Authors: Botho Strauss

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

German playwright and novelist

Author Works

Drama:

Peer Gynt: Nach Henrik Ibsen, pb. 1971

Die Hypochonder, pr., pb. 1972 (The Hypochondriacs, 1977)

Prinz Friedrich von Homburg: Nach Heinrich von Kleist, pb. 1972

Bekannte Gesichter, gemischte Gefühle, pb. 1974 (Familiar Faces, Confused Feelings, 1976)

Sommergäste: Nach Maxim Gorky, pb. 1974

Trilogie des Wiedersehens, pr. 1975 (Three Acts of Recognition, 1981)

Gross und Klein: Szenen, pr., pb. 1978 (Big and Little, 1979)

Kalldewey: Farce, pb. 1981

Der Park, pb. 1983 (The Park, 1988)

Die Fremdenführerin, pr., pb. 1986 (The Tour Guide, 1995)

Besucher, pr., pb. 1988

Sieben Türen, Bagatellen, pr., pb. 1988

Die Zeit und das Zimmer, pb. 1988 (Time and the Room, 1995)

Jeffers-Akt, pr. 1989 (radio play)

Angelas Kleider, pr., pb. 1991

Schlusschor, pr., pb. 1991

Das Gleichgewicht: Stück in drei Akten, pr., pb. 1993

Ithaka: Schauspiel nach den Heimkehr-Gesängen der Odyssee, pr., pb. 1996

Jeffers: Akt I & II, pr., pb. 1998

Der Kuss des Vergessens, pr., pb. 1998

Die Ähnlichen, pr., pb. 1998

Der Narr und seine Frau heute abend in Pancomedia, pr., pb. 2001

Unerwartet Rückkehr, pr., pb. 2002

Long Fiction:

Schützenehre, 1974

Marlenes Schwester, 1975

Die Widmung, 1977 (Devotion, 1979)

Rumor, 1980 (Tumult, 1984)

Paare, Passanten, 1981 (Couples, Passersby, 1996)

Der junge Mann, 1984 (The Young Man, 1989)

Niemand anderes, 1987

Kongress: Die Kette der Demütigungen, 1989

Beginnlosigkeit, 1992

Wohnen, Dämmern, Lügen, 1994 (Living, Glimmering, Lying, 1999)

Die Fehler des Kopisten, 1997

Das Partikular, 2000

Poetry:

Unüberwindliche Nähe, 1976

Diese Erinnerung an einen, der nur einen Tag zu Gast war, 1985

Nonfiction:

Versuch, ästhetische und politische Ereignisse zusammenzudenken: Texte über Theater, 1967-1986, 1987

Der Gebärdensammler: Texte zum Theater, 1999

Biography

Botho Strauss (shtrows) was born on December 2, 1944, to middle-class parents in the Ruhr region of Germany. He attended school in that area and went on to study German literature, theater history, and sociology at the University of Cologne and the University of Munich during the early 1960’s. From 1967 to 1970, he served as critic and editor of the well-known West German journal, Theater heute. In 1970, he began work as a producer with the theatrical group Schaubühne am Hallischen Ufer. Strauss has received a number of literary prizes and awards, and several of his works have been made into films.{$I[AN]9810000741}{$I[A]Strauss, Botho}{$I[geo]GERMANY;Strauss, Botho}{$I[tim]1944;Strauss, Botho}

Strauss’s writings present examples of the style that has been termed the “new subjectivity,” a trend that emerged in German literature during the early 1970’s. The works of Peter Handke and Karin Struck are also included in this movement. Many of the writers of the 1960’s had focused on political themes and had sought to promote a socially committed literature. Authors such as Strauss and Handke, however, began to write about the more personal themes of the individual’s existential and psychological alienation. Strauss’s texts seek to uncover not the political factors that shape the individual’s existence but rather the unconscious and irrational forces that seem to determine so much of the conscious personality. This focus is motivated, in part at least, by the belief that true social change must first begin within the self.

Strauss’s first major play, The Hypochondriacs, is set in Amsterdam in 1901 and involves a rather complicated murder-mystery plot. The traditional conventions of this genre–open questions concerning the identity of the murderer and the motivation for the act–make the concepts of interpretation, meaning, and a transcendent order to events problematic. Strauss’s deliberately convoluted plot confounds notions of “reality” and forces the viewer to confront his subjectivity and the essential impenetrability of experience. Three Acts of Recognition, one of Strauss’s better-known plays, presents a series of characters who are visiting an art exhibition and who, as they come and go on the stage, make observations on topics such as art, love and marriage, careers, and friendships. The plot serves as a vehicle for Strauss’s comments on the complex and alienating nature of modern life and the various types of personalities that modern society has produced. Many of the characters suffer from a profound sense of isolation and an inability to establish true communication with others. The play moves along on a disturbing note of pessimism about the nature of human relationships.

