Published in 1947, Greener Than You Think is still an engaging, funny read. The protagonist and narrator, Albert Weiner, is one of science fiction's mPublished in 1947, Greener Than You Think is still an engaging, funny read. The protagonist and narrator, Albert Weiner, is one of science fiction's most delightful and dastardly villains, and he is all the more so because he seems genuinely blind to his own villainy. The scenario - scientifically-altered bermuda grass run amok - is comical, but as the plot develops apocalyptically, it is also weird and disturbing. This book provides a bunch of laughs and some commentary on modern American priorities and attitudes that are peculiarly still timely. ...more
I think this collection of essays is perhaps best described as pop culture criticism. Von Stuckrad-Barre, a successful humor writer and gadfly of GermI think this collection of essays is perhaps best described as pop culture criticism. Von Stuckrad-Barre, a successful humor writer and gadfly of German culture, gives his sarcastic but astute treatment to musicians, television stars and authors - some of whom are world famous, some of whom occupy the more circumscribed constellation of German pop culture. A few pieces also seem either semi-autobiographical or closer to short stories. While it was fun to become acquainted with late '90s German pop culture I was not versed in, I probably enjoyed these narrative pieces the most.
This book was lent to me, otherwise I probably would not have read it. I actually really enjoyed learning about the German cultural references I knew nothing about - I spent a lot of time googling in conjunction with reading this book - but I usually reserve my intake of fluffy humor/criticism for a few minutes here and there of internet reading. A whole book was a little much for me. I will be reading one more collection by Von Stuckrad-Barre in the near future; but mostly because I feel somewhat obligated to the lender of these books and because I welcome getting the chance to exercise my German language, however I can get it. ...more
**spoiler alert** Bureaucracy, broadly-speaking, has become associated with illogically rigid adherence to procedure (a.k.a. red tape) and for jealous**spoiler alert** Bureaucracy, broadly-speaking, has become associated with illogically rigid adherence to procedure (a.k.a. red tape) and for jealously guarding purview over the tasks it exists to perform, even at the expense of performing those tasks well. Among bureaucracies, few are more famous (and alternately infamous) than those at work in the German state. Germany and its institutions have long had a reputation for order and efficiency. Yet there emerge dark and ridiculous ramifications from too literally and too closely following the rules that lead to orderliness. When following rules gets elevated from a method to a goal, order and efficiency disappear. English-language readers may immediately think of Joseph Heller's Catch-22 as an exploration of this bureaucratic dark side. Among German authors, with many examples to choose from, few so successfully and repeatedly satirized bureaucratic behavior as did Heinrich Böll.
Böll is usually considered part of Germany's post-war literature (Nachkriegsliteratur); a literary movement that sought to reclaim and rebuild German literary language in the wake of its co-option as a vehicle for ideology by the National Socialists (Nazis). Germany's post-war authors examined, among other themes, how average German citizens did or did not come to terms with their nation's recent past and their own roles during the war, how they dealt with their loss of "home" occasioned by the vast destruction of so many German cities, and with their increasing isolation as individuals. Böll also dealt with these topics in his wry and understated way, lending humor to seemingly humorless situations while displaying an acute sense of the absurd. In his work he often ridiculed bureaucracy and its representatives, whether in the church, government, justice system, industry or, as with Heller, the military. Böll specifically derided self-important bureaucrats and the way they represented recent transformations in post-war German society, such as the Economic Miracle (Wirtschaftswunder) of the 1950s, a boom period for that nation's economy in which many Germans optimistically immersed themselves, albeit understandably, to avoid grappling with the pain of their recent past not to mention their active or passive roles in the Nazi regime.
Böll's novel, Ende einer Dienstfahrt (End of a Mission)*, appeared in 1966 and so falls toward the tail end of Nachkriegsliteratur. Nevertheless, it handles many similar themes, especially the satirization of bureaucracy-run-rampant. In this case, the bureaucracy of the military receives particular attention, although government at all levels and the justice system also figure in the story.
