An English-language resource for people interested in Jakob Wassermann.

As a first point of reference, the excellent German website http://www.jakob-wassermann.de/ has a wealth of information. It is well worth a visit, even if your German is as poor as mine.

Details about Wassermann's life and work are hard to obtain in English: I hope this helps, in part, to correct that.

Comments, suggestions, and corrections are more than welcome. Contact.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

A decubitus of the heart, or, the prevention of worse things coming

'A god has died, at least so it is stated, and his heaven is being rebuilt as a barracks.'

'Things grew worse and worse. The thought of some universal doom that must be hanging over humanity came back to him, some "cosmic disorder" which - so one might assume - acted on the solar plexus, that most star-like of organs, which is at the same time the seat of fear. Like the plague in past centuries, like yellow fever in the tropics, a sickness of mind and soul was raging, a disintegration of the will, something like a decubitus of the heart. A new form of devastation.'

'The purer the intention, the worse the construction put on it. Formalism will always enslave us; the mind must go into its pen, the heart is on the proscribed index... Personally I don't matter. I belong to no clique, and no school either. That is just what you cannot forgive me. I never wanted to be anything but a simple physician, so modest is my ambition.... I hardly dare say how modest it is. I pleaded that an old man should be allowed to die in peace, a man who has richly deserved such consideration; you must attribute that, my dear colleague, to a remnant still left in me of simple faith in human discernment. My whole life's work was aimed at prevention, prevention of worse things coming.'

From Etzel Andergast (George, Allen & Unwin, 1932, tr., Cyrus Brooks)

Despite being one of the most popular and successful authors of his generation, Jakob Wassermann died disillusioned and impoverished. The year before - 1933 - he had been forced to leave the Prussian Academy of Arts; his books had been banned by the Nazis; many of his books, presumably, had already been burned; he was living as an exile at his home in Altaussee.

Details of his life - in English - are extremely hard to come by. His books are likewise difficult to find in translation. The wikipedia page contains some information, but not much; even the German wikipedia page seems sketchy. The latter does contain one or two illuminating details. The computer-generated translation makes for strange reading; nevertheless, it adds a certain poignancy:

'After the book burning in Germany in 1933 his books were banned, although he was one of the most widely read authors... This meant for him not only the physical ruin, but especially the collapse of his life-long cherished hopes, through his work can help, a world of peace without national tensions... Robert Neumann reported in his autobiography that one may intentionally false connection - telephone calls had to be manually put through at that time still - must have been to blame for the loss stroke. Wassermann had wanted to ask his publisher to a much needed advance of 2,000 marks and was precipitated by the false information over.'

Translating this translation: Wassermann needed money; he tried to phone his publisher to ask for an advance; whoever was supposed to put him through decided, for possibly nefarious reasons, not to; the disappointment and frustration precipitated the stroke that killed him.

He died on New Year's Day, 1934. He was sixty years old.

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