Helmut Heissenbuttel
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Helmut Heissenbüttel (1921-1996)

Thoughts on Helmut Heissenbüttel by...

Date: Sun, 22 Sep 1996 23:22:33
From: Charles Bernstein (bernstei@acsu.Buffalo.EDU)
Subject: Helmut Heissenbüttel 1921-1996

I note with sadness a small item in today's New York Times marking the death of Helmut Heissenbüttel, a marvelous German poet, whose work will be known to many on this list.

The Times, via the AP, presents Heissenbüttel as a "leader in the post-Dada style of literature known as concrete poetry, an experimental form relying on puns and other wordplay, and not adhering to the rules of grammar and punctuation." What? Well ... not quite, not even nearly ...

I have three pamphlets of Heissenbüttel translated by Rosmaire Waldrop and published by Diana's BiMonthly (Tom Ahearn) in 1977: The Dilemma of Being High and Dry, Schematic Development of Tradition, and Novel. The middle of these ends like this:

"and thus those who aren't there any more have already taken along immeasurably much of what those who were there did and resolved in memory of those who weren't there immeasurably much is in possession of those who aren't there and it will always grow more and more and since they have it in their possession and this possession is ever growing one can in regard to those who aren't there speak of their memory of those who are there because those who aren't there any more were once there not being there is something that is thought of while being there and being there is living off the possession which those what aren't there are still accumulating in the name of those who aren't there any more and are more because those who aren't there anymore and are more have a name and we are there in their name."

Date: Mon, 23 Sep 1996 07:27:11
From: Pierre Joris (joris@CSC.ALBANY.EDU)
Subject: Re: Helmut Heissenbüttel 1921-1996

I recently translated a text by Heissenbüttel for the second volume of POEMS FOR THE MILLENNIUM, & would like to offer it here to honor him, preceded by the "commentary" Jerry Rothenberg & I composed for HH. --

Helmut Heissenbüttel

Changes in language mean changes in the interpretation of the world.

Probably the most consistently experimental of the postwar Gruppe 47 writers, Heissenbüttel's prodigious & very varied output (poems, proses, essays, novels, & concrete & semantic experiments that prove him a true heir to Dada & Gertrude Stein) has been shockingly little translated into English to date. The final section of his theoretical text, Premises, reads in part: "My experience of a fundamental change arose from the situtation in which literary speech, exemplary speech, is forced to involve itself explicitly and specifically with the ground of language itself. When the traditional way of saying things failed, it became a matter of penetrating, so to say, into the interior of language to break it open and question it in its most hidden connections. The result of this cannot be a new language. It is a way of speaking that plays on its contrasts with traditional syntax and word usage. ... This essential indeterminacy factor never permits it to arrive at what one could call image or metaphor. Image and metaphor, as something clearly identifiable, would be part of that language which is withdrawing itself. The subjects, objects and predicates of the sentence drop away because the experience, which is being related, stands outside the subject-object relation. ... Connections are made not through systematic and logico-syntactical interweavings, but through connota-tions, through ambiguities -- outgrowths of a decayed syntax. Uncertainty, alienation, fumbling-in-the-dark (...) become thematically visible in the most wornout cliches and petrified slogans of culture, become thematic with the use of the little particle 'because.' None of this happens in an 'abstract' combination of 'linguistic matter,' as if instead of stains, drips and brush-slaps one now used words and sentence fragments. Nor is it some kind of 'encipherment.' It happens as a first time attempt to penetrate and get a foothold in a world that still seems to escape language. The boundary that is reached (...) is the boundary of that which is not yet sayable."

Helmut Heissenbüttel

from Textbook 10

Lesson 3

and then down into the black soul


to stylize to deny the body can be traced back to rationality in that context also the desirable body it has to be that that too part of the calculation the desirable a kind of lure


and then down into the black soul


what I want to say is I saw it the room naked as a hand I locked up the black princess the sheath of the angel naked I swear it from head to toe from anus to navel what I want to say is my mind rotates in images of beauty and desire my gaze embraces naked what I want to say is fruit of a suit flight of a bird


and then down into the black soul


enjoyably and deeply I lost myself in all the minglings and intertwinings of joy and pain from which emanate the spice of life and the flower of feelings a florid fire flowed through my veins what I dreamed was not just some kiss not just the wish to break the smarting stings of longing it is not for your lips alone that I long or for your eyes or for your body but it was a romantic confusion of all of these things a wondrous tangle of all the various remembrances and longings.


