Is stoicism an escapism

The story of the clouds. 99 meditations

By 1982 at the latest, with his essayistic "Defense of Normality", Enzensberger's demolition work on the radical left-wing world spirit was completed. Since then he has remained true to the unspectacular "normality" and the associated "delights of the ordinary". With the volume of poetry "Zukunftsmusik" from 1991, he then put the exercise in aesthetic limbo on the poetic agenda for the first time. The poem "Thought Flight (IV)", to be read in the volume "Kiosk" from 1995, determines the observer position on which Enzensberger has since settled:

It does not stop at what is the case. Yes, she says, I want to go back, I want to move on, unpredictable, I move, I am moved, for the time being I remain in suspense.

In order to sustainably stabilize this aesthetic limbo, Enzensberger reactivated a poetic virtue that has almost been forgotten. It is the grace, that grace and beautiful lightness, as they were already raised to the life program of the ancient Roman goddesses of the same name. In the poem "Gnade", which also comes from the volume "Kiosk", the poet formulated his commitment to grace:

On the other hand, a little grace would be something. The highest of feelings. A little grace would be better than nothing, A little grace would be enough for me.

Very beautiful examples of this grace can now also be seen in Enzensberger's most recent volume of poetry. Here he deepened his preoccupation with the material properties of volatile substances, which are now of far more interest to him than the aggregate social states of the society that once provoked him to reflect on cultural revolution. "The history of the clouds" seems to him to be more instructive than the "Critique of Political Economy". Enzensberger's "moral poems" from 1999 enjoyed looking for those objects and materials that are "lighter" "than air". With that he inevitably got into the spheres of transcendence. Because "lighter than air", as the title poem taught, are not only poetic and mathematical phenomena, but also purely metaphysical objects such as halos.

If Enzensberger now follows his "Moralische Gedichte" (Moral Poems), which fixed his position in an age-old stoicism, "99 Meditations", then one can expect the refinement of that quietistic philosophy of retreat that had already been outlined in the previous volumes of poetry.

In fact, this time we are dealing with subtle lyrical brooding, in which the ego confesses, even more demonstratively than ever before, to that idyllic piety of creation that has become the trademark of the late Enzensberger. "Meditations" - that initially means not only the concentration on ultimate questions of meaning, the soul knowledge of the human race, but also the precise observation of individual, inconspicuous objects. In the volumes "Zukunftsmusik" and "Kiosk" the skeptic's interest in the latest cognitive models of mathematics, physics and chaos theory, ie in "bifurcations" and "fractals", in artificial intelligence and "neural networks" was sparked. In the "Meditations" this scientific curiosity appears to be contained. There are few references to the fascination of mathematical and physical brain games. Only the cover picture of the "Meditations" shows the schematic representation of a so-called "Circle-Structure-Interference". As is well known, biological or medical interference is about the superposition or overlap of different systems. In the corresponding poem in Enzensberger's "Meditations", the "interference" means the overlap and simultaneity of the beautiful and the terrible:


Hope would be saying too much, but when a double rainbow appears over the devastated villages, let your knife sink for a few minutes and watch it slowly fade before your bloodshot eyes.

The vast majority of "meditations" turn out to be eulogies on the self-assertion of the subject in view of the disappearing world. In six large chapters and lyrical lessons, the lyrical alphabet of transience, contingency and gradual disappearance is spelled out, but at the same time the fascination with unsensational everyday things is set as an antidote to too much melancholy. A tired hero of retreat prepares for his final farewell to the world and enjoys the wonders of evolution for the time being. Many religious motives also come into play here, debates with theological core issues that flashed up in earlier volumes.

The skeptic Enzensberger replaced the historical-philosophical far-sighted views of the political poet with careful explorations of transcendence. In a "Small Theodicy" he asks directly about the hidden God who, after being disenchanted by agnostic philosophies, has withdrawn and now gives the people who need orientation the cold shoulder:

First you invent him, then you try to annihilate each other, reciprocally, in his name, and then another poor pastor's son from Saxony turns up and declares him dead.

