Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Ship, Peter Owen edition

Design by Trilokesh Mukherjee for the first (and hopefully not the last) UK edition of Hans Henny Jahnn's The Ship (Peter Owen, 1970).

And a quote, since I haven't updated this site in way too long:

Of all authors who achieved literary significance in the twenties and were silenced by Nazism in the thirties, Hans Henny Jahnn is least known to the average German reader. Today there are still people, even in literary circles, who are completely unfamiliar with his dramas like Die Kronung Richards III [The Coronation of Richard III], Medea, or Armut, Reichtum, Mensch und Tier [Poverty, Wealth, Man, and Beast] and his novels Ugrino und Ingrabanien and Perrudja, and who have known Jahnn himself only by name.... Such neglect seems unjust to a writer who as early as 1920 received the Kleist prize for his first play, Pastor Ephraim Magnus, and whose powerful novel Perrudja (1930) represents the first attempt in Germany, aside from a few prose works by Albrecht Schaeffer [??], to encompass our complex world by employing a new narrative method and by re-shaping the German language for artistic purposes such as James Joyce did in English.... Perrudja.... is an attempt to expose the confused modern consciousness and to transform the spontaneous, untouched flow of images, impressions, hidden perceptions and memories into the mind of Perrudja, the central character, who possesses many human qualities but not those usually required of a hero.... Unfortunately, this valuable experiment of breaking new paths for modern prose writing remained nearly unnoticed in Germany.

--Edgar Lohner, Symposium, 1951, p. 375

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Review of The Ship by Eugene Lim

Eugene Lim reviewed The Ship by Hans Henny Jahnn. Read it here.

In the review, he pulls out this quote:
We have witnessed the horrible again and again, a transformation no one could foresee. A healthy body is run over by a truck, crushed. Blood, once secreted, once feeling its way blindly through the body, pulsating in a meshwork of thin streams, spreading the chemically charged hormones and their mysterious functions like a red tree inside man--this blood now runs out shapelesssly in great puddles. And still no one grasps that, in a network of veins, it has form. But even more horrible--the death struggle itself, in which the innumerable organs, which we believe we feel, take part. Terror is stronger in us than delight (p. 32).

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Hans Henny Jahnn, Thirteen Uncanny Stories

Hans Henny Jahnn's Thirteen Uncanny Stories, trans. Gerda Jordan (Peter Lang, 1984, now out-of-print, though copies still pop up).

In her introduction, Gerda Jordan explains the title:

"The stories presented in this volume were selected by Jahnn from [his novels] Perrudja [1929] and Fluß ohne Ufer* and published in a separate volume in 1954. Their collective title, Thirteen Uncanny Stories (13 nicht geheure Geschichten) is misleading and may have been chosen as a catch word for selling purposes. They are in no way 'uncanny' in the light of Jahnn's philosophy and of his entire work. In the two novels they appear in various contexts, for example, as reading of history, 'Sassanidian King'; as entertainment at a sick-bed, 'The Slave's Story'; as a memory, 'A Boy Weeps.' This selection shows a cross section of various themes, or rather of Jahnn's variation on one theme, as well as a cross-section of his varied styles, from terse, saga-like compactness to the highly ornamental language of the Baroque."


Introduction by Gerda Jordan (21 pages)

1. Ragna and Nils (from Perrudja)
2. The Slave's Story (from Perrudja)
3. The Watchmaker (from Fluß ohne Ufer)
4. Sassanidian King (from Perrudja)
5. The Gardener (from Fluß ohne Ufer)
6. The Story of the Twins (from Perrudja)
7. A Boy Weeps (from Perrudja)
8. Kebad Kenya (from Fluß ohne Ufer)
9. The Marmalade Eaters (from Perrudja)
10. Mov (from Fluß ohne Ufer)
11. A Master Selects His Servant (from Fluß ohne Ufer)
12. The Diver (from Fluß ohne Ufer)
13. Stolen Horses (from Fluß ohne Ufer)

I haven't read The Ship recently enough to know which selections from Fluß ohne Ufer (besides Kebad Kenya) are contained in that volume. I suspect at least a few of them are from Die Niederschrift des Gustav Anias Horn (see below), which would make them the only sections of that book in English.

*Let me break down what I know about Fluß ohne Ufer, which in English would be "River Without Shore," or "The Shoreless River."

It is a trilogy:

--The first part, Das Holzschiff, was published in 1937. It was translated as The Ship by Catherine Hutter in 1961 (Scribners).

--The second part was published in 1949-50 as Die Niederschrift des Gustav Anias Horn [The Writings of Gustav Anias Horn]. It has never been translated.

--The third part, Epilog, appeared in 1961. It has never been translated.

Das Holzschiff is a normal-length novel. The other two volumes are apparently massive, sprawling works.

Gerda Petersen Jordan

Gerda Petersen Jordan was one of the few American scholars to study Hans Henny Jahnn. I recently contacted her school and discovered that she passed away a few years ago.

