Horst Bienek Essay - Critical Essays

Bienek, Horst (Vol. 11)


Bienek, Horst 1930–

Bienek is a Polish-born novelist, poet, essayist, and screenwriter now living in West Germany. Formerly a student of Bertolt Brecht, Bienek writes an experimental fiction, at times mingling narrative, poetic, and documentary styles. The effects of four years spent in a Siberian labor camp can often be felt in his work. (See also CLC, Vol. 7, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 73-76.)

Paddy Beesley

[Horst Bienek's determination in Bakunin: An Invention] to level stridently with the reader at every turn reminds one most of the Pompidou Centre: all the lines of construction, all the cables and conduits bringing essential supplies, are deliberately displayed and painted vivid colours. Nothing is hidden, nothing extenuated: we follow the author as he visits Neuchâtel to research into the great anarchist writer, as he interviews people who fail to remember anything, writes chivvying notes to himself, makes lists of further reading, examines his own motives, quotes from Bakunin and Turgenev's Rudin, then loses interest and sends his books back to the library. There is some play between the anarchist's vigour and idealism and the present writer's lassitude, but little else within the knowing and self-conscious shell of the form. A bookseller who is interviewed remarks at one point that the artist who really wants something new must be an anarchist; and it's more than possible that Bienek, by writing a book about not being able to write a book, is trying to create the first example of anarchist fiction. He certainly knows how to lob a bomb at the powers of concentration. (p. 407)

Paddy Beesley, in New Statesman (© 1977 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), March 25, 1977.

Michael Porter

Bienek is a typical example of the type of author who feels compelled to write because he ponders about some extraordinary personal experience and its consequences—in his case, the loss of freedom and the reduction to sub-human conditions during a four-year stay in a Russian prison camp in the early fifties…. [In Gleiwitzer Kindheit: Gedichte aus zwanzig Jahren] this event lingers on and works as a structuring element…. Unfortunately, though, Bienek's talent is not great enough to transform personal experiences into excellent poetry. Literarily, almost everything in this volume is secondhand and has been said more convincingly by somebody else…. Even worse, the further Bienek leaves his prison time...

(The entire section is 167 words.)

Peter Lewis

Bakunin defies categorization, but Horst Bienek's description of it as 'An Invention' is preferable to other possible labels, such as "non-fiction fiction", "fictional non-fiction", "documentary novel" or "anti-novel". Its structure is poetic rather than conventionally novelistic, and although it contains a narrative it is really a collage, consisting of passages from Bakunin's own writings, books about him, historical studies of Tsarist Russia, nineteenth-century memoirs, Turgenev's Rudin (with its fictional portrait of Bakunin), and even a Berlin police report on him, not to mention left-wing slogans …, a passage written in verse, and the narrative itself complete with transcripts of conversations....

(The entire section is 653 words.)