“Schreiben nach Hebdo”: The World is Grey. And Grey is Beautiful.

Impressions in Grey.


„Shades of grey wherever I go

The more I find out the less that I know

Black and white is how it should be

But shades of grey are the colors I see.“

(Billy Joel)

Charlie Hebdo, even the name Charlie alone, has become a sad chiffre for the state of the world we’re in – or maybe have always been. On January 7, 2015, at 11:30 AM, the world stood still for a second, probably even changed irreversibly. Once again.

Like on September 11, 2001.

Like on November 10, 1938.

Dates scarred into modern conscience, because they marked the end of worlds as we knew them. Once again.

Watching the unbelievable Paris scenes, enduring the multitude of talk shows that spilt over our TV screens like the inevitable vomit after a serious case of food poisoning, I could actually physically feel the caesura this event means for Europe, just like 9/11 for the USA. For better or worse, only history will tell.

Stereotypes will grow, prejudices will thrive, the legislative and especially executive countermeasures to serve the earlier will be scarily en vogue. Left, right. Muslim, Christian, Jew. Black and White.

Blueprint “Schreiben nach Auschwitz”

Writing about anything else in the aftermath of the Hebdo murders felt like an impossibility to me, inappropriate, even an act of blasphemy in a strictly non-religious sense.

Posts on communication and marketing trends in 2015 were on the storycodeX to-write list in early January – as for many a net writer interested in this stuff. Topics like the rivalry of Content Marketing and Brand Journalism. Like the true meaning of Content. Or Doc Searls’ and David Weinberger’s “New Clues”, but … just wouldn’t work. It’s like the author’s fingers refused to type, forced their tips to the West, to France, to the city of love.

Emotional thoughts and thoughtful emotions that somehow drew me towards a re-read of a speech by Günter Grass, held as part of his poetry lecture at Goethe University in Frankfurt in 1990. Its title: “Schreiben nach Auschwitz”. In his speech, Grass not only elaborates on his literary story and stories, but also makes a critical reference to Theodor W. Adorno’s discourse “Minima Moralia” as well as the infamous and often over-exaggeratingly dogmatized claim “Nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht schreiben ist barbarisch” from his 1951 essay “Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft – Gedichte nach Auschwitz”. The full context of this quote goes as follows:

“Kulturkritik findet sich der letzten Stufe der Dialektik von Kultur und Barbarei gegenüber: nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben, ist barbarisch, und das frisst auch die Erkenntnis an, die ausspricht, warum es unmöglich ward, heute Gedichte zu schreiben. Der absoluten Verdinglichung, die den Fortschritt des Geistes als eines ihrer Elemente voraussetzte und die ihn heute gänzlich aufzusaugen sich anschickt, ist der kritische Geist nicht gewachsen, solange er bei sich bleibt in selbstgenügsamer Kontemplation.”


It might seem a far-fetched, lame mental leap from World War II to the afterbirth’s of Al Qaida and ISIS, but mental leaps always are, and are allowed, maybe even meant to be. So here’s mine:

Granted, the extent and magnitude of the Nazi terror that forever displayed to the world the ugly grimace of human abyss is by no means comparable with anything we see happening in the name of Allah by a fanatic, blinded-by-hate extremist minority of an otherwise peaceful religion today. Not yet, that is.

Also, the apparent historic facts of the lurching Weimar Republic and today’s crumbling century-old models of life in many parts of the world, not only in the Middle East and Africa, seem to hold little resemblance.

And the respective motives for launching terroristic machinery are quite different. On the outside at least.

On the inside it’s always about power, money, and religion in a wider sense.

NAZISIS – Same Illness, Different Symptoms

Still there are parallels, alarmingly terrifying parallels, between what took its beginning in Germany’s 1933, in a time of ubiquitous uncertainty, political and economic fragility, susceptibility towards extremism, and the rise of organizations like Al Qaida and ISIS. In the end, it’s the promise of a better life for the faithful and devout, a better world, even a better death and afterlife, killing and dying for a greater good.

I figure a young, frustrated, unemployed, sidelined man with no role in society, no prospect for a future, in disharmony with the world, approached by someone seemingly larger than life, promising wealth, meaning and purpose, to serve a cause … and off the soldiers march.

I figure the constant human need to find bogeymen for their own misery, the all-too-human suspicion of everything and everybody different, and how it’s always easier to blame others than yourself. And if you then even get the official mandate to punish those others … off the soldiers march.

I figure the damage that fanatism and the colors Black and White have always done, the pain and the suffering they have created, always for seemingly greater goods, proclaimed by charismatic mindfuckers using people to kill people, turning them into blind-folded soldiers … soldiers that march off to wherever they are told.

