Wednesday, October 24, 2007

German Literature Quiz

I should rather say Germanic literature quiz. Anyway identify the books the following excerpts are from... I have omitted the names of the characters.

1. Farewell [X]-whether you live or stay where you are! Your chances are not good. The wicked dance in which you are caught up will last many a little sinful year yet, and we would not wager much that you will come out whole. To be honest, we are not really bothered about leaving the question open. Adventures in the flesh and spirit, which enhanced and heightened your ordinariness, allowed you to survive in the spirit what you probably will not survive in the flesh. There were moments when, as you "played king," you saw the intimation of a dream of love rising out of death and this carnal body. And out of this worldwide festival of death, this ugly rutting fever that inflames the rainy evening sky all round-will love someday rise up out of this, too?

2. He was so shaken that he felt compelled to flee the light of the terrace and front garden and hastily sought the obscurity of the rear grounds. Oddly indignant and tender admonitions welled up inside him: "You mustn't smile like that! One mustn't smile like that at anyone, do you hear?" He flung himself on a bench, frantically inhaling the plants' nocturnal fragrance. Then, leaning back, arms dangling, overwhelmed and shuddering repeatedly, he whispered the standard formula of longing-impossible here, absurd, perverse, ridiculous and sacred nonetheless, yes, still venerable even here: "I love you!"

3. Once upon a time there was a poor little boy who had no father or mother. Everything was dead, and there was nobody left in the whole wide world. Everything was dead, and he went away and searched day and night. And because there was nobody left on earth he thought he'd go to heaven. And the moon looked at him so kindly! But when he reached the moon he found it was piece of rotten wood. And then he went to the sun, and when he reached the sun he found it was withered sunflower. And when he came to the stars they were little golden gnats that a shrike had stuck on a blackthorn. And when he wanted to go back to earth, the earth was an upturned pot. And he was all alone. And he sat down and cried, and he's still sitting there still, all alone.

4. We run after them for years, begging for their affection, I thought, and when once we have their affection we no longer want it. We flee from them and they catch up with us and seize hold of us, and we submit to them and all their dictates, I thought, surrendering to them until we either die or break loose. We flee from them and they catch up with us and crush us to death. We run after them and implore them to accept us, and they accept us and do us to death. Or else we avoid them from the beginning and succeed in avoiding them all our lives, I thought. Or we walk into their trap and suffocate. Or we escape from them and start running them down, slandering them and spreading lies about them, I thought, in order to save ourselves, slandering them whereever we can in order to save ourselves, running away from them for dear life and accusing them everywhere of having us on their consciences. Or they escape from us and slander and accuse us, spreading every possible lie about us in order to save themselves, I thought.

5. Because thoughts are something special. Often they are nothing more than accidents that pass away without leaving a trace, and thoughts, too, have their times to live and die. We can have a flash of insight, and then slowly, it fades beneath our touch like a flower. The form remains, but the colours, the scent are missing. We remember them word for word, and the logic of the sentence is completely unimpaired, and yet it drifts ceaselessly around on the surface of our minds and we feel none the richer for it. Until-perhaps years later-all of a sudden another moment comes when we see that in the meantime we have known nothing of it, although logically we knew everything.

6. It is as if a curtain had been drawn from before my eyes, and, instead of prospects of eternal life, the abyss of an ever open grave yawned before me. Can we say of anything that it exists when all passes away, when time, with the speed of a storm, carries all things onward, -- and our transitory existence, hurried long by the torrent, is either swallowed up by the waves or dashed against the rocks? There is not a moment but preys upon you, -- and upon all around you, not a moment in which you do not yourself become a destroyer. The most innocent walk deprives of life thousands of poor insects: one step destroys the fabric of the industrious ant, and converts a little world into chaos. No: it is not the great and rare calamities of the world, the floods which sweep away whole villages, the earthquakes which swallow up our towns, that affect me. My heart is wasted by the thought of that destructive power which lies concealed in every part of universal nature. Nature has formed nothing that does not consume itself, and every object near it: so that, surrounded by earth and air, and all the active powers, I wander on my way with aching heart; and the universe is to me a fearful monster, for ever devouring its own offspring.

7. Hours passed there, hours breathing together with a single heartbeat, hours in which [X] constantly felt he was lost or had wandered farther into foreign lands than any human being before him, so foreign that even the air hadn't a single component of the air in his homeland and where one would inevitably suffocate from the foreignness but where the meaningless enticements were such that one had no alternative but to go on and get even more lost.

