of this reassertion of a particular side of self can be traced to the dissolution of the Student Movement (1981, 81).
If the poem, "Trotzki, Goethe und das Gliick" is to be believed, Fauser's disengagement and scepticism pre-date this dissolution. Contrary to the promise of the title, Fauser does not deliver any lofty, academic treatise but recounts one episode or sub-text from his love life spent in a commune full of Trotzkyists. "No sooner had I come off the needle, / I lumbered into the next trap :the revolution," he starts the poem, implying, one might think, that he immersed himself in political activity with the same voracity he had expended on his heroin addiction. In truth, this "revolution" denotes instead the turning of the poet's head by a beautiful young Parisian, who merely happens to be a Trotzkyist, "The revolution was called Louise / had incredibly slim hips, / flashing eyes, fluttering black / hair, came from Paris and was a Trotzkyist." Although outwardly converted to her politics, his participation in the Trotzkyist demonstrations is begrudging and tactical, "I palavered / when palaver was called-for / wa ved flags when flags were called-for." Ironically, his one act of rebellion is to flout the doctrine of "of the Great Chairman" (i.e., Trotzki) himself by indulging in a decadent breakfast, which interestingly appears to go unchecked by his "comrades." It is only when he verbally challenges the point of their activities and dares to suggest that contentment may lie in more personal interaction that Louise snaps indignantly, "And Trotzki? / And the comrades in prison? / Your bourgeois happiness, pah! Beer / and poems while the revolution is being organized." It would seem that to bad-mouth Trotzkyism is more heinous a crime than to act in a manner which clearly contravenes its basic principles. Fauser's cynicism toward this political hot-air is ultimately vindicated as years later he bumps into a girl who still has contact with Louise. On hearing she has returned to Paris, Fauser asks whether she is working in the "Zentralkomitee." This notion is promptly dispelled by the girl who tells him that she has marrie d a Goethe researcher; hardly the epitome of anti-bourgeois values. Elsewhere in Fauser's novels as well as his poetry, his interest lies in and his kinship lies with the utterly disaffiliated of society; the outsiders, the losers, the ignorant, and the indifferent.
Fauser's poem, "Dichter in New York" (Poet[s] in New York; Fauser 1985, 21) incorporates different facets or nuances of Beat. It is a diary-like account of one evening the poet spends before, during, and after a reading by Charles Bukowski at St. Mark's Church, the Bowery, in the summer of 1976. The title leads one initially to wonder whether Fauser is referring to an individual subject, ("Der Dichter," either himself or Bukowski) or to a more generalized plural, to the spirit or essence of poets in New York. In the course of the text, it becomes clear that Fauser is at once spinning his own unapologetically autobiographical story while confessing his interchangeability with the implied packs of writers in transit around the city. This is a poem about lifestyle, or rather, about how poetry and lifestyle have become entwined in this de-academized milieu. Throughout the poem runs a duality of exhaustion and fluidity. As one joins the narrative, Fauser impresses upon the reader the dense, stifling heat and humi dity clogging the city's air, "As if you were running in an Iron Lung through long corridors / and then the power runs out." This is a heaviness carried through the sensual environment with "dark beer," "sweat," "smoke," a woman's "greasy envelope," and steam from the sewers that stands like "flags of smoke" and which is also consolidated by recurrent impressions of satiety. When Fauser first meets his friends, they are already "pretty much sloshed," or literally, "filled-up"; his friend Jack has developed a prominent beer-belly, the venue of the reading is already at bursting-point when they arrive.
Nevertheless the poem is driven by a dynamism which refuses to surrender to this sense of fatigue; the literal "electricity" may have packed up, but the characters can draw on a stored current of energy. Indeed, just as the cream which Jack has regularly to rub into his haemorrhoids could be read as another cause for exasperation, it acts, amusingly, as a kind of metaphor for the lubricated style and movement of characters within the account. Fauser may not engage in Kerouac's "spontaneous, get-with-it, unrepressed word-slinging," the poem being more a product of meticulously naturalistic and narrated detail, but he taps into the "motor activity" of this Beat's work through a preference for dialogue and an anecdotal/conversational tone overall. And while the poem's rhythm may not exude the "bop prosody" found in Kerouac but seems rather to be entrenched in a tired groove dragging the poet on, the text is peppered with instances of slick wit. For example, one lady's attempts to chat up Jack are hampered by hi s obligatory visits to the toilet every fifteen minutes to treat his haemorrhoids, so that "she couldn't really get hold of him," neither figuratively nor literally is the implication.
