Issue 35 Dust Fall 2009

The Dusty, the Sticky, and the Greasy

Adam Jasper

Christian Enzensberger died this year at the age of seventy-eight. I never managed to speak to him, although I would have liked to. I wrote him a letter a few years ago, but it was returned to sender, unopened. Perhaps he was past getting fan mail. It was a belated thank you for a book that I had found years before. Fly-specked and yellowed, it was wedged into a shelf in a second-hand bookstore with flickering fluorescent lights—a place where the actively antisocial and the passively lonely spill coffee and dig through piles of paperbacks after the library has closed. The book, at first sight, resembled vintage pornography. The cover was stained and the pages were unevenly cut, the type cheaply set in a monospace font. It looked dog-eared, disreputable, attractive. The title of the book was Smut: An Anatomy of Dirt.

The dirty book turned out to be gripping, disturbing, articulate, and strange: a forgotten classic on the subject of filth, better than Dominique Laporte’s excellent History of Shit, perhaps even better than Mary Douglas’s Purity and Danger. Enzensberger’s Smut was originally published in 1968 and was awarded the prestigious Bremer Prize for Literature in 1970. Enzensberger refused the award. He was the first and only person to have done so.

Enzensberger himself is an enigmatic figure. The two pictures of him from the Sm