SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
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:
Conversation — August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm
Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
Years ago, I lived in Montana, a land of purple sunsets, clear streams, and snowflakes the size of silver dollars drifting through the cold air. There were no speed limits and you could legally drive drunk. My small apartment in Missoula had little privacy. In order to write, I rented an off-season fishing cabin on Rock Creek, a one-room place with a bed and a bureau. I lacked the budget for a desk. My idea was to remove a sliding door from a closet in my apartment and place it over a couple of hastily cobbled-together sawhorses.
Amount of U.S. military aid given to the government of El Salvador each minute during the 1980s:
A team of European sexologists reported that 40 percent of Italian couples were not having sex, due in part to Italian men’s declining sex drive and growing predilection for prostitutes and cybersex.
Telecommunications company AT&T agreed to buy Time Warner for $85.4 billion in a bid to find new ways to reach consumers, and hackers took control of Internet-connected cameras and baby monitors to overwhelm the routing company Dyn with traffic, causing worldwide disruption to outlets such as Netflix and Amazon.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
"She never thanked me, never looked at me—melted away into the miserable night, in the strangest manner I ever saw. I have seen many strange things, but not one that has left a deeper impression on my memory than the dull impassive way in which that worn-out heap of misery took that piece of money, and was lost."