Hans Magnus Enzensberger

Hans Magnus Enzensberger was born in Kaufbeuren, Bavaria in 1929. He grew up in Nuremberg, where he was drafted into the »Volkssturm« towards the end of the war. He studied Literature, Philosophy and Languages in Erlangen, Freiburg im Breisgau, Hamburg and Paris, and completed his degree with a dissertation on the poetics of Clemens von Brentano. He then worked in Stuttgart as a broadcasting editor and as a visiting lecturer at the The Ulm School of Design. Enzensberger was a member of Group 47 and in 1957 he made his poetry debut with »verteidigung der wölfe« (t: Defence of the wolves), in which, through clear language and a provocative tone, he embarks on his critical observation of post-war Germany. Whereas the next collection of poetry, »landessprache« (1960; t: National language), gave voice to even stronger remonstrations, »blindenschrift« (1964; t: Braille) was made up of elegiac »thing poems«.

The poet – innovative within multifarious genres and media – is also known as a dissenting voice as a highly influential editor and essayist. In 1960 he edited the poetry anthology »Museum der modernen Poesie« (t: Museum of modern poetry), which is still widely read and which introduced German readers to then little known writers, such as: William Carlos Williams, Fernando Pessoa and Lars Gustafsson. It was around this time that Enzensberger began his appealing work as translator. In 1965 he founded the journal »Kursbuch« which published critical texts on the media and language. It became a legendary forum for the student movement. In the mid seventies, after volumes of essays and collage-like texts created from documentary materials, Enzensberger turned increasingly towards plays and epic verse, and wrote several pieces expressing critique of progress, among them a classic of German post-war literature, »Der Untergang der Titanic« (1978; t: »The Sinking of the Titanic«, 1980). In 1980 he founded the journal »TransAtlantic«. Five years later he began editing »Die Andere Bibliothek«. Its ninth volume, »Das Wasserzeichen der Poesie oder Die Kunst und das Vergnügen, Gedichte zu lesen« (1985; t: The watermark of poetry or The art and enjoyment of reading poems) appeared under the pseudonym Andreas Thalmayr. Under the same nom de plume Enzensberger recently published the young adult’s manual »Lyrik nervt! Erste Hilfe für gestresste Leser« (2004; t: Poetry gets on my nerves! First aid for stressed readers) – a cultural initiative at once provocative and ironic, similar to his installation »Lyrikautomat« (2000), which generated combinational poems. The author’s vein of enlightenment was often manifested in unusual realms, for instance with »Der Zahlenteufel. Ein Kopfkissenbuch für alle, die Angst vor der Mathematik haben« (1997; Eng. »The Number Devil. A Mathematical Adventure«, 1998). In 2004 Enzensberger edited three major works of Alexander von Humboldt. »Dialoge zwischen Unsterblichen, Lebendigen und Toten« (2004; t: Dialogues between immortals, the living and the dead) was published the same year, containing prose pieces which throw a new light on the present-day zeitgeist through recourse to figures from history. After two collections of poetry in 2005, Enzensberger published two new books in 2006. »Schreckensmänner« (t: Horror’s men) is a »treatise on the radical loser«, dealing with the current radical Islamism and the concept of suicide bombers. »Josefine und Ich« (t: Josephine and I) is a tragicomic prose story between art and politics.

Enzensberger was awarded the Georg Büchner Prize back in 1963. Alongside numerous German literary prizes he has won the Italian Premio Bollati and the Spanish Premio Príncipe de Asturias. He is a member of the Order »Pour le mérite«. The widely-travelled writer, familiar with Mexico, Cuba, North and South America as well as the Soviet Union and the Near East, has lived in Norway, Italy, the USA and West Berlin. Since 1979 he has been living in Munich.

© international literaturfestival berlin