BY Jan Verwoert in Opinion | 30 MAY 12
Featured in
Issue 5

Truth or Dare

On soft facts, hard eggs and sweet lies

J
BY Jan Verwoert in Opinion | 30 MAY 12

Lie or not? Armless or rather without legs? (Photograph: Jan Verwoert)

… so I’m on a flight to southern Germany and in mid-conversation the woman sitting behind me tells her partner: ‘I’ve cheated on you.’ I was already listening in on them – they were talking loudly enough, the way people do who live in big houses and are used to being overheard by domestic staff. I’ll be the maid who heard it all, I thought to myself. He was on his way back from a real estate deal in Berlin and already had his suspicions: ‘Who? When? How often? Ah, your co-worker. Just the one night. Good that you told me. And thanks for coming along to my father’s place in the country. He already has plans for Sunday. And we need to talk to him about the loan again.’ They were outrageously good-looking, somehow typically Munich. I’m sure they’re still having a fabulous life.

If I had any business sense, I would already have worked this story into a screenplay for television and offered it to one of the state broadcasters. This, or so I’ve been told, is one of the few ways of earning money with writing in Germany. With the proceeds I too could afford a nice old apartment in Berlin’s gentrified Prenzlauer Berg district. I was sitting in a café there recently, near Mauerpark, when the waiter-cum-chef emerged from the kitchen with a plate of breakfast and asked the assembled company: ‘Whose is the egg and bacon?’ A student raised her arm. Immediately another voice snarled: ‘But I ordered first!’ Someone was almost done an injustice! But, thank God, whoever rightfully deserves their eggs first in this country still gets them first.

Is this the new republic? Dealing routinely with existential lies (see the recent fall from grace of minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and Federal President Christian Wulff), but extra righteous when it comes to reckoning with everyday matters? This might also explain the recent popularity of the expression ‘The fact is …’ in media and everyday usage. It fits so well with such an approach to lies and truth: ‘The fact is, that on October 17th at 11 pm, Honey, I bonked the Avon consultant. And this egg is mine!’ You can just imagine it, can’t you?

But do you actually want to hear it? Luckily there are plenty of outbound flights. It’s easy to travel and see first hand how people elsewhere deal with truth and lies. On balance I must say the Americans still do it best. They waver so constantly between truth and untruth that the difference is cancelled out, as when a sound wave oscillates so fast that it is perceived as a sustained tone. Which is also why the USA generates such good pop music. Like Fleetwood Mac’s aptly titled Little Lies (1987): ‘Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies!’ A question to a central character in the legendary intrigue that gave us this song: ‘Ms Nicks, do you really want sweet little lies?’ Probable response: ‘Yes and no, yes’n’no, yes-no, yesno, yo.’ Wonderful.

The only chance of saving German pop culture from the oppressive burden of ‘the-fact-is-ism’ would be to learn from the true lies of other people! One suggestion: if the Greeks now hate us for committing them to the hard truth by means of aid payments, why not divert part of these funds to pay for a mammoth delivery of cocaine to Stevie Nicks? She’d
certainly be happy, and perhaps she’d express her gratitude by giving us another mega-hit about sweet little lies!

Tasteless? OK. Here’s plan B: we sell Germany’s second state television channel ZDF for a good price to a Russian oligarch. In return, he promises to make an epic telenovela for German television, shot on location in Vladivostok, with a cast specially flown in from Argentina. Each episode will be dubbed by a group of language students, from a different city each week, working on their own (very important!), who have just started learning German. Rainer Werner Fassbinder is dead and can no longer do these things. But maybe with this method we might achieve comparable results.

If neither option suits, but you still want culture to have a future in this country, then let me at least make this appeal: Don’t tell him anything! Keep it from her! Even if it is your right to say what you know and claim what’s yours. Forget rights and facts. Let the egg pass you by! Instead, sell your brand-new nice old apartments and donate some of the proceeds to an ageing diva! If not for my sake, do it for hers: Please, please, please, make your lies just a tiny bit sweeter!

PS: At Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie one Sunday lunchtime not long ago, I found myself standing beside German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble in front of a squeegee-wipe-painting by Gerhard Richter, and all I could think of was the Schwamm-Drüber-Blues (1978) by Otto Waalkes. ‘Schwamm drüber’, literally ‘wipe it with a sponge’, is corny jovial German for ‘never mind’. Honestly, I would forgive Richter his decades of playing the sly trickster who can use the most obviously bankrupt painterly technique and still give it that irresist­ible charm of sublime vacancy. And I would sincerely apologize for my inability to see anything in this tricksterdom but the art of coming out of bankruptcies on top (and I’ve seen masters of that art vacationing on the fashionable West German island of Sylt: they looked just as vacant!). But hey, never mind, all is forgiven. Under one condition: his next national retro­spective bears the title Richter: Still got those Schwamm-Drüber-Blues.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell

Jan Verwoert is a writer and contributing editor of frieze. He is based in Oslo, Norway. Cookie! (2014), a selection of his writings, is published by Sternberg Press.

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