Alexander Kluge 1932–-
(Born Ernst Alexander Kluge) German short story writer, novelist, essayist, and filmmaker.
The following entry presents an overview of Kluge's short fiction career through 1998.
Kluge is known as one of the most experimental and controversial writers and filmmakers in Germany. His short stories explore the German experience during and after World War II and are distinguished by their documentary style, a narrative technique that utilizes an objective voice and bureaucratic documents, including bits of interviews and sermons, government statistics, drawings, and biographies. Critics consider Kluge an important voice in the cultural life of postwar Germany.
Kluge was born on February 14, 1932, in Halberstadt, Germany. In April 1945 his family's home was destroyed in an air raid. Soon after that event his parents divorced, and he moved to Berlin with his mother. This early and sudden upheaval left a huge impact on the young Kluge and is reflected in his later fiction. He went to university in Marburg, Freiburg, and Frankfurt, and received his doctorate in law in 1956. He became interested in film production and released his first short film in 1960. Kluge was one of the founders of the Oberhausen Group, a group of experimental filmmakers. They issued their manifesto in 1962, which proclaimed the need for artistic freedom in German film. In 1963 he set up his own film production company, Kairos-Film, and released his first feature film, Abschied von gestern (1966; Yesterday Girl). During the 1970s Kluge's popularity declined, and he increasingly turned to nonfiction and television work. In recent years he has published books of interviews with politicians, literary figures, scientists, and journalists. He has received several awards, such as the Munich Culture Prize (1986), the Lessing Prize (1990), the Heinrich Böll Prize (1993), and the Darmstadt Ricarda Huth Prize (1996).
Major Works of Short Fiction
Kluge's major works of short fiction focus on the German experience during World War II and its aftermath. Thematically, his stories explore the meaning of life, the powerlessness of the individual versus the collective, and the impact of war on individual lives. Stylistically, his fiction has been described as a montage of contemporary and science fiction elements, as well as historical material, interviews, biographies, anecdotal information, and documentary reports. In one of his early stories, “Attendance List from a Funeral,” Kluge opens the piece with a list of family members and friends attending a funeral, with one or two adjectives to describe the state of mind of that person. “An Experiment in Love” utilizes lengthy quotations from Nazi documents about medical experiments on Jewish concentration camp prisoners. “A Change of Career” compiles quotations from Nietzsche, Humboldt, Socrates, and other philosophers to chronicle the story of a teacher who quits his job in disgust over the shabby treatment of a fellow instructor. In Schlachtbeschreibung (1964; The Battle), Kluge explores the defeat of Hitler's Sixth Army at Stalingrad. Sometimes classified as a novel, the book is comprised of Third Reich field manuals, troop reports, drawings, diary excerpts, medical records, photos, interviews, speeches, and sermons delivered by military chaplains blended with fictional material. In a later collection of short stories, Lernprozesse mit tödlichen Ausgang (1973; Learning Processes with a Deadly Outcome), Kluge explores the capitalist work ethic and the passivity of the modern worker against economic exploitation.
Initially Kluge's short fiction garnered critical and popular attention for its experimental style, but in the 1970s interest in literary experimentation faded. Subsequently, Kluge's reputation went into decline. Critics often have difficulty classifying Kluge's work: some view fictions such as The Battle as a novel, others as short stories, and still others as a workbook of documents, biographies, and statistics. Most reviewers consider these works as difficult, dispassionate, and enigmatic, but others find Kluge's objective approach as a fitting treatment to the absurdity of war and the modern experience. A few commentators have noted that Kluge's documentary style of fiction forces the reader to participate in the literary process. Critics also discuss his work as protest literature, particularly against war and the capitalist order. In recent years, there has been a renewed appreciation for Kluge's role in Germany's cultural life.
