Can fiction compete with the horrors of recent history? German writers, particularly sensitive to the challenge, have reacted with a puzzling mode, the nco-documentary. Weiss put the Auschwitz trial on stage, unadorned, unsparing, and glacially factual. Now Kluge has carried the device to extraordinary (and it would seem largely self-defeating) lengths in a ""novel"" about Stalingrad which reads pretty much like a mad historian's notebook. Presented as a procession of diary excerpts, bulletins, medical reports, inventories, questions and answers, tactical summaries, and eerie backstage murmurs, The Battle is the reheadquarter manuals, cord of a nightmare scrupulously drained of all pertinent feeling, an enormously detached, rigorously depersonalized case study, without one palpable emotion except that of irony, and the irony so antiseptic, so embedded in an aura of bureaucratic jargon, that it offers not the slightest narrative or psychological relief. The reader is confronted continually and simply with the banal reality of the event, the Nazi officers, Hitler, the Russians; he becomes witness, jury and judge. It is impossible to be grateful to Kluge for this. Indeed, in the end, who can evaluate so pure a method, such phenomenological objectivity at all?