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This report is taken from PN Review 76, Volume 17 Number 2, November - December 1990.

Letter from Germany Michael Hulse
In his speech accepting the 1989 Büchner Prize, Botho Strauss (see P·N·R 43 and 62) pointedly quoted Valerio in Büchner's comedy Leonce and Lena: 'This country is like an onion. Nothing but skins, layer upon layer. Or boxes within boxes. And inside the smallest of the lot there is nothing at all.' I wrote in P·N·R 75 that the lack of a centre can be sensed behind much contemporary German writing, and that German postmodernism may in fact be a function of that lack. Valerio's image perfectly expresses the point; and Strauss's speech is a powerful commentary on the lack I was referring to.

For Strauss, taking his bearings from Büchner, the 'Leonce principle' applies: contemporary society is characterized by a vacuity of sensibility accompanied by raised thresholds of unreality. The experiential world is a manufactured apparition. And: 'the hermetic comedy is no longer a satirical parable, but rather a component of a gestalt, the very module of a reality invented from the root up.' In (post-)modern society, 'even surfeit and boredom have been thoroughly democratized'. Inevitably the writer, whose prime task and duty is to remember, can feel nothing in common with the masses, whose sole aim seems to be the achievement of oblivion through a whirl of synthetic experience. The result is that literature must be self-reflexive, if only for reasons of self-preservation.

The objections to Strauss's hieratic elitism have been rehearsed countless times. What interests me more at the moment is Strauss's contention that ...


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