Printer Friendly

Romancing the Grail: Genre, Science, and Quest in Wolfram's 'Parzival'.

Martin Walser's Halbzeit is typically considered to capture the mood of the early history of the Federal Republic, namely the 1950s and the Wirtschaftswunder. Indeed, critics regard Anselm Kristlein, the novel's protagonist and narrator, as the embodiment of the materialist values of that era; Stuart Parkes, for instance, compactly refers to him as 'the archetypal "economic miracle man"'. (1) Correspondingly, Anselm seems to lack personality, and merely to 'mimic' the dominant mores of his environment as a means of gaining social and economic success. He appears to perfect the transformation staged by Hans Beumann in Ehen in Philippsburg (1957), who moves from the country to the city in order to effect his mercantile maturation from 'boy' into 'man'. (2) As with Beumann, one consequence of Anselm's desire for conformity is what Donald Nelson terms 'the breakdown of social communication and the depersonalization of human behavior'. (3)

In my present analysis of this novel, I begin uncontroversially by sketching Anselm's predilection for role-playing. This burlesque confirms his internalization of what C. Wright Mills in 1951 designated the 'personality market' (an expression equally applicable to West Germany and America). Beginning as a salesman, Anselm embraces the ethic of this profession 'to pretend interest in others in order to manipulate them'; (4) later, he joins the growing class of incorporated intellectuals as an advertising executive. He exemplifies Mills's contention that 'the intellectual is becoming a technician, an idea-man', even though he contradicts the sociologist's related claim that such figures fail to defend themselves 'from death by adaptation' (Mills, p. 157). Anselm is certainly adaptable: this capacity prevents his demise, even as the strain renders him ill in this and later novels. In general terms, Anselm's acquiescence might appear as a flight from domesticity: the novel opens with a depiction of his claustrophobic animosity towards his exigent wife and querulous children. Yet, and as I establish as the starting-point for my subsequent discussion, Anselm's yearning for affirmation is in fact more profoundly determined by deep-rooted biographical failure, both personal and paternal.

Anselm's compliance, then, might at first seem to intimate his repression of a painful past (foreshadowing the Mitscherlichs). (5) The main argument of this article, none the less, is that Anselm actually fictionalizes this neurotic discomfort. He is himself an author: his use of literary device is skilled and practised. Irony, allusion, and metaphor, for instance, embellish his revelations. Paradoxically, then, Anselm achieves the success he so desires through his exploitation of the very traumas that provoked his need for acknowledgement in the first instance. Equally fascinating is the possibility that Anselm may have been seduced into this stylization of personal biography. The article closes with a brief consideration of the 'official tolerance' of artists by the FRG's political and economic elite. Writers were impelled towards what Ulrich Greiner has recently (and controversially) termed 'Gesinnungsasthetik'. (6) At the same time, however, Greiner's claim that intellectuals actively took on this role within a left-liberal discourse is complicated by Walser's emphasis on the interaction between the writer and the establishment. Writers, including Anselm, are initially determined to relate personal experiences of loss, but are gradually coopted. Collusion negates authors' self-images as censors of the status quo, as does their exploitation of the rewards to be gained from publicity. A critical stance descends into ineffectual, even effete, games-playing as writers grasp that their stylized, and therefore depoliticized, invective is the only form of oppositional culture possible within capitalism. This notwithstanding, the novel's complex and self-reflexive engagement with such 'incorporated' moralizing short-circuits Greiner's additional allegation that West German literature has uniformly sacrificed aesthetic value to a pervasive 'political correctness' concerning public affairs.

To return for the moment to more conventional readings of the novel, however, Anselm clearly adopts tailor-made patterns of conduct. He fits easily into a social milieu which, as Thomas Beckermann cogently argues, is 'reduziert auf bestimmte Reaktionsschemata'. (7) Anselm describes on one occasion how he and several others stood around 'wie Passanten um einen Verkehrsunfall. Passanten, die auf einen Arzt warten und auf die Polizei. Dann schickt uns Josef-Heinrich weg, wie man Kinder wegschickt'. (8) In this instance, Walser's character projects his person into two painfully cliched responses ('wie Passanten um einen Verkehrsunfall', and as a child sent away by adults) and thereby reduces both himself and his companions to the status of mere puppets.

Furthermore, examples abound of Anselm's readiness to play roles in order to ingratiate himself, sell a product, or seduce a woman. When peddling an oil heating-system to the hairdresser Flintrop, for instance, he indulges the old man's lamentations over his daughter's elopement. Anselm exploits Flintrop's grief, being prepared with a supinely appropriate facial expression 'fur den Fall, dass er herschaute' (p. 51). He later says of his ability to produce the 'correct' word that he is 'geubt wie ein Bachpianist' (p. 297). Anselm's playing of parts, then, is practised and professional rather than inspired and individual. There may indeed be no distinction between a person's 'true' self and its role-playing counterpart. Anselm cites a girlfriend's ostentatious indifference: 'Uberhaupt was fur ein Unterschied, ob ihre Kuhle gespielt war oder nicht [...] ich wurde nie erfahren, ob es mehr gewesen ist als eine Rolle. Aber war nicht jede Rolle mehr als eine Rolle?' (p. 119). Thus, he anticipates a distinctly postmodern notion of the destabilization of identity: an individual's 'genuine' face collapses into the one publicly presented.

