Art, Nothingness, and Reality
The feuilleton can be understood as a literary genre or simply as a section of the newspaper. Or one might see it as a method for thinking about the world, as Claudius Seidl does in his latest book.
By Holger Moos
Seidl is head of the feature pages of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. His book Die Kunst und das Nichts (Art and Nothingness), which compiles 35 of his feature articles from about the last 20 years, begins with an assertion. For him, the feuilleton is “a place in Berlin-Mitte, the fourth floor of the editorial office at F.A.Z.”
But he soon clarifies that the feuilleton is actually a method he uses to understand the zeitgeist – going even beyond the arts. Arts columnists like him transfer their aesthetic discernment to politics, society, and economics. They are not bound by the stricter requirements of, say, political reporting. Their minds can drift freely, they are allowed to make associations, and they can even write entertaining and humorous material. Arts columnists must be happy people. Seidl writes in his foreword, “This book is about the fortune of not having to always report from reality.”
Spiritual home in a film museumMany of his articles demonstrate that Seidl’s great passion is for the cinema. In one of his most personal essays, “Die fröhlichste aller Wissenschaften” (The Happiest of All Sciences), he writes about his younger years when the cinema at the Munich Film Museum became his spiritual home. A day that included a visit to the cinema was never a wasted day. Cinema is a critique of reality, but at the same time a “school of better life.” Of the many resolutions he made on his thirtieth birthday, the most important one was to never grow accustomed to reality.
Some of the articles are devoted to single films, sometimes to mainstream movies like Batman Begins, Spider-Man 2 or the James Bond flick Skyfall, or films by one of his favourite directors, auteur Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds, Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2).
Even when he writes about current events, he makes connections to movies. In an article published shortly after 11 September 2001, he speaks of the terrorists staging “the most frightening horror scenes in movie history.” Although establishing a cause-and-effect relationship was precluded, surely the killers had seen films like Independence Day or Armageddon. “The shocking thing is that what happened is what we dreamed of,” wrote philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek at the time. Seidl’s prophecy that Hollywood might stop producing action films in the years following the disaster was not fulfilled, however.
German is not a traitSeidl also takes political positions. He has no tolerance for German chauvinists, “those opposed to reappraising the past and in favour of national pride.” What is German cannot be defined, particularly not with “blood and soil” gibberish. “German is not a trait,” he says in the relevant article. It’s about Dieter Borchmeyer’s thousand-page book Was ist deutsch? (What is German?) from 2017, the chief merit of which is the attestation, “how un-German the usual responses are of those today attempting to set the supposed Self apart from the Other.”
In another article, Seidl points out that inane talk of the Judeo-Christian character of Germany not only excludes Islam – usually intentionally in such cases – but also excludes secularisation, enlightenment and atheism. Seidl often addresses gender roles and relationships, but also writes about Rainald Goetz, the hypocritical desire to punish in the case of Kevin Spacey, or about the moon landing. Seidl’s collection of articles is a literary stroll through the past two decades and shows what aesthetic perceptions are capable of revealing about politics and society.
Seidl, Claudius: Die Kunst und das Nichts. Nahezu klassisches Feuilleton
Berlin: Edition Tiamat, 2019. 240 S.