Rainald Goetz: „Subito.” attheIngeborg Bachmann Preis, September 1983. Layers of Provocation and Postmodernism.

Andrea Bodnárová Studie 2015

Rainald Goetz was born in Munich in 1954. He studied History, theatre, and medicine in Munich and Paris. His first notable literary involvement began in 1976, when he started writing for the “SüddeutscheZeitung”. While mostly reviewing books for children and youth, he later published three-part article series titled “AusdemTagenbucheinesMedizinstudenten” in 1977. During this period, he also earned a PhD in History with a dissertation on ancient history. 1978 marks his first involvement with the literary magazine Kursbuch, where he published “Der MachtseinenWeg, Priviligen, Anpassung”, commenting on his studies and feelings of social isolation.This text also conceptualizes and criticizes the conformity between the Schmidt government, the terrorists from the Red Army Faction and the leftover 68ers and can be considered the first representation of his opinion and ideology in this matter. In 1981, he was brought to Berlin, where he published a review of BothoStrauß’s novel Paare, Passantenin the magazine Der Spiegel. He also contributed to various other magazines, such as TransAtlantik, Merkurand the musical magazine Spex.

Goetz’s constant moving between Berlin, Paris and Munich mirrors his constant shifting between Medical studies to History and Literature and apparent indecisiveness and uprootedness, while recognizing his privileged position as a student and an author. His frustration is also expressed while recounting his studying experience in “Der MachtseinenWeg”, he criticized his colleagues “vordempsychologischenInstitut: ihrIdioten, habtihreineAhnung was ichwirklichmache?”[1] Nevertheless, he earned a doctorate in Medicine in 1982 with a thesis topic on adolescent psychiatry.

While focusing on short publicist texts at first, Goetz soon shifted to fiction with his first novel Irre in 1983. His writing style mixes neo-expressionism with social critique and social realism while also drawing inspiration from the aesthetics of the expressionist, poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke (as suggested by Cyrus Shanan in Punk rock and Germancrisis : adaptation and resistanceafter 1977). Goetz is connected with leftist ideology and youth and his topics reflect the atmosphere of DeutscherHerbst, the identity conflicts, insanity, pop culture and current events. He provokes by juxtaposing high art and literature with the pop. Goetz does not cling to the past; he is trying to find the new direction.

Goetz’s performance took place at the Ingeborg Bachmann Preis event in 1983, which is a three-day televised reading conference filled with some of the most important literary critics. The Ingeborg Bachmann Preis was donated by the city of Klagenfurt in 1976, which was in honor of commemorating Ingeborg Bachmann. Bachmann’s career as an author as a poet was tied with the literary cycle known as Gruppe 47, whose members also included Heinrich Böll and Günter Grass. The prize is considered one of the most important literary awards in Germany with a total of 56,500 in prize money. In this context, Klagenfurt became an ideal setting for a type of postmodern performance. The fact that the whole conference is televised enabled Goetz to fulfill his plan to maximum while maintaining the biggest impact possible.

Goetz’s tactic of body mutilation, however “mild” it might be considered was not entirely original in that time anymore. The motive of self-mutilation has been long present and used as an “easy” way to provoke among artists, from vomiting, cutting and setting oneself on fire to committing suicideby overdose. The significance of Goetz’s performance is in the context and complexity it creates. The text Goetz is reading in his performance is “Subito”, which was written for the performance and later published in a collection of short stories. The main character, Raspe, also appeared in his earlier novel Irre. The way the text works on its own on a paper is vastly different from the performance. The presence of the narrator in this case is necessary, also because of the physical body, which can be used for demonstration. Editing of the performance has a huge role as well. The changes in the setting are described in the text; however, these parts are cut from the final edit of the video, which is focused on the internal monologue of the narrator. The viewer is therefore watching a concentrated stream of consciousness of the narrator, which progressively becomes more and more aggressive and culminates in the moment of self-harm, when the author cuts his forehead. This happens while he is reading the part describing the action itself: “Ichschneideein Loch in meinen Kopf, in die Stirneschneideich das Loch. MitmeinemBlutsollmirmeinHirnauslaufen.”[2] The cutting it directly triggered by the train of thought preceding the action and the result of a conversation criticising the media and the society. At the moment of the self-harm, Goetz is becoming the narrator and blurs the differencesbetween the text and reality. Consequently, that moment becomes the most intense and powerful part of the performance. These flashes between the reality and the text mirror the unclear changes of settings and the blur between the reality and the narrator’s mind in the text itself, which makes the performance a meta-performance. The distinction between the narrator’s persona and the author is further blurred by possible autobiographical elements involving the author’s past and the narrator’s current work experience at a clinic. The importance of the performance in comparison to the plain text is in this connection and the self-staging of the author in the narrator.

