Gjesteredaktør Anja Utler

Gjesteredaktør Anja Utler

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.


Andrea Winkler’s prose is quite exceptional among authors of her age writing in German: while most attention in recent years has been given to (and most propaganda has been made for) the ‘good story’ smoothly told, Andrea Winkler’s art insists that it’s language work which forms the prose. And which will, much more than simple reproduction, bring about encounters with our world.

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?

Vom Kainszeichen zum genetischen Code
In poststructuralist theory much has been said about 'writing' as such – and much of it has made me feel quite uncomfortable. In Vom Kainszeichen zum genetischen Code, philosopher Christoph Türcke takes up this focus, but he approaches the subject from a different angle. Türcke strips 'writing' of the metaphysical implications it’s been given in poststructuralist discourse, and sets out to find and sketch its origins. He localises the beginning of writing in, as the title says, Cain’s mark: a mark of – first and foremost – protection cut into the human skin. Writing, thus, was part of cult, and Türcke outlines the emancipatory efforts it has taken to make it a profane thing. Today, however, Türcke thinks we need to be warned of establishing a new cult of writing in branding, grammatology, hypertext, and the conceptualisation of genetics as 'code' or information. Writing as such is meaningless and empty, never an aim in itself – and that, for Türcke, is its finest quality, its greatest power which we may lose if we continue making writing a fetish. Türcke’s book makes a clear point – and made me see my own position towards 'writing' much clearer.

Niemands Frau - Gesänge
Barbara Köhler, for me, is the German poet that has made herstory most uncompromisingly visible in the German language. In Niemands Frau she goes back to the much worked-upon figure of Odysseus’s wife Penelope, who, literally, becomes Nobody’s wife/woman. What might seem but a fancy (or, if you will, outdated) gesture, is actually a consequential move in this author’s work: In the daily weaving and unweaving of Penelope’s web, Barbara Köhler seems to have found the logical material counterpart of what she’s been doing for readers of German during the last two to three decades. Unweaving language’s grammar, syntax, semantics she’s laid bare the (not only: gendered) ideological skeleton inside what we say from day to day. Weaving the sounding material back together into a new stream of voice, into a pulsing tissue of genuine poetic excitement, she gives language’s material particles the shift+spin that will bring about a decisive difference in thinking and angle and action.

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.

Das Prinzip Leben
I’ve always been interested in what biology has to say about life on this planet. Recently, however, when biologists have shared their thoughts, they have often sounded pretty oppressive: any freedom in action, thinking? Sorry, living machine, you’re predetermined to a 100%. Rape? An evolutionary asset. Women’s emancipation? A danger to the evolutionary success of the entire species homo sapiens!

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.)

Citta dolente: Das Wolschaner Reich
The title of Czech author Daniela Hodrová’s novel Das Wolschaner Reich refers to a part of Prague, one of Europe’s largest cemeteries, dating from the 17th century and called olšanské hřbitovy, literally: the alder cemeteries. Thus, the place is set in Hodrová’s novel: there’s the house next to the cemetery, there are the streets of Prague, and of course there’s the cemetery itself. Time, however, becomes transparent and permeable. Moving through the text was for me like walking under densely leafed alder trees on a bright day, a stroll through multiplying and flickering layers of light and shadows. The characters in Hodrová’s text are shown in a quivering movement between death and life, in which the dead seem to lose their deaths more than their lives, while the living remain caught in their lives, their places, their forgetfulnesses. Along with the flickering movement of time, the novel does not unfold one single course of action; rather, through a montage of short poetic threads, we hear voices of different lives from Czech present and past. And we hear the voices of some speechless objects, like the skin, a muff, a room – Hodrová lets space breathe into her novel and makes the air of Prague an iridiscent mirage of bodies coming to light and fading.

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
In Germany, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht is some kind of a popstar scholar, that is: his thoughts do reach the public via the media, but in a very simplified form. Partly, it appeared to me that his greatest accomplishment is seen as having been born and educated in Germany and still becoming a professor at Stanford. So when I first got in touch with his Diesseits der Hermeneutik, I was a bit prejudiced – but for me the book turned out to be among my most valuable reading experiences on how Western cultures have shaped their (our) minds and relations to the world since the Renaissance.

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.

Prosa, Proserpina, Prosa
Oswald Egger is a singular figure in German poetry. While for the larger part of today’s poetry in German, the idea of a text as a multivalent phenomenon that leaves space for unpredictable communication with the readers’ minds, is even less than a truism, Oswald Egger’s work demands radical personal, subjective interaction. In fact, Egger’s texts cannot be read without constantly taking decisions: strictly non-linear in composition, the books leave you to create your own intersections and layerings, ways in and out, indeed: texts for yourself.

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.

Die größere Hoffnung
When I borrowed Ilse Aichinger’s Die größere Hoffnung from the library as a teenager, it turned out to be the first book I found impossible to read through. I was disappointed with myself, I found the book agonizing and felt guilty about returning it mostly unread. Die größere Hoffnung is about a group of children in Vienna during World War II whose grandparents have, as the text says, “failed” – failed to be what the Nazis called Aryans. A few years later, I tried again, I became enthusiastic about Aichinger’s text, whose sparse language seemed to take the child’s marvelling gaze into its body and make moving through its estrangements an almost sculptural experience. But once again, I returned the book without having read it to the end. The book kept haunting me, I bought a copy and regularly came back to it.

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.