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This review is taken from PN Review 22, Volume 8 Number 2, November - December 1981.

GOING UNDER Hans Magnus Enzensberger, The Sinking of the Titanic (Carcanet) £3.95
Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Die Furie des Verschwindens: Gedichte (Suhrkamp, Frankfurt-am-Main)

The thought underlying these poems is not too remote from Burns's views on the plans of mice and men, particularly if we read 'aft' as a clear case of litotes. There is no neat equation, however, between the sinking (Untergang) of the Titanic, the decline of the west (Untergang des Abendlandes) and the end of the world (Weltuntergang). Extended and literal senses are suspect, their interrelation shaky, shifting, always open to question. Impending doom is not exactly a negotiable theme, after all; what Enzensberger gives us is a swan-song of sorts, a wry, ironic sound appropriate to the routine prospect of oblivion. Interwoven with this large theme are thoughts and memories of the last ten years, moving between the high hopes of the late 1960s and their disabusement in the 1970s. Hence the ship is at moments revolution, Cuba, shared visions of a better world. But there is not much hope left in theme or tone, less, I would say, than in Enzensberger's earlier work.

What impresses me most is the extent to which these more recent poems are permeated with a sense of déjà vu. It is there in the choice of this familiar symbol of our self-wrought demise, in the tone of disenchantment and in the patterns of language-and not only when clichés of perception and understanding are being rehearsed. There are places where Enzensberger appears to be repeating himself (or Eliot or Grass, but mainly himself), though without the edge or the fervour of ...


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