Barbarianism Without End
Culture is a thin varnish covering the chasms of barbarianism. Disasters churn it up; they are the well-spring of contradictions: collective solidarity and unconventional force. Jonas Lüscher’s much acclaimed debut novel Frühling der Barbaren (The Barbarians’ Spring) is a narrative in a highly concentrated form about these two sides of humanity.
“While Preising was sleeping, England went under.” This sentence describes the climax of the monstrous event. While on a business trip to Tunisia, the industrial tycoon Preising joins illustrious guests at a wedding party. At a luxury resort in the desert, the young City bankers are celebrating while in London the financial system collapses. Distracted by the celebrations that are in full swing and despite a permanent online connection, they miss out on the news of their own world imploding and the Arab Spring breaking out in Tunisia. The events in the desert turn things on their head. Suddenly, joie de vivre reverts to fear and rage.
Jonas Lüscher describes this transformation concisely and acutely in a slim novella. The desert is the perfect setting for this. Under the baking sunshine Preising befriends the groom’s parents. The mother is a cultivated lady, the father a slightly unpolished sociologist. Both admit to finding it difficult to get on with their son’s friends. However, the older generation can only watch powerlessly as the youngsters turn “their” world inside out.
The novella runs through events with great attention to detail and in an exemplary fashion, while Jonas Lüscher, like his protagonist Preising, refrains from making moral judgements. The latter simply looks on and, in the end, makes a happy escape. He relates his experience to the unnamed first-person narrator on a walk through the walled park that apparently belongs to a clinic.
Lüscher unfolds his story between subtle understatement and garish effects. A weakness for the mannered and eccentric merely emphasizes the laconic aloofness with which he describes the drastic events. In the teaser, he quotes a text by the cultural historian Franz Borkenau according to which barbarianism is “also a creative process”. In other words, and in the terms of this book: does the end of predatory capitalism make way for something new and creative? At the end, Preising is asked by the narrator what he has learned from all of this, to which he merely replies, “You’re asking the wrong question yet again.”
Jonas Lüscher doesn’t intend to give any answers; readers should find these themselves in the gaps and folds of this equally simple as well as complex book.
Jonas Lüscher: Frühling der Barbaren (The Barbarians’ Spring). Novella. Verlag, C.H. Beck, Munich 2013. 128 pages, CHF 21.90.
By Beat Mazenauer
Translated by Suzanne Kirkbright