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Kueer Kultur Book Review:
Elephants, Bananas, and God; a brief
16 volumes, in German, 18,756 pgs.
Reviewed by Ira Melvin Lipshitz
Mierís monumental lebenswerk, illuminating the essential existential substance of meaning, existence, and being, posits a philosophical framework conceptualizing mankindís self-awareness. Begun while he was in exile in 1925, the multi-tomb detailing of research and thought spans five decades of dedicated writing across four continents and a life of near perpetual flight and agony. Following his death in 1976, his grandson began the more than two decade task of assembling and editing his grandfatherís work. In the late 1990ís Mierís young great grandson began work on the 16th volume of footnotes, references, commentary, glossary, and a comprehensive cross-referenced index using computer technology.
The end result, at present, is a gilded Hochdeutsch manifesto of humankindís aspirations and unspeakable angst, with unfortunate lapses into Estonian and French idiom as the work passed from one generation to the next. While Mier stuck to the elegant German of his youth and privileged education; his constantly evolving environment evoked an unmistakable influence on the focus and even the embellishment of his ongoing discourse. Those cognizant of his scholarly journal articles posted from his residence in wartime Havana during the 1940ís, in particular, note a distinctly Ladino lyrical prose stylization which is reflected, as well, in the two volumes composed during this most prolific period. His context, in turn, shifted during a portion of the 1950ís spent in North Africa living under the protection of French missionaries who were instrumental in preserving the manuscript after his arrest, imprisonment, and near execution on false charges of homosexuality and sedition during what had been intended as a brief visit and lecture at a university in post WWII Lisbon. Although his excruciatingly cautious modesty prevented him from ever directly writing about his four years in a squalid prison under endless interrogation, his despair during this time is notable especially in the earthquake of his wavering faith portrayed in the Fromme Fremde passages which first revealed the ĎGodí element of his emergent philosophy. And so it went over the years and across the globe as each environment had its effect upon his work. His final years, at last in relative peace in pastoral Tasmania, produced the final almost anti-climactic volumes of conclusions which perhaps exhibit the mentality of maturity rather than Australian equanimity.
Posthumously, Mier remains an obscure literary giant whose writings and tragic life as a constant refugee was followed by an elite literary intelligentsia who ravenously collected and read what little of his work was published during his lifetime. At the same time, these same cognoscenti never reached out to assist him due to mistaken and self-loathing homophobia and snobbish anti-Semitism. It was his devoted wife Christina (a Lutheran), from whom circumstance separated him for some two thirds of their marriage, who supported him and kept his manuscript segments as she lived in seclusion in Vienna the entire time until joining him in Hobart during the last decade of his life.
At this writing, ĎElephants, Bananas, and God; a brief introductioní remains unpublished for all intents and purposes. However, as a result of web pdf files foolishly posted by Mierís great grandson in recent years, some 300 photocopies exist, despite the length of the work. Interestingly, the largest collection, roughly 21 copies, is held at a technical engineering school in Manchuria where they are taught not for their philosophy but to hone the studentsí knowledge of classical German. The rest remain horded and hidden in private collections.