Whe Gesine Cresspahl does it, I read the newspaper every day. What the New York Times is to you, the Frankfurter Allgemeine is to me, which I may not read with as much enthusiasm as you, but overall I enjoy reading it. Gesine buys her copy every day at the kiosk, I have opted for the more convenient option and get my issues delivered to my door from Monday to Saturday. Since I never planned to subscribe to a newspaper, my mailbox is still not designed for it. On eventful days when the newspaper is very thick, the postman has to force it into the mailbox, and when it rains it is not uncommon for the issue to get wet and the printer’s ink to run on the pages. Reading about the floods in the Ahr Valley on the soaked paper triggered a feeling in me for which I am still looking for the right word.
Gesine mostly studies her output on the subway to work. I imagine how she, with the newspaper folded horizontally, swings tightly between the passengers through the New York underground, which must demand a lot of dexterity. I, on the other hand, read my newspaper at breakfast. The biggest challenge here is that I have been allowed to hold a baby in my arms every now and then during my reading for the past five months. If my daughter is with me, my Marie, who is not called Marie, I put the forearms on which the baby is lying on the table top with bent elbows and bend over to the newspaper so that I can read for as long as my daughter likes me permitted.
Literature can make complex issues tangible
In these specific positions, Gesine in the subway, the baby and I nested at the table, one of them reads in 1967 about a confused war in Vietnam, attacks on People of Color and the rise of the civil rights movement, one in two blocks divided world; and the other in 2021 about a confused war in Afghanistan, about Black Lives Matter, about radicalized lateral thinkers who shoot employees at gas stations, and about the misconduct of Armin Laschets and Annalena Baerbocks, while a thievingly smiling Olaf Scholz stands by with mine Daughter has in common that they share the same hairstyle.
There are a good fifty years between Gesine and me. We live in different countries at different times, reading different newspapers in different languages. In addition, Gesine is a character in a novel and I am not, at least I don’t think I am, which of all the differences that exist between us is certainly the least important. More importantly, although we inhabit different historical constellations, we both try to figure out what is happening in the world around us and in the world within us. That’s why we read the newspaper. That’s why we tell.
A historiography of the psyche and consciousness
I believe that one of the qualities of literature is to make complex issues tangible. For example, what it means to live in the United States in 1967 and read about the old home you escaped from, the divided post-war Germany, while your new home is at war on another continent. Or what a feeling it might trigger to read with a baby in your arms about the past and the present, but above all the coming disasters: the storms that are increasing, all the climates, the meteorological as well as the social ones that are changing Keep heating from day to day.
I believe that literature asks what it is like to live in a certain time, which will one day be a historical epoch, and what effects this epoch may have on the individual; how what we call history affects an individual. Literature, I sometimes think, is a form of historiography that is not limited to the facts: a historiography of the psyche and consciousness, perhaps, the preparatory work for an archeology of feelings.
To give you a concrete example: On July 22, 2021, I read a headline in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung with my baby in my arms that made me breathless for a few seconds. “Book Prize to Liechtenstein”, it said, and under it: “Few literary prizes go to Liechtenstein because the number of writers there is correspondingly small for the size of the country. The first novel ‘Forever the Alps’ by Liechtensteiner Benjamin Quaderer attracted all the more attention. Now the thirty-two-year-old is receiving the Uwe Johnson Sponsorship Award for this. “I would like to thank you very warmly for receiving the Uwe Johnson Sponsorship Award. Receiving this award means a lot to me.
Benjamin Quaderer, born in 1989, is a writer. With this speech he thanked for this year’s Uwe Johnson sponsorship award.