What does anecdotal feedback mean

Author: Johannes Odendahl

Johannes Odendahl

"You have to change your life"? About the sacrifice for art and the seriousness of the game

The following text was created as part of a master’s seminar, which was carried out digitally and almost exclusively in written communication at the University of Innsbruck in the summer semester 2020. It refers to student reading minutes on two programmatic texts by Ulf Abraham (2005; 2010). The readers who are often addressed directly are therefore the participants in the seminar, the mode of personal addressing is also evident in the repeated use of the first person singular. However, the text should - otherwise it would not be published here - also be understandable and possibly stimulating for a larger audience. I hope this also applies to the final turnaround, which can perhaps be partially excused with the depressing pandemic situation that already prevailed at the time.

1. Introduction: Ulf Abraham's very consentable rejection of a hermeneutic colonialism

Sometimes noun is omen. The Bamberg literary scholar and didactic scientist Ulf Abraham has earned the reputation of being the father of German didactics in the course of his academic working life. What Abraham says has weight in the community. Everyone knows Ulf Abraham, thanks to his surname he appears in the first place in every bibliography, Ulf Abraham has presented an extremely extensive and multifaceted scientific oeuvre, Ulf Abraham sets the tone in the field of film didactics, the didactics of picture books, writing didactics, conversation didactics and much more; Above all, however, his word is decisive in the big, trend-setting questions that move German and literary didactics as a whole.

For example, Abraham's thoughts on the P / poetic V / understand found, expressed in connection with the competence debate, which was driving German didactics according to PISA. Understand literary texts competently? According to Abraham, it is important to listen carefully to the formulation. For literary texts (to paraphrase his statements here freely) cannot be inferred like natural resources; Interpretations and results of understanding cannot be extracted from literary works of art with the help of suitable strategies, like shale gas with the very latest fracking methods from hidden rock layers. Literary texts are not there to be made useful and usable, nor do they actually tolerate being dealt with with a questionnaire; on the contrary, it is actually they who question the reader, who “concern something”, i.e. literally “concern”, i.e. address, touch, touch, sometimes attack or accuse him. Literary reading is a dialogical event, the literary text is not just a tolerant object, but also a subject and, the more it comes into its own, a powerful opponent, whose effect on the individual is neither foreseeable nor available . “Anyone who enters a literary text can perish in it” (Abraham 2010, 16).

Well seen, well said, Prof. Abraham, general applause! - Now there is, however, the case that someone who demands the approval of the audience with such a sure effect, arouses the desire for contradiction precisely because of this. No, one really cannot say anything against Abraham's remarks on the upgrading of non-scriptural forms of poetic expression (2005) or the unavailability of literary works of art (2010); but maybe this is the first gateway for a slight skepticism. If nothing can be objected to what Abraham brings up, if everyone nods their heads in agreement, assuring left and right: “That had to be said once, and he said it beautifully”: then the question arises where the explosive power is actually of what he puts forward. If it doesn't hurt anyone: where is the point, the punch line, of what has been said? Yes, films are also important and valuable, no, the hegemony of German-language canonical literature can no longer be justified by anything in a migration society, yes, as a tourist you only scratch the surface of a culture that you want to get hold of, and just like that it is for those who approach literary texts with an appropriative gesture; No, interpretations are not something that one could infer from a literary text like the mineral treasure from the territory to be opened up: Who would not sign all of this? But if it is so easy to sign, then in the end the pleasant, well-deserved applause is possibly - too easily earned? Telling the audience truths that they like to hear is not a big risk; tell them truths they are don't like to hear: that is more difficult, also bolder.

2. Small cracks in archaic and other text torsos

The fact that Ulf Abraham tends to make things a little easy for himself from the height of his panoptic gaze is sometimes noticeable in certain carelessness in detail. He is referring, for example, to the famous Rilke poem about the ancient image of a god, which has only been handed down in fragments and which, even half-destroyed as a monumental work of art, gives the viewer a shudder of his majesty. Quote Abraham, for his part with a Rilke quote at the beginning: “'It doesn't help you. You have to / change your life ‘, it says in Rilkes Archaic torso of Apollo“(Abraham 2010, 16, italics OK). - Hui, what a thunderous word. But is it really called that? So, first of all, the poem quoted is not called Archaic torso of Apollo, with a-umlaut, but Archaic torso of Apollo, with an unusual colon on the i so as not to blur the vowel syllables ('archa-isch'), and with a second o at the beginning of the god's name. Well, these may be small things when it comes down to the existential clout of the work of art. But where, please, does Rilke say “It won't help you”? A look at the two three-line closing stanzas of the famous sonnet reveals the following wording (here quoted from: German poems. An anthology. Ed. Dietrich Bode. Stuttgart: Reclam 2018. S. 282f.):

Otherwise this stone would be disfigured and short
transparent fall under the shoulders
and did not shimmer like the skins of a predator;

and not break out of all its edges
like a star: because there is no place
who doesn't see you You have to change your life.