Anselm's posturing in general may suggest his flight from domesticity. Thomas Beckermann therefore speaks of the character's 'Wendung gegen die Familie', which, combined with his 'Anpassung an die Gesellschaft', generates the preconditions 'fur den Freiheitsbereich, den Anselm auf seiner Suche braucht'. This search is defined as a quest for 'Selbstbestatigung' in the public sphere (Beckermann, P. 77). Concretely, Anselm's subconscious feelings of personal inadequacy determine his domestic claustrophobia, and public hypersensitivity. Both are sublimated into his lament: 'So schwer mir das Aufwachen fiel, so schwer fiel mir das Einschlafen [...] Eigentlich hetzte mich die Sonne' (p. 9). Here, vacillation between 'aufwachen' and 'einschlafen' is surely symbolic of equivocation between professional and private spheres. His paranoid fantasies, moreover, in all probability insinuate the public sacrifice of his person. This posits Anselm as a writer of sorts, fabricating biography for collective consumption. He may thus feel an onus, deriving from the Enlightenment and frequently connoted by the sun, to forego privacy for a role as moral arbiter. This analysis anticipates my closing contention that Anselm is perilously caught between a desire to explore private trauma through writing and public moralizing. Middlebrow audiences in the period, as well as the critical establishment, framed authors as the 'conscience of the nation'. This body of intellectuals was even officially tolerated, despite politicians' frequent campaigns against them. (9) Such discomfort notwithstanding, and as Anselm reveals, the canny author could also exploit his predicament for commercial gain.

Hermann Kinder refines the standard prognosis of Anselm's position between domesticity and publicity, noting how he is trapped in the 'Dualismus von Weltverlangen und Weltflucht, von offentlicher und privater Rolle'. (10) This assessment is certainly overstated. At best, Anselm experiences nostalgia for the 'intuitive' genuineness of familial interaction. Thus, he regrets the passing of the eccentric individualism of his deceased father, speculating that this figure must have been 'ein besonders unfahiger und schwarmerischer Handelsmann' who had 'falsche schone Ideen im Kopf', being 'eine Art Wandervogel mit dem Musterkoffer' (p. 78). Yet, such sentimentality notwithstanding, Anselm wishes ('soweit es geschaftlichen Krimskrams anging') to be 'der Sohn meines Grossvaters' (p. 105). This paradox can be explained, of course, by the fact that Anselm's grandfather was a more adept businessman than his own son, Anselm's father.

In reality, therefore, Anselm's obsession with public prosperity does not derive only from a lack of acknowledgement in the domestic sphere, but is more deeply rooted in family biography. This reference to personal history, incidentally, qualifies Gertrud B. Pickar's assertion that Walser's characters are 'products of the world around them and in fact only exist in terms of society and in relation to it. As a result they tend to lack an identity of their own and are understandable only in the social context in which they are presented'. (11) Instead, there exists a conflict between a putatively authentic past and Pickar's dehumanized social framework. Anselm's pursuit of the Treiheitsbereich' invoked by Beckermann, and existing only within commercialism, in fact adumbrates his desire to escape the failures associated with private history. Such deficiencies originate both in his father's history and in his own inability to synthesize traumatic wartime experiences with the ebullient optimism of the fledgling Federal Republic. As with many of Anselm's generation, the inability to mourn loss (the unexpected destruction of the patriarchal authority, or the brutal distortion of youth ensuing from dictatorship) leads to the repression of biography. The private self is dissolved into superficial role-playing. Such an expunging of subjective history, moreover, leads Anselm to adopt manifold identities. None of these personae appears entirely convincing.

I have already alluded to Anselm's father fixation. More concretely, however, Anselm himself concedes 'ein toter Vater wird leicht zu schon, eine legend're Verfuhrung' (p. 83). The generalizing tone of this statement, significantly, suggests a broader, even allegorical aspect to Anselm's psychic relationship to his dead relative. The premature departure of a father figure, then, induces fantasies of father substitution. Indeed, Anselm recognizes 'man verehrt sogar blindlings Manner, die ihm zu gleichen scheinen, und fallt herein' (p. 83). This, in truth, may typify a generation deprived of biological fathers in distraught times, and more abstractly, following the Mitscherlichs, unable to mourn Hitler, the previous object of love and obedience. (12)

