GExactly two weeks before his death, Friedrich Christian Delius wrote his last text, and the FAZ printed it (on May 17). In it, the writer said goodbye to PEN after fifty years of membership because he had been outraged by the circumstances of the now notorious Gotha conference. Delius once again put all his energy into this article; After reading it, nobody would have guessed that this angry man would die a short time later. And it was also a text typical of Delius in that he once again proved himself to be a chronicler of contemporary history: with a reminiscence of his own beginnings as a writer in the early 1970s, when he immediately challenged what was considered untouchable in the Federal Republic, in in this case the Siemens group. FC Delius, as he abbreviated his Prussian-sounding first name for a long time, was not someone who took sensitivities into account – not even his own. The only exception was his sensitivity to language, which found expression in books that are among the most stylistically beautiful that contemporary German literature has produced.
Let’s take “The Walk from Rostock to Syracuse”, published in 1995, and of course the description of a path following Johann Gottfried Seume’s “Walk to Syracuse in the Year 1802”, which had made a literary epoch two centuries earlier. The love for Italy documented in it was inscribed in Delius from birth; he was born in Rome in 1943, the son of a German pastor. The family did not spend more than a year there, the war drove them back to Germany, but later Italianness Delius’s writing was assured, most beautifully in “Portrait of a Mother as a Young Woman” published in 2006, but also already in the elegance of the two novels “Adenauerplatz” and “Mogadishu Fensterplatz” from the 1980s, which set standards for public perception due to their political themes . With them, Delius secured his permanent place in the audience’s favour.
Last year he commented in the Frankfurter Anthologie (Frankfurt Anthology) on a poem he spontaneously wrote at the age of eighteen about the construction of the Berlin Wall. It ended like this: “The slogan is “attitude” / that crumples / piles up in wastepaper baskets // carefully take it out / smooth it out / and ask your question again” (FAZ of August 14, 2021). It contained the author’s entire writing ethos, his skepticism about slogans and, above all, his questioning of what was generally considered valid. For a long time, Delius was what is known as a political writer, but at the same time he was also a great traditionalist who repeatedly brought his own life into confrontation with the course of the times. He took his time, for example for his success story “The Sunday on which I became world champion”. Published four years after Germany won the World Cup in Rome, its plot took us back to 1954, to the “Miracle of Bern”, which the eleven-year-old first-person narrator felt was not national, but individual self-confidence.
The more personal Delius’ books became – and he cultivated this tendency as he got older – the greater the astonishment at this seemingly outdated language, which increasingly found its models in the literature of the Enlightenment. The Büchner Prize of 2011 honored this special role of Delius as well as the decision of the Rowohlt publishing house, which was associated with him for more than forty years, to dedicate a late edition of the work in individual volumes to the author.
His last book, published in 2021, was completely new again: “The Seven Languages of Silence”, three stories of experience entirely à la Delius. Be silent? It’s hard to imagine reading without that voice. Now you will have to. Friedrich Christian Delius died in Berlin on Monday evening.