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The best of all Enzensberger projects

Turning ideas into concrete projects: The multifaceted life of Hans Magnus Enzensberger (HME) also stood for this.

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The best of all Enzensberger projects

Turning ideas into concrete projects: The multifaceted life of Hans Magnus Enzensberger (HME) also stood for this. For every feuilleton historian it is a stroke of luck, now also coincidence, that just recently one of the most interesting journalistic ventures of HME was honored with its own monograph: the magazine "TransAtlantik". For two years from 1980, it was Enzensberger's monthly attempt to establish a kind of "New Yorker" for Germany. A magazine for good reports, essays – and, certainly a thorn in the side of the consumption-critical cultural left, also for consumerism and joie de vivre. The editorship was with Enzensberger and Gaston Salvatore from Chile, who later became a “Stern” reporter.

The literary scholar Kai Sina has just dedicated a brilliant little study to “TransAtlantik” in Wallstein-Verlag. Brilliant, because Sina cleverly acknowledges the merits of this “reading magazine” for the literary and journalistic field of the Federal Republic, discusses its elegant layout and also does not ignore Enzensberger’s clever reflection on the “journal of luxury and fashion” – a kind of Goethe period "How to spend it".

Sina also looked at the concept paper for the “TransAtlantik” in the German Literature Archive in Marbach and printed it in the appendix to his study. Around 30 typewritten pages on which the "Project of a Magazine for Western Germany" was outlined. In modern German one could speak of a pitch. There are great finds to be made here about the self-image of the "TransAtlantic" - with a lot of Enzensberger sound:

“Our favorite vices would be: a touch of blaséness, a touch of (untimely) dandyism, a reluctance to state the obvious. As far as we know, there is only one role model for this attitude in the whole world: the New Yorker. Elsewhere it is said: "The (hardly to catch up) model of such essay writing is Heine." Heinrich Heine, who never wanted to be perceived as art-religious, naturally fits in perfectly with Enzensberger's anti-pathos.

The concept paper also lists insightful notes on the “attitude” of the magazine:

"Superior (but not arrogant)

Intelligent (but not academic)

Evil (but not malicious)

Elegant (but not smug)

Sophisticated (but not esoteric)

Critical (but without know-it-all)

Ironic (but not snotty).”

What a pleasantly unpretentious self-image for a German magazine! There are various reasons why the magazine, despite all the good intentions, did not last long in its original concept, not least of which was cost reasons. The paper made losses, the sales fell far short of the expectations of the New Mag publishers, who had launched the magazine in October 1980 with an initial circulation of 150,000 copies. After only two years as editors, Enzensberger and Salvatore withdrew from the project at the end of 1982. This was caused by conflicts about the costs, which up to now have brought every ambitious print start-up back to the hard facts of the world. The "TransAtlantik" existed - under new editorial management and with a watered-down concept - until 1989, but from 1984 it only appeared quarterly.

Even if Enzensberger nonchalantly included the "TransAtlantik" in his collection "My favorite flops" in 2011, the historical issues are impressive with their congenial mixture of claim, esprit and worldliness. With recourse to magazine research, Sina creates references to fashionable 1920s magazines such as “Dercross-section”. And he emphasizes that authors wrote in “TransAtlantik” who didn't even have a name at the beginning of the 1980s, but later won a whole series of Büchner prizes. Wilhelm Genazino, for example. Martin Mosebach. Or Rainald Goetz - who published one of his very first articles in "TransAtlantik" in August 1981: "A journey through the German feuilleton", with home visits to Joachim Kaiser, Raddatz, Reich-Ranicki, tutti quanti!

But above all, and this seems typical of Enzensberger, according to Sina, “TransAtlantik” saw itself as a journal that wanted to leave behind the dogmatic way of explaining the world of 1968 and to serve the new “epoch of damaged utopias” (Hermann Korte). Sina explains how the program of the magazine crystallized in one of the postulates of the concept paper: "Farewell to the principled". The "TransAtlantic" can only be understood as a "medium of thinking and writing that has freed itself from all inadmissibly simplifying dichotomizations", the "narrative and essayistic mediation" has "taken the place of the manifest-like proclamation". The zeitgeist of the politicized 1970s already led to the 1980s, the decade of postmodernism.

Where Lyotard postulated the "end of the great narratives" in 1979, Enzensberger projected it as a magazine in the spirit of New Journalism and practiced it for a short phase. One can understand the "TransAtlantic" episode of his life as a turning to the post-idological. Not all of his left-leaning contemporaries wanted to go along with this turn of events – which is why it is not surprising that his other magazine, the “Course Book”, has remained much more present in the collective memory to this day. The better texts are undoubtedly in the "TransAtlantic".

Kai Sina: Transatlantic. Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Gaston Salvatore and their journal for western Germany. Wallstein Verlag, 219 pages, 20 euros

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