Kunert, Guenter 1929–
Kunert, Guenter 1929–
PERSONAL: First name sometimes transliterated as Günter; born March 6, 1929, in Berlin, Germany; married Marianne Todten, April 1, 1952. Education: Attended Academy of Applied Arts, Berlin-Weißensee, 1946–49. Politics: Socialist Unity.
ADDRESSES: Home—Schulstrasse 7, 2216 Kaisborstel, Germany.
CAREER: Poet, playwright, essayist, and novelist. Ulenspiegel, staff member, 1949; University of Texas at Austin, visiting associate professor, 1972; writer in residence at University of Warwick, 1975, Town of Bergen-Enkheim, 1983–84, and City of Mainz, 1989.
MEMBER: German Academy of Languages and Literature, Academy of Arts in Darmstadt, Hamburg, and Mannheim.
AWARDS, HONORS: Heinrich Mann-Preis, Akademie der Kúnste, 1962; Johannes R. Becher-Preis für Lyrik, Umzug nach Berlin-Buch, 1973; award from Confederation of German Industry, 1980; Heinrich-Heine-Preis, Stadt Düsseldorf, 1985; honorary doctorate, Allegheny College, 1988; Hölderlin prize, 1991; E.R. Curtius-Preis für Essayistik, 1991; Hölderlin-Preis für Lyrik, Stadt Homburg, 1991; Hans Sahl Preis der Autorenkreieses Berlin, 1996; Georg-Trakl-Preis of Austria, 1997; honorary doctorate, Juniata College and U.C. University of Torino, both 2005.
Wegschilder und Mauerinschriften, Aufbau (Berlin, Germany), 1950.
Unter diesem Himmel, Neues Leben (Berlin, Germany), 1955.
Tagwerke: Gedichte, Lieder, Balladen (poetry, songs, and ballads), Mittel-deutscher Verlag (Halle, Germany), 1961.
Das kreuzbrave Liederbuch, Aufbau (Berlin, Germany), 1961.
Erinnerung an einen Planeten: Gedichte aus fuenfzehn Jahren, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1963.
Der ungebetene Gast, Aufbau (Berlin, Germany), 1965.
Verkuendigung des Wetters, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1966.
Unschuld der Natur: 52 Figurationen leibhafter Liebe, Aufbau (Berlin, Germany), 1966.
Poesiealbum acht, Neues Leben (Berlin, Germany), 1968.
Warnung vor Spiegeln, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1970.
Notizen in Kreide, edited by Hubert Witt, Reclam (Leipzig, Germany), 1970, revised edition, 1975.
Offener Ausgang, Aufbau (Berlin, Germany), 1972.
Im weiteren Fortgang, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1974.
Das kleine Aber, Aufbau (Berlin, Germany), 1975.
Unterwegs nach Utopia, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1977.
Verlangen nach Bomarzo: Reisegedichte, Reclam (Leipzig, Germany), 1978.
Unruhiger Schlaf, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag (Munich, Germany), 1979.
Abtötungsverfahren, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1980.
Stilleben, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1983.
(With Heinz Stein) Abendstimmung: Gedichte-Holzschnitte, Pongratz, 1983.
Windy Times: Poetry and Prose by Günter Kunert, translated by Agnes Stein, Red Dust (New York, NY), 1984.
Vor der Sintflut: Das Gedicht als Arche Noah; Frankfurter Vorlesungen, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1985.
Berlin beizeiten, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1987.
(Editor) Lesarte: Gedichte der Zeit, Piper (Munich, Germany), 1987.
Gedichte, Reclam (Leipzig, Germany), 1987.
Die befleckte Empfängnis, Aufbau (Berlin, Germany), 1988.
Ich, du, er, sie, es, Maier, 1988.
Fremd daheim, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1990.
Mein Golem, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1996.
Nachtvorstellung, [Munich, Germany], 1999.
So und Nicht Anders, 2002.
Ohne Botschaft, 2005.
Der ewige Detektiv und andere Geschichten, Eulenspiegel (Berlin, Germany), 1954.
Tagträume, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1964.
Im Namen der Hüte (novel), Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1967.
Die Beerdigung findet in aller Stille statt (short stories; includes "Fahrt mit der Sbahn"), Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1968.
