Beyond the beats: an ethics of spontaneity in the poetry of Rolf Dieter Brinkmann.
"If I had a machine gun, I would shoot them down now" (1) (Spath 1989, 42). In his short life, the German poet Rolf Dieter Brinkmann (1940-75) was never in the habit of mincing his words. The vitriolic words above, directed at the literary critics Rudolf Hartung and Marcel Reich-Ranicki during a 1968 function organized by the Berlin Academy of the Arts, are typical of a man who both in his life and his writing refined to be inhibited by a proper or customary way of behaving. Even if it would be an exaggeration to claim that those present at the Berlin Academy could be grateful that no weapon was to hand, it would be fair to say that particularly in Brinkmann's later poems he does appear to spray words with all the tact of a machine gun. It is not difficult to imagine, for instance, how nonplussed West German critics must have been when they encountered a poem in the 1975 Westward 1&2 collection, in which they were asked to muse on the sight of Hitler and his mistress, Eva Braun, performing oral sex on one another. Certainly, it would never have occurred to them that such spontaneity, such an apparently reckless treatment of serious subject matter, could be part of an ethical project. However, this is precisely what I will be arguing in this article. For Brinkmann (or rather, his implied author), ethics meant much more than etiquette. In fact, it meant freeing himself and the reader from the demands of etiquette, by means of spontaneity, even if this spontaneity was not always as violently controversial as in the example cited above.
Spontaneity was perhaps the keyword in the Beats' aesthetic philosophy. It expressed a will to dissociate themselves from a European literary tradition they found tiresome, and to reject the assents and conformities of post-war American society. Kerouac was especially insistent on the importance of spontaneity and even suggested that spontaneous writing was the only ethically valid kind:
If you don't stick to what you first thought, and to the words the thought brought, what's the sense of bothering with it anyway, what's the sense of foisting your little lies on others? What I find really "stupefying in its unreadability" is this laborious and dreary lying called craft and revision. (Kerouac 1959a, 72)
This mode of writing, apparently only committed to unadulterated honesty, had an undeniable influence on a generation of young German authors equally eager to break away from the European literary tradition, as well as from the assents and conformities of their own society. The writing of Kerouac and other Beats opened their eyes to the possibility of a literature quite unlike anything Germany had to offer. (2) What I wish to examine in this article, however, is not the direct influence of the Beats on Brinkmann, but how he adapted spontaneity as an ethical principle in his own writing. Thus I will look at the German poet as one reverberation of Beat writing, thereby exploring the relationship of spontaneity and craft or premeditation referred to by Kerouac.
In my first section, I will consider whether this relationship need be as antagonistic as Kerouac suggests. Are there not many contexts in which spontaneity and predetermination can be fruitfully combined? Does not the act of writing always require a degree of craft, even if an author claims to be committed only to spontaneity as Kerouac does? In what ways can a text be spontaneous? Having dealt with the problematic nature of spontaneity in relation to literature, I will turn in my second section to the term "ethics" Here I will make it clear that my conception of ethics departs from the conventional understanding of the term. While ethics has usually been viewed as the adherence to predetermined values, I will use the term to denote rather an openness that serves to question precisely those values. By the end of this second section it should be clear how spontaneity can also be ethical.
In order to explain why spontaneity is of such importance in Brinkmann's texts, I will then look at the historical context in which they were written. Post-war German literature had largely been concerned with disseminating the kind of moral values that had been lacking in the Third Reich. Many writers of Brinkmann's generation began to see this morality as part of an overly rigid system that was stifling the individual's spontaneity. When I move on to Brinkmann's texts specifically, I will set out some of the ways his implied author perceives this system to be eliminating spontaneity. Then I will consider the various strategies he (3) deploys to hold open the possibility of spontaneity. In a few "closed" poems, spontaneity is clearly demonstrated to be an admirable capacity in a conventional fashion. However, most of the strategies involve the deployment of a narrator that writes in a way which is not clearly ethical. While reading Westward 1&2 I have encountered a narrator that is submissive, reckless, uninterested in showing how the fragments of his speech are connected, or that restricts himself to recording what he sees or senses without attempting to evaluate it. I Hill provide examples for each of these types of narratorial spontaneity. In each case, I will illustrate how Brinkmann's implied author uses this spontaneity to an ethical end.
Ethics as Craft
As mentioned above, Kerouac believes craft and revision on the one hand, and spontaneity on the other, to be mutually exclusive. It would be fair to say that ethics has also usually been viewed as incompatible with spuntaneity. Ethics, by conventional definitions, denotes a right and a wrong way to live, while spontaneity refers to a mode of behavior unfettered by precisely such judgements. J. Hillis Miller writes that for a text to be ethical, it must contain an imperative, "some 'I must' or Ich kann nicht anders. I must do this" (1987, 4). This would seem to leave texts which are spontaneously produced (with the writer working independent of, or at least trying to flee himself from, any apparent compulsion) or designed to enable a spontaneous reading (with the reader not being bound to any one path through the text) as the epitome of the unethical. Even if we consider Aristotle's relatively neutral definition that "[ethos] is that which reveals choices, shows what sort of a thing a man chooses or avoids, in circumstances where the choice is not obvious" (1995, 29), spontaneity still appears to be at odds with ethics at a fundamental level. After all, while we can always read what an author has chosen, if he is writing spontaneously he Hill not be concerned with enlightening us as to why he has chosen to include something, just as he will feel no need to justify the inclusion to himself.
In relation to literature, ethics has as a rule been regarded as resulting from something crafted. This craft has involved producing an implied author that presides over a text and is evaluative in some discernible and ultimately consistent way. That is not to say that the implied author's values are always immediately obvious, but that they can be extracted from the choices he makes in the text. In this article, I shall argue that Brinkmann's Westward poems do still contain an implied author--an implied author that is not spontaneous himself but uses his narrator's spontaneity and the implied reader's spontaneous capacity as an ethical weapon against stagnant, premeditated morals. Brinkmann's texts exhibit an implied author that sets out to expose the unethical nature of that which has conventionally been described as "ethics." It is therefore my ,'him that spontaneity need not be uncrafted or unethical.
The Problem of Spontaneity and the Inevitability of Craft
In this section I will show not only how spontaneity and craft can be mutually beneficial, but also how a degree of craft is inescapable even for a writer ostensibly committed to spontaneity. In the Chambers Dictionary, spontaneity is defined as, "of its one's own free will; acting by its own impulse or natural law; produced of itself; unpremeditated" (1993, 1421). The final definition here, "unpremeditated," confirms the opposition between craft and spontaneity asserted by Kerouac. But are there not instances where spontaneity succeeds within a predetermined framework or, conversely, where rehearsed material is spontaneously adapted to frameworks that were not anticipated? After all, an improvising comedian can draw on a stock of one-liners or tried-and-tested formulae even if the situation or character she is expected to enact is unforeseen. Even a stand-up comedian with a fully scripted performance could be said to be acting spontaneously if she arrives on stage at a hostile venue and has to make on-the-spot decisions about which impertinences to omit and which to risk. A heckler at the same venue may have turned up with a prepared gibe, but still chooses the moment to pipe up and so her heckle is still "spur of the moment" even if she had anticipated that such a moment would present itself. In fact, the heckler finds herself in a paradoxical position. For her gibe to sound spontaneous it must not sound timed or measured and yet for it to be successful (for it to pass as inspiration), it must be delivered at the right moment. As a final example we could consider the experienced scholar who over the years may have stored all the knowledge she needs to give a lecture in her specialist subject but sets out with no prior structure. Here extensive premeditation constitutes a prerequisite for spontaneity. In conclusion, ideas can "just come to us" from different levels: from the meeting of our receptive or creative minds with unexpected circumstances (the idea only arises in that moment, representing perhaps ideal spontaneity), from a pool of knowledge we did not foresee tapping, or from a pool we knew we would draw on. Finally, as in the case of the heckler, it could be that we knew precisely what we would say but left the timing to intuition. The above examples illustrate how spontaneity and predetermination or craft may be happily combined.
