Rixdorf Editions and A Rumination On Obscurity

Every era, decade, period or movement has writers, artists, filmmakers, songwriters, actors (etc.) who are lucky enough to get a passing mention in a popular magazine, or maybe even appear on TV. Then there are the ones who, through a combination of hard work and a huge amount of luck, coincidence and networking, actually become famous. Beyond these select few people are the odd one or two who become so associated with their time or movement that they transcend their era and become household names, even icons.

The artists who do not become icons are the sort of people that we may occasionally come across in our media-centric viewing. Or, if exploring the creativity of previous generations we may find the odd work in the corner of an exhibition, or if extremely lucky a whole retrospective or a republished collection. These are the lucky ones.

Then there are the swathes of creators who do not get recognition and have become unknown and forgotten; more often than not they weren’t even noticed in their own time, let alone remembered after it. For whatever reason, when they offered the result of their creative powers to the world, they were completely ignored. The majority of the ‘forgotten’ are probably better left that way (every generation produces a staggering amount of rubbish), but occasionally some of those that languish in oblivion do not deserve it.

In terms of literature, this is where the small press comes to the fore. They hunt out interesting works of the lost and forgotten from any strata of the creative pantheon and re-publish it so that it can at last be appreciated. There are quite a number of small press imprints which do this risky yet highly laudable job and Rixdorf Editions is one of the newer ones. By the way, if you’d like to find out where they got their name from there is an explanation on their blog, here. Their blog actually has many interesting articles related to their publications and other curiosities and can be found here.

It is one thing to be forgotten as a writer if your language is English, but quite another for a writer in a language which does not have the benefit of such a staggeringly vast readership. Rixdorf Editions aims to highlight the work of writers in Germany around the turn of the 19th/20th century (writers of fact and fiction). It does seem to be a forgotten corner of the literary world, submerged between the 18th/19th century greats of Goethe, Hoffmann, Chekhov, etc., and the explosion of creativity associated with the Weimar Republic.

This is what Rixdorf Editions say about themselves:-

RIXDORF EDITIONS is a Berlin-based press formed in 2017 which is committed to bringing unfairly neglected texts of the German Empire to a contemporary English-language readership. While the Germany of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was distinguished by censorship and a reactionary official culture, it also sustained a remarkable number of progressive writers. Essays, reportage and other non-fiction titles often foretold a world surprisingly similar to our own. Advocates for female emancipation, sexual minorities, lifestyle reform and utopian visions pursued their ideals with an energy and rigour to rival anything in the country’s fabled 1920s. Meanwhile, fiction writers expanded the boundaries of form, style and subject matter in ways that can still appear radical to us now. The Rixdorf Editions list aims to reflect this innovation and diversity with original English translations of publications from the era paired with thoughtful commentary which puts the works and their creators in context.

https://www.rixdorfeditions.com/about-rixdorf-editions

I thought I’d highlight the work of this small press for two reasons. One is simply because I firmly believe that it is not only famous writers who write well, and finding fantastic lost work is far more exciting than simply following what is popular or already known to be good. Secondly, I bought their first book – ‘The Guesthouse at the Sign of The Teetering Globe‘ and thought it absolutely brilliant!

The first two stories in this little collection are by far the best and come across as almost proto-surrealist or could be related to the early weird. These two stories are well worth a read and worth the price of the book, the others all have interesting premises and are at least worth a look.

I think I preferred ‘The Polished Little Man’ over the titular story, largely because of the underlying humour in the absurdity of the situation.

The stories were all written by Countess Franziska Zu Reventlow, a German aristocrat, who appears to have been rather debauched and no stranger to scandal. She lived her life very much on her own terms, relying on a combination of writing, translation and prostitution, which did little to save her from recurring illness and poverty for much of her short life (she died in a bicycle accident at the age of 47).

Franziska zu Reventlow

This is the first English translation of her work and if this is an indication of the quality of work that has been unearthed by this small press then this has been a wonderful introduction to the potential of the era. In terms of the publication itself, it is evidently a high quality book. It is a small paperback but it feels weighty, the art work perfectly suits the stories (there is a very interesting article about their cover art on the website, here) and there is a wealth of additional information (three additional stories and an extensive Afterword).

I look forward to reading the other Rixdorf Editions books – at the moment I seem to be drawn to ‘Death‘ by Anna Croissant-Rust (what a name!), another first translation into English and sounds enticingly macabre….

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