Alfred Andersch had a prolific career as an essayist: besides composing a lengthy treatise on the state of German literature after two world wars, he published four volumes of collected essays, produced and hosted numerous radio programs (among them the “radio-essay”) for West Germany’s leading broadcasting companies, and founded two important journals—Der Ruf: Unabhängige Blätter der jungen Generation (The call: independent journal of the young generation) and Texte und Zeichen (Texts and signs), which nurtured the essay tradition among the postwar generation of German writers. The scope and depth of his essays are as diverse as the roles he took on as author, editor, journalist, publisher, and radio man. Scattered among his many literary essays are astute social and political commentaries, art, film, and theater reviews, travel prose, author portraits (Thomas Mann, Ernst Jünger), aphorisms, and short philosophical glosses.
The recent critical attention being given to Andersch’s essays and radio work not only provides a glimpse into a brilliant career as a nonfiction writer, but also demonstrates in Andersch an important media figure and cultural talent scout. While foregrounding Andersch’s interest in issues concerned with writing, cultural literacy, and aesthetics, the essays reveal a dynamic style that seeks to mediate continually between the historical, political, and socioeconomic contexts of modernity.
Andersch’s capacity as editor and journalist for Der Ruf sparked his foray into essay writing. Along with Hans Werner Richter, Andersch sought to produce a journal that would capture the energy of the new generation of postwar writers and intellectuals.
Throughout his career as an essayist, Andersch published essays in some of West Germany’s principal literary and political journals, including Frankfurter Hefte (Frankfurt numbers), Merkur (Mercury), konkret (concrete), and Kürbiskern (Pumpkins).
With the first meeting of the Gruppe 47 (Group 47) in 1947, which he organized, and the publication of the treatise Deutsche Literatur in der Entscheidung (German literature at the turning point) in 1948, Andersch established himself as a perceptive critic of German literature and advocate of Germany’s younger generation of writers. When he began work in broadcasting at Radio Frankfurt (later Hessischer Rundfunk) in 1948, these convictions became guiding forces. Andersch spent the next ten years of his life working for the leading broadcasting companies in West Germany. His creation of such programs as the Abendstudio and the “radio-essay” expanded the role of radio beyond reporting to include literary and artistic productions. In the Funkkurier (1955; Radio courier) Andersch described the “radio-essay” as a “poetic document of the reality of our world and of the life of men in that world.” The unique synthesis in the “radio-essay” of artistic
and political expression, musical and literary pieces, forged such critically acclaimed endeavors as the series entitled “Die Professoren” (The professors), which invited scholars like Walter Jens, Theodor W.Adorno, Walter Muschg, and Max Bense out of the classroom and into the studio to perform their ideas and put their theories into practice. The popularity of these talkbased programs stemmed from the expertise which they assumed of their audience, and made Andersch a household name. It is from his development of the “radio-essay” that his conception of the essay is brought forth.
Influenced by Adorno’s notion of the “constellation,” Andersch’s inclusion of music, literature, criticism, and politics in any one broadcast allowed for a montage of constantly shifting discourses, thereby illustrating the multifarious nature of the modern world.
Andersch himself emphasized the word “trial,” seeing the essay component of these radio broadcasts as providing for “the lively character of the trial or attempt, which remains continuously open to all possibilities.” This intriguing definition of the “radio-essay” acts as an underlying premise for Andersch’s written essays, and thus suggests some motifs common to his essays, radio broadcasts, and editorial ideals.
The essays highlight an attempt to reanimate the spirit of German Modernism, which had fallen victim to the Third Reich. The treatise Deutsche Literatur in der Entscheidung, the essays “Thomas Mann als Politiker” (1955; Thomas Mann as a politician) and “Achtzig und Jünger: Ein politischer Diskurs” (1975; Eighty and Jünger: a political discourse), and the review essays of work by young artists like Heinrich Böll, Arno
Schmidt, Pierre Claudel, and Elio Vittorini speak to Andersch’s desire to reconcile the tradition of German Modernism (Mann, Jünger) with the postwar generation’s resuscitation of an avant-garde style attested to in Europäische Avantgarde (1949; European avant-garde), an anthology he edited. Andersch’s work with the technological medium of the radio influenced the pieces he wrote and produced for his weekly features.
His realization that his capacity as both radio broadcaster and author magnified the intensity of consumerist culture prompted such radio features as “Denk-Zettel für Kulturkonsumenten” (1959; Thoughts for cultural consumers) and written essays like “Die Blindheit des Kunstwerks” (1956; The blindness of art), “Notiz über die Schriftsteller und den Staat” (1966; Note concerning writers and the state), and “Literatur in den schweizerischen Massenmedien” (1977–78; Literature in the Swiss mass media).
Through Andersch’s editorial ingenuity, which resulted in Der Ruf, Europäische Avantgarde, the brochure-series “studio frankfurt” (1951), and the literary journal Texte und Zeichen, young poets, artists, and essayists were given an intellectual venue where they could showcase their talents. The constellation of ideas set up by Andersch’s role as essayist, radio figure, and editor sketches a trajectory between the height of German Modernism and the birth of a postwar literary tradition, between the machinations of the Third Reich and the economic miracle of the 1950s. The importance of these essays, the care and detail with which they were written and their perceptive analyses of contemporary German culture demonstrate in Alfred Andersch an essayist of great significance in a continued and lively tradition of essay writing in Germany.