But craft is not merely potentially beneficial to the project of spontaneity; it is in some ways a necessity of writing. When applying the definitions of spontaneity listed at the top of this section to literature, we need to distinguish between author and reader. After all, what may have been the product of an author following his free will and abandoning premeditation, may not be received as such by the reader. Take the following passage from Kerouac's The Subterraneans in which Percepied (the narrator-character) comments on a line written by Yuri, who believes it to be one of his best: "'I would say rather it was great if you'd written it suddenly on the spur of the moment'--But I did--right out of my mind it flowed and I threw it down, it sounds like it's been planned but it wasn't, it was bang! just like you say, spontaneous vision!'" (1973, 209). While Percepied values the activity of writing spontaneously, irrespective of what text this activity leaves behind, there is no way of judging from that text how spontaneous the writer's activity actually was. To sound spontaneous may still require the same degree of selectivity as does the construction of a more deliberately meditative text. The quotation from Kerouac in my introcuction above exemplifies the incompatibility between the "100% personal honesty" (Charters 1995, 356) he as an author propagates as a productive principle and the impression of spontaneity he wishes to evoke. Even if Kerouac's writing is confessional (imparting personal details), to be perfectly honest he would have to find some way of hooking up a wire between his brain and the sheet of paper before him.
Of course, the author cannot disgorge the volatile contents of his brain in this way. He must always make a leap between impulse and language. So by the time the first word comes into his head the sensation may already have been distorted, simplified, or even displaced. As Wordsworth points out, "it is impossible for the Poet to produce upon all occasions language as exquisitely fitted for passion as the real passion itself suggests (1963, 257). Moreover, this distortion tends to be cumulative. As soon as the real author starts the process of committing sensations onto paper or the screen (and begins to think in language), he is subject to associations triggered by the preceding words he has chosen. Let us say an author writes, smell vague dried grass cuttings, remember attack of hay fever, playing infield, rapeseed. Because he is forced to describe the smell in language, the origin of this transient, light aroma may assume a greater prominence than it did in the initial impression. The world he set out to share with the reader has already changed by the act of setting out. He cannot be sure whether the memory of the hay fever is triggered by the smell or the words grass cuttings which he may have read, for example, in a "Things to Avoid" pamphlet at the doctor's surgery. As we shall see later, Brinkmann is well aware of the impediment to spontaneity that the unavoidable need to use language poses.
A similar problem is presented by the linear nature of texts. While the author is able to think and feel many things simultaneously, he is obliged to transcribe these thoughts and sensations in a particular order. So even if the author is not writing in a consciously censorious way, he presents his readership with an edited and hence constructed version of his mind or himself known as the implied author. Kerouac's "100% personal honesty," then, far from signaling the straight transfusion of his real experience into his works, indicates rather the absolute influence of one selective principle: he will only include lines if they contribute to the projection of an implied author acting on his own impulse. (4)
Having shown that craft is to some extent unavoidable in literature, I would now like to consider what is meant by spontaneous writing. In Roget's Thesaurus, the word "spontaneous" is listed under opposing rubrics. We find it both under involuntary, in the sense of "unassenting," and voluntary, in the sense of "unsolicited, uncalled for, self-imposed, supererogatory" (1987, 356-57). Does this not mean, paradoxically, that a spontaneous writer would have to be on his guard, on the one hand, in order to be sure he is not assenting to any heteronomous rules or norms, while, on the other hand, allowing his writing to gush out with abandon? If he were to write with abandon, it is quite possible that he would replicate such norms. In this case, the writer's spontaneity would not be obviously "unassenting" but would show the extent to which his mind had been encroached upon from without. However, there are contexts in which abandon can be understood as a kind of dissent. If I am employed to write a report on a soccer match, but get distracted by a real hot-air balloon overhead during a match, my spontaneity could be read as both involuntary, in that it goes against the template my editor has given me, and voluntary in that it gives him more information than he has probably asked for. We, as readers, have been trained to expect details in texts to be useful (to add to the meaning, symbolic or thematic code), so that when an author offers us "useless" ones he is simultaneously dissenting from our expectations and volunteering a surplus.
As is clear from the balloon example, spontaneity is not merely about the author offering us his internal inspiration. Equally important is the author's openness to that which he experiences. Kerouac believes that a spontaneous writer should be "submissive to everything, open, listening" (1959b, 57). So while the poet capable of spontaneous creation possesses, in Wordsworth's words, a "[superior] disposition to be affected more than other men by absent things as if they were present" (1963, 250), spontaneity also involves a readiness to be inspired by what is there. To return to the soccer match, I would be producing just as spontaneous a report if I allowed my writing to be swayed by events on the field as if I digressed into a story about an imaginary hot-air balloon. In my later analysis of some of the Westward 1&2 poems, I will illustrate how a submissiveness to what is there can simultaneously have a critical, unassenting quality.
Ethics versus Morals
Conventionally, when the ethics of narration is mentioned, the word "ethics" implies premeditation. An author writes ethically when he sets out with the conviction that there are certain important values which his readers need to assimilate or at least consider. In turn, he makes his stylistic choices with a view to conveying these values in the best possible way. Similarly, an ethical reading conventionally denotes the reader's eagerness to extract the edifying content from a text, or the values deposited there by the author. By contrast, Wayne C. Booth in The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction insists upon a broader and more neutral understanding of ethics. He draws on Aristotle, who defines ethics as "the entire range of effects on 'character' or 'person' or 'self'" (1988,8).
For Booth, this means that we have to be aware of different authorial levels within texts. I have already explained why the implied author needs to be distinguished from the real author. In addition, Booth stresses the importance of differentiating between the "narrator" and the "implied author." He defines the narrator as the "immediate teller" (1988, 125) who takes that which he narrates at face value and expects the narratee to do the same. In contrast, the implied author recognizes that the mode of narration is an "artificial construct" but "accepts responsibility for whatever values or norms it implies" (125). Whereas narrator and narratee cannot see beyond the narrated reality, the implied author and implied reader share complicit knowledge of the values underpinning the narrative which could be superimposed on the real world.
What interests Booth is not so much the ethical after-effect desired by the implied author (which he terms the "moral"), but what or who the implied author asks his reader to be while reading. It may be that for the duration of the text the reader is called upon to assume values which he would usually deem to be unethical or, indeed, which the implied author will eventually expose as undesirable. Nonetheless, the synchronous consideration of these values or this "friendship" forms an indispensable part of what Booth understands by ethics. We must temporarily attempt to emulate the implied reader before we can decide whether to accept or reject "the company we keep" as a friend. In this sense, his reading represents an ethics of spontaineity. Booth promotes a kind of submissiveness as a means of preventing us from being overly hasty in our conclusions regarding the values we believe the implied author has posited in his text, and from falling back too readily on our own pre-existing values.
Even if we read in this submissive way, though, it could be argued that in "closed" texts (that is, texts in which one reading is anticipated) there remains a barrier to our spontaneity. We are still responding to the workings of a text, whose structure is predetermined by the implied author. Whether we choose to accept or reject the synchronous company, the nature of that company has been drafted in advance. Here I need to draw a distinction between two ways an implied author can exhibit an ethics of spontaneity.
First, the implied author can show the narrator's spontaneity to be exemplary. This is the case in Brinkmann's poem "Hearing One of Those Classic," as we shall see. Here spontaneity is conveyed as an ethical capacity in the conventional way. It is made at once the visible subject and value of the poem. This means that if the implied reader understands that the poem is about spontaneity, he will be forced, simultaneously, to perceive this to be a desirable capacity that is under threat. Content, here, is synonymous with ethical content. While the implied reader is urged to see spontaneity as something positive, he is not permitted to be spontaneous in his reconstruction of such poems.
