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Reworking the Collective Body: Practices of Choric Speaking in the German and Austrian New Radio Play

The present essay approaches the topic of this cluster—a Politics of Form Revisited—from a perspective that links up with current demands for reconceptualizing the relations between politics and aesthetics, based on a renewed interest in questions of collectivity. Close readings and listenings of two radio plays from the literary neo-avant-gardes will illustrate the explanatory potential of our approach: Ein Blumenstück (A Piece of Flowers, 1968), written by the German author Ludwig Harig, a member of the Stuttgart Concrete Poetry Group, and Fünf Mann Menschen (Five Men Humanity, 1967/1968), a work by two of the most important authors of experimental poetry in Austria, Ernst Jandl and Friederike Mayröcker.

The selection of these two pieces, which we take as exemplary, was made following two criteria. On the one hand, the revised, broadened concept of a politics of form can be illuminated through a focus on the genre of literary radio play in a particular way, because it is situated at the intersection between literature that is silently read (individual reception) and literature that is broadcast (synchronous “collective” reception). On the other hand, the juxtaposition of a work authored by Austrian authors and one by a German author demonstrates how Austrian culture has been shaped by a tradition of social criticism that deviates from that of the northern German-speaking area.[1] As already fought out in public disputes between the representatives of the German and Austrian Enlightenment, the Austrian literati has since been said to tend toward rather indirect forms of critique. Instead of addressing social and political grievances with clear words, “the Austrians” would notably more often opt for parody, laughter, and double-voiced discourse, and keep explicit utterances restrained in favor of an intensified formal creativity. One can trace this inclination back to markedly more rigid and longer lasting state censorship measures as well as to an alternative path of modernization brought about by differences in confession (Protestantism versus Catholicism). As a result, the local traditions of carnivalesque popular culture and double-voiced critique were not as strongly repressed as in Protestant-influenced parts of the German-speaking area. Already evident in the decades around 1800, this tendency towards an aesthetic politics, working intensely with formal strategies, was accompanied by a conspicuous dominance of formal approaches in philosophy and pedagogy as well as in the field of aesthetic theory.[2]

The Viennese fin de siècle critique of language (Fritz Mauthner, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Karl Kraus) took up this comparatively strong concentration on questions of form and transformed it into a tradition of literary and cultural modernism, which the Austrian post-war avant-gardes followed from 1945. The strand of literary social criticism developed here, especially in the milieu of the Vienna Group, was marked by a specific, “tyrannical radicality.” [3] While explicit references to political concerns and programs were almost utterly taboo, the formal approach was all the more extreme. The almost aggressive critique of realist techniques in the Austrian neo-avant-gardes may lead us back to the more firmly anchored authoritarian structures than was the case in Germany.[4] At the same time, however, it shows the continued effects of a tradition of literary politics that ascribes a remarkably high value to formal rebellions. That the most prominent protest events of 1968 in Germany took place on the streets, while in Austria they were in the fields of art, literature, and performance art—such as the infamous “Hörsaal-Aktion” (Lecture Hall Action) of the Viennese Actionists—, is therefore more than an oft-cited bon mot. From the perspective of comparative literary history, this phenomenon is still in need of explanation. [5]

Literary Politics and the Question of Collectivity

Many of the avant-gardist writers of the “long sixties” (1954–1975) shared the assumption that linguistic systems determine their speakers to a dangerous extent.[6] For them, it was literature’s task to break the violence of language or at least make clear the impossibility of autonomous articulation. This focus on the subject as an effect of language can be understood as a response to the experiences of violence in the totalitarian regimes of the first half of the twentieth century and was interwoven with the reception of findings in structural linguistics and behaviorism. The aim of liberating the subject from the coercions of language shaped a significant portion of the European neo-avant-gardes. For the present context it is decisive that the underlying premise of this aesthetic program was that politics and art are clearly distinguishable from each other as two social fields, even when the same linguistic structures determine both. Consequently, the neo-avant-gardist writers put the focus on self-reflexive, formal practices that make language recognizable as a medium prefiguring the world- and self-perception of its speaker. In the scholarly interpretation of these anti-mimetic politics of form, approaches oriented toward structuralism and poststructuralism have proven to be particularly helpful, not least because research and aesthetic practices were built on similar theoretical premises.

Our point of departure, however, is situated in approaches of recent decades that interpret the relation between politics and aesthetics (literature, visual art, theater, etc.) in an entirely different way. The basis of this new orientation is a performative concept of power, anchored in the humanities primarily through the works of Michel Foucault. Here, power is thought relationally as a structure that all actors in social space actively produce in mutual relation to one another. This conception of a collective processing of power relations is connected, as per Foucault, with the concepts of episteme and dispositif; regarding Pierre Bourdieu, with the concepts of habitus and field. In spite of all divergences, these notions of power, subjectivization, and the reproduction of social systems can be considered a common premise of the most influential cultural theories of the last decades.

A thinker who advances these developments and who has also taken a stand on the theory and history of the avant-gardes is the French philosopher Jacques Rancière. Two aspects in particular form the basis of our approach and subsequent analyses. First, Rancière assumes that political and aesthetic practices are irreconcilably interwoven with one another, since the political is always inscribed with a “primary aesthetics”—with a “system of a priori forms determining what presents itself to sense experience.”[7] The social space is therefore not only structured by the allocation of different positions, dispositions, rights and activities. In their reproduction or subversion of social power constellations, these relational arrangements are also always intertwined with modes of sensibility. Hence the possibilities of seeing and being seen, of hearing and being heard, of affecting and being affected, at once separate and connect the subjects within social systems.

Rancière’s concept of the “distribution of the sensible” is thus characterized by an intentional double meaning, which refers to the sensory and sensible sharing of a divided, apportioned and distributed social space. This leads to the second aspect of Rancière’s work taken up here—the premise that one should always analyze political and aesthetic practices with regard to the “figures of community” that they put forward. This premise implies that also the solitary, individual reception of literary texts must be understood as an act of participating in the performing of collectivity within a given social order (Politics, 12). If one follows Rancière in assuming that the interplay of subjectivity and communality, individualization and socialization is the decisive criterion in the analysis of all social practices, this can shed new light on the aesthetic politics of the literary neo-avant-gardes. The neo-avant-gardist authors’ intentions to loosen determining structures of language and perception are thus still analytically relevant. However, from the perspective of this expanded concept of the politics of form, the focus should not lie on individuals but rather on relational, collective arrangements and their inherent inequalities. Precisely these topologies must be historically and politically differentiated, regarding their structures, practices, and associated “sense experiences.”

In The Politics of Aesthetics, Rancière offers some methodological instruments for the analysis of these figures of collectivity by distinguishing between three paradigms of aesthetic politics: communal dance, voice (theater), and written text (literature). While in the choreographic model all individuals take active part in the performance of community with the coordinated movement of their bodies (“ethical regime”), the “representative regime,” which is based on the voice and the model of theater, is marked by a basic division between visible, active speakers on the one hand and invisible, passive, immobile listeners on the other. The spatial distance opens up a larger intellectual space for movement than in communal dance, which sets the body in motion according to a pregiven script. Nevertheless, the “representative,” theatrical paradigm is also interpreted as a hierarchical dispositif, which functions as instruction and regulation through unilateral communication and the highly limited possibility of steering individual reception in spatial, temporal, or semantical terms.

