Freitag, 22. Mai 2009


This blog is about when I find things, not about when they happen. Sorry, but you'll have to get used to that. Christopher Hitchens, as usual mixing up the essential with the circumstantial, notices life through the lense of literature, making his own quirky sense of it. Spengler would have liked this (the fact, not the sentiment):
If there was one thing on which I would have wagered a good deal, it was the impossi­bility of Britain’s ever again being governed by a waistcoated charmer from that particular school. Yet here we are 70 years on, and the British Conservatives are led by an old Etonian named David Cameron, who was also a member of a Brideshead-type dining club at Oxford. And all the indications are that he could oust “New Labour” from power. I dare say you could call that promising.

Mr. Grumpy Future was always convinced that British democracy was a charade played by the Etonian elites for public consumption*1). I, for my part, go with this quote from Conolly:
In spite of the slow conversion of progressive ideas into the fact of history, the Dark Ages have a way of coming back. Civilisation—the world of affection and reason and freedom and justice—is a luxury which must be fought for, as dangerous to possess as an oil-field or an unlucky diamond.

What can I do? I'm a child of my times!

*1) Note added June 16th: Just in case anyone gets me wrong, I think Spengler's conception of English democracy was already barely tenable when he wrote "Decline of the West". The 20th century opened even the top jobs to a much wider range of backgrounds. But, as we see, that doesn't mean that someone of the old elites will never again get a chance.

Dienstag, 10. März 2009

Dienstag, 3. März 2009

Have you read the bible?

Mr. Plotz has (at least the Old Testament). After outlining the reasons why everybody living in our Western culture ought to have read it (a notion on which I fully agree, the Bible is the clue to so many parts of our culture), he describes the results for his faith:

You notice that I haven't said anything about belief. I began the Bible as a hopeful, but indifferent, agnostic. I wished for a God, but I didn't really care. I leave the Bible as a hopeless and angry agnostic. I'm brokenhearted about God.

After reading about the genocides, the plagues, the murders, the mass enslavements, the ruthless vengeance for minor sins (or none at all), and all that smiting—every bit of it directly performed, authorized, or approved by God—I can only conclude that the God of the Hebrew Bible, if He existed, was awful, cruel, and capricious. He gives us moments of beauty—such sublime beauty and grace!—but taken as a whole, He is no God I want to obey and no God I can love.


Unfortunately, this line of reasoning seems to leave me with several unappealing options: 1) believing in no god; 2) believing in the awful, vindictive God of the Bible; or 3) believing in some vague "creator" who is not remotely attached to the events of the Bible, who didn't really do any of the deeds ascribed to Him in the book and thus can't be held responsible for them.

My background is different (my parents were vaguely Christian, and I have oscillated between vague belief, agnosticism and atheism in my youth), but I feel with Mr. Plotz, and the option I chose is No. 1. If you believe in God's existence, you don't have this option, so I'd be interested to know how believers get around this problem (if they notice it at all).

Zeitlos? Forever true? Вечное?

Beim Blättern in unserer Anthologie deutscher Gedichte stoße ich vorgestern auf diesen Sinnspruch von Schiller ("Erwartung und Erfüllung", 1796):

In den Ozean schifft mit tausend Masten der Jüngling,

Still, auf gerettetem Boot treibt in den Hafen der Greis.

Gestern abend höre ich eine Sampler-CD meiner Tochter und stoße auf das hier:

Ich bin kein großer Freund von Karel Gotts Gesang - der Mann könnte wahrscheinlich "Highway to Hell" schnulzig klingen lassen, wenn er sowas singen würde - und auch Hiphop und Rap lassen mich meistens kalt, aber diese Mischung hat etwas, auch wenn der Text von Klischees strotzt.
Der Grund? Es geht um dasselbe, den Gegensatz zwischen Kraft und Aufbruch in der Jugend, Schwäche und Resignation im Alter. Irgendwann kommt das auf alle von uns zu, wenn uns Gevatter Hein nicht davor bewahrt. Das weiß auch meine russische Lieblingsband DDT:
Ты уехал за счастьем и вернулся просто седым ("Ты не один", ДДТ)

("Du fuhrst fort auf der Suche nach dem Glück und kamst bloß grauhaarig zurück", aus "Ty ne odin").

