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"To the Base – against Self-Satisfaction": Erwin Strittmatter’s Contribution to the Discussion at the Bitterfeld Conference [Excerpt] (April 24, 1959)
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The “Hard Way of Writing”

But there are other things that impede the truly creative and forward-looking discussion within the league. We are currently in the process of preparing a discussion about the so-called “hard way of writing.” A few of our young and a few of our no longer quite so young authors have borrowed this way of writing from not very progressive American or West German writers. They say something like this: What sort of drivel are you spouting about the heroes of our workday being poetic and kind people? Reality is harsh. The “Black Pump” Kombinat [combine] is not being built by innocent lambs. That’s for sure! But neither is it being built solely by rowdies, drunks, soldiers of fortune, or by the sorts of workers who double and triple their efforts for the sake of a fat paycheck. Last week, a colleague at the member meeting of the Berlin league said something like this: you can go into an enterprise from two ends; in one case, with the intent to understand the people at the production sites, to learn to love them; in the other case, as though you were going into the Zoological Gardens and making scientific observations. He said it even a little more bluntly. Immediately, however, a storm of protest arose among the members: who in the world goes to the workers this way! They did not want to accept the second approach as true. And yet there is among us this kind of loveless literary approach to the labor of our workers: all poeticizing about the workers and the work is strictly disapproved of; the writing about process and people is bare and cold, as though the workers were machine parts who just happen to be able to think. Something like this, I believe, is also expressed in the so-called “hard way of writing.”

To make a long story short: we are preparing a discussion about this way of writing, the “hard way of writing.” But already during the preparations for this discussion we have discovered that there is no clarity about it among our board members, who are regarded as models by our colleagues. That is not so bad, some say, why a separate discussion about this way of writing? It is simply one artistic device among others. I believe the problem is more serious.

Since I have been in the league and have slowly been able to get a sense of what is going on, I can see that our young authors are turning toward and applying themselves to this way of writing. The problem is serious because our workers notice instinctively, but sometimes also quite consciously, that in this way people are speaking badly of them, writing badly about them. All their thinking and feeling is suppressed. Their heart is manipulated into their paycheck. They feel that they are not understood and say: We are not like that. Even when one tries to convince them that this is real art they are dealing with, they have to know it and adjust to it and get used to it. What arrogance!

How are we now to have a discussion with the younger writers, whom this concerns, if the older and more experienced ones do not agree on the anti-humanism of this way of writing, if they do not consider the problem all that serious. We end up creating confusion. That must not be. The unresolved problems continue to smolder. The old comrades are seized by resignation in one way, the young comrades in another, and the entire life of the organization is paralyzed.

What, for example, was done when the new secretariat presented the plan for the future work of the league? At first, the formal inadequacies of this plan were discussed. The language was not beautiful enough, it had too much functionary jargon, and so on and so forth. And that occurred even though this working plan was not intended for publication. But was it really only formal reasons that stretched the discussion out endlessly? There were even efforts to adopt the working plan only three months later, at the next meeting of the league. Why so? One gets closer to an answer if one looks at the following point.

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