Goetz’s performance and its significance are layered and invoke polarised reaction from the judges and the public. The performance itself might be understood as an act of aggression and rebellion against the academic nature of the conference, or it can serve as a statement representing the self-staging through self-destruction. The text and the performance collide at the moment of self-destruction. “The cut and the gushing blood were the author’s own textual performance of insanity. The razor: an artistic tool with which Goetz unleashed the interiority of his text on his audience. The liars were his judges, audience members and German literary figures.”[3]Having a Ph.D. himself, Goetz cannot be excluded from the scholar group and this action is in its essence also self-ironizing. In his publication The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, Jean-Francois Lyotard elaborates on postmodern values and encourages the readers to “wage a war on totality; let us be witnesses to the unpresentable; let us activate the differences and save the honor of the name”.[4] Could Goetz be “saving the honor of his name” as a scholar, or is it all just a way of amusing himself? His performance at Klagenfurt could be also perceived as a sort of apology to himself, conforming to the rules while breaking them. “The postmodern would be that which, in the modern, puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself; that which denies itself.” [5] By denying his own place as a literate, writer and contradicting, Goetz demonstrates the postmodern values characterised by “lack of reality, together with the invention of other realities”[6], which also demonstrated aspects of nihilism.

Another characteristic Goetz shares with the postmodernists is the use of technology to his benefit. With his actions, Goetz knowingly manipulates the camera focus, the structure of the performance created for the television and adds yet another layer to his performance. This could also refer to the postmodern “reality reinforcement” and anticipation of oneself. How far did Goetz anticipate the reaction and how far is his performance calculated? This could be understood on several levels and layers, which are present in his performance. The simplest one is the act of mutilation itself, “because he can”, which is arguably the simplest, most basic reason to do any activity, not only art. The next step is to prove a point against the system, scholars and institutions. The connection to the postmodern values and performances before him created by paraphrasing their types of activities comes next. The layers that make his performance stand out are the “media level”, which uses the television to create a new different context of a “terrorist at a serious and scholarly literary conference”. The observation of the final product of the situation from the outside is the next step, doing this Goetz creates a new product using both the media and the anticipation. The fact that the recording of the performance is now freely available on the internet for anybody to watch thirty years later shows the extent of work with the media, which most likely could not be expected at that time.

The reaction consensus to the performance among the academics present is divided; while the first judge, Marcel Reich-Ranicki praises the author and his performance and calls Goetz a “typical literate”, the second judge finds it boring, narrow-minded and perceives the anger expressed by Goetz as unnecessary and dangerous and that it only aims to destroy. The way Goetz finished his performance could also be considered a demonstration of his attitude and motive. While he is very expressive and aggressive during the performance, which culminates with the act of cutting, at the end he just calmly puts the paper down on the table and confidently lies back in the chair and brushes the hair out of his face, smearing the blood across his forehead. This breaks the act of the deranged author-narrator even before the complete end of the reading and expands the performance by showing a “weakness” of being amused by his own actions.Goetz’s appearance is also part of the performance and possibly the statement, as it is a clash between a formal clothing labelled as “gekleidetwiezurKonfirmation[7] (by Christian Schultz-Gerstein in the 1983 review from Spiegel) and highly informal shoes, punk hairstyle and hand bands. Schultz-Gersteinmocksthisandwhile he labels Goetz as “der mediale Sieger von Klagenfurt”[8], he also criticiseshimforappearingas a poser: „Und weil ein Streber-Punker nicht ohne Rasierklinge aus dem Haus geht, hatte Goetz auch die Rasierklinge dabei und ritzte sich die Stirn, aus der das Blut strömte, bis ihm schlecht und der Vorgang auch für die Medien zu einer Nachricht wurde.“[9]

The question that might rise is what actually the reaction Goetz expected was. Taking the first and simplest layer of provoking into consideration, the review of Schultz-Gerstein could be considered very positive and would prove that the performance was successful. Being called a “typical literate” by Reich-Ranicki could also refer to Goetz “stealing” from the postmodernists and ironically underlines the contradiction within Goetz’s performance. “The transmission of knowledge is no longer designed to train an elite capable of guiding the nation towards its emancipation, but to supply the system with players capable of acceptably fulfilling their roles as the pragmatic posts required by its institutions.”[10] The persona of a deranged author-narrator created by Goetz during this performance is fulfilling the role that might have been expected by the institution by self-irony and breaking the rules of the institution itself. The nonsense of this situation mirrors the insanity of the Raspe and enforces the connection between the text and perceived reality. Whether fulfilling the role expected could be considered a “successful controversy” and whether that even was Goetz’s plan is uncertain.

When commenting on the novel Irreitself, Schultz-Gerstein is more praiseful and also draws parallels between the narrator and the main character, Raspe. As Raspe’s narrative style is highly aggressive, one can assume that this is emphasised by the furious presentation style of Goetz. This aggressiveness is also somehow reflected in Raspe’s name, which is referencing the terrorist Jan-Carl Raspe from the Red Army Faction. Goetz’s ambivalent attitude to the RAF shows itself once more, although in this case he appears more compliant with them, with his character becoming more anarchistic, criticising the authorities and comparing them to drunken idiots at a carnival: “Man wollesichamüsieren, schließlichseiFasching, und hierdieserbluttriefende Spinner.”[11] This also represents the self-reflection and is especially strong with the image created by the performance. RAF might have also been one of the controversies Goetz’s was aiming for and which he achieved by copying and satirising the presentation of the group itself. RAF’s presentation in the media was used to make them look stronger, more attractive and relatable and also showed the possibilities and extend in which one can manipulate the media to its benefit. It is questionable whether Goetz’s performance made him look stronger, relatable or more attractive, as the main motive demonstrated in it was insanity, which might also demonstrate his personal view on the way RAF presented itself and their aggression.