Second, the implied author can elicit the practice of spontaneity from his reading counterpart precisely by withholding such predetermined and visible values. In this sense, we may argue that a more radical ethics of spontaneity is to be found either in texts in which the structure is not predetermined (e.g., the multi-linear, open texts in Brinkmann's Westward 1&2) or in which the narrator's spontaneity is not clearly shown to be ethical (e.g., the "History" section of "A Few Very Popular Songs").
But in what sense can the practice of spontaneity be seen as ethical? One compelling argument can be extracted from Andrew Gibson's discussion of postmodern ethics, Postmodernity, Ethics and the Novel. Gibson cites the distinctions made between morality and ethics by Geoffrey Galt Harpham and Drucilla Cornell. Both are agreed that while morality is the determination of the proper way to conduct oneself, ethics is the dynamic and questioning activity which, far from bankrupting or invalidating morality, prevents it from petrifying and crumbling. As Corner puts it, "Ethics is the excess that cannot be known positively within any given system of morality, the aporia that limits any attempt to collapse the good into positive knowledge" (Gibson 1999, 16). Applying Cornell's definition to literature, I would argue that an implied author that allows the implied reader to behave spontaneously within his text does not give him carte blanche to impose whatever values he wants. Rather, he casts the implied reader as a tireless watchdog against corrupt morality; morality, that is, which is beyond dispute. Cornell herself goes on to connect postmodern ethics with "the full disruptive power of the imagination"--imagination not in the humanist sense of"deep comprehension" but instead as the ability to speculate, "a power to break up the given, to admit and elaborate the possible" (1999, 16).
It is possible to argue, then, that an ethical imperative is still to be found in open texts; an ethical imperative, admittedly, quite unlike the one encountered in conventionally ethical texts. In the open texts I will be looking at, Brinkmarm's implied author exhorts a practice, rather than principles from his implied readers. My distinction between open and closed texts is borrowed from Umberto Eco. Eco sees these two types of texts as implying contrasting kinds of reader. He writes that the authors of closed texts imagine an "average reader" and do not allow for the fact that their text is likely to be interpreted "against a background of codes different from those intended" (1979,8). By contrast, a diversity of possible interpretations is calculated into open texts. The author presupposes a reader "affected by ideal insomnia" (9) who is left--relatively unguided--to draw semantic affinities between disparate components. While a closed text may be susceptible "to countless different interpretations" these "do not impinge on its unadulterable specificity" (49). Open texts cease to be organic wholes. Despite the accommodation of the readers' own codes in open texts, Eco argues that these are, paradoxically, more didactic than closed texts. Whereas texts which only presuppose one reading are prone to "any aberrant decoding" (8), to progress in an open text we have to fulfil the implied role of insomniac. Later I will contrast the ethical imperative found in Brinkmann's most open poems with that encountered in his occasional, closed poems.
The Predominance of Moral Literature in Past-War Germany
It is not difficult to see why the spontaneity in Rolf Dieter Brinkmann's work was not immediately received as an ethical project in West Germany. Writing such as the "History" section of"A Few Very Popular Songs," in which the narrator flits seamlessly between personal, trivial questions directed at Eva Braun and the cold facts of the Third Reich and Second WorldWar, and in which the implied author allows him to do so, despite the serious subject matter and to no immediately obvious end, understandably invited critics such as Harald Weinrich to brand it "obscene" (1975). Here was an author emphatically refusing to see himself as "critic, preceptor and conscience" (Roberts 1989, xii) of the nation--the role which had become virtually obligatory for a serious writer in post-war West Germany.
After capitulation in 1945, Germany found itself in the so-called Stunde Null (zero hour). This phrase refers not only to the fact that some German cities had been razed to the ground, nor merely to the destitution faced by many Germans. It points to a cultural-political vacuum. For twelve years, Germany had been controlled by a state and party apparatus that had relentlessly propagated the dream of a thousand-year Reich, projected Hitler as an omnipotent "Fuhrer" and fomented hatred towards allegedly inferior races. Now that this apparatus had collapsed, the nation was left without direction and burdened with the question of guilt. Not surprisingly, this juncture is often regarded as the lowest point in German history. Nonetheless, Thomas Mann saw a positive side to this zero hour when he wrote, "It is, in spite of everything, a great hour: the return of Germany to humanity" (Schnell 1993, 68). Mann believed it meant a chance to rebuild the nation politically, culturally, and spiritually. The most prominent writers of the post-war period saw it as their duty to assist this return. They not only tackled the problem of how best to come to terms with the past (Vergangenheitsbewaltigung), but sought to lay down moral standards which would prevent such a past from ever re-emerging.
In the following decades, authors strove to find appropriate writing styles for performing this duty. Generally speaking the different approaches which emerged and predominated shared a common characteristic: writers took an established judgement as their point of departure and left little scope for the reader's subjectivity and spontaneity.
The hermetic poems that gained most plaudits in the 1950s, for example, could only be appreciated by the implied reader cracking their symbolic codes. By creating enigmatic implied authors, poets such as Paul Celan seemed to be responding to Adorno's famous dictum that it would be barbaric to write a poem after Auschwitz. These poets did not believe they were turning away from the atrocities of the Third Reich, but were convinced of the need to deal with that experience indirectly. By presenting a poetological shock or irritating language forms the implied authors in these poems forced their implied readers to make the effort of deciphering. This meant that they had to ruminate deeply to comprehend the poems, and prevented the atrocities from being titillating or easily accessible subject matter. Thus in hermetic poetry, the implied author's artistry, his construction of symbols and his highly deliberate burying of meaning is synonymous with his ethical achievement.
The main trend in West German writing in the 1960s was towards a more direct form of social criticism. Many writers began to doubt the effectiveness of hermetic poetry in enlightening readers about the reality around them. They felt that less opaque texts were needed to induce in readers a critical attitude towards society. The most important post-war West German literary institution, the Gruppe 47, had been attempting to encourage such an attitude, in the interests of democratic debate, since its first meeting two years after the war. To be sure, it would be wrong simply to equate this group with the social criticism that became prevalent in the 1960s. After all, a wide range of writers, including Paul Celan, were on its unofficial membership list. Nonetheless, it is in these socially committed works that the group's didactic objectives became most visible. The texts feature implied authors that magnify or distort what they perceive to be society's faults. The implied reader is persuaded to make a connection between these satirical representations and the society that surrounds him. The ethics he is expected to adopt consists in deploying his imagination, but only in the sense of "deep comprehension" rather than the "speculation and adumbration" (Gibson 1999, 10) Cornell links with postmodern ethics.
By the late 1960s, paralleling the formation of extraparliamentary opposition in response to the coalition in 1966 between West Germany's two major parties, literature was increasingly being politicized. Writers were expected to wear their political and ideological affinities on their sleeves and take a clear stand on issues as an antidote to the danger of compromise posed by such a coalition. Therefore the ethics of writing became intertwined with political purpose and the implied reader was given scant opportunity to let that purpose out of his sights. In post-war West German literature, then, ethics had tended to mean the antithesis of spontaneity.
Ethics Versus Morals in Brinkmann's Later Works
Brinkmann, by contrast, belonged to the next generation of German writers, born approximately between 1940 and 1950, who could never be gripped by the same sense of responsibility for processing the past or establishing moral standards. Many of Brinkmann's contemporaries believed that conventional criticism, be it social or political, did nothing to counter what they saw as the prevalent evil of their times; the erosion of the individual's sensual and imaginative capacity by a frictionlessly functioning rational system. In the course of the 1970s these writers, quickly classified under the banner of "New Subjectivity," strove to assert their own everyday needs, wishes, and problems in order to blast open "the smooth veneer of official life in West Germany" (Hamm 1976, 122). However, while most contented themselves either with radical negative subjectivity (i.e., by revealing the damage inflicted on their personal sphere by the system) or with recording small personal pleasures in spite of the system, none asserted the importance of retaining a capacity for spontaneity as forcefully as Brinkmann's later texts did.