Who is surprised that his interest in such pompous things is limited? Now you are offended just because God yawns and disregards you.

In this religious terrain it is sometimes all too comfortable when the lyrical evangelist of humility and self-limitation begins an "astronomical Sunday sermon". Then the self-modest pose, the humility flirtatious, and the poem becomes a peaceful calendar saying:

When there is talk of our misery - hunger, murder, manslaughter etcetera - I agree! A madhouse! But please allow me to say, in all modesty, that all in all it is a pretty cheap wandering star that we landed on ...

The poet's passions, it is shown again and again, no longer belong to the deceptive promises of the revolution, but to the generic evidence of evolution. Even if he long ago renounced the great historical-philosophical theories and turned good old Marx on his head, Enzensberger sees himself in some places compelled to ask the old, only apparently obsolete questions of philosophy on the occasion of the ideological blinds caused by the new fashion science of genetics . And he expressly expresses his joy "that some of those who have passed away / among the younger ones / still have a few questions."

But he derives his intellectual pleasure primarily from those "profane revelations" in everyday life that no longer require any meaning. Because the adventures of sensory perception, the fascination of touching, smelling and listening are, according to the lyrical conclusion, superior to all theoretical truth deductions. A magpie spreading on a railing, a "deafening smell of tar" or "that cloud over there over the pantheon" have more life-philosophical evidential value for the I of the "meditations" than any maxim of Hegel or Adorno. The "profane revelation" can be articulated as praise of the refrigerator, which in the poem is transformed into a "snow-white tabernacle" and an "icy garden of Eden". Or it unfolds as a hymn to the "compactness" of things that evolutionarily survive humans. Instead of intoning a pathetic song on the eternal themes of death and transience, the meditation artist Enzensberger is content with an "earth-colored song" on the potato.

Another poem about death and so on - of course, but how about the potato? It is understandable that it does not appear in Homer and Horace, the potato. But what about Rilke and Mallarmé? Was it too dumb for them, the potato? Doesn't the potato rhyme enough, earth-colored as it is? She has little in mind with heaven. It waits patiently, the potato, until we drag it to the light and throw it into the fire. The potato doesn't mind, but maybe it's too hot for the poets, the potato? Yes, then we'll wait a while until we eat it, the potato, sing about it for a while and then forget it again.

If the poet does allow himself to be carried away again into a meditation on the ultimate things, then he would rather plunder the arsenals of astronomy and cosmology than that of social theory. Because only in cosmology - and here and there also in theology - those "last Mohicans of metaphysics" cavort to whom one can still delegate final questions.

In this context, the poem "Astrolabe" recalls Albrecht Dürer's famous depiction of melancholy. The sunken figure of Dürer ponders against the background of astronomical instruments and allegorical representations of modern natural science. In Enzensberger's "Astrolabe" those old astronomical instruments for exploring the world's riddles reappear. In general, it is once again rare, bygone and sunken words, instruments that have fallen out of use or professions that have become extinct that the lyrical ego focuses on. They are emphatically invoked - or quoted sarcastically, when the subject's mortality and frailty are to be demonstrated. An example is the poem "Die Instrumente", which uses a dry, sarcastic tone of voice, but also smuggles biblical imagery in the middle of this sarcasm.

The instruments

Eye scissors, intramedullary nail, bladder sprinkler - you don't like to hear it. Even the surgeons are careful not to show us the gouge, that would be too hard, the uterine spoon, that would not be polite, the brain spatulas and the liver hook. Only when it hurts, in the emergency room, do we trust the penis clamp, the blood drawer. Then yes! In the end, it is said, now all of a sudden, you, vulva spreader and bone rasp, are our only hope, shortly before the last unction.

The Catholic rituals of terminal care, such as the Marian Prayer and the Last Unction, are set in sharp contrast to the instruments of modern medicine. This is a poetic procedure that is used very often in the "99 Meditations". Again and again religious motifs collide with the progress programs of the modern world - and the genuine Enzensberger irony emerges.

