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The cemetery-goer
Walter Grünzweig
19 April 2023
published in Issue Three
Im Wald der Metropolen
Karl-Markus Gauß

(Paul Zsolnay Verlag, 2010), and other works

For decades I’ve been reading the books of Karl-Markus Gauß and have always been surprised by how little I know my own continent.

The map that would be drawn from Gauß’s travels is sharper than other maps; everything on it would seem at first like a religious or linguistic exception. The Karaites of Lithuania, a Turkic group with a Judaic belief; the Gagauz, a Turkic minority in Moldova (but also Bulgaria, Ukraine and other countries of the region) who are Eastern Orthodox Christians; the Arbëreshë, Albanians who settled in Southern Italy in the Middle Ages and still thrive there as a bilingual and bicultural group; the German minority in the Zips, in today’s Slovakia, speaking a medieval version of the language; an even older group of German-speakers in Northern Italy, the Zimbern, whose German is based partially on Old and Middle High German; the Sephardic Jews of Sarajevo with their Jewish-Spanish Ladino going back to their expulsion from Spain in the late fifteenth century; the Aromanians, speaking an Eastern Romance language close to Romanian, who are scattered all across the Balkans; the Sorbs, a Slavic minority in the Eastern part of Germany; or even the Assyrian Christians in Sweden. Europe, he wrote in 2018 (channeling Feuerbach via Marx), « has only been glorified or damned. The point, however, is to discover it. »

Many of Gauß’s roughly thirty books emerged from travels to and among ethnic minorities and other « peripheral » groups and their descendants. Sometimes his travels show us only the traces left. Translations have appeared in Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, three in Ukraine. In Western Europe, four of his works were published in French, two in Sweden, three in Italy and two in Spain. In 2022, he won the Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding. So far, English-language markets have strangely ignored Gauß — possibly because he has rather proudly ignored them. Im Wald der Metropolen (In the Forest of the Metropoles, 2010), one of his finest, will be the first Gauß book to be published in English, probably in late 2023 or early 2024. But that is merely a beginning.

Who guards the dream of Europe? Gauß has looked to many guardians, « historical minorities » above all. They belong not « to a likeable or obdurate rear guard of history, » but rather to an avant-garde. What the dominant nations are being taught, with huge sums of EU money — namely, to live together, dialog with each other and learn from each other — these Europeans have practiced for centuries, often with enormous losses...

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Karl-Markus Gauß, « Die neue Teilung Europas Über das Desinteresse an uns selbst », in Die Bibliothekarinnen von Rennes, Reden (Salzburg: Otto Müller Verlag, 2018).

It will be translated by Tess Lewis, who has brought many Austrian and German authors, among them Peter Handke, Walter Benjamin and Hans Magnus Enzensberger into English. All English translations from Im Wald der Metropolen that I’ve cited here are by Lewis.

Abenteuerliche Reise durch mein Zimmer (Zsolnay, 2019)

Kark-Markus Gauß, Die sterbenden Europäer (Zsolnay, 2001).