8. It is the fulfilment of man’s primordial dreams to be able to fly, travel with the fish, drill our way beneath the bodies of towering mountains, send messages with godlike speed, see the invisible and hear the distant speak, hear the voices of the dead, be miraculously cured while asleep, see with our own eyes how we will look twenty years after our death, learn in flickering nights thousands of things above and below this earth no one ever knew before; if light, warmth, power, pleasure, comforts, are man’s primordial dreams, then present-day research is not only science but sorcery, spells woven from the highest powers of heart and brain, forcing God to open one fold after another of his cloak; a religion whose dogma is permeated and sustained by the hard, courageous, flexible, razor-cold logic of mathematics.

9. So, then people do come here in order to live; I would sooner have thought one died here. I have been out. I saw: hospitals. I saw a man who swayed and sank to the ground. People gathered round him, so I was spared the rest. I saw a pregnant woman. She was pushing herself cumbrously along a high, warm wall, groping for it now and again as if to convince herself it was still there. Yes, it was still there.

10. Several times during the day I felt a desire to assure myself of a reality I feared had vanished forever by looking out of that hospital window, which, for some strange reason, was draped with black netting, and as dusk fell the wish became so strong that, contriving to slip over the edge of the bed to the floor, half on my belly and half sideways, and then to reach the wall on all fours, I dragged myself, despite the pain, up to the window sill. In the tortured posture of a creature that has raised itself erect for the first time I stood leaning against the glass. I could not help thinking of the scene in which poor Gregor Samsa, his little legs trembling, climbs the armchair and looks out of his room, no longer remembering (so Kafka's narrative goes) the sense of liberation that gazing out of the window had formerly given him. And just as Gregor's dimmed eyes failed to recognize the quiet street where he and his family had lived for years, taking CharlottenstraBe for a grey wasteland, so I too found the familiar city, extending from the hospital courtyards to the far horizon, an utterly alien place. I could not believe that anything might still be alive in that maze of buildings down there; rather, it was as if I were looking down from a cliff upon a sea of stone or a field of rubble, from which the tenebrous masses of multi-storey carparks rose up like immense boulders. At that twilit hour there were no passers-by to be seen in the immediate vicinity, but for a nurse crossing the cheerless gardens outside the hospital entrance on the way to her night shift. An ambulance with its light flashing was negotiating a number of turns on its way from the city centre to Casualty. I could not hear its siren; at that height I was cocooned in an almost complete and, as it were, artificial silence. All I could hear was the wind sweeping in from the country and buffeting the window; and in between, when the sound subsided, there was the never entirely ceasing murmur in my own ears.

30 comments:

Fausto Maijstral said...

The first one is the last paragraph of The Magic Mountain.

Alok said...

ah, but that's only one out of ten :)

Crp said...

I recognize the third piece -- it's from Buchner's Wozzeck. I know this only because of Berg's eponymous opera which I love.

btw, nice selections and a GREAT idea for a blog post. It's the perfect way of introducing novices like me to dem highbrow stuffs youseguys read :)

Cheshire Cat said...

This chorus of voices makes for something beautiful.

Reminds me of the TLS quiz, back in the day... It's been so long.

Crp said...

And yeah the fourth is unmistakably Bernhard -- though he seems to be in a rather sedate mood. He generally delivers a knockout punch by the end of a rant as long as this...

Space Bar said...

yes indeed, great post. those TLS quizzes used to give me sleepless nights. luckily for me i know so little of german literature that i can enjoy these without losing sleep.

:D

Alok said...

crp: ok, so now we have two out of ten... may be two and a half. Bernhard one is difficult I know. It is impossible to find out which rant is in which book because they are so similar. Unless it is about some very specific subject.

Berg's Opera, I would love to see it sometime. I have only heard about it. This short monologue is in Herzog's film too though it is attributed to a different character.

cat: yes, there is actually a sort of consistency in the excerpts too. Death, disease, mental sickness...

space bar: actually I have read all these books recently in the last one year or so, that's how the idea came...

Crp said...

Try to get hold of this if you can. I don't have the CD -- but I remember listening to the LP in one of UChicago's Regenstein library listening rooms and nearly jumping out of my chair during certain sections.

Some say Boulez's conducting is too clinical and heartless -- but to me that is precisely the point!

antonia said...

4. Bernhard, Woodcutters
5. Musil, Toerless
6. von Goethe, Young Werther
8. Musil, Man without Qualities
9. Rilke, but i dont know where it is from

2. i would assume is pre-20th century and 10. it just does not come to my ind...

