Monika Maron’s new publication "Artur Lanz" is about the hero. In our post-heroic times, the hero has long since disappeared.
Excerpt from "The Mystery of King Arthur" manuscript Photo: imago stock&people
Where are the heroes? Where are the real men? A topic could hardly be bigger; great writer Monika Maron devotes herself to it in her new novel, "Artur Lanz." Charlotte Winter, author by trade, tells of the novel’s namesake in the matter-of-fact, direct (vulgo: masculine?) tone so characteristic of Maron’s books.
Charlotte Winter hopes to get a story from Artur, whom she meets by chance during a shopping trip. Artur turns out to be a hero. He "rescues" his dog from a rapeseed field. The insignificant event becomes an awakening for the tender Arthur, for whom his mother had put together two heroic figures in his name – Arthur and Lancelot. Suddenly he knows what he has always longed for: heroic courage.
Do heroes still exist? Or, in other words, why do we think we can do without them? Charlotte Winter asks herself this question, even in the company of her intellectual friends. The talk quickly turns to the so-called post-heroic society. Because the author has read her Brecht, she has Ulrike, who is attending the table conversation, quietly recite the well-known words of Brecht’s Galileo: "Unhappy is the country that needs heroes. This, of course, Charlotte brushes off without further ado: "To respond to the women’s defeatist remarks was pointless. At least the men asked." Okay.
Now, a reflection on the question of whether we actually live in a post-heroic society that has given up its need for heroes along with the heroes, on top of that from the hand of an excellent author, seems more than worth reading. However, the execution is not convincing.
Chivalry is not heroism
Monika Maron: "Artur Lanz". Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt a. M. 2020, 224 pages, 24 euros.
This is already due to the fact that of all the heroes, Arthur and Lancelot are chosen as prototypical. The ambivalence of the heroic figure could have been played out more meaningfully in a Siegfried or a Hagen. Lancelot embodies the chivalric ideal, the high courtly love, whereby these are highly stylized forms of medieval courtly love, which came to us through the mediation of courtly literature.
As such, it provides examples of forms of chivalry worthy of consideration, but they must by no means be placed in the same category as the concept of the hero. Lancelot, Arthur, Gawein are chivalrous, not heroic. They are heroes to the same extent that Artur Lanz and Charlotte Winter are heroes of a story, protagonists that is.
Of course, the hero can be seen as a purely mythical figure in fictional material; but the hero who sacrifices himself and others through resistance and devotion seems more exciting. Who among us would be willing to sacrifice his life for a (hopefully) good cause? Sacrifice not only carries the trait of heroism, it also has a quasi-religious moment that Charlotte completely undercuts. The text illuminates all aspects of heroism, but not its Christian impregnation, which overlays the mythic quality of the hero of the ancient Greeks.
Likewise, the novel forgets that the longing for heroes is felt today wherever the hero changes gender and enthusiastic crowds praise modern heroines – shaved bald, with straightened black hair or braids – for their willingness to fight. Alone, Charlotte may find heroism only in men.
The hero is the exception
Here, by the way, arises a contradiction in terms: namely, it is not logical to superimpose the heroic theme with the decline of the man. The hero was and is the exceptional event, not prototypical, neither for men nor for women.
The narrator is now obviously concerned with attributing the rejection of the hero, the decline of man, the fall of the Occident and the drift into ecodictatorship to the one, true culprit: the women of the effeminate, feminized republic.
Charlotte is a prime example of what depth psychologist Alfred Adler sought to describe with the concept of "male protest": the result of internalized misogyny. Femininity is associated with a lack of intelligence and prowess. A woman, as part of the male protest, will develop supposedly masculine qualities in herself, rejecting everything supposedly feminine.
Charlotte, who nevertheless feels great sympathy for Artur, pours out barely concealed contempt on the poor man who actually wants to learn the Israeli self-defense system Krav Maga so that he can henceforth perform heroic deeds. Artur Lanz serves the novel as the emblem of the circumcised man, mutilated by feminism, who is neither strong nor capable.
Facebook theses transferred into character speech
The word "woman" spat into the book’s pages with the booze-soaked contempt of a Charles Bukowski
A major misfortune of this novel is that a series of theses about the "gender craze," such as one can read in countless articles, Facebook posts, and other verbatim contributions on a daily basis, are cast in literary form, translated into character speech. It falls to the men, except for Artur, to support Charlotte’s positions. Even the tomboyish women, like friend Lady, who is not at all ladylike, contradict Charlotte only in minor ways.
The other women, however, come off completely badly, being portrayed as either overaffected or hysterical. All of them, Charlotte leaves no doubt, are not half as smart as the men they criticize. Nasty "women" would dare to insult "the smartest and most intelligent men.
Several times the narrator uses the word "woman," each time spat into the book’s pages with the booze-soaked contempt of a Charles Bukowski. By the way, this condemnation of women, culminating in a single word, is not infrequently heard in real life from the mouths of Eastern women of the 50+ generation. Sociologically quite exciting.
At this point, the reviewer, read as an exculpation, has to insert a biographical note: In her tender womanhood, she experienced a true literary awakening through a Monika Maron book, namely through her melancholy and beautiful "Animal triste". So it is all the more painful to have to certify that "Artur Lanz" is a failure.
The novel is unsuccessful because it misses its subject.
The novel is unsuccessful not because its narrator Charlotte Winter is thoroughly unsympathetic, even condescending – it works for Bukowski, too – or because poor Artur Lanz must serve as a decal of supposedly lost masculinity, but because the text is unable to play out the hero topos in all its given ambivalence.
Because there is no intelligent and eloquent figure capable of deconstructing the heroic, no space opens up for the reader beyond the one-sided positioning of Charlotte, who does not shirk from comparing the threat to freedom under the Nazi regime with the situation of her contemporaries.
Only very rarely, far from politics, does she become truly sympathetic: "I hated joggers. For me, they were the symbol of the uncommunicative, antisocial, inconsiderate, self-restrained and self-optimizing future man …"
In the novel, the reflection on heroism culminates in that point at which Artur must prove himself a true hero who stands up for freedom of expression. A physicist colleague of Artur’s had described the transformation of the energy supply in Germany as a path "into the Fourth Reich, into the Green Empire."
The freedom of dissent
Not surprisingly, the statement attributed to Voltaire, quoted to death here, about the freedom of the dissenter, for which, in case of doubt, life would have to be given. One could think that Artur must fear for his head.
The antagonist is the young Franziska Schwarz, who must serve the novel as a prototypical feminist denunciation trained in postcolonial thought, and, yes, witch. Interesting: she is not even allowed to speak herself, only rendered in the voices of others. The novel still leaves Artur at the end of his hero’s journey as unmanly and feminized. Tragic hero. Poor Artur deserved better!