Two new books by Alexander Kluge

An alien is knocking on our door

On February 14, Alexander Kluge will be celebrating his 90th birthday, and two new books are already appearing. One is about Kluge’s lifelong passion for the circus and the other he spins his web of thoughts from the Corona crisis back to his childhood and, as usual, Kluge’s analytical mind of the law graduate and the poet’s desire to leap in thought come together.

He writes about things that surprise him, says Alexander Kluge, and the circus has been one of them since he went to a performance at the age of four. What does he see when he hears the word circus? “Animals, very high levels of brightness and a special form of the human idea of ​​omnipotence,” says Alexander Kluge.

The virus holds up a mirror to us

“Circus / Commentary” is the name of the volume in which Alexander Kluge, based on his childhood memories, reflects on everyday acrobatics, Europe’s fascination with elephants or the virus as a quick-change artist. “When a creature like the virus knocks on our door, like an alien from the same planet,” says Alexander Kluge, “then we also learn something about ourselves. It holds up a mirror to us.”

The love of verticality

The second book, subtitled “The Restless Garden of the Soul”, is also written as a commentary. The commentary, a literary form with which the lawyer Kluge has been familiar since his student days, and whose potential he now exhausts for his lyrical storytelling. “There are just a few lines of legal text and thirty, forty, hundred pages of commentary,” says Kluge. “That means the commentary is the form of thoroughness and it goes vertical while the compelling narrative goes horizontal. And I love that verticality: that you stay with one thing and explore it as thoroughly as you possibly can.”

On February 14, Alexander Kluge celebrates his 90th birthday and his book of commentaries has undoubtedly become his most personal to date. In it he writes about the death of his sister Alexandra, but also about how she and his parents continue to speak to him. “I’ve become more sensitive to hearing, I’m not as restless as I was twenty years ago,” says Alexander Kluge. “And when it gets quieter inside me, these voices get louder. The idea that an author or an ego is alone is wrong. We have a whole choir and the quiet tones are intensified with age.”

The emergency exits of philosophy

Kluge’s memories are incredibly present, even if they go back seventy or eighty years. In his childhood in Halberstadt, for example, and on April 30, 1945, when the 13-year-old witnessed how 80 percent of the city was destroyed in a bomb attack.

“On a street like this, which is plowed through by bombers,” Kluge remembers, “it’s nice when one cellar is connected to the other: knowing the emergency exits is the beginning of philosophy, but also the beginning of poetry.”

Walter Benjamin reloaded

Alexander Kluge follows critical theory in his writing, his father is Walter Benjamin, who with his Arcades work, which he began in 1929, attempted to provide a history of mentality in the 19th century. As a wildly proliferating collection of material, in which the overlooked and repressed were the focus of attention.

Kluge has something similar in mind: “We have to repeat the same thing again today. Because if we haven’t understood the 20th century, we won’t be able to master the 21st either.”

Adventurous escape routes

Alexander Kluge spreads concepts out like maps, he uses quotations as building blocks, Kluge is a great collector and knows how to combine his finds into new metaphors and new associations. For those who are currently despairing of the dead ends of thinking, Alexander Kluge’s commentary volumes have wonderful, adventurous escape routes in store. In any case, after reading it, there can no longer be any talk of the end of the story.


Alexander Kluge
Alexander Kluge, “The Book of Commentaries – Restless Garden of the Soul”, Suhrkamp
Alexander Kluge, “Circus / Commentary”, Suhrkamp