Eckhart Nickel: “Spitzweg” – The Hagestolz

Author Eckhart Nickel, born in Frankfurt am Main in 1966, was a member of the pop literary quintet in 1999. In the early 50’s he is back in the top ranks of German-speaking writers. (Wallpaper: imago images / Imaginechina-Tuchong, book cover: Piper Verlag)

This “Spitzweg” secures Eckhart Nickel’s prominent place in the image gallery of our contemporary literature. This succeeds with a picture puzzle – for two thoughts arise. The first right at the beginning, when you imagine yourself in the middle of a storm of characters from philosophical, art historical, literary and pop cultural references – and want to have read all the books of the world, seen all the movies and pictures, heard all the compositions to be able to follow any intertextual track.

The second thought eventually pops up when you close the book. First of all, this story begins with three quotes: from Arno Schmidt, the British pop band Prefab Sprout and finally from Carl Spitzweg himself: “Every line is intelligent, everything is well thought out, the uninteresting is interesting.”

Courage to ugliness

Each quote represents one of the three main characters who became friends while in high school; the idiosyncratic Carl, the worldly Kirsten and the nameless narrator who can only be identified as the Spitzwegian Hagestolz depicted on the cover of the novel – a loner who observes his surroundings from a high position. Nickel elevates this type of incarnated bachelor to a monument and places it next to the other two by Carl Spitzweg and Adalbert Stifter from the 19th century.

And the introduction sounds just as calm as in Spitzweg’s picture and Stifter’s story, when an art teacher, wearing a turtleneck and pleated skirt, sneaks from table to table, looks past Kirsten, her best student, looks at an almost perfect self-portrait and says: “Extremely successful, Respect: Courage to be ugly! “

Literature is changing the world

From there it gets turbulent. Kirsten storms out of the classroom, and her classmates – Carl and the narrator – seek revenge. They falsify a letter allegedly written by Kirsten’s worried parents, addressed directly to the principal of this scandalous school.

“It is with great concern that we would like to announce that our daughter did not come home after school yesterday. It is not the first time this has happened, but this time we could not pick her up from relatives in the area, but instead found this picture in the entrance outside our door, which is without a doubt her own. “

The invented text – ergo literature – is powerful enough to change a world, as revealed by a volte in Nickel’s “Spitzweg” novel. The headmaster cannot ask the parents directly because they live secluded without telephone or internet and writes in the mentioned letter that they only want to communicate through Kirsten’s classmates; the narrator.

About mirrors, windows and their relationship to reality

His intrigue branches out into the smallest nooks and crannies of this story, which tells only of an evil joke on the first level, but already on the second level is a meta-reflection on the possibilities of art, presented in the tone of serious jokes. This is how the narrator reasoned right from the start:

“Paintings in themselves, what are they good for? Before I hang a landscape on the wall, I prefer to look at it through a window. And when I feel like seeing someone, I put a mirror right there. Art often tries to be both, window and mirror, and yet can not replace one or the other. The extent of her failure is particularly evident when she tries to portray life realistically. “

This intelligent book reflects on mirrors, windows and their relationship to reality in a way that is as non-stop as it is annoying. As if the high school students knew Bergson’s, Blumenberg’s and Richard Rorty’s philosophies “The Mirror of Nature” inside and out. Their prank culminates, appropriately ambitiously, in a fast-paced act of art.

Hide for art or in front of art

But the actual heights or peaks are climbed in the spirit as Carl, Kirsten and the narrator sit in their secret “art hideout” discussing sparsely clad painter models in bathtubs that are too cold, Frédéric Chopin’s “Night Pieces” and the question of whether the peppermint tablets “After Eight” “has their counterpart in the earlier” Africa “biscuits by Bahlsen. It is a palaver from schoolboys, a joke consisting of numerous quotations, which in one important respect differs from the intertextual games in the so-called pop literature that Nickel started with in the late 1990s.

Back then, an in-depth knowledge of songs, sounds, movies and brands was essential to understanding pop-literary releases. In Nickel’s “Spitzweg”, however, no allusion should be made, we do not even need a picture of the Munich painter to follow this story. You can immerse yourself in the different levels, but you are not forced to do so at any point, which after reading leads to the second thought that also emerges. Anyone who wants to have read, seen and heard everything from the beginning can now enthusiastically imagine what it would be like to know only this one book, no other, no film, no picture, no composition. Then the story would lie in its pure beauty in front of a mirror rather than a window, possibly appearing like an infinitely large, empty shelf. But since one has read, seen and listened, this book is all that: mirror, window, riddle, shelf – carried by the romantic longing to step outside, sub specie aeternitates, to finally be able to see more clearly from there what is happening. Nickel’s “Spitzweg” is a hiding place for art or from art. It is up to us how close we get to this fascinating story. She is excited anyway, one way or another.

Eckhart Nickel: “Spitzweg”
Piper Verlag, Munich. 256 pages, 22 euros.

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