Monday, September 2, 2019

Lenz by Georg Büchner

In my earlier Danton review I already praised Georg Büchner’s masterful precocity. Deceased at 24, he still managed to write three and a half masterpieces: Dantons Tod, Leonce und Lena, Woyzeck and the unfinished Lenz. The works are considered landmarks in the history of German literature, early precursors of the Modern European roman. They were praised by Zweig, set to music by Alban Berg and burned on celluloid by no one less than Herzog.

I found an older copy of Lenz on the second-hand book market and without hesitation took it home for a quick read. And quick it was! Only 35 pages, but so fast-paced, so modern, so obsessively written that it leaves the reader panting: the story of Jacob Lenz (1751-1792), poet and theater-maker, one of the key representatives of the Sturm und Drang, slipping into insanity. 

Poor Jakob Lenz, delicate and small, the flipside of the Goethe persona, as good a writer as the famous “Wandrer” was, maybe even better, but lacking the stature, the charisma, the social intelligence and the romantic skills. When Lenz became insufferable and a danger to Goethe’s reputation and position, the Master got rid of him. Lenz was banned from the province after a mysterious incident, an unforgivable “foolishness” that happened on the 26 of November 1776.

Büchner’s novel make us follow the interdicted Lenz; his erratic wandering, his despair, his hopeless seeking of solace, his battling bouts of depression, his final tumble into a terrifying madness from which there is no return…

What a nightmare…