Botho Strauss. Die Nacht mit Alice, als Julia ums Haus schlich.
DESPITE ITS SEDUCTIVE TITLE, Botho Strauss's latest prose work is not a love story about a man and two women, but by now readers of Strauss have come to expect the unexpected. Strauss, who shuns traditional narrative forms, presents the reader with a complex, often disjointed series of vignettes, stories, and fairy tales from the perspective of a first-person narrator, though the reader cannot be sure that the narrator is always the same person. More than perhaps any other contemporary German author, Strauss stretches the boundaries of literature to create new possibilities to experience and perceive reality, dreams, and even fantasies.
Strauss leads the reader into a surrealistic world, a combination of reality, dreams, fantasies, and desires, where humans change forms, suddenly have the genitalia of the opposite sex, or dissolve and metamorphosize in front of others. Strauss consciously confuses the reader, who becomes unsettled and unsure where the boundaries of reality and dreams are located. The reader never learns what actually transpires between the narrator and Alice while Julia observed them, but the reader's interest and subconscious desires are piqued by continual references to possibilities, almost as if the reader were drawn into the reality-dream-fantasy sequence.
The initial pages of Die Nacht mit Alice serve as an instruction manual on how to approach the work and may offer insights to Strauss's literary intentions. Strauss is fascinated by alternative realities, such as those in dreams, and juxtaposes these with what one experiences while one is awake to raise epistemological questions about the notion of reality, especially considering that the perceptions and realities encountered while dreaming may be more intensive and, indeed, more emotional. Strauss writes, "Der Traum ist die Schmiede des Unverstehens. Wir konnten nicht begreifen am ganzen hellen Tag ohne die heimliche Ruckversicherung bei dieser wusten Umkehrung, die an allen beteiligt ist, was wir ordentlich erledigen." Dreams enable individuals to comprehend reality differently.
Die Nacht mit Alice thematizes new forms of sensory perception. Strauss suggests that individuals do not experience physical and sensual perceptions in a waking state as intensively as in a dream because society has conditioned the individual to suppress sensuality and sexuality. Therefore, dreams of sexual and sensual experiences are a necessity and enable the individual to overcome unfulfilled desires. Strauss writes, "Jede Nacht besuchen wir die Schule der Vergrosserungen, die das Gedachtnis unserer Liebe trod Liebesmoglichkeit auffrischt."
Gregory H. Wolf
Saint Louis University