Alok said...

crp: I am mostly clueless when it comes to opera or clasical music. I have seen a lot of dvd recordings in the library here.. may be they have Berg's opera too. will also check if they have the CD you mention. thanks for the pointer.

antonia: wow, you don't disappoint :)

so now we have 6 and half. Rilke is correct. I don't think he has written many prose works though.

also no.2 is very much a 20th century work by someone generally regarded as the greatest German writer of last century... (who you don't like that much)

antonia said...

god, 2 i had thought someone deranged romantic, then it can only be my hero guenther grass, no? so far TLS displays a decisive canonical boringness in their choice.

antonia said...

oh yes and the Rilke is Malte Laurids Brigge

Alok said...

nope... it is not from Gunter Grass. It is from a beautiful short novel about falling in love and dying, set in a beautiful city. "Deranged romantic" feels quite right...

and this quiz is not from TLS. I copied them all down last night... these are all my favourite books!

also Rilke is correct... it is in fact the opening paragraph.

Cheshire Cat said...

(2) has a strain of neurotic perversity that one associates with Kafka and Walser, more with Walser than with Kafka. But in any case this strain is so prevalent in Germanic writing that it is dangerous to draw conclusions... I'm pretty sure I haven't read it before.

Alok said...

no. 2 is from Death in Venice actually. Just after the boy gives the old man a smile... it is true, it is quite common in German literature, this peculiarly perverse and sick interiority and romanticism.

Crp said...

hmmm No.2 lacks the irreverence I associate with Walser. Definitely the least favoured among these 10 pieces... Could it be every melancholy airhead's favourite writer - Milan Kundera ?

Crp said...

Ok so I see it isn't Kundera. btw let me not ruffle the feathers of Kundera fans here -- I was just making an unbearable light hearted comment.

btw Czech counts as a Germanic language right ?

Cheshire Cat said...

"Could it be every melancholy airhead's favorite writer - Milan Kundera?"

This quote should immortalize him; his writing certainly won't

Alok said...

crp: I think it is a slavic language. But Kundera is too much of slavophobe to admit it. He sees it as distinctively central european - non germanic and non-slavic.

I don't think there are many Kundera fans here... so no need to be cautious.

antonia said...

hmmm10. if i wouldnt know any better and i do not know any better, so i guess wildly into the wilde blue yonder ten is I guess sebald where he has eyetrouble. But the Berlin-part is strange, so it also could be Kracauer?

Alok said...

Your guess is right. No. 10 is from The Rings of Saturn. In the beginning where he gets himself admitted to a hospital after probably a nervous attack.

actually copied it from here

antonia said...

good i still can rely on my old insomniacish brain. this was a nice entertainment, alok.

Alok said...

You have a really good memory. I don't think you have read any of these books recently still you remember so much. Very impressive :)

No 7 is still open by the way. One hint - it is actually the sexual act being described in that passage.

antonia said...

i give up for no. 7. It somehow sounds famliar, but it is difficult to guess from the english.
No indeed i have not read those books recently except the Rilke for I was reading a Heidegger text in which he quoted the Malte, but strangely of this i forgot the title.
And sometimes i just so read in Woodcuutters for i like it so much.

Anonymous said...

Damn , I knew the Thomas Mann extract. That is the only book on the list , I have read compeletely.

7 - Is it Joseph Roth ?

Karthik

Alok said...

no 7 is Kafka actually. From The Castle. It is Kafka's way of describing a sex scene.

KUBLA KHAN said...

What a comeback after your supposed slump!
stupendous post.....the diligence is brilliant.
I was away, otherwise wd have left a comment or two.
I cd only recognise Bernhard..no 4. my reading of German literature is at best cursory.

Alok said...

thanks. not much diligence actually. some of these books were lying around and some I got from amazon books search.

I am no expert either. just that i have read most of these books fairly recently so I remember quite a bit... I have a very poor and very selective memory in general.

js said...

Oh dear, late to the party. I got about 5 out of 10, sebald, mann, musil, kafka, and goethe, but it was strange becuase of the translation element, I read most things in German. What a great idea for a blog post. Have actually had informal quizzes like that in some of my seminars. One time, a visiting professor was out of the blue like, "what happened in 1805? If you don't know, you don't belong in grad school." Anyone care to take a guess?

Anonymous said...

I'm late to the party too...I recognized 1, 8, 9, and 10. You should do more of these!!