The Night of Lead
Self-revelations after time and death, an extraordinary novella from the oddest of the German Expressionists whose works are undergoing a complete revaluation in France at present where many translations are appearing.
Hans Henny Jahnn, (1894-1959) established his name as a major writer with his first publication, Pastor Ephraim Magnus, a play written in exile during the First World War which brought him the coveted Kleist Prize. It also revealed him as an highly uncomfortable writer; his style was and remained idiosyncratic, bearing the discerning influence of Expressionism and later Joyce, and containing the timbre of the antique tragedies. In both his writing and life he rejected society’s morals and institutions, psychological interpretation, dualism, and the enslavement of the world about us by homo faber, championing in their stead a heathen, pan-erotic return to the deeper strata of mythology, where time and place converge into one.
The Night of Lead, published in 1962, shows Jahnn at his darkest: man is portrayed as the toy of supernatural powers, where his only certainty is a bodily existence which, in turn, is blindly bound to the laws of growth, death and decay and procreation - the major themes of Jahnn’s writing. But in the compassion demonstrated by the novel’s central character, Jahnn points to the one possibility to gain some kind of liberty: turning one’s back on conventional morals and embracing creation in its fulness.
Jahnn has never enjoyed popular success, but he is often viewed as one of the most influential and important German-speaking writers of this century, his works are currently being re-evaluated in France, where the majority have now been translated.