The “last German”: Botho Strauss on sale

Götz Kubitschek describes him as his teacher. Rowohlt Verlag now presents the collected goat chants of the poet demolition master.

Botho Strauss – in backward black and white Foto: imagebroker/imago-images

The reactionary is a resident of the Resterampe. He lives on the residue of outmoded ideologies. With his resentment against a present that overwhelms him, he artificially keeps ideas alive in a decayed state, a zombie state. Like other fermentation processes, this sometimes produces interesting smelling poisons. Botho Strauss, an avowed reactionary for a long time, offers a lot of such residues with his new book.

The title promises an “expedition to the guards and demolition masters”. What should be meant are the “guardians” and “demolition masters” of a line of tradition of anti-modernism, in which Strauss puts himself.

Botho Strauss: “The expedition to the guards and demolition masters”. Rowohlt Verlag, Hamburg 2020. 320 pages, 26 euros.

The subtitle suggests upcoming riots, as if the poet could hardly wait for the big bang in his country house in the Uckermark: “In the distance the little signal horns sound and warn that an explosion is imminent.” The picture is cute like the little signal horns, but it plays with the fantasy of violence from a system blown up. The book does what its title promises.

In the essays gathered here about current events, about conservative and very conservative writers, some painters and admired theater artists, one encounters the author as a somewhat quirky dowser in search of the buried sources of a somewhat archaic, timeless truth.

Smiled in vain

“The old high man”, as Strauss calls his alter ego in his most recent prose work, published last year (“too often smiled for nothing”), with no irony, alternates between sensitive observations, outbursts of hatred and oracular allusions. Conceptual clarity, arguments carried out are obviously not the aim of the anti-scout.

Nothing about this new book is new, and not only because it gathers slightly revised second and third uses of well-known articles on the first 280 pages. Some, especially the clever, infinitely differentiated portraits that Strauss dedicated to his comrades in the theater of the old Schaubühne from the 1970s, are still fascinating readings.

They show a sensitive, extremely serious and knowledgeable, also collective (or, because Strauss presumably hates collectives: joint) thinking about theater. Others, especially the irritated attempts to diagnose the time (“swelling goat singing”), have not gotten any better over the decades.

Aggressive brew

The concoction of aggressive resentment, excessiveness, mental confusion, “ancestors”, “moral law”, blood-and-soil whispers in the 1990s still seemed like that of an over-the-top romantic on the esoteric wrong track, bizarre but without political significance one can no longer be so sure about the political ineffectiveness today.

Bundled and with a time lag, the essays read as documents of an important writer’s reactionary thinking that has been increasingly radicalizing since the beginning of the 1990s and culminating in a self-chosen hopelessness.

That Strauss, instead of being an outstanding author of zeitgeist comedies (“Kalldewey, Farce”), observers of unsuccessful intimate relationships (“The Dedication”), city strollers (“Couples, Passers-by”) or collectors of memory fragments (“Origin”), is increasingly appearing as a folk mystic occurs is not the slightest loss along the way.

In this context it is helpful to take a look at the eulogies of the Strauss admirer Götz Kubitschek. The Pegida speaker and publicist, an influential propagandist of intellectually armed right-wing radicalism in his scene, is closely associated with activists of the Identitarian Movement, with the AfD politician Björn Höcke and the riot author Akif Pirinçci, who has been convicted of hate speech.

Fanfare for Germany

Kubitschek celebrates Strauss as a “teacher” and raves about “deep Germany”, whose “sinking” Strauss mourns to this day. Strauss’ scandalous essay “Bocksgesang” from 1993 with its martial end-time and cultural struggle scenarios (“Between the forces of the traditional and those of constant removal, serving and extinguishing, there will be war”) is nothing less than a “fanfare”, for Kubitschek Code text for German intellectual rights ”, the“ cornerstone of our self-assurance ”.

Kubitschek should know exactly what he is talking about when he reads it as a founding manifesto of the new extreme right: “Everything that is now tilting, that is intellectually and culturally leaning to the right, has an underground anchor with the ‘swelling goat chant’.” The right-wing publicist frankly confesses that the name of his magazine Sezession is borrowed from a “Bocksgesang” quote (“The only thing you need is the courage to secede”).

Every author has the readers they deserve. As far as is known, Botho Strauss has not protested against this claim by a loudspeaker of right-wing extremism. Kubitschek is a close reader. He cannot be accused of having misunderstood anything about Botho Strauss.

Anyone who, in the Strauss reception, ignores how capable an irritated cultural pessimism is in the debates of the openly right-wing extremist milieu (or how time generously published a preprint of the new Strauss book), demonstrates a will to repression. Or remarkable ignorance.

Bad tradition

There are intersections with a long, bad tradition, right up to Thomas Mann’s “Considerations of an Unpolitical”, in which “bourgeois” cultural conservatism is combined with the contempt for civilization, liberalism, and democracy. It is this link that makes Strauss interesting as a companion and strategic partner for enemies of democracy such as Kubitschek, with or without his explicit consent.

Nevertheless, the book is not a scandal, even if Strauss sprinkles some stimulating words into the notes (“Sprengsel”) published here for the first time (“Tolerance and diversity are prescribed like the patriotic sentiment before”, “the natural disposition of discrimination”). Perhaps this follows the hope of some attention in the form of excitement, what The Doctors call a “silent cry for love.”

The litany of losses collects harvest fruits, but is somewhat monotonous in the long run. The failures against pop culture (“song lyrics with their everyday demeanor and their rebelliousness kitsch”) seem routine and about as well informed as the poor cultural conservatives of the 1950s who believed rock ‘n’ roll to be the downfall of the West.

The self-image as a monk who keeps the unreasonable demands of the times behind behind thick monastery walls is pure kitsch. Even if formulated stilted: “The author of the while will be confronted with the task of medieval monks who have to take care of the transport of the great works of literature and the arts of thought in forgetful times.” If it is still possible, one would like to sigh: “Author of the while “! “Middle Ages”! “Monks”! “Thinking”!

Depth of remembering

The linguistic images are as worn as the thoughts: “All the highest peaks have been taken. But there are still pending records in the depth of remembering. ”The past seems to be there primarily to reflect itself“ in the depth of remembering ”.

Without false modesty, the author parallels Holderlin, “Seer out of longing who glowed through with loss […] and the future emerged from his loss. ”And the oracle is immediately repeated:“ But what can we suspect today? ”asks the seer from the Uckermark. Holderlin, loss, hunch, embers, “the coming” (whatever that should be, presumably the opposite of the banal present), these are the chains of associations in the search for sublime greatness.

It is the combination of loyalty and a high-pitched pose (“I am a subject of tradition, and outside of it I do not exist”) that makes these self-portraits, heavily fascinated by themselves, so uncomfortable: “Sometimes he feels like it, only with his ancestors to be among Germans. Yes, he is the last German. A rascal, a tramp from the city, the vagabond and the ghost rummaging through holy remains. A homeless person. “

That wants to be disreputable and scandalous, but above all it is involuntarily funny when the last German with a penchant for antiquity (“feels like him”) writes bad German in a weird style.