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the Complete Review
the complete review - journal



Werktage I

by
Volker Braun


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Werktage I



Title: Werktage I
Author: Volker Braun
Genre: Journal
Written: (2009)
Length: 996 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Werktage I - Deutschland
  • Arbeitsbuch 1977-1989
  • Werktage I has not been translated into English yet

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fascinating, often eloquent glimpses of the times -- but a disappointingly presented (because not annotated) volume

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NZZ . 21/4/2010 Michael Braun
Neues Deutschland . 16/11/2009 Hans-Dieter Schütt
Süddeutsche Zeitung . 7/11/2009 Jens Bisky
Die Zeit . 27/5/2010 Evelyn Finger


  From the Reviews:
  • "Volker Braun folgt stilistisch und motivisch ganz dem «arbeitsjournal» Brechts, indem er seine «Werktage» als unablässige Reflexionen über die Produktionsbedingungen eines DDR-Schriftstellers in einer stark reformbedürftigen Gesellschaft anlegt. Die in Kleinschreibung gehaltenen Notate zielen fast durchweg auf die Anstrengung des Begriffs, auf die akribische Ausarbeitung einer kritischen Gesellschaftstheorie und Poetik, die sich mehrfach verneigt vor dem letzten radikalen Roman-Werk eines deutschen Schriftstellers, vor Peter Weiss' Ästhetik des Widerstands." - Michael Braun, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Zwölf Jahre auf knapp tausend Seiten. Nicht: Tagebuch. Werktage I. Gelebtes Schreiben; das Leben schreibend. Und es bleibt bei der Wahrheit des Satzes von Martin Walser: Geschrieben haben hilft nicht, es hilft nur: schreiben. Der siebzigjährige Dichter Volker Braun lässt uns nachlesen, wovon die Mitte seiner Jahre, 1977 bis 1989, ins Beben und Brennen, ins Bedrückt- und Beseeltsein kam." - Hans-Dieter Schütt, Neues Deutschland

  • "Das Arbeitsbuch, in vielem Brechts Arbeitsjournal nachempfunden, wurde aufwendig gesetzt, Bilder gibt es und reichlich Raum für Notizen. Und doch hat der Leser immer wieder den Eindruck, um das beste betrogen worden zu sein. Man erlaubt ihm, die Einträge zu bestaunen, über geglückte Formulierungen zu schmunzeln, stilistische Perlen einzusammeln. Die Arbeit mit dem Arbeitsbuch hat man ihm nahezu unmöglich gemacht oder doch gewaltig erschwert. Wesentliche Informationen werden ihm schlichtweg vorenthalten. Das wirkt, als wollte man eine Wirkung des Buches auf die Beschäftigung mit der jüngsten Vergangenheit unbedingt vermeiden. (...) Wer nicht dabei war, wer nicht hauptberuflich Volker-Braun-Philologe ist, wird hier und an anderen Stellen vom wirklichen Verständnis ausgeschlossen. Damit verstellt die Veröffentlichung Werktage 1 den Zugang zum Werk Volker Brauns wie zur Kulturgeschichte der späten DDR, obwohl dieses Arbeitsbuch doch eine der wichtigsten Quellen wäre." - Jens Bisky, Süddeutsche Zeitung

