Reinhard Jirgl: Perspektiven, Lesarten, Kontext.
Reinhard Jirgl is one of the most prolific authors of contemporary Germany, with few able to rival his impressive number of publications since 1990. Yet response to his work has been mixed, not least because of the challenging and fragmentary nature of his texts and his idiosyncratic use of orthography and typography. Unlike the burgeoning body of pop literature, Jirgl's texts require repeated and careful reading, often placing him on the periphery of the contemporary literary landscape. Recent years, however, have seen a growing body of critical work dedicated to Jirgl's texts, and this volume, the first book to focus on his literary output, represents an important landmark.
The volume contains contributions by British, German, Belgian, and American scholars, as well as correspondence with Jirgl himself and a comprehensive bibliography of primary and secondary material. As David Clarke states in the introduction, the volume in no way attempts to present an exhaustive overview of Jirgl's work, but rather aims to provide the basis for further critical analysis. The contributions are thus self-contained, yet together they cover a wide range of important thematic and structural issues, and offer comment on all of Jirgl's novels to date.
The collection begins with a speech given by Helmut Bottinger at the presentation of the 'Kranichsteiner Literaturpreis' in 2003, presenting a useful overview of Jirgl's work and highlighting the central place of familial themes in his texts. The subsequent 'conversation in letters' then provides a fascinating interchange with Jirgl, in which he comments on a wide range of issues, from the concept of 'GDR literature' and the frequent comparison of his work to that of Arno Schmidt, to the decline of socialism and themes of remembrance and history. The wide-ranging nature of this correspondence provides a solid basis for the volume as a whole, introducing readers to the key issues which are explored in subsequent chapters. The following contributions by Karen Dannemann and Clarke focus on representations of the GDR in Jirgl's texts, the former analysing his criticism of the state through portrayals of quasi-religious socialist structures and the physical exploitation of GDR citizens, the latter examining the relationship between structures of power in the family and the state. Arne De Winde's chapter turns to Jirgl's orthographical experiments, exploring the genealogy of his alphanumeric code and the intrinsic tensions between text and image, demonstrating his points in two textual examples. Simon Ward and Christine Cosentino both focus on specific novels, Ward examining the themes of the ruin, the railway, and the desert in Hundsnachte, highlighting Jirgl's diagnosis of a 'posthistorical' society, and Cosentino analysing number, colour, and mythical symbolism in Die atlantische Mauer, pointing towards an open-ended quality within the novel. The two following essays prove somewhat contradictory: while Erk Grimm identifies elements in Jirgl's works which demonstrate traits of conservative right-wing thinking, Kammler's contribution rejects two readings of Die Unvollendeten which are comparable to Grimm's interpretation. Although this conflict of opinion could be seen as a weakness of the volume, the intention to provide a publication which will provoke and inspire new research--complete with contradictions--is to be applauded. The final contribution by Dieter Stolz explores literary experimentation and the use of 'links' in the novel ABTRUNNIG; like De Winde, he presents Jirgl's code as an attempt to enter into dialogue with the reader, rather than to embody a prescriptive or dogmatic system.
Clearly this volume presents a variety of views on Reinhard Jirgl, and it raises as many questions as it answers. In doing so, however, it provides us with new and enlightening analyses of Jirgl's texts, some of which are significant in pointing towards optimistic elements within the off-noted pessimism of his work. This publication offers essential insight into Jirgl's work, both thematically and structurally, and is highly recommended to all those interested in the field of contemporary German literature.
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|Title Annotation:||text in English|
|Publication:||The Modern Language Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2009|
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