Lebensläufe [Attendance List for a Funeral; also translated as Case Histories] 1962
Schlachtbeschreibung [The Battle] 1964
Lernprozesse mit tödlichem Ausgang [Learning Processes with a Deadly Outcome] 1973
Neue Geschichten: Hefte 1-18 1977
Neue Geschichten: Hefte 19-28 1977
Chronik der Gefühle. 2 vols. 2000
Die Universität-Selbstverwaltung: Ihre Geschichte und gegenwärtige Rechtsform (nonfiction) 1958
Kulturpolitik und Ausgabenkontrolle: Zur Theorie und Praxis der Rechnungsprüfung (nonfiction) 1961
Öffentlichkeit und Erfahrung: Zur Organisationsanalyse von bürgerlicher und proletarischer Öffentlichkeit [with Oskar Negt; Public Sphere and Experience: Toward an Analysis of the Bourgeois and Proletarian Public Sphere] (nonfiction) 1972
Filmwirtschaft in der BRD und in Europa [with Michael Dost and Florian Hopf] (nonfiction) 1973
Geschichte und Eigensinn [with Oskar Negt; History and Obstinacy] (essays) 1981
Die Macht der Gefühle (workbook) 1984
Theodor Fontane, Heinrich von Kleist und Anna Wilde: Zur Grammatik der Zeit (nonfiction) 1987
Ich schulde der Welt einen Toten [with...
(The entire section is 170 words.)
SOURCE: Bauke, Joseph. “Inferno Revisited.” Saturday Review 49, no. 41 (8 October 1966): 106-07.
[In the following review, Bauke describes reading Attendance List for a Funeral as a sobering and enlightening experience.]
In the last five or six years German literature has made the comeback for which readers in and outside Germany had been waiting since the fall of the Third Reich. Günter Grass and Jakov Lind, above all, have revived a language that seemed all but dead and unfit for any artistic purposes, after the uses to which it was put under Hitler. In their work these authors descend into the hell of the past and reflect their vision of it in a profusion of surrealistic images that has compelled the attention of audiences in many countries. In his collection of short stories, Attendance List for a Funeral, Alexander Kluge demonstrates that there are other ways of exorcising the evil spirits of an era.
Kluge, born in 1932, was too young to experience the Nazi years consciously; but, like many of his generation, he is profoundly concerned with the sins committed by the fathers. A lawyer by profession, he writes with a precision and a detachment rather rare in the German tradition. In these stories about the paths of people under Nazism there are no verbal cascades, no intellectual fireworks, no expressionist flights into the absolute. Instead, we have a prose as...
(The entire section is 708 words.)
SOURCE: Kauffmann, Stanley. “Almost-English.” The New Republic 155, no. 24 (10 December 1966): 26, 38.
[In the following review, Kauffmann faults the translation of Attendance List for a Funeral.]
The subject of translation is worth continual discussion, and I am especially qualified to discuss it because I cannot read any foreign language.
I had just written the above when the November 18 New Statesman arrived with an article on translation by the always stimulating Hans Keller. Says Keller: “So far as my views on translation are concerned, I only accept criticism from bilingual people: nobody else can judge.”
Nevertheless, I continue insisting on my qualifications. I can plod through some Italian and German, less French, but I cannot really read anything but English. Those who can read one or all of those languages may argue with my credentials for judging books from those sources, but do they suspend their own critical judgment on books translated from Japanese? Or Russian? Or Hebrew? Or Portuguese? Notable works from all those sources have appeared in English lately, so, sooner or later, every reader is in the position from which I start.
I cannot (and never do) claim to judge a translation as such, only as a work in English prose or verse. I lament my ignorance, and I have long known that...
(The entire section is 1294 words.)
SOURCE: Bauke, J. P. “Defeat on the Volga.” Saturday Review 50 (30 September 1967): 43-57.
[In the following review of The Battle, Bauke maintains that Kluge's documentary style of fiction functions to demystify the Battle of Stalingrad and lay “bare the absurdity of that and every other battle.”]
No battle in modern times has agitated the Germans more than the one they lost at Stalingrad in 1943. The annihilation of the Sixth Army jolted the German masses into the realization that the tables were about to be turned, and for the first time during the war even fanatic Nazis had their optimism put to the test. Goebbels's ministry of propaganda, while carefully doctoring the factual information on the disaster, engaged in a rhetoric of superlatives when the news had to be broken to a stunned country.
The defeat was officially proclaimed as “the supreme epic in German history,” an event “that outshines the greatest heroic feats in the history of the world.” The entire press was under orders to present to the Germans “as a sacred beacon this noble example of supreme heroism and ultimate self-sacrifice.” During the three days of national mourning public demonstrations of grief were forbidden, so that Stalingrad could be turned into a myth that would “impart a sense of obligation to all future generations of Germans.”
