My loving Father, You have declared me to be Your child; my faithful Savior, You have offered me the fruits of Your death; in all need and suffering, good spirit, you want to be my comfort. The love cannot be measured, that You, my God, gives to me. O, let me never forget the duty to which I bound myself to you, when you took me into your covenant and came toward me with salvation.
Take me, your child, with mercy, when I have committed a fall. I give once again to you, my God, soul and body as sacrifice. Awaken me to new faith, and form me according to your sense. There shall not be a drop of blood in me that does not, o Lord, do your will.
Klein in Germany – Keynote on The Future of the Novel | Edinburgh World Writers' Conference
Secure this my promise, my Father! God my salvation may be forever mine, and let me be yours forever too! This child was born in Butler, Butler County, in the state of Pennsylvania, on the 18th day of the month February in the year of the Lord and Savior Given on the 4th of April Gottlieb Bassler V[erbi] D[ivini] M[agister]. Hand-lettered; printed form. The main text in Fraktur is printed in the center of the document. The blanks are entered by hand in Roman script. The document is framed by a printed border of flowers, various geometric shapes and spirals.
Stopp suggests it may have been printed in Pittsburgh. Earnest Associates, vol. Calendar of Events. Search Advanced. Then I put it in the wastepaper sack along with the newspapers of the last few days. The memory of this good deed is then the last future which, for a little while at least, we will share. The history of literature tries to control this vortex of time. The history of the novel, at least the history of the European novel, then turns into a tree whose growth we can supposedly reconstruct.
This oak rises from the fertile soil of older narrative forms, at some point a separate sapling emerges from the epic thicket. The wood of the trunk grows stronger and harder, gradually the tree becomes aware of the tradition it forms, but also of unrealised possibilities.
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Grown stately and proud, it forks into powerful branches. Its youngest twigs reach further towards the light, towards new, not yet explored kinds of writing. I like this illusion. I enjoy the idea that I could know what is old and what is new, that I understand how the new emerges from the old.
Like every illusionary control of time it can help one to keep going, if one submits to it at the right moment. But there is also the fatally wrong moment: I remember a young woman author telling me about her collision with the history of the novel. Before she tackled a proper novel, she simply wanted to see just what had been written so far. She asked experienced readers for help and drew up a list. No more than a selection from the supposedly most important German-language novels of the twentieth century, twenty or thirty titles. She began in chronological order. What had been conceived as an instructive game with time, turned into a nightmare.
She had entered the forest of literature in order to collect a few fine mushrooms in her basket. But she was forced to realise that a giant mushroom rhizom ran through the gentle grove from one end to the other. A network of dead fibres, but also of damp living ones. Not everything which strove towards the twilight there was in good condition.
Much was maggot-eaten, there was much ugly rank vegetation, above all far too much iridescent beauty. In the young writer, however, the emotional surplus of yearning, anticipation and fear, the many-armed dream-catcher, which her future novel had been, shrank away into despondency and resignation. A pity! With a little luck things could have turned out differently. From the experience of frightening greatness she drew the fatal conclusion that whatever there was inside her, driving her to write a novel, was embarrassingly small.
That could be called escapism. And there are spatial metaphors which suggest themselves to describe the experience. But someone who escapes into a novel, is also escaping from a particular time.
Every habitual reader, the genre junkie just as much as the lover of subtle language games, senses and enjoys the fact that he is escaping that time which is constantly being presented to him as the really important, decisive one. This small time has something to do with our everyday lives. And its dogmatic champions maintain that dealing with daily life prevents us squandering our always scarce hours on reading never mind writing novels. An old, threadbare reproach.
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But who can feel so certain of himself in this respect? A few weeks ago I was talking on the phone to an author; almost forty, his most recent novel was about to appear. I thought our conversation was going to be all about this happy, forthcoming event, when he abruptly asked me what kind of nursing care insurance I had.
At the moment he felt tormented by the thought that in the future, in thirty or thirty five years he could be at the mercy of the infirmities of old age without appropriate support. His son would then find himself in the terribly awkward situation of having to take care of a poor, invalid writer, one perhaps even suffering from dementia.
A few days later I started reading his new novel. I can no longer say how many pages it took before I forgot the nursing care insurance cover.
But it was quite a few. On the unusually difficult way into the promise of time of the novel I felt that what prevented my immersion was a kind of future. On the contrary: every genuine reader knows the special pleasure which comes of escaping into the time of the novel in the middle of everyday life, in the middle of the automatically prolonged present of getting things done, of errands. Not the sheer practice of the present, but a particular kind of future, a feeling of apprehension, a specific anxiety, indeed cowardice, appeared to me to be the time-enemy of the novel.
Four years ago the books editor of a newspaper asked me whether I would like to contribute to a series in the arts pages of the publication. Short essay-like texts were supposed to discuss utopian novels of the past three hundred years. I was very taken by the idea, because I looked forward to re-acquainting myself with texts I had read for the first time decades before. Most of the titles that involuntarily came to mind were so-called science fiction novels from the second half of the 20 th century.
Only the cheap know-it-all attitudes of those born too long after would throw themselves at these novels to explain that they told of gadgets, social orders and forms of rule which have not or perhaps even have become contemporary reality. I doubted that these authors, like members of some literary-military special unit equipped with telescopic sights and laser pointers, had been aiming at our 21 st century.
Admittedly, as genre literature the majority of these books had in some formal aspects satisfied the expectations of genre readers.
Heilig (Tokio Hotel song)
Probably the vain desire to predict something which could still come true in the lifetime of the author had played a limited part in the writing. But this prognostic ambition had evaporated from the space of reading like some initially overpowering but then not very enduring perfume. How good, not to be the posterity of these novels. Relieved of all prognostic expectations they seemed to me to have gained in scope. And my reading profited in more than a futurological way from the character of our contemporary shared world: If I am not deceiving myself, then in recent decades a certain pressure of expectation has very much diminished.
I know there are phenomena which distract from this liberation of the novel. The demons of small time know all about my diffidence and regularly lead me into temptation.
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A very energetic young man got to the point right away. They had heard that my prose texts had an interesting closeness to science and technology. They had read random samples. I was the right man. An important client, a well-known German scientist, the cutting edge of medical-biological progress in person, was looking for someone who could relate in an attractive way what his research team had discovered and which was about to cause a sensation.
The Wikipedia article was very long, fairly well written and just easy enough so that with my chance bio-chemical and medical knowledge I was able to follow it. All cleverly and skilfully done. What could this established and eminent authority expect from me? The future was quickly told. Planned was a best-seller, that is, one with sales figures in the six-digit range. I asked for examples, and my caller had them at his fingertips. To my surprise these included not only popular non-fiction books but also downmarket fiction.
As a professional, I would no doubt immediately appreciate that — the future quite evidently lay in the fusion of up-to-date scientific topics with narrative forms of presentation.