  • "Volker Brauns Texte, auch die so gänzlich uneitlen Notate des Tagebuchs, die immer über die Malaisen des kleinen Ich hinaus auf eine Theorie der vermeidbaren Niederlagen zielen, sind Versuche, einen unpathetischen Weheruf zu formulieren. Wie kein zweiter deutscher Gegenwartsautor beherrscht er dieses ausgenüchterte, wahrhaftige Sprechen, das sich selbst und sein Erkenntnisvermögen problematisiert. (...) Ist der Mensch zukunftsfähig ? Das bleibt die Frage. Das Mittel, sie nicht zu beantworten, sondern weiter zu beackern, ist eine Sprache jenseits der Phrasen. Damit bereitet Volker Braun uns ein großes intellektuelles Lesevergnügen." - Evelyn Finger, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Werktage I is East German playwright and author Volker Braun's journal ('Arbeitsbuch') from the beginning of 1977 to the end of 1989 (just after the fall of the Berlin Wall). A committed socialist, Braun was nevertheless among the writers who opposed Wolf Biermann's expatriation from the GDR in 1976 (a group that also included Christa Wolf, Heiner Müller, Stefan Heym, and Jurek Becker); that signal event led to a more uneasy relationship between these artists and the state, well chronicled in this working diary. Braun's politics -- committed to the socialist way, while also critical of the state apparatus that failed to achieve the ideals of the workers' state -- may seem anachronistic in today's blindly capitalist world, but his obstinate idealism is, if nothing else, consistent (separating him from nearly all the other writers of the same generation, who have proven far more vacillating). Braun's form of literary political engagement is perhaps too localized to translate well (especially to American conditions), but he was in the middle of many of the major East German literary and artistic debates of the times, and Werktage I is a vital chronicle of this period.
       In the form of generally short entries -- ranging from a few lines to, rarely, a few pages --, one every few days, Werktage I is a diary-cum-workbook, as Braun focuses on specific events -- what he is writing, plays of his being produced, meetings he has had -- and offers his concise thoughts on them. Disappointingly, the volume is not annotated -- there are no notes whatsoever (and there isn't an index, either) -- and familiarity with East German literary figures and history is essential for a reasonable understanding of much of what is presented here. The German Democratic Republic's literary and theatrical history is fairly well-documented -- it was a relatively small circle of dominant authors and playwrights -- and Braun played such a prominent role that it is relatively easy for anyone in the know to map these entries and figure out what events are being discussed or what book is being censored; those not familiar with the scene will, however, find much here baffling.
       It all leads up to the fall of the Berlin Wall, of course, but along the way there are numerous familiar milestones. As part of the very close writing community in the GDR, Braun observes much first-hand, and so, for example, he reports in August 1977 being at Sarah Kirsch's, when she decided there was no turning back and was set to move to West Germany. Much of Braun's account deals with difficulties with the authorities, in particular those he faced in getting certain works published or produced -- though, as is his style, his commentary is almost lapidary (which also here occasionally gives it a cryptic feel, since he doesn't spell out some of the issues and circumstances).
       The observations about a variety of cultural figures are also interesting -- not least the prescient recognition (in 1989) of Durs Grünbein, then just beginning his career, as: "ein kluger scout im niemandsland präziser metaphern" ('a wise scout in the no-man's-land of precise metaphors'). There are numerous fascinating asides, such as the 1977 entry in which he reports Karl Mickel suggesting it's the wrong decade for theater and that the leading playwrights of the day should turn to other forms; he suggests: Heiner Müller should stick to poetry, Peter Hacks to essay, Braun to prose (while Mickel will write novels). And though much is treated very quickly, Braun did get around a lot and praises, for example, Charles Ludlam's Ridiculous Theatre Company in reporting on a 1985 visit to New York (though he was disappointed by the La MaMa production he saw).
       There are also personal observations that go beyond the literary and theatrical: mentions of his aging (and much-admired) mother, or his growing daughter, though there's fairly little here to go on to make any real personal picture of the man. He admits:

diese notate sind flüchtig wie ich lebe, ich rase mehr als daß ich atme. und wo ich zur sache kommen will, zu mir, schweige ich still. aber ist die liebe keine produktion ?

[these notations are fleeting, like the way I live, I speed along more than I breathe. and where I want to get to the point, about myself, I remain completely silent. but isn't love a production too ?]
       [And yes, in best Brechtian (who else ?) imitation, Braun writes entirely in small caps (save the occasional title and the like).]
       Back in 1977 Braun wrote of his homeland that it was: "das land, in dem man am besten schreiben kann und am schwersten publizieren kann" ['the land, in which it is best to write and the most difficult to publish']. There's a bit of hyperbole here, though if taken literally he's not too far wrong: unlike some other countries, in which it wasn't difficult but rather simply impossible to publish, it generally was possible to publish in the GDR -- it's that just that there were an incredible number of hoops to jump through on the way (many of them chronicled here). For perhaps a quarter of a century, from say 1963 to 1988 or so, the GDR had as impressive a run as any national literature in the second half of the twentieth century; its theatrical record is similarly impressive, dating back even earlier to the Berliner Ensemble under Brecht. Braun was in the middle of it all (and contributed several major works), and Werktage I is a fascinating record of East Germany's slow but steady decline in the period from 1976 onwards, a record by a man who believed in the ideals professed by the state, but wasn't blind to its practical failings.
       Too bad this otherwise very attractive volume isn't annotated; even so, it is certainly an essential companion-piece to that era.

- M.A.Orthofer, 3 March 2011

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Links:

Werktage I: Reviews: Volker Braun: Other books by Volker Braun under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       (East) German poet and dramatist Volker Braun was born in 1939. He has won numerous literary prizes, including the Heinrich Mann Prize, and the Georg Büchner Prize.

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© 2011 the complete review

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