Why are the late 20s very depressing
It was not until the end of the 1970s that the first new editions were published in France and found enthusiastic readers. One of them was Peter Handke, who was then living in Paris. The "incredible quality of this writer", as he said, struck him immediately: "I was almost obsessed with it, which is also a danger".
And a chance. Because Handke wanted to share and communicate his obsession and translated three books by Emmanuel Bove into German. We now have a good number of his books, scattered across half a dozen publishers, but at least. The Frenchman, who died young, has long ceased to be an insider's tip, and for a hard core of "Boviens" is even a cult author. And, of course, literary studies pressed this unhoped-for rough diamond between its whetstones, produced all kinds of doctoral theses and did not forget the history of its reception. Bove was overlooked, so the tenor of the research, because he did not allow himself to be integrated into any ideological camp, because he was too little political in a politicized time, because he was too solitary and perhaps too depressing. Meanwhile, new treasures from the estate are always waiting to be extracted and transferred. One of his most important works, the novel "La Coalition" from 1927, the very one for which he received the Prix Figuière, has now been published in German under the title "Die Verbündeten". In the text it says:
"When Madame Louise Aftalion arrived in Paris accompanied by her son Nicolas, she immediately had her drive to her sister Thérèse, whom she had lost sight of for more than fifteen years."
As if it were a piece by Balzac, the novel begins and, in the next sentence, already touches upon the subject that will dominate him on every page: money.
"Together with her husband, the sister lived in a six-room apartment in the immediate vicinity of the Ecole militaire on the fifth floor of an old tenement house, which the owner had furnished with modern comforts as soon as apartments became vacant, for the pleasure of renovating as well as for profit Way to double the rents. "
The tenants, Madame Aftalion's relatives, are no less profitable than their landlord. In any case, they do not want to give anything away from what they have, not even within the family. Louise Aftalion had just lost her husband, an unlucky soldier of fortune, and was planning to stay with her sister and brother-in-law for a while. She also hoped for some start-up help for her son, such as finding a job. But nothing comes of it; the stingy relatives tolerate their guests for a while in a cold, impolite manner and then downright disgust them out of their apartment. What now? The only capital that mother and son have at their disposal is 20,000 francs. But it is not about capital in the capitalist sense, that is, money that is supposed to work, that is invested in order to increase it. For Madame Aftalion and her son, money is only there to be spent. Whatever they do - which is why they soon won't get much of it. However, this does not affect their relationship to money in any way:
"Even though there wasn't much left of the twenty thousand francs they had brought with them from Nice, they couldn't manage to limit themselves. No matter how much they swore that they wouldn't spend a centime pointless the next day - it always overwhelmed them. At least it came For a whole day they didn't buy a newspaper, drank wine, went into a café or took a bus, and in the evening they worked out what they had saved that way, but as if this restraint had increased their wishes tenfold, they went the very next day, gripped by a desire to get the money out of the window, for lunch in a posh restaurant, then later in a variety theater or a cinema on the boulevards, after the performance, when after several carefree hours she is back again found on the street, their misery seemed so great that they dared not go back to their dreary apartment in the rue Eugène-Manuel and join them the consoling sentence: 'This will not make our situation worse either' at a table in the Café de la Paix, which they treasured, after which they went to a loud and cheerful restaurant to have dinner there. They spent the rest of the evening in a theater of some kind until they finally arrived home at midnight, exhausted, tired and disgusted with themselves. So they decided in all seriousness to change their lives. As if to punish themselves, in the morning they did not touch the butter that was in the cupboard, protected from flies. But Madame Aftalion soon became weak again. She was defenseless at the mercy of the need to buy goods, and it seized her all over again. When she went out, she stopped in front of all the shops, went in to inquire about prices, took a taxi to go a few hundred meters. She was then a different woman. She forgot her position, thought of nothing any more. In order to prolong the shopping pleasure, she dwelled on some cheap nonsense before making her choice. Nothing was more pleasant to her than being surrounded by shop assistants. Like a player, she no longer had herself under control in those moments. "
Emmanuel Bove provides here, in the late twenties, an analysis of the pathological compulsion to consume, one of the widespread diseases of civilization today. It describes precisely and without any glossing over the addictive nature of spending money - as well as the intoxicating, even personality-changing power that lies in it: She was then a different woman.
But it is not just because she is spending it that Madame Aftalion cannot handle money. She didn't understand how money works. For them it is a fetish, a magic drug that protects them from contact with the wretched reality. It is completely alien to her that you can also earn money. The only source of income that she knows, that she is willing and able to practice, is petitions to rich relatives or friends. Nicolas, her son, is not feeling any better. Once, once, he worked in a factory in the suburb of Billancourt, but gave up after just two weeks. Superficially because he is not physically up to the job; but he does not care about another either. He prefers to pump distant relatives, hotel owners and pub acquaintances. Although he hates these pleadings and feels the humiliating and embarrassing of the process very intensely at the beginning, it is inevitably connected with the promise to repay the borrowed amount soon, a promise that, as he knows very well, he will not be able to keep. But over time and with increasing lack of money he gets used to begging and lying: - "All dignity had fallen away from him. He only had one goal: to demand more and more money to get everything the old man had with him would have."