Kramen in Fäechern: Geschichten, Parabeln, Merkmale, Aufbau (Berlin, Germany), 1968.
Tagträume in Berlin und andernorts: Kleine Prosa, Erzählungen, Aufsätze (includes "Zentralbahnhof"), Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1972.
Gast aus England (short stories), Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1973.
Der Hai: Erzählungen und kleine Prosa, edited by Dietrich Bode, Reclam (Stuttgart, Germany), 1974.
Keine Affäre (short stories), Berliner Handpresse (Berlin, Germany), 1976.
Kinobesuch (short stories), Insel (Leipzig, Germany), 1976.
Drei Berliner Geschichten (short stories), Aufbau (Berlin, Germany), 1979.
Zuüuck ins Paradies (short stories), Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1984.
Aus vergangener Zukunft, Aufbau (Berlin, Germany), 1990.
PLAYS AND OTHER SCRIPTS
Der Kaiser von Hondu: Ein Fernsehspiel (television script), Aufbau (Berlin, Germany), 1959.
Ein anderer K: Hörspiele, Aufbau (Berlin, Germany), 1977, translation by A. Leslie Willson published as A Different K, Dimension, 1977.
Also author of screenplay Beethoven: Tag aus einem Leben, 1976; author of radio plays Mit der Zeit ein Feuer and Ehrenhändel; author of television plays Fetzers Flucht, 1962, Karpfs Karriere, 1970, King Arthur, 1990, An Obituary in the Wall, 1991, and Endstation: Harembar, 1991.
Jäger ohne Beute, Neues Leben (Berlin, Germany), 1955.
Kunerts lästerliche Leinwand, Eulenspiegel (Berlin, Germany), 1965.
Betonformen: Ortsangaben, Literarisches Colloquium (Berlin, Germany), 1969.
(Editor) Nikolaus Lenau (poetry), Fischer (Frankfurt am Main, Germany), 1969.
(Translator, with Ernst Jandl) Christopher Middleton, Wie wir Gromutter zum Markt bringen: Gedichte und Prosa, Eremiten-Presse (Stierstadt im Taunus, Germany), 1970.
Ortsangaben, Aufbau (Berlin, Germany), 1971.
(Editor) Bertolt Brecht, Über die irdische Liebe und andere gewisse Welträtsel in Liedern und Balladen, Eulenspiegel (Berlin, Germany), 1971.
Die geheime Bibliothek, Aufbau (Berlin, Germany), 1973.
(Editor) Dimension: Sonderheft DDR-Literatur, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1973.
(Selector) Michael Hamburger, editor, East German Poetry: An Anthology, translated by Hamburger, Christopher Middleton, and Christopher Levenson, Dutton (New York, NY), 1973.
Der andere Planet: Ansichten von Amerika, Aufbau (Berlin, Germany), 1974.
Der Mittelpunkt der Erde: Prosa, Eulenspiegel (Berlin, Germany), 1975.
Warum schreiben: Notizen zur Literatur (essays), Aufbau (Berlin, Germany), 1976.
Jeder Wunsch ein Treffer (children's book), Middelhauve (Cologne, Germany), 1976.
Berliner Wände: Bilder aus einer verschwundenen Stadt, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1976.
Ein englisches Tagebuch, Aufbau (Berlin, Germany), 1978.
Camera obscura, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1978.
Heinrich von Kleist: Ein Modell, Akademie der Künste (Berlin, Germany), 1978.
Die Schreie der Fledermäuse: Geschichten, Gedichte, Aufsätze, edited by Dieter E. Zimmer, Bertelsmann (Gütersloh, Germany), 1978.
Bücher Nachträge, Berliner Handpresse (Berlin, Germany), 1978.
Ziellose Umtriebe: Nachrichten von Reisen und vom Daheimsein, Aufbau (Berlin, Germany), 1979.
(Editor, with H. Sandberg) Ulenspiegel: Zeitschrift für Literatur, Kunst und Satire, Ein Querschnitt von 1945 bis 1950, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1979.
(Selector) Agnes Stein, editor and translator, Four German Poets, Red Dust (New York, NY), 1979.
Kurze Beschreibung eines Moments der Ewigkeit: Kleine Prosa, Reclam (Leipzig, Germany), 1980.
Verspätete Monologe, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1981.
