Eija-Liisa Ahtila in K21
'Berlin Had the Better Idea'

Starve the Authors!

Germany produces a lot of fiction.  Among the few fine books, there are desultorily exercises in taboo-violation (g), meandering works of "self-reflection" (g) by aging baby boomers, evocations (g) of the shallow, materialistic youth of today that are as listless and dull as their subjects.

In other words, lots of it is crap. Why is this?  Maxim Biller blamed cowardice and insularity a few years ago (g) in Die Zeit.  Now comes an amusing polemic by Oliver Jungen, in the FAZ, which points a finger (g) at the German literature industry itself. Germany offers its authors a spectacular smorgasbord of prizes, including the "Büchner-, Kleist-, Breitbach-, Heine-  Goethe-..., Johann-Peter-Hebel-, Peter-Huchel-, Marie-Luise-Kaschnitz-, Wilhelm-Raabe-, Hermann-Lenz-, Friedrich-Hölderlin-, Friedrich-Hebbel-, Mörike-, Nicolas-Born-, Heinrich-Böll-, Georg-K.-Glaser-, Carl-von-Ossietzky-, Heimito-von-Doderer-, Hilde-Domin-, Georg-Kaiser-, Hugo-Ball-, Wolfgang-Koeppen-, Adelbert-von-Chamisso-, Walter-Kempowski-, Nelly-Sachs-, Uwe-Johnson- or the Jean-Paul-Prize." 

There seem to be more prizes than authors in Germany, Jungen sneers.  One sponsporing organ alone, the German Literature Fund, gives away a million Euros a year.  And the prizes are just the tip of the subvention iceberg.  He calls the premise behind this extravagant sponsorship "condescending": it is the notion that "Literature is seen as a basket case.  We're just trying to sweeten the last days of the old doddering aunt."  But instead of bringing forth great books, it's (predictably) created indecisive musings, impressionism and self-indulgence.  Citing Alfred Doeblin, Jungen yearns for the passionate, engaged author, who rebels against all authority, including prize juries.  The ones who write despite it all, because they must.  Jungen admonishes us, (half?) ironically: "Harm the writers! Starve them! Enrage them!" 

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