As with his mother, for Nicolas, money is something you have to spend. It presents the exact counterpart to the (not only) Swabian creator mentality, for which there is already so much satisfaction in making money that there are no reserves left for the use of what has been acquired. Nicolas, on the other hand, lives according to the motto of the composer Richard Wagner: "The world owes me what I need."
And what he needs bears no relation to his possibilities. On the contrary: the further away he is from prosperity, the more brilliantly he fantasizes about a luxury existence:
"So he walked in front of him and imagined the most beautiful situations and happiest moments, saw himself carefully dressed, living in large hotels, strolling freely and traveling around the world. The comforts of wealth passed his eyes: car, Apartment, furniture, domestics. All of this seemed so simple to him and his mother that both of them often said: "There are people who can't do anything with their money. Let them give it to us! We'll spend it quickly and sensibly." Or also: 'We are made to be rich!' Nicolas had an insatiable need for goods. Getting rich was his only goal. It pursued him with such persistence that he often assumed he had already achieved it and lived for hours imagining he was a billionaire. "
Instead, his condition is getting closer and closer to neglect, he becomes more and more similar to the clochard he observed one day on a park bench.- In this novel, Emmanuel Bove provides a great interior view of the central obsession of modern society, in which class boundaries have become porous that give the individual the chance of social advancement, but can also let him plunge into the abyss. Honoré de Balzac was the unsurpassed chronicler of this social change and of the fury of enrichment that especially hit the young people of that time. With his climbers and upstarts, with his Rastignacs and Rubemprés, he shows how to do it, designs breathtaking financial castles in the air, but also calculates every transaction to the penny, franc and centime. Emmanuel Bove only gives vague sums of money, and there is nothing exciting about the economic decline of his heroes, it is just predictable and devastating. Any successful scrounging only delays final decline. In Nicolas there is not a tiny bit more of the vital energy that filled Balzac's heroes to the bursting point and also gave their fall, when they fell, size and style.
But Emmanuel Bove would not be the important author he is if he only demonstrated the failure of two unworldly, spoiled and uninspired figures, in vulgar Marxist terms: two representatives of a superfluous and incapable of living class, two dispossessed who act like owners. Then he would stay on the level of consciousness of his characters, who are seriously convinced that if they only had money, everything would be different.
Now, on the first pages of this novel, Bove presents us with a character who has money, and indeed in excess. It is old Perrier, the father of Madame Aftalion and Nicolas' grandfather. He runs a rubber goods factory and does brilliant business with swivel heels. But commercial success has not increased his zest for life to the same extent, on the contrary:
"He constantly feared that sales of these heels would stall, and the thought that his possessions, the trousseau of his daughters, the happiness of his family depended on a taste in fashion, made him sick. He constantly believed he saw signs of waning interest in his customers . "
In the evenings he locks himself in his office and tries to empathize with his customers' motivations. Why do they buy his heels? he racked his brains. How long will you wear them? When will the fashion change? The doubt about business success - which, by the way, continues unabated - becomes the conviction of necessary failure. And this contrast between being and mine leads to even greater confusion. Perrier feels like a liar and a deceiver who is dragging his family into the abyss.
"It became unbearable for him to see his own people showing off their luck. He constantly had the feeling that he was deceiving them, leading them by the nose and causing them a misfortune in the near future. Because of the remorse that resulted from this, he was soon able to see them When he got home he was not allowed to run into any domestic workers. Because if he saw one of them, he also imagined that the day was near when he could no longer pay his salary. "
When one of his foremen suggested one day that he set up a works auxiliary fund, he initially gave an evasive answer:
"But the proposal haunted him for a week. 'A couple of years contributions, a couple of years... Of course ... they want to kid me. Everyone knows I'll go bankrupt.' So he suffered because he felt he was betraying his workers, hiding the truth from them and lulling them into hope, and had the right to watch them organize, improve their lives, while he, hers Boss, but knew perfectly well that everything was going to collapse? He never left the fear of disappointing his workers and of being denied by his friends, who would not forgive him for messing with them Acquaintances out of the way. Why should he have relationships with them when he would lose them one day and wasn't worthy of them? "
Perrier, the capitalist, is unhappy, not although, but because he has no money. He's the perfect flip side of Nicolas, his grandson, the have-nothing who is unhappy because he doesn't have one. Bove underlines this correspondence by letting them both end by suicide: the grandfather rushes out of the window, the grandson goes into the Seine.
