This year has treated me well in terms of new books from Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre. And even through Nüchtern am Weltnichtrauchertag (KiWi 2016) is a mere 70 pages, it helps to shorten the time until the next book might be there, or at least it helps to get down from the amazing read that was Panikherz. The book is really just two essays, one about being the abstinent person in the room, the antithese to party, as he has it, and the other one is about all the cigarettes he smokes on World No Tobacco Day. There’s really not much to say about this, other than as an answer to people complaining on Amazon that it is expensive for a book of two essays, one of which is already published online. I see it more as a way of supporting authors I like to read, and people familiar with BvSB’s books will know that many of them are actually compilations of pieces he wrote for journals etc. So maybe just relax and go to a real bookstore where you can skim through the pages of the books you plan to by, and spare yourself some disappointing mail.
I waited years for this book to appear. To be honest, I waited years for any book to appear. Panikherz by Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre (2016, Kiepenheuer & Witsch) is the autobiography of my German word-and-description-acrobacy hero. So no wonder it’s the first book I finish reading in months. I was literally soaking up every single sentence of the book – it could have been about anything, I would have loved it anyway. If I wouldn’t know better, I’d say he’s a Taussig-style anthropologist working on German upper (middle) class decadence. But then I’ll find myself missing what seems to be so central to the book: it’s an autobiography focussing on cocaine addiction. [Logical consequence: my next read will be Michael Taussig’s My Cocaine Museum.] Also, just as he did in his debut Soloalbum with Oasis, he intertwines the story of his life with the music of Udo Lindenberg, and quotes from his songs pervade the text.
But honestly I don’t care much to review the story here, that’s not why I love his texts. It’s not so much about the stories he tells, it’s about his capacity to move, to affect. This book hurts, if you let it. If you prefer to keep your distance and discuss whether pop literature is actual literature, whether there’s enough story, or too much egocentricity going on (Seriously? It’s an autobiography. Why would one even criticize that? Also, I saw someone criticize name dropping: you seriously have never tried reading Rushdie’s Joseph Anton – that one clearly defined name dropping in biographies. Unreadable to me.), if you think content is more important than form: fine, don’t read it. But if you care about being moved, if you love accurate descriptions of everyday realities (meta level: use everyday language and dismantle it’s superficiality with precisely that kind of language), and if you appreciate authors who take risks not only on paper, here’s your guy.
How did I come across the book?
As I said, I waited years for this book to appear. I’ve been reading every single one of his prior books, desperately hoping for something longer than 200 pages, and something that wasn’t just another essay-collection. This year, my hopes and wishes have finally been heard (and so they will next year, a new book for 2017 is already announced on his publisher’s homepage).
When and where did I read it?
I started chapter-wise before going to bed, then had it with me for a conference-trip (long-distance flight, lonely hotel room). For the last 200 or so pages I almost couldn’t put it away. At the last twenty, I thought about not finishing it, because I just never want his texts to end. Plus, it would have gone so well with a joke he’s making in these pages. Talking about jokes, I think this quote makes clear that the weapons are here first and foremost turned against the author himself:
“Aber ich arbeitete ja nicht mehr für Schmidt; ich lag ja in einem beschissenen Einzelzimmer in der Entgiftungsabteilung einer, ja: Schwarzwaldklinik. Wo war da der Witz? Ich war jetzt selbst einer.” p. 283