LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 14, No.3 - Fall 1968
Editor of this issue: Anatole C. Matulis
Copyright © 1968 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
Motes and Comments
Lithuanian Cultural Imagery in Recent German Literature
The German literature of the protonic age explodes as a fresh and daring opalescence of the new artistic vitality and creativity. The old, comfortable literary traditions and their representative schools are hastily crucified upon the pillars of oblivion. Following the slow awakening from the nightmares of the second world war and the tragic result of "no peace," the new generation of German writers discover themselves still standing in front of an uncertain future. The awareness of the cultural gap of 1933-1945, the present political and philosophical division of Germany, and the imprint of the war guilt, continue to rest heavily upon the conscience of modern German authors. Significantly Wystan Hugh Auden in his celebrated book The Age of Anxiety (Das Zeitalter der Angst, 1951), knowingly or not, extends an understanding hand and invites the German writers to join the already troubled western literary community. It becomes quickly obvious that all the western minds, even if preoccupied with their own national dilemmas, are disturbed by the conflicts involving the violent spirit of the present day world and the true essence of humanity; between the faceless technological society and the rights of individuality; between the pragmatic sciences and humanism; between the peaceful and destructive nuclear energy. The continuous struggles, where an individual becomes only a spectator, affects also the modern Germany's literary society. It unmistakably underlines the thought that they are not alone. Consequently the existential-istic orientation is not anymore a prerogative reserved solely for the sophisticated French representatives, but also echoes in Hans Erich Nossack's Unmoegliche Beweisaufnahme (1961) and Martin Walser's Halbzeit (1960). The nihilistic and pessimistic atmosphere, which pervades most of the western literary minds, reflects similarly in the writings of Heinrich Boell, Wolfgang Bor-chert and Friederich Duerrenmatt. Such acute and seemingly regionalized problems as social prejudices, class struggles and the critical view of society itself, are analyzed by Max Frisch, Bcell and in the 1950's by Bertold Brecht.
Looking at this turbulent German literature one notices a flow of literary stream, which does not seem to be disturbed by modern day anxieties. It almost contradicts the classical concept of literature that the calmness of the surface should guard the restlessness of the deep. The modern age reverses this poetic process, as if it were a firm wish of our epoch to protect the essence of the human spirit while permitting the impetuous creations of modern civilization to wander in the storms of time. This literary stream almost represents an aesthetic key to the past, where "die stille Groesse und edle Einfalt" rules as the categorical imperative. To an extent reminiscent of the German romantic era, the attention of the movement is directed to the "Volksdichtung" in the frame of regionalism ("Heimatdichtung"). Consequently the German writers, who regard their native land as being East Prussia or who have visited the Baltic shores, engage their poetic gifts to recreate the northern memories, may they be contemporary or historical. The attention is directed to the populace: simple, serene remaining in the hands of their tragic fate. The German publishing houses, (Graefe und Unzer, Diederichs) detecting that an intense interest in the East Prussian land belongs not only to the literary men, but also to the German reading public, revive their inherited tradition and publish numerous collections, comprising the regional works of the generation of the past or treatises accenting the history of the country. It is the latter step that brings to the reader's vision the diverse images of the Lithuanian (or Balto-Lithuanian) cultural reflections. Furthermore any intense comprehension of the East Prussian regional character would be an impossibility without the knowledge of its historical times, dominated by the old Baltic tribe Prussen, who shared so intimately in the cultural heritage with their Lithuanian cognates. This article then intends to serve as a current survey of the Lithuanian national trend, as it continues to mirror in the publications of the present day German literature.
