Transcript

Text: taking a detour to catch a breath --

Text: Being German is not a profession / Details of Hans Magnus Enzensberger from four decades

Kluge: Here is a poem of yours: "The Wolves defended against the Lambs". Could you explain to our audience what it is about?

Enzensberger: It's an ancient story.

Kluge: From a time long past. A bit earlier than 1960.

Enzensberger: Yes. Early 1950s probably. Well, it deals with an issue that never really goes away. It's about good people and evil people, and here the bad guys are basically defended against the good guys, because without the help of the good, the bad would not be able to be evil and could not cause so much trouble. Of course the context is political and not just ethical, and it's about the political commissars, the vultures, the generals …

Kluge: … all of whom wouldn't be able to exist.

Enzensberger: All of whom wouldn't be able to exist …

Kluge: According to law, the generals, or the managing director, would be accused directly. And they say, it is completely unnecessary to support them. You create, unnecessarily, what they later call gratuitous angst.

Enzensberger: Yes, that is an old tradition too.

Text: Hans Magnus Enzensberger, writer

Enzensberger: La Boétie wrote a treatise in 17th century about "voluntary slavery". It's connected to that phenomenon. It was very conspicuous, not only during the rule of the National Socialists, in the so-called "fellow traveler syndrome", but also during the sudden change, the heliotrope, when suddenly everyone was a democrat, like plants that turn toward the light. That was very strange.

Text: The wolves defended against the lambs /

Text: Should the vultures eat forget-me-nots?

Text: What do you want the jackal to do,

Text: cut loose from his skin, or the wolf?

Text: Should he pull his own teeth out of his head? /

Text: […] there are plenty of victims, very few thieves:

Text: You lambs, why crows would be

Text: nuns stacked up against you:

Text: all of you hoodwink each other /

Text: Fraternity's the rule among wolves :

Text: they travel in packs /

Text: Blessed are the thieves:

Text: you ask them up for a rape, then

Text: throw yourself down on the moldy bed

Text: of submission. /

Text: Moaning you stick to your lies. /

Text: You'd love to be torn limb from limb. /

Text: You won't change the world. /

Enzensberger: … and maybe one consequence from that situation, for someone who's a writer, was what I notice today when I read texts like that: a certain pathos, a certain rhetoric, that sometimes even takes on a shrill voice. That simply has to do with the state of upheaval, with the rage that people had back then. If you went to the doctor in 1950 or 1953, you had to consider … all the people who worked as doctors in concentration camps continued their careers. Or if you were unlucky enough to end up in court, you still had an 80% chance of getting an old Nazi judge. So that's why there was this helpless infuriation and anger, it was simply unbearable. That was my subjective situation back then. Maybe there was also something neurotic about it on my part. And to get rid of my German neurosis, I went abroad for eight or nine years.

Kluge: Repeatedly. To Norway, the USA, Mexico, Cuba …

Enzensberger: Yes, many years. I was gone for a long time, I was gone for very long and it was good for me, because my opinion has always been that being German is not actually a profession.

Kluge: But once you wrote: "The eternal little lamp (Lämplein) of enlightenment", that is an expression of yours that you use for books. Why do there have to be books? Why are they superior to modern media, which might be faster, might be more dynamic, might reach more people? But you say that the book, if it is a good book, belongs to the ranks of the eternal lamps of enlightenment …

Enzensberger: Is that how I phrased it? Well, the thing with the lamp is not without irony. That is a humble expression. I did not call it the torch of enlightenment, but a little lamp that cannot die.

Kluge: But at least …

Enzensberger: … These little lamps that were filled with oil already existed in antiquity. And that's also where the so-called eternal light in the church has its roots, by the way. It is certainly also hinting at the fact that the men of enlightenment were not completely free either, even at their best … they were basically anti-church … and the way these things go, if you fight with someone, it is also a bit contagious …

Kluge: So you have been addicted to lamps, and a heathen the whole time. Could you say that?

Enzensberger: Well.

Kluge: … Certain pagan and enlightened tendencies?

Enzensberger: Let's just say that faith is not my strong side. That's how you could phrase it, and that certainly has also to do with historical experience, because if you have seen how quickly a civilization can go to the dogs, it is hard to put unconditional trust into something.

Kluge: Now I am imagining you in 1968. That was a totally different time from the perspective of 1960. I can see you lolling in jeans at a "teach-in" at the Bettina school in Frankfurt. First you observe, make fun – horrible, I'd say – and it's obvious that you are in an ironic mood, then you give a passionate speech and butt in, you interfere.

Enzensberger: Well

Kluge: It's a stage.

