Sunday, May 17, 2009

the enzensberger footnote...

Since the name of Hans Magnus Enzensberger comes up several times [in connection with Handke] I thought I would do an extended footnote on him, as I did on the heinous Schlitzohr Kroetz.

I first met H.M.E. in 1961 at Ruth Landshof-York's place on Cornelia Street, in 'The Village', in New York.
At that time I had just left graduate school and was very much of a belles arts person, under the influence of Pound’s ABC’s, part of me still is I suppose. Valery, German expressionist poetry. The dissertation was meant to be on Musil, whose notion of poetry being as precise as physics has haunted me all my life. I was starting a literary magazine with some friends. I hadn't the faintest about what was going on in Germany at that time. That would change dramatically in the next decade.

My initial impression of H.M.E. was of someone who was a really good listener - look at what he had accomplished at that point - and evidently super bright. And look at who Ruth was, who sort of made believe that the young crew assembled around her were the re-incarnation of the fabled beings she had left behind in Austria and Germany, Ellen Stewart, in whose company at a performance of Peter Brooks’ production of Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade the chain smoker would have a heart attack, 1965 I think, was there, some of the young downtown playwrights who then made a name for themselves, Kenward Elmsley was her benefactor I believe. Her ex-husband a Graf York, a relative, who worked for Chase Manhattan had married Ruth to enable her to escape the holocaust
By around 1970 I had become sufficiently well versed to be able to review a selection of H.M.E.’s poems, translated by Jerome Rothenberg.
for the New York Times Book Review.
I translated H.M.E.'s exquisite essay on Nelly Sachs

and used it as the introduction of my 1967 edition of Sachs's OH THE CHIMNEYS at Farrar Straus. Later at Continuum Books, in 1974, I would translate an equally beautiful H.M.E. essay for my edition of Bartholomo de las Casas's The Short History of the Destruction of the Indians.é_de_Las_Casas
These were certainly high points of for H.M.E. and for me, we were hand in glove there.

I am not sure when I saw H.M.E. next. But I know that I sat on the podium next to him at the Gruppe 47 meeting at Princeton in May 1966. He seemed bored and was teaching himself Chinese. Around 1969 I became the agent for Suhrkamp Verlag and stayed at Siegfried Unseld's house at the Klettenberg Strasse in Frankfurt a/M. as was Enzensberger, or at least I witnessed a blow-up between Unseld and H.M.E. one fine morning with the issue being that
famous issue of Kursbuch, H.M.E.'s didactic magazine, of
Kommune 2, which
featured a couple of photos of naked people, kids, which is what upset that hypocrite of the old school, Siegfried Unseld and made
H.M.E. start the Kursbuch Verlag.

Around 1971 when I had re-entered publishing Athenaeum, who had published H.M.E.'s poetry collection, that is Michael Bessie and Cornelia Schaefer, with whom I was on the friendliest of terms [Mike was a gentleman to do business with and Cornelia and I had met years before at Jerome Chodorov’s Camera 3 show on translating] did not want to publish an essay collection of his,
Politics and Crime I think it was. I took on what they pulled out of for what eventually became Continuum Books and translated most of these essays during a six month boat trip on the freighter “Hellenic Splendor” 1972-73 half way around the world and back; they proved wonderful intelligent company, H.M.E. was certainly one teacher of a badly educated me, who has a habit of following up on bibliographies, and then published them in two volumes, The Consciousness Industry + Politics and Crime with my postscript.

At Urizen Books, in 1975, H.M.E. gave us his Mausoleum to publish, I hadn’t the time and so we had it translated by Joachim Neugroeschel, who turned out to have as ugly a character as his looks, but did good work. [Looks do matter, except when folks are beautifully ugly, as was my “Popeye” ex-riveter, whom I met at his retirement “Spanish Castle” – that’s what it looked like in the fata morgana as my vehicle approached it -- beach in Colonet, Baja Norte, a skyscraper steel construction worker whose face had been riveted once too often by molten steel - scarred beautiful that exists too!
I saw a fair amount of H.M.E. while he was doing research for Mausoleum in New York, at the Public Library, around that mid-70s time. We did, I did what I could for one of my favorite books: no luck, it appeared the U.S. was not ready for such efficient essay work in that form. I had also exerted myself considerably in behalf of getting some of his essays pre-published in magazine, I had a double incentive even since the translator gets a cut too, with rather picayune results, even with alleged
friends of his, via visit to Cuba, Robert Silvers of the N.Y.R.B. to whom I was close then. Perhaps it was H.M.E.'s then politics, certainly when it comes to sheer brilliance of his
parti pris he beat the rest of the contributors hands down, perhaps he was just too brilliant. Probably a combination of the two, NYRB eventually cottoned to the likes of John McCain and to that general who was the bomber of the Yugoslav infrastructure for president; the difference between The Weekly Standard and the NYRB is one of only a few degrees, I am sure that Bob Silvers and Kristol can share laughs. As a publisher I kept noticing that a review in the NYRB did not increase sales: it's readers think that they know a book or whatever when they have read one of those long pieces there. Alas. As compared to “The New Yorker”.
The last time I saw  H.M.E. physically was at a P.E.N. club reading, was it Ramsey Clark?, and we both ended up having drinks with two beauties, the sexy tall German, ennobled temperamental poetess was I think his date. Her name escapes me. It is not worth looking up. She had had an affair with Peter Mayer I think and had a place in New York. Perhaps H.M.E.’s interest in matters of noble origin even goes back to that time, not my deal since the half of me that derives there manage to successfully escape and go as it says in the great Freddie King song: “Down down down”… but this downward spiral probably can be traced to “our” gardener calling me a “Bolshevik” at age seven! Not that much cannot be learned from some great conservatives, reactionaries.