Developing specifically from Derrida’s grammatology, Rancière lastly identifies the written text as the paradigm of interlacing politics and aesthetics that comes closest to the classical ideas of autonomous aesthetic experience and egalitarian, social structures (“poetic” or “aesthetic regime”) (Politics, 16–18). As a universe of mute, solitary read characters circulating in a collective, the medium of script stands for a principle of aesthetic politics that is causally interwoven with the history of democratization. It enables maximal freedom in reception through a temporally, spatially, and semantically unbound, active, appropriative reading and the maximal physical and intellectual emancipation of the recipients.[8]

Importantly, Rancière’s models of aesthetic politics are not bound to the media or genres whose names they bear. Theater can pursue an aesthetic politics of written text, of silent letters. Conversely, that which is written can have a prescriptive effect that can be attributed to theater’s representative regime, or—as in cases of educational texts—to the distance-free, ethical regime. At the same time, all three models are modes of arranging individuals into a collective structure, which as pure forms can be filled with totally different contents. Hence, the choreographic model of performed collectivity not only characterizes the choral works of the National Socialist mass aesthetics, but just as well the chanting of demands at left-wing demonstrations. Rancière’s three paradigmatic forms of performing collectivity therefore underlie the social subsystems of politics and the various arts to equal degrees: as (primary) aesthetics of politics and as a political aesthetics alike, they may serve the stabilization of social systems, the disruption of these orders, and the loosening of ingrained perceptions, attitudes, and behavior patterns. In contrast to poststructuralist approaches, it is not the determination of subjects through language that takes center stage, but rather the topological relations of bodies. In the framework of this collective and communicative structure every single, however isolated, solitary, and individualized act of production and reception must be understood as a contribution to the performing of a collectivity, whose form stands newly at the disposal at every moment.

Collective Speaking and the Radiophonic Challenge

Looking from this expanded theoretical perspective, something becomes visible in the literary neo-avant-garde corpus that up to now has not been systematically investigated. It is the wide-ranging spectrum of practices of collective articulation, stretching from several variants of choric singing and speaking (in unison, dissonant or asynchronous) to the egalitarian, power-free exchange over public concerns, which is at the center of Jürgen Habermas’ democratic-theoretical ideal of deliberate communicative action. In the present context, the influence of authoritarian and patriarchal structures is of particular interest. The focus here lies on hierarchical, one-sided speech acts that are answered with prescribed, collective behaviors and utterances or with silence—as commands (military), authoritarian instructions (church, school, factory, bureaucracy), and modes of representation which present themselves as unquestionable. To bear in mind, however, are also distortions of the dialogic—as in inquisitorial questioning—which are based on asymmetrical power relations and, like all practices of collective articulation, often closely intertwined with mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion and pregiven patterns of (im)mobility.

In the German-speaking world, the artistic reflection of these traditions of collective speech action is closely intertwined with the legacy of National Socialism and its specific mass aesthetics (marches, mass festivals, Thingspiel). In working through these inherited, totalitarian aesthetics, the radio medium and the genre of the so-called New Radio Play took on a special role.[9] Compared with the printed book, radio transmission opened a totally new playing field, in that the acoustic mediation of choric articulation practices can bring forth much more intensive, sensory impressions than the book medium. Considering this, the analysis of efforts to overcome incorporated, totalitarian traditions benefits substantially from Rancière’s politics of form and its connection of two levels. It not only enables a differentiation of various fictional forms of collective articulation. It also offers a set of terms that enable the analysis of both the internal communication between characters and the external communication system, that is, the relationship between artwork and audience.

If one thinks of both levels of communication, internal and external, as intersecting elements in the aesthetic politics of form, the radio and its technologically inherent figure of community present a challenge that needs to be analyzed. Considering Rancière’s voice- and theater-based “representative regime”, the national radio of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s intensified the ambivalent potential of this regime. Few national broadcasters faced an audience of millions, all listening to broadcasts in synchronous, collective isolation, without being able to steer this reception spatiotemporally (as with reading a book), or at least repeating it (as in the theater or cinema). This monopolization on the side of production is in stark contrast to the limited possibility of participation on the reception side, since, unlike in the theater, the spatial separation and technical conditions render disruption, applause, or any other response impossible.

The asymmetry of the divided, collective, radiophonic space also expands with the “schizophrenic” structure of the medium.[10] The radio is based on an accumulation of power which invades private living spaces with a new publicness, schizophrenically mingling “remoteness . . . with nearness” (Ronell, The Telephone Book, 170). This transformation of the relation of public and private sphere carries the (theoretical) potential for a democratization of the access to information and education through the transmitted contents. However, the new radiophonic form of collectivity—at least in the earlier, traditional broadcasting culture—is not based on dialog or co-presence, but rather on one-sided messages that greatly reduce the scope for individual appropriation. In addition, the “disembodied voices” of radio evoke efforts to regain lost presences (identity, wholeness, authenticity) that bind the imaginative energies of the listeners more strongly than in a theatrical performance.[11] Through these new modes of isolated, synchronous “collective” perception, and the forced spatiotemporal ordering of the bodies on the reception side (sitting still and listening quietly, at least until the invention of the transistor radio), the medium of radio tends to block the space for emancipatory appropriation and (collective) action that the writing paradigm opens up. Developing Rancière’s three paradigms further, the modes of subjectivization, individualization, and communitization offered by radiophone artworks are thus to be read as technologies within a new, challenging dispositif. Interpreted as a figure of collectivity, the radio dispositif, in power-theoretical respects, works more sublimely and efficiently. It seizes subjects and their forms of community more intensively, more consistently, and comprehensively (increase in range, synchronicity, and standardization) than in the constellations of theater or solitary reading. This intensified governing does not imply, however, that the use of the radiophonic a priori of allocated bodily, sensory, and cognitive experiences is strictly determined.

Precisely at this point, the neo-avant-gardes in the German-speaking world made their turn towards the new medium. The National Socialist instrumentalization of the radio had shown that broadcasting permitted an unknown degree of political manipulation. This did not mean, however, that the dangers of the new media constellation were not accompanied by equally great opportunities. From the mid-1960s, the German radio landscape, which had been hitherto widely conservative in spirit, gradually allowed innovative endeavors. Sociopolitical and media-specific developments were responsible for this; the competitive pressure from the new mass medium of television severely reduced the influence of radio in central areas (information, prime time entertainment).[12] In this situation open-minded directors, dramaturgs, and sound technicians at several German broadcasters united with the avant-gardist poets of the moment. Important protagonists in this development were Ludwig Harig and Heinz Hostnig at Saarland Broadcasting, Klaus Schöning in Cologne, and Hansjörg Schmitthenner in Bavaria. Through collaborative working processes, and fostered by new technological developments (stereophonics), a new literary radio play emerged. Although it had only a limited listenership, it convincingly and successfully counterposed the realistic, easily consumable radio play that was oriented towards the genre of drama.[13]

In the emergence of this new culture of radio plays, German and Austrian authors were equally involved. As was the case for experimental literature from Austria, for which there were almost only publishing opportunities with German publishers, radio plays by Austrian authors were primarily produced at German broadcasting corporations and staged by German directors and technicians. The question then arises whether the above-described different traditions of literary politics in Austria and Germany were reflected and continued in the field of the neo-avant-gardist New Radio Play. Our hypothesis is that, in the two works presented here, the differing traditions of direct and indirect critique lead to clearly distinguishable radiophonic politics of form. As two complementary aesthetic answers to similar political and medial challenges, the two examples allow generalization.[14] Nevertheless, they do not represent categorical differences between the Austrian and German neo-avant-gardes as a whole. Rather, the selected works belong to a transnational field of radiophonic experimentation in which several renowned authors took part, such as Franz Mon, Reinhard Döhl, Peter Handke, Gerhard Rühm, Helmut Heißenbüttel, Jürgen Becker, and Ferdinand Kriwet, and which was marked by a correspondingly broad spectrum of approaches.[15] Regardless of their national and political context, all writers were confronted with the situation, that, in radio, the challenges for undermining established power relations and authoritarian traditions had increased. At the same time, the new medium opened the opportunity to make the radio dispositif—and its dominating, hierarchical figures of distributing the sensible (ethical and representative regime)—legible and to insert it into the egalitarian paradigm of written text (aesthetic regime).