The plot turns upon a single act of destruction by a father and son, respectively Johann and Georg Gruhl. On a rural road outside of the small town, Birglar, the Gruhls set fire to a military vehicle under charge to Georg and joyfully watched it burn, singing, smoking their pipes and knocking them together to the rhythm of Ora pro nobis, the image of triumph and satisfaction in a job well done. In addition to destruction of army property, the Gruhls' fire caused a traffic jam of some 65 vehicles or about 100 people as estimated by one witness, Heuser, himself a self-important bureaucrat with the unlikely title Regional Traffic Agent ("Kreisverkehrsbevollmächtigte"). The traffic jam, Heuser tells the court in useless detail, caused several accidents: one, between an Opel and a rig hauling pipe in which several pipes smashed the smaller vehicle; a second, between a bicycle and a new Citroën left the new car badly scratched; yet another, between a small car ("Kleinwagen") and a Mercedes 300 SL resulted in a fist fight. The drivers of a beer truck and a cement truck, waiting for the road to clear, became fast friends and engaged in some mutually beneficial bit of business. Unprepared to testify precisely what trade the men transacted, Heuser ventures to note the beer truck driver had a newly laid cement driveway two days later.
In short, the fire caused a great commotion in Birglar, occasioned no little property damage, direct or indirect, and generally impressed the citizens of that small town (at least the ones stuck on the road) as an important and exceptional event. Moreover, based on witness testimony and the Gruhls' own admission, they set the fire purposefully and thoroughly enjoyed watching their handiwork.
The meat of the novel details the single day of court proceedings against the Gruhls in Birglar's tiny courthouse. From the outset, we understand that one of the tacit forces influencing the proceedings is "die nahe gelegene Großstadt," Birglar's neighboring Big City, which remains unnamed and in which a sensational murder case is also scheduled to begin. The amorphously-referred-to "Staatsmacht" (state power) has determined that the Gruhls' trial will be held in Birglar rather than in the Big City and that the Gruhls will receive the lesser charge of malicious damage and gross mischief ("Sachbeschädigung und groben Unfug") rather than arson ("Brandstiftung").
The bureaucratic powers-that-be, from political party representatives and newspaper editors to district judges and military officers, seem bent on downplaying the importance or political and social relevance of the Gruhls' act: the army declines to prosecute and leaves the process in state hands; the venue is smalltown Birglar instead of the Big City and scheduled to coincide with the aforementioned murder trial, sure to eclipse it in public interest; the presiding judge is set to retire upon passing sentence in the Gruhls' case which presumably encourages him to usher the trial along with due haste; the only reporter in Birglar planning to cover the case is reassigned at the last moment and sent to the Big City along with all the other media. In short, every care is taken by interested bureaucratic authorities that the Gruhls' trial proceed rapidly, quietly and uneventfully to minimize possible embarrassment to anyone of consequence, namely themselves and other bureaucratic authorities.
But of what embarrassment are these authorities frightened? Why go to so much trouble to keep the trial under wraps? The answer has everything to do with the Gruhls' motive in burning the jeep, a motive the court approaches quizzically as though it were quite opaque. And yet the Gruhls' motive is evident to the reader and to Birglar's citizens. As a carpenter and fine craftsman, accustomed to business in another era, Johann's trade suffered during the industrialization of the Wirtschaftswunder. He finds himself in further financial straights when the army calls up Georg, his partner in trade, for compulsory service. Then Georg receives his titular "mission": to drive a military jeep. And that is it. To drive...no place in particular. The army has ordered Georg to drive the vehicle aimlessly so that it meets the requirements of an arbitrary bureaucratic protocol: he must raise the vehicle's odometer to a mileage in correspondence with its next scheduled inspection. The profound inanity of these orders requires no elucidation. Moreover, as Georg testifies, he has performed this duty many times before and witnessed the waste of his time, the government's money and natural resources (gas and oil) occasioned by such a ludicrous task. The idiocy of Georg's orders further disgusts him as his service renders him incapable of helping his father. Refusing to complete this "mission" and setting fire to the jeep, with Johann readily assisting, is clearly an act of disdain for the army's nonsensical orders and rejection of its over-literal bureaucratic authority.
The military wants to keep the incident quiet presumably so its wastefulness receives no attention and so it does not earn a negative public image for tearing family life asunder. Other authorities possess their own competing, but equally self-serving, reasons. For example, the local delegate from a liberal political party harkens back to a previous trial in which his party, along with the local media outlet nestled squarely in its pocket, attempted to create a martyr for freedom ("einen Märtyrer der Freiheit") out of a defendant who proved himself merely a braggart and an imposter. The reader never learns this would-be martyr's alleged crime, but we do discover the lengths the party and the newspaper went to in order to vaunt the man and publicize his trial, create a hero of him, and how proportionally mortifying they found it when he turned out a fraud. In short, justice and due process fall absolutely secondary to the official interests of bureaucracy and authority.
