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Michael Rutschky
A Sad, Old White Man

He has been described as an intellectual coach, the mentor of an entire generation. In his diaries, Michael Rutschky, who died in 2018, reveals himself as a laconic flâneur through his own, visibly darkening life.

By Holger Moos

Rutschky: Gegen Ende © Berenberg Who isn’t familiar with them? People who are always complaining, eternally moaning and groaning, who feel they have always gotten a raw deal in life, and who let the hear all about it at every opportunity. Rutschky calls such a person a “Vorwurfspersönlichkeit” (i.e. blamer personality). Such people could not be characterised more succinctly.

Gegen Ende. Tagebuchaufzeichnungen 1996–2009 (i.e. towards the end: diary entries 1996-2009) is the title of Rutschky’s third, now posthumously released diary volume, following Mitgeschrieben (i.e. noted, 2015) and In die neue Zeit (i.e. into the new era, 2017). It is full of precise descriptions of this kind, but also full of digressions. The short diary entries tell as much about his dog's cancer as about political discussions with friends and companions, and even more intimate moments. Everything is addressed equally.

Dripping with desolation

One might now think one could garner some insights into the glamorous life of the Berlin bohème, since Rutschky had an illustrious circle of friends and acquaintances, including Gerhard Henschel, Kathrin Passig, Rainald Goetz, Stephan Wackwitz, David Wagner, Ulf Erdmann Ziegler and many more. But what Rutschky – who always refers to himself as “R.” in the third person – records in his diary positively drips with desolation.
It is a book of slights and grievances – both suffered and inflicted. Time and again, Rutschky focuses on signs of decay: “The aging body successively loses all charms, at first for the aging person himself. Just as it becomes unimaginable for him that he could be attractive, others lose all attractiveness as well, no matter what their age.”
The decay of the body, self-loathing, the bluntly described decreasing potency that is unable to stimulate his numerous sexual fantasies, including homoerotic ones, fear of impoverishment, fame denied – all this is one aspect.


But Rutschky also dishes it out. He writes unsparingly about his wife, whom he should have left long ago (“Their marriage makes it abundantly clear that his life has failed.”). His marriage is a competitive relationship between two intellectuals struggling to make a living from writing, battling for attention in the cultural and media sectors, and consumed with fears of loss of social status. He reveals the alcoholism of his wife Katharina – who died in 2010 – who drinks because otherwise she would be unable to write. He calls this “Stimulationsalkoholismus” (i.e. kick-start alcoholism).
If one follows his diary, Rutschky was at times an angry old white man, but for the most part his entries read like the ventings of a deeply sad, old white man. Michael Braun calls the diary in the NZZ the “Opus magnum des Alltagsethnografen” (i.e. opus magnum of an ethnographer of every-day life), even though the third volume in particular is immersed in a more dismal light.
Rutschky reveals himself and his life – and one recognises that his fears, human vanities and shabbiness are also deeply rooted in his intellectual milieu. But Rutschky formulates it all so well, so cool and mockingly, without all that much self-pity, that the indiscreet and sometimes unpleasant closeness not only remains bearable due to his stylistic distance, but, according to Kurt Scheel in the foreword, a “Lebensroman” (i.e. a novelised life) also emerges. Or: “A triumph of art over the sufferings of a damaged life,” as Jörg Lau sums it up in his afterword.

Cherry Picker Rutschky, Michael: Gegen Ende. Tagebuchaufzeichnungen 1996-2009
Berlin: Berenberg, 2019. 360 S.
ISBN: 978-3-946334-49-12