In fact, not only do characters slip in and out of the narrative, where their paths do intersect, they are shown to operate at crossed purposes. The lady from Philedelphia tells one of the men, "You look like Bob Dylan at 80," intending it as a compliment but inducing merely disgruntlement. Fauser likewise registers this lack of meaningful exchange at the reading itself; "he could have peed on them or fallen down dead, they would have giggled and applauded" so that behind their boisterous reaction lies a kind of apathy; they have come to react in this way regardless of the content of Bukowski's set. Their applause is shown to be all the more insincere when set against Fauser and his friends' beat state. Futhermore, the poem contains no hermeneutic code; Bukowski's reading may be the pivotal event but is not built up to as a climax but slots into the rhythm of the rest of the text. Bukowski has no inflated sense of importance, being neither intoxicated by his own words nor fooled by the audience's response, a nd leaves discreetly. Fauser, although he has great respect for Bukowski, does not dwell on the content of the American's performance but seems more interested in the audience and atmosphere of the spectacle. Indeed, despite its insistent dynamic, the poem remains uneventful. The result is a searching transience. As Jack comments "On this road a load of people have died," he is not occupied by any feelings of tragedy but takes the fact as a promise of incident, "He stared out. Perhaps someone was dying right now." Fauser ends the text by drawing an analogy between poetry and sleep, "afterwards everyone complains they didn't get enough," amalgamating the notions of creation, exhaustion, and hunger/thirst.
Jorg Fauser's poem about "Poets in New York," which includes himself as German participant and observer, and written in 1976, is an appropriate conclusion to our analysis of this episode of German-American discourse. Americans have long since ceased to be "petty minded people who turn the heavens' stomachs. Dead to all things intellectual, as dead as a doornail" to requote Lenau's indictment of 1832. Fauser, Brinkmann, and Wondratschek have imbibed America, both third-hand via its myriad post-war German copies and imitations, second-hand via its literatures, and first-hand via actual "study visits" to its shores and to its cultural meccas, be they Las Vegas or St. Mark's Church, The Bowery. In general terms too Germans' concept of culture has broadened irreversibly since the end of the war, and this broadening, this opening out and indeed this democratizing of "Kultur" has made them less bigoted, less elitist, and less eurocentric than when Lenau uttered his opinion, symbolically in the year of Goethe's deat h and therefore at the high point of German Classicism.A modern, if not postmodern pluralism has been visible since the late sixties in West Germany, and the consensus, real or imagined, as represented by Gruppe 47, has long since splintered. The Beats stand for one component of "otherness" which has helped to subvert the German cultural status quo, a status quo built upon the principles relentlessly deconstructed by Brinkmann, Fauser, and Wondratschek: theory logicality; academic objectivity; party political engagement, personal and collective responsibility, moral leadership, ironic detachment. The otherness of the Beats was defined pithily by Wondratschek as their being "wicked, addicted, free," whilst Fauser saw them as being "blissful, torn, intoxicated." In short the Beats helped a new generation of West German writers, born between 1940 and 1950, and who discovered and devoured the Beats between 1960 and 1970, to set out more confidently on the road of self-discovery, self-liberation, and self-awarenes s.
Ironically, and tragically, Rolf Dieter Brinkmann was to die, aged 35, in April 1975 on the road in the heart of London, run over by a car as he and a friend were crossing over to one of Brinkmann's favourite London pubs, The Shakespeare. Jorg Fauser too died on the road, the night he was celebrating his 43rd birthday in June 1987 with friends in Munich, after mysteriously wandering on to an autobahn outside the city where he was knocked down by a lorry and killed instantly.
Waine is a Professor in the Department of European Languages and Cultures at Lancaster University. England and author of two books on Martin Wallser. Woolley is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Germanic Studies at the University of Sheffield, England.
(1.) This and all subsequent translations are those of the joint authors.
(2.) The four collections of seventies poetry which make up Chuck's Zimmer have sold over 125,000 copies. How quintessentially American the Christian name is, whilst even the apostrophe is an anglicization.
(3.) Many modern German writers have written novels, stories, essays, and plays about the father, and have helped to spawn an entire sub-genre of so-called "father-literature."