In order to make these efforts towards a shift visible, the following readings and listenings proceed in three steps. Starting with a focus on the reworking of totalitarian figures of collectivity on the level of the narrated world, we continue with the question how this critical working through of collective forms is interwoven with political critique on the level of content. These analyses subsequently allow to reconstruct the interplay between the internal and external strand of aesthetic communication and to question the politics of both plays regarding the challenges of the radiophonic dispositif.

Voicing Auschwitz: Flowery Language, Turned Around

Ludwig Harig’s radio play Ein Blumenstück, broadcast on 13 March 1968 by the Saarländischer Rundfunk, directed by Hans-Bernd Müller and with musical arrangements by Wolfgang Wölfer. Its text was published in Klaus Schöning’s influential 1969 anthology Neues Hörspiel. Texte, Partituren. Harig, a teacher and author as well as a translator of French literature (esp. of works by the co-founder of Oulipo, Raymond Queneau), was closely connected with the Saarländischer Rundfunk. Together with director Hostnig, he played a crucial role in the realization of the first stereophonic productions of the New Radio Play (Wodianka, Radio, 209). Hostnig considered the establishment of the stereophonic radio play a successful act of reform against the bureaucrats of the West German radio stations, who only wanted to impose a kind of socialist realism.[16] Stereophony should structure acoustic material in such a way that it generates new information and meanings. Hostnig compared this technical structuring process to musical composition and called the spatial movements that stereophonic sound can make “melodies” (“Erfahrungen,” 131). Still, together with all major players in the field of the New Radio Play, Hostnig was attacked by radio theoretician Friedrich Knilli for making unpolitical radio art, in that it only “reacted” to political discourse without trying to “democratize” the mass medium of broadcasting.[17]

Harig’s Ein Blumenstück is a good case in point to investigate stereophony as the musical structuring of language and as politics of generating meaning through the spatial, topological positioning and movement of voices. The radio play offers both an inventive collage of highly diverse discursive materials (taken from, amongst others, children’s songs, rhymes, folk tales, manuals, and passages from the diaries of Auschwitz captain Rudolf Höß) and a plethora of vocal arrangements, ranging from a monovocal monologue over a mix of individual voices to choric speech, either in unison or in competition.

In its printed version, the text displays an open dramaturgical form, as the discursive materials are not attributed to identifiable voices and there are no stage directions guiding the acoustics of the text. Indeed, Harig seems to want to leave as much freedom as possible to the director, stating in a short preface that the 1968 production is “just one possibility of how to tie the wreath of flowers.”[18] Typographically and structurally, the text is quite uniform: it is presented as a very long poem with lines and stanzas of variable size, and divided into three untitled parts; moreover, a steady repetition and variation of several lines and stanzas lends it a semantic coherence, inducing a mnemonic effect as in ballads. One contextual reference is made clear from the start, further strengthening the coherence: in that same preface Harig identifies the diaries of Höß as a source, and the print version concludes with a page-sized picture of a concentration camp oven. Despite its dramaturgical openness, the play is thus very much framed in the context of the German Vergangenheitsbewältigung, and Harig cleverly infuses his selection of materials with references to the Holocaust and Höß’s role. This becomes especially clear in the locations that the textual material suggests: they nearly all refer back to the location and architecture of the concentration camp of Auschwitz and the adjacent Höß villa with its flower garden. [19]

In the first part of the text the first-person narrator—whom due to the preface we are led to identify as Höß—seems to refer to past experiences, situated in a landscape that is both idyllic and gruesome, with a “platform” and flowers blossoming on the “rail tracks” (Harig, Blumenstück, 146). In the second part the narrator suggests a new, contemporary situation in that same landscape that is now identified as Auschwitz through the citation of the parole “arbeit macht frei,” “work sets you free” (174): the landscape is “now” filled with “strollers” (160) and flowers blossom between the ruins. In the third part, the referentially most explicit one, the narrator remembers the roles that others—Eichmann, Himmler, and other high ranked Nazis are mentioned by name—played in that landscape, while stressing the good life he and his family led there. Here, Auschwitz is mentioned by name.

Not only does the narrator talk himself out of his own responsibility, but he does also not regard the site of Auschwitz as a murderous one: in his words, nature has replaced history, a perpetually regenerative nature—the flowers keep on growing, no matter what—that is excused from history and is thus innocent. His language in a very literal sense is verblümt or oblique: it does more than cover up history, it negates the existence of history. The text is explicit in showing how this ideology of a complete equivalence of language and nature informs the negation of history. Moreover, the text identifies this as a German ideology. Nearly at the end a long passage is inserted, as if taken from a prototypical romanticist and identitarian nature guide; here are the first three lines: “does there exist a sweeter language here on this earth / than the rustling of the green leaves / of a german forest” (192).

The text thus combines dramaturgical indeterminacy, especially regarding the question of who speaks and how, with a clear semantic and contextual focus that we can describe as a linguistic critique of a language that conflates nature, history and identity, as well as literal and metaphorical ways of speaking in a flowery, oblique language (“Blumensprache”). The text situates this critique explicitly at the National Socialist crime site of Auschwitz and is in that sense emblematic for the literary and linguistic engagement in the reworking of the Holocaust during the 1960s.

In the radiophonic production, director and composer locate their engagement exactly on the level of who speaks and how, thereby shifting the focus from a critique of language as linguistic system to the questions of performed collectivity and communicative action. Compared to the text, the radio play explores a plethora of possibilities of how to speak with techniques of spatiality and prosodic and musical modes, complicating the monocausal connection between (written, prescriptive, authoritative) language and its effects.

The first intervention of the makers considers the unequivocal identification of the passages of the first-person narrator as spoken by Rudolf Höß. Quite at the beginning of part 1 a male voice states: “I am Rudolf Höß” (01:04)[20]; this is repeated and modified at the beginning of part 3: “I am Rudolf Höß, commander of Auschwitz” (33:46). Both lines are absent from the printed text. The first time, the statement is spoken in a calm and pensive voice; the subsequent silence of five seconds heightens the shock effect that the self-confident and abrupt mentioning of the name already had, a shock that disturbs us even more when we realize what this friendly and trustworthy radiophonic voice is narrating. The second time, the statement is spoken in a louder and more authoritative voice reminiscent maybe of Höß’s testimonials during the Nuremberg trials in 1946. Here, rather than shock a scandalous effect strikes us, as we are forced to hear the utterly self-excusing reconstruction of Höß’s time in Auschwitz, in a patronizing voice that concerns itself only with the logistic accuracy of its narration. In both cases, the discrepancy between prosody and content is striking, performing a clash between the aural invasiveness of the disembodied voice and the actual meaning of the words.

Next to Höß, two other male voices are identified in the radio play. In each part of the play the voice of a teacher tells a fairy tale, the text of which seems to be collaged out of existing fairy-tale motives, especially anti-Semitic ones. Their story lines are absurd and do not lead to a meaningful ending. Instead, they are interrupted before any solution—let alone salvation—can be found. Their symbols have become meaningless. The other male voice speaks only in the third part of the play. In the manner of an objective radio reporter, this voice lends scientific authority to what is a folkloristic account of the German soul that supposedly lives in harmony with nature. Here too, as in the fairy tales, symbols are rendered absurd, or rather: they are shown as being fully recuperated in the service of a violent ideology of natural purity: “the rose is the symbol of purity and innocence / only the best are selected / the rest is eradicated” (191).

Thus, both the stories of the teacher and the alleged facts proclaimed by the scientific voice are shown to be symptoms of the already mentioned conflation of nature and history, and of symbolic, by extension even literary, and literal language. While we can deduce this from the print version as well, it is the voices of teacher and scientist that, each in their own way, uncover the specific oral and didactic mediation of that ideology: the teaching voice induces a violent, anti-Semitic imagination, and the scientific radio voice does not allow any objection against its pseudo-science.

