A Long Shot for Carl the Survivor

“Death, the last cut, always leaves a bitter feeling mixed with pain & loss . . . and because of its finality gives you no choice but to look back.” — Jurgen Ploog

Here’s a rough translation of Ploog’s original article posted in German by Gasolin Connection on Feb. 2, 2012. Ploog is the author of two dozen books. Selections of his writing have been published in at least as many anthologies. His cut-up novella Flesh Film, written in English, was published online by RealityStudio in 2010.

A Long Shot for Carl the Survivor

By Jurgen Ploog

Death, the last cut, always leaves a bitter feeling mixed with pain & loss . . . and because of its finality gives you no choice but to look back

Carl & I were companions, & in the literary field accomplices. The occasion to commemorate him forces me to think about where it all began. It was May 1968, a year to remember. During a trip to the US I had discovered a magazine called San Francisco Earthquake with a piece by a German author in it. It was a faithful cut-up text that struck my curiosity. I wanted to know who was behind it & suspected a wacky American with a pen name.

To my surprise my letter of inquiry was answered by a guy named Weissner, & a lively exchange of letters followed. He had spent 2 years in New York, San Francisco & Hawaii & was getting ready to return to Germany. The letters kept flying & a yearlong collaboration started.

In Germany there was a lot of action in the streets & in our minds but it was nothing compared to what was happening in the States. Keen observers from the European side of the Atlantic looked West, & not only for the music. It was the period when Rolf Dieter Brinkmann wrote Westwärts 1&2 (published in 1975). It was a time when places like Istanbul, Tangier or Beirut seemed far away & strange, & the dystopian vision of 1984 was beyond reach just over the horizon. It was also a time when we did a lot of reading. But most of all it was a time of upheaval & rebellion.

Carl & I had some biographical background in common. I had spent a year in the States in 1952 & he the years 66-68. From the beginning our correspondence took off bilingually, not either/or but jumping within & between sentences. In a way it was a bipolar language in which fragments of German & American phrases blended easily. Yep, American with an undercurrent of the colloquial, of slang & street talk, an orientation toward the spoken word. The urge was to get away from the German written lingo, which took over automatically when it got to putting things in writing.

In this respect he was certainly ahead of me because in his early years he had hung out with GIs in Heidelberg jazz joints, where he must have come in contact with poems & stories that shared the same sound as those offbeat places, where the prevailing attitude was hip, i.e. antibourgeois, open & in opposition to anything square. This mind-set must have felt like a liberating concept for someone who had grown up in a bureaucractic environment like Karlsruhe’s.

The decision to publish samples of uninhibited expression in a magazine wasn’t inevitable, but it seemed necessary for someone who didn’t want to get stuck in a bohemian atmosphere or who would be happy just being part of it. For me, that’s a non-artistic effect based, on one hand, on a specific Lebensgefühl (attitude towards life) &, on the other hand, on the intention to move beyond simply being part of something. What followed was a remarkable little mag called KLACTO.

At the end of 1968 Carl showed up at my door in Frankfurt. He had managed to contact Brinkmann & Ralf-Rainer Rygulla, who were preparing an anthology dedicated to the “new American scene” which hit the German “pigpen” (as Carl phrased it in a letter) like a hammer. It was obvious that those with a taste for unconventional writing didn’t want to leave it at translating imports from abroad. It was time to start publishing one’s own stuff & show the literary establishment that carefully orchestrated celebrations like those of Group 47 were not without a moldy smell.

Joerg Fauser, a young writer who had experienced some hard times in Istanbul & was eager to present his first written efforts, soon joined the group. Writing was experimental by nature because it reflected outlandish experiences. Most of all, “experimental” meant recklessness in handling form & content face to face with situations involving drugs. The motto was: “Why stop here?” The volume of material from both sides of the Atlantic seemed inexhaustible, so we started to publish it on our own account. The first go was called UFO & was soon followed by Gasolin 23. Distribution relied mainly on a catalogue-like magazine that catered to offbeat publications, fanzine & little mags, called ULCUS MOLLE. Our project made it to nine issues.

At the time Gasolin was only one of many independent ventures in an abundant variety of pamphlets, literary mags, comics & poetry papers with widespread proliferation based on iconoclastic attacks on established & recognized attitudes & literary categories. The aim was not to produce “texts”, poems, short stories or novels & not even a “literary magazine” (those lay around in bookstores & were for most part sponsored by established publishing houses). To us, writing meant an act of conviction if not an offense of conviction with a gut feeling based on personal experience requiring verve, chutzpah & the spice of rebellion. Writing/publishing was the assertion of a revolutionary act.

Every young generation caters to its own illusions, & that can only work if it doesn’t know what it is doing. Or if it knows & does it anyway. Gasolin & other independent mags were about language & specifically a language with the potential to express resistance, deviation & rejection with no consideration for what others thought, especially the so-called mainstream, the critics, editors, or the rest of its collaborators & watchdogs. Yep, the more they wondered & the more they disapproved the better. All means & ways of handling a text were allowed. Tape-recorder experiments, collaborations where one author started & another continued, & yet another cut in, remixing all previous material. Carl used this method with Burroughs & Pélieu (So Who Owns Death TV) & Jan Herman, Carl & I got together & produced Cut Up or Shut Up (1972).

Carl is mostly recognized as the translator of Burroughs, Bukowski, Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, J.G. Ballard & others & rightly so. I see him mainly as a writer in a unique combination: namely as a blend of author & translator with a special capacity — the ability to superimpose his own language on the original and thus merge it into an amalgam of its own. This was in a way an alchemical procedure. His great achievement was to meld both languages, resulting in an unmistakable sound. That was Carl’s trademark, an authentic translated language that proved its validity especially in the cases of Burroughs’ Naked Lunch & all the writings of “Hank” Bukowski. That was a task demanding the man’s full capacity, the whole Weissner who was always struggling & searching for the right expression even (as he once said) during his sleep.

I am afraid, Carl was forced to take this detour because his linguistic engagement demanded it, & I presume there were phases in which it would have looked like treason to him to devote himself solely to his own writing. Sure, the fact that he had to make a living was a factor too, an angle that cannot be ignored. It was all an effort to remain true to his dedication to language, & controversial American writers provided plenty of challenges to demonstrate his skill.

Is there an escape from the treadmill of translating? Only in rare cases, & as his last years showed, Weissner could achieve that almost effortlessly. Weissner was never only a translator; Weissner was Weissner & remained as solid as a rock to his last breath. A survivor & he knew it.

As he began writing his own stuff, he returned not only geographically to the origin of his work as a writer, picking up the thread almost seamlessly, with Manhattan Muffdiver & The Adventures of Trashman, from where he had left off in his earlier years. It was as if the last 30 years had passed with a mere blink. This was probably intended as the groundwork for a new literary start that was as watertight as possible. As he said, he was working on 2 or 3 novels simultaneously, which was quite possible when you are doing cut-ups & using the montage technique.

He was never in danger of getting lost in the mainstream. His language & his views were much too independent & authentic for that. That’s why it is not significant how much of “own” writing he left behind. Any of those literary prizes that are handed out in Germany, flimsily & to serve vested interests, would have been wasted on him. Linguistically (& in his unwavering attitude) he was nothing less than a rock in the undertow of a dubious literary establishment.

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