(4.) Gruppe 47 has attracted considerable scholarly attention and consequently there are numerous articles and books devoted to the topic. For documentary information see Lettau (1967). For a literary and sociological analysis see Arnold (1980).
(5.) In 1962, 15 years after the first meeting of Group 47, Hans Werner Richter stated that the founding fathers:
once and for all wanted to prevent a repetition of what had happened and to by the foundations for a new, democratic Germany, for a better future and for a new literature, which is conscious of its responsibility towards social and political developments as well. They believed that the world of German writing and publishing could not exonerate itself from what had happened. (Richter 1962, 8)
(6.)Brinkmann was not the only German to object to Enzensberger's defamatory remarks contained in his essay "Aporien der Avantgarde" (1962, 50-80). See, for example, Hartung (1971).
(7.)The case for viewing Brinkmann as a postmodernist is well made by Gemunden (1995).
Arnold, Heinz Ludwig, ed. 1980. Die Gruppe 47: Ein kritischer GrundriB. Sonderband Text + Kritik. Munich: edition text + kritik.
Brinkmann, Rolf Dieter, ed. 1969. Silverscreen. Nene Amerikanische Lyrik. Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch Verlag.
___. 1975. Westwarts 1&2. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt.
___. 1980. Standfotos 1962-1970. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt.
___. 1982. Der Film in Worten. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt.
Corso, Gregory 1958. "Dichter und Gesellschaft in Amerika." Akzente: 101-12.
Durzac, Manfred. 1981. "Neue Subjektivitat. Zur Literatur der siebziger Jahre in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland." In Deutsche Gegenwartsliteratur: Ausgangspositionen und aktuelle Entwicklungen, ed. M. Durzac. Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam jun.
Enzensberger, Hans Magnus. 1960. Museum der Modernen Poesie. Frankfort a Main: Suhrkamp.
___. 1962. Einzelheiten II: Poesie und Politik. Frankfurt a. Main: Suhrkamp.
Fauser, Jorg. 1979. Trotzki, Goethe und das Gluck. Munich: Rogner & Bernhard.
___. 1983. Der Schneemann. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohit.
___. 1984. Rohstoff. Frankfurt a. Main. Berlin. Vienna: Verlag Ullstein.
___. 1985. Strand der Stadte. Basel: Nachtmaschine.
Geduldig, Gunter, and Sagurna, Marco, ed. 1994. Too much: das lange Leben des Rolf Dieter Brinkmanns. Aachen: Alano-Verlag.
Gemunden, Gerd. 1995. "The Depth of the Surface, or, What Rolf Dieter Brinkmann Learned from Andy Warhol." German Quarterly 68 (Summer): 235-50.
Hartung, Harald. 1971. "Pop als 'postmoderne' Literatur: Die deutsche Szene: Brinkmann und andere." Neue Rundschau 82: 723-42.
Hollerer, Walter. 1959. "Junge amerikanische Literatur." Akzente: 29-43.
Honan, Park, ed. 1987. The Beats. An Anthology of "Beat" Writing. London. Melbourne: J.M. Dent & Sons.
Jordan, Lothar. 1994. Europaische und nordamerikanische Gegenwartslyrik im deutschen Sprachraum 1920-1970; Studien zu ihrer Vermittlung und Wirkung. Tubingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag.
Kramer, Andreas. 1995. "Schnittpunkte in der Stille: Rolf Dieter Brinkmann und William S. Burroughs." In William S. Burroughs, ed. M. Bayer and A. Kramer. Eggingen: Edition Klaus Isele.
Lee, A. Robert, ed. 1996. The Beat Generation Writers. East Haven, CT: Pluto Press.
Lettau, Reinhard, ed. 1967. Die Gruppe 47: Bericht. Kritik. Polemik. Neuwied und Berlin: Luchterhand Verlag.
Richter, Hans Werner, ed. 1962. Almanach der Gruppe 47: 1947-1962. Reinbek bei Hamburgh: Rowohlt.
Waine, Anthony. 1992. "Fatal Attractions: Rolf Dieter Brinkmann and British Life and Culture." The Modern Language Review 87 (April): 376-92.
Wondratschek, Wolf. 1981. Chuck's Zimmer. Munich: Wilhelm Heyne Verlag.
___. 1987. Menschen. Orte. Fauste. Zurich: Diogenes.
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|Author:||Waine, Anthony; Woolley, Jonathan|
|Article Type:||Critical Essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2000|
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