From Enzensberger to Clausen. An auditive transformation

Ib Poulsen, Roskilde University

This presentation will try to give an impression of the Danish radio feature producer Viggo Clausen’s abilities as a radio communicator.

Point of departure is however the famous German writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger who in 1964 published a book with the title “Politik und Verbrechen”, i.e. Politics and Crime. The book consisted of a number of essays, originally broadcast as radio features on Hessischer Rundfunk in Cologne a couple of years ealier. One of them was a story about the gangster period in Chicago in the 1920’s.

All of Enzensberger’s essays had a clear didactic purpose. The story should not only be told and understood as such, it should also be said in what respect this story was a symptom of something more general. As a listener you were told a story, but you were told how it should be understood as well.

Viggo Clausen read this book in 1965, and he also heard the original German radio features. He got fascinated by the stories and decided to make a Danish version of them, and 21st of August 1965 Viggo Clausens version of Chicago Ballad was broadcast on Denmark’s Radio.

Except from a somewhat lucid beginning Enzensberger’s version most of all reminds of an academic dissertation. After this start the thesis is formulated: The gangster is one of the 20th century’s myths, and the gangster boss Al Capone is a key figure in this myth – not as a historical person but as a mythical person. After that the background is sketched out briefly, and followed by a review of the development of the gangster system: first John Colossimo with his business methods rooted in the 19th century, then the industrial Torrio who systematized both production and distribution, and finally Al Capone who created a modern group and a monopoly. Within a period of ten years the development of the capitalistic system is shown: From a single man business via an industrially organized business to the monopoly, and Al Capone is shown as a modern business man on the one hand, but on the other as a Mafioso for whom business is not based on legal right, but on mutual loyalty. The conclusion is that the reason why it was possible to create such a business model was that society was ready for such a regression – as later Italy with fascism and Germany with Nazism.

The Danish version has two levels: The reportage of the funeral and of the events up to it, and the background information and guesses of why it ended as it did. Each level has its own voice, and the difference between the two voices is rhetorically underlined. The reporter’s sentences are short and descriptive, in contrast with the commentator’s greater variation. And then there is the irony – on the one hand it is a reportage of a funeral worthy of a king, on the other it is emphasized that it is a florist who had murdered several people that is now buried.

The Danish version is constructed more like a drama or a piece of fiction in contrast to the German version. An example: Music plays a more prominent role in the Danish version compared to the German. More pieces of music are used, and in several cases a theme is shortly introduced, and later a more extended part is heard. The first time this happens is in connection with Jim Colossimo’s death. He was a man of old school, and he preferred to put his money into diamonds: first a brief organ interlude with the main theme of the well-known funeral hymn, Later the title of the song is mentioned, and then a longer sequence – a well-known and often used narrative trick (set-up/pay-off).

Finally some brief remarks on the critical-analytical reflections so dominant in the German version. In the Danish version this has been reduced. However, in relation to Viggo Clausen’s features from the 1950’s the critical dimension is stronger in Chicago Ballad — not as contemporary social critique, but as a critique of history writing and its immanent ideological assumptions. The open and explorative positioning of the listener in the features from the 1950’s is replaced by a more didactic and authoritative position where listeners are more or less told what to think about the things they hear. So not only Enzensberger’s, but also Clausen’s version can be seen as an early stage of the later so well-known ideology critique – and not to forget the way in which this kind of critique was administrated – mit Besserwissen!