reden ist besser als schweigen [speaking is better than not speaking]—Philipp Schönthaler
Introduction: Training the Corporate Communicator
DAS SCHIFF das singend zieht auf seiner Bahn (The Ship That Goes Singing on Its Way), by Philipp Schönthaler (b. 1976), focuses on consultants who “develop” personnel, and employees who “develop” themselves, in line with company selection procedures. Like Delius's Unsere Siemens-Welt, Schönthaler's novel is a documentary satire. It is set in a fictional cosmetics company, “Pfeiffer Beauty Kosmetik,” in Stuttgart. This is appropriate because the novel depicts a world in which employees are expected to be “attractive” to employers. The plot hinges on a series of job interviews, mentoring sessions, staff meetings, and corporate presentations. The third-person narrator recedes behind the characters and their discourse. This is significant, given that Schönthaler wrote his doctoral thesis on the figure of the narrator in the works of Thomas Bernhard, W. G. Sebald, and Imre Kertész. Perhaps Schönthaler's decision in Das Schiff to avoid using a narrator who says “I” is an attempt to distance himself from these authors. Nevertheless, Bernhard's influence is evident when moments of physical lapse bring the characters’ professional facade crashing down, e.g., when Rike Njlhouz starts farting uncontrollably during a job interview (DS 6), or when List, a fraud investigator making a sales pitch, accidentally swings his briefcase into the human resources director's private parts (DS 83).
Das Schiff is saturated with the discourse of “continuing professional development” (CPD). Schönthaler's interest in Bildung (education) and berufliche Weiterbildung (professional development) signals an intellectual affinity with Thomas Mann, which is confirmed by Schönthaler's short story “Nach oben ist das Leben offen” (2012; Life Opens Up toward the Top), set in a “Sportheim” (sports facility) in the Swiss Alps that offers motivational sports training for high fliers. One member of the staff is Dr. Behrens, an allusion to Mann's Der Zauberberg (1924; The Magic Mountain), which is set in a Swiss sanatorium run by a Dr. Behrens. This connection takes the present monograph full circle, suggesting that there are long-term continuities in depictions of the business world by German authors.