Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 December 2013
Those who sat in the main auditorium of the University of Göttingen on 8 and 9 November 2006 heard the following from the internationally renowned German author Daniel Kehlmann: ‘There is no professionalism in writing…Don't believe what any professor of poetry says.’ Even though Kehlmann uttered these words in the role of a poetry professor, the message cannot have surprised his audience. The view that authorship is not just something to be learned and executed in accordance with rules, is very well established. Indeed, Kehlmann would have surprised his audience much more if, without further ado, he had taken on the role of a poetry professor, and set out to explain and teach in a straightforwardly comprehensible way how to do literature. Questions about literature as Art point us to a realm way beyond the technical demands of its production; it has entirely disconnected itself from the perspective of such an aesthetic. On what, then, has it oriented itself instead? There were no surprises in the received wisdom to be heard from Kehlmann in the Göttingen auditorium. Formal perfection, he said, does not suffice for literature. Rather, there must ‘be an element of existential truth, a touching upon foundational facts of our existence. [Literature] must say something about us as human beings.’ Moreover, human beings are actually dependent on literature saying something to them as Art, for, as Kehlmann notes, a world in which art plays no role is ‘actually inhumane’. Where the author speaks about his own métier – Kehlmann's remarks were made under the title ‘lectures on poetics’ – he speaks in a wholly non-technical manner about the fundamental questions of humanity. Where he ought to be giving information as a representative of his craft, he denies any particular professionalism and slides off instead into general philosophy of art. The author who was supposed to be explaining his métier undergoes a metamorphosis into a philosopher who speaks of literature as a fundamental issue of humanity.
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