Review: 'Quertext' Delves into Queer German Writings Past and Present

by Lewis Whittington

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday September 17, 2021

Review: 'Quertext' Delves into Queer German Writings Past and Present

"Quertext" is an anthology excerpts from novels by over 20 contemporary GLBTQ+ German authors whose books have been translated to from German to English for the first time. In his introduction, editor Gary Schmitt writes that the anthology is "part of a broader project of decentering queer culture in all of its manifestations. Including representations of contemporary queer life and explorations of a queer past."

As Freud was researching the "causes" of same-sex attraction, gay culture and the GLBTQ+ community flourished underground during the Weimar Republic until 1933, when Hitler's Nazi regime came to power. The persecution of German Queer population was immediate, along with the eradication of any literature by and for Queer Germans. Post-WWII, antigay laws remained in place and literature for and about queer people was categorically banned.

Flash forward to 1968, a new era of German GLBTQ+ literature that was not translated into other languages because, post-Stonewall, gay literati in the U.S. and Anglophile texts were dominating and defining a commercial niche market.

That is still true, but hopefully "Quertext" turns that page for good, presenting many different GLBTQ+ voices, styles, and perspectives, but with one constant throughout the book: The literary and distinct cultural merits that these authors bring to their work.

Each excerpt includes a short biography of the author and synopsis of the narrative that sets up the context of the passage.

Here are a few random storylines from this remarkable book:

Faye Stewart introduces Antje Ravik Strubel's selection from (from "In the Forests of the Human Heart (The White Rock)" as "an array of queerly gendered and sexualized figures, but they also invite readers to explore a literary style that reveals itself as queer in myriad other ways," an observation that applies to all of the selections in this book.

Hans Pleschinski opens the closet door to a famous German author private life in his novel "Konigsallee: A Visit From The Daughter" (2013). An aged Thomas Mann and his adult daughter Erika are staying in a hotel in Europe after WWII; they had to flee Germany in the 1930s to escape the Nazis. Also in the hotel is Mann's onetime male lover, Klaus, and his young lover Anwar. Erika confronts them in the hotel restaurant with a plea to stay away from her father during their visit. The excerpt is an expose of the emotionally destructive sexual hypocrisies of the privileged class.

Michael Roes's intoxicating "Zeithian" takes place in the strict military palace of Prussian King William. The excerpt conjures the intense affair between Crown Prince Frederick of Russia and his affair with an officer, Hans Herman von Katte, who, in real life, was executed by King William because Katte was helping the Prince to escape to Britain.

Marko Martin's dark prose poetry in an excerpt "What Remains," from "Babylon Transfer" (2016), in which the narrator, Daniel, attempts to recount a night spent in Tunis with his friend Florence and two local men. A night of sex and lovemaking turns into an existential thriller of the men having erase any trace evidence, whether physical or psychological, of emotional freedom.

In "V or the Fourth Wall," by Anje Kummel, time-traveling adventures take place with a Mexican and Icelanders destined to cross paths in 1980 at a London Club called V. Let's do the literary time-warp again in the author's phantasmagoric episode, with its cast of bouffant queens, uber Grindrs hookups, and menacing club trolling. Is this camp dystopia or a queerer sequel to Ginsberg's "HOWL?"

Jugen Bauer's "The Window to the World" follows the recent messy breakup with his boyfriend, who drives him to the baths, where his first thought is that "it felt forbidden to be here again." But he checks his clothes and stays to explore the possibilities, Wearing only his boots, he floats through the network of group areas, booths, rooms, and finally the bar, where, among the naked bodies, he sees his ex-boyfriend. So much for a night in the anonymous sex arena.

J. Walther's excerpt from "A Hush Falls over the Room" (2011) hovers over the tragic circumstance of Peter, who is in the last stages of terminal cancer, and his younger lover, Andreas. The story has a surreal edge, questioning what is reality and what are the nightmares of both characters. Walther's tour de force prose style is a third rail of truths.

As representative as Quertext is, the editors also say that the book isn't representative enough; "regrettably queer voices of color are absent from this volume and more writers who identify as nonbinary." Moreover, they add that "this volume also inspires others to continue the project of identifying and making accessible of greater diversity of queer voices."

"Quertext : An Anthology of Queer Voices from German Speaking Europe," edited by Gary Schmitt & Merrill Cole, is available in hardcover from University of Wisconsin Press for $36.95.

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.