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The disclosures of James Comey and the tedious answers of Alberto Gonzales are a wonderful evocation of the Stasi state, indeed they show how much closer America is moving towards that workers’ paradise with every passing week. Those who have seen the “Life of Others” know the tale of Georg Dreyman, a playwright, and his actress paramour – but for those who have toiled in the vineyard of GDR literature (and a valuable vineyard it is), know that the producers have only ever so lightly adopted the story of a great dissident personage, namely the songwriter Wolf Biermann. Note that the names come within only a few letters, the plot itself is a very close approximation of events from Biermann’s life, and then we have that telltale volume of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn found in Dreyman’s apartment – “that in particular was a gift of Margot Honecker,” he says to the Stasi investigator – again a parallel to an event involving Biermann.
Known for his biting satire and his dedication to Socialism, Biermann chronicled his life under surveillance with a powerful sense of humor, and nowhere better than in the “Stasi Ballad” from 1974, with its classic refrain – “Die Stasi ist mein Eckermann.” That is a reference to the German poet Johann Peter Eckermann, who patiently chronicled the utterances of that Olympian figure of German literature, Johann Wolfgang Goethe – ultimately published in Goethe’s Conversations With Eckermann in the Last Years of His Life, which Nietzsche called the “greatest work in the German language”. Here is an English rendition:
I feel a common humanity
With the poor Stasi dogs,
Required to sit through snow and downpours of rain
Tediously listening to me through the
Microphone they have installed
Which catches every sound,
Songs, jokes and soft curses
Sitting on the toilet and in the kitchen
Brothers from state security – you alone
Know all my troubles.
You alone can attest,
How my whole human effort
Is committed with passionate tenderness
And zest to Our Great Cause.
Words which otherwise would be lost,
Are captured firmly on your tapes,
And – I’m sure of it – now and again
You sing my songs in bed.
I sing my gratitude to you,
Stasi is my Ecker,
Stasi is my Ecker,
Stasi is my Eckermann.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”