The ironic, on the other hand, takes a back seat on another terrain, that of love poetry. Because - lo and behold - very unobtrusively tender love verses and big words have smuggled into the poems of the ironic that are otherwise only allowed for idyllic people: the words "melancholy" and "luck". The discreet thought poet turns surprisingly into the singer of the small, sensual ecstasies. It is the "temperatures" of the senses, the everyday miracles of taste and smell, to which poetic ideal images attach themselves. In a few very simple verses about the closeness of loved ones, an agreement with the world is finally articulated that Enzensberger has never read in this soothing way.

It's just a touch that touches you more than the touch, and that you don't know why, maybe happiness is.

Such life-affirming, idyllic verses that deal with big words also involuntarily mark a poetic dilemma. It is true that the author programmatically refuses to use the "winged" and "golden words" of any social theory. The weakness of many "meditations" is that he does not always apply this decision to say asceticism to his own poems. The poet of consciousness Enzensberger sometimes gives himself all too lightly the license to use the calendar and the striking punchline, as if the message of the poems were to be proclaimed on giant banners. "Deeper and deeper," it sounds at one point, "into more and more distant galaxies / blind science looks." And elsewhere:

And it follows from this that man is the mediocrity of all things.

It is not uncommon for such generalized, culturally critical résumés to be scattered, which are very viscous over the verses and take away the poem's mental mobility. Such cheap, culture-critical lessons are sought all too often, accompanied by a few remarks on the history of the decay of "fixed ideas". The sum total of intellectual self-restraint can be found in the poem "Gaps in Knowledge"

.... What is important escapes us, evaporates quickly. What is important and what is not - hardly distinguishable. Our brains are too small to understand how small it is.

The poet of critical imperatives who - as it was called in the early poem "anweisung an sisyphus" - wanted to "increase the anger in the world by a cent" has become a cautious singer of anthropological constants, a chronicler of the unchangeable and all of what is the case. "Resign yourself and look at water": That was the stoic slogan of the late Benn, which Enzensberger could borrow from "Meditations" as a motto. The passion of the late Enzensberger belongs to the anachronistic and superfluous, which is at odds with the functionality of a purposeful society. This retreat to the phenomena of the lifeworld, inspired by universal skepticism of knowledge, can probably be called classic age poetry. It is convincing where Enzensberger turns to things himself in elegant mimesis and refrains from heavy-handed verses. If he approaches the matter and substances closely, as in the great title poem about "the history of the clouds" or in the meditation on the "Saturnian poisons" of lead, he succeeds in achieving that beautiful balance between image and concept that characterizes the essence of great things Consciousness poetry. Enzensberger then presents himself again as the poet with the "light, Mozart-like weightless hand", whom Alfred Andersch recognized as early as 1957 in the author of the volume of poetry "Defense of the Wolves". In contemplating the clouds, the non-violent "sky artists", the poet shows how ridiculous the arrogance of the human species is. , and that when looking at the "gigantic nomads", one thing above all else has to be experienced: his evolutionary dispensability.

The story of the clouds /

I The way they appear, overnight or out of the blue, it can hardly be said that they are born. Just as they pass imperceptibly, they have no idea of ​​dying. Nobody can hold a candle to their transience anyway. Majestically lonely and white, they rise against a silky blue, or jostle against each other like freezing animals, collective and dull, cluster in ink into electrical catastrophes, roar, shine, unmoved, hail and pour out.

Then again they boast of vain arts, discolor, ape everything that is solid. A game is their story, bloodless, older than ours. Historians, executioners and doctors do not need them, they can get by without chiefs, without battles.

Their high walks are calm and unstoppable. They don't care. They probably believe in the resurrection, thoughtlessly happy like me, who looks on for a while lying on my back.

2 Against stress, grief, jealousy, and depression, it is advisable to look at the clouds. With their red and gold evening edges, they surpass Patinir and Tiepolo. The most fleeting of all masterpieces, harder to count than any reindeer herd, do not end in a museum. Cloud archeology - a science for angels. Yes, without the clouds everything that lives would die. They are inventors: no fire without them, no electric light. Yes, it is advisable to turn your eyes to the sky when you are tired, angry and desperate.