In a departure from the preceding trends in West German literature, Brinkmann's texts feature an implied author that looks on premeditation as the enemy of ethics. One could say that he perceives how "proper" ways to behave (that is to say, "morality") have become so deeply ingrained and rigid in West German society and literature that they are uncontested by the very "excess" or "power of the imagination" which in Cornell's opinion constitutes ethics. Brinkmanns implied author is particularly skilled at illuminating the absurd extent to which people allow themselves, often not entirely consciously, to be controlled by ubiquitous moral commands and prohibitions which are themselves ridiculous. One of the Letters to Hartmut, for instance, scoffs at the fact that pedestrians tiptoe around the edge of municipal lawns in obeisance of a sign hammered into the grass. In this case, keeping off the grass becomes a "a moral pointer, merely because a landscape gardener and planner thought in corners and squares" (1999,50). Brinkmann's implied author exposes the arbitrariness of the moral imposition and the fact that this imposition does not merely stake out where an individual's feet should or should not tread in this particular park (a fairly trivial imposition) but also demands approbation of the whole project of thinking in right angles and neatly demarcated order. Moreover, Brinkmann's implied author believes unchallenged, predetermined morals extend even further into people's experience of the world. They control our desires and emotions. In industrialized societies, for instance, the daytime is earmarked for work, namely mental and cognitive activity ("Mind"), while sex and passion ("Desire") are designated the night (257). Brinkmann's implied author implies that this is bound to work to the detriment of "Desire" since pencilling in slots for passion in advance precludes the prospect of genuine passion which is by definition the sudden surge of unplanned emotions.
A related cleft that Brinkmann's implied author sees as having become a positive, and therefore corrupt, moral truth is that between sex and the socially acceptable. On a few occasions in Rome, Views (1979)5, the narrator returns to what he regards as the ludicrous spectacle of black bars in magazines which obstruct the sight of sexual organs:"But they all know that there aren't really any bars of printer's ink (as criminals or policemen on raids have over their eyes: Are genitals 'seeing'? An eye? Certainly! As far as treatment, activity, sensitivity, satisfaction, sensation of joy are concerned--so an eye after all) over the organs" (1979, 253). Here the implied author suggests that the genitals are not obscene in themselves, but only continue to be asocial because of the censors' scaremongering superimposition. Morality is caught in a self-fulfilling cycle: the genitals are obscured because they are deemed criminal by a moral authority, yet they are so judged as a result of the obscuring itself. Typically, by having the narrator deliberately misinterpret the censorship as making an indirect, complimentary gesture to the genitals, Brinkmann's implied author comically skews the moral that is being forced upon the onlooker. By covering the sexual organs as if they were the eyes of criminals, the censors nonetheless imply that these organs have an array of capacities associated with sight, that they offer an alternative way of "seeing" the world. The implied author virtually elevates the blanked-out private parts to the receptors of artistic or refined experience. In this manner, Brinkmann's implied author also throws into question the function of the black bars. They do not merely prevent the onlooker's inspection of the genitalia but, it is intimated, act as blindfolds over these alternative "eyes" and thereby restrain their "sensitivity" and "sensation of joy."
For Brinkmann's implied author, language is one of the main hindrances to his spontaneity, as he believes it to hold him in the thrall of premeditated ways of thinking. He sees the arch-enemy of his individualism and imagination, namely the state, as being essentially made up of language: "the state is a linguistic construction like a city, a district, a life, linguistically fixed, and fixed means fossilized" (1976, 243). Consequently, Brinkmann's implied author understands his search "for more wordless states" (1975, 107) to be a coup against state conditioning. By "more wordless" he does not mean a rationed quantity of words. Rather he is referring to states in which language is stripped of its instructive and demonstrative function and is thus less likely to get in the way of the experiences being conveyed (6). This is why Brinkmann's implied author often attempts to negate the very medium he is employing. In Westward 2, the imperative, automated voice on public transport is deprived of its usual authority as the narrator rejects not only its literal instruction but the language in which it is communicated:
Loudspeaker on the tram: "All aboard!" 1 peremptory tone in German. Was that once my language? That has never been my language! The language has always belonged to others [Lautsprecher an der StraBen Bahn: "Einsteigen bitte!" 1 Befehlston in deutsch. War das einmal meine Sprache? Das ist noch nie meine Sprache gewesen! Die Sprache hat immer anderen gehort] (Brinkmann 1975, 53)
Indeed, Brinkmann's implied author suggests that "'All aboard please!'" is the command that emanates from language itself, that it is the form of transport by which the state hopes to tow the narrator along and by which he can only arrive at pre-determined destinations. As Sibylle Spath makes clear, Brinkmann's implied author never lets the implied reader lose sight of the "destructive power" of German words (1989, 82). They continue to wage a war against indigenous braincells and struggle for dominance "over the individual's perception of reality and self-awareness." At one point, as she points out, Brinkmann's implied author even has letters march in file as if in a military regiment:
The letters walk one behind the other, westwards. "hey, hey, I'm totally crazy, I was born at the start of the war," which is West German" (Brinkmann 1975, 55)
This is a war in which language is being used by the state as a kind of neurogenetic weapon. Like gene technology, language allows the state to reproduce, for example, "a pattern of fear" (Spath 1989, 82) which persists over generations. This is confirmed by a letter to Schnell, which praises an Elton John record since it contains, "tones and moods which seem to me to be more open and wider than the gray West German present and language, which now really is so loaded with negativity and ugliness that Middleton was right when he said the German language is completely loaded with death-wishes" (1999, 7). Since the German language is so full of hate and death and since it is therefore impossible to make jokes in it, users of the language only succeed in "doing each other in" (7). For this reason, Brinkmann's implied author endeavours not just to make the implied reader distrustful of language, to encourage hint to re-appropriate words for himself and to empty words of their imported meanings. He also occasionally asks the implied reader to share a joke at the language's expense. For instance, the "Vieh" (which could translate as cattle, animal or human swine) routinely inserted into "Zivilisation" (civilization) to form "Ziviehlisation" resembles a graffiti artist's visual trespass that bids the implied reader to take the grand concept of civilization less seriously.
To what extent does such a gag encourage the implied reader to experience the text on an extra-verbal level and stop him merely reacting to words? After all, it might be argued that "Ziviehlisation" poses a neologistic conundrum that draws the implied reader into deeper reflection about the usage and make-up of words. From this perspective, any text wanting to bring the implied reader onto an extra-verbal level would have to make him forget that he was using words at all, or at least convince him that less significance was to be found in language itself. To this end, cliches and collocation rather than sabotaged words and disjointed grammatical and semantic orders would seem to be more effective. But Brinkmann's implied author is not urging the implied reader to forget language. He recognizes that a pre-requisite for spontaneous experience is an awareness of those forces obstructing this possibility and that language is one of these forces. This is why, as in the case of "Ziviehlisation," Brinkmann's implied author encourages the implied reader to participate in the hollowing out of socially and culturally predetermined meanings.
