‘Gut gemacht, Rex!’

Australian poet and author Peter Nicholson writes 3QD’s Poetry and Culture column (see other columns here). There is an introduction to his work at peternicholson.com.au and at the NLA.

Do they give acting awards to dogs? Perhaps they should in the case of the television program Inspector RexKommissar Rex—an amazing German Shepherd (or series of Shepherds) who helps the Criminal Bureau solve murder mayhem in Vienna. See Rex get jealous when a woman comes onto the home ground of his detective owner. Watch in amazement as Rex uncovers evidence in the grounds of Schönbrunn. Laugh when Rex steals yet another ham roll from one of the detectives who is slow on the uptake that this is one extremely clever canine. Invariably, Rex is told he is wonderful somewhere towards the end of each episode. Which he is. 

Yes, the plots are are often absurd, and no dog can be that clever. However, this is a  show that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than an entertainment. It is warm bath television that is enjoyable without getting into Derrick territory, my favourite police series, which seemed to cram an amazing amount of metaphysical speculation into its hourly format.

Some people start foaming at the mouth the moment you indicate that you are not going to spend your entire life getting saddle sore with Sontag or become spellbound before the latest speculations of the Four Strawmen of the Atheistoclypse. Will & Grace. Cue a thousand put-downs. The Sound of Music. Could anything be more banal.

Popular culture can provoke the worst kind of snobbery in some. We know that nuns didn’t stop the advance of the Nazis by mucking around with engine parts, just as we are perfectly well aware that people don’t suddenly burst into song with orchestral accompaniment in the Austrian alps. However, we accept the aesthetic boundaries within which various genres operate, and enjoy them for what they have to give. I might regard Wagner as one of the most interesting representatives of Western civilisation, but I certainly don’t want to go around listening to Wagner all day. I couldn’t think of anything worse. ‘Edelweiss’, and its kind, it must be, more than occasionally.

Oliver Hirschbiegel, who directed some episodes of Inspector Rex, went on to direct Der Untergang, the compelling film about Hitler’s last days with a magnificent ensemble cast led by Bruno Ganz. And I have heard more than a few people admit to the cataclysmic effect their first encounter with The Sound of Music had on them. In other words, there is no gap between the varieties of irreligious experience. The Hegel reader can fall for the nonsensical intellectual blather that’s about these days; the ABBA aficionado may be reading Moby-Dick. So far, so obvious.

The digital spread of culture has been a good thing, despite those who want to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that all cultural product prior to circa 1995 was marvellous. Yes, there’s a lot of indulgence about now, the price to be paid for the new freedoms, but there are still some who try to ignore the fact that culture has become democratised for the first time in history. They don’t like it, but that’s too bad because it’s going to happen at any rate. Serious culture has to earn its stripes, and if people get off on a sitcom rather than listening to some music of the Darmstadt School, that is a choice made freely by free citizens. The fact that I don’t like a great deal of contemporary culture, think that it sells the human condition short, or is simply product manufactured to make money, is really neither here nor there, just as some names in the present cultural diaspora do nothing for me—they can take care of themselves. However, the worst thing is to go around in a state of high seriousness all the time insisting that one must get through on a diet of severities that would mortify a saint.   

‘A crazy planet full of crazy people, / Is somersaulting all around the sky. / And everytime it turns another somersault, / Another day goes by. / And there’s no way to stop it, / No, there’s no way to stop it, No, you can’t stop it even if you tried. / So, I’m not going to worry, / No, I’m not going to worry, / Everytime I see another day go by.’ 

‘No Way To Stop It.’ One of the best songs in The Sound of Music, cut from the film version, but containing the kind of common sense you won’t find in the Solemn Times Weekly or Preaching To The Unconverted Standard.

In the contemporary imagination Salzburg may turn out to be be the place where Julie Andrews sang Maria rather than the city that sent Mozart packing. But you can still visit the place where Mozart lived in Vienna and dwell upon the mystery of greatness. It’s not exactly secret knowledge, yet. 

? . . . !

Bring in my German Shepherd now. . . .

Nice dog. How do you solve a problem like Maria? With some Nietzsche, perhaps? 

Stop licking me. But, oh well, why not.

Amazingly enough, Rex had transformed himself—Tardis assisted— and was now beside me, sitting just in front of the large Anselm Kiefer painting that had taken over my loungeroom wall. You can imagine how taken aback I was.

But then, even more amazingly, Rex began to speak and, what’s more, in perfect English, which is a bit odd for an Austrian German Shepherd, you’ll agree. A poem.

                        Happy is he who has loved,
                        She who has known the hour
                        Of earth’s inexplicable marvels
                        And is content not to want more.

Incredible. (But . . . aren’t marvels explicable these days?)

Oh, that is good Rex. You wonderful dog. I was so stunned I could say nothing more.

But I thought, ‘Gut gemacht, Rex!’

Rex recites his poem hereabouts. 0′ 54”