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TALKING ABOUT THE AESTHETIC OF THE HUMANE: EXPLORING COMMUNICATION IN THE CONTENT AND STRUCTURE OF HEINRICH BÖLL S EARLY NOVELS A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School Of Cornell University In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts By David Sebastian Low January 2009 2009 David Sebastian Low ABSTRACT In his Frankfurter Vorlesungen Heinrich Böll attempts to formulate an aesthetic program that explains how the moral content of writing might be inscribed in its structure. This aesthetic of the humane would involve the subject-matter and orientation of a work s content toward the representation of the historically real and the truth content of that reality. The real as it is in the historical world and that reality that contains the truth content of the experienced world are to be unified in the aesthetic of the humane, and it is the author who is burdened with the task of mediating the two for her reader. In many of his essays Böll privileges communication as an inherently moral act, and emphasizes the responsibility of the author to use his vocation humanely. In order to understand how Böll realized the concept of the aesthetic of the humane in his own writing we may look to how he uses communication within his texts to demonstrate moral action. Communication between characters at the level of plot corresponds to the author s obligation to depict the real historical component, and communicative structures in the matrix of his novels relate to the reality of mediated experience provided as commentary by the author to the reader. This thesis examines how Böll delivers these dual messages using the depiction of communication in three of his early novels. Böll s early novels were chosen for analysis because they correspond to a period in his career before his writing entered into a direct dialogue with his detractors and political opponents. His later writing may be seen as responses to real historical developments in his life, and as such do not exhibit the balance of the real and reality that are the goal of the engaged writer according to his own essays. Through a discussion of Und sagte kein einziges Wort, Billard um halb zehn, and Ansichten eines Clowns this thesis concludes that as of the moment that he articulates his aesthetic program in 1964 Böll harbored doubts about its effectiveness to reach his audience and affect any meaningful change in society. BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH David Sebastian Low was born in Columbia, Missouri on November 7, He graduated from Jefferson City High School in 1997 and attended Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri. He graduated Cum Laude with History Honors in December, 2002 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and German. He attended the Ludwig Maximilians Universität in Munich, Germany during the academic year through the Junior Year in Munich study-abroad program organized by Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. In 2002 he completed a business internship at the Volksbank Freiburg in Breisgau, Baden-Wurttemberg organized by the International Business Internship Exchange at Webster University of St. Louis, Missouri and the Berufsakademie Villingen-Schwenningen also in Baden- Wurttemburg. David was a awarded a teaching assistantship by the American Fulbright Commission and the Pädagogischer Austauschdienst in 2003, and spent two years working as a language teaching assistant at the Ernst Mach Gymnasium, Haar, and the Gymnasium Grafing in Grafing near Munich, Germany. While working as a teaching assistant he additionally cooperated with the American Consulate in Munich on several public panel discussions and as a private speaker for the Hans Seidel Stiftung. iii ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to thank Katharina Hundhammer for her emotional and intellectual support and occasional (and necessary) whip-cracking, Gizem Arslan for always being there, Dr. Anette Schwarz for her professional honesty in helping me make the decisions leading up to the writing of this thesis, and Dr. David Bathrick for his patience and guidance as I stumbled through the ideas contained herein. I would also like to thank Wednesday Night and all the people who made it the release that made each week bearable: Katrina, Ari, Paul, Carl and Megan. iv TABLE OF CONTENTS Biographical Sketch Acknowledgements Table of Contents Introduction Part 1: Und sagte kein einziges Wort Part II: Billard um halb zehn Part III Ansichten eines Clowns Conclusion Works Cited iii iv v v Introduction I Heinrich Böll s position as one of the most prominent literary figures of the Federal Republic of Germany poses a number of difficulties for those who would analyze his work. Though his status as a major literary figure is undisputed due to both the excellent sales of his books within and outside of Germany, and to his works positive reception by literary communities across the west, his place among the great artists of German literature is undermined by those who see a discrepancy between the conviction motivating Böll s work, that literature should improve the world, and what Frank Finlay calls traditional bourgeois aesthetics which holds that such didactic art is not consistent with art of higher quality. 