At some point, later in the 70s at a Frankfurt Bookfair, I found out that H.M.E. had given his newest book of poems,
The Sinking of the Titanic, to the Atlantic Press I think it was, and was translating it himself, and H.M.E. said or wrote then that he didn't think I'd even be interested. Well, little Urizen never exercised options or holds, nor did it need another loss leader, but this “off-hand” way of being informed after the fact, or the discovery, rubbed me very much the wrong way, nay it rankled: the falseness of the way - that was my impression - H.M.E. communicated this matter. It was not as upfront as I felt friends needed to be with each other. It felt slippery.
I think that H.M.E.’s brilliance, his cosmopolitanism explains Handke's extreme animosity, envy of something no matter the genius he may be in other ways, he can never approach. One major memory of Handke, after all, was a lüstern that I caught just by chance at Princeton and that I connect with the way he looked at Max Frisch. It certainly is a productive drive, but dangerous to be around. I’ve seen it a few times in my life, and each of these persons has done extra-ordinary work, but has also been extra-ordinarily hurtful to those close to them, or who get in their way.

H.M.E. once mentioned that he had sought to get to know Handke early on, but that Handke had remained unapproachable. How all this worked out with their having the same publisher and certainly being at mutual Suhrkamp gatherings only God knows. And we are not speaking these days. Unseld made H.M.E. part of the Gremium of advisors that then had so little influence after his demise, but left out Handke, probably because he knew that Handke doesn't function in such collaborative enterprises that demand a modicum of civility. The Gremium, after all, also included Habermas who also took after H.M.E. at one point for being a kind of Pierrot of the left. Some recent statements H.M.E.’s that make it sound as though he was just exploring, passing through - the way he took a Greyhound bus trip through the U.S. - well maybe, but he sure put his nose in deep to get a smell.

At any event, Handke's explosion during his Serbia interview in the
Süddeutsche Zeitung and near explosion about an Enzensberger poem during my visit to the Mönchsberg in 1980 have to be based on a very early and extreme dislike. And the S.Z. explosion seems to have lain well prepared at the back of the throat to be so brachiated!

H.M.E. forswore poetry for a while during the height of his left period, as did his brother Christian [whose wonderful
Essay on Smut I also published at Continuum, perusing everything in its wonderful bibliography that was unfamiliar, and whom I liked very much personally when he too appeared in NY for a while, dinner with him and Frisch and Habermas at Elaine’s at the end of which the Germans fell asquabbling in a very German way and I and my friend, the American playwright Jack Richardson, whom I had made part of the group because he knew German lit, withdrew back to Table 4] and I have not followed H.M.E.’s work in the poetry tranche in detail since he resumed. But his first three books of poetry were certainly fine enough to last. As agent around 1970, I was able to get his Cuba documentary play done by Robert Kalfin's then BAM. H.M.E. also wrote a documentary type novel about the Spanish anarchist Durruti
but, as compared to his brilliant and varied essay work, I don’t think he will go down as a contributor to the development of drama or the novel.

Since H.M.E. lives in Munich, I approached him in the late 80s to try to locate a physician, a Dr. Charlotte Pommer, who had helped save my parents lives while in their respective Gestapo prisons, and who, when herself in sudden need, had been turned away by an Ursula Liedtke, my mother's closest childhood friend from Berlin, who, a Jew, had been given refuge, secreted at our place outside Bremen during the last years of WW II. Alas: H.M.E., after saying “at last” [referring to my getting back in touch] did yeoman's service in trying to locate Pommer, but to no avail despite, as he wrote, the German administrative net of bureaucracy that caught every minnow but this one. He had called once at the office after we had become estranged, but I had not been in, and he had not left a number, perhaps he thought I was there and didn’t want to speak, not my way, but I had made it a point NOT to go to a reading of his, but the co-publisher had, and taken him home to his mews for an après coup. Oh yes, that makes me recall a wonderful H.M.E. reading at Columbia U. in the early 70s? Late 60s? from his “
Mit Marx und Engels Zungen.”

The little m.s that Pommer wrote, that document which acquires more and more weight with time, entitled "
Brief an Lexi im Elysium," which I also sent H.M.E., is presently being edited and annotated for publication by the researcher and publicist Frau Barbara Orth.

But the gnaw, the rankle that what I regarded as falseness, disloyalty did not disappear over H.M.E. extending himself: after all he was, had been a last resort, none of my other contacts of alleged humanist sentiment, and I had quite a few, would move a finger! And my thanks went, I think, into the wrong part of his craw, it contained a tad of derision. I took a few stabs at contacting him while he had a line of books with a publisher whose name escapes the sieve right now. There was no response. Thus I have to accept that in some respects I am unforgiving. But H.M.E., at any event, would not be someone to have along on the long march, or the Bolivian jungle. As an editor one has many different loves, as evidently has H.M.E. had far more than I. I continue to read his essays, with invariable interest, though occasional – e.g. Hammerstein - more serious reservations than once upon a time. It is surely odd how many German writers then disliked H.M.E. even when they live off his brilliance. Johnson found him too decadent, I don’t really know what Handke’s problem is. He might solve it for himself by writing something on the order of the essay on Nelly Sachs or Las Casas. Evidently he reads H.M.E. to real use, e.g.
The Civil Wars! It’s that lüstern to be the brightest star no doubt that brooks no competitors, all competitors are Platzverdrücker or however he puts it.

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MICHAEL ROLOFF exMember Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society this LYNX will LEAP you to all my HANDKE project sites and BLOGS: "MAY THE FOGGY DEW BEDIAMONDIZE YOUR HOOSPRINGS!" {J. Joyce} "Sryde Lyde Myde Vorworde Vorhorde Vorborde" [von Alvensleben] contact via my website