It is not just social norms and the language that sustains and foments them that Brinkmann's implied author seeks to negate. In Westward 1&2 he replicates literary norms and conventional forms, which he also perceives to be impeding his spontaneity, in order to negate them. When Brinkmann's implied author allows metaphor into his texts, for example, it does not function in the usual way. Take the following lines from a "A Few Very Popular Songs":
like e.g. cows under the moon, peaceful souls, which chew the cud, Buddha-intestines in the high grass, hidden between little spinneys and heaped bushes in the constant green, a practical black and white patched metaphysics, tormented by summer flies, which stick to their spittle. The space hangs on the inside of their eyes like a cymbal, which sounds for the slaughterhouse (Brinkmann 1975, 121)
Normally, an implied author employs metaphor in an attempt to transfer the implied reader to an abstract station where he can assess reality from an objective distance. Here, however, the implied author focuses the implied reader's attention on the cows' flesh-and-blood existence. This he does precisely by showing the narrator's use of metaphor to be dependent on his mood in that particular moment. In the space of three stanzas the narrator goes from using the bovines as metaphors for tranquility and an idyllic summer to seeing them as metaphors for existential angst. Simultaneously, the implied reader can see the impassiveness and unremarkableness of the cows' lives. This and their obliviousness offer a comic contrast to the high-flown metaphors. Through this contrast the implied author emphasizes the fact that the narrator views the cows as a mere vehicle for his whimsical metaphor. The narrator himself reveals this when he calls them "a practical black and white patched metaphysics" (my emphasis). Because the implied author never lets the implied reader lose sight of the cows as flesh-and-blood creatures, their ignorance also takes on a frightening and pathetic quality. They are blissfully unaware of their eventual slaughter. If they do act as metaphors in the final lines, then it is only as a metaphor for their own impending death. The implied reader is not distanced from the reality described. We could read this as Brinkmann's implied author's mockery of the literary obsession (as he saw it) with transforming real experience into abstraction.
Spontaneity as the Narrator's Submissiveness
As we have seen, Brinkmann's implied author is acutely aware of social, linguistic and literary norms, which stand between him and his spontaneity. In order to hold open the possibility of acting on his own impulse, he needs to keep a vigilant eye on those compulsions to which he is subjected. This raises the question whether the vigilance does not in fact become a compulsion in itself, and whether the implied author's obsessive desire to identify these norms in order to repel them, does not render him captive to them. Otto Knorrich for one believes that the accusation leveled at socially critical writers by those (like Brinkmann) promoting a "new semibility"--the accusation namely that they subscribe to misery--could be turned against the accusers. In trying to prop open the prospect of serendipitous moments within everyday reality, writers like Brinkmann need to be sensitive to the "deformations and damages of our individual-concrete existence" (1978, 375) and thereby run the risk of displaying what Knorrich calls a "negative sensitization" (376); a sensibility, that is, which "only induces the person's fixation on that which is dragging him down" (375).
I would argue, though, that Brinkmann's implied author is not fixated in this way. He does not get bogged down in the mere doubling of reality or in "perspectivelessness and resignation" (Knorrich 1978, 375). In poems like "This Poem Has No Title" the implied author instead employs a mock-submissive narrator whose very submissiveness actually negates the norms acting on him:
They all walk around sell, buy and push the boxes. Now I ought to be positive like an open till, flapping like a white, fresh shirt on the line.... I ought to be as identifiable and stamped as a passport photo, lousy like a tam driver ... calculated like a reform program (Brinkmann 1975, 179-81)
The fact these compulsions are made the subject of the poem means they are "negated" in Wolfgang Iser's sense, they are robbed of their "pragmatic nature" (1974, xi). While the implied reader may recognize the materialist ethics and "ideal world" imagery being foisted upon him, he may never have thought about the compulsions in the explicit terms in which they are listed here. After all, a commercial is unlikely to tell him (in words), "You ought to be flapping like a white, fresh shirt on the line" but may well suggest this through a metonymic succession of images. By crystallizing this message into plain language, the implied author equips his reading counterpart with the capacity to take issue in a way precluded by images (7). The implied reader is now able to resist the notion that his approval of cleanliness should be so complete that he strives to mimic the movement of an item of clothing on a washing line. So while elsewhere Brinkmann's narrator rails against language as the receptacle of fixed, dead ideas, as confining individuals to a restrictive rationality and obstructing spontaneity, here it is the very rationality of words which enables a spontaneous response.
Even the narrator's compliance with the norms to which he is sensitive is never realized, but remains in the deferred, conditional "I ought." The repetition of this construction, as the narrator is propelled from compulsion to compulsion, lends him an ironic-lethargic voice. Implicitly, he finds the business of trying to keep up with what is expected of him exhausting. In brief, Brinkmann's implied author does not merely reproduce reality but transforms it: conformity, which requires little exertion in reality, is comically transmogrified into a demanding, even impossible act (how can the narrator flap like a fresh, white shirt?). The "I" in "I ought" works on two levels; firstly, to express the narrator's discernment of the compulsions, and secondly, as a projected form. Because the repeated "I ought" intimates a dragging of the narrator's figurative heels, the implied author suggests also that he (the narrator) is operating outside, or lagging behind, the "I" predicated for him by coercive reality. Indeed, this second "I" (the "I" that advertising seeks to elicit, for example) is an integral character in the compulsions which the first "I" discerns. That these two first persons are implied in the same word does not encourage the implied reader to align them with one another but rather to pull them apart. Through the very submissiveness of the narrator and the overlap between these two "I"s, the implied reader is made to perceive an ethics of spontaneity. The implied author forces him to discern a life distinct from, and preferable to, the one governed by furtive and unreasonable demands.
Spontaneity as the Narrator's Recklessness
The ethics of spontaneity in Brinkmann's work takes on its most unnerving form, by conventional standards, when his implied author permits the narrator to wade recklessly into taboo subject matter. As mentioned, the most glaring example of this is the third section of "A Few Very Popular Songs," entitled "History" (1975, 130-39). Here, inspired by a sepia photograph of Eva Braun, the narrator drifts from speculation to speculation about Eva Braun's and Hitler's life together--their hopes, sexual preferences, ailments, daily habits, and even their feelings--without the implied author giving us a clear impression that he is marshalling these questions to a particular end. What is likely to disconcert the implied reader about this passage is not so much its openness, but rather the fact that it does ask him to be someone. According to Harald Weinrich, through the narrator's spontaneous questions the implied author builds in his implied reader a synchronous ethics consisting of "the nostalgia of magazines" and "the curiosity of a valet" (1975). It seems to me, however, that the nature of this synchronous ethics must be sought elsewhere. The implied author's allowance of spontaneity, especially the sexual inquiry, breaches the aura of untouchability and grandeur, which surrounds the "Fuhrer" and is to some extent perpetuated by the mass of serious historical study devoted to him. In this way, the implied author makes the implied reader's temporary, relative "endearment" to Hitler an assault on the image the leader would most liked to have bequeathed. At least we can be sure he would not have liked to have been visualized as a naked, vulnerable sex toy and the center piece of a poem he would surely have dubbed "degenerate".
If the implied author does nurture nostalgia in the poem, then it is only in the sense of two people's lives and the life of a nation having taken a catastrophic turn. The implied reader's relatively tender view is meant for the people Hitler and Eva Braun might have become and the emotions, qualities and preferences they may have suppressed, "Adolf Hitler, as you walked through Munich / with your paintbox, what did you see?" (Brinkmann 1975, 131) By positing spontaneity and passion as potential saviors, Brinkmann's implied author seeks to persuade his reader that the crimes of the Third Reich and the devastation of the Second World War were not inevitable. He even hints at one point that it is Eva Braun's immersion in precisely the type of nostalgia found in trashy magazines which suspends her ability to act spontaneously by filling her with received, pre-programmed desires and romantic notions:
Eva Braun, lace dress in the great ballroom, among the people's voices, shoulders held high, did you see her? What's with the dyed hair? What's with the old High German? What's with the petrified love stories? Word-ghosts, dirty swines of history, which stray through the rhymes between the filmic shadows of Berlin, shadow-gestures, screen-shadows, shadow-screams, collapsing shadows, later with a soundtrack underneath, post-dubbed lip movements, Eva Braun, in which magazines did you read? (Brinkmann 1975, 134)
The petrified love stories for which Eva Braun has a predilection are intertwined with the Nazis' own romanticization of the past ("the old / High German") and are also connected to the specters' shadows featured in silent horror movies such as Nosferatu ("screen-shadows") which, in turn, shadow the real-life horrors of the Nazi era ("collapsing shadows"). By implication then, Eva Braun's predisposition to nostalgic indulgence is also a predisposition to Germany's and her own decline. She is cast as the victim of a horror film in which she can only dub her words over predetermined lip movements. Therefore Weinrich's claim that the implied reader is encouraged to foster a nostalgic view of Braun and Hitler is inaccurate. Brinkmann's implied author is warning against such nostalgia.