The play Big and Little is written in the manner of many expressionist dramas such as the Stationendramen of Georg Kaiser. It consists of ten connected but not continuous scenes involving the life of a woman named Lotte. Her husband has left her for another woman, and, disillusioned, she tries to promote an idealistic message of love and forgiveness to those she sees. The people that she meets in the various scenes are all representative of the existential emptiness, the essential lack of spiritual significance, that Strauss sees as characteristic of modern life. Lotte becomes deeply emotionally disturbed by what she encounters and the play ends on this pessimistic note. The novel Devotion deals with a man, Richard Schroubek, who is writing a chronicle of his love affair with Hannah Beyl, who has recently left him. Such moments of loss, abandonment, and dislocation mark the experience of Strauss’s characters and initiate their reflections upon the self and others. Schroubek’s document of self-examination, which is at times ironic and rather morbid, has a therapeutic effect, and he believes that he has put his emotions in perspective. When he finally sees her again, however, he is disillusioned, and the whole affair no longer seems to make any sense.

Strauss’s figures are all involved at some level in a quest to make sense of their feelings. Tumult is another novel in which the main character, Bekker, is extremely isolated from others and, as a result, prone to anger and violence. He reacts strongly against a world in which power games dictate the nature of relationships. Bekker’s experience of himself and others becomes gradually more fragmented and frustrated.

The Young Man consists of several sections held together by the ironic reflections of the narrator, Leon Pracht. A somewhat autobiographical “novel of education,” it bears a faint resemblance to the eighteenth century German novels of that same genre, Novalis’s Henry of Ofterdingen (1802) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (1795-1796). As is common with Strauss’s works, this text is an extended rumination on the quality of life in the depersonalized and anonymous modern world. The introduction contains the narrator’s reflections on the romantic form of his novel and his “poetic” journey. In the first section Leon has left his work in the theater world and become a writer. He is obsessed with ideas about life in the nuclear era. In the novel’s second section he observes an alternative society–the “Synkreas”–in which a person’s creative and artistic faculties could be wholly utilized.

The third section deals with a businesswoman who has a profound spiritual experience after a series of horrible visions and nightmares. She commits herself to a life of love and unselfish activity. Strauss suggests that the compulsive pursuit of material goods so prevalent in Western culture is motivated by an existential fear of death. In the section entitled “The Tower” Leon meets with the film producer Ossia in a high-tech hotel, and they discuss theories of art. The novel ends with Leon alone, since his girlfriend, Yossica, has left him to pursue her own artistic career.

Strauss’s writings present a critical view–an often ironic unmasking–of life in twentieth century postindustrial society. It is best understood as a counterpoint to the political and sociological preoccupations of German authors during the 1960’s. Strauss produces a profound and rather bleak vision of the psychological stresses and existential alienation that define the modern individual’s sense of self: People are plagued by a spiritual vacuum and crippling neuroses that limit their capacity for self-knowledge and stifle their ability to establish genuine intimacy with other human beings.

BibliographyCalandra, Denis. New German Dramatists: A Study of Peter Handke, Franz Xaver Kroetz, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Heiner Müller, Thomas Brasch, Thomas Bernhard, and Botho Strauss. New York: Grove Press, 1983. Includes a section on Strauss’s plays of the 1970’s with emphasis on characters and themes (isolation, relationships, shifting identities). Also discusses specific stage productions, especially premieres.McGowan, Moray. “Past, Present, and Future: Myth in Three West German Dramas of the 1980’s.” German Life and Letters 43, no. 3 (April, 1990): 267-279. Looks at the growing interest in myth during the 1980’s and places Strauss’s use of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream in the context of other playwrights adapting Arthurian and Germanic myths. None of the authors uses myth as an escape from reality.Stoehr, Ingo R. German Literature of the Twentieth Century: From Aestheticism to Postmodernism. Rochester, N.Y.: Camden House, 2001. Provides a broad survey of twentieth century German literature with brief sections on plays and novels by Strauss that allow the reader to see Strauss’s contribution to literature.
Categories: Authors