22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Paul Nizon

The Swiss author, Paul Nizon remains outside any trends of contemporary German-language literature.  Althrough he was loosly associated with the group 47, he now remains apart from any particular movement; he once described himself as “a writer of part autobiography and part fiction”. Nizon was born in 1929 as a son of a Russian emigrant and a Bernese mother in his mother’s hometown.  He studied Art History and did his PhD in 1957 on Vincent van Gogh.  In 1961 he became the head art critic of the ‘Neue Züricher Zeitung’. His path of escape from this prestigious position to an uncertain life dedicated to literature is literary reflected in ‘Unternehmen.  Protokoll einer Reise’ (1972).  From then on, Nizon’s live has been a constant series of new beginnings, his writing the tireless reflection of this. His work as a freelance art critic secures his material upkeep.  Already in his literary tribute ‘Die gleitenen Plätze’ (1959) which was highly praised by the critics, his striving for reflection and clarity in language becomes apparent.  After periods spent in Rome and London, he moved to Paris in 1977, where he has since lived in exile by choice.  His books have usually been translated into French very shortly after publication in German, and often sell more copies in France. Nizon has removed himself further and further from his Calvinistic Swiss roots.  Even in ‘Canto’ (1963) he contrasts a description of the atrophied, middle class lifestyle of his home town of Bern with enthusiastic praise of Rome.  ‘Im Hause enden die Geschichten’ (1971), marked by a language combining stillness and turbulence constitutes another, the rejection of middle-class mentality.  Also in ‘Diskurs der Enge’ (1970) he inveighs against the provinciality of Swiss art.  Nizon’s story ‘Stolz’ (1975) for a long time his most successful story, is about intellectual and spiritual decline and the danger of a loss of self, tied in with artistic commitment – his constant theme.  In his Paris book ‘Das Jahr der Liebe’ (1981) Nixon combines the difficulties of love with those of an artist’s existence and at the same time celebrates women revealing all the splendours of life, love which can be bought and his city of refuge.

In 1984 he held the prestigious Chair for poetry at the ‘Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main’. His poetological thinking lectures were published as ‘Am Schreiben gehen.  Frankfurter Vorlesungen’ (1985). For his seventieth birthday, Suhrkamp Verlag, his loyal publisher since 1963, dedicated a seven volume work edition to him.

Dirk Naguschewski

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