Is sarcasm an addiction

Der Tagesspiegel, 11. November 200

“Can there be a greater pleasure in life than poisoning pigeons in the park? / The Hansel likes to go with the Mali / Because the Mali, she pays cyanide. Are these notorious verses by Georg Kreisler “sarcastic” or just “grossly sad”? Every German literary lexicon offers detailed explanations for humor, jokes, irony, satire or the grotesque. However, you will search in vain for a keyword for “sarcasm”. Although the research literature uses the adjective "sarcastic" according to its etymology as a "biting" epithet in sub-forms of satire, it does not grant it the status of an independent genre. The Germanist Burkhard Meyer-Sickendiek has now presented a study of over 600 pages on the question of what literary sarcasm is or could be under the historical conditions of the German-speaking writing culture. In contrast to irony, satire and grotesque, sarcasm - so the realization - is not only interested in violating “the rules of convention”, but also endeavors to break “cultural prohibitions” and “moral taboos”.

Now that there are substantial differences here, it is debatable. There are no purely linguistic features that make an utterance sarcasm. It is actually only defined by moral (pre-) judgments that place it in the spiritual and intellectual tradition of "decomposition": sarcasm accordingly destroys social, cultural and moral values, it polarizes and breaks collective peace. The thesis that the emergence of literary sarcasm has something to do with the dilemma of German-Jewish acculturation in modern times is therefore exciting. With this, the author is entering a mined area. With the old discourse on the problem of the relationship between “Jewish joke” and “Jewish joke”, the Brothers Grimm, Sigmund Freud, Salcia Landmann and Henrik M. Broder did not leave behind a secure trail, but rather set real booby traps. Meyer-Sickendiek knows about the danger. Of course, he doesn't assume that “Jews” are generally sarcastic. But it is true that the Jewish socialization in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries created “conditions” that are essential for “the formation of a sarcastic joke as a literary form”. The portrayal of particularly aggressive internal Jewish feuds, such as that between the “Hellenes” Heinrich Heine and the “Nazarenes” Ludwig Börne, which for Enzensberger was the “most momentous controversy in German literary history”, remains underexposed in the section “Sarcasm and Provocation”. Or the Karl Kraus case! Its in the torch documented support for anti-Semitic Dreyfus opponents, the polemics against Herzl and Zionism, the criticism of Jewish journalists and, last but not least, his pamphlet Heine and the consequences are not easily digestible food. With the accusation of using the German language “to the bodice” and of having paved the way for vulgar “Jewish” columnists, Kraus undoubtedly made a decisive contribution to the anti-Heine position from the German ghetto -National help out.

The special Jewish character of Viennese modernism would have been inconceivable without a west-east cultural transfer. Regrettably, in the present study, the cheerful, nostalgic humor of the Yiddish Stetl world is too cleanly separated from the Western Jewish urban tension between “Viennese joke” and “Berliner Schnauze”. In principle, the author limits the peculiarity of sarcastic text production to the “West Jewish” milieu, although the quoted Maxim Biller contradicts him (“We are like that because we come from the East”). The examples presented follow a traditional pattern that ranges from the ancestors Ludwig Börne and Heinrich Heine to the great strategists Alfred Kerr, Karl Kraus and Kurt Tucholsky to subtle psychologists such as Alfred Döblin or Elias Canetti and the modern provocateur Elfriede Jelinek. But an identifiable “German-Jewish” canon does not exist either for “sarcasm literature” or for “Holocaust literature”. In both areas it is difficult to establish a uniform literary continuum of experience. How also: with the definition of a “German-Jewish modernity” not only literary scholars have their problems.

Burkhard Meyer-Sickendiek: What is literary sarcasmas? A contribution to German-Jewish modernity. Wilhelm Fink Verlag Munich 2009, 615 pages, EUR 78, -