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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Hermann Burger

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To purchase Lokalbericht

Title: Lokalbericht
Author: Hermann Burger
Genre: Novel
Written: (1970)
Length: 304 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Lokalbericht - Deutschland
  • Lokalbericht has not been translated into English
  • First published posthumously, in 2016
  • Edited by Simon Zumsteg, with Peter Dängeli, Magnus Wieland, and Irmgard M. Wirtz
  • With eighteen color plates

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Our Assessment:

B+ : sharp and enjoyably playful

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NZZ . 28/10/2016 Daniele Muscionico
Der Tagesspiegel . 8/12/2016 Gerrit Bartels

  From the Reviews:
  • "Frischknecht, ein Knecht der Sprache, hat grosse Literatur im Sinn – «Lokalbericht» ist das Resultat. Burgers Poetik der Verfremdung glaubt nicht an Realien, sondern an «Surrealien und Irrealien», bis Wirklichkeit und Literatur ununterscheidbar werden." - Daniele Muscionico, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Burgers früher Roman ist ein einziger Spaß: Wörterspaß, Wortsport, Intertext, Semifiktion. Vor allem im ersten Teil, da es um nichts anderes als die Welt auf dem Papier geht. Um die Sprache, mit der in ihrer unterschiedlichsten Ausprägung Schriftsteller, Kritiker, Germanisten, Buchhändler und Leser gemeinhin umgehen -- und die natürlich nie unschuldig, sondern immer codiert oder abgeleitet ist. (...) Trotz der ganzen Papierwelt, trotz aller Wörtergläubigkeit, aller Artyness ist der Lokalbericht gleichermaßen Schriftsteller- wie Kleinstadtroman, auch die Verhältnisse an Schule und Universität schlenkert Burger mit rein. Vor allem aber ist er eine Autofiktion (.....) Lokalbericht verblüfft, weil es sich fast fünfzig Jahre später noch frisch und ja, auch wahrhaftig liest -- und zudem darin schon Hermann Burgers gesamte Poetik angelegt ist." - Gerrit Bartels, Der Tagesspiegel

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:

       Lokalbericht is Hermann Burger's first novel, written in 1970 but only posthumously published in 2016 (and online). It is basically a two-part novel; there is a short (five page) third part, but it functions essentially as a postscript (and neatly offers an explanation for why the novel was not published when Burger (more or less) completed it).
       Lokalbericht begins with narrator Günter Frischknecht, a PhD student in literature, embarking on a -- this -- novel. He begins with the title, the novel beginning:

Lokalbericht den Titel, das Schwierigste an einem Buch, habe ich schon. Fehlt mir nur noch der Roman.

['Local Report' -- I already have the title, the hardest part of a book. Now, I'm just missing the novel.]
       As this already suggests, this will very much be a novel about writing a novel. With its protagonist whose name clearly echoes that of the Magister Ludi of Hesse's The Glass Bead Game (he is a fresh- (i.e. new-)Knecht) -- a work (and game) that is almost immediately alluded to --, Lokalbericht also promises to be ambitious in its reach, an attempt to show what literature can do (even as also its title promises a closely circumscribed focus, a very localized report).
       Frustrated by the academic approach to literature, Frischknecht/Burger is looking to move beyond it -- albeit, much of the time, still from within: among the characters he engages with through much of the text is his doctoral advisor, Professor Kleinert; among the first things he does is suggest to Kleinert a new subject for his dissertation: fed up with interpretations of works that claim to know better than its author what a given novel is about, he figures why bother with basing interpretation on an actual novel in the first place and suggests writing an interpretation of an invented one. (His advisor is not amused.)
       Exposition 'against interpretation' is just one of the novel's themes and purposes -- nicely realized in one of the novel's more vividly imagined scenes that involves an actual demonstration against interpretation, the poets rising up against it, with a whole canon's worth of long-suffering writers paraded out and, for example:
Rilke brach unter der Last der Fehlinterpretationen nieder und musste gepflegt werden; Hauptmann hetzte weiße Mäuse auf uns; Novalis leuchtete mit einer Taschenlampe schamlos in die unio mystica