Next to these three single male voices, several choric constellations are audible in the play, representing a significant range of figures of performed collectivity. The children’s choir makes for a highly complex, multi-layered acoustic and musical dimension of the play. Though the content of their songs often is violent and discriminatory, the singing of the children is mostly light-footed and innocent, as the texts are set to pleasant and, so it seems, well-known melodies. Stereophony plays an important role in these choric passages, as it allows the audience to imagine a group of children coming from afar and marching by in synchronized step: the sound travels from left to right and is at its loudest in the middle position. This conjures up the image of marching scouts groups, including its association with austere outdoor training and group spirit. The stereophonic effect accomplishes even more. In the opening passage of the play, for instance, the children’s song “vierzehn englein fahren” (“fourteen little angels ride”) is sung for several stanzas. Exactly when the song reaches its slightly menacing note, proclaiming that “we” will go and “take” (“holen”) a girl in Poland (“polen”), the song arrives in the middle position and is sung out loudly (“then we come and get her / get her get her/”, 145; 00:58). In the counting-out rhymes and wordplays on the other hand, a playful rhythmic chanting reminding us of traditional children’s games is predominant. This too is a choric act, but one following a looser, more variable structure, a structure where the children themselves have a say in the rules and that is easily integrated in their play. Though these rhymes too are often discriminatory in content, the effected exclusion takes place randomly and temporarily.

A completely other form of communicative exchange takes place when the children simply talk and shout during their plays. Here, fragments of playful dialogue are audible, snippets of their mutual understanding within the imaginary world of the play. Acoustically, stereophony again plays an important role in these passages. The quick and constant moving and speaking of the children, probably outdoors, is realistically rendered in the shifting stereophonic position of the voices. This is a very open, non-prescriptive vocal constellation. Gradually, though, a gloomier tone becomes audible in these untroubled plays, as the discourse of National Socialism infects and haunts their speech. However, though we might interpret this as a sign of increasing brainwashing, this is juxtaposed with utterances that seem to adopt poetic principles of concrete poetry: the children’s voices experiment with lists and series generated through paradigmatic variation and permutation, as if looking for another, elementary and not corrupted language. Exactly while experimenting, they uncover the historical truth behind the euphemistic “Blumensprache.” Consequently, they eventually say goodbye to their innocent play:


let’s play our game


check your shoe

there is blood in it

here are the violets

here are the roses

here are the brooms

the violets are small

the roses are big

the brooms are yellow stars

cut them in two


this was our game

these were our words

red roses

yellow brooms

green beeches

yellow birches

let’s count down to play



goldene bremm




this was our game

no more words

it is over


The children’s voices thus build a striking contrast to the single male voices. The montage of their voices constantly interrupts the narration of the single voices. Moreover, they take part in a variety of vocal figures of community, ranging from synchronized singing over playful rhyming to mutual exchanges during play. Lastly, theirs is, at least momentarily, a truly poetic speech capable to destroy the dehumanizing conflation of symbolic and literal language. Indeed, it is the children that name the atrocities that took place in the murderous landscape:

the goldene bremm was a german concentration camp

here jews were gathered

groß-rosen was a german concentration camp

here jews were tortured

birkenau was a german concentration camp

here jews were gassed


Just as the children’s voices contrast with the single ones, the children as a collective are juxtaposed with another collective voice, that of an adult group. This group rather chants than sings and throughout the play, an increasing aggression characterises its voice. Though each of the members speaks the same lines they do not shout them synchronically, but rather as if competing for vocal dominance. Only in the last line of each stanza they loudly chant in unison, with a distinct male voice seemingly gaining the contest. Stereophonically these voices are positioned in the middle, without spatial movement. Together, they build a kind of intense vocal body of militaristic bullies. Toward the end, the unruly chorus time and again shouts the apodictic statement “throws you” and the imperative “turn around,” trying to force the addressee into obedience.

The four last lines of the play build a strong contrast to these preceding violent commands. They are adapted from a famous Romantic lullaby, set to music by Johannes Brahms, that ends with the wish that God will wake you up the next morning. In the play, however, those final lines are omitted, and the song abruptly ends with a bolted door: “I wish good night / a roof of roses / a door of birches / with a latch of brooms” (193). The play thus ends with an interrupted lullaby, closing the door on the hope to awake, while, in the print version, the image of an Auschwitz oven is displayed. In the radio production, these lines are surprisingly spoken by the light-hearted voice of a single child, and not by a parent or elder person. Is the child the sole survivor of the catastrophe? And whom does it condemn to never awake?

Müller’s and Wölfer’s radiophonic production of Harig’s play can thus be said to restrict the indeterminacy of the text, most conspicuously in its identification of the Höß voice, but also in its attributing the diverse textual material to distinct vocal collectives. At the same time, it favors ambiguity in the act of speaking itself, thereby considerably helped by the stereophonic technique and prosodic modes: the effects of speech acts, be it part of the internal or the external communication system (narrated world vs. radiophonic dispositif), remain unpredictable. Maybe this is exactly what the collective and profoundly relational and social voice of the children accomplishes: born into the discriminatory and injurious discursive climate fostered by their fathers, they gradually shift into a creative poetic force, turning around each word to destroy its symbolic function. It remains uncertain, though, how strong or steady this poetic force is, given that the closing lines, spoken by a single child, shut the door.

Rhythm, Rupture and the Representation of Mankind

The second example, Jandl’s and Mayröcker’s Fünf Mann Menschen, was broadcast on 14 November 1968 by the Südwestfunk, directed by Peter Michel Ladiges. By the time the text was published in Schöning’s 1969 anthology, its radiophonic production had already gained considerable institutional attention. The play was commissioned by Hansjörg Schmitthenner, radio play director at the Bayerischer Rundfunk, after he had heard the 13 radiophonic texts that Jandl had produced with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in London in 1966, based on his so-called “speech poems.” Schmitthenner asked Jandl to write a stereophonic piece in the same vein as the BBC experiments. The script that Jandl offered him in 1967 and that was co-authored with fellow Austrian poet Mayröcker, presented, in the words of Schmitthenner, “something completely new, that differed from everything that had formed the textual basis for a radio play so far.”[22] In spite of Schmitthenner’s enthusiasm, the head of the Munich broadcasting station refused to produce the play. Schmitthenner then offered it to the Südwestfunk in Baden-Baden, where they took a keen interest in the script, though not unconditionally either: the original script envisaged a production of only 10 minutes, a novelty that did not fit the programming schemes—radio plays usually approximated an hour’s length. At the station’s request, Jandl and Mayröcker added a lengthy scene in the middle, stretching the production to 14 minutes. It took director Ladiges’ team 14 days to produce the play; on its first night, it was broadcast two times in a row, with an explanatory interval in between the two broadcasts to allow the audience “to check your own impressions” (00:20).[23]

The broadcast was very positively received, both in the press and with the audience. This culminated in the play being awarded the 1968 Hörspielpreis der Kriegsblinden. The jury motivated its choice by stressing the innovative use of the stereophonic technique and the unique transposition of concrete poetry into the radiophonic medium (qtd. in Schöning, Neues Hörspiel. Texte, 450). In their acceptance speech, the authors identified stereophony as the main technical starting point for their creative writing: “Stereophony proved to be a very useful motor. We fixed, from left to right, five positions. From these, the speakers originated, the direction, the stations, the goal.”[24] In an anonymous review quoted by Schöning, the journalist stressed the importance of the award as a recognition of the emancipation of the radio play both from realistic and symbolically overcharged radiophonic storytelling. Moreover, the reviewer identified Fünf Mann Menschen as “pop art”: it is “amusing” and demonstrates “something of the appeal and lightness of the Beat generation” (Neues Hörspiel. Texte, 450).[25]