1 I will not attempt to enter into this debate. Others, most notably Finlay, have written treatises on this subject more sensitive or thorough than anything I might offer in a master s thesis, and I will leave it to them to hash out these greater debates. Böll saw no contradiction between art that expressed a didactic, moral message and art that formally challenges readers far beyond the historical moment of its origin to find universal truths within it. In his early essays Böll pays close attention to the representation of reality in literature. His Bekenntnis zur Trümmerliteratur is a long justification for the importance of representing reality as it is perceived, both by the author and by the common man. Böll brings out the example of a baker, seen by the artist s eye: a creator of bread, the symbol for sustenance and iconic through the ages. This is the reality seen by the author, but that reality must contain the discrete details of the baker s son killed on the eastern front and his love of the cinema and all the details that make him real for the result of the 1 Frank Finlay, On the rationality of poetry : Heinrich Böll's aesthetic thinking; Heinrich Böll's aesthetic thinking Amsterdam ; Atlanta, GA : Rodopi, (65) writer s efforts to be more than just imagination. 2 The connection between the basically real and the perception of reality in the larger sense is the basis for literature. Böll adds a few thoughts to the concept of the real in Der Zeitgenosse und die Wirklichkeit, in which he observes the difference between the adult perception of the passing of time and that of children. In their immediacy children perceive reality in its most pure sense, but without the perception (equally real) of the transience of life. The reality of the moment is transience, which our children enjoy with such enviable intensity... but the lollypop melts away and the balloon pops. With this knowledge we are delivered up to reality. 3 Both perceptions are real but the adult perception is of the real with the wisdom to interpret what the real means. The author must take the adult perception of reality and present it to the reader couched in a format that imbues the real with reality. This is the interaction of content with form. Because much of Böll s work deals with the reality from which it came (the first three decades following World War II) many of his critics have made this a point of discussion regarding his ability to create work beyond this scope. Böll himself was intensely concerned with understanding how his work might be organized according to a pre-described program, and his essays frequently address the role of the author in mediating reality (as we have seen) and the connection between form and content. To this end, in 1964 following his most successful work to date, Ansichten eines Clowns, Böll gave a series of four lectures at the University of Frankfurt subsequently call the the Frankfurter Vorlesungen that attempt to outline his aesthetic program. 2 Heinrich Böll , Erzählungen, Hörspiele, Aufsätze (Köln: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1973, 1961) 445. (341) 3 Böll, 445 (345) 1 This program consists of what Böll describes as the attempt to find a method of writing that emphasizes a moral behavior and outlook that adheres to what are effectively Christianity s most basic teachings: neighborly love, compassion, consolation. Böll defines his attempts alternately as the search for an habitable language in a habitable land, and the creation of a language-scape that embraces morality, the feeling of belonging at home, neighborly-ness, and connectedness. 4 The concepts that allow his aesthetic of the humane to function are connectedness (Gebundenheit) and continued-writing (Fortschreibung). These will be discussed in more detail in how they will be important for this thesis later. For now it will suffice to point out that the prerequisite for Böll s aesthetic of the humane is the conviction that morality is inherent to communication. Böll frequently connects the words authors and responsibility in the Frankfurter Vorlesungen, setting authors in positions of moral obligation against a society increasingly content to delegate moral obligation to groups, governments and ideas that would rather follow their own interests rather than do what is moral. 5 Böll calls their language meaningless [nichtssagend] and helpless. 6 He goes so far as to describe the requirements for an aesthetic of the humane listed above, and then to offer the Nazi dictatorship (the ultimate immoral order) as the opposite starting point where home, belonging, neighborly-ness and connectedness are replaced with circles, closed societies, and 4 Heinrich Böll , Frankfurter Vorlesungen. (Köln, Berlin) Kiepenheuer u. Witsch (1966) 110. (26) 5 Böll, Frankfurter 110 (18) 6 Böll, Frankfurter 110 (19) 2 secret orders all of which serve to destroy communication. 