Sunday, February 3, 2008

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..."


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