“It doesn't help you. You have to change your life"? Sure, such an Ulf Abraham once quoted his Rilke freely from memory; but a little more philological conscientiousness would look good on him too. 'It doesn't help you. You have to look up / already in the original text ‘, if you want to call out to him, you will not perish immediately in the literary text you are reading. (The same applies, by the way, to the all too freely quoted version by Nora Gomringers Original alphabet; cf. Abraham 2010, 11 and Gomringer, Nora: Say something about the night. Dresden and Leipzig: 2006, p. 9f.).

Am i small minded? Sure, and with some pleasure even. Only: If you let yourself be five in such formal-philological trifles, I no longer trust you so easily if you want to take me with you on the wings of your thought. Let us take the end of his essay, the rhetorically unquestionably captivating passage where Abraham outlines the characteristics of an “attitude” that “makes it easier to acquire and develop the ability to understand poetry (sic)” (ibid., 20). I think very much of Abraham's fundamental idea, which has been taken to extremes here, that literary texts are not objects that can be strategically opened up, categorized, usable and made available; but rather that they can have the power to influence me and to overturn all my strategies and intended uses. Abraham, one can say, is intoxicated by this thoughtful and rhetorical figure of reversal towards the end of his essay I don't do something with the text, the text does something with me; he plays this figure through in all registers, so that even as a reader of his text I am intoxicated and infatuated with what has been said and cannot help but enthusiastically agree. With a little sobering senses, however, it can happen that I look at the text page again and ask myself: Yes, well said; but - what does that actually mean for my lessons at school? What do I do, what do the schoolchildren do with it in the daily business of German lessons and German teacher training when the rhetorical feast day is over? How is it substantiated in school that the learner no longer says: "I'm sure of myself (the problem is only the text that I don't understand)", but rather: "I'm on the right track if the text tells me unsettled ”(ibid.). What lessons could precede this? And, above all: how would you go on now? How can you avoid that the demonstrative satisfaction with being on the move and being insecure, the well-behaved willingness to endure ambiguities, spoofed into a comfortable pose that does not even cost the individual much to take? And what about on the other hand, if the pupil does not want to adopt the position favored by me and Mr Abraham at all, if she simply doesn't give a damn about the risk of “breaking into the text” (ibid.), Because she (legitimately ) Expect certainties and clear messages from the school; if she doesn't big-eyed assert: “I can actually only interpret myself” (ibid.) - if only because, if she's honest, she doesn't really understand such a sentence - if she doesn't exclaim visionary: 'It's all not the literary text, which is “difficult, contradictory, enigmatic and often secretive” (ibid.); No! I am all that, I who read the text! ‘

So what remains of the beautiful thought, seen in light, that the literary work of art unsettles the reader, questions, yes: calls on him to change his whole life? Perhaps that is ultimately spoken out of the ordinary, or even mere rhetoric? Well, the thought is probably 'unworldly' in the best sense of the word; but if it is consistently thought through to the end, it turns out to be a rather uncomfortable, unpopular thought that is little suited to eliciting holiday applause.

3. What happens and how should I react when a work of art asks me to change my life?

So what can it mean that a work of art says to me: “You have to change your life” - like the torso of the ancient statue of gods in Rilke's poem? What kind of experience in dealing with art and literature does that correspond to? Did I read a book that moved me in particular, and now I'm making up my mind to become a better person? But such a moral appeal can also come from a factual text, let's say: from a report about the inhumane working conditions in a textile factory in Bangladesh, about the continued clearing of the rainforests or about inhumane conditions in refugee camps on the edge of the EU. I claim that the pragmatic text has a lot more potential to awaken me ethically and politically than the often weird, dreamy literary text. And, let's be honest, looking at a damaged ancient statue of a god, I certainly won't change my consumption or travel behavior.