In exploring the technical possibilities of stereophony for making audible the structural embeddedness of human beings, the generative process at the basis of Fünf Mann Menschen is a medium-specific one that radically differs from the textual and discursive origins of Harig’s piece. Moreover, starting from the radiophonic technique means that the text of the play is conceived with the actual production in mind, anticipating the director’s task. Indeed, the text of Fünf Mann Menschen is supplemented with stage directions that meticulously, one could even say militantly, prescribe the radiophonic realization. Concerning the collaborative process typical for radio productions, this certainly strengthens the role of the authors, even to the detriment of the director’s influence. Equally important is the effect on the reader of the text: this strong authorial stance very much appeals to the reader as a hearing person. Whereas we can read Harig’s text as a long poetic compilation of diverse textual materials, thereby remaining uninformed about who is speaking but also free to imagine what direction the acoustic transposition could take, the text of Fünf Mann Menschen confronts the reader with directions as to the structuring of the acoustic space and the composition of the acoustic material, including prescriptions for the acoustics of spoken language, voices, bodies and objects, as well as for the music that is integrated in some of the scenes. The director of the piece might have limited freedom, the reader of the text is profoundly activated to listen.

In line with the technical structure, the narrative of the play is equally schematically conceived. Fünf Mann Menschen evokes the life course of soldiers in a post-war climate that suggests a connectivity of authoritarian upbringing, militarization, economic issues and popular entertainment. The aftermath of the Second World War and National Socialism certainly is to be felt in that climate, and so is the Americanization of popular culture (music, film, lifestyle). Contrary to Harig’s play, the focus lies not on discursive analysis nor on confronting the generation of the fathers with the crimes of the Holocaust. Rather a more general structural analysis is presented regarding the perpetuation of raising men to participate in a profoundly authoritarian and violent world. There are no real protagonists but rather a collective of five male voices who, like a five-fold Everyman, move from birth till death along several stations of socialization, discipline and punish: home and school, cinema and pub, military, court of justice and imprisonment, and even their own execution, stations that in micronarrative scenes demonstrate the coerced and interiorized collectivity of the “5 Mann,” in which the individuality of “5 Menschen” is worn down (“verbraucht”).[26] The differences between the five voices are marked by their respective positioning in the stereophonic space and by slight variations in the lines they speak. Never do they develop into singular individuals, nor do they ever speak in dissent. Indeed, their polyphony is quite harmoniously orchestrated.

A single male voice, which in the list of characters is identified as an “Ansager,” an announcer or presenter “speaking the captions of the scenes,” introduces each of the fourteen scenes with an absurd aphorism or maxim, seemingly based on proverbs or idiomatic phrases, and spoken with a clear and authoritative voice (Fünf Mann Menschen, 113). This structure performs a parodic repetition of the written convention of introductory headings, and especially of the authoritative guiding voice of the radio announcer, and contrasts with the didactic orientation framing the broadcast of this very radio play that aims at the audience’s critical reflections. In stating nonsense at the beginning of each scene, the announcer’s voice not so much performs the dismantlement of its authoritative power but rather installs absurd authority over and over again.

After the announcer’s opening line, the five male voices appear in diverse existential roles that have in common their subordination under a hierarchical structure. With each role corresponds a specific rudimentary verbal or paraverbal act of five voices, ranging from the asemantic and uniform choric screaming of the newborn over the imitation of gun shots by the children at home and the repetitive outcries of the boys in school, to the young men’s unreflecting, monosyllabic comments on the film in the cinema scene. The elementary reduction of life into a typical, allegorical life course is mirrored by the abbreviated language of the dialogues. Phrases are extremely elliptic and words monosyllabic. The interjection “Aha” (115 and 129; 1:00 and 14:10) with which the fathers react to the birth of their sons, is commonly considered to express a sudden insight or surprise. Here, its mechanical, detached prosody at most points at resignation or even apathy.

As to their timbre, the voices are hardly distinguishable; neither does their respective allocation to one of the five stereophonic positions indicate structural differences among them, as for each of them it amounts to a similar subordinate situation under the authoritative single voice of the father, the officer, the judge. The analytical significance of the stereophonic spatiality for the critique of these regimes of collectivity becomes clear, for instance in the scene at the school (scene 3). Here, the authoritative figure of the teacher is not vocally present but purely as a violent sound effect that moves freely among all five positions of the pupils: each of the five boys’ voices repeats from its respective fixed position that he “didn’t do it, Sir” (116; 1:42-1:51), an assertion followed each time by the sound effect of a slap in the face. With this acousmatic effect, the acoustic mode enhances the suggestion of an omnipresent structure of authoritarian violence.

Tellingly, even in the scenes where the authoritative punishing figure seems to be completely absent, for instance in the pub, the five voices do not divert from their standardized speech. There is no stepping outside of the hierarchical power structure, not even a pushing at its boundaries, and no exploration of the potential freedom in the intervals between the five positions. Even more limited is the agency of the few female characters. The voices of the five nurses in the maternity ward, the location of the opening and closing scenes, mechanically speak a single phrase: “A son, a beautiful son!” (115 and 129; 0:55 and 14:06), the standard performative statement defining the gender of the newborn. The declaration is expressed in unison, from all five positions simultaneously, reducing the women to an even stronger uniformity than is the case with the five average male biographies. In the scenes where a single female voice utters a few words (in the family home and the pub), the women without exception serve in a subordinate role.

The fifth scene, the one the authors added to lengthen the radio play, is situated in a career office; the text of the five career counselors is spoken by only one voice actor and simultaneously broadcast from the five stereophonic positions. A slightly audible shift in timing prevents synchronicity but does not affect the intelligibility, creating the effect of a chanting choir. Like the teacher, the deindividualized nature and ubiquitous presence of the authoritarian, disciplining power is demonstrated, here in the surround usage of the acoustic space and the amplification of one voice over five channels. Moreover, the five-fold vocal structure is, in a musical sense, harmoniously arranged, leaving no room for dissonance. Still, semantic absurdity creeps in, as the rendering of supposedly objective economic facts gradually gives way to an endless listing of alleged career possibilities, unflinchingly chanted by the five-in-one voice of the career officers, who remain unperturbed by the voices of the five men and their desperate career visions. In a way reminiscent of the authoritatively voiced nonsensical captions at the beginning of each scene, the career officers’ chanting does both belittle the political and economic system as well as demonstrate the power of its absurd irrationality.

A striking feature of the play—and here too, Ladiges’ production follows the stage directions of the authors—is the fragmentary assemblage of music and bodily sounds. Snippets of film music (scene 4 in the cinema), the refrain of a song (scene 6 in the military), and a few chords of accordion music (scenes 8 and 13 in the pub) are audible, as are repetitive bodily sounds, all mirroring the elliptic and reductive linguistic communication.

In the category of bodily sounds, the footsteps of the protagonists of the film scene (a scene embedded in scene 4), of marching soldiers (scenes 6 and 12), and of the five imprisoned men (scene 11) stand out. The indexical sound of the footsteps, typically used in radio plays for the suggestion of human bodies moving in space, unfolds an acoustic choreography that points at competing figures of collectivity and their inherent tensions between mobility and restraint, individualization and collectivization. In the prison scene, for instance, where the five men contemplate their miserable situation, we hear how at first M1 walks around and how the others join in one after the other. They at the same time speak their lines—“we can’t get it out of our head. / I can’t either.” (126)—in a prayerlike, meditative way. The musical and choreographic effect of the steady multiplication of the pacing footsteps over nearly two minutes (11:17-13:00) results in a choric cadence that suggests a joint effort to meet with the situation, not unlike the effect of cohesion in a silent protest or funeral march. At the same time, the cadence outlines the confined space of the prison cell. Thus, the footsteps simultaneously conjure up the prison walls—which is enhanced by a strong reverb effect—and the agency to meet with them.

