Thursday, February 23, 2006

Dieses Bild

This Picture

viewed in the year 1982 will be a strange sight to see. It depicts a fashion queen - a creature that most of us don't consider especially beautiful or pretty . . . it's an advertising thing of the fashion houses . . . so far, so good.

But the way we today view with a kind of angered sentiment faded photos from the years 1911 and 1913, the small time before the great war - : that is how our grandchildren will one day see this picture here and say, after they've calmed themselves over the "impossible fashions":
"Yes, that was before the gas wars . . . Look at those empty faces that knew nothing . . . Had you no other worries? . . . Couldn't you have maybe prevented our poisoning? . . . Had you no idea of the horrible danger hanging over Europe? . . . Was there something better to do than run together and take care that the gas grenades were not assembled? That the state insanity did not reach high waves, that it was made clear to the thugs of all nations that there were other powers present, stronger than they and the profit-hungry large-scale industrialists, who, in their houses full of fine culture, collected van Goghs? Didn't you know all that - ? Did you do nothing for us, nothing - ? Didn't you see it?"

Of course we saw it. We also worked against the gas, in our own way. But that can't be photographed. And don't forget, man from 1982: the world is not a purposeful organism, and not subject to reason. The world wants to play. Always the fate of the fashion queen is closer to it than the fate of the next generation that had to see by itself what became of it - and then did just the same. Do you think those fine gentlemen in dinner jackets knew of their true destiny? They are completely trapped in their every day lives, and even more so in the Sundays - they knew nothing. And the ones that know are gray and indistinct and not quite presentable for a photograph. Never forget, descendant, even during the French revolution the women fought over milk, and what to wear, and over their lovers - never does a single idea rule the entire world.

Be thankful to those who did look out for you. It wasn't many. You look out for yourselves. We had so much to do: we had to live.


"Dieses Bild" by Kurt Tucholsky, from "Deutschland, Deutschland ueber alles" (1929)

The original may be read at the German language Tucholsky Weblog run by Friedhelm Greis:

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Zehn Gebote fuer den Geschaeftsmann, der einen Kuenstler engagiert

Ten Commandments for the Businessman Who Hires an Artist (1928)
By Kurt Tucholsky


Leave him alone.


Consider first whether the man is right for your company; you can best do this by looking at his works and asking for each one: Can I use that? If you cannot use the majority, don't hire the man. Because:


If an artist is reputable and worth anything, he'll not change himself for your sake, just because you made a contract with him - but if he does change, you only paid for a name, in other words: overpaid the man.


Leave him alone.


Plan carefully, so that your man does not have to rush - art needs time, just like a clean balance. One can, if one is unlucky, shake fleas out of one's sleeve; but not works of art.


Thou shallt honor thy people's Sabbath: you are mistaken if you believe it is a pleasure for strangers to spend their Sundays with your family. By no means is it that.


While the artist you hired is working, hold the works of others under his nose and call upon him, with words of recognition for the other, to do one of these once. That is especially encouraging.


In discussions with your artist, don't consider that you, too, are actually an artist: you were on the verge of studying, but your father put you in his grain business . . . Granted. But don't bring your misplaced ambition with you to the office: the artist does not intrude in your books either - o limit thyself the graceful call of May of your dried-up views of art, to this rose of Jericho!


Listen to the voice of the public, but don't overestimate - in you alone the compass needle must show direction. Twenty letters from the public is nowhere near a popular vote - don't forget that, and don't let the people's stupidity damage your artist.


Leave him alone.


The text in German is online at the German language Tucholsky Weblog this address.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Was darf die Satire?

What May Satire Do? (1919)
By Kurt Tucholsky

Mrs. Vockerat: "But one must have one's enjoyment from art."
Johannes: "One can have much more from art than enjoyment." (Gerhart Hauptmann)

When someone around here makes a good joke, half Germany sits on the sofa and takes it badly.

Satire seems to be a thoroughly negative thing. It says: "No!" A satire that calls for an increase in the war debt, is none. Satire bites, laughs, whistles and beats the gigantic trooper's drum against everything that is stagnant and unresponsive.

Satire is a thoroughly positive thing. Nowhere do those lacking character betray themselves quicker than here, nowhere does he show himself swifter, that tomfool without a conscience, one who attacks this today and that tomorrow.

The satirist is an offended idealist: he wants the world to be good, it is bad, and now he runs up against the bad.

The satire of an artist rich in character, one who fights for the sake of good, does not deserve society's contempt and the outraged boos and hisses with which this art is dismissed.

The typical German makes one primary mistake: he confuses that which is represented with he who does the representing. If I want to show the consequences of alcohol addiction, in other words, fight against it, I cannot do so with pious bible quotes. The most effective way is with the gripping representation of a man who is hopelessly drunk. I lift the curtain protectively spread over the decay, and say: "Look!" - In Germany they call this "crassness." But alcohol addiction is a terrible thing. It damages society, and only the merciless truth can help. That's how it was back then with the weaver's misery, and with prostitution it is still that way today.

