Several years ago I met an avid reader from Germany (luckily she spoke excellent English) and she introduced me to the literary form called the Erzählung. Her simple explanation was that in Germany, the novel (Roman) is differentiated from the Erzählung because the Erzählung has no action and is almost entirely within the head of the narrator. This type of literature is found all over the world, not just in Germany, but I believe German is the only language that differentiates it from the novel as a literary form.
During the discussion, I asked for some good examples of this type of literature and these were the suggested authors:
- Christoph Ransmayr
- Friederike Mayröcker
- Peter Hanke
- Peter Hartling
- Christoph Meckel
- Botho Strauss
- Hermann Boch.
To date I have read a few works by these and similar authors and have admired them all. Right now I am deep into brütt, or The Sighing Gardens by Friederike Mayröcker. Mayröcker describes her writing technique as visualizing something and then stepping into the picture or the character and becoming the writing itself. That is essentially what brütt is all about.
… I tell him, a woman in bare feet got on, in one arm she was carrying a very alert-looking white dog with pointed ears, and I kept looking at it, because I liked it, I had transformed myself into a dog again, the metamorphosis took place over a matter of minutes as I had crawled into this dog and was not inside looking out, looking at myself, sitting across from myself and admiring me, and inside my skull this sentence was taking form : that was some trick!, before she got off, the barefooted woman handed me a garishly green straw-hat and said, FROM VIETNAM!, I attempted to thank her by saying : You have a beautiful dog!k to which she replied : And now you have a beautiful hat, too!, apparently instead of understanding me to say GOG : Hat is what she heard ..
This is my first Mayröcker and I am loving it. But be warned, if you are the kind of reader looking for excitement and action, do not expect to be entertained by this author; but it you are the kind of reader that revels in the details of the mind, then run on over to Amazon and order this one. I suppose it is fair to say that the narrative (or lack of narrative) involves an author (Mayröcker assumed, but … ?) working on finishing a book for her publishers: along the way she speaks of and to her dead lover, her publisher, other friends, her dead mother, and many important literary figures. She tells the reader about activities she has taken part in, but they are all memories: as defined, the Erzählung is all in the head of the narrator.
Along the way, the narrator speaks of the power of words, the variations of memory, the contents of dreams, the ethos of writing, the ropes and ladders of living. Here is another passage:
… it was a stormy phenomenon, I tell Blum, an enormous mass of energy came gushing out between the horns, of my skill, directly onto the sheet I had fed into the machine, there is a chase going on inside me, there is a machine loose, some kind of machine is loose inside me, I say, last night water was running all night, I mean I had forgotten to turn off the water before I went to bed, in the morning a sliver of fingernail on my blanket, probably fell off while I was sleeping … in any case, a lot of things are moving inside me, and an AS IF a waitress in a bar, I tell Blum, magnet, or something like that, when I slip on this motley smock, …
She goes on later:
and everything falling into the water, bathwater, no : stage water, sliding, drowning, I mean everything made of cellophane every paper ribbon every armband, white armband, strangely enough, I say, not all of my manuscript sliding down, have to be careul, and cards from arts, photographers, related friends, photo cards, Menjou mustache, tableaus to remember, someone with a name something like Robert Frost calls up and tells me that all the fruit trees in Sarajevo have been cut down,I remove the washbasin in order to avert any further paper drownings, did I say drowning, drowning in tears, drowning myself in tears, a photograph, father took it with the Boxtengor, during the war, I say to Blum, do you remember, I was supposed to be reaching for an imaginary ball that was dropping down out of the air toward me …
Friederike Mayröcker is a prolific writer—prose, poetry, dramas—and interestingly spend much of her life as a teacher of English in Vienna. I highly recommend brütt, or The Sighing Gardens and after you read this one, think about other novels you have read that might be call Erzahlungen (and don’t miss those other writers I listed above).