Here there arises a conflict between two types of absence. The individual's loss of a much-loved father may generate nostalgia for bonds of perceived intimacy. A community's rupture from a patriarchal authority figure, however, might anticipate its longing for autarchic structures demanding social conformity. In Anselm's case, the triumph of authority over familiarity is foreshadowed in his perception that his father's eccentricity (that is, his expressive subjectivity) caused his failure within the fraught social and economic circumstances of the 1930s. The senior Kristlein, as already noted, a 'besonders unfahiger und schwarmerischer Handelsmann' (p. 78), misread the dawn of the new age. Accordingly, he represents a redundant petit bourgeoisie. This class fled its fear of modernity into support for the reactionary ideology of the Nazi party. Soon, however, it was unable to adapt to the unforgiving consequences of National Socialist political economy, which paradoxically may have actually accelerated the modernizing trend. Hence, Anselm comments of his father: 'Auch mein Vater war so ein verbitterter Gymnasiast geworden, der auger seiner Schule nie mehr etwas zu einem guten Ende gebracht hat, nicht einmal sein Leben, das er mit achtunddreigig sozusagen freiwillig beendete' (p. 79). Anselm's laconic 'sozusagen' here betokens the pain caused him by this suicide. Simultaneously, however, his bitterly cruel condescension regarding his father's inability 'etwas zu einem guten Ende [zu bringen], nicht einmal sein Leben' adumbrates his determination not to repeat such ignominy. (13)

Anselm's rejection of subjectivity for depersonalized conformity is further conditioned by his own biographical experiences. Above all, these are centred on his 'Melitta complex'. This figure, as Gertrud B. Pickar suggests, typifies 'the complexity of the interdependence of [...] fictional planes'. (14) She is both a figment of Anselm's imagination and, as Flintrop's daughter, also a 'real' figure. More specifically, Anselm makes repeated reference to Melitta, investing her name with special significance for his personal history. He reports how upon his return from Soviet captivity he saw her from afar. Yet, he recounts, 'Als ich tast schon bei ihr war, bog ich doch ein wenig at). Warum, weiss ich nicht' (p. 498). Anselm thus forfeits the opportunity that she might confirm his 'Dasein' (p. 505). In fact, this fatal hesitancy may have anticipated his foreboding that anonymity and integration were required in the new Germany. Once the war is over intimate recollections of this period are taboo: 'Deshalb verzichteten wir auf Schriftliches, verbargen alles in der Dunkelheit unter unserer Schadeldecke, und jeder von uns sagte auf der Heimthhrt, als wir eigentlich nur Melitta und sowas vor uns hinsagen wolhen, leise, immer wieder zwischen Melitta hinein, die Namen, Adfather von zehn Toten auf' (p. 798). Melitta was to be his exclusive audience for his traumatic war memories. Her refusal to acknowledge him, therefore, may suggest postwar society's indifference to private history. (15) Equally, the alacrity with which the other soldiers suppress their wartime lives perhaps indicates their understanding that individuality must be sacrificed.

Anselm's decision to curb intimate memories in favour of conformity notwithstanding, his stance towards 1950s West Germany is often clearly ironic. When fully integrated, he exhibits little or no awareness of the social repressiveness surrounding him. Yet, on occasion, authentic experience resurfaces within his conformity to create a moment of critical insight. For instance, he associates his father's grave with war, linking his father and war as the two major sources of his personal trauma. He remarks on a monument to the fallen of 1870, 1914-18, and 1939-45, noting the lower right-hand corner, which the caretakers had

in bewundernswertem Gleichmut geradezu einladend frei gelassen. Solange dieser Krieg nicht stattgefunden hat, ist die Symmetrie auf dem Ramsegger Kriegerdenkmal nicht hergestellt und das Auge jedes Besuchers bleibt unbeffiedigt in der Leere des rechten unteren Viertels hangen. (p. 109)

The irony of 'bewundernswert' and 'einladend' is unmistakable, especially when reinforced by the grotesque image of the visitor's eye as it remains fixed 'unbefriedigt' on the missing quarter. Indeed, these satirical comments upon the glorification of war foreshadow Anselm's ironic discourse upon the postwar prosperity of Herr Pawel, a Nazi war criminal: 'Vielleicht hatte er in Ungarn einmal start funftausend Juden nur viertausendneunhundertzweiundzwanzig umgebracht, hatte die restlichen achtundsiebzig entwischen lassen, hatte denen mitteilen lassen, dass sie das ihm zu verdanken hatten, hatte sich die achtundsiebzig gutschreiben lassen fur spater' (p. 573). Here, the word 'gutschreiben' captures both Herr Pawel's forward planning and his callous attitude towards his victims. It also indicts the bookkeeping mentality of the Wirtschaftswunder.

Equally, Anselm looks to other male relatives to substitute success for his father's inadequacy, yet also reflects upon this servility through his deliberately 'subversive' commentary. Not only does he wish to be the son of his hard-nosed grandfather (p. 55), he also associates the latter's self-serving callousness with an uncle's adaptability under Hitler: 'Onkel Gallus, der gerne mehr als bloss Sturmfuhrer geworden ware [...] fluchte oft uber den Grossvater, von dem er diese Nase geerbt hatte' (p. 173). Gallus, then, embodies a parallel and, as Anselm's sarcasm laconically implies, more successful lineage within the Kristlein clan. (16) This species is able to turn the untimely inconvenience of a Jewish' nose to its advantage: 'Die Hakennase und der Vorname und Familienname kamen Onkel Gallus nach dem Krieg doch sehr zustatten. Er hatte sich tatsachlich benachteiligt gefuhlt. Und von dem Gefuhl, benachteiligt gewesen zu sein, war es [...] nur ein Schrittchen zu dem Gefuhl, ein Verfolgter des Naziregimes zu sein' (p. 174). Here, Gallus's uncanny prosperity anticipates Anselm's social conformity: the nephew clearly adopts the uncle's tactics of the repression and distortion of history. At the same time, however, Anselm's use of the expression 'zustatten kommen' suggests his disapproval of Gallus's opportunism, just as words such as 'tatsachlich' and the diminutive 'Schrittchen' may condemn the uncle's confusion of his role with a 'reality' he comes to internalize.

