I first encountered Jürg Halter when he was participating in the Bachmann Prize in Klagenfurt a couple of years ago (if you don‘t know, this is an annual festival for German-language literature) and for me, he was the top candidate to win the prize that year. Unfortunately he didn’t, but regardless of that, I started following his work and was thrilled when I heard that he published his first novel in prose (so far, he has already published a couple of poems, but since I am a sucker for prose, I skipped them).
The fact that Halter is primarily a poet and not a prose writer is apparent from the very beginning. He crams way too much into each and every sentence - moral, metaphors, various information, satire, cynicism, social critisism, allegories, allusions, despair, fear of the future, nostalgia, and sometimes even more. Combined with the already quite poetic and ornamented language, it quickly becomes too much to process and you either get exhausted after a couple of pages and are forced to take a break or your mind shuts itself off and you stop thinking along. I presume that Halter (like many contemporary writers) is very much aware of the linguistic traits he intends to use and due to a poets natural love for language, he was trying to make each and every sentence stand out and seem extra special. This results in some neat writing, but at the same time, each sentence and each sequence constantly try to overpower each other and you as a reader are left somewhat overwhelmed and partially clueless about what to do with this text.
Besides being quite critical of society, this novel is also very cynical. It is filled with exactly the kind of everything-is-shit-and-the-whole-world-is-going-down-no-matter-what cynicism which we have way too much of nowadays. While I can’t argue, that the protagonist isn’t right or justified in his cynicism, he clearly takes the easy way out since it is easy to complain about everything and everyone, without trying to provide any solutions or suggestions. Cynicism can be fun in moderation, but in this case, it was not helping.
In the end, Erwachen im 21. Jahrhundert is a postmodern (kind of pessimistic) analysis of our contemporary Central European society that is written from the perspective of a societal dropout and given the form of fleeting images, self-reflection and dialogues (even old school letters) between partners who talk but who cannot (or do not want to) communicate with each other. It is also an effigy of modern (digital) communication structures, which are dominated by the constant switching between more or less coherent metaphors, images, topics, opinions and views up to the point where nobody can grasp the big picture any more, because too much is happening way too fast.
I guess, what I am trying to say here is, that this novel needs getting used to and although it is partially really dissatisfactory and it brings you down, it is well written and therefore in a weird way still somewhat fascinating.