7 The value placed on communication is connected with the humane, the moral. As such, communication is privileged in the Frankfurter Vorlesungen as the medium for moral behavior, and Böll devotes much energy to finding the moment where morality and communication meet. He writes of the need to collect words, study syntax, analyze and establish rhythms so that it would become apparent which syntaxes, which vocabularies in our country are possessed of the humane and the social. 8 This fixation with language recurs through the lectures, concentrating on both language in its constituent parts (words, syntax, rhythms) we have no words to give away, none to lose, for we don t have that many 9 and language between individuals, shown in statements about the inability of politicians and church officials to really communicate anything with the volumes of words they use. 10 This attention to communication will be the focus of the readings of Böll s novels to come. It is crucial to the discussion of Böll s aesthetics that he himself became involved in the critical negotiation of his work, for his attempt in the Frankfurter Vorlesungen to offer an aesthetic program focuses the debate squarely on the question of whether his work is to be understood as immediate calls to social action or transcendent literature independent of the social circumstances under which it was produced. His discussion of a possible aesthetic of the humane attempts to outline a form of depiction that draws upon a universal morality that is grounded in an historical 7 Böll, Frankfurter 110 (27) 8 Böll, Frankfurter 110 (14) 9 Böll, Frankfurter 110 (16) 10 Böll, Frankfurter 110 (19) 3 reality. Literature written in such an aesthetic would extol all readers to moral action regardless of their geographical or temporal location, but the books Böll wrote are immediately recognizable as the product of a post World War II experience. To provide examples of his aesthetic of the humane Böll makes lengthy analyses of other authors from across the temporal spectrum including Günter Eich 11 H.G. Adler 12 and Günter Grass Hundejahre and Beckett s Endgame. The purposes of these excerpts are to point out moments where literature directly engages the hallmark concepts of his aesthetic, the home, travel, trash, and connectedness. 13 However, the success of the Frankfurter Vorlesungen in positing an aesthetic system to explain the connection between the moral engagement of literature and abstract form remains in doubt. 14 The critical writing on Böll frequently interacts with the questions about engagement and aesthetics raised in the Frankfurter Vorlesungen: specifically by attempting to use Böll s nebulous directions to outline the components of a possible aesthetic of the humane. Some of Böll s critics out-rightly reject any such proposed aesthetic, claiming as Gregory Just does, that the aesthetic of the humane really just means the destruction of aesthetics in favor of morality. 15 Among the authors who 11 Böll, Frankfurter 110 (70) 12 Böll, Frankfurter 110 (66) 13 Böll, Frankfurter 110 (62) 14 The Frankfurter Vorlesungen meander through descriptions of Böll perceptions of the problems in current German literature and society and cites examples of works that express moral motifs he likes, and eventually attempts to point out what would be the tenets of the aesthetic that would address social issues from a moral perspective without becoming mired in the peculiarities of particular historical events. However, that Böll s own work does not become the object of his analysis is the greatest proof that even he didn't quite understand the means by which his work was to carry out his high-minded expectations of literature in the post-war period. 15 Böll : Untersuchungen zum Werk, ed. Walter Jurgensen Hinck Manfred Bern ; München : Francke, (65) 4 take a skeptical view of the aesthetic of the humane in Wilhelm Johannes Schwarz comes closest to addressing how Böll s status as a writer is impacted by his aesthetics (or possible lack thereof.) Schwarz acknowledges Böll s popularity and financial success, but attributes these primarily to the content of his work. At the end of his introduction he compares Böll s success with that of Wolfgang Borchert who similarly imbued his work with the gritty sense of loss, confusion and nihilism that characterized the German experience of the years following World War II. However, unlike Borchert, whose writing spoke to the experiences of Germans without a moral content that indicated any path forward out of the quagmire of defeat and pain, Böll's instills the occupants of his blasted landscape with an a simple morality, a dogmaless piety that provided a means to move beyond the paralyzed cynicism of those early post war years. 