June 25, 2012

Literaturwurst: not the worst of literature


There are lots of ways to express one’s dislike of a book, but if you’re Dieter Roth, German-Swiss artist whose wide and varied output included many works incorporating food, giving the book zero stars on Goodreads is not going to cut it. Roth, who died in 1998, made sausages out of them. He described it thus:

“From time to time I take books I can’t stand or from authors I want to annoy and make: sausages c. 40 cm long, 8 cm thick, should end up as an edition of 50, titled on the outside, signed, numbered, DM100.”

In 1961, Roth made his first literaturwurst from the Daily Mirror, and then in ’66 moved on to books, including Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum, Robert Kennedy’s To Seek A Newer World, and Martin Walser’s Halftime. By 1970, he was frankfurting magazines like Der Spiegel and Stern. And it ended with the complete works of Hegel in 20 sausages.

What’s particularly interesting about the project is how very much like sausages the literaturwursts were, how thorough the imitation is—Roth used all the ingredients that go into real sausages  and replaced only the meat with paper. He even typed up recipes.

Though Roth’s intent was derogatory and provocative—books as so much meat—I think an old sausage lover like Grass might have been pleased by the transformation …


Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.