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Wikipedia as a Gatekeeper: Germany

In the last chapter we saw how book reviewers naturalized Garcia Marquez in the United States, de-historicizing and de-politicizing his work. In this chapter I will focus more directly on Wikipedia, which increasingly serves a similar function. How many young people do you know who, before buying a book, read reviews in the New York Times, New Yorker, or TLS? Instead they look up authors and evaluations on-line, and of these resources Wikipedia is among the better. It is particularly useful if we want to study “domestication,” allowing us to focus on how that process is proceeding. Millions of readers use Wikipedia for research, and it is likely to be an increasing part of the parallel market reception process. For my analysis, it has the advantage of language versions, covering the same subjects, but written independently of each other by local “experts.” The differing ways in which Bukowski is received by German and French readers can be glimpsed in the divergent Wikipedia entries, though such a comparison has obvious shortcomings.98 But there is no doubt that Wikipedia is a gatekeeper in the electronic age.

The German entry begins by complicating Bukowski’s paternity, pointing out his Polish surname (“polnischer Herkunft Namens”), his abusive father, and his acne scars. It leaves out Bukowski’s adoption of Nazism during college. It points out that he was “unfit for military duty” (“untauglich fur den Militardienst eingestuft”) in World War II, alluding to the conditions that excuse one from German national service.99 The entry moves quickly to his mind-numbing work at the Post Office and then to his winning the “Outsider of the Year” award from the little magazine. His work is said to be influenced by Chekhov, Hemingway, John Fante, and Louis-Ferdinand Celine. “In Germany alone he has sold over 4 million books,” notes the entry, and “legendary is the reading in the Hamburg market-hall, where he required a refrigerator on stage fully stocked with alcohol.” Bukowski is linked to greater themes by quotes from Prof. Klaus Martens’ essay on “American Literature” in Kindlers Literaturlexikon: “Bukowski shows a distinctive feature of American literature: he is eclectic in form, strongly rhetorical in structure, experimental-epistemological in concept, often altruistic but highly didactic” [kennzeichnende Eigenschaft amerikanischer Literatur: Sie kann eklektisch in der Form sein, stark rhetorisch strukturiert, experimentell— epistemologisch im Konzept, haufig altruistisch und in ihren Anliegen sehr haufig didaktisch]. Martens places Bukowski in the American high canon, hardly the American view:

American literature tends to question and to suggest alternate models of existence. All of these [significant] American writers were in different ways dissenters from accepted norms of literature, and sometimes in life, when the standards of Europe seemed too tight.

[Sie alle, diese amerikanischen Autoren, waren auf ihre unterschiedlichen Weisen Abweichler von akzeptierten Normen der Literatur, manchmal auch des Lebens, wenn diese Normen auf europaische Weise zu eng gefaBt schienen.]

This seems to be what a generation of German admirers needs Bukowski to be in light of their attraction. The Bukowski who hated his father, the Nazi polemicist, the drunk who hit women, the self-pitying loafer—all those have disappeared. With the new universities and houses seeming cookie-cutter copies, the good jobs rare, and the creative work rarer, what mattered was the writer’s self-styling. A more sophisticated response to this would be the Situationalism of Guy Debord, an angrier one the neo-Nazis who kept reappearing.

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