[Rilke collapsed under the load of misinterpretations and had to be tended to; Hauptmann whipped up white mice against us; Novalis shamelessly shone ino the unio mystica with a flashlight]
       Lokalbericht is a novel of a young author trying to figure out how to write a novel. As Frischknecht, the author moves back and forth into his own narrative; occasionally, even the first person voice is not sufficient and he addresses the reader even more directly and intimately, in 'letters to the reader'. Yet the layers of explanation he offers seem meant as much for him, as he actively explores what he is doing, and what he can do.
       Even the actual writing-process -- the typing of the manuscript -- becomes subject-matter, Frischknecht describing the acquisition of not one but two typewriters, replacements for the old 'midwife' of so many of his poems, and their potential; among the pleasures of the first-rate edition of the novel and the superb website-presentation is being pointed to and able to see the different typefaces as Burger did indeed purchase said typewriters at this point in the (writing of) the text, suggesting also just how metafictional this exercise is. (There's even a photograph of Burger at work on the novel in front of his Hermes Media 3, one hand resting on a copy of Günter Grass' The Tin Drum, as if for reässurance.)
       The chapters of the first part mainly explore, in a variety of ways, the literary, an attempt by the narrator to figure out purpose and possibilities. Among the things Frischknecht acknowledges is:
Angst, Angst habe ich natürlich, sonst würde ich nicht schreiben, Angst vor drei möglichen Existenzformen: Lehrer, Schriftsteller, Kritiker, Angst insgesamt vor einem Leben mit Literatur, für die Literatur.

[Fear, naturally I feel fear. Otherwise I wouldn't write. Fear of three possible forms of existence: teacher, author, critic. Fear, all in all, of a life with literature, in literature. ]
       He can't imagine the life of a teacher, something he worries he might be reduced to. Other significant recurring characters warn of the dangers of the other alternatives: aside from the academic, Professor Kleinert, there's the critic Felix Neidthammer (a hint of jealousy in that family name, 'Neid hamma') -- at best (or worst) an interpreter of the literary whose directions for reviewing (a list is provided) are an author's worst nightmare -- or the bookseller Laubschad, who can barely stand anyone buying a volume from his store and does little but lose himself in the constant stream of books coming his way.
       Reading is a central concern in Lokalbericht; in many ways it is more of a concern to the narrator than writing. Academia has shown him the dangers of reading being reduced solely to interpretation, while the critic Neidthammer's approach -- meant for a wider audience -- seems little better. At one point, in a late letter to the reader, Frischknecht describes the institute 'Legissima', which will take unwanted reading off your hands and do it for you (the service also then providing summary sentences for conversation-purposes, formulas that allow the non-reader to spout wisely about said book(s)).
       As Frischknecht warns -- again in a letter addressed directly to the reader --:
Lesen ist gefährlich, viel gefährlicher als Schreiben. Deshalb wird je länger desto mehr geschrieben und immer weniger gelesen. Sie allein sind die Helden der Literatur, wenn es in der Literatur noch Helden geben darf.

[Reading is dangerous, much more dangerous than writing. That's why more and more is being written, and less and less read. You alone are the heroes of literature -- if literature can still have heroes.]
       In looking for an ideal, Frischknecht hits upon the local editor for the daily newspaper: not only a secure writing position but one that offers a steady flow of work and a large readership, the work disposable but also covering the significant. The localized and specific of course also appeal to him -- and in the second part of the novel, roughly the second half, he offers a much less wide-ranging narrative, focused closely on place (the town of Aarau) and one event.
       While the first part is untitled, the second part is presented as: 'The Celebration, or so-called reality' ('Das Fest, oder die sogenannte Wirklichkeit') -- suggesting that maybe he isn't quite going into it (or didn't come out of it) with quite the desired confidence, the presentation in literary form of reality. The focus is an annual youth-celebration; Frischknecht specifically recalls his eighteen-year-old self, and the crush he had on local dentist's daughter Isabelle von Arx -- an unfulfilled longing explaining also the repeated references to dentally-related dreams and fantasies, as well as additional possible interpretations thereof, a variation on purely literary interpretation.
       The final part sees Neidthammer critique and comment on Frischknecht's novel, and his attempt at capturing the real. 'I wouldn't write this novel yet', he suggests to Frischknecht, in an amusing out that Burger wholeheartedly embraced: let it lie for one, or two, or ten years he suggests, there's no need to rush to publication. Distance is the best corrective, Neidthammer suggests, in a world where too much is flooded unthinkingly onto the market.
       The conclusion is, of course, all the more poignant and convincing given the fate of the novel, as Burger did indeed not publish it, and it lay dormant for decades. It was, however, certainly worth resurrecting: Lokalbericht is not just a clever novel that considers what literature can do and its place in the modern world, but also an impressive display of writing. Yes, there are elements of apprentice-work here, experimentation with form and style -- but Burger already displays a very confident touch and style. His command of language, and the way he plays with it, alone make the novel worthwhile; beyond that, it's a whole lot of fun too, as Burger is a gifted comic writer.
       It's worth noting, too, that the edition of this work is exemplary, with useful (and in-depth) supporting material and commentary, complemented further by the superb website, a great example of what can be done online to enhance the reading and study of a literary work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 January 2020

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Lokalbericht: Reviews: Hermann Burger: Other books by Hermann Burger under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature

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About the Author:

       Swiss author Hermann Burger lived 1942 to 1989.

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