A narrow book, only a handful, no more than ten essays - but reading Eliot Weinberger's political observations is likely to generate bewilderment. The essays now appear in the book Recently in AmericaThey are gathered here in German for the first time and cover the years of the presidency of George W. Bush and the previous Trump era. In five chapters of each, Weinberger uses a kind of magnifying glass to drive across the political landscape of his home country, the United States. Over a period of twenty years, he focuses on a newspaper note here and a speech there. A party meeting, statistics. A tweet pops up, another one. Or a photo. And all of these impressions, packed together like hundreds of pieces of the puzzle, create a tableau of horror.
One sees a country that is sinking into corruption under the grip of shameless greedy politicians. The institutions are captured by minions. Many citizens go down in poverty, and now there's Covid-19. 3,445,500 million infected (as of July 15), a daily plus of the last 60,000. To date, approximately 136,000 people in the United States have died from the effects of the viral disease. The country can be seen in Weinberger's texts as a failed state , which can neither protect the security of its citizens, nor their welfare or the rule of law. If you want to reproach this book, it would be that it does not serve our desire for hope or only shows occasional dabs of a sovereign ironic narrative that, at least in these bad times, we have an ingenious, educated author at our side who represents brilliant, intellectual America.
Texts that can also appear as a sound event
Eliot Weinberger, born in New York City in 1949, is the poetic ethnologist among his country's writers. His literary process is typically the assembly of impressions that he collects in the cultures of other countries, in poems of ancient China or myths of South America, and presents us with the gesture of the archaeologist who invites us to participate in the happiness of these finds. Weinberger's elegant feature pages beyond politics are about bird cries or bizarre Aztec rituals; you can find short biographies of people named Chang, who melodically line up like a polyphonic fugue. Weinberger has a large fan base here in Germany thanks to the Berenberg publishing house, which has already put together a five-volume Weinberger collection. They are texts that can also appear as a sound event because they are wonderfully suitable for recitation, with their very own sound of world culture. And now: political prose. About America.
Some of these texts are known from Lettre International or from the London Review of Books , which Weinberger has given a column place. His procedure here is similar to the poetic feature pages, he gathers informational finds from newspapers, television, speeches, but the effect is very different. The sequence of these text fragments keeps the style of the essays in a sharp staccato, which for the present volume is brilliantly translated by Beatrice Faßbender, Eike Schönfeld and Peter Torberg. The tone is subdued, sometimes almost dull, which surprisingly gives the political content a wide scope to develop, because the immediate impact of the impression is not mitigated by any comment and does not distract from an explanation. There is nothing here but the rough, the bad reality, and it is pounding down on us with harshness. Instead of generating amazement, as his feuilletons do, these Weinberger texts create horrors and promote some nasty insights.
It is now understood that our lustful focus on Donald Trump's bizarre statements and actions may serve one thing above all: We can hide how the political decline of the United States has long been looming, for example in the Bush years, and now, in the Trump era, spookily accelerated. Not just Trump, Bush already gave the rich bad boy, who stood out due to lack of interest, uncultivatedness and political stupidity. George W. Bush's entry into the White House was what Weinberger calls a "corrupt seizure of power". Now what is tantamount to erosion of the democratic constitutional state, on the foundation of which the myth of the United States of America is based.
Democratic candidate Al Gore had received half a million more votes in the 2000 presidential election than Bush, the election winner; just as in 2016, loser Hillary Clinton had almost three million votes more than her opponent Trump. Only not in the US states that are decisive for Electoral College. Both, like Trump and Trump, Weinberger explains, are virtuoso in particular, instead of making politics for the citizens of their country, to use a military-industrial, Christian-fundamentalist complex that is part of a new power structure that is in has ramified and largely consolidated over the past twenty years.
At the crossroads of the political fabric sat and sit people who are not only unqualified, but act like caricatures of responsible politicians. There are the strongest chapters in which Weinberger goes through the political staff one blow at a time, for example: The Republicans: a prose poem (from the Bush era) or who they could have taken ... (instead of Trump). Appearance of people like Bush's former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who anointed himself a senator with cooking oil in the style of biblical kings, and whose goal was to avenge the defeat of the southern states in the American Civil War, a motive that is being revived today by the new one Right.
A minister of education who describes the federal association of teachers as a "terrorist organization". A senator who approves the use of a fighting dog to torture an Iraqi prisoner ("unless he eats him up"). One who believes that insanity is caused by demons. The pandemic control officer in the Ministry of Health is known as the breeder of Labradoodle. Et cetera (and only in the last example did you arrive in the Trump era). One understands how it comes about that entire authorities work against their mandate. The Authority for the Protection of the Environment withdraws the laws for the protection of the environment. The environmental protection agency is deleting the list of endangered species, the changes concern polar bears, beluga whales, whooping cranes. A protected wilderness of 5,300 square kilometers is being reduced to 780 square kilometers in favor of land clearance.