Anselm's derision regarding his uncle's precipitate integration into the Federal Republic of the economic miracle is still more acute elsewhere, and implicitly also censures his own obsequiousness. On occasion, such attacks are further framed as a criticism of the reluctance of the CDU state to distance itself from its Nazi predecessor. Thus, Anselm reports:

So wurde Onkel Gallus bei der Grundsteinlegung der neuen Ordnung einer der Grundsteine. Nach kurzer beruflicher und politischer Erholungspause trat er in die christlichste aller zur Verfugung stehenden Parteien und wurde, kurz vor seiner Pensionierung, sogar noch kommissarischer Rektor der Oberschule, die jetzt wieder Xaverina-Oberschule hiess. (pp. 174-75)

The satire here is unmistakable. The description of Anselm's uncle as a 'Grundstein', playfully establishing a symmetry with the phrase 'Grundsteinlegung', expresses the myth of the 'Stunde Null' as well as the role Gallus plays as a vital if unthinking and anonymous building block in this new order. His political reorientation, derisively if euphemistically characterized as an 'Erholungspause', is typical of West Germany's foreshortened and perfunctory denazification: the cynical and deliberate ineffectuality of postwar 're-education', of course, is censured in much of Walser's work, and most famously in the figure of Potz in Eiche und Angora (1963). The reference to the CDU as the 'christlichste aller zur Verfugung stehenden Parteien' recalls the grotesque irony of his compensation claim on account of his previously unpropitious Jewish' nose. Indeed, his membership of this party, the adopted home of so many ex-Nazis, vindicates his campaign to confirm his Aryan credentials. This episode, incidentally, is one of several similar passages that negate Anthony Waine's assertion that Anselms Auseinandersetzung mit der familiaren Vergangenheit (die fast immer in Beziehung zur nationalen Geschichte gesetzt wird)' is 'in keinerlei Weise moralisch gefarbt'.(17)

Gallus, then, stylizes biography for the sake of social integration. He reshapes his private history, transforming himself from 'Sturmfuhrer' (p. 173) into 'Verfolgter' (p. 174) in order to present himself more effectively within a restructured public sphere. Yet Anselm's manifestly ironic stance towards Gallus's remoulding of personal history may demand a more differentiated view of his broader attitude vis-a-vis the public presentation of the private self. It might be that Anselm's uncompromising if infrequent scorn liberates him from his own more characteristic sycophancy. Such a revaluation appears all the more pressing in the light of Anselm's extended reflections upon the fate of his father's past. Anselm comments that the life of Kristlein senior was:

nur noch eine Erzahlung, die seine Frau unzahlige Male wiederholt und dabei immer mehr abschleift, abnutzt, eine Abnutzung, die wie beim Kieselstein am Strand zu einer Stilisierung fuhrte, die ich annehmen musste, obwohl ich spurte, dass dieses Leben mehr enthalten haben muss als die traurig-schone Fabel, die im Munde meiner Mutter immer mehr zu einer [...] Melodie wurde, ohne Harmonien, spannungslos melancholisch wie ein Englisches Hornsolo. (p. 70)

Here, Anselm displays an unusual sensitivity, handling language and metaphor with great skill and poignancy to highlight his fractured relationship to his father's story. More concretely, he invokes the image of the sea's gradual smoothing of a pebble as a succinct metaphor for the erasure of contradiction, texture, and individual accent from stories repeatedly told for public instruction. His father's past is reduced to a pathetic (more probably bathetic) parable. Such a rendition sacrifices tension and depth for melancholic resignation: it may be typical of the culture industry's appropriation of private lives. Whereas Uncle Gallus, therefore, actively controls the reshaping of his own experiences, the story of Anselm's father testifies to the socially useful transformation of failure into entertainment and edification. The manipulation of his life renders him exemplary. Certainly, his failure typifies the follies of excessive subjectivity.

The crucial point here is that within the general context of cultural reductionism the revelation of such exemplary lives may inevitably pander to a melancholic or salacious obsession with individual suffering. The popular fictionalization of authentic history perhaps also furthers the propagation of a sanitized version of social reality. Thus, it is no surprise that Anselm should contradict his occasional brooding upon the manipulation of his father's past: 'Ich bin fur hygienische Illusionen, unwahrhafte Stilisierungen, der Mensch soll ein hoheres Wesen sein' (p. 66). Here, the socially integrated, role-playing Anselm asserts himself once more, preferring the culture industry's illusion of individual dignity to the actuality of depersonalization. (18)

