Christian Kracht: "Imperium", Kiepenheuer & Witsch Verlag, 2012

Germany's late and brief flirtation with colonial empire is one of the minor farces of history - but a farce which would later have tragic consequences.  One of Germany's colonial protectorates - German New Guinea - became for a brief period a center for German merchants and plantation owners as well as a destination for dreamers and adventurers longing to escape the stifling, philistine atmosphere of Wilhelmine Germany.  One such dreamer is the central character in Christian Kracht's highly entertaining novel Imperium.

August Engelhardt (based on a true figure) is a vegan and nudist from Nuremburg who, at the turn of the last century, dreams of establishing a utopian colony in the South Pacific that would subsist entirely on the consumption of coconuts. For Engelhardt, coconuts are "the divine fruit", a perfect source of nutrition that will help humanity reach a higher plane of spiritual existence.  And so, after inheriting a small fortune, he sets off to realize his dream.  Soon he has purchased a small island with a coconut grove and begins his coconuts-only diet:

    “Und hatte er schon vor lan­gem ent­schie­den sich nicht mehr durch Alko­hol besee­len zu las­sen, so war doch der Erre­gungs­zu­stand, in den er durch die Kokos­milch ver­setzt wurde, der­ar­tig, daß er selbst im Schlaf wahr­zu­neh­men schien, sein Blut werde suk­zzesiv durch Kokos­milch ersetzt, ja es war ihm, als ströme durch seine Adern kein roter, tie­ri­scher Lebens­saft mehr, son­dern der wesent­lich hoch­ent­wi­ckel­tere pflanz­li­che Most sei­ner Ide­al­frucht, der ihn der­einst befä­hi­gen werde, seine Evo­lu­ti­ons­stufe zu transzendieren.”

    (And though he had long ago decided to stimulate his senses with alcohol, the coconut milk seemed to transport him into a similar state of excitement, to extent that even while asleep he could almost feel his blood slowly being replaced by coconut milk, indeed it seemed to him that the red, animal elixir of life was no longer flowing through his veins, but rather the much more highly evolved plant juice from his ideal fruit which would soon permit him to transcend to higher level of evolution." )

Kracht's Imperium recalls another terrific historical adventure novel - Daniel Kehlmann's Die Vermessung der Welt -, and August Engelhardt has the same fearless, fanatical single-mindedness as Kehlmann's Alexander von Humboldt which drives both deep into the jungle to achieve their vision.  But von Humboldt was a genius, while Engelhardt is a lunatic - the perfect representative figure for Germany's imperial fantasies.

Imperium is written in the formal, ornate German of the period with an anoying, intrusive narrator constantly chiming in with plot spoilers.  Adding to the fun is Engelhardt's Forrest Gump-like propensity to run into major historical figures, such as Hermann Hesse and Thomas and Katja Mann (before their marriage).  A teenaged Franz Kafka is sexually assaulted by one of Engelhardt's early cult-followers.  In the end, Engelhardt is too much of a misanthrope to be successful cult-leader.  When his pamphlet - Eine sorgenfreie Zukunft ("A Carefree Future") - attracts scores of young German dropouts to the island, Englehardt turns them away.  He eventually succombs to madness - induced by the malnutrition of his coconut diet - and leprosy.

Imperium became an instant literary sensation thanks to press reports of Christian Kracht's alledged right-wing political views.  If Kracht is a fascist or white supremacist there is no evidence of it in Imperium.  The Europeans depicted in the novel are for the most part either malevolent drunks, confidence men or just crazy, while the native population appear entirely sensible, looking on with detached amusement while the white would-be empire-builders self-destruct.  A virulent anti-Semite from Germany turns up and is soon murdered.  Somehow Englehardt - who at first has nothing but contempt for anti-Semitic views - is,  in his complete isolation on the coconut island , transformed into an anti-Semite as he grows delusional. Finally the narrator helpfully points out that Engelhardt has a kind of kinship with another fanatical vegetarian who's imperial vision would engulf the world in violence:

    So wird nun stellvertretend die Geschichte nur eines Deutschen erzählt werden, eines Romantikers, der wie so viele dieser Spezies verhinderter Künstler war, und wenn dabei manchmal Parallelen zu einem späteren deutschen Romantiker und Vegetarier ins Bewusstsein dringen, der vielleicht lieber bei seiner Staffelei geblieben wäre, so ist dies durchaus beabsichtigt und sinnigerweise, Verzeihung, in nuce auch kohärent.

    (Thus we have the story of just one German, representative of the romantic type, who, like so many of these would-be artists - here we draw some parallels to a romantic and vegetarian who came later - who should have stayed put at his easel - all of this is quite intentional, and regretfully, in nuce coherent.)

The historical August Engelhardt died on his failed coconut plantation in 1919.  Kracht's Englehardt survives World War II and is captured by the Americans. A young GI writes a screenplay based on fantastic stories Engelhardt tells his captors and this becomes a Hollywood feature film. It would not surprise me if an enterprising film director (Werner Herzog would be perfect)  doesn't acquire the film rights for Imperium.

                                                                                                     David Vickrey

CHF-USD 1.01
CHF-EUR 0.93
CHF-RUB 62.44
воскресенье, 17 декабря 2017 года


Судьба валютного резидента: можно ли ограничивать в правах россиян за рубежом?

Российский юрист-международник разъясняет риски и последствия нового предложения Минфина в сфере валютного контроля физлиц – российских валютных резидентов, способные затронуть интересы наших читателей в разных странах. Специально для Нашей Газеты.ch.
Всего просмотров: 2,093

Сказ о том, как швейцарские студенты учились пельмени лепить

Семь учащихся Швейцарской школы гостиничного менеджмента приняли участие в необычном мастер-классе – на кухне Постоянного представительства России при Европейском отделении ООН в Женеве.
Всего просмотров: 1,883

Человек, «заложивший бомбу» в самолет Женева-Москва

Швейцарская газета Le Matin разыскала человека, который заявил, что на борту самолета, готовящегося вылететь в Москву из женевского аэропорта, была заложена бомба.
Всего просмотров: 1,656
© 2015 Наша Газета -
Все материалы, размещенные на веб-сайте, охраняются в соответствии с законодательством Швейцарии об авторском праве и международными соглашениями. Полное или частичное использование материалов возможно только с разрешения редакции. В случае полного или частичного воспроизведения материалов сайта, ОБЯЗАТЕЛЬНА АКТИВНАЯ ГИПЕРССЫЛКА на конкретный заимствованный текст. Фотоизображения, размещенные редакцией, являются ее исключительной собственностью. Полное или частичное воспроизведение фотоизображений без разрешения редакции запрещено. Редакция не несет ответственности за мнения, высказанные читателями в комментариях и блогерами на их личных страницах. Мнение авторов может не совпадать с мнением редакции.
Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top