Saturday, May 26, 2012

There is something about German scholars that people find intriguing. I think it has to do with the big words, strung together little words to make something whole. People always say it sounds angry, but I always think that the only thing these people must have heard in German are speeches by Hitler, which certainly are not at all representative of the German consciousness at present, but yet it persists, this fascination with people who study German. In White Noise, the main character has created a Hitler studies program and it seems as if there must be some reason that it's wrong, make him anti-semitic or racist, but instead he just trips over words, cannot speak German. I thought of this because I am reading a short story by David Foster Wallace, Say Never and one of the characters has written a book on Germany before Hitler, the Weimar republic and I have to wonder if the Weimar republic is equally as interesting on it's own or especially interesting because it preceded Hitler. But I don't think most people study German because of this fascination with Hitler or WWII or anything like that. It's just something that happens on the tongue, alluring in it's own way. Like the character in White Noise, I struggle to speak German. In my head, the sentences flow effortlessly. Often I think things in German, translating instantaneously, which one would think was a sign of fluency, but I am nowhere near fluent or even adequate. This brings up the question, how does anyone decide to study anything? Is deciding to study German like deciding to study American history? At least with language that are certain sounds associated with it to draw one in, but in telling someone you study Spanish, no one will utter garbled noises and pretend they have a grasp of the words. This has happened to me several times with German and I always laugh, but it's not very funny, not really. I would not like my own voice to be made fun of in such a way, though the longer I stay in Minnesota the more my voice reflects it. In one of my favorite German films, Gegen die Wand, a Turkish-German man says, "I know all the German I need; ein Bier, bitte." Indeed this was my own approach when living in Austria, but still it seems inescapable, like I was drawn to it, the way the characters in these stories are.

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