Monday, 11 March 2013

Alexander Kluge: Die Entsprechung einer Oase

I feel a little uncomfortable writing about Alexander Kluge because I feel a little ignorant about his work. This results from an unfortunate combination of various factors: limited reading time in general, my concentration on younger writers and my irrational avoidance of older men's work (Kluge is in his early eighties). Under normal circumstances I can hide the gaps in my reading behind bluff and bravado, but now I've had a tiny taste of Kluge and find myself craving more.

The taster in question was Die Entsprechung einer Oase, subtitled "essay for the digital generation". Being aimed at the digital generation, it is only available digitally, from my friend Nikola Richter's new publishing venture mikrotext. It is also short, weighing in at 17 pages on my Sony reader or about 50 on a smartphone. I was quite intrigued by how it came about - according to Nikola, it began as an thirty-minute telephone conversation; a very enjoyable one by her account. She told me:
He didn't want to give any advice but he began thinking about his relationship to the younger generation, about the conditions of cultural production and creative activity, about reading on the net - and I just let him talk.
Nikola transcribed and edited what he said - apparently his ideas were pretty much printable the instant he expressed them - and obviously they sent the resulting essay to and fro a couple of times, added quotes, and so on. I'm terribly impressed by the process, by what he had to say and by the man himself. I think I can say he's a writer, a filmmaker, a critical theorist and a pioneer of intelligent private television production in Germany. I don't feel that sums it up adequately - it's particularly the combination of those creative and intellectual activities that makes him the kind of iconic figure my youthful iconoclasm made me ignore in the past. 

The young generation, he says, doesn't need his advice. But he looks to the younger generation to reflect on his own ideas. Kluge talks about the internet with its overwhelming wealth of information and our need to find personal oases within it, places of calm and sustenance dealing with things that interest us subjectively as individuals. He reflects on how the internet has broadened our opportunities for reading and the way in which we can write, both in terms of finding things we want to read and adding things to writing that might have seemed outlandish twenty years ago:
One never previously saw this presence of languages. I can risk writing twenty lines of Latin in a text – and I'm suddenly independent, I have a little independent fortress Memor esto sacerdotalis dignitatis linguam caelestis esse clavem imperii et clarissimam Christi tubam. Quapropter ne sileas, netaceas, ne formides loqui. This Latin has extisted for more than 2000 years. (...) Now I can add something like this in a literary context because young people have become more accustomed to unfamiliar elements in the midst of texts. They're not always instantly amazed to find something new, something they don't immediately understand. They're more tolerant in that respect.
He talks subjectively about intellectual property and the way we can watch opinion forming and crystallising via internet debate, about the unfairness of distribution models, about creative acts. Setting up a publishing house, a band, a gallery - or a website - he says, means creating an oasis, collecting individual voices to make creative statements as a small group rather than as individuals. 

Two things impressed me for the main part. They may both be related to Kluge's age. Firstly, while the essay isn't quite perfectly formed, it flows and returns to certain key points and is coherent. The author uses a variety of metaphors - oases, islands, boats, coral riffs - to get his point across in a poetic rather than informative manner; a distinction he makes himself. Fully formed ideas dictated down the phone, surely a dying art. And secondly, Kluge represents all sorts of ideas one might not expect from the older generation in Germany, particularly on the subject of intellectual property rights - an issue that often seems to split society in two by age. He never seems to want to get down with the kids, is never patronising, but shows so much respect for the new that I instantly felt I owed that same respect back to him.

Some of his work is available in English from New Directions and Seagull Books, translated mainly by the excellent Martin Chalmers. I'm told his Air Raid should also be out later this year from Seagull. This particular essay is a strong start for a new publishing house - I hope, a defining moment that will go on to establish respect and success for mikrotext.

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