Enzensberger: Yes, for one thing, that kind of situation is not very common in German history, and that's why I would have found it strange to turn my back on it. It was a very odd process, how a relatively small minority can push a society in a certain direction. The whole thing had theatrical aspects, of course, it was a bit like puppet theater, if you want. But still, the backwardness, the anachronism of German rules of social conduct, was in need of renewal: the question as to how parents treat their children, how a teacher treats their students, how a doctor treats their patients, how a boss treats his employees …

Kluge: … how city districts are dealing with each other …

Enzensberger: Yes, they were extremely antiquated. They were still based on the conditions in the '30s and '40s, of course, and at some point that just had to crash, the walls had to be torn down and that did not happen without exaggeration and clamor. So I just felt like … I wanted to get a feeling for it. And you can only do that if you interfere, to a certain degree. The difference was that I wasn't a student. I was already much older than those kids, and that's why my attitude, which you describe as ironic. I never quite gave up the perspective of an observer. I was never completely involved, in any context, in any club. I was never a member of anything, to the degree that I never participated in anything - I cannot claim to ever have been a particularly militant person – it was first stage.

Text: Shit

Text: I always hear people talking about it

Text: as if it was to blame for everything

Text: see, how gently and humbly

Text: it takes a seat among us!/

Text: Why do we besmirch

Text: its good reputation

Text: and bequeath it

Text: to the President of the United States,

Text: to the cops, to war

Text: and to capitalism?/

Text: How ephemeral it is,

Text: and how durable

Text: the things we name after it!

Text: The compliant one

Text: we talk about,

Text: but mean the exploiters/

Text: The one we oppress,

Text: is now expected to express

Text: our anger? /

Text: Isn't it the one that relieved us?

Text: Of soft quality

Text: and strangely nonviolent:

Text: Of all human works, it is

Text: probably the most peaceful /

Text: What did it do to us? /

Enzensberger: People have grown used to looking at '68 from the perspective of defeat, and that's absolutely correct if you listen to the slogans. I mean, we never had a revolutionary situation in Germany then, not even close. Armed struggle, and all those things …

Text: Hans Magnus Enzensberger, writer

Enzensberger: … all that had to end in an inevitable defeat. But from my perspective, that is the weaker side of the story, because aside from the rhetoric, the totally exaggerated rhetoric, the whole thing was basically about changing the unbearable modes of conduct.

Kluge: Yes.

Enzensberger: And in that sense, it succeeded, with all the exaggeration and possible side-effects. As they say: Consult your doctor or pharmacist about side-effects; but anyway: I even believe that the Federal Republic as we know it only emerged in the 1960s, because before that it was a totally different country. Before, it was the protectorate of the Allies and that lasted quite a while, and the Federal Republic only really found itself during the '60s. Of course, you could argue about whether that was '63 or '68. But this country didn't exist before that. I can attest to that. I was there!

Text: Martin Heidegger

Enzensberger: The Heidegger issue: I knew people in Freiburg in the '50s who showed me this speech of Heidegger's. He was still teaching, I even heard him talk. And they wanted to know, I wanted to know, why I abhorred his philosophy.

Kluge: What effect did this man have on you when you heard him talk yourself?

Enzensberger: He was … I have seen many authoritarian teachers, back in school of course, in the 1940s, as you can imagine. But the most authoritarian man that I have ever seen in a teaching position was Martin Heidegger. He was an absolute guru, he wouldn't allow for any dialogue, any argument. This attitude alone infuriates me. I am not a philosopher, I don't want to pretend that I immersed myself in the matter, but I preferred others in Freiburg, the other philosophers: there were the followers of phenomenology, the Husserl school, and a wonderful Jesuit named Wetter, an expert on Marxism – and an opponent of Marxism, of course. Marxism was absolutely taboo back then, only a Jesuit could work on it, but he knew the material by heart. As Benjamin says, he carefully prepared the infant for the feeding. And he was a revelation, he was amazing.

Text: Hans Magnus Enzensberger, writer

Enzensberger: Maybe the effect wasn't what the Societas Jesu had hoped for, but because of its forbidden character alone, this teaching was extremely attractive and educational.

Kluge: And Heidegger was useless from the poetical point of view? Didn't he write a subtle analysis of Hölderlin's work?

Enzensberger: Well, I mean Heidegger's language is completely corrupt, it is an absolutely corrupt language, he is simply a bad poet. There were these poems of Heidegger's that were traded under the table: horrible kitsch! No, no, that really wasn't my cup of tea.

Kluge: Now I meet you again at a completely different point in time: 1986. Just as in the Exodus from Egypt, everyone carries their children or future children away from Chernobyl. There is an exodus of the rich from Central Europe in April, of those who can afford it. And in May, I run into you during a visit at a palace in Portugal, with dukes.

Enzensberger: Really? They were dukes? Oh, right. There was this old guy, the strange heir to the title …. a very beautiful house.

