Book ReviewsDatacide 10

Everybody talks about the weather…We don’t:

The writings of Ulrike Meinhof

edited by Karin Bauer, afterward by Bettina Röhl. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2008. $19.95/£9.99

This book is the first translation in English of a collection of Ulrike Meinhof’s column articles that she wrote for the West German Left magazine konkret between 1959-1969. Compiled are 24 texts by Meinhof that read well in English, although the accuracy of the translation hasn’t been confirmed yet.

The columns were selected for this edition from two collections of Meinhof’s writings by publisher Wagenbach: Die Würde des Menschen ist antastbar. Aufsätze und Polemiken and Deutschland Deutschland unter Andern: Aufsätze und Polemiken. Karin Bauer, professor of German Studies at McGrill University, Montreal, writes an 86 page biographical essay on Meinhof taking up almost a third of the book, while Bettina Röhl, daughter of Meinhof, concludes with a venomous denunciation of the politics of Meinhof.

These extra contributions are somewhat superfluous, so first assessments will deal with the writings of Meinhof. The editor chose to avoid including Meinhof’s later writings in her association with the RAF, therefore this compilation represents about a fourth of all the column texts Meinhof wrote for konkret. The most problematic aspect of this book is the lack of any apparent organization to the sequence of the translated articles – neither chronological order nor columns grouped together by theme. Reading through all of Meinhof’s columns certain recurring political issues do emerge such as nuclear armament of the West German army; trials of Nazi perpetrators of the Holocaust; attempts by politicians to change the constitution (Basic Law); protests against US foreign policy specially on Vietnam; the FRG’s relation to Israel; the BDR; the Shah’s visit to Berlin in 1967, women’s rights; corporal punishment; the media and finally the student movement and APO. None of these columns have included an explanatory preface situating the issues in a larger historical context, therefore it is assumed the reader is quite familiar with German politics of the 1960s (although there are footnotes with some information at the end of each column).

The purported uniqueness and critical edge of Meinhof’s opinions expressed in her columns cannot be easily assessed as the introduction and afterward focus squarely on respectively inflating or tearing down the mythic image of Meinhof as articulated presently in German society. Second, extremely unfortunate is the lack of publication information for each translated text. For example, the column “Dresden” is dated 1965 and details Meinhof’s denunciation of the Allied bombing as barbarous and inhumane associating the tactic with the crimes of the Nazis, and at the same time supporting the spurious claim that bombings were unnecessary because “the outcome of the Second World War had already been decided as Stalingrad.”

The spectre of holocaust revisionism is made more apparent in Meinhof’s citation of the book The Fall of Dresden by David Irving, who later became infamous as a trenchant holocaust denier. The reader is not given the information of the issue, number or page of the actual konkret publication in which the text appeared (and this is true of all articles included) making it extremely difficult to go back to the original publication if one so desired. Another serious problem is that there was no attempt to keep the visual format of konkret and the method of column layout intact in this translated book. Bauer in her biographical essay on Meinhof (page 36) continually stresses the fame and importance Meinhof held in the media and left-wing circles especially once Meinhof’s columns were printed on page 2 and 3 of each konkret issue, therefore sustaining the original visual format would have given the reader a stronger sense of the historical specificity of these writings in the context of Left magazine publications during the 60s, but not a single reproduction of a konkret issue is included.

Prior to the columns of Meinhof in this book is the biographical essay written by Bauer, which is a rehash of psychological interpretations of Meinhof’s “descent into terrorism” gleaned from numerous other biographies (see page 94, footnote 3). A critical interpretation of the genre of biography clearly sets the limitations of the explanative value of such writing. One interesting note is that in exchange for allowing the translation of Meinhof’s writings whose rights are held by Röhl and publishing house Wagenbach (see page 20), Röhl contributed her short essay “Icon of the Left, Propagandist, and Communist.”

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