Und was bringt man auf dem geretteten Boot in den Hafen? Die Erinnerung und die Menschen, die du in deinem Leben um dich geschart hast. Wir hoffen, dass das möglichst viele sind:
Die Träume mögen bei jedem anders sein und es müssen ja auch nicht unbedingt hundert Enkel werden, aber "Alle kommen vorbei, ich brauch nie rauszugehn" ist doch eine schöne Vorstellung.
Wenn noch jemand da sein wird, der unsere zeitgenössischen Sprachen beherrscht, werden diese Gedanken noch in hunderten und tausenden von Jahren verständlich sein. Ob die Form dann auch noch dem Zeitgeschmack entsprechen wird, ist eher zweifelhaft; Schillers prägnanter Sinnspruch hat da sicher größere Chancen als die vorgestellten musikalischen Beiträge. Aber jedes Lied, jedes Gedicht über die immerwährende condition humaine ist ein Schritt zur Unsterblichkeit.

Freitag, 20. Februar 2009

Перевод или подлинник? / Translation or original?

Вчера вечером, листая афоризмы Лихтенберга, я увидел рядом стоящего "Героя нашего времени" на немецком, и я просто не мог вспоминать, читал ли я эту книгу в переводе или в подлиннике? У меня на книжной полке и подлинник, и перевод, и только, когда я заглянул в послесловие немецкого издания, я убедился, что именно читал перевод. У меня так и бывает с беседами - я их вспоминаю на другом языке, чем том, на котором они на самом деле проводились.

Yesterday, while browsing Lichtenberg's Aphorisms, the German translation of Lermontov's "A Hero of our Times" caught my eye and I could't remember whether I read that book in German or in the Russian original; I've got both on my book shelve. Only after I checked the afterword I was sure that I indeed read that novel in translation. Something similar happens to me with conversations - I frequently remember them in another language than the one they were actually held in.

Dienstag, 27. Januar 2009

Measuring Billy Joel

The first time I came across an article dismissing Billy Joel I was just surprised. Now it happened again, and I must say I'm still surprised. I know that Billy Joel has pretensions to be more than a pop singer and I also find his attempts to be a socially critical chronicler of his age a bit ridiculous ("We didn't start the fire", anyone?), but does this really make him the "Worst Pop Singer Ever"? There are certainly much, much worse pop singers out there. Well, maybe I'm just angry because I really like "Piano Man" and "Always a Woman". But who cares whether "Always a Woman" echoes Dylan? We definitely could need more singers copying themes (and schemes) from Bob.

Mittwoch, 7. Januar 2009

Die Vermessenheit der Vermessung (A note on Kehlmann "Measuring the World")

Ein weiteres Weihnachtsgeschenk war Daniel Kehlmanns "Die Vermessung der Welt". Es gibt dazu genug im Internet (z. B. diese Besprechung und dieses Interview), also nur eine kurze Bemerkung - das Buch lässt sich gut lesen und ist intelligent geschrieben, aber es ist mit Vorsicht zu geniessen, da es historisch falsche Behauptungen enthält und die Hauptprotagonisten - Gauß und Alexander v. Humboldt - zu Karikaturen verzerrt.

If you come across Daniel Kehlmann's "Measuring the world" (I got it as a Christmas present), enjoy reading it, but if you're interested in Gauss or Humboldt, better read a biography - the characters are distorted to illustrate points about life, knowledge, and Germanness Kehlmann wants to make, and for that reason he also takes liberties with the facts.

Dienstag, 6. Januar 2009

Having read "The Reader"

I put the book on my Christmas wish list, and Santa acted accordingly. So now I know I was wrong as well - the real reason why Michael isn't able to build lasting relationships with women is simply that he cannot get over Hanna, even after he finds out what she has done. In the book, he not only doesn't turn down one-night stands, he even marries and has a daughter, but the marriage ends in divorce for the simple reason that his wife cannot compete with his memories of Hanna, a problem shared by all the girl friends he has afterwards. There is guilt and agonising, as well as phases of total emotional numbness, after Michael discovers Hanna's past, but the book is never as simple as "I can't have any woman any more because I slept with a Nazi". I cannot tell whether the film or its reviewer are guilty of this over-simplification, but it doesn't do justice to the book. In any case, I recommend reading it.