A Rare Find: Weird Tale Author – Hans Henny Jahnn

Oh, a rare find…

Hans Henny Jahnn a highly controversial writer from Germany, especially because of his drastically cross-border literary depictions of sexuality and violence. According to the social history of German literature (1981), he is one of the “great productive outsiders of the [20th] century”.

I am reading David Peak’s The Spectacle of the Void which offers his reading of horror from a philosophical perspective using current trends such as Speculative Realism and other forms. I want go into that here. He describes a tale by German author Hans Henny Jahnn. Luckily found a couple of his works translated in English: The Living Are Few, The Dead Are Many – Three shorter stories, “Kebad Kenya”, “Sassanad King”, and “A Master Selects his Servant”; and the novella “The Night of Lead”. Peak describes his novella The Night of Lead as a “work singularly obsessed with the overlap of death and sexuality, eroticism and decay…”, a man who has learned to embrace the horror reality, by merging with existence in the present, by accepting being with no past and no future, suspended in the void, he has performed a true act of katabasis. (Peak, 76)

I think what piqued my interest is his anti-natalist and being one of the first to offer an attack on the anthropocentric world view. His thought seems in many ways close to Thomas Ligotti which I’ll need to pursue once I get ahold of these works. His greatest work is a three-volume trilogy Rivers without Borders, but has yet to be translated… seems to be a sadomasochistic recursion to as the wiki entry has it,

Jahnn seems to have been close to the Gnostic mythos viewing humans as a “catastrophe-creation,” an error that should be quickly stamped out. Ulrich Greiner describes the structural features of his literary work in 1994 in TIME for the author’s 100th birthday under the ironically meant heading The Seven Deadly Sins of Hans Henny Jahnn:

It is based on a “reduction of man” on the biological. Jahnn sees man as part of nature, which is not above the animal, but rather how this pain feels. For Jahnn, life is a “universal and permanent pain” that animals endure,” while man inflicts pain in a planned and prudent manner: himself and his like, the animals and the whole of nature. Slaughterhouse and war are the two sides of an incomprehensible will to destroy life.” For Greiner, Jahnn’s work is a “protest against the anthropocentric world view”.

Determining “for the whole Jahnn’s work is the central idea of an anti-Christian creation mythology”, which is influenced by the Old Babylonian Gilgamesh epic and “ontogenetically regarded as pre-Oedipal,” according to the social history of the German Literature (1981). A “strictly anti-civilizational position” manifests itself in it by means of the following motif complexes: anarchic, nature-religious myths (versus Christian tradition), ancient Egyptian death mythologies (versus German tradition of Hellenism), “elementary attachment of man to his carnality, in which drive, sacramentality and barbarism are fused” (versus humanistic human image), archaic-timeless landscapes in which man, animal and nature live in unresolved unity (versus bourgeois Enlightenment-based, progress-oriented civilization).

A customer on Amazon states” it is rather easy to compare a variety of authors to Kafka. Queasy interior spaces, discussions whose meanings explode through failed communication, a constant uprooting of linear movement. This is why we pull so many books from the shelves, old and new, to see Prague’s weaver of strange fables as a point of reference. Descending from K, we then find authors such as Blanchot and Bataille, who show this influence but swim into modes even murkier and more transgressive. With Blanchot, I refer not simply to more popular works like Death Sentence, but also the shorter parables to be found in the collection Vicious Circles. Here we do not simply encounter discomfort, impossible exchanges, and dreamlike states, but meet a philosophical obsession with dying head on. Of course the same can be said for Bataille, whose Story of the Eye, Blue of Noon, and My Mother/Madame Edwarda/The Dead Man, are texts of sexual subversion somehow equally preoccupied with the grave.”

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