Note: Kermani's book has subsequently been translated into English, if anyone is interested.
Navid Kermani is one of the most interesting essayists woNote: Kermani's book has subsequently been translated into English, if anyone is interested.
Navid Kermani is one of the most interesting essayists working in Germany today. In this collection of loosely-related stories, he explores his dual identity as Muslim and German as one of both belonging and apartness, and elaborates that dual role into a general theory of Germanness that he sees exemplified in many of its greatest literary figures, such as Goethe, Heine, and Kafka.
In this reading, what it is to be truly German is to be part of a culture world of German speakers, not to be bound to a particular nation. And this has been literally true for the vast majority of history - a unified German nation has existed only briefly and periodically.
Kermani is a gifted interpreter of aesthetics, particularly with respect to German modernism and classical Islam. He brings these two great currents into dialog in a deeply illuminating way, and on a personal level I learned as much or more about Islam and how it is actually experienced by its faithful than I have probably learned from any other single book. To be sure, Kermani speaks my language.
It is worth noting that his idea of cultural identity with respect to Germany is not original - Günther Grass argued for something like this for his entire career, for example, and it is exemplified in the intellectual-left by advocates of liberal cosmopolitan internationalism such as Jürgen Habermas. But the use that Kermani makes of it is highly personal, and highly relevant to questions dominating our current political and intellectual landscape. ...more
I'm a little annoyed by the deceptive packaging of this book, which is in no sense "his" history of German literature, as it was posthumously assembleI'm a little annoyed by the deceptive packaging of this book, which is in no sense "his" history of German literature, as it was posthumously assembled after the author's death. It is nonetheless an outstanding collection of illuminating essays and lectures that do more or less span the history of German literature, though the 19th and 20th centuries receive by far the most attention. Some curious omissions, like Kafka and Rilke. Very enjoyable and stimulating collection. ...more
Tonio Kröger is a fictionalized account of Mann's upbringing and early artistic career, which has rightly been compared to "Portrait of the Artist asTonio Kröger is a fictionalized account of Mann's upbringing and early artistic career, which has rightly been compared to "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." But if James Joyce is the master of articulating the Jungian unconscious in literature, then Mann is the master of the Freudian, and this story simply seethes with a repression which weighs heavily on our hero protagonist, often detectable only when we realize that his attention has lingered on an article of clothing just a bit too long. Much of the action comes from what is left undone, or left unsaid.
For this reason, the mere fact that Tonio Kröger is primarily a story of sexual desire and sexual orientation could easily be missed by many of its readers, but as always in Mann's masterful storytelling, every scene unfolds with a rigorous symbolic logic, so we take our cues where we need to. Thus, in an early scene, when young Kröger is memorably scolded for having gotten confused and stumbled into the girl's side of a partner dance, we should pay close attention.
At times the sheer weight of Kröger's silence, and his difficulty in acknowledging his own incandescent bisexuality casts an oppressive mood over this novella, but it is a weight we are meant to feel, and it is the weight that Mann himself felt. We can therefore perhaps forgive him with his reticence, which is easily confused with prudence.
So we have the story of an outsider looking in, alienated and silenced, who finds the expressive power to communicate exactly what he has to say, even in a conservative Germany at the turn of the 20th century. In so doing he develops a concomitant aesthetic theory, born of his love of people as they are, and his impatience with anything that smacks of putting on airs or shielding one's sensitive soul behind layers of irony or superiority, as he finds among so many of his artist friends. That, he argues, is precisely what an artist cannot do, for it alienates one from life as it actually is.
Excellent collection of Müller's plays, including "Die Hamletmaschine" and "Germania: Tod in Berlin". Müller is hard to describe - something like a stExcellent collection of Müller's plays, including "Die Hamletmaschine" and "Germania: Tod in Berlin". Müller is hard to describe - something like a strange amalgam between a politicized Brecht haunted by the fragmented Expressionist nightmares of Georg Heym. I love him as an artist for taking the problem of human culture and the human spirit seriously, and for ruthlessly examining the psychic condition of life in divided post-War Germany. His work is haunting and periodically electrifying. ...more
It is with great relief that I set down this repulsive book, which rightly embarrassed the mature Goethe for its tawdry excesses and histrionics. OneIt is with great relief that I set down this repulsive book, which rightly embarrassed the mature Goethe for its tawdry excesses and histrionics. One of the interesting mysteries of world literature is why the theme of the Love-Death cast such a long shadow over German literature, dominating many of its best authors from Walther von der Vogelweide all the way through Richard Wagner; this work is one of its lesser examples.
