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Thomas Ernst

POP, LITERATURE AND DISCOURSE TROUBLE

I

In 1996, as Tom Holert and Mark Terkessides were thinking about the absorption of opposing moments of pop-culture in their book Mainstream der Minderheiten, the discussion about popliterature had just started, and they still believed the concept “pop” to be heavily targeted, since:”A mainstream mediamachinery finally has to get hold of a concept, that is absolutely necessary for the representation in society. Pop still sounds progressive, multicoloured, interesting and diverse. Pop sounds like the representative lie of a society, that in its seeming diversification is experiencing the most unbelievable concentration of capital, and that in its seeming freedom is introducing the ugliest forms of exploitation and expulsion.” Three years later already, Ralf Bentz statetd with resignation: “The subversive fake affirmation has made place for the real affirmation.” And in the year 2000, Martin Büsser claimed: “Pop: At the start, it was provocation, but now and since long, these three letters stand for a proprietary article, which doesn’t promise a lot more than its marked name. (…) The concept no longer includes provocation, let alone rebelry – it has turned into an empty message of party and profit. (…) Since the time when pop has no longer been linked to the rebellion of a generation against the lameness and conventions of their own parents, it has established itself as a museum-piece.”
35 Years ago, this sounded completely different, since at that time “Pop took part in the euphoria of emancipation in the late 60s”, thus Jörgen Schäfer. And the father figure of German popliterature, the American literary- and media theorist Lesley A. Fiedler, strongly believed that “mass culture has a subversive effect on every society”, and that therefore also popliterature, in that it tries to break through borders of aesthetical categories and genres, is subversive “because it is aginst the order”. Martin Hubert, who was thinking about the Politisierung der Literatur – Ästhetisierung der Politik in 1992, holds on the idea that the early pop-writers took it as their central theme to “take over the mechanism of the artificial world of goods and media and its technics of observation; to overturn them in a subversive way and – in combination with drugs – “to use them for a new form of consciousness and sensuality”. In opposition to the political-practical programme of the ’68 student movement, the “underground-literature put the immediate utopia of a literal and subcultural “New Sensibility” that has to be created. Whereas popliterature at the time was trying to transport an alternative lightness, it seems nowadays to have regressed to light alternative. In how far, however, can parts of popliterature today still be granted a subversive effect, a subversive goal, or at least an insinuation of subversion?

II

The first sound attempts of literary theorists to categorise and order the field of popliterature of the 90s, show strong parallels. Hubert Winkels (1999), Johannes Ullmaier (2001) and myself (2001) split it into two respectively three fields:
1. A field called mainstream (Winkels) resp. “Republik royale” (Ullmaier) – to which belong, acoording to both authors, Christian Kracht, Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre, Alexa Hennig von Lange (and Benjamin Lebert).
2. A field called either “Masters of Ceremony” (Winkels), or “Suhrkampf-popliterature” (Ernst) or also “Amok Koma&” (Ullmaier) and consisiting (according to all 3 authors) of advanced popliterature, to which belong authors like Thomas Meinecke, Rainald Goetz, Andreas Neumeister (and Albert Ostermaier and Kathrin Röggla).
3. In both Ullmaier’s and my own book, there is a third stream, called “Kaltland Beat” (Ullmaier) resp. “Social Beat”, “Slam Poetry” and “Kanaksta” (Ernst), behind which in the broadest sense the residues of Underground-literature, of social and / or ethnical and / or linguistical borders – writers like Feridun Zaimoglu, Franz Dobler, Wladimir Kaminer, Françoise Cactus, Bert Papenfuß are hiding.
In the 90s, the debate on popliterature has related almost exclusively to this first field, this mainstream popliterature that cannot be put into the line of tradition of the original popliterature, the one that was created in the late 60s, and that was experimental, blowing up genres and borders, yes in the truest sense “subversive”. The mainstram popliterature can be brought in relation with the neo-liberal fluctuations in the bookmarket, with the German “arrival in the centre, in normality” discourses and seems above all to be influenced by the Anglo-American lifestyle literature and light fiction, as used by Nick Hornby in a funny “Mills and Boon-form”, and by Brett Easton Ellis, be it more unmasking.