and then down into the black soul


the element wherein desire and its object exist indifferently against each other and autonomously is the alive Dasein the gratification of desire sublates this as far as it concerns its object but this is the element which gives both their separate reality rather a Being that is essentially a representation


and the down into the black soul


gratified lust does indeed carry the positive meaning to have become itself as objective self-consciousness but just as much the negative one namely to have sublated itself and by grasping its realization only in terms of that meaning its experience enters its consciousness as contradiction wherein the achieved reality of its singleness sees itself annihilated by the negative being and yet is the selfsame's devouring power


and then down into the black soul


in the silver moonlight alongside the ships and the large buildings and the canals which cut into and through the city's innermost core the forest of masts the lines of beams and cordage crossing a thousand fold all in moonlight strange and magic at one corner but a glance into a brightly lit room where a hundred diligent hands were sewing sails


and then down into the black soul


actually today everything is like yesterday except for the hallway where yesterday the handbag kept surprising me today I am surprised that the handbag is no longer there thus it would be more accurate to say that today everything is completely different from yesterday but then again not really either

translated by
Pierre Joris

Page 000

Date: Tues, Sept 24, 1996
From: Anselm Hollo (JDHollo@aol.com)
Subj: Helmut Heissenbuttel 1921-1996

Sad to hear of the end of HH's marvelous run, but very pleased to see Charles's and Pierre's posts on same. I was privileged to meet him once in his offices at the Suddeutscher Rundfunk (South German Broadcasting Corporation) in Stuttgart in the early Sixties, on a visit from London where I was working for the BBC and moonlighting as "Anton Hofman" writing radio features in German on, a.o., William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, Charles Olson, Gregory Corso for Heissenbuttel's literary radio program. One-armed like Blaise Cendrars (the left "left," as they say, on some dismal battlefield in 1942), tall, calm funny, and erudite, HH had (as he put it) "a lasting soft spot for the black banner of anarchy. My innermost conviction is anarcho-syndicalist. Never mind that I know it [=anarcho-syndicalism] can never be realized, but that is where my secret love lies." Rosmarie Waldrop's and Pierre Joris's translations are wonderful: HH is far from 'easy,' somewhere between Clark Coolidge and Finnegan's Wake on the translation meter. His "occasional poems, days of the dead [=elegies], landscapes 1965--1980," however, contain most of his overtly satirical and Catullan pieces, and I'd like to offer, here, my translations of the following two in his memory. He was a hero of mine.



Daddy has been ruling for about a thousand years
the Oedipus complex of the German people is called
      NSDAP after that we tried it with Grandpa but that
      was not a permanent solution now we just don't know
      who can advise us quiz masters wanted
who landed us in this stew Bild magazine wants to know
Grandpa has been preserved in a glass coffin Daddy's
      representatives have their names erased as time goes by
      but have we forgotten Daddy
we're still doing better than in the Third Reich that is not a
      a permanent solution
do they have Daddies in Washington or Moscow too our ersatz
      Oedipus complex is called Pankow Grandpa o mein Papa or 
      in Rome
Daddy's reign is extinct but bits of it still hang in the air it
      is the air of Berlin still that smell whose name was Josef
what we demand is an end to Daddies and Granddads an end to
      Oedipus complexes
enlightened as we now are
enlightened as we now are
enlightened as we now are
enlightened as we now are
grant power to the most rational
why don't you just try that for a change


if I knew Greek I would converse with you in Greek
but I don't know any Greek
Amery's sentence on the drive from Brussels to Waterloo
      9-24-1975 rainy street Atlantic low pressure ran a red
      light threatening Belgian cops
du machst mich an spoken in Cologne dialect
you turn me on said Amery has purely sexual connotations
telephone voice surprises I'm always on time
rubbed in between thumb and palm
glance across trees in a dream leaning against the hood nipples
      erect and hard a long time
look at me look at me look at me
I have no Greek and difficulties with classical education all
      those Patmoses Lesboses Apollos Dionysuses
the Greeks' antique nakedness is replete with ideational
nakedness without content our nakedness simply just naked
to learn that nakedness instead of content
say Greek woman wouldn't you be safer in your Greece
but when pressure mounts there is increased danger of
       everything bursting
even though pressure can lead to nice things though maybe a
       little weird
who loses steam gnaws bones
losing steam losing sense makes for a wrinkled pouch and a
      tiny prick
wrinkly present wrinkly nature
the brown of cut apples
in Greek I would converse with you in Greek but I don't have
       any Greek and you can't understand me
sexual union means insight into the matter at hand not into
your rage your grunting does open you but not your psychology
even when I can't stand it I hurl myself into gaping flesh
into flesh which is definitively and in the most extreme sense
        facing me and I am not
naked torsos half asleep incessantly interchangeable repeatable
quartered backsides repeatable
the bird quite clearly flown to Idaho railroad embankment Thoreau
crumpled and gummed-up moon
we have lived under this moon
crumpled and gummed-up moon
we have lived under this moon for a long time
crumpled and gummed-up moon
it may well be we have lived under this moon for too long
my language is a noise

                               Translated by Anselm Hollo
From: Odipuskomplex Made in Germany, 1981
These translations (C) 1996 Anselm Hollo

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