In the Nazi mind there had...
(The entire section is 965 words.)
SOURCE: “Legal Fiction.” Times Literary Supplement (12 September 1968): 977.
[In the following review, the critic provides a negative assessment of The Battle.]
This is a reedited version of a book that created a great stir in 1964 when it was published by Walter in Olten. Since the new version has been prepared for paperback publication by the author himself, it is worth reviewing it in perspective.
Alexander Kluge, whose great-uncle Kurt (1886-1940) wrote some charming pieces of entertainment fiction (Der Herr Kortüm, Die Zaubergeige), turned away from entertainment with a vengeance when he decided to study law. Born in 1932, he published his first book at the age of 26, Die Universitäts-Selbstverwaltung, a legal study of university administration, that thorny subject which later started off the students' revolts. In 1961 there followed one of the most intelligent works of our day about the interrelationship of culture and economics, Kulturpolitik und Ausgabenkontrolle, written jointly with Hellmut Becker. A year later he made his mark with Lebensläufe (curricula vitae), a series of exemplary German life histories presented in a dry, legal jargon that was meant to serve simultaneously as documentation and as an element of alienation in the Brechtian sense. Albert Drach, another lawyer, had pioneered this technique in his Zwetschkenbaum....
(The entire section is 887 words.)
SOURCE: Labanyi, Peter. “Programmed for Disaster.” Times Literary Supplement (9 July 1976): 854-55.
[In the following review, Labanyi considers the defining characteristics of Kluge's short fiction.]
A wholly quixotic bid for Lebensraum by white Africa has failed, unleashing a major crisis. The world waits, trying to piece together fragmentary reports and scattered communiques—while there is still time. Confusion and despair prevail. Meanwhile, the sociologist H., “a sensitive seismograph,” is in a basement room in the hotel where he is attending a conference, hastily trying to compose his thoughts “in case there will be time for the publication of a little volume”:
For over a hundred years we have been able to observe the cynicism of a bourgeois consciousness which, as it were, denies itself: in philosophy, in an attitude towards the modern world dominated by cultural pessimism, and in political theory. Nietzsche radicalized the experience that ideas capable of confronting reality are suppressed: “For why is the advent of nihilism necessary? Because it is our values hitherto which draw in it their last consequence; because nihilism is the logical conclusion of our great values and ideals—because we must experience nihilism before we can get to the bottom of precisely what the value of these ‘values’ was.”...
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SOURCE: Stollman, Rainer. “Reading Kluge's Mass Death in Venice.” New German Critique, no. 30 (fall 1983): 65-95.
[In the following parodic essay, Stollman uses the fictional character of Professor Noodlekopf to provide an interpretation of Mass Death in Venice.]
DR. NOODLEKOPF'S INVESTIGATIONS
Having just read the story Mass Death in Venice by Alexander Kluge, Noodlekopf, Professor of German in the university town of B, wrinkled his brow in astonishment. Since he knew that his present condition might presage some new insight, he did not give up on the dry report of horror which, although its literary allusion was certainly clear enough, made an irritating claim to authenticity. So he decided to pursue the sources without delay.
The reading of Thomas Mann's Death in Venice yielded the following: in Kluge's story, “oppressive heat,” in Mann's narrative “repulsive sultriness”; Kluge's heat was authentic in 1969, whereas Mann's cholera outbreak as a result of heat was rather exaggerated. In both cases “a hundred and more” or “over a hundred” people died, respectively. In Kluge's story there was a battlefield with loudspeakers, in Mann's novella “the peculiar stillness of the city of water seemed to disembody … their voices.” Here an ethereally beautiful death, there a death from strong shock. In both, the police...
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SOURCE: Introduction to Case Histories, by Alexander Kluge, translated by Leila Vennewitz, pp. ix-xix. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1988.
[In the following essay, Moeller offers a thematic and stylistic analysis of the stories comprising Case Histories, which has also been published under the title Attendance List for a Funeral.]