Kluge: In September your daughter Theresia arrives …

Enzensberger: is born, yes…

Kluge: … so she must have existed already, and of course you'd keep something like that safe.

Enzensberger: Yes, but I believe we were there for other reasons. It was pure coincidence, it wasn't a strategic decision to fly to Portugal, it was pleasant there of course, and I do think that maybe we were also having thoughts, but you know, all these things, that is a different side of the West-German society. It is prone to overreacting. I remember people having condensed milk shipped from the US, and leaving their shoes outside the door, all these really strange panic attacks of the society. Same with the … do you remember the Pershing missile issue? People immediately had this hysteric reaction as if they were thinking that Germany would go up in flames the next day.

Kluge: But that wasn't completely unjustified. Not unjustified, because there are General staff plans ...

Enzensberger: Yes, of course, there always are.

Kluge: …at least of the quality of the Schlieffen plan ...

Enzensberger: But that's what the General Staff is there for. The General Staff always has to think every hypothesis through to the very end, and if they don't, like in the current Kosovo war, then that is regrettable, because it means they didn't do their work. They always have to take the extreme case into account, but that doesn't mean that it is a very likely scenario.

Kluge: No. I mean basic plans, but they were based on the idea that the center of both German states could be destroyed, and the Chernobyl explosion wasn't exactly harmless either.

Enzensberger: Yes, it was a gamble, the entire re-armament issue was a gamble, and it turned out that the objective of the exercise – to back the Russians into a corner – was fulfilled.

Kluge: Yes.

Enzensberger: They could not keep up anymore. Of course that was a risky game, the Cold War was not harmless at all. For instance, at the moment I am studying the history of rearmament in Germany, with all the memoranda. I got a hold of those memoranda, from 1947 on … The rearmament of the Federal Republic was not just realized behind the back of the public, at first. There were strict laws, occupation laws, a very specific occupation law, indicating that those were illegal activities. But on the other hand, the American Services basically ordered the Germans to do it. It was a paradoxical situation where a government was forced to do something illegal. A strange story, really. Forgotten today, but maybe that is also something one should think about. It's very interesting.

Kluge: Very interesting. And then old people like Manstein, are called in as consultants, so to speak?

Enzensberger: Yes. Heusing of course, they were all "Panzer Generals", one of them was in the Navy. There was a meeting at a monastery called Himmerod, where a conference took place and the old comrades in arms met. The less incriminated ones, I should add, the rabble-rousers weren't there. But there were people that were still considered sort of respectable back then …

Kluge: …, who, let's say were more conservative than the National Socialists?

Enzensberger: Yes, yes …

Kluge: …who followed the rigid national line of Hitler’s Reichswehr.

Enzensberger: It was a secretive meeting, but there was a lot of gossip in Bonn, it was hard to keep a secret. That raised the question: where to? And Adenauer said: My friend is taking care of it, the Abbot of Himmerod, an abbot, someone at the monastery.

Kluge: Could you describe the year 1986 again from your perspective?

Enzensberger: 1986. I already had studied real socialism quite intensely. Many of the comrades back then didn't want to hear anything about the countries that were actually under communist rule. They preferred trips to Corsica and Greece. But I felt that you cannot learn something like that just from books, about what it really is, and hence I spent almost six months in Russia, in the Soviet Union. The GDR I knew already, and it was uninteresting from that point of view, because it did not have an autochthonous revolution, that never happened, there was simply an occupying regime, more or less. You can't say the same about Russia, after all they organized their own October Revolution. When I was done with the Soviet Union, so to speak, I thought, maybe there is a more favorable case, one that is not so completely stuck, and in my eyes, that was Cuba.

Kluge: But back to the 18th century. Back then there was indeed a real profession known as the visitor of universities. He visits universities and takes the knowledge about how to build and construct mines back to his country. And travelers to China bring silk worms back, they copy plans of various machines. Such a person is a mix of detective, spy, eye witness, and entrepreneur; someone who really investigates, travels.

Text: Knowledge of a place is the soul of service. Baron von Stein

Kluge: The soul of service is always the location. Knowledge of a place. Like a traveling inquisitor, you could say.

Enzensberger: Yes. Of course that is very tempting, very beautiful. If you are up for it or not is a different question.

Kluge: It is not a poetic profession, but non-writers have the chance to practice it.

Enzensberger: And poetry gets something out of it, too, I would say, because unlike philosophy, poetry cannot stick to the general. It is not abstraction that is of interest here, rather poetry has to work with the particular, with the touch of the object, the view of things. That is exactly what keeps me from being a philosopher. My first collection of stories was called "Details", and that is not a coincidence, because I am not a creator of systems, far from it.

Kluge: But you are interested in the detail, the trace?

Enzensberger: Yes.

Kluge: And you have a real, historical interest in it?

Enzensberger: Yes, you could say that.

Kluge: What does it look like?