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Jakov Lind was born in Vienna and survived the Second World War by fleeing into Germany, where he disguised himself as a Dutch deckhand. Regarded in his lifetime as a successor to Beckett and Kafka, Lind was posthumously awarded the Theodor Kramer Prize in 2007.
Ralph Manheim was one of the great translators of the twentieth century. He translated Günter Grass, Bertolt Brecht, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Hermann Hess, Peter Handke, and more. In 1982, PEN American Center created an award for translation in his name.
This book is a reprint of the late Ralph Manheim's translation of Jakov Lind's 1966 novel Ergo. Manheim translated numerous works from both French and German into English, including several of the most important novels of Celine, Hesse and Grass. It is a joy to read any of his translations, and this novel is no exception.
I am generally familiar with the reputation of Jakov Lind, but must admit this is the first of his books I have read. His is both a singular voice and yet typical of a generation of Germans that experienced World War II as children, coming of age in the difficult post-war years. Discovering an authentic voice was not easy, and the solution taken by many of his generation was to be oblique, sardonic, anything that did not employ a simple, straight forward narrative.
On the surface this is a story of Wurz who has not left his home in 17 years, and his friend Wacholder who has tried various schemes, including dozens of letters, to get his friend to leave his house. Nothing he does works. This supposedly simple tale is told with raucous, highly inventive language and a cast of supporting characters. There are pseudo-religious tracts, agitprop, slapstick humor and more. And at the core of the book is the sinister Leo, Wacholder's freeloader tenant. Leo sizes up Wacholder, ridiculing him as not a real Nazi, simply a fellow-traveler. Instead of denying this, Wacholder whines "I wanted what happened to happen, Isn't that enough?"
Since writing letters failed to extract Wurz, Wacholder decides to hire a municipal water department worker to put nerve gas through the pipes into Wurz's house to kill him. Then, surely, Wurz can be removed from his home? This plan too fails, but Leo convinces Wacholder that he can solve the Wurz problem.Read more ›
... if you aren't chuckling often and guffawing at least every third page, throw this book away! It's not for you! It's a book that assumes a lot, perhaps unjustifiably, about your prior readings and meditations. It doesn't merely allude to Spinoza and bowdlerize Wittgenstein; it presupposes that you will recognize what is being mocked and relish the mockery. Being and Non-Being! Sense and Nonsense! ossia Being and Nonsense! Sense and Non-Being! It's nonsense that sense exists in a nonsensical world; ergo existence is nonsense. Which is to say, it's sense that no non-nonsensical world can exist. Capisce? "Ergo" is a relentless commedia dell'arte in which the fools are philosophers and the philosophers -- the existential philosophers queued up from Spinoza to "You yourself, dear reader" -- are scabrous parasitic dangerous fools.
However, relentless mockery does wear out its welcome, no? Spott und Gäste stinken nach drei Tagen. Derisione e gli ospiti dopo tre giorni puzzano. La moquerie et les invités puent au bout de trois jours. There's the same proverb in every language, although the first word is normally "Fish." Okay, on the off chance that you stop smiling as you read, it's likely that you've lost the thread or the mood. Lay it aside. The nastiness of Nazism will keep festering and Jakov Lind's scorn for the cataclysmic side-effects of Idealismus will, I fear, become ever more persuasive as our lives blab on. Pick the book up in ten days, or ten years; it gets funnier as you don't read it.
However, if you are inherently an earnest reader who wants to think she/he is getting the message as he/she reads, I'd suggest looking at Lind's English-language autobiography before confronting "Ergo." Counting my steps;: An autobiography
This may be a good book or even a great one for someone who is looking for an intellectual challenge. I was quite interested in the premise of the book --- Wacholder is living in Customs House 8 and facing his greatest challenge, getting his nemesis Wurz to leave his house, something he hasn't done for the last 17 years. He keeps upping the ante with the letters he sends to Wurz, numbering 74 by the time Wurz is set to celebrate his 17th anniversary in confinement.
The struggle I had with this book is that is the type of novel that you read for a literary class in college. You have the time to debate and discuss the deep and "existential" meaning that Lind created in this work. However, this was a far more complex and difficult novel than I was looking for and had the patience to endure. Since joining Open Letter Books (where I got this book from), an oranization dedicated to translating important foreign works into English, I've enjoyed all the novels I read. However, this was their first translated novel that I just couldn't connect with or enjoy. Several times I came close to giving up on it, but since it is so short, I stuck with it. While I enjoy intellectually challenging and thought provoking novels, this one veered too far beyond that zone. Read this one at your own risk.
I'm not dumb. Seriously. I like books that make you think.
But I don't even know where to begin with this one. "Ergo," first published in 1966, is my second Jakov Lind book after "Landscape in Concrete," which wasn't the greatest book I ever read although I liked it well enough. Had a very "Catch-22" feel to it. But "Ergo". . .
To put it simply: this guy Wacholder is obsessed with this other guy Würz who hasn't left his house in seventeen years. He has obvious symptoms of what we would recognize today as severe OCD (he's obsessed with germs, cleanliness, and order). Convinced that Würz is a menace to society, Wacholder has been trying to "smoke him out" through a series of annoying, threatening, or otherwise obnoxious letters, some 74 in total over the years. Wacholder, meanwhile, lives in a pile of paper in the dilapidated Custom House No. 8 with his son Aslan and a bedridden philosopher named Leo. He then gets a bunch of government workers together for dinner and an orgy, following which he will hold a rally to collectively declare Würz's non-being, pursuant to Leo's placental theory of existence.
Now, um, I guess there is some obvious comedic source material here. But my reaction from practically page one is that this novel is not dissimilar to one of Wacholder's own letters. I am not sure if "Ergo" is meant to be quite this ironic or not, mostly because I'm not even sure if Wacholder's letters are really supposed to be nonsense or not. Part of what Lind is trying to get at is that people are insane and that civilization is insane. (I can't figure out what the other part is.) So is this book *supposed* to be completely confusing?Read more ›