There is evidence, in fact, to suggest that Anselm's complaints regarding biographical authenticity are disingenuous throughout. His apparent nostalgia for his father's authentic past may itself be an example of literary games-playing designed to sway the emotions of a gullible audience. The suspicion that Anselm is perhaps no more than a talented stylist is encouraged by his description of his visits to a lover: 'Wenn Sie ihre Wohnung vorbereitet hat, sperrt Sie ihren Vater in sein Zimmer (bei diesem Satz erwachte mein Interesse)' (p. 121). Anselm's parenthetical interest here laconically implies his professional appreciation of a literary motif ('fathers') that he himself employs. Indeed, this ostensible indiscretion reinforces the impression of a literary reworking of private history generated by Anselm's tabularization of his father's life: 'Es waren die Jahrzehnte selbst, die man roch und wenn ich 1914 hore, oder 1923, oder 1929 oder 32, dann habe ich sofort diesen Geruch in der Nase, den niemand kennt, der den Kopfnicht in diese zwei Schranke gesteckt hat' (p. 106). These dates generalize the father's biography, forcing the relative formlessness of private life into the prefabricated scaffolding of decisive turning-points conventionally supporting the official narrative. This standardization, moreover, is controverted with bogus naivety as Anselm claims his posthumous encounter with his father as personal, even visceral ('dann habe ich sofort diesen Geruch [...]'). Walser's character is surely aware that his rendition is exemplary, even conventional. Thus, whereas Anthony Waine views such passages as an index of the novel's 'factuality' ('Kristleins Biographie hingegen wirkt dadurch noch realistischer, dass Walser sie in eine weitverzweigte Familienchronik eingeflochten hat, so dass der Leser sich wie beim Geschichtsunterricht vorkommt' (p. 66)), I would argue that the very fact that we feel ourselves to be 'beim Geschichtsunterricht' demonstrates Anselm's ostentatious instrumentalization of biography as a literary device.

Anselm's recasting of paternal genealogy into the cadences of monumental history correlates to his channelling of his own biographical experience into the literary archetype of the Heimkehrer. (19) Indeed, the entire Melitta episode is almost certainly a stylization, an exemplary account of a generation's experience of war and return. This insight frames Anselm as an author. Certainly, I take seriously Kurt Batt's contention: 'Denn aus der Ruckschau, nach dem Erscheinen von "Fiction" (1970) und "Gallistl'sche Krankheit" (1972), lassen sich die voraufgegangenen Romane schwerlich noch als satirische Inventuren des gehobenen mittelstandischen Lebens der BRD lesen'. Batt's exaggeration notwithstanding, I take the East German critic's claim that Walser's true theme is in fact his 'Selbstabrechnung mit dem eigenen Berufund der eigenen Existenz' to include Halbzeit. (20) Even in this early novel, then, Anselm meditates self-reflexively upon the suppression of individual experience in favour of institutional morality.

Hence, Anselm returns repeatedly to the tension between critical thought and habitual conformity. This derives from the cleft between Anselm's 'authentic' person and his role-playing: 'Pastoren, Parlamentarier und Professoren durfen ungestraft so hartnackig einem Gedanken nachhangeln. Aber doch nicht ein Geschaftsmann' (p. 53). Thus, Anselm exists in a state of self-alienation: the writer's critical insight conflicts with the businessman's practicality. Anselm's anomie is infrequently acknowledged as his narration vacillates between first and third person. Such shifts in perspective imply the unstable nature of Anselm's sense of self; he alternates, then, between apparent self-identity and a debilitating distance from his own person. This arrangement becomes still more complex as the third-person narrator (the alienated Anselm) develops a first-person voice in order to inquire (with some irony) about the original 'ich' who is the protagonist of the story: 'Versteh ich Anselm noch? Under selbst, versteht er sich noch?' (p. 718). (21)

Anselm's conscious exploitation of competing perspectives draws attention not only to the split between public and private selves but also to the artificiality of the literary procedure itself. His narrative contortions, then, are overextended in formulations such as: 'In meinem taubenblauen Anzug stieg er aus meinem Auto, druckte die Tar, um keinen Krach zu machen, vorsichtig zu, ging auf dem Rasen zur Haustur' (p. 345). The bewildering condensation of conflicting standpoints into this concise and putatively descriptive passage combines with the implausible neologism 'taubenblau' to express the narrator's pleasure in his own inventiveness. More significantly, such instances exhibit a mastery of literary device. The same might be said of his deliberately overzealous exploitation of the allusive name (Frau Ubelhor (p. 360) hears only malicious gossip) especially when coupled with a comic, if facetious, appropriation of contemporary literary-theoretical debates. Thus, the adamantly modernist Professor Habeding censures Anselm's realist predilection for describing 'Interieurs' as 'neunzehntes Jahrhundert' (p. 700), despite the humorous object-fetishism implied in his name. Such specimens, however, surely detract from the sincerity of Anselm's complaints.