The influence of small town thinking has kept German satire inside its paltry borders. Major themes are nearly eliminated. "Simplicissimus" alone, back then, when it still held the huge, red bull dog on the right side of its coat of arms, dared to touch all the sacred German symbols: the physically abusing sergeant, the mold-speckled bureaucrat, the teacher with his switch, the streetwalker, the fat-hearted businessman and the nasally speaking officer. Of course one may think of these topics however one wishes, and anyone is free to consider an attack unjustified, and another to consider it exaggerated, but the right of an honest man to take the whip to his time must never be negated with thick words.

Does satire exaggerate? Satire has to exaggerate and is, in its deepest nature, unjust. It inflates the truth to make it clearer, and it can do nothing more than work according to the bible verse: the just will suffer with the unjust.

But nowadays, deep in the typical German, sits the bothersome habit to appear not as an individual, but to think and present oneself as classes, as corporations, and heaven help you if you step on the toes of one of these. Why are our joke pages, our farces, our comedies and our films so lean? Because no one dares lay a finger on that obese octopus crouching among us, smothering the entire land: fat, lazy and life-extinguishing.

The German satire did not even venture to attack the country's enemy. We certainly should not imitate the worst of the French war caricatures, but what power lay in them, what elemental rage, what design and what affect! Admittedly: they stopped at nothing. Next to them hung our modest computational tables with u-boat tallies, harming no one and read by none.

We should not be so narrow-minded. We, all of us, school teachers and shop owners and professors and editors and musicians and doctors and public officials and women and representatives of the people - we all have our shortcomings and comical sides and foibles great and small. We must not be so quick to protest ("Butcher's Guild, protect your holiest of goods!") when once in a while someone tells a really good joke about us. It might be mean, but it should be honest. There isn't a proper man or a proper class that cannot stand a fair shove. He might defend himself by the same means, he might strike back - but he should not turn away injured, outraged, offended. A cleaner wind would blow through our public life, would they all not take it badly.

But this way the constant darkness swells into delusions of grandeur. The German satirist dances between classes, confessions, local institutions and occupational groups a perpetual egg dance. It is quite graceful, to be sure, but, after a time, somewhat tiresome. True satire cleanses the blood: and whosoever has healthy blood, has also a pure complexion.

What may satire do?


"Was darf die Satire?" Kurt Tucholsky writing under the pseudonym Ignaz Wrobel in the Berliner Tageblatt #36: January 27th, 1919.
The German original may be read here.


Weaver's Misery: This is a reference to the Weaver's Rebellion, but I could find no English language description of this. The German language Wikipedia has a detailed history. The weavers were a professional group in Germany hit especially hard by a combination of cheap foreign competition and excessive taxation/fees which they could not pay. This culminated in the Weaver's Rebellion of 1844, which is interpreted as a classic example of hunger revolt and pre-industrial era worker unrest. There had been rebellions in the previous century but this was the first time the issues were discussed extensively in contemporary literature and publications. The rebellion was put down harshly and is cited further as the precursor of the failed German revolution of 1848, because of the political awareness that arose from it.

Simplicissimus: For more information about this German satirical magazine, please refer to the English language Wikipedia article. The German language article shows a picture of the bulldog.

Gerhart Hauptmann: The author Tucholsky quoted is covered in this Wikipedia biography. The play quoted here is "Einsame Menschen" (1891). It has been translated into English as "Lonely Lives." I could not find a text online, but the Gutenberg project has other translations of his, including a play about the Weaver's Rebellion. Hauptmann won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1912.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Ich bin ein Moerder

I am a Murderer (1929)
Kurt Tucholsky

"I, Ignaz Wrobel, love cheating the conductor on the bus, then I can ride for nothing. I have a violent temper: twice I ripped my bath robe to shreds, just to punish it; slashed ties; slammed a glass to the floor. I can't stand the sight of blood. Actually: I can stand the sight of blood, of animals. A strange feeling - not pleasant; well, yes, pleasant, I hesitate to say it, pleasant. I've often loved two women, they knew nothing of one another, but I knew. Once at one in the morning I had a strange impulse: I lay near Conrad on the sofa, we were talking about women, when I began to tremble, I wanted to touch him. I didn't do it - I was afraid of being ridiculous, nothing more. Now and again I have bloody dreams. I eat irregularly - sometimes nothing for days, then excessively. I'm unsound - I'm afraid of diseases, otherwise I'd go out every few days and talk to a girl on the street corner. I'm a coward and malicious: I spilled ink into my cousin's new hat, ripped my mother's lace handkerchief - later, with the most harmless expression: "No idea. My goodness. . . completely torn! Oh, it's ruined." - I like to listen when a couple makes love. Also when they hit each other. I lie for the sake of lying, with heart beating fast, whether it will come out. Most of the time it doesn't come out. I'm very good at lying. I hate my father. As a boy I had to do with my brother and afterwards wanted to beat him terribly, but he was stronger. I live irregular . . . I said that already. What is it all?"

