Irre; Crazy

[This page by Michael Wood]

Irre; Crazy (1983)

Rainald Goetz’s first novel is a dense and challenging work. In Irre; Crazy, Goetz draws upon his own experiences as a psychiatric practitioner and feeds them into a semi-autobiographical narrative revolving around a young protagonist, Dr Raspe. The choice of name is a direct reference to Jan-Carl Raspe, a member of the Baader-Meinhof group, which was responsible for the atrocities of the German Autumn in 1977. Jan-Carl Raspe was, along with his fellow insurgents, sentenced to life imprisonment, but Raspe was found with a gunshot wound in his cell in Stammheim Prison in Stuttgart on 18 October 1977, and died soon after.

Irre; Crazy is divided into three sections, which vary quite considerably in style and, to some extent, content. Each section is prefaced by a full-page black and white reproduction of a painting, most likely painted by Goetz himself.

The first section is ambiguously titled ‘Sich Entfernen’, which can be translated as ‘Remove yourself’, ‘To Remove Oneself’, or ‘Removing Oneself’ and consists of short piecemeal texts, charting incidents and conversations in a psychiatric hospital. Through these, the protagonist Raspe is introduced, and we gain an insight into what apparently constitutes mental illness. Yet these smaller sections do not form an entire narrative: the narrator, removed from what is occurring, cannot grasp them as a whole, but as isolated moments; furthermore, these moments cannot be formed into a coherent discourse. Dr Raspe’s own mental decline is signalled through these.

In the second section, ‘Drinnen’; ‘On the Inside’, or ‘Inside’, the narrator produces a flowing narrative, which follows Dr Raspe. The smaller pieces of text from the first section are woven into a larger, linearly organised depiction of his immersion in mental illness, and his own inability to cope with his surroundings.

The final section, ‘Die Ordnung’; ‘Order’, combines text with sketches, photographs, and newspaper cuttings. The narrator is no longer a distanced third person narrator, but speaks from the first person perspective. At times, this may appear to be the voice of Raspe, although the order contains its own level of confusion. Furthermore, there is the impression the occasionally, it is Goetz himself who is addressing the reader. The section produces a network of citation of and reference to contemporary (German) culture, which serves as an indictment of the literary establishment, and bourgeois social discourse.

Further Reading

Georgina Paul, Perspectives on Gender in Post-1945 German Literature (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2009)

Hubert Winkels, Einschnitte. Zur Literatur der 80er Jahre (Cologne: Kiepenheuer und Witsch, 1988)