Moreover, even when the narrator's inquiry seems to degenerate into nothing more than crude voyeurism, we can see Brinkmann's implied author permitting this for an effect. Take, for example, the following lines:
Eva Braun, did Adolf Hitler tenderly stroke your cunt with his tongue? Adolf Hitler, did Eva Braun tenderly suck your cock? Or was that made taboo by state and politics? (Brinkmann 1975, 132)
Implicitly, the narrator's pornographic thoughts are cut short by the same authority that perpetrated the unspeakable atrocities in the Third Reich. That is, the implied author, anticipating the implied reader's moral indignation at the narrator's erotic musing, turns this indignation against the implied reader. Fending off the prospect of a menage a trois with Hitler and Braun embroils the implied reader in an even more heinous union with the whole of the Nazi state and ideological apparatus. Thus in "History" the implied author deploys the narrator's unabashed conjecturing as an ethical device, causing the implied reader to reflect on his moral priorities. This conjecturing is premeditated as a device that enables the implied author to ambush his reading counterpart with a reprimand in the way that moral-giving texts conventionally have done. More important, though, is the practice of conjecturing elicited from the implied reader. This ability to speculate allows the implied reader to free himself from the inherited myth of Hitler and the predetermining forces which, it is intimated, led to the catastrophe of the Third Reich.
Examples of Spontaneity in Open and Closed Texts
As we saw earlier, there are two opposing kinds of imperative which we could include under the "ethics of spontaneity" found in Westward 1&2: the imperatives found in Brinkmann's closed texts on the one hand, and those found in his open texts on the other. Let us now turn to examples of both. In the closed text "Hearing One of Those Classic," the implied author elicits the implied reader's practical sympathy for the narrator who desperately endeavors to capture "an everyday miracle" (Zeller 1978):
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 1975, 25)
As the poem opens, the mood is muted. "Hearing one of those classic / black tangos in Cologne" suggests that the vibrant Latin rhythms of the track have been rendered cheerless and hackneyed by their transference to this German setting. The mood is also one of exhaustion, conclusion and having arrived just too late. The summer has "turned to dust" and the shops have just closed for the evening. That a "miracle" should arise despite this preceding deadness infuses the implied reader, as it does the narrator, with a sense of privilege. The poetics here gives the implied reader a feeling that he is party to a coup or an opportunistic theft. The colon after "miracle" he could reconstruct as a sharp intake of breath by the narrator who cannot believe his luck or perhaps better, cannot believe or understand his "Gluck." The German noun encapsulates the convergent feelings of spontaneity and happiness. The implied author, on the other hand, understands the narrator's "Gluck" only too well. The implied reader's re-enactment of this 'Gluck' entails that he collaborate with the implied author against both the predominating dreariness and spentness of Cologne in this one instant and the technocratic measure of time. He sees the "Gluck" as a theft that succeeds in spite of nature and civilization. Reinforcing this sense of privilege is the narrator's alone-ness in the street. Moreover, he claims it is a street that never strikes anyone else in any intense fashion, "in this street / which nobody loves and which makes you / breathless while walking through it. "The implication is that people only look on the street as a through-road, so that the narrator's pausing redefines it, or elevates it momentarily from its bland function as dictated by civilization into the unlikely setting for a minor miracle. The poem ends with the narrator telling the reader how quickly he had to transcribe the moment before it died. Simultaneously, the implied author does not grant the implied reader long to savor the moment either. So in the closing sentence the implied reader is meant to be impressed by how lucky he has been to have shared this moment.
In the above closed poem the implied reader is asked to appreciate the narrator's spontaneity. This spontaneity is the visible subject and value in the poem. Quite a different relationship between implied author and reader is produced by Brinkmann's open, multi-linear texts. These are conducive to spontaneity in that the implied author does not present the reader with finished products, but rather with texts that are perpetually under construction. He has gathered (or is in the process of gathering) momentary brainwaves, sensations, songs, slogans, observed objects, quotations that occur to him, memories, and daydreams, and has the narrator transcribe them in a way that preserves their spontaneous potential. The significance of their inclusion is not fixed. In addition, because the various fragments are quoted out of context and not on their own terms, they are de-hierarchized, with literary citations taking no precedence over appropriated car-sticker maxims, snatches of invective or obscene images. This means that the value of each fragment is only determined by the implied reader's own usage. Naturally, for Brinkmann's implied author to exhibit and enable this type of de-hierarchizing spontaneity he has had to absorb a good deal of material beforehand. He is able to casually disgorge literary citations, for instance, only because he has pre-digested them.
There are two different reasons why an implied author might be seen as spontaneous: either because he is unaccommodating or because he is overaccommodating. In one sense, to be spontaneous an implied author needs to disregard the reader altogether, since having him in mind (whether to please him or annoy him) would be a kind of premeditation. Dieter Wellershoff believes Brinkmann's later work manifests this kind of spontaneity, "He was indifferent to the reader. Perhaps because he was so caught up in his own experience that he could not conceive of an outsider's perspective at all" (1976, 286), while Kerouac insists on the maxim "satisfy yourself first" as one of the "Essentials of Spontaneous Prose" (1958, 72). But in another sense, an implied author can be seen as spontaneous if he responds to an implied reader who wants to know right now what is being experienced, and is particularly eager to please this reader. We find one type of overaccommodation in Kerouac's prose for example. Contrary to his claim about satisfying himself first, I would say that his implied author attempts to make a gift of the narrator's garrulousness:
So we go out, and she has on this little heartbreaking never-seen-by-me before red raincoat over the black velvet Backs and cuts along, with black short hair malting her look so strange, like a--like someone in Paris--I have on just my old exobrakeman railroad Cant Bust Eros and a workshirt without undershirt and suddenly it's cold October out there, and with gusts of rain, so I shiver at her side as we hurry up Price Street--towards Market, shows--I remember that afternoon returning from the Bromberg weekend--something is caught in both our throats, I don't know what, she does. (Kerouac 1973, 237)
His implied author looks to convince the reader of the intensity of one ego's experience by giving the impression that the narrative is spoken in one outpouring, punctuated only by the narrator's need to draw breath (indicated by the sporadic dashes). But because the text is linear, this surge of detail actually makes the implied reader aware of his dependency on the transcribing entity that is editing in an intense, accelerated fashion. Therefore, the reading experience can only approach simultaneity inasmuch as the implied reader is brought closer to the implied author's single ethical moment and his own struggle to squeeze the narrator's experience into an order.
