Martin Walser

Martin Walser was born in Wasserburg on Lake Constance in 1927. He studied Literature, History and Philosophy in Regensburg and Tübingen, where he wrote his doctorate on Franz Kafka in 1951. From 1949 to 1957 Walser worked as a reporter, director and radio playwright for the Süddeutscher Rundfunk regional radio station. From 1953 onwards, he was a member of the Gruppe 47, winning the literary group’s prize for one of his first short stories, »Templones Ende« (t: Templone’s end), in 1955. He received the Hermann Hesse Prize for his first novel: »Ehen in Philippsburg« (1957; Eng. »Marriage in Philippsburg«). His work consists of prose, plays, film scripts, radio plays and translations, as well as a great number of essays, speeches and lectures. In 1978 »Ein fliehendes Pferd« (Eng. »Runaway Horse«, 1980) was published – a classic of German postwar literature. It tells the story of the teacher Halm, a typical Walser anti-hero, who spends his holidays with his wife in a quiet corner of Lake Constance because he believes he can only survive in a state of lethargy. Walser describes himself as a »literary expert on identity damage«. His mainly bourgeois protagonists – characters plagued by identity problems, feelings of inferiority and dependency – are characterised by interior monologues, their weaknesses portrayed through irony, with precision and humour. The protagonists in Walser’s novels can often be traced through consecutive tales, as for example the character of Anselm Kristlein in the trilogy »Halbzeit« (1960; t: Half-Time), »Das Einhorn« (1966; Eng. »The Unicorn«, 1971) and »Der Sturz« (1973; t: The Fall). In 2004 »Der Augenblick der Liebe« (t: The Moment of Love) appeared, the third novel with protagonist Gottlieb Zürn after »Das Schwanenhaus« (1980; Eng. »The Swan Villa«, 1982) and »Die Jagd« (1988; t: The Hunt). Also in 2004, the collection of essays »Die Verwaltung des Nichts« (2004; t: The Administration of Nothingness) was published.

After the publication of »Ein springender Brunnen« (1998; t: A Springing Fountain), in which the author recounts his youth in Wasserburg during the Third Reich, Walser was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Booksellers. »The author of German unification«, as the jury said, had »explained Germany to the Germans themselves and to the world«. His acceptance speech, in which he criticised »the instrumentalisation of Auschwitz« as a »moralising cudgel«, caused him to be accused of advocating to rule off the National Socialist history of Germany. The intensity of the resulting »Walser Bubis debate«, as well as reactions to his novel »Tod eines Kritikers« (2002; t: Death of a Critic), mark out the arbitrary and indistinct intellectual and moral nature of the discussion of Germany’s past. Walser’s diaries from the years 1951 to 1962 were published entitled »Leben und Schreiben« (t: Living and Writing) in 2005.

Walser, who has always expressed controversial opinions on subjects of current political interest alongside his literary activities, is one of the most significant authors of German postwar literature, and he has received countless prizes for his literary work, among them the Georg Büchner Prize in 1981. He has also been awarded the order »Pour le Mérite« and named Officier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Walser lives in Überlingen, on Lake Constance.

© international literature festival berlin