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Die Bienen und das Unsichtbare

Clemens J. Setz

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To purchase Die Bienen und das Unsichtbare

Title: Die Bienen und das Unsichtbare
Author: Clemens J. Setz
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2020
Length: 407 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Die Bienen und das Unsichtbare - Deutschland
  • Die Bienen und das Unsichtbare has not yet been translated into English.

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyable personal exploration of invented languages

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Süddeutsche Zeitung . 15/11/2020 Lothar Müller
Wiener Zeitung . 14/1/2021 Bruno Jaschke
Die Zeit . 7/1/2021 Kolja Reichert

  From the Reviews:
  • "Die Kunstsprachen, auch Plansprachen genannt, sind in diesem Buch das Abenteuer gleich um die Ecke. (...) Er nimmt sie gegen ihre Verächter in Schutz, erzählt von ihren Gründerfiguren und native speakern, übersetzt ihre Literatur, vor allem die Gedichte, aber auch die Prosa, und nicht zuletzt erzählt er von sich selbst. (...) Mehr und mehr tritt die heimliche Hauptfigur des Buches in den Vordergrund, der Übersetzer Clemens Setz, der von all den Kunstsprachen, in die er eintaucht, immer noch nicht genug hat (.....) Wer Abenteuerliteratur mag, ist mit diesem Buch sehr gut bedient." - Lothar Müller, Süddeutsche Zeitung

  • "Allein die Weite seines Forschungsansatzes belegt Setz’ Empathie und Ernsthaftigkeit in der Auseinandersetzung mit Plansprachen und ihren phänomenologischen Verwandten: Setz sieht in ihnen eine Quelle der Poesie und artistischen Originalität." - Bruno Jaschke, Wiener Zeitung

  • "Setz erschließt einen faszinierenden Kontinent. Dieser liegt hinter den Büchern, den Namen und Wörtern, und in ihm ist nichts selbstverständlich. Wie in der Kunst. (...) Schräg zu den befestigten Wegen geglückter Verständigung läuft Setz durch deren Maschinenraum. Staunt, wie hier ein Kabel heraushängt und dort Dampf austritt. Und rollt die Frage auf, wer in wessen Namen spricht. Deshalb ereignet sich das Entscheidende in der Art und Weise, wie Setz selbst über seine Gegenstände spricht. (...) Es geht in diesem Buch um die so aktuelle Frage, wie man, als Schriftsteller und als Sprecher, seinen Gegenständen gerecht wird. (...) Es geht in diesem Buch also nur mittelbar um die Möglichkeit der Übersetzung zwischen verschiedenen Sprachen. Es geht existenziell um die Möglichkeit der Übersetzung zwischen unterschiedlichen Leben." - Kolja Reichert, 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:

[Note: Die Bienen und das Unsichtbare has not yet been translated into English. This review is based on the German original, and all quotes are my translations.]

       The title of Clemens J. Setz's book is taken from Rilke, from a letter in which he wrote: "We are the bees of the invisible".
       Setz suggests:

Ist das nicht auch die beste Definition von Dichtern in erfundenen Sprachen ? Sie bringen Ertrag und Nährstoffe von einer Quelle, die sonst kaum jemand sehen kann.

[Isn't that also the best definition of poets in invented languages ? They bring yield and nutrients from a source that almost no one else can see.]
       In Die Bienen und das Unsichtbare explores invented, artificial languages such as Esperanto and Ithkuil. It is not meant to be a comprehensive overview, but rather is a personal tour and journey, with a focus on poetry, as well as the personalities behind some of these languages -- both their inventors, such as L. L. Zamenhof (Esperanto), Johann Martin Schleyer (Volapük), and Charles Bliss (Blissymbolics), and a variety of practitioners. The tour is easy-going and very personal, with Setz often inserting opinions and exclamations -- and writing a great deal of his personal experiences, not least in including entries from his diaries. (He also mentions -- though, curiously, as something he had practically forgotten -- having tried his hand at inventing a language of his own.)
       Setz is particularly interested in the poetic possibilities of invented language, presenting numerous examples and his translations -- with the difficulties of translation, especially of language-forms that function in some ways differently from (most) traditional ones, something he repeatedly considers very closely. The range extends beyond familiar forms of language, too, to writers such as H.C.Artmann or Oscar Pastior, with their sound-poems -- with Setz also admitting that: 'As a child I tended to excessive glossolalia', and still fascinated by it. Unsurprisingly, too, he notes that his favorite episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation is episode 102, Darmok, in which the Enterprise encounters a people who speak entirely in metaphors and allegories.
       The personalities Setz discusses are an interesting lot, too. Setz notes that inventors of languages tend come in two categories: popes and programmers. The popes are controlling dogmatists like Charles Bliss, while programmers basically offer their languages as 'open source', to be built on by its community of speakers, with Zamenhof and Esperanto a prime example.
       Among the most fascinating figures Setz discusses is Vasily Eroshenko -- whose collection The Narrow Cage, stories written in Esperanto and Japanese, finally makes this blind author's work accessible to English-speaking readers. Throughout, Setz takes a particular interest in those who are in some ways physically disabled or struggle with expression in traditional language -- hence also the longer section on Charles Bliss and his Blissymbolics.
       The many examples of writing in invented languages, particularly poetry, and Setz's (attempted) translations give a good sense of what these languages also have to offer literarily, with Setz also introducing quite a few authors of note, especially Esperanto-writing ones -- authors who remain largely unknown outside their linguistic communities. (The absence of an index leaves Die Bienen und das Unsichtbare less useful as a reference-work, but Setz clearly means his tour and exploration to be one of more general and casual reading.)
       In sum, Die Bienen und das Unsichtbare is an interesting and wide-ranging if also very loose look at invented languages, the focus and tour very much personal, and poetry-heavy. The presentation makes for an enjoyable read, and there is certainly a great deal of fascinating information here -- not least the many life-stories he introduces --, but it is, for better and worse, more one-man's-look-at-invented-languages than general overview.

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 March 2023

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Die Bienen und das Unsichtbare: Reviews: Other books by Clemens J. Setz under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Clemens J. Setz was born in 1982.

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© 2023 the complete review

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