III

There’s one form of popliterature that coul be classified in another place in society than the Neue Mitte-mainstream-popliterature – namely the form that is still centrered on a sort of underground (whatever the orientation) resp. on a society niche – however questionable this might be nowadays. Even though Poetry Slams today may be merely used to recrute new talents for the private channels’ comedy shows, large parts of the Social Beat-movement of the 1990s have at least lived and written in an air that was obviously inspired by the authors of the beat-generation, by political fights (readings in occupied houses) and on an air of liveration of consciousness (concerning use of drugs, distance to carreers etc.) 
A new development since the beginning of the 90s is the Kanaksta resp. Kanak Attak movement by migrants fo the second and third generation, who – as is formulated by one of their representatives, Jamal Tuschick, “intensively inseminate German literature on the ethnic fringes of society”, since the authors offensively use their chance to take from both cultures.” Authors like Feridun Zaimoglu or Selim Özdogan write in a style that is not so unsimilar to that of Alexa Hennig von Lange or Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre. Obviously different, however, are the positions the main characters hold in society; the conflicts described; their material backgrounds; the codes used. At several points this Kanak Sprak literature succeeds in questioning the superficial normality of the German (scen-)language and its (neoliberal) political “truths” – especially in contrast with mainstream-popliterature. That’s exactly where Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari saw the possibility of using popliterature in a political way. They already called this sort of literature a “little literture” in 1974: “ A way out for language, music, writing. That which is commonly called Pop – pop-music, pop- philosophy, pop-literature: ´Wörterflucht` (an escape from the words). Using multilinguality in the own language, making littler, fewer or intensive use of the own language; juxtaposing the suppressed in the language to the suppressing in this language; finding the places of no-culture, of linguistic underdevelopment, finding the places of the linguistic third world, through which a language escapes, a chain closes.” Thus, as a ´little literature`, Social Beat and Kanak Sprak could be juxtaposed to the above described mainstream-popliterature, which speaks from the centre of society in the language of the centre of society for the centre of society and would thus be a ´grand literature`.
In a certain sense, the satirical or polemical literature that is published in magazines like Titanic or is written by authors like Thomas Kapielski and Wiglaf Droste, could maybe also be read as an attempt to oppose to the language of the centre of society respectively to the normalized discourses, as well as to play with these to dismantle them in a literary sense and to make fun of them, from the point of view of those, who are pushed aside by the functioning of exactly these discourses.

IV

Fahl und diesig lag das Bauland in der hochsommerlichen Mittagshitze, als Vivian anhob, die nicht unkomplizierten Errungenschaften Daniel Boyarins nachzuerzählen, eines Kollegen Judith Butlers an der University of California in Berkeley, Butler, gleichfalls Jüdin, für Rhetorik, Boyarin für Talmudismus, aber er hatte auch einen ganz ausgeprägten Sinn für Judith Butlers feministische Theoreme und auf der Umschlagvorderseite ein jüdisches Hochzeitspärchen namens Ruth Zurom und Hyman Fenster, Catskills, circa 1925, abgebildet, Ruth auf dem Foto links, Hyman rechts, was dazugeschrieben gehörte, denn Ruth trug überzeugend Hymans Anzug und Hyman neckisch Ruths Kostüm. Sie mit Stöckchen, Zigarette zwischen den Lippen, er schmuckbehängt in ihrem Arm, das Handtäschchen vor seinen Schritt haltend. Thomas Meinecke Tomboy. Roman, 1998
kommt jetzt revolutionäre stimmung auf „wie am ersten mai“? kommt jetzt das proletarische kind herein und schlägt „klassenkampf“ vor? etwa: ab nach mitte! so zwischen die sandsäcke, betonmischmaschinen, daimler-benz-ausfahrten? aber nein, wieder nur ein augenblick vorübergegangen, wieder nur eine chance vertan – „so kommen wir nie aus den startlöchern heraus“, schimpft einer leise vor sich hin, das bin aber schon wieder ich (...).ja, ja, und (...) wir, kleine gefühlswimmerl, hocken am rande und klüngeln gegen das an, verdienen manchmal sogar geld damit. denn unter dem sony-himmel bleibt immer noch platz für ein bisschen höhlenforschung, doch zwischen stalaktiten und stalagmiten wachsen einem schnell die augen aus, die augen werden einem hier zur zweiten haut, man hält sich bedeckt sozusagen – mit fluchtlinien. doch da ist kein rauskommen, kein entkommen mehr möglich trotz der ausfallsstraßen, trotz der kommenden stadtautobahn. Kathrin Röggla Irres Wetter, 2000
Caroline: Das ist nicht normal, dass ich GEFÜHLE HABE UND SOWAS! Ich will, dass die GEKAUFT WERDEN! Von mir oder von dir, das ist mir egal, Hauptsache, ich kann die mir mit Geld irgendwie von außen ansehn. Ich will mir meine Gefühle von AUSSEN ANSEHN! Gefühle, die meine scheißprekäre Situation individualisiern, und die will ich mir VON AUSSEN ANSEHN! Meine WÜNSCHE! (...)Inga: Momentmal! OH GOTT! Das ist es ja doch, ich bin ja scheiß-HETREOSEXUELL! SCHEISSE! (weist auf sich) Das hier ist HETEROSEXUELL! René Pollesch Sex. Nach Mae West, 2002

