Communicating literature

Doris Lerche; Writer

Doris Lerche: Communicating literature

For more than 2o years, I have been supporting myself with drawing and writing, meanwhile as well with performing. In collaboration with Iraq musician, Riad Kheder, my satirical texts are presented in music and literary stage productions.

Misunderstandings, in the main between woman and man, but also between generations, social classes – and sometimes between cultures are a central issue of my books, – so, generally speaking, those difficulties come about by misunderstandings in human communication.

Certainly, this is a typically Western topic. The decay of the family, dissolution of traditional values and individualism in its extreme form are determining factors of western societies – to be added to the topic is the meeting of manifold cultures via international immigration.

All these phenomenons helped create lots of different ways of life, a multitude of languages and a great variation of desires – and with all these, consequently a great diversity of misunderstandings is seen.

Not coming to terms with either things, people or contexts, one seeks help in long internalized prejudice, clichés and rigid rules, enforced by mass media which have such an enormous impact on our perception of the world.

Literature can correct, straighten out, differentiate, sharpen the view, help become aware, can re-enact social behaviour and thus, contribute to greater tolerance, the sort of tolerance not at once threatened in the face of different natures of people or cultures, but on the contrary, a tolerance ready to accept them, even in case they harshly contradict one´s own vision of life. Consequently, tolerance would mean to not evaluate foreignness as an act of agression against one‘s own identity anymore, but opposed to that, it would activate a certain curiosity towards the strange and foreign, possibly making an offhandedly benevolent handling quite likely.

Literature can also make even factual hostillity accessible and understandable.

There are authors sporting indeed magic abilities, capable of presenting an issue which I am quite remote from or that I would refuse to even consider, in a way so tempting on the lingual level, that I can’t help immersing myself in it.

War is something I never consciously witnessed. I am very far from the topic. Mentally, I fight detailed descriptions of violence and cruelty. And still, there are authors seductive enough in their writing to make me face the issue.

One example is Agota Kristof, a Hungarian author who lives in Switzerland. In both her novels ‘Der Beweis‘ and ‘Das große Heft‘, she described war from a children‘s view, so macabre, so laconically cruel and at once without any realistic cliché, one stands bewildered comprehending the total absurdity of wartime conflict.

Or take Elias Canetti’s novel ‘Die Blendung‘ The author tells us about the relationship of an unworldly professor to his quite earthy housekeeper, two universes and two lingual levels so extremely opposed to one another, each and every communication is grotesquely torpedoed.

How closely do we approach a strange kind of life with the aid of Alfred Doeblin’s ‘Berlin Alexanderplatz‘ featuring Franz Biberkopf, this dumb and clumsy figure, tripping through one failure on to the next.“To watch and hear him will pay off to the ones stuck in a human skin like him“, says Doeblin – so, it will be worth for all of us.

Or, just to mention a contemporary German writer – Peter Kurzeck-, slipping into the shoes of a downtown loafer to relate his description of business glamour from down the gutter of society. Or the German author of turkish descent, Feridun Zaimoglu, moving quite powerfully between cultures in his ‘Kanak sprak‘ using clever lingual inventions, an individual mix of artificial and vulgar vernacular.

American writer Tony Morrison especially impressed me, describing in ‘The Bluest Eye‘ the father’s rape of his thirteen-year old daughter. In spite of her natural ease to side with the daughter’s views and feelings, she takes the offender’s perspective, that of the father. The shocking result, against my volition, the offender stops being a stranger, not through remote psychological understanding, not through the description of childhood traumas but through identification. That means: here is a human being, not a monster. He destroys and wipes out without meaning to. I am presented with human emotion of which I thought I wouldn’t have the faintest connection to, but seeing me capable of re-enacting this man’s feelings, at the same time I see in myself as in any other human the potential to be an offender.

An even more extreme example is Yugoslavian writer Aleksandar Tisma. In his book ‘Die Schule der Gottlosigkeit‘, he tells us of the relationship between a torturer and a prisoner. Also here, the offender’s position is taken and also here the shock is that the torturer’s feelings appear accessible.

Or Spanish author Munoz Molina, who as the narrator switches between either the murderer‘s, the pursuer’s or the victim’s point of view in what I think is an ingenious psychological-literary crime thriller, ‘Die Augen eines Mörders‘.

A safe haven for a writer naturally is to write about what he knows well. An example for that is Joerg Fauser in ‘Rohstoff‘, delivering a description of the drug scene and mind-expansion of the seventies better than any newspaper coverage.

Or Moroccan Driss ben Hamed Charhadi in ‘Ein Leben voller Fallgruben‘. Rooted in oral tradition, his meditatively poetic language bears a strange maelstrom, describing how he simply gives himself over to life, – a fascination for us as Central Europeans constantly on the trail to have everything going according to our desires and visions.

A writer needs both commitment and detachment. Clichés, prejudice and morals do block the view, also the writer’s. And if it’s only resisting to side with the lover’s mental world as a writer, while at the same being the betrayed husband in real life all the time.

Modern Western journalism often investigates similar issues as does literature. However, in the main it only touches the ever- appealing surface, even when written on a factual level only. It is inclined to eagerly carry on prejudice, simplifying reality by drowning in cliché -ladden parlance.

One reason for that is, a lot of journalists being under constant financial pressure, the same often presenting a problem for writers as well, as they are often squeezed to react towards the market’s trends instead of listening to their inner voice.

If he is lucky enough to not have to write to earn his living, he can then carefreely indulge in the sort of topics that move him the most, enabling us to broaden our view of the world.

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