"Nothing special. Look around you - : that man, that woman, they, all of them, carry some package small or large around with them . . . everyone has one. They have a spiritual hump of which they're ashamed. No matter how naked someone undresses before you - : they won't show you that. Sometimes not even themselves. It's nothing special."

"It's nothing special - ? I have nothing to fear - ?"

"It's nothing special. You have nothing to fear. Unless -"

"- ?"

"Unless you stand before a court of law. Unless some heavy suspicion falls upon you because of some deed that you deny. Then . . ."

"- ?"

"Then . . . all these facts you told me become something different. Then they are no longer the anomalies that every judge, every prosecuting attorney, every juror, every foreman could feel as a seed in themselves, if they would only be honest. Then, my friend, it's an entirely different matter."

"What . . . what is it then -? If they all have it?"

"Things like that don't exist in a courtroom. They all play a life that they don't have; a morality they don't possess; a purity of which no man is capable. Children in their Sunday best suddenly can't comprehend that specks of dirt exist in the world. Then all of a sudden these little characteristics become something new -"

"And what - ?"

"Evidence, Mr. Wrobel."

"- and that is why their verdict can only be: The accused is sentenced to death."


Many thanks to Tony Murphy for kind permission to use his photo of the Texas state capital building in Austin. You may view his entire gallery here. Thankful acknowledgement goes also to Alice of Wonderland or Not, for helping to locate the accompanying photo.

The original text may be read at the German language Kurt Tucholsky blog:

Note: The final line, about the verdict, was added by Kurt Tucholsky for publication in "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles," where it was matched with photographs of Oberstaatsanwalt Mueller and Minister Hustaedt who were responsible for the death sentence in the Jakubowski trial. A questionable trial built on extremely shaky evidence, in which an apparently innocent man was put to death. The German original runs: "- und darum kann ihr Wahrspruch nur sein: Der Angeklagte wird zum Tode verurteilt." Thanks to Friedhelm Greis of the Tucholsky Webblog for this background. A good article in German about the Jakubowski trial by Erich Shairer may be read here.

Notes about the translation: I gave a lot of thought to the next to last line of this text which I translated as "Evidence, Mr. Wrobel." The original runs "Indizien, Herr Wrobel" and may not be all that translatable into English. It's short for Indizienbeweise, roughly the same as "circumstantial evidence." But there are several types of evidence, including direct, circumstantial and character evidence. The latter best describes the evidence in the preamble, I think. The official English translation chose "suspicious circumstances," which I think isn't as startling as "Indizien" in German. These things are suspicious from the start, they don't suddenly become suspicious. Another, more literal translation, might run "Indications, Mr. Wrobel, of guilt." Doug of Waking Ambrose suggested in an e-mail, that perhaps "circumstantial" by itself might work. In any case, I think the word has to be concise and it has to startle. If the phrase is too long, it misfires. (As Mark Twain said: The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter - tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.) I think "evidence" does it best, at least the best in recreating what I felt when I read the German original. What does everyone else think?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Die freie Wirtschaft

The Free Economy (1930)
By Kurt Tucholsky

Abolish those cursed tariffs
Trust your company director.
Walk out of the arbitration committees.
Leave everything else to your boss.
No more union talking their way in,
we want to be free economists!
"Away with groups" - on our banner!
Now, not you.
But us.

You don't need rest homes for your lungs,
no retirement and no insurances.
You should all be ashamed of yourselves,
taking money from the penniless State!
You should no longer stand together.
Would you please disperse yourselves!
No cartels in our territory!
Not you.
But us.

We're building into the farthest future
trusts, cartels, associations, concerns.
We stand next to the furnace flames
in syndicated groups.
We dictate the prices and the contracts -
no law will get in our way.
We stand here well organized...
Not you.
But us.

What you're doing is Marxism. Down with it!
We're assuming the power, step by step.
No one's disturbing us. Complacently
the ruling socialists stand by and watch.
We want you individually. To arms!
That's the newest economic theory!
The demand has not been made
that a German professor couldn't justify.
Working for our ideas in the factories
are officers of the old army,
the Steel Helmets, the Hitler garde ...
You, in cellars and attics,
Don't you see what they're doing with you?
With whose sweat the profit is gained?
No matter what might come.
The day will arrive,
when the crusading worker calls:
"Not you.
But us. Us. Us."


This originally appeared in "Die Weltbuehne" March 4th, 1930, page 351. The German original may be read at the Kurt Tucholsky Webblog. Interestingly, this poem - as reported by the linked source - has surfaced quite often on German Websites, Weblogs, and in the press, but with omission of the fourth stanza.