Certainly, Anselm frames his story in various stylized theatrical forms, including 'Modernes Theater' (p. 349) and 'dialogue sublime' (p. 731). Yet the most substantive evidence that his personal crisis is mere stylization is provided by an instance of apparent self-interpretation:

Erzahlen, soviel wie zugeben, dabei aber heiter machende Distanz vorschutzen, eosfingrig (22) Blumchen ins melierte Gestrige flechten, dem, der ich gestern war, auf die Schultern klopfen [...] man glaubt mir ohnedies, dass ich reich geandert habe, sonst wurde ich doch melnen aufgepolsterten Vorlaufer nicht so blossstellen. So tun, als konne man sich andern. (p. 639) Confessional writing, then, is a literary strategy. The author tantalizes his audience, making them 'heiter' by instituting a division between an authentic past self and its more accomplished if self-alienated present incarnation. This literary technique enacts a calculated embellishment of an intuitively genuine self. It offers a humanistic vision of individual development that in fact conceals the reality of personal stagnation. The writer appeals, therefore, to the audience's prurient interest in self-disclosure as well as its requirement that such tales appear morally uplifting. Thus, Anselm invests the breach of the taboo against self-revelation with economic value. In this, he is contrasted with his pious wife Alissa, who internalizes this interdiction: 'Ich werde endlich nicht mehr bloss an mich denken mussen. Wie widerlich wird man sich dadurch' (p. 375). Alissa may even embody Walser's own residual religiosity, perhaps as an abhorrence of self-disclosure. Thus, Alissa also composes personal history, yet chooses the traditionally 'female' medium of the diary. This genre is conventionally regarded as more 'authentic'.

Yet Anselm's exhibitionism also requires the sacrifice of personal history. Only by generalizing biography, in fact, can the writer sell 'his story'. Anselm, then, consciously styles himself as a victim of this sacrifice:

Die Sonne schien bloss auf mich, reich hatte sie ausgesucht, auf meinen Schadel bundelte sie die Junivormittagshitze, eigentlich bestimmt fur die ganze Stadt, aber jetzt von Schritt zu Schritt sich nur noch auf meinen Schadel sammelnd, um mir eine gluhende Mitra aufzusetzen. Warum mh? Ich hatte keine Schlange getotet, keinem Sonnenpriester ein Auge ausgestossen, ich kannte gar keinen. (p. 25)

Here, the sun, as previously suggested, surely symbolizes Anselm's exposure. Indeed, his sense that he alone has been chosen for its attentions (bloss auf mich'; 'mich hatte sie aufgesucht'; 'nur noch auf meinen Schadel') constructs a paranoid litany. His fantasy that the intensity of the sun, designed for the entire city, is becoming concentrated increasingly upon his person implies both his illustrative status (he suffers for all) and his delusions of grandeur. His complaints are ambiguous: his exemplary standing is both unpleasant and yet glorious. He pictures himself crowned with a glowing mitre, whilst expressing bewilderment at this distinction. Indeed, he claims he is no hero in the traditional, even literary, sense, but is in fact rather ordinary.

Anselm's suggestion that he is quite undistinguished is, of course, almost certainly an act of dissimulation. It mimics the contemporary rejection of the traditional literary hero, the uniquely courageous individual capable of slaying a 'Schlange', or of striking out an eye from the 'Sonnenpriester', and feigns adoption of the new democratic preference for the 'everyday' literary figure. None the less, this assertion of ordinariness is counterfeit. Anselm displays a proficiency for transforming self-sacrifice into self-advantage. This is facilitated by his adept exploitation of literary technique, as described above. Anselm, in fact, appears to be uniquely talented as an author. He is able to weave 'eosfingrig Blumchen ins melierte Gestrige' (p. 639), and thereby renders his complaints appetizing. In this way, Anselm might finally gain a 'Sprechrolle' at the gathering of incorporated artists assembled 'im grossen Salon der Frantzke-Villa' (p. 584).

Anselm's abandonment of 'authentic' experience for literary stylizization locates him as an adept operator within a cultural sphere that rewards empty moral platitudes over socially critical incisiveness. Universalized narratives are preferred to historically specific accounts of personal suffering. Yet Anselm's collusion here is simultaneously a consequence of the pressure exerted upon him to play the part of 'conscience of the nation'. To expand upon my initial commentary upon Anselm's opening lament, 'So schwer mir das Aufwachen fiel, so schwer fiel mir das Einschlafen [...] Eigentlich hetzte mich die Sonne' (p. 9), the protagonist is caught perhaps not only between professional and private spheres but also between a sincere desire to write 'authentic' biography and the requirement to generate idealized narratives. Again, this might be condensed within Anselm's (typically stylized) complaint: 'Die Sonne schien bloss auf mich, mich hatte sie ausgesucht [...] um mir eine gluhende Mitra aufzusetzen' (p. 25). Here, Walser's character may be invoking paranoia regarding the enforced role of moral arbiter: the system, readers, and the critical establishment render intellectual dissent harmless by appropriating it as vacuous moralizing. Within the 'grossen Salon der Frantzke-Villa' (p. 584), mentioned above, Anselm experiences the benign dictatorship of capitalist patronage: 'Der bose Kapitalist dankt seinem Propheten far die Lehre, ach Kinder, trinkt mit mir, was ware der ganze Schwindel, wenn es euch nicht gabe! Prooost!' (p. 620). This comment summarizes the capitalist state's exploitation of writers as a form of legitimation. Artists allay the need to provide a response to the conundrum: 'was ware der ganze Schwindel.'