Or does that mean "You have to change your life" that I start thinking about how I live and how I actually want to live instead? Should I, for example, finally look for another apartment because I've been dissatisfied with my current one for so long? Or, for similar reasons, think about changing my job, subject, outfit, or even my partner in the end? Should I, as it is called, reinvent myself once again?

I do not know. In my opinion, such an interpretation would fit a little too well into my concept: finally do what I have been asking me to do for a long time anyway. Art as a catalyst for an overdue, necessary change. Then the art reception would actually be useful in a practical, pragmatic sense. For me, however, the sentence “You have to change your life”, conceived as the message of a work of art, resonates with something completely different: the request to do something that is not expedient and sensible in a practical sense. “You have to let go of life as you understand it, you have to turn away from your pragmatic goals in life, you have to” - and, attention, now comes the hard, hard-to-digest core of the message - “you have to do something sacrificeto be worthy of me ”.

But that doesn't sound comfortable anymore. Once I have understood the message in this way, I can hardly exclaim enthusiastically: “Oh! Rilke! How true! Spoken well! ”To order the next eighth of Pinot Blanc and lose myself in the conversation again. - But what does the thought of sacrificing something to be worthy of art mean? First of all, it seems informative to me to look at some artist biographies. Not infrequently there is the moment of the painful sacrifice of bourgeois happiness in life, satisfied health, the "delights of the ordinary" (Thomas Mann), in order to be able to practice art at all. Franz Kafka, for example, as can be seen from his letters and diary entries, was downright obsessed with the fear that he would no longer be able to write as a result of a civil marriage and starting a family (he preferred to write at night, sacrificing his health and professional ability). Although Thomas Mann led a well-ordered bourgeois life, in his literary works he repeatedly addressed the renunciation of interpersonal love and security in favor of artistic creation and unquestionably regarded himself as someone who loves "insofar as it warms" (from the Doctor Faustus), sacrificed for the benefit of his life's work. Such things will probably be classified as pathological today; the question is allowed, however, whether such a, perhaps entirely unhealthy disposition is a prerequisite for the creation of great works of art - or, to put it another way: whether a possible therapy might not have deprived the works of art at the same time?

4. Sacrifice for the art and the game of the work of art with the players: Impressions of a piano quintet

Now, in a didactic context, it is not about writing great symphonies and novels, but at most about receiving them. Fortunately, one does not need to have written Beethoven's Fifth to enjoy hearing it, and the same will apply to literary works. On the other hand: for free, cognitive and emotional, these works are not available, not even as enjoyable items. So what is needed, what it costsTo be able to adequately record works of music, the visual arts and literature? And what does 'appropriate' mean here? What does it mean to 'measure' yourself to a work of art and its size? This point seems to me to be central to the question of literary understanding and literary learning. I claim that works of art and literature do not simply 'give themselves' to their viewer; not without demanding a certain amount of sacrifice from them too.

Ulf Abraham compares the reception of a literary text at one point with the performance of a musical score; in doing so he uses what I think is the happily chosen concept of Game:

Just like a score, a literary text cannot be “decoded” or “translated” into anything else, it only can played become. [...] Whether such a game takes place on an inner stage of one's own performance or on an outer stage - as a staging - is initially of secondary importance. (Abraham 2005, 19)

“Game” sounds like something that happens easily and without any preconditions. One would think that whoever plays does not work, whoever plays doesn’t really mean it.In a way, that's true; And yet a glance at the playing of a musical score shows that playing can be something that is extremely difficult to accomplish, extremely prerequisites, involves years of work and the greatest effort, and which is performed with holy earnestness. Perhaps watch and listen to the beginning of a performance of César Franck's piano quintet in F minor. Please take the time to listen to at least 6:00 a.m. without other occupations; if you do not want to spend this time, you better not look into it, otherwise you will get a crooked picture. -

And? It's not about you like the music, I want to focus your gaze on the musicians in particular. Notice what the music, the musical work, does to the instrumentalists. They 'have to change their lives', at least for the duration of the performance, the music puts its emotional and gestural stamp on them; You can see this all the more clearly when making music in a group. With Abraham's predilection for rhetorical inversion, one could say: It is not the musicians who play the music - the music plays with the musicians, they are played and shaped in what they do and express. - But of course the musicians had to 'change' their lives much earlier in order to be able to 'play' the piece at this level. For this it was necessary that they had to practice their instrument with years and decades of perseverance, and that in turn was only possible through considerable sacrifice, through habitual renunciation of other possibilities of enjoyment and experience, again and again, day after day. Not that they are hostile to pleasure, they don't make that impression; out of a desire for particularly deep, particularly refined enjoyment (which they visibly celebrate here), they have rather sacrificed the more easily accessible enjoyment options.