Radically experimental, Alexander Kluge's writings, films, and other creative activities have contributed greatly to the development of contemporary Central European intellectual life. Although recognition of his achievements has been slow in coming, he is now recognized as one of the leading lights of the German cultural scene. Indeed, on November 22, 1985, Kluge was awarded the Heinrich von Kleist literary prize in Berlin—a prize whose past recipients include Bertolt Brecht, Robert Musil, and Anna Seghers.
Born in 1932, Kluge was the only son of Ernst Kluge, a physician, and his wife, Alice, who settled in Halberstadt, now part of the German Democratic Republic. The war years in Nazi Germany were traumatic for the young Kluge and left vivid if not disturbing memories. Situated in Kluge's home town in the Hartz mountains were divisions of the “Junkers” airplane armament industry and the Buchenwald concentration camp, designed to provide slave labor for that industry. Toward the end of the second World War, in early April 1945, a massive Allied...
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SOURCE: Hansen, Miriam. “Introduction.” New German Critique, no. 49 (winter 1990): 3-10.
[In the following essay, Hansen discusses Kluge's treatment of sexuality and sexual politics in his short fiction and novels.]
In the United States, the critical debate on Alexander Kluge's work has only just begun, thanks to a comprehensive retrospective of his films organized by Stuart Liebman and sponsored by the Goethe Institute and Anthology Film Archives. A retrospective, Kluge might say, is a bit like an inventory of boxes left behind in the basement after one has moved to another city—the boxes still contain some useful things, though one's current life is elsewhere. In Kluge's case in particular, the relationship between author and oeuvre is a problematic one. Compared to the main body of the so-called New German Cinema, his films have most persistently refused a status as “works” which could be circulated and canonized or, for that matter, translated and exported.
For one thing, this resistance is an effect of the films' textual strategies—their stylistic heterogeneity, openness, incompleteness, their challenge to the “film in the spectator's head.” These strategies undermine the closure typical not only of the classical Hollywood film but also of the masterpieces of art cinema. But beyond formalism, Kluge's films are not as easily assimilated to auctorial consumption as,...
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SOURCE: Pavsek, Christopher. Introduction to Learning Processes with a Deadly Outcome, by Alexander Kluge, pp. vii-x. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996.
[In the following essay, Pavsek elucidates the challenges of translating Kluge's short fiction.]
Alexander Kluge's novella Lernprozesse mit tödlichem Ausgang was originally published by Suhrkamp in 1973 as part of a larger collection of stories by the same title, the remainder of which Duke University Press hopes to publish at a future date. The translation of this fascinating story comes at a moment of increasing interest in Kluge's extremely diverse body of work, as marked by the dedication of two special issues of academic journals to his work, a touring retrospective of his films, and the publication of the English translation of Public Sphere and Experience,1 the first major work of critical theory that Kluge coauthored with Oskar Negt in 1972. Kluge is known both in Germany and the United States primarily for his films and his theory, crafted in the tradition of the Frankfurt School. Though he has received almost every major German literary prize, it can still be said of him in Germany (and even more so in the United States) that “among the well-known German writers Kluge is the least well known.”2 I hope that the publication of Learning Processes with a Deadly Outcome will contribute to a...
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Review of Attendance List for a Funeral, by Alexander Kluge. Booklist 63 (15 October 1966): 237.
Generally positive review of Attendance List for a Funeral.
Cassill, R. V. “Waltzes and Goosesteps.” Bookweek (13 November 1966): 6.
Favorable assessment of Attendance List for a Funeral. Asserts that Kluge's stories mean “to sing the heroism of the commonplace and to celebrate a tragedy so fragmented and proliferated that our age seems incapable of noting it except by documents and statistics.”
Review of The Battle, by Alexander Kluge. Publisher's Weekly 152 (3 July 1967): 54.
Asserts that The Battle is “an unusual literary-documentary pastiche that reveals the ironies, tragedies, and stupidities of a significant episode in World War II.”
Tannenbaum, Earl. Review of Attendance List for a Funeral, by Alexander Kluge. Library Journal 91 (1 November 1966): 2808-809.
Mixed assessment of Attendance List for a Funeral.
Additional coverage of Kluge's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 81–84; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 75; and Literature Resource Center.
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