Archives for posts with tag: Uwe Timm

I am currently writing a review of Alan Corkhill’s impressive new book Spaces for Happiness in the Twentieth Century German Novel. This reminded me that in Uwe Timm’s novel Rot (2001), the protagonist comes across a Marcuse quote that has lost none of its relevance:

Der Gedanke, daß Glück eine objektive Bedingung ist, die mehr als subjektive Gefühle verlangt, wurde wirksam verdunkelt; seine Gültigkeit hängt von der wirklichen Solidarität der Gattung ‚Mensch’ ab, die eine in antagonistische Klassen und Nationen aufgespaltete Gesellschaft nicht erzielen kann. Solange die Geschichte der Menschheit derart beschaffen ist, wird der ‚Naturzustand’, wie geläutert auch immer, vorherrschen: ein zivilisierter bellum omnium contra omnes, in dem das Glück der einen mit dem Leid der anderen zusammen bestehen muß.

Following the global celebration of their 40th anniversary in 2008, the 68ers, especially in Germany, have increasingly been portrayed as a generation that has overstayed its welcome. With the portrayal of their increasing infirmity (of body if not of mind) comes a general disassociation with their former ideals and once radical political agenda. The revolution has not taken place, certainly not in the way they had imagined. What was once perceived as dangerous and strangely attractive to broad sections of German youth has become embarrassing, decidedly old-fashioned, and, in spite of occasional sympathetic portrayals in film or on TV, almost inexplicable to later generations.
Whilst their presence in the media has somewhat diminished, the 68ers have not yet disappeared from political and cultural debates: especially their literary production continues unabated, though, as will be argued, a new quality has entered their work. Their writing is deeply reflective, especially of their own increasing sense of being strangers in a strange land. The generation that hoped to die before they got old, that coined the phrase ‘Trau keinem über 30’ has left its ‘Prominenzphase’ during the Red-Green Coalition government from 1998 to 2005 and entered uncharted waters, a stage in life when one has one last chance to admit mistakes, forgive if not forget, and remember one’s defining moments in the light of a lifetime’s experience.
The texts I have chosen to illustrate my argument are Uwe Timm’s ‘Freitisch’, Friedrich Christian Delius’s ‘Als die Bücher noch geholfen haben’, Jochen Schimmang’s ‘Das Beste, was wir hatten’ and Bernd Cailloux’s ‘Gutgeschriebene Verluste’ (which made the longlist of the Deutscher Buchpreis 2012). Each of these writers has charted the history of their generation and its ever-changing ‘Befindlichkeit’ over decades, and their work continues to attract broad attention.
My paper argues that these chroniclers of their generation remain committed to the cause: the project of Germany’s ‘politische Alphabetisierung’ (H.M. Enzensberger), and an aesthetic programme that evolved out of the spirit of ’68. One last time they evoke the ‘Aufbruch einer Generation’, a movement that is unequalled in terms of its radical approach, but now with a wistful focus on its unfulfilled promise.

Paper for the AGS Conference in Cardiff, 3-5 April 2013