An altogether different overaccommodation manifests itself in Brinkmann's multi-linear poems. In these, it is not a single moment which is implicitly overflowing with details, but rather the simultaneity the implied reader encounters consists of a co-existence of possible moments. Take the following excerpt from the rifle Westward poem as an example, which features the narrator on a transatlantic flight:
The entertainment part has begun. The best distance for two people to try for is one meter twenty weary of the trees, weary of the city, Music: Oh, sweet nothing Washington is nothing other, when flying over, at night, than a load of dim lights in the darkness, and how does one fall in love? and here I am again, seatbelt unfastened (Brinkmann1975, 42-43)
Here the implied author inundates the implied reader with fragments, the source of which we cannot determine. They are ostensibly written on the spur of the moment but give little indication what that spur was. While Kerouac's implied author cries out for his reading counterpart to follow his spontaneous thread (to "get with it" in his own terms) and uses superfluity as fuel for his narrator's relentless forward progression, Brinkmann's implied author instead frustrates the implied reader's mimesis by the excessive number of paths he offers. To begin with, while it is possible to work out that the narrator is on a plane, the "entertainment part" emerges from nowhere and its connection with what follows is frayed. Does it refer to the entertainment section of a newspaper? Does it refer to the flight attendants whose instructions to passengers, that they should keep 1.20m apart in the unlikely event of a crash, the narrator finds entertaining? Or does this second fragment stem from the newspaper article the narrator may be reading, perhaps an article about zones of acceptable intimacy? Or is it part of the narrator's life-code, who has his own ideas about such zones? Or is it the minimum division needed between people for them to travel in comfort? Or has a hoedown been organized on board? At the same time, in the first fragment the implied author could be announcing that he is about to toy with his reader's imagination. The fragment,"weary of the trees / weary of the city" does not help to clarify the uncertainty brought about by the preceding lines, but throws up more questions. Is the narrator simply stating his weariness at the passing, empirical landscape? Or does the weariness somehow relate to the previous fragment in the sense that 1.20m is the optimum distance to maintain from others, but is one not easily attainable in either a metropolitan or bucolic setting? Or does the weariness emanate from the music he apparently hears in the succeeding fragment? Alternatively, the song could have been triggered in the jukebox of his memory by his fatigue, or he may have even been inspired by this mood, so that the music refers to a song germinating in his own mind. It is impossible to distinguish what the narrator spontaneously appropriates and what signals his internal impulses. Does the narrator really think the nothingness is "sweet," so that he somehow equates falling in love with falling into the nothingness of Washington and so that his unfastened seatbelt implies a willingness to plummet into that figurative void. Or does he ask "And how does one fall in love?" because he wishes to escape a feeling of emptiness that comes from not being loved?
As the implied reader struggles onwards through this section, he may have less the impression that his reading is an ethical one than he does in "Hearing One of Those Classic." After all, it is far from obvious which repressive norms the "excess" of his readings is supposed to be negating. If virtually every fragment is a deviation or an interruption, as is the case here, then he will lose sight of what the implied author is deviating from. Nonetheless, Brinkmann's implied author regards his reading counterpart's spontaneity and imagination (as a speculating and adumbrating activity) as ethical for its own sake. For this reason, he does not appeal to an average reader: "I think that average people are shut ['closed'] to the extent that they don't even see where, in which time, in which place they are living & what kind of images, impressions, are forcing their way into them like viruses and eating away at them, in their absent state, while they are elsewhere (1979, 255). From the above quotation, which echoes the sentiments of William Burroughs, we can deduce that Brinkmann's implied author wants to transform these average readers into insomniacs, to prevent them from lingering in their state of absent-mindedness. By refusing to write for an average reader, Brinkmann's implied author is still acknowledging the presence of such a reader. He attempts to wrench this reader from his absent-mindedness precisely by supplying a lack of clear ethics. Reading becomes spontaneous in that the implied reader's volition becomes a particular pre-requisite. Admittedly, reading is always voluntary in some sense. While in the famous scene from Burgess's A Clockwork Orange Alex has his eyes propped open and cannot turn away from a barrage of disturbing cinematic images, nor cup his ears against the accompanying music, it would be impossible to make someone read in the same way. Even someone who found himself in such a position would still have to connect words and translate those words into images or ideas. Brinkmann's polyvalent texts, however, demand particular volition from the implied reader. They do not afford him the facile pleasure of predetermined channels as found in closed texts. Nor does the implied author confirm or deny which of the speculations the implied reader volunteers are most relevant or useful for his further navigation of the text. He must offer these speculations without any promise of a reward.
Spontaneity as Puzzling Simplicity
One of those average readers Brinkmann's implied author wishes to deprive of their complacent mindset is the literaxy critic. It is not only the sprawling multi-linear texts in which he does this. The baffingly spontaneous "Mourning on the Washing-Line in January," which I shall now examine, also annuls the interpretative ploys of such a critic. In "Hearing One of Those Classic," which I suggested reads like the narrator's fleeting seizure of power from the normal paralysis of a Cologne through-mad, the implied author needs this paralysis, nonetheless, to define the spontaneity as an ethical instant. In line with Comell's definition of postmodern ethics, the implied author "break[s] up the given" and that "given" (the usually uninspiring street) is highly visible. In contrast, the implied author behind "Mourning on the Washing-Line in January" is much less insistent on the unassenting nature of his poem, in that it is not apparent what the given is:
A piece of wire, crookedly put up, between two bare trees, which will soon sprout leaves again, early in the morning. on it hangs a freshly washed pair of black fights from the tangled long legs water drips in the bright early light onto the stones (Brinkmann 1975, 28)
Is the given the everyday, unremarkable scene which the implied author then transforms by the narrator's own sudden, impulsive sense of "mourning"? Or does mourning already emanate from the sight of the dripping tights, so that the narrator's spontaneity involves his resisting the compulsion to receive its melancholic, dark and perhaps wallowing resonance? That is, does the narrator actually perceive the heaviness of grief implied by the fights to be trickling away "in the bright / early light" so that he salvages the prospect of imminent happiness? Certainly the economical, object-based and visually orientated deployment of language achieves the impression that little of the implied author's literary embellishments comes between the implied reader and the scene which inspired the poem. However, because this "mourning" ostensibly gives the impulse for the poem and because the nature of this mourning (i.e., whether it derives from the narrator or from his surroundings) influences the whole scene, the implied reader is bound to try and fathom wherein the narrator's spontaneity lies.
The narrator feels an impulse which he sums up as "mourning" in that moment, but feels no need to refine the feeling in language. The general noun has specific connotations for him in that instant which the implied reader cannot be privy to. Implicitly though, the "mourning" is equated with the tangled, long-legged tights so that the implied reader is made to ponder why such a sight should inspire or exude mourning. Does the narrator imagine, for instance, that the tights have been worn to a recent funeral, or do they evoke a sense of washed-out, detracted eroticism? As the implied reader naturally does not have the privilege of the narrator's impulse or his connection between "mourning" and "tights," the implied author traps him in a catch-22 situation. While the implied reader is seduced into imbuing the stockings with a symbolic or figurative value (in order to bridge this gap between "mourning" and "tights"), his claims are bound to sound overblown because in his description of the scene the narrator sticks so austerely to what is there. So when Undine Gruenter tries to bridge the gap by claiming that the tights hang "as if strangled," there is nothing in the text to substantiate this and her eagerness to transfer the scene to an abstract level, away from what is there, is revealed (1993, 218). The interpreter's conventional tools are shown to be inadequate for dealing with such a spontaneous poem.
It has been the aim of this article to illustrate how Brinkmann developed spontaneity as an ethical component in his writing. While Kerouac stresses the importance of spontaneity as a productive principle, according to which the writer should reject craft, I believe Brinkmann's Westward 1&2 poems show how craft can actually be beneficial to the project of promoting spontaneity as a desirable and necessary practice. Brinkmann's texts do still contain an implied author, but it is one that has ceased to guide his reading counterpart toward predetermined interpretations and easily discernible principles. In this sense, Westward 1&2 turns away from the highly moralistic literature which was prevalent in West Germany in the first decades after the war. Rather than seeking to lay down moral standards, Brinkmann's implied author sees ethics as the questioning of any kind of fixture or predetermination. He strives to undermine norms, which eliminate the possibility of spontaneity; I mentioned sexual morals, the conditioning function of language, and literary convention as just a few examples of these norms.
