Are writers weird How do they act

German literature and humor
Ironic, funny, artistic

Wolf Haas was awarded the Bremen Literature Prize for his novel “Defense of the Missionary Position” | Photo (detail): © Lukas Beck

Humorous literature is not valued in Germany, two German writers complained in a 2013 book. But in the meantime there has been movement in the matter.

It was a polemic, if you will: In 2013 the writers Jakob Hein and Jürgen Witte published the book Germans and humor. Story of enmity. In it you were sharply judged by the German literary scene. "Up to now, comic literature has hardly ever been honored with serious awards," they wrote. And: humorous art is consequently not valued. Their addressees were the features pages and the juries of literary prizes.
 
In 60 years of the Georg Büchner Prize, there have been numerous winners "who appeared with involuntary comedy, but at most three who were deliberately humorous," says the book. Even among the nominated works for the German Book Prize, which has been awarded since 2005, there have been “just three humorous books” to date.

"It's amazing how great the resistance to comic art is"

Was this complaint justified - and has it been heard since then? After all, something very unexpected happened in the literary year 2015: Frank Witzel did not become a decidedly comical author, but he did The invention of the Red Army Faction by a manic depressive teenager in the summer of 1969but a sensational work was awarded that went beyond the previous framework - linguistically and compositionally highly experimental and with a strong humorous foundation.
 
Was that a one-time outlier? After all, Hein and Witte's criticism was not entirely out of thin air. Even one of the addressees of her complaint backed her at the time: Uwe Wittstock, established critic, head of literature for the news magazine Focus and frequent member of juries, confirmed that the consultation rooms were rather tight. "It is amazing how great the resistance to comic art is," said Wittstock. During a jurors' debate on the German Book Prize, for example, he heard the sentence that a work that would reach a large audience must be bad literature.

The question of whether one can laugh at Hitler

Wittstock, for his part, has always shown a weakness for poets of offensive humor. He campaigned for the humorous poet and illustrator Robert Gernhardt, who died in 2006, to be awarded the Bertolt Brecht Prize of the city of Augsburg. “It wasn't easy to get it through,” remembers Wittstock.
 
Against this background, it is not surprising that one of the most successful novels of 2012 missed out on awards: Timur Vermes ‘Hitler's satire He is back.Vermes came out of nowhere in literature. Until then, he had only written for tabloids and magazines and was a ghostwriter. You could almost feel the sharp fingers with which established literary criticism touched his novel.
 
Three months and the leap to the top of the bestseller list mirror it took the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung to take care of him. Or had to accept? In the meantime, people across the country were discussing whether one should laugh at Hitler or even with Hitler. A merit of the mischievous author, who no one could deny his witty and subtle sense of humor.

Cheered up by the columnist himself

In addition, Vermes had written a novel which, in addition to many approaches, also made it possible to read He is backto be seen as a satire on German society in the early 2000s. But this view was mostly not even noticed with the fixation on Hitler.
 
Occasionally the literary landscape is also cheered up by the columnists themselves: The co-director of the weekly newspaper's columnist The timeAdam Soboczynski, for example, became a writer himself. As early as 2006 he treated his “double life” as a native of Poland in Germany with irony. He was awarded prizes for his reports and stories. In 2015 he took part Fabulous propertieshis first real novel - a satirical, self-deprecating introspection of the German cultural industry and its protagonists.

"Restrictions greatly softened"

Rainer Moritz, literary critic and director of the Literaturhaus Hamburg, has not seen any reason to speak of an outlawing of comic literature for some time. “That must have been around for a while, but previous restrictions have been weakened a lot. Today it's much easier for comic literature, ”said Moritz, referring to the award of the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize in 2008 to Tilman Rammstedt and to Wolf Haas, who received the Bremen Literature Prize in 2013 and the international Jonathan Swift Prize for satire in 2016 and get humor.
 
So what about the acceptance of the comic in the German literature business? There has been movement in the matter. Hein and Witte's central demand could be fulfilled sooner than expected: one should please only differentiate between good and bad art, not between serious and comical.