16 Though Schwarz may correctly interpret some of the reasons for Böll's success, his evaluation of that success is singularly commercial in nature. He refers to Böll's wide readership in both Germany and in the USSR, but does so disparagingly; after discussing how Böll's writing manages to unify the uncertainty of the difficult postwar years with a sense of moral solidity, Schwarz claims that such an alignment could only be introduced to a work of literature at the cost of a deeper meaning and that on account of such dishonest sentimentality Böll will have to do without refined aesthetes among his followers. 17 In effect, Böll is writing nice literature for an unsophisticated readership, and his writing has little more to offer than its reassuring content. Schwarz does not think highly of the unity of any of Böll's works, though they may have adorable spots, nevertheless it seems that in most of his works he 16 Wilhelm Johannes Schwarz 1929-, Der Erzähler Heinrich Böll. Seine Werke und Gestalten., 2., erw. Aufl. ed. Bern, München, Francke [1968] 139. (12) 17 Böll [muss] auf verfeinerte Ästheten in seinem Gefolge verzichten. (10) 5 can t quite manage to accomplish what he sets out to do 18 His novels sit under a fog of unintentional incoherence, suffer from abrupt style changes, and consist of episodic- rather than unified-narration. 19 In short, due to their moral character Böll's books may be read on the level of content, but not on that of form. Schwarz analysis is conspicuous within Böll criticism because of his unequivocal condemnation of Böll and his willful refusal to see moments of formal complexity seen by so many others. However, he does validly address the tension between the moral content and formal aspirations of Böll s work. Reinhard K. Zachau and Albrecht Beckel recommend completely foregoing any attempt at interpreting Böll formally and suggest alternative methods to understand Böll s writing. Zachau is certainly fairer than Schwarz in his depiction of the criticism on Böll until 1994, citing such voices as Joachim Kaiser who claimed that the focus of Böll criticism had always been on the tension of the aesthetic and the non-aesthetic. Nonetheless, he concludes his survey of Böll criticism in America, Germany and the Soviet Union by stating that political methods of interpretation will ultimately be more useful in reexamining Böll in the post-unification setting than purely literary or text-centered methods, since his texts are concerned primarily with political ideas. 20 (128) Clearly from both Böll s own attempts at explaining the aesthetic program of his work and the voluminous amount of ink spilled by critics in the interest of clarifying it, Böll s writing is not primarily about political ideas. In fact, its resistance to interpretation as politically oriented in the ideological sense is part of what makes it so difficult to reconcile in interpretation. 18 Schwarz, 139 (9) 19 Schwarz, 139 (10) 20 Reinhard K. (Reinhard Konrad) Zachau, Heinrich Böll : forty years of criticism, 1st ed. ed. (Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1994) Beckel similarly sees Böll s work as intelligible only through the lens of the thencurrent theories of sociology, and he writes that Böll must be understood in interaction with developments in modern sociology. 21 It is not about literary criticism. Above all not literary interpretation [literaturwissenschaftliche Interpretation]. However, what follows is very much a literaturwissenschaftliche interpretation, so much so that it seems apparent that Bölls work refuses to allow interpretations that attempt to ignore the interaction of their content with their form. In his analysis of the Frankfurter Vorlesungen Michael Butler also directs his attention toward the content of Böll s work, but his research leads him in a different direction than Schwarz or Zachau or Beckel with regards to Böll s aesthetics. Butler finds what he considers to be the center of gravity for Böll s work in its content, specifically in its moral content. However, Butler sees that moral content as the component that unifies Böll s work as a whole rather than a factor that dominates and overshadows other aspects present within it. Butler s analysis leads him to a deeper discussion of what he calls the mythological/theological component that he claims unifies Böll s work, and rightly so, for that topic directly concerns how Böll manages to address topics far beyond his petty bourgeois milieu from within it. Butler attributes Böll s accomplishment of this precisely to his close attention to often tedious detail and his discussion considers briefly whether the moral component in Böll s work is complimented with a structural component that further adheres to the moral character so important to the meaning of the work Albrecht Beckel, Mensch, Gesellschaft, Kirche, bei Heinrich Böll. Mit, ed. Bo ll, Heinrich, Interview mit mir selbst. Osnabrück, Fromm (1966) 109. (28) 22 B
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