Ingo Schulze’s prose texts often begin unscathed. You already suspect that something unbelievable is looming, but how it really develops is even more confusing. The author offers three different answers in his Tasso im Irrenhaus as to why this is so.
All the texts in this volume have to do with fine art: why does art sometimes manage to provoke more than one can comprehend? Is art smarter than its creator? Schulz pretends to say realistically and clearly, you instinctively trust the voice that says “I” here and tell you about your own unhidden experiences, but in each of these three stories you suddenly find yourself in a cupboard of mirrors and confronting unexpected questions that surround.
The first text has an obscure title “Das Deutschlandgerät”, and it actually exists. It is an installation by Reinhard Mucha. It is displayed on the second floor of the Düsseldorf art collection K21 – a large-scale project with many components, a cube, eight columns, screens, loose cables, footrests and an interior that cites an ancient temple.
Technical equipment is of central importance, because the original “German device” was used to raise locomotives or trams to the rails by means of a special hydraulic system. The disturbing and inspiring artwork of Mucha is explained by the first-person narrator by a fellow writer named “BC”, which seems to play a major role for him.
The transitions between reality and fantasy are so good that you hardly notice them
The author provides the first-person narrator with a number of qualities that show him as a character from his own experiences and put the literary life of the past few years in the spotlight. B.C. first met him in 1996 at a reading at the Berlin Academy of Arts, where he shared his debut and was more successful than the older author, who was admired from afar.
British Columbia has a past in East Germany and apparently moved west in the 1970s following Bermann’s departure. His only book “Gezeiten” was published in the German Democratic Republic in 1975 by Aufbau Verlag. After this, BC did not adapt to the Western literary scene either and only published a few parochial books intermittently.
Ingo Schulze cleverly transfers his knowledge of the environment into a somewhat fictional framework, the transitions between real experiences and literary fiction are barely noticeable. The usual appointments of writers, their appearances in the “Freiburg Literary Days”, the Erlangen Poetenfest or the scholarship at Villa Massimo in Rome – as in the diary drawings, this casually flows into the narrative and relates to the character of BC.
Goethe, Byron and Baudelaire have already dealt with the fate of Tasso
Although this has the traits of Yorick Becker, it is in no way consistent with the true biography of Becker, who was equally skeptical of East and West. British Columbia’s independence and incorruptibility is clearly visible, despite some strange and repulsive aspects. With BC, the first-person narrator appears to develop a form and confront it himself.
It is aesthetically attractive and artistically balanced. On the surface of the text there are also some delightfully detailed notes – the rather dazzling relationship between BC and his second wife Elzbieta, for example, or the uncertainty of the narrator caused by the particularity of BC. How the recognition of “the machine of Germany” ultimately becomes the key to knowledge and processes of change in British Columbia is fascinating and compelling, but on the other hand leaves the first-person narrator more questionable than knowledge. You want to start over.
Something similar happens with the other two stories. “Tasso in the Madhouse” chronicles a day in Switzerland. The focus is on visiting the Oskar Reinhart Collection in Winterthur to see “Tasso in the Madhouse” by Eugène Delacroix. Here, too, author Ingo Schulze appears to be recording events as in a diary. He is primarily interested in Delacroix’s iconic depiction of a writer’s presence; Goethe, Byron and Baudelaire have already dealt with this fate of the poet of the sixteenth century at the court of Ferrara.
While living in Switzerland, the narrator feels that he is Tasu
But when he begins to get sucked into the picture because he’s supposed to give a lecture about it, a disingenuous Swiss citizen entangles him in a dialogue he can no longer escape – especially as the Swiss proves to be an extraordinary expert, sometimes like Dürrenmatt, sometimes like Peter Bichsel speaking and explaining all the possible backgrounds to these The image is in such a way that the first-person narrator is deprived of any incentive to his lecture.
There are a number of pitfalls also hidden in this text. Above all, the seemingly uninvolved secondary people – companions of travelers on the plane from Rome or on the ferry to Friedrichshafen – convey something so strange and frightening that the writer soon feels like Tasso himself during his one-day stay in Switzerland and as lost. Poet like in a crazy house thinks. Especially when you think you can explain everything, an unexpected abyss opens. And maybe only then the art really begins.
In the last story, the first-person narrator, also presented here by the famous painter Johannes Grotzky by his real name “Ingo Schulze,” sees himself transported to a theater full of illusions. He was invited to the hospice on his deathbed by the “Grützke Painter”, who always appears in the text in this capacity, because he is supposed to write something about a certain picture of him. Then he encounters a group of people who are eating a raspberry cake which seems very strange to him. Here, too, reality and specific people are cleverly manipulated – with “Ingo Schulze” himself, but also with “Painter Grotzky” and his wife, Benedict.
You don’t have to be too sure of Schulze’s texts
Berlin’s cultural milieu, including the writer’s wife Schulze, and the quarter surrounding Güntzelstraße in Wilmersdorf appear naturally and mixed with iridescent quotations from Grotzky’s work. Ingo Schulze encounters the influences of the German Democratic Republic with the very different customs of Western artwork, but while one still thinks he listens to his corresponding confessions, he has already put the whole thing in an illusory frame and withdraws.
The three books in this volume of stories fit together like precious treasures to form a fragile but clearly recognizable unit. And they give the impression that they are able to capture something of the very complex connections between art and life. But you don’t have to be too sure. When a first-person narrator once explained something about Tasso to the omniscient Swiss, the latter replied only: “You don’t know the artist very well.” And the reader doubts: this sentence applies to him as well.
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