This collusion between writers and the capitalist establishment they feign to assault undermines their claim to constitute what Rob Burns and Wilfried van der Will describe as 'a secular clergy that has inherited something of the elevated aura which once attached to prophets, philosophers and poets'. (23) Literary intellectuals are firmly embedded in the economic and political foundations of their society. Equally, the pressure to abandon 'authentic' biography for the ineffectual righteousness of the moral high ground appears to have forced writers into what Ulrich Greiner has recently polemically termed 'Gesinnungsasthetik', an exemplary discourse lacking all literary merit ('Die deutsche Gesinnungsasthetik', p. 214). Within the novel itself, such a position is assumed by Dieckow, the 'Trager vieler Preise'. This incorporated individual, it is reported:

gehe beim Oberburgermeister ein und aus, gehore zum Curio-Stammtisch, sei gefurchtet, well er im Funk sprechen konne, wanner wolle, vielleicht sogar, was er wolle, in der Zeitung stunde nicht nur die Feuilletonseite jederzeit offen, sondern auch die Leitartikelspalte, und wenn er noch nicht im PEN-Club sei, stehe seine Aufnahme unmittelbar vor. (p. 413)

Access to the fruits of patronage presupposes, of course, a political reward. Dieckow moves to West Berlin and becomes a 'Lerche der Freiheit, die das Lied der grossen Ladenstrasse singt' (p. 824). His critical comments in the 'Leitartikelspalte' are tolerated as payment for services rendered to the system. In addition, Anselm's close friend Edmund may be less successful than Dieckow, but is none the less similarly desirous of the social prestige that accrues to those artists capable of combining low-level dissent with acquiescence. Edmund and Dieckow debate, in typical feuilleton Fashion, national characteristics that might be considered 'typisch deutsch' (p. 605). Here, the italicized allusion to contemporary intellectual debates on German identity is comic. Similarly, they quarrel about various renditions of an industrial accident (pp. 613-20). Their inane concern with literary form erases the tragic consequences of the contemporary entrepreneurial obsession with construction and money-making. In both cases, the two writers exchange vain moralizing, and a fixation on style, for political discussion.

Walser's novel, therefore, may be read as an examination of the pressures upon the writer to abandon 'authenticity' for social and commercial success. Authors in the formative phase of the Federal Republic soon discovered that harrowing renditions of personal experience were unwelcome in the context of the expansive optimism of those years. Equally, their universalized narratives were incorporated as cultural production which served, paradoxically, to legitimize the status quo through moderate censure of its excesses. As I hope to have shown in my detailed analysis of the text's aesthetic strategies, however, it is by means of its elaborate engagement with these very themes that Halbzeit avoids the charge that all West German novels written under these circumstances lack aesthetic value. The work combines incisive irony vis-a-vis the role of the author in society with a cerebral manipulation of this very narrative technique. This complex interaction elevates social critique beyond the inflated (and subsidized) self-righteousness of Gesinnungsasthetik to a higher, more pleasing level of literary accomplishment and reflection. (24)

(1) 'An All-German Dilemma: Some Notes on the Presentation of the Theme of the Individual and Society in Martin Walser's Halbzeit and Christa Wolf 's Nachdenken uber Christa T.', German Life and Letters, 28 (1974/75), 58-64 (p. 59).

(2) Ehen in Philippsburg (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1957). Anthony Waine comments on Walser's choice of names in The Modern German Novel, ed. by Keith Bullivant (Leamington Spa: Berg, 1987), 259-75 (pp. 262-64).

(3) Donald Nelson, 'The Depersonalized World of Martin Walser', German Quarterly, 42 (1969), 204-16 (p. 204).

(4) C. Wright Mills, White Collar (New York: Oxford University Press, 1951), p. 188.

(5) See A. Mitscherlich and M. Mitscherlich, Die Unfahigkeit zu trauern (Munich: Piper, 1967). Walser's presentation of the collective repression of traumatic events within the Wirtschaftswunder appears to predict their work, which was hugely influential in the period.

(6) 'Die deutsche Gesinnungsasthetik', in Es geht nicht nur um Christa Wolf, ed. by Thomas Anz (Munich: Sprangenberg, 1991), 208-16 (p. 214).

(7) 'Epilog auf eine Romanform. Martin Walsers Roman Halbzeit', in Martin Walser, ed. by Klaus Siblewski (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1981), 74-113 (p. 83).

(8) Martin Walser, Halbzeit (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1960), p. 35. All references are to this edition.

(9) Jost Hermand examines the notion: '"Kulturstaat Bundesrepublik" als ideologisches Leitkonzept', noting the manner in which all political parties looked to culture to legitimize the political status quo (Die Kultur der Bundesrepublik Deutschlands 1965-1985 (Munich: Nymphenburger Verlagshandlung, 1986), p. 53).

(10) 'Anselm Kristlein: Eins bis Drei -- Gemeinsamkeit und Unterschied', in text + kritik, 41/42 (1974), 38-36 (p. 38). Ulrike Hick speaks of a 'Dualismus von Drinnen und Draussen' (Martin Wallers Prosa: Moglichkeiten des zeitgenossischen Romans unter Berucksichtigung des Realismusanspruchs (Stuttgart: Heinz, 1983), p. 73).