I can only be baffled why the sainted Marcel Reich-Ranicki held this book in high regard. It my eyes it has almost no virtues. It chronicles the life of a repulsive narcissist who destroys everything and everyone around him with his adolescent infatuation with the unavailable Lotte, ignoring the urgent counsel of his friends and loved ones to remove himself from her environment, so as to stop tormenting himself with unrequited love. As Lotte correctly observes in one such request, it is plainly obvious that his love is in fact fueled by the impossibility of resolution.
Werther is like a young child who tosses a ball out-of-reach, and then sobs when it is gone. And like a young child, he is so taken over by his sorrow that he expects and longs for the world's pity as well. What I find most unbearable about this book is that it indulges this grandiosity of its tragic protagonist, and his friends swoon with sorrow over this man, who is transparently his own worst enemy.
I don't share an iota of that sympathy, and am genuinely mystified that this adolescent book rocked the German-speaking world with is publication.
In general, one of the great surprises of my literary life has been my continued inability to respond to any of Goethe's chief works, which have thus far left me consistently unmoved. But this is clearly the worst I have broached, and I am genuinely delighted to be done with it.
Stanley Applebaum has done good work translating this work in plain, direct language, making it somewhat useful for the student of German, though I would say that Goethe's prose is far to florid and archaic to make it particularly useful to the beginning or even intermediate student. ...more
This book reviews formal concepts of grammar and comparatively presents them in English and German. If you don't know off the top of your head the difThis book reviews formal concepts of grammar and comparatively presents them in English and German. If you don't know off the top of your head the difference between case and voice, or the distinction between the present perfect and past tenses, this book will aid you immensely. Highly recommended for any English-speaking student of German. ...more
Note: Goodreads appears to group reviews for different translations of the same work. My review is for "The Book of hours: Prayers to a Lowly God," trNote: Goodreads appears to group reviews for different translations of the same work. My review is for "The Book of hours: Prayers to a Lowly God," translated by Annemarie S. Kidder, Northwestern University Press.
My experience of Rilke is that most translations fall somewhere between "not very good" and "extremely awful." I have to say, even with low expectations, this book is disappointing. It's poorly translated and contains glaring typographical errors.
Kidder follows the rhyme scheme often but not always. Consider this baffling choice: "Du Dunkelheit, aus der ich stamme / ich liebe dich mehr als die Flamme" is rendered as "You darkness whence I came, / I love you more than the light."
What the huh? I'm no Shakespeare, but "Flamme" means "flame," not "light." And notice how it rhymes with "came" there? And, uh ... how there's a rhyme right there in the original ....
I'm left just wondering what the hell happened.
When she renders "...und ich weiß nicht wem / löst es die Seele los..." as "...without even knowing whose soul will be fed by it..." I ask, in all seriousness, does she even know German?
Joana Macy renders Rilke's "Ich liebe meines Wesens Dunkelstunde" as "I love the dark hours of my being." Kidder opts for "I love the hours when I'm blue, depressed." Wonderful lyrical sense she possesses. Such music.
I actually purchased this book for the German, not the translations, but the situation is not much better there. In the first line of a well-known and often-quoted poem from this collection, on the very first page, the book has "Ich lebe mein Leben ich wachsenden Ringen," instead of "Ich lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Ringen." This error is roughly on the order of "To boy or not to be."
A few pages later we get "Nachbarschft." Have you no copy editors, Northwestern University Press?
This book was prepared primarily to introduce US businesspersons to German culture in the service of professional communication. There is some materiaThis book was prepared primarily to introduce US businesspersons to German culture in the service of professional communication. There is some material on history and culture, but much more on what to expect in presentations, deliberation style, and professional etiquette. I was hoping for a work that dealt more with culture and worldview in its own terms and for its own sake, but nonetheless found it easy to read, enjoyable, thought-provoking, and interesting. I would recommend it to early students of German who would like to start thinking a bit about how Germans see the world. ...more
Excellent collection for newbies -- a much more enjoyable method for absorbing new vocabulary than lists of words. The material is somewhat old (firstExcellent collection for newbies -- a much more enjoyable method for absorbing new vocabulary than lists of words. The material is somewhat old (first published in the 50s) but it's interesting to read about then-current notions of national identity and the political situation. Also includes a large number of brief readings by great German authors from Schiller to Goethe to Nietzsche to Brecht. ...more