A.In the beginning of November it’s that time again. On the Diá de muertos, the Mexicans believe, the dead return to their families once a year. They decorate the cemeteries and streets, set up altars with photos of the deceased and souvenirs at home and prepare a feast for them. Remembering is crucial: only those who are still thought of can return.
Of the Pixar film “Coco” used this popular belief as the material for a turbulent black comedy, Leonhard Hieronymi is now turning it into a fast-paced and funny pop novel. “In casual company” tells of how a young author visits poets’ graves all over Europe over the course of a year. On the one hand this is quite morbid literary history, on the other hand it is also a compendium on the subject of sepulchral culture. One learns, for example, that the Diá de muertos is meanwhile also celebrated wetly in Romania.
The day after the grave tourist sees the empty wine bottles pouring out of the rubbish bins in the Bucharest main cemetery, in the “undergrowth, large plastic bottles ‘Neumarkt Pils’ and styrofoam packs with remains of mustard-smeared Mici meat rolls”. Hieronymi is a legacy of brand name-obsessed pop literature (the keywords: “Fish-Gosch” and “Barbour jacket” may suffice here). Christian Kracht’s “Fiber Land” provided the novel with a motto and perhaps also the basic idea, because its narrator is desperate in Zurich: “That can’t be true. I can’t find Thomas Mann’s stupid grave. “
Zurich is not on the itinerary (although there are also grave neighbors James Joyce and Elias Canetti to be visited), but numerous German cemeteries, supplemented by trips to Rome, Vienna, Prague and Romania. In addition to classic destinations, such as the resting places of Bertolt Brecht and Helene Weigel, Heinrich Mann and Anna Seghers at the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof, there are unusual destinations.
In Neuglobsow am Stechlinsee, for example, the search for the grave of Fontane (which is in Berlin) is not being sought, but that of the GDR children’s book author Hanns Krause. Karl-Herbert Scheer is buried in Friedrichsdorf near Frankfurt, Hieronymi comes from the area. While older East Germans are likely to remember Krause’s works like “Alibaba and the Chicken Fairy”, Scheer is virtually immortal thanks to his invention of the science fiction series “Perry Rhodan”.
This specific conception of the beyond in literature is the subject of this debut novel, which is a kind of practical literary experiment in the delicate field of post-fame. “I wanted to find their graves. I wanted to know how close one could really get to disappearance – but in return I wanted to visit the graves of immortals who have been immortal for two thousand years, like those of the Roman poets and philosophers Seneca and Ovid. ”
Looking for Ovid
Hieronymi in Klagenfurt read from the very funny Ovid chapter, in which three hungover friends wander around the ruins of Tomi on the Black Sea, one can read it to oneself on the Bachmann Prize homepage listen. The fact that Hieronymi wore a baseball cap with the words “LIES”, which can be read as a request and as a warning, can be safely understood as part of a highly ironic game of hide-and-seek.
On the surface, the novel is a series of travel essays in which a young man seems to be randomly rummaging around graves and sharing biographical anecdotes of the deceased. At the same time, it is not only the author’s headgear that systematically casts doubt on the truth of what is reported.
In the Arno Schmidt chapter, the narrator is stopped by the police when he is drunk and without a valid driver’s license on a criminally coiffed Vespa to which a Pentecostal tree is tied in the direction of Bargfeld. “All I thought was: Make her laugh.” And so he tells an outrageous story about a birthday cake that was forgotten on the car roof and frozen there. He can go on. Elsewhere, Ovid is quoted as saying: “I want to announce facts, but there will always be some who claim that I just made up everything.”
What counts as a signal of fiction in literary theory is reversed in Hieronymi’s irony machine. Whatever one googling reported poet anecdotes proves to be verifiable, however invented they sound. And whether there is a plastic bottle “Johnny Walker Red Label” behind Harry Rowohlt’s grave stone or whether the narrator really wiped down the objects left on Wolfgang Herrndorf’s “with a clap of thunder”, nobody can check anyway.
What is fictitious in this insidious novel lies in the narrative situation itself, in an intensity and urgency that increases almost imperceptibly from chapter to chapter. Hieronymi virtuously creates the impression of an expiring deadline, an ultimatum, without any external reasons for it: the end is approaching, time is racing. So it often gets too dark to decipher grave inscriptions. After visiting Nietzsche and Novalis, it is almost too tight for Goethe and Schiller, and you rush past Karl May in Radebeul. Life is nothing but a race track, as the death-obsessed Baroque knew.
“Rich Kids of Literature”
Hieronymi, who belongs to the avant-garde group Rich Kids of Literature, published the manifesto “Ultraromantik” three years ago, in which he called for a literature of “augmented reality”, the marriage of romance and science fiction: “The plot is futuristic and true. Everything is honest. Everything is passion. Everything is speed. Everything is progress. Something is never bored. ”In this sense,“ In an informal society ”can also be read as a science fiction. Peace of death collides with technology. There are cemetery apps and funeral videos on YouTube. The constant references to climate change also create an apocalyptic mood.
Behind the irony and the dry humor, however, a serious longing becomes noticeable, a “future-oriented melancholy”, as it is called in the manifesto, also a real suffering from the scandal of death. In Arno Schmidt’s story “Tina or about immortality” there is a journey into the realm of the dead, which is a rather agonizing lysium of writers. Every author has to stay here until he is no longer mentioned in any book on earth – Goethe, it is said there, therefore has no chance of liberation. With his debut novel, so the punch line, Hieronymi has screwed up the redemption of a number of almost forgotten poets for the time being.
But of course that is ironic too. In a conversation with an old gravedigger, the narrator explains that he believes that we will continue to exist indefinitely, “just in the memories of other people, as the Mexican myth of the day of the dead wants it to be. The narrator himself doubts whether he really believes in it. “But at least having a belief, that was good.”
Leonhard Hieronymi: “In casual company“. Hoffmann and Campe. 240 pages, 24 euros.