At the very early beginning of the year 1960 the publishing house of Graefe und Unzer-Munchen, which was founded in 1722 in Koenigsberg, released a noteworthy collection of the East Prussian "Meistererzaehlungen" entitled Zauber der Heimat. The title "The Magic of the Homeland," as the editor Martin A. Borrmann properly indicates, is a leitmotif derived from the works of the East Prussian poetess, Agnes Miegel. The selection of the narratives (Novellen) itself is a heterogenous mixture of prose but thematic enough to form a string of literary ornaments. The place of honor belongs to the three "Novellen" Ernest Wiechert's "Der Schacktarp," Hermann Sudermann's "Miks Bumbullis" and Charlotte Keyser's "Das Kummerjahr der Marutte Barteik." Already the title names betray the presence of the Lithuanian national integrant. In addition, the readers are mostly aware that the narrations by Wiechert and Suderniann found their origins in the corpus of their Lituanische Geschichten published at the beginning of the twentieth century. Martin Borrmann's singling out, however, of Sudermann's "Miks Bumbullis" as a masterpiece of the "Novelle" genre seems to reach a point of exaggeration, since most of the stories in the collection possess an identical literary quality. This especially applies to Charlotte Keyser's novelette "Das Kummerhahr der Marutte Barteik" taken from a book In Stillen Doerfern. The writer displays a true gift in capturing the Lithuanian cultural imagery, may it reflect in the form of the national costumes, Balto-paganistic remnants or the architectural, decorative pictures of the typically Lithuanian fisher-farmer's community. Obviously, the content of the narrative can not claim an award in the story's originality. But its affinity to the cycle of Litauische Geschichten further expands and does not limit, in any manner, its popularity or its literary reputation. In the year 1961 and subsequently in 1963 Elisabeth Josephi contributed to the literary scene her novel Unser Pastor (Roman aus dem Baltikum), published by Ernst Kaufmann Verlag Lahr, Schwarzwald. The second part of the novel is dedicated to the pastor's Fritz Stephani missionary activities in Kretinga, Lithuania. The panoramic description of the religious, social and political conditions existing during the pericds of World War I and the initial years of Lithuania's independence, provide the authoress with an occasion to display her talent in the literary arts and to show her admirable sensitivity in capturing the fine contours of Lithuanian character.
The year 1963 marks the appearance of Guenter Grass' new novel, with a symbolic dedication, the Hundejahre. Still recovering from the series of literary praises, the more recent one arriving from France (1962), given for his controversial novel Die Blech-trommel (1959), Guenter Grass obviously intends to take another step to success. However, he falls short in his attempt to parallel the classical giant of Germany: J. V. Goethe. In his philosophical, political and social surgery of present day Germany and its Faustian image, Guenter Grass is unable to penetrate the material of his own contemplations and reach a more distinct clarity of essence. The Lithuanian or East Prussian readers, however, discover in the pages of the Hundejahre numerous reflections of the Lithuanian national cultural images. They take form as historical memories, epiteths or Balto-Lithuanian myths. The part known as "Morning Shifts" has embodied segments of the Lithuanian past, where the names of the Dukes Kynstute (Kęstutis) and Witold (Vytautas) have assured themselves of a notable place in the entire European history. With the inclusion of XIV century events on the East Prussian lands, Guenter Grass intends to point to the first Teutonic "Drang nach Osten" and its tragic consequences. In the story of the twelve headless knights and nuns, the reader detects the grotesque mentality of the German ultra-nationalism at the very beginning and its dangerous radiations in the future. There a few parallels may be drawn to the history of the Second World War: the evolution of the Third German Reich, the artificial glory and the fall.
In the adoption of the Balto-Lithuanian mythology Guenter Grass turns more to the spiritual relics of the Old Prussians rather than to the Lithuanians. This is not surprising since the author's early home was the city of Danzig. The portrayal of such pagan gods as Perkunos, Pikollos and Potrimpos is accurate and fits well into the allegorical design of the novel. A more significant past is given not to the Lithuanian history or to the Balto-Lithu-anian mythological background, but to the symbol motif already resting in the title Hundejahre or Dogyears. The pedigree of the dog Prinz exposes a point, which is noteworthy to the reader:
... Paul had brought the animal with him from Lithuanian and on request exhibited a kind of pedigree, which made it clear to whom it may concern that.. .in the beginning there was a Lithuanian she-wolf. She was crossed with a male shpherd. The outcome of this unatural act was a male whose name does not figure in any pedigree. And he, the nameless one, begat Perkun. And Perkun begat Senta. . Senta of Perkun's line will whelp Harras. Harrass.. .will sire Prinz. Prinz of the Perkun-Senta-Harras line-and the very beginning the bark of a Lithuanian she-wolf will make history...