One of the artistic groups with the same type of activities as Goetz was the Viennese Actionists in the sixties. The way their performances were carefully orchestrated can be seen as a direct inspiration for Goetz. “The work of the Viennese Actionists illuminates a neglected but pivotal facet of this debate: the role of a performance audience one it is an audience of the past.”[12] As Goetz’s performance was on television and recorded, the viewers have a direct connection with the immediate reactions and audience, although the way the performance is cut does not leave too much space for shots of the audience. The reactions of the judges could however fulfil this role, as well as the concerned comment from the audience member by the end of the discussion, whether Goetz needs a doctor to help with the bleeding. The documentation itself was considered very important for the postmodernists including Lyotard, who mentions the computerization of the society and the importance of data banks, which he considers to be the future. In her essay "TheInformative Public of Performance. A Study ofVienneseActionism", MechtildWidrichmentions a quote by Philip Auslanderthat artists assume responsibility to the audience for the documentation, not for the live event. “I submit that the presence of this initial audience has no real importance to the performance as an entity whose continued life is through its documentation.”[13]Widrich then takes this quote to the next level by arguing that if the first audience is inessential, we would assume the same for later ones. “Does the initial audience simply disappear from view because they are outside the frame of the performance documents, or because their interpretive place is taken by new audiences who gain access to the past performance through photographs, films, relics, or most recently, re-performance?”[14]At this moment, Goetz’s performance can theoretically gain a whole new audience every single day, being available on the internet for free at the moment. In this sense, if this type of performance happened and was recorded recently, it would probably have a potential of a viral video, as well as the media performances of Red Army Faction. While referring to Auslander, that “viewers are interested in the artist’s work, notthe total interaction”[15], the simple idea of expanding a reading to a literary performance at a very conservative conference challenges the audience and adds to the value of shock.

Goetz is pointing to the discrepancies in the current German culture and the attitude to the elder generation. The text itself is a strong statement and criticism and the realisation of this during the performance only enforces it. The contrast between the reactions of the judges only enforces his point, the controversy and the need to move on and create a certain kind of new German identity through destruction of the old obsolete images. His performance is a layered creation, in which the author strongly self-ironizes himself, his own work and the performance itself. Using the television broadcast to further expand his creation; he demonstrates inspiration by the postmodern activists and adds a whole new point of view to his performance.

Works cited:

Auslander, Philip. “ThePerformativityof Performance Documentation.”

PAJ: A Journalof Performance and Art (2006): 1-10.

Goetz, Rainald. Irre: Roman. Frankfurt Am Main: Suhrkamp, 1983.

Goetz, Rainald. “Subito.” Hirn (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1986).

Lyotard, Jean-François."The Postmodern Condition." Theory and History of Literature 10

(1984): 3-82.

Schultz-Gerstein, Christian. "Der Rasende Mitläufer." Der Spiegel 26 Sept. 1983.

Shahan, Cyrus. Punk Rock and German Crisis: Adaptation and Resistance after 1977.

New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Widrich, Mechtild. "The Informative Public of Performance: A Study of Viennese Actionism,

1965–1970." TDR/The Drama Review (2013): 137-51. Web. 14 July 2015.



Dieses Essay spricht über dem Auftritt von Rainald Goetz im September 1983 in Klagenfurt an der Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis Konferenz. Es ist konzentriert aufden Provokations- und Kontroversaspekt des Auftritts, die Beziehung zwischen Goetz und seinem Ansatz und Postmodernisten der 60er und 70er Jahre. Es spricht auch über der Provokationstechnik, der Lagen und dem Bereich des Auftritts im Kontext der Konferenz.


[1]„in front ofthepsychiatricinstitute: youidiots, do youhaveany idea what I am reallydoing“ (citedfromShanan, 2013:57)
[2]„I cut a hole in my head, I cut across my forehead. Along with my blood, I shall let my brain pour out.” (Goetz, 1986:20)
[3]Shanan, 59
[4]Lyotard, 82
[5]Lyotard, 81
[6]Lyotard, 77
[7]„dressedasifgoing to a Confirmation“ (Schultz-Gerstein)
[8]“the media winner of Klagenfurt”
[9] “And because a nerd-punk doesn't go out of the house without razors, Goetz also had the razors with him and cut his forehead, from which blood gushed, until he felt sick and the event also became interesting for the media.” (Schultz-Gerstein)
[10]Lyotard, 48
[11] “we just want to amuse ourselves, it is Carnival after all, and here is this nutcase dripping with blood” (Goetz, 1983:20)
[12]Widrich, 137
[13]Auslander, 6
[14]Widrich, 138
[15]Auslander, 6

Více článků

Přehled všech článků

Používáte starou verzi internetového prohlížeče. Doporučujeme aktualizovat Váš prohlížeč na nejnovější verzi.

Další info