There are two things that I’ve grown afraid of since living in Europe/Germany. One of those things is Beamtentum. It’s more of a concept and, perhaps, a way of life then it is just a word. It translates to something like authoritarianism in the form of officialdom. I guess, in a way, it’s like civil-servant-hood – but with a touch of royalty. Without Beamtentum there would be no Germany, certainly there would be no Bratwurst or Roasted Chickens at Oktoberfest. Beyond that, Beamtentum is comparable to communism and so Germans uniquely cloak it under a veil of what they call “Social Market Economics”. With that in mind, The Federal Republic of Germany is the last bastion of communism in the West. And you can quote me on that.
The second thing that scares me is cynicism – that is: popular cynicism. In other words, Europe is full of a newly defined cynicism that panders to pop culture. The French have it and the British have it, too. But the difference to the Germans having it is that the other two are actually comical with it. That is, their cynicism is believable because it can be easily connected to satire or irony or sarcasm. Those are tough things to bring across in the orderly German language. It all coincides perfectly with the fact that Germans are not funny people.
To try to be a bit more clear, here a few definitions of cynicism:
1) Cynicism originally comprised the various philosophies of a group of ancient Greeks called the Cynics, founded by Antisthenes in about the 4th century BC. The Cynics rejected all conventions, whether of religion, manners, housing, dress, or decency, advocating the pursuit of virtue in a simple and non-materialistic lifestyle.
2) In pop culture, the word cynicism generally describes the opinions of those who see self-interest as the primary motive of human behaviour, and who disincline to rely upon sincerity, human virtue, or altruism as motivations.
3) On the other hand, the Oxford English Dictionary suggests as the usual modern definition (per cynic): showing “a disposition to disbelieve in the sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions” and a tendency “to express this by sneers and sarcasms”.
(Source of all the above: Wikipedia.)
To me a REAL Cynic is someone that thinks and by doing so “deconstructs”. The original Cynics sought answers through the craft of dialogue and debate. The point to their endeavours was never to simply find right or wrong. Instead it was about the process. Of course, today in this burgeoning new authoritarian world that so many people subject themselves to in the name of “careers” and/or “family”, this process is long gone. Although we all do things like talk a lot (and some of us write too much), what is said equates to nothing more than the passing of time. (I write so much because I like the sound of my fingers dancing on a keyboard.)
But is the idea left to us from Cynics really gone? In fact, I’ll go as far as to claim that real Cynics are once again among us – but they are not what you might think. Much of what can or should be deconstructed in order to find answers are very comical – but not in the conventional “comedic” sense. For example, the late Bill Hicks was a great Cynic and if you listen to any of his stand-up (look him up on YouTube!) you might agree. Another might be Robin Williams. Moving beyond America, for you international folk out there, how about the late, great Peter Sellers? To me, one of the greatest cynics of all time was Stanley Kubrik. Am I the only one to have understood the Devine-like comedy AND Masonic message that was his movie 2001: A Space Odyssey? And let me not even get into talking about Dr. Strangelove.
There are, of course, many other examples of REAL Cynics among us, and thus far in my reading of him, I’m starting to think that Peter Hacks might also be one of them. Who knows, eventually he might just make my international list of great Cynics. On the other hand …on the other very sad hand, there is another side to this idea of being a cynic (accentuate the word not being capitalized, please).
The motivation to address the issues of cynicism and Beamtentum (i.e. West German Communism) derives in part from reading Peter Hacks. After reading Hacks’ so-called “classic” works, I thought it time to expand my horizons and try to read something other than a play. Of course, he’s written a huge body of work. Even though I plan on reading a lot of it I wasn’t sure where to turn. So, in my search to find something new and interesting, I started asking around.
Unfortunately, it took almost two weeks and visiting various books stores before I could find someone that even knew Mr. Hacks. But I did find someone, and I think I got lucky. “Oh, yeah, Peter Hacks,” he said. “He’s that religiously Marxist guy.” Oh, I thought, that’s an interesting way to put it. He said that he hadn’t read much of his work but that he recalled the controversy that ensued after The Wall fell and Hacks basically rejected the idea that it was the fault of “communism” that caused it. Eventually this guy recommended the anecdotal story “DieDinge in Buta” (The Thing s in Buta). This particular printing of the text is combined with the beautiful drawings of Rudi Hurzlmeier. It’s a kind of picture book, albeit for adults. Now, after reading this very short story, on the last page of the book are blurbs of the author and the artist. Since I am already well informed regarding the author, I went straight to the artist. And this is where the bad daydreams of Beamtentum and cynicism compelled me to rant a bit.
