The "taz" is Germany's premiere leftist / intellectual daily paper, and Deniz Yücel is an award-winning writer and critic known for his satirical and humorous style.
|by Deniz Yücel.|
October 26, 2010
In Bellyaching, All Men Are Equal
The Science of Bitching. It's not only a leftist thing. Eric T. Hansen explores Germany's favorite pastime.
Everyone gets an earful of it, everyone dishes it out, in public and in private. It's the first thing we humans do when we're born ("Waah!"), it's often also the last ("More light!" - Goethe). If we'd never learned it, mankind would still be living in caves. And Germans, they say, do it better than anyone else. What is it? Bellyaching, of course.
In the history of ideas, complaining would appear to be a leftist thing. They are the ones who took the whining of the little guy and raised on a pedestal of "criticism." The combination of those two adjectives - leftist and German - have given birth to entire fields of science, from the griping of Karl Marx' Political Economy and the nit-picking theories of the Frankfurt School to the specialist disciplines like Klaus Holzkamp's nagging psychology and Klaus Mollenhauer's grumbling pedagogy; not to mention whinging shareholders, grousing police officers, moaning lawyers and all the rest.
But don't let yourself be fooled. Not only leftists nag. Conservatives are no slouches either, neither in theory - think of Karl Popper's grumbling realism - nor in literature. From Oswald Spengler's "The Decline of the West" to the bellyaching bestsellers of today (Eva Herman and Ulrich Wickert, Frank Schirrmacher and Thilo Sarrazin): complaining conservatives are to be reckoned with. The difference, as a simple rule of thumb, is this: Progressive bitching is bitching about things not changing; conservative bellyaching is bellyaching about things that are changing. And we all complain about our boss or about our employees or about our partners: At the end of the day, we're all the same.
What we didn't have until now was a systematic analysis of complaining. Journalist Eric T. Hansen, a former Mormon missionary from Hawaii who lived in Germany for nearly 30 years, has written just that. "Bellyaching," he writes at the outset, "is not a private pleasure like picking your nose, it is the ur-foundation of society and the secret source of national identity. It's what gives every German a reason to live."
But the endeavor of writing a book about complaining places both writer and critic before sheer unanswerable questions: Is a writer who bellyaches about bellyaching not himself a bellyacher? And can a critic who dares criticize a book about criticizing be anything but a smart ass, a busybody and killjoy?
He who gripes first, loses. The nit-picker and know-it-all, vulgo: the whiner stands side by side with his relatives the party-pooper, the drearily ever-concerned skeptic and the goody-goody on the very bottom end of the scale of social esteem, just one step above the child molester, the immigrant who just won't speak the language and the financial speculator.
I'm sure Hansen is right when he writes that the need to nag is an ideology. But the "positive thinking"-philosophy, to which Hansen clearly feels himself beholden, is also an ideology. And when the "Everything is super"-faction clashes with the "Everything is shit"-crowd, accusations of blind dogmatism will fly. And ideology, as Terry Eagleton once said, is like bad breath: It's always someone else who has it.
But if you overlook Hansen's be-happy-ideology and accept his sometimes annoyingly this-is-funny prose style, the book delivers a wonderful aperçu of the bitchiness of everyday German life. Hansen delves into the depths of German dialects, where it's so easy to "granteln" and "mosern," he analyses the relationship - complicated by mutual complaining - between whinging East Germans and know-it-all West Germans. He finds a hidden, natural affinity between Turks and Germans based on their common love of griping; he subjects German grumbling to international comparison and observes the way parents teach their children to moan and groan correctly in the belief that it will give them self-confidence; he investigates how men and women nag each other day and night. How to stop the bellyaching of the sexes? He recommends the principle of "harmony nagging:" When man and woman bitch in harmony about a third party. Voila: Love.
But Hansen really gets going when he pays his respect to the greatest German bellyachers of all, Luther and Goethe. Goethe's "Faust" is, for Hansen, "the ultimate literary lamenter" - and a epitomization of German whinging. For unlike other literary whiners like Hamlet, Faust has no reason to complain. Why does he, then? He bitches, says Hansen, because he has nothing to bitch about.
Online text here.
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