Because the Gruhls admit their guilt, their trial concerns justification, motive and appropriate punishment more than guilt or innocence. It experiences a number of delays primarily owing to preoccupation with various forms of bureaucratic minutiae: the court officials become concerned with how to spell certain words for the record, how to translate colloquialisms used by various witnesses, how to characterize the crime and the demeanor of the accused; semantic issues all that have no real bearing on the outcome of the trial. Various witnesses seem more fascinated by the intricacies of their own bureaucratic situations than interested in answering counsels' questions, taking the court on detours through the ins-and-outs of their own jobs, the hoops through which they must jump, or make others jump on a daily basis.
As the trial proceeds, the march of witnesses and their testimony also demonstrate the intertwined relationships of all of Birglar's citizens. Nearly everyone called to testify, whether they saw the event or not, knows the accused and has an opinion about their crime and state of mind. Most find the Gruhls sympathetic and justified. Johann and Georg appear well-liked and their act of "malicious damage" viewed with some comprehension and indulgence. Witnesses called include military officers and enlisted men, Birglar's police chief, former patrons of the Gruhls' carpentry, local business owners, a priest and an economic theorist. Old enmities and affinities among the citizenry, differences in religious or political affiliation, emerge. All of these individuals share the commonality that, in their varied ways, they represent relationships to the authorities running their city and its bureaucracies which they all either work in, cater to, merely suffer or, like the Gruhls' actively defy.
The denouement of the trial begins when one Professor Büren is called to testify. The professor asserts that the Gruhls' act of burning the jeep constitutes an artwork, a "Happening" (but spelled with an 'ä' or merely an 'a' wonder the court officials?), by which he means a piece of performance art. According to Büren, the Gruhls' destruction of the jeep...
...was even an extraordinary act that demonstrated five dimensions: the dimension of architecture, of sculpture, of literature, of music - for it had distinct concerto-like moments - and finally dance-like elements, as he [Büren] considered, which found expression in the way they knocked their pipes together.
"...sei sogar eine außerordentliche Tat, da es fünf Dimensionen aufweise: die Dimension der Architektur, der Plastik, der Literatur, der Musik - denn es habe ausgesprochen konzertante Momente gehabt - und schließlich tänzerische Elemente, wie sie seiner Erachtens im Gegeneinanderschlagen der Tabakpfeifen zum Ausdruck gekommen seien." (131)
An uproarious scene follows Büren's profoundly silly, if sincere testimony. The prosecuting State's attorney Kugl-Egger receives the professor's revelation by declaring that the powers-that-be elsewhere ("andernorts" which we understand euphemistically as the Big City) have fooled him, have forced him into a position of irresponsibility and that he must abdicate his office. He realizes, so belatedly it is comic, that he was not meant to prevail against the Gruhls and this was not meant to be a serious trial. The tumult increases as Kugl-Egger suffers a near heart attack and must be temporarily removed from the court.
We all realize that this political theater, orchestrated by the authorities in "andernorts" and so faithfully executed - whether they knew it or not - by the petty bureaucrats in Birglar, has been successful as Judge Stollfuss sentences the Gruhls only to time served and declares their act, indeed, to have been a work of art. He contentedly lays aside his gavel for the last time and everyone seems to have won (with the exception, I suppose, of poor Kugl-Egger and the army who is down one unrecompensed jeep).
This reader was pleased that the Gruhls got off easy but recognizes the victory, as I think Böll intends, as a fleeting and accidental one, lasting only until they have another inevitable run-in with nonsensical, indomitable, eternal red tape.
*All German quotations are from Heinrich Böll, Ende einer Dienstfahrt (Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG: München) 1973. All English translations are my own....more
Irreverent, demented, wicked, hilarious. I'm guessing Jhonen Vasquez and his work get described with these adjectives often. I'm offering them along wIrreverent, demented, wicked, hilarious. I'm guessing Jhonen Vasquez and his work get described with these adjectives often. I'm offering them along with no small amount of admiration. The dark things that already nestle in my own mind had very good company while reading this. In fact, I think they multiplied....more