This Story of a Guy who simply refuses to Integrate

November 30, 2018

Those readers who follow by Instagram (@leipzig_is_lit) feed might be wondering if I’ve given up the written word and devoted myself to pretty pictures. Indeed, the past month has been crammed full of events including two workshops (Leipzig, followed by Looren/Switzerland), a grab bag of readings and other goings-on, most of which were documented visually. And I’m writing these lines while on the go once again, headed toward the long-anticipated Sand launch in Berlin, where I’ll be reading some poems by Maren Kames.

However, I did want to share my impressions from a reading last night. Essentially it was a double-header, with the celebration of the Leipzig-based literary magazine Edit’s being around for twenty-five years providing the second, open-ended part of the night. Before that, an estimated 200 people crammed into a modest room in the contemporary art museum GfzK to listen to Max Czollek read from Desintegriert euch! or literally Don’t Integrate.

Czollek, who is a mere 30 years old, grew up in Berlin, where he studied and even completed his doctorate in political science, while initially gaining recognition for his role in the poetry collective “G-13”. Several of the members, including Tristan Marquardt and Lea Schneider, whom I’ve translated, have become up-and-coming names in the German poetry scene, and Czollek has published two volumes of poetry with Verlagshaus Berlin.

Disintegration is a completely different beast. Largely having emerged from an academic/artist conference organized together with Sascha Salzmann at Berlin’s Gorki Theater, it was conceived as a manifesto from the beginning. To wit, the blurb in the book published in August 2018 starts as follows: “Max Czollek is thirty, Jewish and furious. There are strange rules in place here in Germany: a good migrant is someone who can speak in a woke manner about the oppression of women, the radical Islam, and democracy. A good Jew is someone is constantly answering questions about anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and Israel,” which Czollek labels a ‘theater of integration’ that stabilizes the impression of an advanced society – and all the while right-wing forces celebrate one success after another. Disintegration is a call to participating in the charade.

While the book and its author have received tremendous attention and have been invited to various media platforms, the book itself has been received with somewhat ambivalence among the German mainstream periodicals. The main criticisms are twofold: on the one hand, the tone is so polemic that there tends to be some difficulty engaging with the argumentation on an even level. On the other hand, many have claimed that an acceptance of various groups refusing to integrate into German society as a whole would lead to spaces for radicalized views such as ISIS or others. As a non-German living in German, who has occasionally be prodded to do or say things seeming in line with ‘integration’, I personally have a great deal of sympathy for Czollek’s bracing manifesto. My quibbles with the reading on Thursday lie elsewhere: with and audience around 200 people with a guestimated average age of 25 and a highly supportive moderator, it had an aftertaste of preaching to the choir. I’m not sure the political perspectives of many sitting there (or in my case, leaning against a wall) were budged significantly. In contrast, I would be very interested to be a fly on the wall at a reading in Freital, Chemnitz or some more antagonistic Saxonian hamlet. In short: buy the book and read it, but it may only have an effect if you’re not already on the same page.

p.s. if you’re an American or British publisher that has purchased or is considering purchasing the rights and are looking for a translator, I’d be happy to help!

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