Enlightenment Took Away Fear
“Fear was everywhere."
“Enlightenment told us: Yes, you are mortal, God might not save you. But still, it took away so much fear from us.” In this extensive video, Daniel Kehlmann, one of Germany’s most praised writers, talks about the impact of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48), and the differences and similarities between people then and now in connection with his critically acclaimed novel ‘Tyll’. Read more …
“I think, what it means to be human is very fluid and really changes over time.” ‘Tyll’ is set in the dark and violent times of the Early Modernity period – between the end of the Middle Ages and the onset of the age of Enlightenment – and more specifically during the Thirty Years’ War. Kehlmann explains that many of the things that we attribute to the Middle Ages – such as the witch hunts – did, in fact, take place in Early Modernity. Everyone believed in things like witchcraft and curses, and people had lost their prior firm belief in God and that your soul would be saved, which made it not only a confusing world but also a world full of fear: “Fear was everywhere. People were afraid of hell, and they were so afraid of each other because they believed in curses. So, believing in curses is the same thing as living in a dictatorship where anyone can get anyone in prison…’” Being a human back then, Kehlmann finds, was extremely different, and – through the court jester Tyll Ulenspiegel – he wanted to describe their everyday life without “turning it into some kind of horror movie.”
The Thirty Years’ War, Kehlmann argues, differs from many other wars in that diplomacy had yet to be invented in order to end the war. Looking at it from a contemporary perspective, we can recognize the effect of the flood of propaganda and confusion created by the new printing press everywhere in Europe: “When there’s a new medium, there is always a period of confusion, anger and aggression fuelled by that new medium before we learn how to deal with it, before structures of authority establish themselves…” Kehlmann finds that human beings still have a tendency to think in groups and to limit their empathy to the group to which they feel they belong: “When thinking in groups turns into catastrophe, then you have something like the Thirty Years’ War, or any religious war, or you have people today reacting towards refugees coming into their country with incredible coldness of the heart.”
Daniel Kehlmann (b. 1975) is a German author. He has written international bestsellers such as ’Me and Kaminski’ from 2003 (’Ich und Kaminski’) and ‘Measuring the World’ from 2006 (‘Die Vermessung der Welt’) for which he was awarded numerous prizes. The latter book furthermore sold around 3 million copies in Germany alone and roughly twice that worldwide, having been translated into more than 40 languages and made into a film in 2012. In 2017, he published the critically acclaimed novel ‘Tyll’, which the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine proclaimed his best novel so far. In 2018 Kehlmann was awarded the prestigious Frank-Schirrmacher-Preis in connection to which German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier described him as one of the most important contemporary German voices. Moreover, his novels are on the school syllabus in Germany.
Daniel Kehlmann was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner in connection with the Louisiana Literature festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark in August 2018.
Camera: Klaus Elmer
Edited by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2018
Supported by Nordea-fonden
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