As it is known from the content of the novel, the young shepherd dog Prinz was presented to the "Fuehrer und Kanzler" by the city of Danzig as a gift for his forty sixth birthday. He remains loyal until the hour of Keich's eclipse. At this moment he escapes to the west and finds his new master in Walter Matern. The symbolic direction of the novel changes and so does the name from Prinz to Pluto. Finally the metaphoric dog remains to guard the underground of the world's past, present and future. Although the purpose of this article does not permit an intensive analysis of the "dog's" philosophical leitmotif, a speculation regarding the purpose of Guenter Grass' emphasis upon the mysterious origin of Prinz should provoke some interest. Assuming that the black shepherd dog stands as a complex incarnation of the German people under the opium of Nazism, then two capital thoughts become obvious: the grotesque senselessness of the German racism and the predestined end of the German imperial dreams. It was the wolf frcm the Lithuanian forests, who once in history "barked" in the swamps of Tannenberg. Guenter Grass effectively entertains these concepts in creating a panoramic vision of the turbulent Germanic spirit.
The year 1964, which marked the death of the eminent German poetess Agnes Miegel, ironically stimulates a renaissance of the Lithuanian element in modern German literature. "The Lands-mannschaft Ostpreussen, Abteilung Kultur" prepares and publishes series of concise booklets dedicated to the region of East Prussia. Die Kurische Nehrung, Masuren and Vom Bemsteinland are a few which deserve the reader's attention. Each of these publications, while sheltering the geographical and historical descriptions of the area, do not exclude the portraits of the Lithuanian cultural imagery. The texts of the folksongs and customs continue to testify the deep cultural imprint the Lithuanian nation has left upon the East Prussian population. In fact these were the aspects, which made the East Prussian character so colorful and fascinating to the western writers. The poetic creations of Fritz and Margarete Kudnig, Walther Heymann, Alfred Brust, A. K. T. Tielo and Rolf Lauckner further decorate the pages of the issues. Because of the analogy with this group, it is more than appropriate to mention Agnes Miegel, who has shown personal sympathy and understanding to the Lithuanian nation and its tragic fate. To commemorate the death of Agnes Miegal, the publishing establishment of Eugen Diederich (Duesseldorf-Koeln) released Agnes Miegel, Gedichte, Erzaehlungen, Erinnerungen (1965); Agnes Miegel, Ihr Leben und Ihre Dichtung (1967) by Anni Piorreck and the Verlag Graefe und Unzer (Muenchen) dedicates a collection of memories using the poetess's own apothegm as a literary monument: Leben was war ich dir gut (1965). The contribution of these treatises to the field of literary criticism is outstanding and simultaneously they will keep the poetic spirit of Agnes Miegel alive as a glittering torch destined to enlighten the culturally dark days of our age.
"We must believe, believe in our nation and hope for its freedom," is a thought that reverberates throughout the pages of Werner Scheu's novel Birute published by Damm Verlag (Muenchen) in 1966. The life of Birute Kurkauskas, the protagonist of the novel, reflects the development of the Lithuanian nation from the czarist oppression until the German invasion in 1941. The tragedy and the moments of joy parallel the life of Birute with the existence of the young state of Lithuania. In the year 1967 Rudolf Naujok, the author of Der Herr der Duene and Sommer ohne Wiederkehr edits a distinguished anthology of Ostpreussische Liebesgeschichten, published by the Graefe und Unzer Verlag (Muenchen, 1967). Each story begins with the happiness of love and ends with the sorrows of loss. In all af them the frozen hand of fate interrupts the gayety of tyo hearts and sadly sounds the words of a Lithuanian folksong ("Drei Texte): "Wo werd ich mein braunes Roesslein traenken, wo werd spuelen ich den Lindeneimer..."
The present day German literature continues to reflect in its body of writings the Lithuanian national cultural trends. But the main contribution is made by the publishing houses, which either have been transplanted from the East Prussia to W. Germany (Graefe und Unzer) or inherited the interest in the northern Europe from an individual writer (Agnes Miegel-Eugen Diederichs Verlag). Admirably all of these literary channels, with their adoption of the Lithuanian trends, celebrate a nation which lies on the distant shores of the Baltic Sea.