(11) 'Martin Walser The Hero of Accommodation', Monatshefte, 62 (1970), 357-66 (p. 358).

(12) Anselm later associates fathers with war in an unrelated allusion to the 'Krieg, der zweite in der nach Fortsetzungen durstigen Zahlenreihe, der Krieg, der ja unser aller Vater ist' (p. 142). For many of his generation the loss of the father in war symbolically 'fathered' their postwar traumas. Anselm's invocation of Heraclitus ('Der Krieg ist der Vater aller Dinge') ironically indicts the misappropriation of the Greek philosopher's dictum as a justification for war as the motor of change.

(13) In Das Einhorn Anselm appears to have distanced himself still further, if not entirely, from his father's failure: 'Den von Umzug zu Umzug kleiner und schwerer werdenden Leichnam meines Vaters trug ich selber hinunter' (Das Einhorn (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp), 1966, p. 24). Yet the notion of 'schwerer' here indicates that even as biographical trauma grows more distant in time its ability to resurface with explosive effect grows more concentrated.

(14) 'Narrative Perspective in the Novels of Martin Walser', German Quarterly, 44 (1971), 48-57 (P. 50)

(15) Anselm pictures Melitta 'am Kastanienbaum' (p. 858). This motif is echoed in Das Einhorn when Anselm's dog leads him to a block of flats previously inhabited by Melitta; the dog is 'kastanienrot' (p. 70). Likewise, mice disturb Anselm's efforts to sleep (to repress the past?): 'Es rollt, kollert, klingt nach Kastanien' (p. 28). More significantly, the reader who asks persistent questions about Anselm is berated: Trag die Kastanien aus, die wissen bescheid uber ihn' (p. 436). These allusions imply that Anselm's repression of personal history for present conformity is not entirely successful even in this later novel. Yet Melitta also appears as Mylitta (p. 284) in an operatic presentation of the impotence of Alexander the Great, thus indicating how such traumas can be exploited for artistic ends.

(16) This is a form of self-serving complaint to which Walser's later and similarly named character Gallistl also subscribes: see my article, 'Martin Walser's Die Gallistl'sche Krankheit: Self-Reflexivity as Illness', German Life and Letters, 49 (1996), 358-72. Both figures allude to their melancholic, even bitterly vindictive, dispositions in their names, both of which invoke the condition schwarze Galle. Gallus's success under Hitler also contrasts with the deficiencies of Anselm's other uncle who joins the typical (perhaps stereotypical) German exodus to America, fails there, returns to Germany, and is murdered during the Nazi programme of eliminating the mentally ill.

(17) Martin Walser (Munich: Beck, 1980), p. 67.

(18) Seemingly internalizing the dissolution of critical perspectives grounded in social or historical reality into the chimera of the culture industry, Anselm invokes extra-historical, metaphysical, even fantastical causes as the source of his self-alienation. He refers to the 'graue Mieze' as a vindictive and spiteful embodiment of 'fate,' periodically assaulting him with its 'Pfoten' (p. 406). This moggy is also framed as God ('Lieber Gott vergib mir, wenn ich Dich graue Mieze genannt habe, aber Du wirkst eben oft wahnsinnig verspielt' (p. 406)) and as a 'Regisseur' (p. 793), or as 'der grosse Regisseur, der nie genannt sein will' (p. 799). Given Anselm's narrative mastery in the text, however, it seems likely that there may be an element of games-playing in his bewildering multiplication of such phantoms.

(19) Anselm may be profiting from the often controversial fashionability in literary circles of Heimkehrer narratives such as Wolfgang Borchert's short stories and his play Draussen vor der Tur (1947), or Heinrich Boll's Wo warst du, Adam? (1951).

(20) Kurt Batt, 'Die Exekution des Erzahlers (II). Westdeutsche Romane um 1970', Sinn und Form, 25 (1973), 397-431 (p. 425).

(21) This technique is employed in a similar if more exaggerated fashion in Das Einhorn: 'Zum Gluck gibt es personliche Furworter [...] Sogar das auftrumpfende Ich bringt es nicht uber sich, mit sich selbst auch einmal im Ernstfall per Du zu sein. Ist man etwa kein Fuworterparlament? Anselm, so heisst das Parlamentsgebaude, darin tagen die Erste Person, die Zweite Person, die Dritte Person. Welche Person in der Einzahl, welche in der Mehrzahl auftritt, ist von Mal zu Mal verschieden' (p. 188).

(22) From Eos, Greek goddess of the sunrise, who lent her name to the red dye 'Eosin', used in the manufacture of decorative products.

(23) Protests and Democracy in West Germany: Extra Parliamentary Opposition and the Democratic Agenda (London: Macmillan, 1988), p. 17.

(24) I am grateful to Dr Beth Linklater for her careful editing of this article.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Modern Humanities Research Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Yeandle, D.N.
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1997
Previous Article:German Narrative Literature of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries: Studies Presented to Roy Wisbey on his Sixty-Fifth Birthday.
Next Article:Die hofische Gesellschaft in Deutschland von der Mitte des 17. bis zum Ausgang des 1. Jahrhunderts.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters