Hans Joachim Schädlich’s book “The animal that is called man” – culture

A black thread runs through modernity literature. Jonathan Swift, who woven this thread of abysmal distrust of human beings, had to be told that he was a misanthrope. He did not deny this, but in a famous letter to his fellow writer Alexander Pope dated September 29, 1725, he gave reasons for his distrust. He had just finished his novel “Gulliver’s Travels”, now he wanted to convict the concept of man as a rational being – “animal rationale” – of its falsehood: “mainly I hate and despise the animal that is called man, although I heartily John, Peter, Thomas, etc. love.”

Hans Joachim Schädlich has made this sentence by Jonathan Swift, in which love for individual individuals cannot tame distrust of the species, the motto of his new book and put “The animal that is called human” in the title. Almost fifty short prose pieces are gathered in the slim volume. Many deal with misdeeds that, like the author, stem from the twentieth century, some go back to older times when women under torture confessed to being witches, once a distracted gentleman gets into the recent present, in an event with the Minister of Health and the head of the Plague Institute, in which he has to put on the mask and loses his walking stick. An old woman defends her last love, a young Moroccan, against the accusations of her friend.

Schädd was born in Vogtland in 1935, grew up in the still young GDR and worked as a linguist at the East Berlin Academy of Sciences before becoming a writer. Just like Swift denied the friendly images of man of his time, he wrote from the start denying the self-assured, forward-looking rhetoric of the dawn of socialism. First his debut volume “Versuchte Nahe” (1977) emigrated from the GDR to the Federal Republic, followed shortly afterwards by the author. Since then he has written a great deal, sometimes also narrow novels such as those about Frederick the Great and Voltaire (“Sire, I hurry”), but he has always remained true to the short prose form that characterized his debut.

Hans Joachim Schädlich's book "The animal called man": Hans Joachim Schädlich: The animal that is called man.  Rowohlt Verlag, Hamburg 2023. 160 pages, 24 euros.

Hans Joachim Schädlich: The animal that is called man. Rowohlt Verlag, Hamburg 2023. 160 pages, 24 euros.

(Photo: Rowohlt)

When the Moscow trials took place in 1937/38, he was already alive. He’s approaching ninety now. This new book seems as if he has gone through his holdings again, pulled something out of the drawers here and there along the themes of his life. A list of the dead, victims of the “pockmarked man,” is at the beginning, in “The Night of the Poets” Stalin and his executioner merge into a terrorist unit on little more than two pages. The image of the executioner emerges from just a few words. Bright light falls on his German Walther pistol and his leather butcher’s apron.

Schädd has a language filter that hides the material and takes away anything documentary from the dialogue. This is how the language of illusion sounds at an evening party in 1928: “Marta Feuchtwanger says: ‘The right-wingers come and go. There have always been anti-Semites in Germany.’ Lion Feuchtwanger: ‘We want to buy a house in Berlin soon.’ Marta Feuchtwanger: ‘Preferably in Grunewald’https://www.sueddeutsche.de/kultur/.” It doesn’t take many lines to tell the Feuchtwanger’s exile.

A high-ranking functionary of National Socialist cultural policy started a second career in the young GDR. A father betrays his son, who then reports to a patrol on the eastern front and does not return. The poet Daniil Charms perishes in Stalinism. A communist escapes and remains a communist. A survivor tells of the selection in a camp from which she was the only family member to escape. Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, is a guest of Hitler in a spa town in Lusatia and is trying to close ranks with the SS. It is not difficult for the Minister for State Security, Erich Mielke, to organize a newborn for a childless acquaintance, that she can adopt. In criminal figures from Germany and Russia, the desire to kill unleashes itself without the need for ideological impulses.

In addition to the anecdotes of cruelty, there are also happy moments of success

Some substances are known, a brief comment section provides information about the sources. Harmful stamps the seal of his prose on them. In it, the hollow form of the anecdote loses everything that is at home. “Cold as a dog’s snout” is General von Trotha, who is carrying out his order to destroy the Hereros. These prose pieces cannot be read one after the other. You need some distance. They do not form a chain of cruelties.

They also lack anything triumphant, they don’t collect misdeeds as trophies, and the moralist’s satisfaction with the immorality of the world is alien to them. Artists’ stories, such as those contained in the volume “Over” (2007), are interspersed. In addition to misery and dependency on the part of the artists, including Beethoven, they also contain moments of happiness, of success, of gratitude and recognition. Harmful contemplates the beast called man. He’s not a misanthrope.

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