Gjesteredaktør Anja Utler
* 1973 in Schwandorf (Germany), lives in Vienna and Regensburg, received a PhD at the University of Regensburg in 2003 for a thesis on Russian Modernist poetry.
Books and CDs of poetry:
aufsagen. Gedichte. Bunte-Raben-Verlag: Lintig-Meckelstedt 1999.
münden – entzüngeln. Gedichte. Edition Korrespondenzen: Wien 2004.
brinnen. Edition Korrespondenzen: Wien 2006.
brinnen (Audio-CD). edition merz&solitude: Stuttgart 2006.
jana, vermacht (book & audio-CD). Edition Korrespondenzen: Wien 2009.
In Andrea Winkler’s texts, the characters find themselves radically shaped by and lost in the phrasings of their (our) surroundings. Or, as Peter Waterhouse put it in a laudation on Andrea Winkler’s work, “in every or almost every sentence you will hear something which is repeated, you will hear the sentence stumble, stop, and pause.” And it’s this stumbling, these cracks in the language coating which reveal that Winkler’s characters have managed to preserve some individuality. They are “poor fools” (Arme Närrchen), and their resistance is often hesitant and weak, it may be nothing more than the search for a word, or the feeling that they can’t remember the few things of importance in their lives: “Was immer ich mir ins Gedächtnis gerufen habe, etwas blieb aus, das Wichtigste vermutlich, jetzt muss ich ohne weiter tanzen, weiter gehen.” But it’s the acutely felt presence of such dark spots and dissonances that saves the characters from dissolving inside the preset phrases & paths of reflection, and makes them shout: “Als ob es im Leben nichts anderes als Zukunft gäbe!” (“As if there was nothing in life but future!”)
Andrea Winkler’s Selbstgespräche (soliloquies) give a language to the distance between the characters and their surroundings which opens space for doubt and questioning – also for the texts’ readers. I found that a quick, too self-assured reading of Winkler’s sentences did not only leave me with the impression of missing what these texts are able to give, but also with a peculiar feeling of violence – against the characters, myself? When slowing down, however, and exploring the cracks in language with a more careful heart, the peculiar logics and vulnerabilities inside them gave rise to quite a few productive insecurities and turns of thought, one of which sounded: Whose soliloquies are these, after all? The characters’? Winkler’s? Mine?
The book comes with a CD where the web is woven from Barbara Köhler’s own voice. If you’re looking for a quite unique crossing of the arts, however, don’t miss No One’s Box, which adds 8 movies by Andrea Wolfensberger to the book, in which image and language meet and melt and endulge in their slight rifting.
The fault, however, may not be with biology’s findings – these do leave space for much more liberating readings. One of the voices taking a stand for freedom in the organic is that of Hans Jonas. His Das Prinzip Leben was first published in German in 1973 as Organismus und Freiheit – which was by far the more adequate title for this book. Jonas sets out to prove that no organic being can be satisfactorily explained in terms of res extensa, that the laws of physics applying to matter cannot be stretched so far as to account for the development and behaviour of living bodies. He explains why the living being can not be seen as a machine (at least not if you’re trying to make some sense). And Hans Jonas shows how the evolution of a thinking and feeling mind starts with and in the very emergence of organic life, no matter how basic its form may be – and describes the ways in which the psychophysical integrity of the living, thinking body opens a space in which freedom of thinking and action is not only somehow possible, but a dimension of the human/organic condition we have to cope with.
(Yes, the book was written before 1973. No, I don’t think it is obsolete, I think it’s stunningly relevant today. And, no, as far as I can see it has not been proved wrong by new findings in biology, quite to the contrary.)
To me, Hodrová’s text was a dizzying beauty I didn’t want to part with after only 256 pages. Fortunately, the number in Città dolente I does not point to a vague future. Città dolente is a trilogy which was started in the 1970s and completed in the late 80s, banned from publication in Czechoslovakia, but now the books are all in print. And for Im Reich der Lüfte (Città dolente II), definitely, there‘s no need to hide behind her elder sister.
Diesseits der Hermeneutik presents a detailed understanding of the way Western thinking, science and art have become based on privileging a culture of meaning. In such cultures of meaning, the focus is on the individual’s reading the world from an outside position as the only legitimate source of knowledge, while her/his bodily being is classed with the material, incapable of making any sense. Gumbrecht does show what our cultures win by pushing aside bodily presence as the main means of encountering the world – but first and foremost he sketches the dimensions of what we lose in losing this mode of existence and thinking completely. Thus, he suggests developing categories for understanding art outside the terms of observation and ascribing meaning; for me, one of the central points here were Gumbrecht’s doubts in ‘innovation’ as a useful category in judging the relevance of a work of art – even if he does not yet clearly delineate how to replace it. Which shows that there’s still a lot of free space left to think into.
Gliding through the different strands of lines in Egger’s poetry, however, there is no feeling of missing, of scissure and disruption; rather, there’s an impression of abundance. At the Audiatur festival in November 2009, Jenny Hval gave me an intriguing image that seems related to Egger’s work. Talking about feelings of amputation when speaking a foreign language, she said that writing in English to her felt like growing new limbs. Oswald Egger, it seems to me, grows new limbs in and for his mother tongue. Limbs that reach into the past, taking into hand syllables and sound-clusters the German language might have followed and developed, but didn’t. Limbs that make word-forms stretch out and grow into one another to form meanings that are quite inconceivable, but still: needed? For Egger’s work is more than an empty exercise in bending grammar and lexicon. Prosa, Proserpina, Prosa states it explicitly: all is about ich (‘I’) and alles (‘everything’). And it’s this alles which in the overgrowing twists of language seems to be present in its very nature while this very nature (these very natures) remain(s) quite out of grasp.
While it’s entirely possible that the joy of, let’s say: a noun making its way into a past tense, is one that’s accessible only to the ones who know German really well, Egger’s work is fortunately no longer confined to his mother tongue: In a co-operation with Egger, composer Michael Pisaro set out to create an equivalent of Egger’s poetry in English, which was published under the title Room of Rumor in 2004.
Now I think this may be the greatest accomplishment of Aichinger’s text: Making its readers come back to the unbearable. And making the reader feel the unbearable in its greatest atrocity in a, for me, quite unexpected place: in the encounter with the children’s relentless hope. As when they dream they might save a child from drowning and be rewarded with the permission to sit on benches and play in parks again, as when they hope “that farewell will end some time and reunion will begin.” That’s the childlike hope of the fairy tale, and when it’s aimed at the most simple things in life, the reader knows we’ve made a world that no longer deserves that name. But Aichinger’s characters are vigorous and defiant, and when Aichinger has a deportee to a concentration camp say she hoped for everything – “I’ve always hoped for everything. Why should I give that up now?” – she also blocks the easy way of defeatism for her readers, demanding their efforts for a life in critical and incorruptible hope.