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Sherlock Holmes, Romantic

From 21st-century TV adaptations to steam-punk movies based on Conan Doyle’s original stories, Sherlock Holmes is hot. In this two-part article, BRB contributor Bruce Fleming looks for the real in the fictional stories of murder, crime, and 19th-century forensics. What he finds are stark contrasts: between urban life and the dark side of the English countryside; between Romantic ennui and eccentric exhilaration; between the dull and predictable life of the English worker and the exoticism of the colonies. In the end, it turns out, Holmes is both a Romantic — a brother to Baudelaire and his contemporaries — and something different altogether. Where Baudelaire celebrates, and wallows in, ennui, Holmes is a curiously passive rebel against the forces of lethargy. Holmes, then, is perhaps more human than his super-human inferential abilities might suggest, and a quintessentially modern figure to boot.

A Voice from the Shadows

Self-Shadowing Prey, one of the final texts by the Romanian poet Ghérasim Luca (1913-1994), combines surrealist playfulness with an impetus for rigour that does not shy away from revising, expanding, and rearranging ordinary vocabularies and meanings. Indeed, much of Luca’s life and work suggests a poetics of dislocation on several, intensifying levels: first, as self-dislocation, in the assumption of the pseudonym by the emerging Jewish-Romanian artist; second, by the artist’s migration — and movement into another language — from Bucharest to Paris. Finally, there is the dislocation in poetic practice, occasioned by the confrontation with the very historical forces compelling such migration. The result, in the words of reviewer Michael G. Kelly, are works which ‘bathe in a carefully modulated and sustained sense of menace where language’s porosity, the compossibility of contrasting and overlapping meanings, heightens the lack of ease that is fundamental to the poet’s artistic subjectivity’.

The Spanner in the Works

A major portion of the poetry of Günter Eich (1907-1972) has, at last, been made accessible to an English-speaking readership in a new translation by Michael Hofmann. The judicious selection of poems gathered in the volume (‘Angina Days’, Princeton 2010) allows the reader to follow Eich’s development as a poet in detail. It is a journey which accompanies and reflects upon the personal, political and social issues of his time, the Cold War, rearmament, the German “Economic Miracle”, the Vietnam War, the suffering of the poor and oppressed. In his detailed review for The Berlin Review of Books, reviewer Axel Vieregg, himself a notable Eich scholar, offers annotations and footnotes, in an attempt to clarify some of Eich’s concerns that might otherwise be overlooked.

The Seductions of Poetry

The Poetry Lesson, by Andrei Codrescu, is a lucid yet playful book, that slips between memoir and fiction, jaunty anecdote and pure tangent, as it describes the first lesson of an ‘Introduction to Poetry Writing’ course, in the last year of its teacher’s institutional career. While Codrescu’s displays a light touch and an elegant frivolity throughout, the very cleverness of his approach leads reviewer Rupert Thomson to ponder what is left of the sense that a passion for poetry will achieve anything.

The Tragedy of Afghanistan

“Those who should hear, they’ll hear nevermore / Destroyed, dispersed is the proud host of yore / With thirteen thousand their trail they began. / Only one man returned from Afghanistan.” On the eve of the 2010 Afghanistan conference in London, The Berlin Review of Books publishes a new English translation, by Gabriele Campbell, of Theodor Fontane’s poem ‘Das Trauerspiel von Afghanistan’. First published in 1848, it tells the story of the sole survivor of a massacre suffered by the British during the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842) in January 1842.