Surrealpolitik: How German Is It

Author: Walter Abish

New York: New Directions Books (1980)

Quick Summary

A highly regarded postmodern novel, funny and absurd at the same time it is grim and hopeless, about a German whose father was a hero shot by the Nazis, while he himself testified against eight of his friends in order to save himself. Notable for the way it maintains a distant-ironic-humorous tone that simultaneously masks and highlights the horror that lies beneath -- both politically and personally. A lot of focus on architecture and culture and manners, with an occasional drop-in mention of firing squads or gas chambers. Similarly, a lot of surface reflection from the protagonist's point of view on his observations and behaviors, with an occasional mention of his cowardice. In this way the various subtextual horrors become the central focus of the novel without needing to become preachy or overbearing. The horror underlying the normal.


There are 4 quotes currently associated with this book.

Still, writers are not terribly reliable as witnesses for either the defense or the prosecution. They are also not to be relied upon as lovers. They lack patience. They seem to have a certain difficulty in taking pleasure from what they are doing. Like chess players, they are inwardly preparing themselves for the inevitable end game. (page 28)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Humor, Postmodernism, Culture]
All three, the Hausmeister, Max, the park attendant, were aware that Ulrich's father had worn a monocle, and that his name was Ulrich von Hargenau, and that he had died for his fatherland, another euphemism, and that Ulrich and his brother had dropped the von, a gesture that was universally regarded with suspicion and a quite irrational anger. As a rule, people did not drop their von. The Hausmeister, Max, and the park attendant also knew that Ulrich had been up to his neck in left-wing politics, and that as recently as nine months ago he had been involved in a long drawn-out trial in which his evidence had been used by the prosecution to build an airtight case, enabling them to lock up what everyone considered a bunch of ill-mannered agitators. In some quarters there was more outrage about their alleged bad manners than their left-wing rhetoric. (page 34)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Humor, The Left, Everyday Life, Fascism, Postmodernism, Culture, Rationality]
Instead of reading on and on about the tenuousness, ambiguity, or uncertainty of someone's feelings, she preferred to question the meaning of a thing or the meaning of a thought, preferably raising the question in German, a foreign or at any rate adopted language that enabled her to reduce these crucial questions to pure signs, since in German the word thing and the word thought did not immediately evoke in her brain the multitudinous response it did in English, where the words, those everyday words, conjured up an entire panorama of familiar associations that blunted the preciseness needed in order to bring her philosophical investigation to a satisfactory conclusion. Could this be the reason why she had come to Germany? To think in German, to question herself in a foreign language? (page 36)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Everyday Life, Postmodernism]
Yes, said Ulrich. Is the young American woman on the floor above mine a radical? I can easily find out for you, said the chief of police, smiling, feeling proud of the Hargenaus. Old, old family with a castle somewhere in Westphalia. Pity they decided to drop the von. (page 38)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Fascism, Postmodernism]