5. Attempt to transfer it to literary understanding and learning

What does this mean for literary learning and understanding? If I were to think in detail about the difference between music and literature, if I wanted to distinguish between composing, performing and just listening to a piece of music, and if I wanted to work out the differences between reading a literary text aloud or quietly, I would even use this text can no longer finish. I will therefore limit myself to a few, theses-like conclusions from what has been said so far.

Aspect of learning and ability. What one can learn from the ensemble musicians: That it is not infrequently that an almost endless path of self-sacrificing work has to be covered until one can adequately 'play' the score of a work of art. It does not seem inconceivable that this also applies to the reception of many literary works of art. They don't just present themselves to me as an object of pleasure, they demand something from me, maybe namely long, tireless work. If I can't get anything out of a literary work that is considered canonical, it could also be because I'm simply not ready yet. That I am not or not yet at the height of the work in terms of my receptivity, my knowledge, my experience, my linguistic sense of sound, my gift for imagination. That my lack of appreciation says little about the literary text but a lot about me. - No, this is not about compulsory skills to be acquired. Nobody has to like and appreciate texts by Kafka or Thomas Mann or, let's say, Nora Gomringer, where would we go? The You must from Rilke's poem has nothing of a prescription. Looking at the musicians, one can say: It is more like a force of nature. The Have to comes here from being carried away, not from the good obeying of a prescribed ought. And it seems more than doubtful whether the fulfillment of a competence expectation will ever be able to release the energies that are required for appropriate artistic 'play' - productively and even receptively.

Aspect of loving appreciation of the details. Notice how incredibly attentive and reverent the instrumentalists are with the piece of music, even though or precisely because they 'just play' it. Every single tone is treated by them as if it were something immeasurably precious, like a very delicate, sensitive living being of inestimable value. And in fact, the fact that the left hand slips on the violin's fingerboard by just a millimeter - or a rhythmically imprecise use - or a too coarse, loud, clumsy tone - or a lax lack of expression where we can grab together the question is: that such carelessness can spoil everything. - I would often wish a lot from this reverent, loving mindfulness for the reception of literary texts. It doesn't matter what it says there or how it is made to sound; it is also not irrelevant which horizon of interpretation opens up from the literary performance score. Can endure ambiguity, all well and good; but please not out of indifference to the text.

Aspect of the loving appreciation of certain literary texts. So it is not a matter of indifference which literary works of art are worth reading to me and which are not. If a certain text is immeasurably precious to me, then I will stand up for it and commit myself to ensuring that it continues to resonate, that it continues to be read and imaginary 'played'; so that the unusually large and deep Enjoyment potentialwhich, in my experience, he brings with him is not lost to the next generation. The generosity with which Ulf Abraham (2005) asks for an opening of the literary canon - medially, culturally, epoch-related - is a little suspect to me for this reason. Not that you get me wrong: I am in no way concerned with discursive exclusion of media such as film, series, video clip, and certainly not with Eurocentrism in questions of the literary canon. The only thing that bothers me is the carelessness of the gesture, this' Why not, children? Time does not stand still; what can it be for you? ‘, as if it doesn't really depend on which texts you are dealing with. Yes, it depends! If I have no idea of ​​the value of a work of art, specifically this particular work of art in its individuality, how should I, at school, for example, convey appreciation for literary texts as a whole?