After the mainstream-popliterature that – formally-aesthetically and concerning the content – is only delivering the literary accompaniment for the normalisation of Germany, and the small underground-popliterature, that is, on the contrary, talking from the outskirts and about drop-out figures, we will now turn towards the advanced popliterature. In this literary category some attempts can still be found (at least a few authors) to transform the originally subversive popliterature project, that had been destroying order and blowing up borders, into a present-day form.
That´s of course difficult in a culture where order and borders have been fading away. Key words here could be postmodernism, individualism, atomisation, the end of the grandes histoires, pop 2. Diederichsen has pointed out, e.g., that the subversive stylistic device of making a collage has been stripped of its subversive effects, since it has become commonplace in zapping, in the technique of music channels as well as in screen-art.
Indeed, as has been pointed out in the Handbuch der Kommunikationsguerilla (1994) amongst others, a lot of subversive strategies and stylistic devices have become commonplace and have thus been neutralised. Moreover, as argued by Richard Sennett, a “flexible capitalism” can be described, that is no longer bringing discipline and order to the object from the outside, as in a society of control, but that is instilling them in the inside – like shareholders, people at risk of losing their job … The hostile discourse runs through us. In spite of all the atomisations and flexibilisations, according to Jürgen Link (1997), this discourse of normalisation has become functional in Germany since 1989/90 and it still needs a homogenisation – as well as generally believed and understood collective symbols like “the boat is full”, “the end of history is there” etc. If one would believe Link, that here is such a collective symbolism, a “common imagery of a culture, (…) of its most widely spread allegories and emblems, methaphors, example cases, clear models and topics that give a direction, of comparisons and analogies”; and if one would believe him, on top of all that, that these aspects are helping to create a normality that puts itself as “last superposed imperative (…) in implicit and explicit contrast to all so-called ruined utopias”, there would be found a target that could still today be attacked by a subversive literature.
Politically relevant and not only self-ironical subversion would have to be understood then as a refusal of those forms of normal protest and engagement, that – in the case of literature – is taking concepts, ways of talking and sentences of belief out of the normalism-discourses, that is breaking them in the context of unconventional aesthetical forms and that is reintegrating them in the discourse as broken entities. This is like Kathrin Röggla says about her book irres wetter: “To me, position is important. It does matter from what and how I create a montage, there are reasons, why one writes and apart form the fun of language games, and of the so-called recognition, it is mainly anger about certain conditions. When I portray Berlin as in irres wetter, this is mainly meant as an aesthetical counterpart for the image of ´Berlin as the new capital` that is presented in the media and with this it is also a criticism of this image. (…)
In so far, it is classical ideology criticism, to say: ´There is no such thing as a ´centre`, at least not in the sense it is sold to you: open to all, to be enjoyed by all, a nice new world.`”
Röggla, who uncovers the main beliefs of the new centre in the sense of a “melancholy in late-capitalism”, finds her more radical counterparts in René Pollesch and Thomas Meinecke. Pollesch creates a “postdramatic theater” (speaking with Hans Thies Lehmann), whereas Meineckes literary works could correspondingly be labelled “post-epic”. They are in no way reproductive of the façade of the present-day world, on the contrary: they mistrust common realism and the concept “action”. Their figures are discourse reproduction – resp. alteration machines – and above all: Pollesch and Meinecke put the actual normalisation discourses in relation to those that are trying to undermine them: the monetarisation of feelings, the contrast man-woman, white-black is questioned by them. And even though the literary forms they use are everything but oldfashioned, Meinecke again surfaces as “engaged author” (be it in a postmodern way), when he states about his genderdiscoursenovel Tomboy: “That is an example of a very central complex, where I believe people like me, who are politically desillusioned at the moment, can find a way back to politics, for example by investigating (and this may be only examplary for the field of ´conceptualisation of the so-called woman) how to work – in practice – with words in a political way, how to take words as deeds and maybe to explain in doing so, how the misrelations between the sexes or nations or so-called ethnic groups have come into existence and how they could possibly utopically be levelled out again – in so far I am of course an upholder of moral standards.” 
In how far Meinecke realised all this in Tomboy could of course be discussed: It seems to be clear to me, that his deconstruction of national identity in The Church of J.F.Kennedy – during the period of reconstruction of German identity – or also Pollesch´s Heidi-Hoh-plays – in contrast to market restructurings in the provenance of Hartz – represent at least language insinuations against the normalisation discourses.