Spontaneity is important in Westward 1&2 not only as the capacity Brinkmann's implied author believes the implied reader needs to exercise or appreciate. The narrator's spontaneity is also a vital part of the implied author's strategy for eliciting such an ethics. I gave examples of the various ways in which the narrator acts spontaneously in Westward 1&2. In each case (apart from a few closed texts like "Hearing One of Those Classic"), this spontaneity does not appear to be ethical in an obvious way. In poems such as "This Poem Has No Title" a submissive narrator is deployed that seems to be merely fixated by the compulsions he encounters from moment to moment. I argued that it is precisely because Brinkmann's implied author refuses to distinguish between the self demanded by coercive reality and the self which makes out these demands that the implied reader is forced to do so. By making this distinction, the implied reader perceives the possibility of a spontaneous existence apart from the compulsions registered. In "History," Brinkmann's implied author deploys a reckless narrator that at first glance seems inappropriate for treating a subject as serious as the Third Reich. Again, this type of spontaneity helps to produce a particular effect. Through the narrator's candid questions, the implied reader is asked to become intimate with Hider in a way that intrudes upon his myth. Furthermore, because the implied reader is invited to speculate about details from the past that may have been lost, he is not at the mercy of those predetermining forces which Brinkmann's implied author suggests led to the Third Reich.
I then looked at an example of Brinkmann's most open poetry, which is not even arranged into a single sequence. I contrasted the lack of guidance in such poems with the close guidance received by the implied reader in "Hearing One of Those Classic." It is in these radically open texts that the ethical project behind Westward 1&2 is least visible and yet most forcefully thrust upon the implied reader. While he has no option but to speculate about how fragments might be linked, he receives no indication why this is a desirable practice. To understand the ethical dimension of this speculative activity, it is important to be aware of the absent-mindedness which Brinkmann's implied author believes is endemic among average people. In my final section, I examined how he uses the spontaneity of his narrator to toy with the average literary critic, who displays a particular kind of absent-mindedness. Such a critic is incapable of sticking to what is there and is bent on imbuing a simple impression with a figurative significance.
As the above examples illustrate, Brinkmann's implied author uses spontaneity in a sophisticated and relatively controlled manner. Rather than sharing Kerouac's view of spontaneity as something that stands opposed to craft, he incorporates spontaneity into his craft. Through this craft he is able to push an ethics of spontaneity much more forcefully. Whereas in Kerouac the implied reader is asked to ride, as it were, the spontaneity of the narrator, in Brinkmann's open poems the implied reader's own spontaneity becomes a structural necessity. He has a straight choice: either he accepts that he cannot rest on the predetermined, fixed or positive, or he is forced to put down the poems.
(1) This and all subsequent translations are my own, apart from "Hearing One of Those Classic," which is Anthony Waine's. See Waine and Woolley (2000, 188).
(2) For an extensive discussion of the ways in which the Beats inspired Brinkmann and two of his contemporaries, Jorg Fauser and Wolf Wondratschek, see Waine and Woolley (2000).
(3) I have chosen to refer to the implied author, implied reader, narrator etc. as male entities. I use these terms frequently in the article, and had I inserted the inclusive "s/he," "himself/herself" and "his/her" on each occasion, the flow of the article would have been broken. To redress this exclusivity, I have included female subjects elsewhere in the article (where the use of the above terms was not necessary).
(4) As recognised by Weinrich, "incorporated into Kerouac's aesthetic philosophy is the assertion of the value of deliberately unrevised prose--prose representing, ironically, the height of craft" (1987, 2-3).
(5) This work was compiled four years after Brinkmarm's death, chiefly from letters he had sent to his wife, Maleen, while staying in the Italian capital between 1972-73.
(6) Brinkmann quotes William Burroughs,
When I say chair you see a chair. When I say the simultaneity of societal lethargy and the ambivalent filth of an unrecognised totalitarian system you see nothing. It's just the writing of words to make readers react to words. Those trained in this way will predictably react to words. This kind of training is impermeable to facts (Brinkmann 1982, 232).
(7) As Greg Myers points out, "photographs don't seem to have a code," they thus provoke a less rational response and therefore we do not argue with pictures even though we know they can he (1994, 136).
Aristotle. 1995. Poetics. Tram. and ed. Stephen Halliwell. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Booth, Wayne C. 1988. The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction. London: University of California Press.
Born, Nicholas. 1975. "Stilleben einer Horrorwelt" National-Zeitung, 17 May, iv.
Brinkmann, Rolf Dieter. 1975. Westwarts 1&2. Hamburg: Rowohlt.
--. 1976. "Ein unkontrolliertes Nachwort zu meinen Gedichten." In Literaturmagazin 5: 228-48.
--. 1979. Rom, Blicke. Hamburg: Rowohlt.
--. 1982. Der Film in Worten. Hamburg: Rowohlt.
--. 1999. Briefe an Hartraut: 1974--1975. Hamburg: Rowohlt.
Chambers Dictionary. 1993. Edinburgh: Chambers Harrap.
Charters, Ann, ed. 1995. The Letters of Jack Kerouac 1940-1956. New York: Viking.
Eco, Umberto. 1979. The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts. London: Indiana University Press.
Frey, Jurgen. 1975. "Die Sehnsucht nach wortloseren Zustanden." Badische Zeitung, 9 August, 12.
Gibson, Andrew. 1999. Postmodernity, Ethics and the Novel. London: Routledge.
Gruenter, Unline. 1993. "Elegie mit Strumpfhose." Frankfurter Anthologie 16: 218-20.
Iser, Wolfgang. 1974. The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.
Kerouac, Jack. 1958. "Essentials of Spontaneous Prose." In Evergreen Review 2.5: 72-73.
--. 1959a. "The Last Word". Escapade, June, 72.
--. 1959b. "Belief & Technique in Modern Prose." In Evergreen Review 2.8: 57.
--. 1973. The Subterraneans. London: Andre Deutsch.
Knorrich, Otto. 1978. "Lyrische Postmoderne: private Empirie und 'Neue Sensibilitat' im Gedicht". In Die deutsche Lyrik seit 1945. Stuttgart: Alfred Kroner.
Miller, Joseph Hillis. 1987. The Ethics of Reading: Kant, de Man, Eliot, Trollope, James, and Benjamin. NewYork: Columbia University Press.
Myers, Greg. 1994. Words in Ads. London: Edward Arnold.
Roget's Thesaurus. 1987. Harlow: Longman.
Schnell, Ralf. 1993. Geschichte der deutschsprachigen Literatur seit 1945. Stuttgart: Metzler.
Spath, Sibylle. 1989. Rolf Dieter Brinkmann. Stuttgart: Metzler.
Theobaldy, Jurgen. 1975. "Schreckeusbilder aus Wortern." Frankfurter Rundschau, 24 May, Zeit und Bild, iv.
Waine, Anthony. 2000. "Lustig. Die Kuhivierung der Sexualitat bei Brinkmann." Eiswasser 182: 117-26.
--. 1989. "Recent German Writing and the Influence of Popular Culture" In After the "Death of Literature," ed. Keith Bullivant. Oxford: Berg.
Waine, Anthony, and Jonathan Woolley. 2000. "'Blissful, Torn, Intoxicated': Brinkmann, Fauser, Wondratschek and the Beats." In College Literature 27.1 (Winter): 177-98.
Weinrich, Harald. 1975. "Gedichte, wie eine Tur aufzumachen." In Die Zeit, 9 May, 25.
Weinrich, Regina. 1987. The Spontaneous Poetics of Jack Kerouac: A Study of the Fiction. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
Wellershoff, Dieter. 1976. "Destruktion als Befreiungsversuch: Uber Rolf Dieter Brinkmann." Akzente 3: 277-88.
Wordsworth, William, and Samuel Coleridge. 1963. Lyrical Ballads. Ed. R.L. Brett and A.R. Jones. London: Methuen.
Zeller, Michael. 1978. "Hyperion under Vorstadt." In Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 16 September, Bilder und Zeiten, 4.
Jonathan Woolley is teaching associate at the university of Sheffield, England. His Ph. D. thesis was on "The Ethical Project in Rolf Dieter Brinkmann's Westward 1&2."
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|Article Type:||Critical Essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2003|
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