Mention the Beat generation and most will think of Jack Kerouac, sexual liberation and mad dashes across the American West. Few would utter the name Jörg Fauser. But the Beat poets’ spirit of rebellion found expression too in the punks, political radicalism and squatting scene of Germany in the 1970s, with Fauser its literary pioneer.
Jörg Fauser’s work reimagines the frenetic atmosphere of American Beat literature, introducing a cool detachment and heavy dose of political scepticism. Novelist, biographer of Marlon Brando, accomplished poet and investigative journalist, Fauser was a prolific writer who is too often overlooked in the English-speaking world. But that may soon be set to change, with the high-pro le release of a film of his novel Raw Material by the celebrated director Pepe Danquart.
Fauser was born near Frankfurt in 1944. Twenty years later he broke off his university studies and disappeared with a nascent heroin addiction to the criminal underworld of Istanbul. He subsequently spent time in Frankfurt, Berlin and Göttingen, squatting, working for various literary magazines and starting to write both prose and poetry. Weaning himself off the opioid habit, alcoholism took its place. In 1987, Fauser was hit and killed by a lorry on a motorway outside Munich, which some have suggested was an assassination: at the time Fauser had been researching the relationship between the drug trade and government officials.
Only two of Fauser’s works have been translated into English, beginning with The Snowman. In this novel, his drifter protagonist Blum comes across a sizeable fortune in high-grade cocaine and undertakes increasingly desperate attempts to find buyers. It was Bitter Lemon Press who took a chance on the novel in 2004, and co-founder François von Hurter doesn’t skimp in his praise: ‘The Snowman is certainly one of the best crime novels we have published (or read for that matter) from anywhere in the world’.
However, it is Fauser’s Raw Material that is widely understood as his masterpiece. It is a semi-autobiographical romp through Istanbul, Frankfurt and Berlin in the company of the ‘macrobiotics and health-sandal freaks, anthroposophs and anarcho-syndicalists’ of German counter-culture, recounted by struggling author and Fauser alter-ego Harry Gelb. Fauser’s often hilariously dry wit is showcased throughout. Cutting depictions of the pretentious and self-aggrandising sit alongside brilliantly pithy turns of phrase: in one sequence Gelb remarks, ‘in Germany only tramps and snobs walked, and only tramps could think we were snobs.’
The Clerkenwell Press published Jamie Bulloch’s translation of the novel in 2014. For Bulloch, who superbly captures Fauser’s detached voice and colourful vernacular, the novel is ‘a brilliant and terribly funny exposition of a time full of wild hope and bitter disillusionment, when creativity hit a zenith and anything seemed possible.’ Of particular note is the novel’s layering of reality and fiction, established through the play between Fauser’s and Gelb’s lives and their writing: Gelb’s novel Stamboul Blues is repeatedly rejected by established publishing houses. Gelb pursues a revolutionary mode of writing in the footsteps of William S. Burroughs, whilst constantly reassessing the role of writing in his life and in society at large.
Fauser was a persistent thorn in the literary establishment’s side. When the author was shortlisted for the Ingeborg Bachmann prize in 1984, the critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki led a vehement backlash against him, famously telling Fauser, ‘Sie gehören nicht hierher!’ (You don’t belong here!). With Fauser’s reputation as an admirer of Burroughs, recovering junkie and empathiser with all those who had been cast off by society in mind, this is hardly surprising. Fauser’s place in the annals of German counter-culture is undisputed, but his genre-defying texts don’t just offer us a radical howl: they are a nuanced, highly self- reflexive exploration of the complex interplay between literature and lived experience.