In the military scene (scene 6) the collective footsteps of the marching soldiers are in harmony with the rhythm of their song. The techniques of fade-in and fade-out are used to increase the suggestion of the squad’s approach and march-through. At the end of the scene, the vigorous marching continues even while the soldiers’ singing voices are “muffled and suffocated” (121) by gas masks. The song itself opens a complex range of associations, indicating that stereotypes and stock images might very well function in diverse ways, depending on the political context. On the one hand the song functions as an iconic reference to the transition from traditional folk culture over its National Socialist appropriation to commercial postwar schlager music: “Schwarzbraun ist die Haselnuß” (Dark brown is the hazelnut), is a German folk song the motives of which go back as early as the 16th century. In the 1920s it was sung in progressive working class and environmental organizations, before it became a soldiers’ song of the Wehrmacht during the Second World War, which brought it under the influence of National Socialist ideology.[27] In 1967, German pop singer Heino recorded the song. Heino had also recorded several other folk songs that had been put in the service of Nazi propaganda. On the other hand, however, opponents of National Socialism seem to have sung the song as well (Boock), and indeed, as it talks about the sensual love of a dark brown boy for a poor dark brown girl, its text can hardly be said to fit well in Nazi ideology. Either way, the integration of exactly this song in a Wehrmacht scene at the very least seems to function as a signpost of the historical obliviousness in postwar German society.

In a lighthearted way, the cinema scene (scene 4) addresses the connection between violence, crime, and popular culture. Not accidentally, this scene is, in the timeline of the typified life course, situated on the threshold between youth and “manhood.” We hear a few bars of film music and an extremely fragmentary, dubbed film scene that conjures up the violent encounter between a gangster, his boss, and a drug taker. The acoustic rendering of the boss punching the two others in the face reminds us of the violent teacher, only now the violence is a source of entertainment for the five young men. It also seems to anticipate the sound of gun shots in the execution scene (scene 12). Regarding the violence that accompanies and affects the life course of the five men, the sonic motives thus connect as a kind of sonic choir the pedagogical slap in their faces with the entertaining immersion in aggressive punching and their own deadly shooting. The sonic collectives create a continuum of serial violence that, not unlike the assemblage of the folk song does, points at the transitions between education, militarization, and popular culture.

Postwar pop culture is not the only cultural field the radio play integrates. Older entertainment formats are referenced too. The serial structure of the play, with each scene preceded by a caption, is reminiscent of grotesque revue theater as it was practiced in the context of the communist workers’ theater in the 1920s, for instance by stage director Erwin Piscator. The parodic character of the captions, citing and at the same time disturbing explanatory headlines, can also remind us of the disillusionment at work in Brecht’s epic theater. Fünf Mann Menschen applies a montage technique of abrupt ruptures to this theater format, producing a series of sound-images that are assembled with hard cuts, not with fade-outs, as was customary in the traditional radio play. The transition between the execution scene (scene 12) and the pub scene (scene 13), for instance, performs a hard clash between the sound of the shot bodies falling and the accordion music in the pub. This “continuum of ruptures,” an effect both of the montage and the extreme reduction of the linguistic and sound material, reminds the listeners of the existential shock at the heart of this radiophonic entertainment. Herewith the broadcast of the play undoubtedly disturbed ingrained radiophonic distributions of the sensory, though the question remains whether this “disturbance” was enough.[28]

Indirect Critique—a Deficient Mode of Literary Politics, a Case of Latent Complicity?

The two examples of the New Radio Play analyzed here differ significantly in the listening experiences that they evoke. This not only applies to the conspicuous variation in broadcasting duration. Above all, it concerns the contrast between the flow of free associations on the one hand (Ein Blumenstück), and the combined modes of shock, grotesque and Beat on the other (Fünf Mann Menschen). However, the plays show great similarities in terms of content and formal starting points. Both are dedicated to central political themes for Germany and Austria in the 1960s, as they address the insufficient working through of the atrocities of the National Socialist past, of the Shoah, and the Second World War. Like the student movements of 1968, they connect this with the question to which extent “German culture” was responsible for the emergence and stabilization of the National Socialist regime and the continuation of authoritarian structures beyond 1945. Thereby, both radio plays aim to incite reflection on the shared responsibility of all members of society and oppose the prevailing attitude of repression, denial and shifting the blame towards individual perpetrators and their seductive power.

In the selection of their formal means, which are pivotal to the execution of these political objectives, the two radio plays also have much in common, since both engage a broad spectrum of forms of communal articulation that refer to different interlocking regimes of subjectivization, individualization, and communitization. Crucially, both pieces display the multiple modes of collective speaking, singing, or shouting not only as a staging of collectivity, which undermines individuality. They also enable an understanding of individual speech acts as part of historically, sociologically, and medially specific “figures of community,” brought forth through the sensual and sense-giving participation of each individual.

In both radio plays, this view on collectivity is conveyed through the tension between suggestive, individual male voices with defining power on the one hand, and various group constellations on the other. In none of the presented situations of communication and interaction is the Habermasian ideal of power-free, egalitarian exchange realized. Underneath the violent, excluding, or incapacitating speech acts, however, this ideal remains present as a negative point of reference. Strikingly, in both plays, the purely choric passages, just like those in which obedience and conformity are practiced, are not exclusively performed on command. The groups and their members are not portrayed as powerless counterparts of the dominant individual figures, but as part of a social constellation that is always brought about collectively, by everyone playing along. In many cases, the groups—despite superior individual voices—even have considerable power, as becomes evident, for example, in the performances of Harig’s aggressive adult choir. Just as little can the collective hero of Fünf Mann Menschen be understood as a passive victim. The five male protagonists are executed by a firing squad, which constitutes a new, unmarked group of five, replacing the first without commentary. After this collective Everyman has shot his alter ego on command, he “processes” this act in the subsequent scene by laughing and trivializing the deed, brushing it aside. The authors and directors of both radio plays thus base their stories on a performative concept of power, which shows that all participants, in their co-performing of community, are co-responsible for the past, for its working through and for the future. Both plays, however, clearly demonstrate that the possibilities for free individual action and egalitarian forms of collectivity remained unused to a shocking extent.

Here, the decisive difference between the two plays comes to the fore. For, while Harig stages a development, the cyclical structure of Fünf Mann Menschen can be understood as the epitome of social standstill, the mechanical reproduction of inherited power relations. In contrast to the children in Ein Blumenstück, who take possession of the language of euphemism, violence, and repression, and who ultimately call concentration camps and genocide clearly by their names, the typified collective hero in Fünf Mann Menschen does not advance a single step. While Harig traces how the murderous language and power relations of a parent generation of perpetrators are upended by their children, Jandl and Mayröcker place their focus on the exact opposite: they show that childish wordplay cannot match up to experiences of violence, mortal fear, murder, and guilt, but instead reproduces trauma and hinders change.

