Letter to Lord Liszt Essay - Letter to Lord Liszt

Martin Walser

Letter to Lord Liszt

Under the impact of a competitor’s suicide, Franz Horn writes to Dr. Liszt, a colleague whose rise to power had once been the reason for Horn’s attempt on his own life. Liszt, now also experiencing the anxieties of an impending demotion, has recently tried to enlist Horn’s friendship. A weekend outing seemed to be the perfect occasion for a rapprochement but ended with an unforeseen explosion of hostility.

Horn’s letter, with its nineteen postscripts, contains a scathing analysis not only of the botched excursion with Liszt--whom Horn in devious deference insists on calling Lord--but also of the long years during which Horn suffered from the condescending familiarity of Liszt’s cruelly objective sense of success. With self-lacerating honesty, Horn now explains to the man who must share his predicament his six laws of social physics, according to which there always remains an unbridgeable emotional rift between those who are successful and those who are not.

Walser, one of the most prominent critics of West Germany’s economic miracle, has for almost thirty years made it his task to assess the psychological costs of his country’s competitive urges. His literary explorations, however, have consistently distinguished themselves by a lack of ponderous social moralizing. This short novel, once again, captivates the reader by the exuberance of its verbal texture ad the subversive charm of an ingenuous irony. Its mortifying truths are clearly meant to prove therapeutic for those willing to acknowledge them.


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Parkes, Stuart. “Martin Walser: Social Critic or Heimatkunstler?” in New German Studies. X (1982), pp. 67-82.

Thomas, R. Hinton. “Martin Walser: The Nietzsche Connection,” in German Life and Letters. XXXV (1982), pp. 319-328.

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