Wie ich lernte, die Frauen zu lieben
by Ranier Moritz
Deutsche Rundfunk (Berlin)
25 October, 2004
Many books need years to find their public, and even
in retrospect it is sometimes difficult to denote the causes of
this protracted wait for attention. So it is all the more welcome
when a publishers persistence and desire to make discoveries
lead to success and important works finally gain recognition...
Such a discovery could be in store for Stephen Vizinczey, born
in 1933 in Hungary and now living in London. His books have met
with approval in many countries, have sold a large number of copies
and won prizes this summer in Italy, for instance, the Premio
Isola dElba, which in the past went to authors like Alexander
Kluge, Tomasso Landolfi, Michel Tournier or Mario Luzi. In Germany
there were only half-hearted attempts to make Vizinczey known, and
so it is courageous and praiseworthy of the newly founded Munich
publisher SchirmerGraf to make another attempt to present an intelligent
author like Stephen Vizinczey in new editions.
After SchirmerGrafs publication this spring of Vizinczeys
essays Die zehn Gebote eines Schriftstellers, which praise Heinrich
von Kleist and Stendhal enthusiastically at great length, dismiss
Goethe and Thomas Mann in caustic marginal notes, and on the way
round inquire about Lies and Truth in Literature, there lies before
us the novel, first published by the author in Toronto in 1965,
which established Vizinczeys reputation as a highly erudite
and at the same time potentially scandalous writer.
In Praise of Older Women was the original title of this erotic
Bildungsroman, and the extreme difficulty of bringing the text adequately
into German is immediately evident in the choice of the right title.
Two translators and two publishers have wrestled with it in the
past: in 1967 Scherz Verlag dared the bold or simple-minded (depending
on your point of view) translation Frauen zum Pflücken, which
makes a little shiver run along your spine. Just fifteen (twenty)
years later Klett-Cotta behaved more respectably, did not reduce
the female sex to the level of overripe fruit, and with the choice
of title Lob der erfahrenen Frauen stayed closer to the original.
And now? Carina von Enzensbergs elegant new translation,
occasionally at loggerheads with the conjunctive, bears a title
which at first glance is misleading: although Wie ich lernte, die
Frauen zu lieben is retouched to bring it up to date, it still misappropriates
a decisive component of the novel: Vizinczeys intention to
sing a lovesong to women of a certain age-group, women who have
a store of experiences at their disposal and are ready to give novices
who are willing to learn a chance to share in this treasure.
Wie ich lernte, die Frauen zu lieben certainly suppresses this
age limit, but on the other hand one must admit that it asks an
indirect question which promises instruction and does it in a subtle
way: namely, that the hero of Stephen Vizinczeys novel mistrusts
the promise of happiness from Prousts jeunes filles
en fleur and reveals this step by step, with each new experience
that the love-hungry protagonist takes. And not least: the new title
is reminiscent of François Truffauts splendid film
Der Mann, der die Frauen liebte, that sad-comic life-confession
of the engineer Bertrand Morane, whose funeral is attended exclusively
by women, who all think they know that their former lover understood
their soul, and who are completely indifferent to the fact that
they are not alone in profiting from this empathy.
Truffauts and Vizinczeys heroes have this in common,
that they do not look on women as interchangeable objects. Their
conquests are successful because they try to explore the secrets
of the women they desire, and give their partners the feeling that
they are respected and loved as persons. Truffaut and Vizinczey
do not provide their Men who Love Women with oversized masculine
characteristics: they are sympathetic seducers, who leave no doubt
that only death will prevent them from striking out for new shores.
He who loves will be loved - so runs the simple formula:
If deep down you hate women, if you dream of humiliating
them, if you enjoy ordering them around, then you are likely to
be paid back in kind. They will want and love you just as much as
you want and love them and praise be to their generosity.
At the end we lose sight of this unforgettable life-virtuoso András
Vajda. His informal confession ends with a glance at the adventures
of a middle-aged man, but that is another story.
Whether we will ever receive it as told by Stephen Vizinczey is
questionable. All the same: his publishers are preparing a new edition
of his novel An Innocent Millionaire, and at the same time Vizinczey
is apparently completing a new book. The rediscovery of a great
European writer is not finished yet.