Self-sufficient Contemplation – The Death of Civil Courage

While drawing parallels between the spoilt acronyms NAZI and ISIS, and bringing them closer together for thorough examination seems like a worthwhile topic for a Bachelor or Masters thesis in Political Science, Cultural Science or History (that would certainly do this idea more resilient justice than my unstructured, initial thoughts here), the author is drawn back to Adorno and a key phrase in above quote in relation to writing after Auschwitz, after 9/11, after Hebdo: “Selbstgenügsame Kontemplation”, probably best translated as “self-sufficient contemplation”, the enemy of the skeptical, questioning intellect.

Maybe self-centered contemplation is indeed even the death of civil courage, the end of questioning, the end of insurgency. To read about such tragedies and incredibilities, watch them on TV, maybe follow a hashtag that makes you feel engaged, yet de facto going on with your life as if nothing had happened. To go on with writing about meaningless bullshit like content strategies and the best way to fill people’s heads with marketing shit they don’t want to see, at places where they don’t want to be bothered, by companies they care for even less after being menaced. Gosh, how many newsletters or tweets or Linked-In group posts did I receive right after Paris, and how many of them made me think “Why the hell is this important now???”.

I agree, life goes on, and life changes as it does – that’s probably the only constant we can really rely on. And the probability that also storycodeX.com will return to the path it initially set out on is high. Still, sometimes it’s simply time to pause for a moment, take a grateful look around at your own life, your own health and wealth, at the freedom of speech we enjoy, a privilege that should never be taken for granted, a freedom that none of us post-war kids ever did anything for, nothing that makes us actually deserve it. It was given to us a gift by our parents and grandparents, and we need to fight for it, now and forever.

But not by all means, not with uninformed impulses, and never in a way that serves delusional superiority over others, never with a sense of Black or White, but with a dialectic appreciation of the beauty of Grey, the manifold shades of which much better represent our world and everything that has ever happened, everything that is happening right now, and everything that will ever happen. The world is grey, and should we ever learn how great it is that there are always two sides to a coin, that this is what makes life rich and exciting, only then will we be able to do what – let’s be honest – everybody wants: to live in peace and enjoy life.

Light at the Grey Horizon

“Der Verzicht auf reine Farbe”

Günter Grass concludes his speech in Frankfurt and his reference to Adorno (whose famous quote he also, at first, misunderstood as a prohibiting verdict) with the retrospect cognition that his own (and his fellow post-war writers’) literary output would never have been possible without the leaden weight of history, and for him personally without the weight of Adorno’s verdict. In his own reading, Grass notes that “diese Vorschrift verlangte Verzicht auf reine Farbe; sie schrieb das Grau und dessen unendliche Schattierungen vor.” (Grass, Schreiben nach Ausschwitz, 1999.)

Or as Billy Joel put it three years later:

„Shades of grey are all that I find

When I look to the enemy line

Black and white was so easy for me

But shades of grey are the colors I see.“

(Billy Joel, 1993)




5 thoughts on ““Schreiben nach Hebdo”: The World is Grey. And Grey is Beautiful.


        Thanks for this.


        Have you thought of creative writing?


        I hate the term because all writing must be, but

        writing in English as a "German" could be a new space…


        Conrad – no idiom. A new kind of poetry.


        A serial novel in any fueilleton.



    Gesendet: Sonntag, 25. Januar 2015 um 02:03 Uhr Von: storycodeX <comment-reply@wordpress.com> An: james.mccabe@web.de Betreff: [New post] “Schreiben nach Hebdo”: The World is Grey. And Grey is Beautiful.

    herr dennehy posted: "   „Shades of grey wherever I go The more I find out the less that I know Black and white is how it should be But shades of grey are the colors I see.“ (Billy Joel)   Charlie Hebdo, even the name Charlie alone, has become a sad chiffre fo"


    • have thought about it a lot. am working on a side project of creative historical writing that i would call a “herzensangelegenheit”, though one where german seems to be the more appropriate language. you think anybody would want to read a serial novel by an denglishman?😉


  2. The grey shade negative development seems to have increased in percentage, although history shows us it’s always been there. Now that the countries, which are politically and economically strong, are a greater part of grey again they need to start to think how to deal with the cause. A lot more clarity between black and white is required again. We have a future for our children and children’s children to care for and someone’s got to be active in some way.


  3. Future plans include a recording in which
    individual Mutter Virtuosi will ‘get a chance to shine’ in each movement of
    the Bach Concerto for Two Violins. Just as she learned from ‘unforgettable mentors’
    such as Herbert von Karajan, she enjoys seeing her young charges grow,
    musically and otherwise. Take a look at the video
    clip of Maroon 5 performing Daylight on The Voice.


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