Professor Jordan left us a great gift in her translation of Jahnn's Thirteen Uncanny Stories (Peter Lang, 1984) and her 21 page introduction to Jahnn and his work included in this volume.

Bio from the back cover of her Jahnn translation:

Gerda Jordan was born in Hamburg in 1927 and emigrated to the United States after World War II. She studied literature and linguistics at the University of South Carolina where she received her Ph.D. in 1971 in Comparative Literature. She is now Associate Professor of German and Comparative Literature at the University of South Carolina, specializing in 19th-century literature.

She co-translated Johann Beer's Summer Tales. This early German novel was published in 1682.

Hans Henny Jahnn, The Ship

I posted about Hans Henny Jahnn's The Ship on my other site A Journey Round My Skull. Read it here.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

New review of Jahnn's The Ship

Read a new review of Jahnn's The Ship on goodreads.

Nathaniel pulls out some quotes from the book:

"And he discovered that he was inferior to these men. They had had experience in every direction. At fourteen they had already mistaken the joys of Hell for the bliss of Paradise, and, later, stood again and again with empty hands in a completely illuminated world . . . Gustave envied them, not for their miserable experiences, but for the particular smell of reality which would never be his because he didn’t have the courage, wasn’t sufficiently carefree, to let himself be torn to shreds for no good reason."

"He, Gustave, had seen him hanging in the thorny thicket of overpowering hellish hatred, at the mercy of a horrible heightening of his desires, a supernatural instrument of accumulated sterility, bursting upon all growing things like a shower of hail."

"The futile expectations of a condemned creature are without parallel; the hope of being allowed to cross the saving threshold of a miracle is the bedfellow of the fear of death."

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Kebad Kenya, "The living are few, the dead many."

A drawing by Jahnn for his work restoring organs.

My friend Anthony tried to explain the image to me: "The letters represent notes with middle C obviously being in the center. Yellow lines are octaves, red lines are thirds, and blue lines are fifths. Where these lines intersect the grid is a note of relative distance to C. This is a spatial representation of the ratios that determine pitch in the western tonal scale." And when I still didn't quite grasp it he helpfully added: "You know how the frets higher up on the guitar are closer together, less distance between tones? As the pitch goes higher and higher and approaches infinity the space between these frets would get proportionately smaller as they approach zero (that is represented at the top of the pyramid in this diagram). Well there is a ratio that determines how this distance affects pitch and I believe that this diagram represents these ratios geometrically for certain modal scales that deal in octaves, fifths and thirds."

Hans Henny Jahnn

When asked by PEN America "What great books have never been translated into English?" Tim Crouse (journalist and author of Boys on the Bus) responded:

"Two great peaks, one of fiction, the other of poetry, are still invisible to the English-speaking world, but it seems to me that once translations scatter the mist, the literary landscape will never look the same. (1) The novels of Hans Henny Jahnn (German, 1894-1959). So far as I know, only the first volume of his great "Fluss Ohne Ufer" trilogy has found its way into English: Das Holzschiff (The Ship, trans. Catherine Hutter, Scribners, 1961). That leaves the other two volumes still to go, plus Perrudja, Ugrino und Ingrabanien, and 13 Nicht Geheren Geschichten (Thirteen Unreassuring Stories)--all treasures. [Ed note: The last title mentioned by Crouse was indeed translated into English as Thirteen Uncanny Stories, though it seems to be out of print at the moment; see the rest of this post.] I know them from the French versions. (2) The poems of David Rosenmann-Taub (Chilean, b. 1927). Cortejo y Epinicio (Cortege and Epinicion), Los despojos del sol (The Spoils of the Sun), and El cielo en la fuente (The Sky in the Fountain) are among the most original, profound, and wrenching books of poetry I've read."

I have never encountered Rosenmann-Taub, but Hans Henny Jahnn is one of my favorite authors. This is my second post dedicated to him. Read the first here. To read the rest of PEN America's list, go here.

From Gerda Jordan's introduction to her translation of Thirteen Uncanny Stories by Hans Henny Jahnn (published by Peter Lang):

"'He was a writer of Baroque sexuality, of fleshiness and macabre desperation [...]. The reader continuously stumbles over coffins and tombs, witnesses deeds of horror, awesome fear of death and the performance of the necessities of metabolism....'

"Thus wrote Werner Helwig to his close friend Hans Henny Jahnn. It was not Helwig's own criticism of Jahnn, but that of a critic he had invented in order to show Jahnn what the public thought of his work. No invented critic was needed, however; Jahnn is known as 'the writer who uncovered the hells of the flesh and drives, the abyss of demoniacal passions and sinister licentiousness,' his writings are described as 'materialism of pure faith in the body,' his reader is 'numbed by the eternal drone of the hormone organ.' Polite euphemism calls him the 'uncomfortable' writer.

"The object of this and similar criticism, Hans Henny Jahnn, novelist and dramatist, misunderstood in his life time and since his death, is little known in his own country, not to mention the outside world..."