Academic journal article Pynchon Notes

Pynchon and Three Contemporary German Novelists

Academic journal article Pynchon Notes

Pynchon and Three Contemporary German Novelists

Article excerpt

In the 1990s, several literary critics, authors and editors complained that German prose fiction had become too theoretical and experimental. (1) These proponents of what was variously termed new realism, Neue Lesbarkeit (new readability) or new narrativity claimed that younger authors had shut themselves off from the world and alienated their potential readers. They called on writers to eschew such modernist and postmodernist strategies as fragmentation and self-reflexiveness and instead focus on plot, character and action. Novels were to resemble good reporting or gripping movies. Well-told tales and compelling narratives drawn from personal experience and observation were to replace language games and radical subjectivity. Solid craftsmanship was to produce realistic portraits of contemporary German society. Not least, a more consumer-friendly prose style was to win back readers and enhance the competitiveness of German literature in the international market. German authors were frequently referred to the model of internationally successful U.S.-American authors. In particular, practitioners of the so-called dirty realism of the 1970s and 1980s, Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff and Richard Ford, were held up as examples of literary pragmatism and craftsmanship.

The call for a return to realist conventions in prose fiction was more than a critique of certain excesses of experimental fiction in Germany. It amounted to a complete rejection of serious modernist and postmodern literature with its emphasis on formal innovation, fragmentation and the questioning of language and meaning. Essentially, the crisis of representation lamented by Hofmannsthal in his "Lord Chandos Letter" (1902) was declared over.

Since then, the realist mode has come to dominate German literature. In July 2004, Der Spiegel could state with barely concealed satisfaction that never before had so many examples of good storytelling been presented at the competitive readings for the Ingeborg-Bachmann Prize (Hage). The entry on German literature in the guide Facts about Germany, published by the Auswartiges Amt (Foreign Office), claims, "Narrating is back in favor--inspired by American role models such as Raymond Carver" (149). "What counts ... is authenticity in literature and describing the here and now--the more merciless the view, the better. The author's own biography becomes the basis of the stories" (152).

This is the literary environment in which Nika Bertram's Der Kahuna Modus (2001), Tobias O. Meilssner's Starfish Rules (1997) and Georg Klein's Libidissi (1998) were published. These very different debut novels stand apart from the German literary mainstream, each in its own way. They have in common, however, that their authors either have acknowledged a familiarity with Thomas Pynchon or have been assumed by critics and reviewers to be influenced by his works. In the main part of this essay, I will briefly summarize and comment on Der Kahuna Modus, Starfish Rules and Libidissi, and point out possible connections between these novels and Pynchon's work. But first, I want to take a look back to 1976, when Pynchon's stature in contemporary literature was first acknowledged by an important author writing in German.

The Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek, who has since become one of the most renowned (and controversial) novelists and playwrights in the language, was still working on her translation of Gravity's Rainbow into German when she published an essay on Pynchon, "kein licht am ende des tunnels" ("No Light at the End of the Tunnel"). In this introduction to Pynchon's work in general and to Gravity's Rainbow in particular, Jelinek provides essential information about the author, mentions such important sources as Henry Adams and Max Weber, and addresses the myriad plots of Pynchon's huge novel. As interpretative guides she uses Heinz Ickstadt's and Tony Tanner's relevant studies. In concluding her essay, Jelinek offers a political critique of the worldview she finds expressed in the novel. …

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