Wednesday, April 19, 2017

allegedly salubrious

Burger’s second novel, Die künstliche Mutter, is significantly more autobiographical than one might suppose, given its fantastic setting. In this glum but sardonic account of a specialist in German Literature and Glaciology, Burger took up the theme of his own psychosomatic affliction, his “genital migraines,” as the protagonist terms them. The book takes place in an otherworldly institution where patients, lying on beds in tunnels carved in a massif, absorbing the heat and moisture, are subjected to a battery of bizarre therapeutic measures. To devise his hero’s elaborate medical history, Burger devoured reams of psychiatric literature and even took a cure himself near Bad Gastein, in Austria, where guests rest in underground caves to enjoy the allegedly salubrious effects of the area’s high radon concentration.

Uwe Schütte (translated by Adrian Nathan West) on Hermann Burger.  This sounds amazing, I thought, and would have wondered why I had never heard of Burger if Schütte had not helpfully explained:

Hermann Burger (Menziken, 1942) is one of the truly great authors of the German language: a writer of consummate control and range, with a singular and haunting worldview. Yet it is not surprising that he fell into obscurity after his death, from an overdose of barbiturates at age forty-six. He shares this fate with many of the most august names from the peripheries of German-language literature who, never managing to escape from the ghetto of Austrian or Swiss publishing, either gave up in exhaustion, or went on writing and were forgotten nonetheless.

I have not yet renewed my membership of the Staatsbibliothek, but perhaps the Gedenkbibliothek will have Burger even if he is only on the periphery of German-language literature.

The whole thing at Asymptote, here.   (HT @timesflow RTing @a_nathanwest)

2 comments:

Nate said...

Hello. Marcel Reich-Ranicki was a supporter of Burger if not a friend – "er war mir nahe," he wrote in a moving, short memoir - and this piece in the FAZ sheds some light on his thoughts as to why Burger didn't make it as far in German as he might have: http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/buecher/fragen-sie-reich-ranicki/fragen-sie-reich-ranicki-war-hermann-burger-zu-anspruchsvoll-1549619.html

Helen DeWitt said...

Thanks, Nate! I'll check it out.