Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Night of Lead

jahnn, night of lead

This may be one of the most uncomfortable books of all time.

It's still in print, but only 300 copies were made, many of them reserved for subscribers.

Atlas's copy:

Self-revelations after time and death, an extraordinary novella from the oddest of the German Expressionists whose works are undergoing a complete revaluation in France at present where many translations are appearing.

Hans Henny Jahnn, (1894-1959) established his name as a major writer with his first publication, Pastor Ephraim Magnus, a play written in exile during the First World War which brought him the coveted Kleist Prize. It also revealed him as an highly uncomfortable writer; his style was and remained idiosyncratic, bearing the discerning influence of Expressionism and later Joyce, and containing the timbre of the antique tragedies. In both his writing and life he rejected society’s morals and institutions, psychological interpretation, dualism, and the enslavement of the world about us by homo faber, championing in their stead a heathen, pan-erotic return to the deeper strata of mythology, where time and place converge into one.

The Night of Lead, published in 1962, shows Jahnn at his darkest: man is portrayed as the toy of supernatural powers, where his only certainty is a bodily existence which, in turn, is blindly bound to the laws of growth, death and decay and procreation - the major themes of Jahnn’s writing. But in the compassion demonstrated by the novel’s central character, Jahnn points to the one possibility to gain some kind of liberty: turning one’s back on conventional morals and embracing creation in its fullness.

Jahnn has never enjoyed popular success, but he is often viewed as one of the most influential and important German-speaking writers of this century, his works are currently being re-evaluated in France, where the majority have now been translated.

Translated by Malcolm Green.
ISBN 0 947757 73 2
64pp 13.5 x 21cm
Webpage for ordering

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Jahnn and Adorno

Adorno, self-portrait

From The Frankfurt School: Its History, Theories, and Political Significance by Rolf Wiggershaus (Cambridge, 1995).

In the lead up to this paragraph on Jahnn, Wiggershaus describes the lack of an international avant garde in the early fifties in West Germany: "Advanced literary works were rare in the Federal Republic, and remained the preserve of controversial loners." He first discusses Wolfgang Koeppen and his novels Tauben im Gras , Das Treibhaus, and Der Tod in Rom [English translations by Michael Hofmann: Pigeons on the Grass, The Hothouse, and Death in Rome]. About Koeppen, "In the Federal Republic he stood alone. He did not belong to any circle; he did not form a school of any sort." And then:
The case of Hans Henny Jahnn was similar. In the 1920s he had published plays that met with vehement criticism,* as well as one -- unique -- expressionist novel, Perrudja. When 1933 came, his books were banned at once. He went into exile in Denmark, living on the island of Bornholm. In 1949 and 1950 he published Das Holzschiff and the two-volume Niederschrift des Gustav Anias Horn nachdem er 49 Jahre alt geworden war, which formed the prelude and main part of a melancholy and discursive trilogy of novels, Fluss ohne Ufer. In 1956 a slim novel, Die Nacht aus Blei, appeared. During the 1950s, Jahnn, who was also an organ-builder, hormone researcher and editor of early music, as well as a critic of cruelty to animals and extinction of species, devoted most of his energies to the struggle against the atomic bomb. He too was a loner fighting a lost cause in the context of the Federal Republic's 'Restauratorium.' Adorno and Jahnn might have met at the Darmstadt discussions in 1950 on 'The Image of Man in Our Time'; perhaps they did. If they did, then -- in spite of their closeness in terms of the radicality of their criticisms of civilization and their preference for the interrelation between instinct and mind and for humanity to reconsider the way in which it forms a part of creation -- Jahnn's complete lack of refinement and refusal to make concessions to public opinion and social etiquette would at best have shocked Adorno. Jahnn was one of the loners on whom Dialectic of Enlightenment and Minima Moralia had counted, but Horkheimer and Adorno were in reality rather alarmed by people like this.**

Wiggershaus endnotes:

*Alfred Kerr described Jahnn's tragedy Medea in the Berliner Tageblatt of 5 May 1926: "This horror story about a young German takes Hofmannsthal's Electra line darkly and orgiastically towards the ultimate bestiality."

**During the second half of the 1960s, a student of Adorno's from the pre-Nazi period, Wilhelm Emrich, lent his support to Jahnn, who had died in 1959. Emrich defended him with great resolution, using Adornoesque arguments.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hans Henny Jahnn, Organ-Builder

hamburg-jakobi Schnitger organ, console 1959
Arp Schnitger console 1959

Entry on Hans Henny Jahnn by Douglas E. Bush in The Organ: An Encyclopedia:

German scholar, author, philosopher, and organ-builder. Jahnn was a prolific poet, award-winning dramatist and novelist, and authority on organ building. He was born in Stellingen near Hamburg, 17 December 1894. His association with the organ began as early as 1913, and by 1916 (in Norway) he was intensely involved in organ studies. He was an outspoken critic of late-nineteenth-century organ building (although he accepted Aristide Cavaille-Coll's work with reservations), and he determined that the foundations of German organ building had disappeared and needed to be reestablished. In 1919 he and his friend, Gottlieb Harms, happened into Hamburg's Jacobi-Kirche and became acquainted with the Arp Schnitger organ in such bad state that the church had decided to remove and replace it. Jahnn began researching the instrument and convinced the authorities to let him restore the organ, a task he completed in 1923. This was the first major restoration of an historic organ and became a symbol and model for the Orgelbewegung (Organ Reform Movement).

Arp Schnitger organ, restored by Jahnn in 1923

Jahnn's work with the Schnitger organ had prompted studies of the pipework and led him to consider theories and perform experiments relative to what an organ should be. In 1925 in Hamburg, together with Gunther Ramin (future cantor at St. Thomas, Leipzig), he initiated the first congress of the Orgelbewegung (Orgeltagung Hamburg-Lubeck). The conference concerned itself with North German baroque organs. In 1927 he cofounded the German Council of Organists and directed some of its work between 1931 and 1933; he was also active as an organ consultant in Hamburg.

hamburg-jakobi-Schnitger, console 1959, 2.jpg

Between the years 1933 and 1945 Jahnn lived in political exile in Denmark and served as a consultant to the Theodor Frobenius firm in Copenhagen. Altogether, he consulted or designed the restoration or construction of over one hundred organs; several of the new organs incorporated Jahnn's ideas, such as the segregation of what he termed "masculine" and "feminine" stops. Examples of this include the Kemper organ at Hamburg, Heinrich-Hertz-Schule (now Lichtwarkschule), Hamburg (1931), and the Hammer organ at Langenhorn/Hamburg, Angarskirche (1931). In 1921, Jahnn cofounded Ugrino, a utopian religious community; in 1923 Ugrino established its own publishing house, devoted to the publication of early music. Jahnn became its owner in 1956. He died in Hamburg on 29 November 1959.