6. Conclusion: doorkeeper strictness vs. childish impartialityt

There are truths that people like to hear and those that are not so happy to be heard, it was said relatively at the beginning of these reflections. I am unable to judge whether what has been said last is truth because of bias; I can certainly imagine that some of it has no prospect of particular popularity. It is not intended to be popular, but rather apparently elitist and exclusive in terms of the possibility of 'appropriate' experiences with art. To hang things so high, to ascribe a nimbus of the almost inaccessible to the works of art, has something of the gesture of the doorkeeper from Kafka's famous parable In lawwho exaggerates the difficulties of accessing 'the law' to the limit, while the country man, rightly so it seems, is of the opinion that “the law should be accessible to everyone and always”. However, both should equally characterize the access to works of art and literature: the feeling that the way there is immeasurably long and that a deep enjoyment of art is unheard of prerequisites; and at the same time the carefree confidence that it is still possible to 'get in' anywhere and at any level, that everyone is entitled and possible to experience art, regardless of their educational level and under whatever conditions. I would feel very misunderstood if the essence of reading this text remained the following thought: “So art and literature are only for the select few of a (conservative) educated elite” or: “So I don't even need to start with a heterogeneous student body Age-appropriate and contemporary texts and media, if allegedly Thomas Mann is the ultimate, where I can of course never go under the given conditions, nor perhaps (based on my personal preference) would like to go ”. Those would be very legitimate objections - if I had meant it. To start from an infinitely busy path and still start where you are is not mutually exclusive, on the contrary. The invitation to the artistic game is very low-threshold; the 'exclusive', even 'elitist' claim comes from dealing with the thing that develops its own pull. Working on a literary work with dedication and sacrifice - e.g. for a school theater performance - can be one of the most fulfilling moments of everyday school life for everyone involved. There are moments in which the Rilke‘sche You must becomes tangible: As soon as the spark leaps over ("and would not break out of all its edges like a star"), an imperative becomes audible, which can certainly also demand the acquisition of 'competencies'. Abraham's conclusion, “Even the attempt counts” would be to put the sentence aside: “And then the work begins. And it's worth it. "


Abraham, Ulf (2005): “Reading competence, literary competence, poetic competence. Didactic tasks in a media culture ". In: Rösch, Heidi (ed.): Skills in German lessons. Contributions to literature, language and media didactics. Frankfurt a.M. pp. 13-26

Ders. (2010): “P / poetisches V / understand. To incorporate an anthropological experience in the competence-oriented German lessons ”. In: Winkler, Iris; Masanek, Nicole; ders. (ed.): Poetic understanding. Literature didactic positions - empirical research - projects from German lessons. Baltmannsweiler. Pp. 9-22


Satyr play: Abraham (2010), for the first time in a stage version

P / poetic V / provided

From a school life. At the same time primal scene to a didactic inspiration

Study room. Crouching over his desk, his head buried in his hands, his elbows on the table top, is a young man of about eighteen. In front of him, unopened, lies a small yellow Reclam ribbon: Kafkas transformation.

STUDENT: It's maddening. Tomorrow I'll be writing the German exam, the topic is this Kafka text, and I can't think of anything, absolutely nothing. "The metamorphosis", great! So, this text is so difficult, contradicting, puzzling and - how did the teacher say? - "often kept secret" that I can give up tomorrow. Don't write anything down, hand it in immediately.


STUDENT (startled, looks around uncertainly): Did someone say something? Is there anybody?

THE LITERARY TEXT (self-confident, apollonian): I said something. I, the literary text.

STUDENT: Well, I was just missing that! The literary text speaks to me! I say ‘yes, it's maddening.


STUDENT: What do you always mean by your "Pah"?

THE LITERARY TEXT: I heard exactly what you said. Remember one (meaningful): I am not difficult, contradicting, enigmatic and often secretive.

STUDENT: Oh, no? (with relish mockery) So, listen, my dear Kafka text, if there is one difficult, contradictory, enigmatic and often secretive here, then it is definitely you!

THE LITERARY TEXT (offended, obdurate): Himself.

STUDENT: Please?

THE LITERARY TEXT (defiantly pushing out every word): Difficult yourself! Contradictory yourself! Mysterious and often secretive!

SCHÜLER: Well, that's enough, I won't let you tell me that.

THE LITERARY TEXT: But you should. You should be ready to let a literary text tell you something. That is the prerequisite for acquiring and developing the ability to understand poetically.

STUDENT: Listen, it's late and I'm taking an exam tomorrow. I learned what there was to be learned. (Wandering in thought, for yourself) I should only look again at the analysis tools for text indexing.

THE LITERARY TEXT (hissing): Colonialist!

STUDENT: What did you say?


STUDENT: Please, I can't use your critique of principle now. That's how I've always learned for German exams.

THE LITERARY TEXT (declaiming): “It doesn't help you. You have to change your life."

STUDENT: Who said that?


STUDENT: Are you sure?

THE LITERARY TEXT: Don't know. You would have to look. What do you want, I'm a Kafka text.

STUDENT: My dear Kafka text, do me one favor and hold the lid. How am I supposed to do my class tomorrow with such a confused head?

THE LITERARY TEXT: But you know: only the attempt counts.

The student gets up and leaves the room exasperated. What remains is the literary text.

Author Johannes OdendahlPosted on Categories DiscussionTags Literary canon, Literary learningLeave a comment on "You must change your life"?