In Ein Blumenstück, it is not only the children who succeed in putting the events into words. The play itself—interwoven with a plurality of anti-mimetic techniques—pursues a policy of direct, clear speech. It calls the perpetrators, the locations, and the victims by their names and leaves no room for doubt regarding historical guilt. In comparison, Jandl and Mayröcker work with an indirect mode of social critique. The context of the broadcast strongly suggests a connection of the scenes presented with the history of National Socialism, the Second World War, and the failure to come to terms with the past. However, a clear reference to time and place is lacking, as well as a comprehensible distinction between perpetrators and victims. As such, linguistic impotence, traumatization, and cultural practices of the social underclasses are permitted entry into literature and radio. Nevertheless, the question remains whether the indirect mode of critique in Fünf Mann Menschen with its avoidance of explicit statements really undermines the culture of repression still prevalent at the end of the 1960s, or whether it bolsters this culture by leaving open the central historical references. This restraint becomes even more significant given that the 1968 German student movement, with its urge to deal with the past, found its Austrian counterpart only some twenty years later. Up to that point, the myth of Austria being “the first victim of Hitler’s Germany” in 1938, and therefore innocent in what followed, had dominated the political and cultural self-understanding. Viewed from this perspective, the radio play succeeds in contributing to the demanded “democratization” (Knilli, “Inventur”, 152) of the mass medium of broadcasting through its pop cultural materials and its understandability. However, this democratization might well take place at the expense of a clear positioning regarding the “Breach of Civilization” (Dan Diner), represented by the Auschwitz’ death camps.

… or Just a Different Politics of (Collective) Form?

If one includes—following Rancière—the listenership in this focus on figures of performed collectivity, a different picture of the aesthetic politics of both radio plays emerges. This approach implies that we must analyze them also in terms of how they deal with the challenges of the radio as dispositif. The fact that National Socialism could congenially use the new mass medium was due to the medium’s inherent logic of increasing the asymmetry of power between producers and recipients, thereby creating new and higher demands on socially effective critical art.

Against this background, it becomes clear that both radio plays not only address the “primary aesthetics” of authoritarian social structures, but also intervene in the “primary aesthetics” of the medium. Both pieces attack the uncanny power of the “disembodied voices” that infiltrate the most private realms, and thus respond to the “schizophrenic” dispositif of the radio and its suitability for being instrumentalized by totalitarian regimes. Hereby, both radio plays pursue the aim of bringing the genre into the egalitarian paradigm of the “aesthetic regime”, into the universe of “silent” signs that do not issue instructions. In dealing with these challenges, however, the authors follow two ways that exemplarily diverge from one another.

Harig uses the abundance of authentic materials to explicitly address the central historical events and their political dimensions. Jandl and Mayröcker contrast this directness with the greatest possible reduction and abstraction, which works with blank spaces and breaks in a radical way. National Socialism and the Holocaust go unmentioned while in turn the question of possible complicity in violence, war and genocide remains open. Harig’s Blumenstück appears to take a totally opposing path by offering a clear answer to the question of historical guilt. The naming of the death camps and of leading perpetrators seems to assign a fixed, distinct place to the recipient; an impression that is further reinforced by the strict composition of the material. Looking more closely, however, it becomes clear that Harig also works systematically with blank spaces, which invite a free and flexible reception.

Of importance in this regard is Harig’s opening of the play towards the listenership through the collective articulation of two anonymous groups: on the one hand, the children playing; on the other, the aggressive choir of adults. Given that a large part of the listenership had experienced the cultural traditions of both groups, the play activated a tension that forced recipients to reflect on themselves. Ein Blumenstück confronted the audience with the question of which side they were on in this power struggle; it formulated a call to take a stance, a demand that is intensified at the end of the play with its subtle address of the listeners, conveyed by the final lullaby.

This task of self-positioning, however, can hardly be resolved in the ephemeral situation of radiophonic reception. Even if the appeal cannot be disregarded as such, the central element of the question—the relationship between children and adults—can hardly be grasped upon first listening. Because of this unresolved tension, one “can’t get” Harig’s play “out of one’s head,” to use a phrase from Jandl and Mayröcker’s play (126). It sparks the need to read what was heard, to decipher what is encoded, and to privately locate one’s own position. Ein Blumenstück reverberates in its invitation of a solitary, individuating, self-reflexive re-reading and a consultation of silent, written letters and words. If this invitation is taken up, the split reception (listening/reading) that oscillates between acoustic memory and seen text enables the learning of a new way of dealing with the past and with the given distribution of the sensible. We can describe this new form of active reception—even when the printed text is only called up in the imagination—as reading in listening and understand it as one possible response to Jandl’s demand “not to harken so romantically,” as Jörg Drews formulated it. [29]

The positioning of the listenership undertaken by Fünf Mann Menschen differs from this firstly in that it is understandable for everyone. It demands no intensive hermeneutic labor, nor literary competency, no knowledge of cultural history nor familiarity with debates around anti-Enlightenment tendencies in nature poetry. However, this play too reverberates with the listener, and again it is a blank space that triggers activation. But in contrast to Harig’s play, it is the holding open of historical reference that is now the decisive means. Furthermore, it is the listening collective in its diversity to which pressing questions are put. Jandl and Mayröcker’s radio play allows widely varied political camps to feel addressed, represented and affirmed. “Simple” Wehrmacht soldiers who, like the five male protagonists, killed on command, can point out that they were only doing their duty. Former members of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) can feel understood as references to the Holocaust are left out and waging war is displayed as part of normality. Relatives of victims can counter this by claiming that the denial, trivializing, or shifting of blame is precisely what Fünf Mann Menschen criticizes: for the fact that the five men are presented as representatives of an entire generation, if not all humanity, is based on a significant miscalculation. In the supposedly universal history of Fünf Mann Menschen, it is not only half of humanity, the women, that is forgotten. It is also the 70 to 80 million victims of the Second World War, including the 6 million Holocaust victims, who (in a strict sense) are given no voice. That the “replacement” of the five shot men remains uncommented can thus be interpreted as the crucial point that Jandl and Mayröcker sought to criticize. The cyclical structure of the play and the absence of any reflection or change can thus be read as an explicit reminder that, under these conditions, another World War and another industrialized mass murder are both possible.

Hence Fünf Mann Menschen also builds up a tension that persists and demands processing. The activation now applies less to the individual recipient than to the collective of listeners. The radio play does not invite solitary, contemplative reading and reasoning, but discussion instead.[30] It incites the exchange of different interpretations of the play and, therefore, the exchange of different views on Austrian and German NS history. This interaction may tend towards the Habermasian ideal of egalitarian communication, but it may also precisely reproduce those authoritarian structures that the play presents. In the latter case, however, any kind of non-egalitarian exchange would represent a repetition of the narrated histoire, making perceptible exactly those traditions which Jandl and Mayröcker focused upon. Fünf Mann Menschen thereby also responds to the schizophrenic radio dispositif and its use by the National Socialist regime, as it reckons with the after-effects of the broadcasting situation, which evoke, compared with Harig’s play, a further form of split reception (listening/discussion).

The spaces that both radio plays open are therefore shaped in contrary ways. Harig includes the individuating, emancipatory potential of the distance-medium of writing in his radiophonic politics. Jandl and Mayröcker rely upon the presence-medium of the voice and the communicative action in which collective rules and collective memory are (re)negotiated. Choosing different paths, however, both radio plays engage in a politics of form, which has a democratizing effect on the level of the senses. Taking up Rancière’s reflections on the relationship between politics and aesthetics, they both disrupt given radiophonic, literary, and social distributions of the sensible and can thus be assigned to the “aesthetic regime” and its specific way of doing politics.

With their interventions in collective orderings of the sensible, both radio plays not only address and rework the realm of the sensory; they also enable the listenership to take up that very reflexivity that flashes up in Fünf Mann Menschen for just a moment: “M5: What are you getting at? / M4: One can’t get it out of one’s head. / M5: I can’t either.” (126) With this sentence, the fifth man in the prison scene joins the others in walking around, thus completing a collective funeral march, with the execution taking place the following day. However, the biography of the five-fold Everyman does not end here but continues seamlessly with the biography of the perpetrators. In 1967, the year before the first broadcast of both plays, a key work on the failure to come to terms with recent German history was published: The Inability to Mourn: Principles of Collective Behavior by Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich. Considering this, Ein Blumenstück and Fünf Mann Menschen contribute to the development of the ability to mourn by exploring two exemplary ways for a literary-radiophonic politics of (collective) form.