But what does the medal itself mean, to which these figures form the two downsides? It is the delusional potential that lies in money itself and infects those who touch it, so that they go mad with the desire to get it - or with fear of losing it. The figure of the grandfather, who disappeared from the book so quickly that the reader in a hurry threatens to forget him - but Emmanuel Bove would not want readers in a hurry - this figure is parabolic in power. It is reminiscent of a famous story by Franz Kafka: "The building". In it, an unspecified animal builds a cave that is supposed to protect it from its enemies, more precisely: an enormously branched cave system with barriers and traps, meanders and confusion. Every attacker, of this it is certain, must fail because of this perfect protective device. However, the building has a weak point: the entrance. And because the animal can't stand the thought of sitting in its invincible shelter while an enemy is busy at the entrance, it leaves the cave and observes the entrance from the outside - so naturally exposed to all attacks. The same logic that drives out the need for absolute protection, for perfect surveillance, its opposite, namely voluntary exposure, this logic leads the old Perrier to the conviction that in the middle of the boom bankruptcy is just around the corner. So if Nicolas thinks
"Only money can save me. If I were rich, I would be a different person",
then Emmanuel Bove denied it many pages beforehand. Incidentally, the author knows the table of misery he is drafting here from his own oath. In the early twenties, when he was struggling to keep himself above water in Paris through journalistic and literary production, his mother, widow of a failed adventurer as in the novel, and his younger brother constantly attacked him for money and showered him with accusations when its spring didn't bubble hard enough. The unequal couple hung like a millstone around the neck of Emmanuel, who himself tried with all his might to escape misery and at the same time used him as a scapegoat for his own ineptitude. He tried to process the feelings of guilt that arose with him with this novel.
"The Allies" is of course more than autobiographical therapy, more than one of the misery novels that Moloch Paris produced in so many ways, more than a brilliant literary analysis of the delusional structures of the money economy. It is also the merciless portrait of a society in which all human conditions are determined by money - and thus destroyed. Nicolas and his mother talk almost exclusively about who can still be pumped, and they should approach the next request. Outside the hotel room there are only believers, real or potential, for the "allies". Behind every harmless conversation at the counter, the larger than life question arises: "Can I approach him for money?" and crushes every other thought. All conversations at Emmanuel Bove take place in front of such a backstage - or they are empty, completely pointless communication, no more than the silence itself:
"Léon Seelig was a man of fifty. He distrusted every little emotion. When someone spoke to him, his main intention was to rip him off. The thought often crossed his mind: 'Even if I promise him money "He'll ask for double. And even if I give him double, he'll try to take double from double." When it came to finding a selfish motive behind every action, nobody was more adept than him.A father told him that he idolized his child and he just laughed maliciously: 'You are probably thinking of your old days, aren't you?' "
The opening scene of the book, the frosty reception of the Aftalions with their relatives, was gnawed by this spirit of mistrust, obsessed with the fear of being taken advantage of and therefore determined by the goal of harming the other. Any exchange at Emmanuel Bove is governed by this mechanism. Louise Aftalion and her son Nicolas, however, have nothing to give, nothing to take. They have nothing to fear from one another and nothing to hope for. So they have nothing to say to each other either. The conversations of the "allies" - what bitter irony this title is attached to, should have become clear by now - move in circles;
"Next time you go borrow something. Then you'll see how it is. ' - 'Why me and not you?' - 'I tell you, you will see how it is.' - "But I know how it is. I don't have to see it first." - 'You forgot. That will refresh your memory. "
Or at another point picked out at will: I'll do everything I can and you just wait and see. You are to blame for everything. ' - 'I am not to blame for anything.' 'If I dare you that you are to blame for everything.' - 'And I tell you, I am not to blame for anything.
'Do you want to provoke me? I do it like you do. I don't lift a finger anymore. Then we'll see what comes of it. "- If these dialogues are similar to the no-no-no-no-quarrels of small children, they lose weight again towards the end of the book:
"What do you have, Nicolas? ' - 'Nothing.' - "Lie down again. It's still too early to get up." - 'I am not tired anymore.' - 'Have you slept?' - 'I just got home.' - 'Did you find something?' - 'Nothing.' "
And so it could go on forever. While the stiff breeze of profitable business blows around mother and son, their ship of life bobs in a doldrums, leaky and unable to maneuver, and turns senselessly in circles. This situation also shapes the structure of the story-poor novel: the allies alternately leave the increasingly shabby hotel rooms, return again, exchange trifles, go to sleep with the eternal saying: "Tomorrow we will find money".
But tomorrow will be as it was today and yesterday, and if Nicolas hadn't gone into the Seine, he was still begging today. - In another novel entitled "The Man Who Knew", which Bove wrote in his hiding place in 1942 and which has now also appeared in German for the first time, the author radicalized the constellation again. Again the focus is on a dependent, supportive and hurtful, loving and hating couple. Minor characters, generally the outside world, and any motivation have almost completely disappeared. The structure has remained: one apartment that you leave and return to, the other you cannot live without and with, conversations in which nothing is expressed except the fact that you are talking to each other. These conversations look confusingly similar to the dialogues in Samuel Beckett's plays. And with that, after Kafka, the name of another column saint of 20th century literature was mentioned. Kafka and Beckett: these names are no mistake. Because if you were to gather the greats of literary modernity at an imaginary summit: Emmanuel Bove, even if not long ago nobody even knew his name, Emmanuel Bove was one of them.
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