Born 4 February 1914 in Munich. Studied at the Wittelsbacher Gymnasium, Munich, 1924–28. Worked for a publisher, 1928–30. Member of the youth organization of the Communist Party, 1932, and as a result spent six months in Dachau concentration camp, 1933. Office worker, Munich and Hamburg, 1933–40. Married Angelika Albert, 1935 (divorced, 1943): one daughter. Served in the German army, 1940–41, 1943–44: deserted on the Italian front and became a prisoner of war in the United States, where he worked on Der Ruf prisoners’ publication, 1945. Editorial assistant to Erich Kästner, Neue Zeitung (New gazette), Munich, 1945–46; coeditor, Der Ruf, Munich, 1946–47.
Cofounder, Gruppe 47, 1947. Founder and director of Abendstudio, Frankfurt Radio, 1948–50, and of “radio-essays” for South German Radio, Stuttgart, 1955–58 (assisted by Hans Magnus Enzensberger). Married Gisela GroneuerDichgans, 1950: two sons and one daughter. Founder and editor, Texte und Zeichen, 1955–57. Moved to Switzerland, 1958, and became a Swiss citizen, 1973. Led an expedition to the Arctic, 1965. Member, German Academy of Languages and Literature.
Awards: German Critics’ Prize, 1958; Nelly Sachs Prize, 1968; Charles Veillon Prize, 1968; Bavarian Academy Literature
Prize. Died (of kidney failure) in Berzona, 21 February 1980.
Essays and Related Prose
Deutsche Literatur in der Entscheidung, 1948
Wanderungen im Norden, 1962
Die Blindheit des Kunstwerks und andere Aufsätze, 1965
Aus einem römischen Winter: Reisebilder, 1966
Hohe Breitengrade, oder Nachrichten von der Grenze, 1969
Norden, Süden, rechts und links: Von Reisen und Büchern 1951–1971, 1972
Einige Zeichnungen, 1977
Offentlicher Brief an einen sowjetischen Schriftsteller, das Überholte betreffend: Reportagen und Aufsätze, 1977
Ein neuer Scheiterhaufen für alte Ketzer: Kritiken und Rezensionen, 1979
Selected Writings, 1979
Es gibt kein fremdes Leid (Briefe und Essays zu Krieg und Frieden), with Konstantin Simonow, edited by Friedrich Hitzer, 1981
Other writings: four novels (Sansibar oder der letzte Grund [Flight to Afar], 1957; Die Rote [The Red-Head], 1960; Efraim [Efraim’s Book], 1967; Winterspelt, 1974), short stories, radio plays, poetry, and an autobiography (1952).
Kieser, Harro, “Alfred Andersch: Bibliographie der Sekundär-literatur, 1984–1993,” in
Alfred Andersch, Perspektiven zu Leben und Werk, edited by Irene Heidelberger- Leonard and Volker Wehdeking, Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1994:221–25
Williams, R., “Alfred Andersch,” Kritisches Lexikon zur Deutschsprachigen
Gegenwartsliteratur 1, no. 1 (1984)
Haffmans, Gerd, editor, Über Alfred Andersch, Zurich: Diogenes, 1987 (original edition, 1974)
Jendricke, Bernhard, Alfred Andersch in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten, Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1988
Kunz, Eleonore, Das publizistische und literarische Wirken Alfred Anderschs von 1945
bis zum Ende der fünfziger Jahre (dissertation), Leipzig: University of Leipzig, 1984
Kunz, Eleonore, “Reise- und Landschaftsprosa seit 1944,” in Alfred Andersch, Perspektiven zu Leben und Werk, edited by Irene Heidelberger-Leonard and Volker Wehdeking, Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1994:65–74
Liebe, Matthias, Alfred Andersch und sein “Radio-Essay”, Frankfurt-on-Main and New York: Lang, 1990
Liebe, Matthias, “Alfred Andersch als Gründer und Leiter des ‘Radio-Essays’,” in Alfred Andersch, Perspektiven zu Leben und Werk, edited by Irene Heidelberger-Leonard and Volker Wehdeking, Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1994:171–77
Reinhardt, Stephan, Alfred Andersch, eine Biographie, Zurich: Diogenes, 1990
Schmidt, Arno, Das essayistische Werk zur deutschen Literatur in 4 Bänden, Sämtliche Nachtprogramme und Aufsätze, Zurich: ArnoSchmidt-Stiftung im Haffmanns Verlag, 4 vols., 1988
Schütz, Erhard, “Alfred Andersch: Reiseprosa und Reportagen,” in Zu Alfred Andersch, edited by Volker Wehdeking, Stuttgart: Klett, 1983:132–42
Wehdeking, Volker, Alfred Andersch, Stuttgart: Metzler, 1983
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