*Enzensberger, Hans Magnus
Enzensberger, Hans Magnus
Called “Germany’s most important literary catalyst” by the New York Times Book Review in 1968, the contemporary poet, essayist, and political moralist Hans Magnus Enzensberger made his literary debut in 1955, when he was first invited to join the Gruppe 47, and with the publication of the poetry collections Verteidigung der Wölfe (In defense of wolves) in 1957 and Landesprache (Language of a country) in 1960. Since then, his eclectic production has centered around short literary forms such as the documentary, interview, book and film review, biography, story, and feuilleton. It has found the greatest resonance through mass publication in newspapers and magazines as well as in video and radio.
Widely traveled and multilingual, Enzensberger was influenced foremost by the thought of Germans Brecht, Benn, and Adorno, but also by such foreign writers as Poe, Baudelaire, Valéry, Maiakovskii, and William Carlos Williams. He was editor, lecturer, literary consultant, and professor of painting, as well as a fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies at Wesleyan University in the United States. In 1968 he resigned from Wesleyan in protest against U.S. foreign policy and subsequently moved to Cuba, where he resided until the mid-1970s, in order to demonstrate his personal engagement with the ideas of radical enlightenment and revolutionary change.
Ever intent on being a step ahead of the times while refusing to fall into ideological traps, Enzensberger recognized from the start of his writing career the close and crucial connection between “the medium and the message.” In his enlightening communication on society and culture, he has steadfastly ignored the boundary between fiction and nonfiction and has utilized a wide spectrum of alienation strategies in his literary work of critical enlightenment of the present as well as utopian visions of the future.
Throughout his literary work, Enzensberger has explored the role of the individual in history and the dialectics of adaptation and subversion, of ideology and coercion. Such an exploration consists predominantly of questions and contradictions rather than of answers and generally accepted knowledge. By both examining the construction of the individual within the process of history and questioning the social functions of bourgeois literature itself, Enzensberger has encouraged German society to analyze itself.
Specifically and most importantly, he has posed the question of how the
“consciousness industry,” a phrase he coined, maintains and preserves the existing structures of power through the ideologies of capitalism, nationalism, and German history. It is not the means of production or capital nor the goods and services produced, but rather the production of consciousness for purposes of “manufacturing consent” that represents for Enzensberger the central paradigm of postindustrial society. But the consciousness industry is itself trapped in an obvious contradiction, the dialectic of the enlightenment, where it must first give what it later takes away. That is, before consciousness can be appropriated and changed, it must first exist at all. The production of ideology and consent must first raise consciousness before it can be lowered to ideological levels.
Before the enlightenment of power can be instrumentalized and utilized, it exists as the enlightenment of freedom, and, Enzensberger argues, it is within this arena that the future debates on consciousness and information will occur. It is no longer just a political arena, but a ubiquitous sphere ranging from public relations to sports, tourism, marketing, and the media. According to Enzensberger, the consciousness industry will be the key industry of the next century. This implies a change in the role of the intellectual who, voluntarily or by force, knowingly or naively becomes an accomplice to the consciousness industry.
Such a discussion—often provocative and consciously directed against the grain of common assumptions about the form, content, and functions of literature—is perhaps best characterized by the literary-cultural journal Kursbuch (Timetable), which Enzensberger founded in 1965 and edited until 1975, and which has been widely recognized as Germany’s most vital cultural medium of critical communication.
Kursbuch represents both a politicization of literature and the end of its traditional role.
But ironically, subsequent to the 1965 declaration in Kursbuch of the “death of literature,” Enzensberger continued to write essays and poetry with a new power and lyricism, including his epic poem Titanic (1978).
From the Germany of the 1950s, when, as a heretic in the land of status quo, Enzensberger thematized the issues of the Adenauer Era, to the student movement and the antiVietnam protests of the 1960s, to the restoration of the private and subjective in the 1970s, to the debate over nuclear power, the environment, and ecology of Germany in the 1980s, and up to the present, Enzensberger has not only instrumentalized literature, but at the same time has questioned the traditional roles of writing, publishing, and reading in the postmodern information age.
Born 11 November 1929 in Kaufbeuren. Served in the Volkssturm, 1944–45. Studied at the Universities of Freiburg, Hamburg, and Erlangen, Ph.D., 1955; the Sorbonne, Paris, 1952–54. Assistant to Alfred Andersch on “radio-essays” for South German Radio, Stuttgart, 1955–57; member of Gruppe 47, from 1955; guest lecturer, Academy of Design, Ulm, 1956–57; worked for Suhrkamp publishers, Frankfurt-on-Main, 1960–75.
Lived in Norway, 1961–65. Professor of poetry, University of Frankfurt, 1965. Founder, 1965, and editor, until 1975, Kursbuch. Fellow at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, 1967–68 (resigned). Lived in Cuba, 1968-mid-1970s. Founding editor, TransAtlantik, 1980–82. Publisher, Die andere Bibliothek book series, from 1985.
Married 1) Dagrun Christensen; 2) Maria Makarova (divorced); 3) Katharine Bonitz, 1986; two daughters. Awards: several, including Critics Prize (Germany), 1962, 1979; Büchner Prize, 1963; EtnaTaormina Prize, 1967; Pasolini Prize, 1982; Heinrich Böll Prize, 1985; Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts Award, 1987.
Essays and Related Prose
Politik und Verbrechen, 1964
Deutschland, Deutschland unter anderm, 1967
Palaver: Politische Überlegungen (1967–1973), 1974
Raids and Reconstructions: Essays on Politics, Crime, and Culture, translated by Michael Roloff and others, 1976
Politische Brosamen, 1982; as Political Crutnbs, translated by Martin Chalmers, 1990
Critical Essays, edited by Reinhold Grimm and Bruce Armstrong, 1982.
Ach Europa!, 1987; as Europe, Europe: Forays into a Continent, translated by Martin Chalmers, 1989
Mittelmass und Wahn, 1988; as Mediocrity and Delusion: Collected Diversions, translated by Martin Chalmers, 1992,
Dreamers of the Absolute: Essays on Politics, Crime, and Culture, translated by Michael Roloff, Stuart Hood, and Richard Woolley, 1988
Der fliegende Robert: Gedichte, Szenen, Essays, 1989 Aussichten auf den Bürgerkrieg, 1993; Part in Civil War, 1994 Civil War, translated by Piers Spence and Martin Chalmers, 1994 Diderots Schatten: Unterhaltungen, Szenen, Essays, 1994
Other writings: poetry, a novel, and a play.
Dietschreit, Frank, and Barbara Heinze-Dietschreit, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Stuttgart: Metzler, 1986
Grimm, Reinhold, Texturen: Essays und anderes zu Hans Magnus Enzensberger, New York: Lang, 1984
Grimm, Reinhold, editor, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Frankfurt-onMain: Suhrkamp, 1984
Schickel, J., editor, Über Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Frankfurt-onMain: Suhrkamp, 1970
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