You see, I think I might be starting to idolize Hacks. That’s right. A guy like me, as far away from anything Marxist as you’ll ever get, is starting to choke-up when I read his work. I mean, I really like the way this guy writes and, with the way things are going in the West right now, it’s kind of neat to be reading someone that is basically undiscovered and whose work can be applied to the newly forming authoritarianism that will soon become our world – post Stalinist/Marxist communism and post Sept. 11. I mean, get this. Here is a question Peter Hacks asked of someone (as printed in one of his published letter collections):
“Where is the Politburo in Washington, D.C?”
What a fuckin’ great question! I’m not sure but I think the question was asked close to Hacks’ death – which means he could have asked it after Sept. 11, 2001, which in turn makes the question significant. Of course, if he asked the question before nine-eleven then the question moves from significance to clairvoyance.
OK, I’m starting to think that Hacks is a cynical genius in the classic sense, you know, as defined by 1. In a political sense he’s a bit of a turd blossom. And because I perceive him through such contradictory glasses, I want to somehow, at least in my own mind, protect him. I want to protect him because of what happened after reading “Die Dinge in Buta”. On the back cover of the book there is a simple blurb on the artist Rudi Hurzlmeier, who drew the pictures in the book. And guess who Rudi works for? Oh boy. Start the drum roll. He works for Titanic, the infamous German “satirical” magazine.
Here is a Wiki link in English about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titanic_(magazine).
The first thing I thought: Oh, shit! Maybe my German isn’t good enough. Maybe because I miss this verb here or that noun there or because I almost suffocate while trying to read long-winded German sentences without breathing (which interferes with my ability to concentrate), I don’t really understand Peter Hacks. But if a guy who works for a magazine like Titanic understands him…? I know, I’m over doing it. But like I said at the beginning of this rant: there are some things about Germany that scare the beejeebees out of me.
What I do understand is that Titanic is NOT a “satirical” magazine. Indeed, it is a great example of pop-culture cynicism gone amok, as defined by 2 or 3 above. Although it’s been quite a few years since I purchased a copy, the one thing I remember about the magazine is that it is atypically West German – that is: a lot of talk and no action. I mean, it’s quite popular and the voice it uses must speak for such populism. Or?
Seriously, after living in Germany all these years, I have met a lot of big mouths that, if required, couldn’t find their way out of paper bag – unless the United States instructed them on how to do so. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against things being critical – especially of politics or society – which a magazine like Titanic is. But for how long can making fun at the personal expense of others be funny? Obviously, a lot of Germans love this magazine. But you also have to keep in mind that idiots like Oliver Pocher are also very popular in this country. Although I’m no a fan of anything G.W. Bush or of American neo-con politics, there is a simple way of looking at life that comes out of conservative America and it goes like this: if you can talk it you should be able to walk it. For whatever sad reason Germans just love shitting on people just for the sake of doing it. Maybe that’s why they created Schadenfreude. Maybe that’s why there are no Cynics in this country – nor is Titanic JUST a satirical magazine.
So… have I made a mistake about Peter Hacks? Should I even like him? Should I stop reading him? I certainly gave up reading Titanic once I learned that it had nothing to do with satire but more to do with destructive personal attacks and taking advantage of something or someone just because you can. Also reason to give up on German TV hosts that are incorrectly called “comedians” – but that’s another rant.
I came to this country with blind hopes, which is obviously a mistake that I have to deal with. Beyond that, whenever you move somewhere else it takes a long time before you actually see beyond that grass that you thought could be greener. I’ve been through a lot with Germany since early 1989. A lot of stuff has been positive but most of it has been VERY negative. Like the sour-puss faces and bad attitudes, or living amongst a people that are completely incapable of thinking and acting individually. And what about all the negativity and complaining that is the German national past-time? It seems to all come together for me while reading Peter Hacks and being reminded of the disgusting addiction to cynicism and Beamtentum – by a sinking ship! If anyone should be a disgusting and destructive cynic – it should be me!
Ironically there is hope for Germans. And that hope might be in the form of Peter Hacks. But in order for that to happen it must be prevented that Hacks’ work fall into the wrong hands. Religious Marxist or not, Hacks seems to know all about the deal that we now face. That is, he was well versed in the dealings of authoritarian government. At the least, it is a major theme in the works of his I’ve read thus far. And while the authoritarian part of Marxism is being adopted by the West right now, it’s important that a writer like Hacks does not fall into the hands of a bunch of big-mouth, do-nothing smart-asses – who get a kick out of sinking ships.
But what do I know? I probably haven’t understood a word of what I’ve read. And all these years of living in Europe – the Disneyland for perverted adults – has not played well on my sanity. But I did like the dirty pictures by Rudi Hurzlmeier. If only he’d work for a different magazine….
Now I’m off to read “Numa” and “Die Fische”.
May all Germans with a job and a nice income live long and prosper under the veil of their Beamtentum!
God Bless America, too.