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"The Village, the Village, the Earth, the Earth, and the Suicide of the Astronaut" are narratives of Muammar al-Gaddafi, the Libyan leader.

Hellfeld - Lenore Blievernicht liest aus "Das Dorf, das Dorf, die Erde, die Erde, und der Selbstmord des Astronauten" von Muammar al-Gaddafi
Hellfeld - Lenore Blievernicht liest aus "Das Dorf, das Dorf, die Erde, die Erde, und der Selbstmord des Astronauten" von Muammar al-Gaddafi © Marlene Knobloch

The editor and translator Gernot Rotter (1941-2010) was one of the best German connoisseurs of contemporary Arabic. The texts are from a collection that appeared in Libya as early as 1993, written long before Muammar al-Gaddafi's realpolitik turn.

There are twelve texts, and almost every one of them is a revelation. They are narratives also in the sense that Gaddafi did not write down his stories, his reflections, but spoke them. Those who read the stories watch the narrator as he sits among his listeners and tells them what he is thinking and how he gets carried away with what has just occurred to him and how he enjoys adding to it. These are not the sacred texts of a dictator, these are the ironic, volte-face, extemporaneous pleasures of a joker. There is not a single such book here.

"The Suicide of the Astronaut," for example, is a story with a simple moral: the astronaut will starve to death because he does not know how to work the soil. So society needs more farmers than astronauts. This is how the story reads when reduced to its moral. A fable as if from the Chinese Cultural Revolution. If, on the other hand, you also read the story itself, then you notice the overtones and undertones. One senses the mockery of the astronaut's great astronomical knowledge, but one also notices with what verve the narrator expounds this knowledge. If irony means mocking for love, then Gaddafi loves the astronaut.

The last narratives are all directed against Islamic fundamentalism. They are not tracts, but seemingly casual reflections. The author does not bring out the big guns. His central weapon is ridicule.

You have to read the book if you want to get an idea of how Gaddafi thinks. You enjoy reading it because it is fun to see how he thinks, and because he clearly takes pleasure in this way of thinking. You also have to read the book to revise an old prejudice: Irony is not the weapon of the underdog. Irony is an attitude that has little to do with what role one plays in life. Gaddafi is the convincing example of an ironic dictator, that is, of a man who is capable of seeing through himself and his life and yet holds on to it because he knows he has no other.

Arno Widmann


Edited, commented and translated by Gernot Rotter. Belleville, Munich 2004

Muammar al-Gaddafi, born in Sirte (Tripolitania) in 1942, received officer training in Great Britain. In 1969, he putsched against King Idris and took power as leader of a military junta.  In domestic politics, Gaddafi propagated the system of people's congresses as a direct democracy without parliamentarism. In 1979, he officially stepped down from the leadership of the state, but without losing his dominant influence over the government.

Gaddafi led Libya into extensive isolation from the West, especially the United States, which bombed Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986 because Libya supported terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens. In 2011, Libya experienced nationwide uprisings supported by airstrikes by the United States, Canada, and several Western European nations seeking to enforce a no-fly zone. As of June 27, 2011, Gaddafi was wanted worldwide by arrest warrant as an alleged war criminal and for crimes against humanity. He was killed by Libyan rebels on October 20, 2011.

(Program in German)
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