[1] See for instance Wendelin Schmidt-Dengler, Johann Sonnleitner and Klaus Zeyringer, eds., Komik in der österreichischen Literatur (Philologische Studien und Quellen) (Berlin: Erich Schmidt, 1996), and Leslie Bodi, “Sprachregelung als Kulturgeschichte. Sonnenfels: Über den Geschäftsstil (1784) und die Ausbildung der österreichischen Mentalität,” in Pluralität. Eine interdisziplinäre Annäherung, eds. Gotthart Wunberg and Dieter A. Binder (Wien: Böhlau, 1996), 122–153.

[2] See Georg Jäger, “Die Herbartianische Ästhetik – ein österreichischer Weg in die Moderne,” in Die österreichische Literatur. Ihr Profil im 19. Jahrhundert (1830–1880), ed. Herbert Zeman (Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, 1982), 195–219.

[3] Franz Schuh, “Protest ohne protestieren. Zur Widersetzlichkeit von Konrad Bayers Literatur,” in Konrad Bayer Symposion Wien 1979, ed. Gerhard Rühm (Linz: Edition Neue Texte, 1981), 71–82, 72. All translations from German source texts are our own, except when mentioned otherwise.

[4] See Ernst Hanisch, “Historische Überhänge in der österreichischen politischen Kultur,” Österreichische Zeitschrift für Politikwissenschaft 13, no. 1 (1984): 15–19; Siegfried Mattl, “Autoritäre Modernisten und skeptische Avantgarde. Österreich um 1959,” in Die Wiener Gruppe, eds. Wolfgang Fetz and Gerald Matt (Vienna: Kunsthalle Wien, 1998), 14–19.

[5] See Wiener Aktionismus. Kunst und Aufbruch im Wien der 1960er-Jahre, eds. Eva Badura-Triska and Hubert Klocker (Vienna: MUMOK Museum moderner Kunst, 2012).

[6] Brian McHale, “The long sixties, 1954–1975,” in The Cambridge History of Postmodern Literature, ed. Brian McHale and Len Platt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 83–172.

[7] Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible, trans. Gabriel Rockhill (London: Bloomsbury, 2019), 8.

[8] Jacques Rancière, The Mute Speech: Literature, Critical Theory, and Politics, trans. James Swenson (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011); Jacques Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator, trans. Gregory Elliott (London: Verso, 2009).

[9] In recent years important works have been published on the ambivalent history of collective articulation in drama and performance, of which Evelyn Annuß's monograph Volksschule des Theaters. Nationalsozialistische Massenspiele (Paderborn: Fink, 2019) is especially worth mentioning. For the field of the radio play, comprehensive investigations are still outstanding. See for an analysis of Jandl and Mayröcker’s radio play Spaltungen (Splits, 1969) in relation to the inheritance of choric speech Inge Arteel, “A theater of choric voices: Jandl and Mayröcker’s radio play Spaltungen,” in Tuning in to the neo-avant-garde: Experimental radio plays in the postwar period, ed. Inge Arteel, Lars Bernaerts, Siebe Bluijs and Pim Verhulst (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2021), 196–212.

[10] See Allen S. Weiss, Phantasmic Radio (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), and Avital Ronell, The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989).

[11] See Kaja Silverman, The Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), and Michele Hilmes, Radio Voices: American Broadcasting, 1922–1952 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997).

[12] See Hans-Jürgen Krug, Kleine Geschichte des Hörspiels (Konstanz: UVK Verlagsgesellschaft, 2003), 65; Bettina Wodianka, Radio als Hör-Spiel-Raum: Medienreflexion – Störung – Künstlerische Intervention (Bielefeld: transcript, 2018), 206–208.

[13] The Hörspielpreis der Kriegsblinden testifies to the success of the New Radio Play, as several innovative productions of the late 1960s and 1970s received this prestigious award. It quickly evolved from a predominantly sociocultural initiative to alleviate the existential situation of the war blind to an artistically ambitious institution in favor of innovations in the genre of the radio play.

[14] This thesis is also the reason why we have not included examples by Swiss authors in our comparative approach.

[15] See Neues Hörspiel. Texte Partituren, ed. Klaus Schöning (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1969).

[16] Heinz Hostnig, “Erfahrungen mit der Stereophonie,” in Neues Hörspiel. Essays, Analysen, Gespräche, ed. Klaus Schöning (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1970), 129–133, 133.

[17] Friedrich Knilli, “Inventur des Neuen Hörspiels: »Oos is Oos« von Ferdinand Kriwet,” in Schöning, Neues Hörspiel. Essays, 147–152, 148 & 152.

[18] Ludwig Harig, “Ein Blumenstück,” in Schöning, Neues Hörspiel. Texte, 141–194, 143.

[19] See Mark E. Cory, “Soundplay: the Polyphonous Tradition of German Radio Art,” in Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio, and the Avant-Garde, ed. Douglas Kahn and Gregory Whitehead (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994), 331–371, 357-358. Höß in his writings referred time and again to his Auschwitz villa and its flower garden—which his wife, mother of five children, considered her “paradise”—, surrounded by woods and fields. It was, however, built immediately next to the camp walls and a watch tower. After the war, Höß escaped detention for a few months disguised as gardener.

[20] Time specifications are of the original 1968 broadcast that was kindly provided to us by the Südwestrundfünk/Saarländischer Rundfunk. Length: 53:23. Male voices: Günther Sauer, Joachim Nottke, Charles Wirths; the Zürcher Kammersprechchor; children’s choir; children’s voices.

[21] These four lines each refer to a specific Nazi camp; we therefore leave them untranslated.

[22] Hansjörg Schmitthenner, “Eine Stelle, wo vorher nichts da war,” in Ernst Jandl Materialienbuch, ed. Wendelin Schmidt-Dengler (Darmstadt: Luchterhand, 1982), 95–109, 102.

[23] Time specifications are of the original 1968 broadcast that was kindly provided to us by the Südwestrundfunk. Length 14:29.

[24] Ernst Jandl and Friederike Mayröcker, “Rede anläßlich der Verleihung des Hörspielpreises der Kriegsblinden am 22. April 69,” in Ernst Jandl, Mein Gedicht und sein Autor. Werke in 6 Bänden, vol. 6, ed. Klaus Siblewski (München: Luchterhand, 2016), 133–137, 136.

[25] In the context of our confronting Fünf Mann Menschen with Ein Blumenstück, it is a telling coincidence that Harig’s play competed with Jandl’s and Mayröcker’s for the 1968 Hörspielpreis der Kriegsblinden (cf. Schöning, Neues Hörspiel. Texte, 450). The decision in favor of Fünf Mann Menschen was a strong one, though, with 17 out of 18 votes.

[26] Ernst Jandl and Friederike Mayröcker, “Fünf Mann Menschen,” in Schöning, Neues Hörspiel. Texte, 111–129, 118.

[27] See Barbara Boock, “‘Schwarzbraun ist die Haselnuss, schwarzbraun bin auch ich’ – Nachforschungen zu einem umstrittenen Volkslied,” ad marginem, no. 74 (2001): 3–10.

[28] Jörg Albrecht, Abbrüche. Performanz und Poetik in Prosa und Hörspiel 1965-2002 (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2014), 346. Albrecht surprisingly does not include Fünf Mann Menschen in his lengthy study on rupture and interruptions in prose and radio plays from 1965 onwards.

[29] Jörg Drews, “Fünf Mann Menschen,” in Ernst Jandl. Texte, Daten, Bilder, ed. Klaus Siblewski (Neuwied/Darmstadt: Luchterhand, 1990), 129–133, 130.

[30] In 1984, the radio play was published as an edition designed for school lessons, inviting students to discuss the play, to act it out and develop it further.