(Editor) Jahrbuch für Lyrik, Volume 3, Athenaeum (Königstein, Germany), 1981.
Diesseits des Erinnerns (essays), Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1982.
Die letzten Indianer Europas: Ein Essay, Pongratz (Hauzenberg, Germany), 1983.
Leben und Schreiben, Pfaffenweiler Presse (Pfaffen-weiler, Germany), 1983.
(Selector) Mein Lesebuch, Fischer (Frankfurt, Germany), 1983.
Auf der Suche nach der Wirklichen Freiheit, [Berlin, Germany], 1983.
Kain und Abels Brüderlichkeit, Pongratz, 1984.
Der Wald, Ellert & Richter (Hamburg, Germany), 1985.
(With Michael Engler) Berliner Nächte: Laternenbilder, Ellert & Richter (Hamburg, Germany), 1986.
Zeichnungen und Beispiele, edited by Joseph A. Kruse, Droste (Düsseldorf, Germany), 1987.
(Editor) Aus fremder Heimat: Zur Exil-Situation heutiger Literatur, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1988.
Auf Abwegen und andere Verirrungen, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1988.
(Editor) Dichter predigen: Reden aus der Wirklichkeit, Radius (Stuttgart, Germany), 1989.
Die Letzten Indianer Europas: Kommentare zum Traum, der leben heisst, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1991.
Günter Kunert: Zwischen den Meeren, 1991.
Der Sturz vom Sockel: Feststellungen und Widerspruche, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1992.
Im toten Winkel: Ein Hausbach, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1992.
Baum, Stein: Reisen zwischen Ober-und Unterwelt (essays), Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1994.
Steine reden, Reche (Passau, Germany), 1994.
Schatten entziffern: Lyrik, Prosa, 1950–1994, edited by Jochen Richter, Reclam (Leipzig, Germany), 1995.
Erwachsenenspiele: Erinnerungen, [Munich, Germany], 1997.
Nachrichten aus Ambivalencia, Wallstein (Göttingen, Germany), 2002.
Kopfzeichen für Verratgeber, 2002.
Was das Hotelzimmer dem Gast Erzählt, 2004.
Neandertaler Monologe, 2004.
Kunerts Antike, 2004.
Die Brüste der Pandora, 2004.
Yrrtum Ausgeschlossen, 2006.
Contributor to numerous books, including author of foreword or afterword, including Thinking It Over: Thirty Stories from the German Democratic Republic (includes "Fahrt mit der S-Bahn," translated by Marjorie Meyer as "Ride on the S-Bahn,") edited by Hubert Witt, Seven Seas (Berlin, Germany), 1976; and The Prose Poem: An International Anthology (includes "Zentralbahnhof," translated by Duncan Smith as "Central Station"), edited by Michael Benedikt, Dell (New York, NY), 1976. Contributor to periodicals such as Monatshefte and Jahrbuch. Editor, Literaturmagazin.
SIDELIGHTS: Decades before the Berlin Wall fell, Guenter Kunert held a unique position spanning both East and West Germany. Celebrated as a significant literary voice in both countries, Kunert infuses his work with political urgency but avoids maudlin or overbearing didacticism. According to Valerie Greenberg in the Dictionary of Literary Biography: "Kunert considers himself not an 'East German author' but a 'German author.'"
Born four years before the Nazis took over Germany, Kunert as a child suffered religious persecution because his mother was Jewish. Since he spent five semesters studying graphic arts at the Academy of Applied Arts in Berlin (he later illustrated many of his own poetry books), Kunert infused his work with visual qualities. His first literary publications appeared in the magazine Ulenspiegel in 1948. His early epigramic and uncomplicated work reflects the influence of Bertolt Brecht, Carl Sandburg, and Edgar Lee Masters, as well as his political interests. In 1949 he joined the Socialist Unity party with the faith that socialist humanitarianism, progressivism, and justice could defeat the evils of fascism.
Kunert's first volumes of poetry were written in the tradition of songs, ballads, and sonnets. As his commitment to consciousness-raising grew, his poetry became more complex and paradoxical. He experimented with fragmented sentences, irregular verses, and longer, epic forms in Der ungebeten Gast, Verkundigung des Wetters, and Warnung vor Spiegeln.
Kunert enjoyed the rare privilege of travel beyond the Berlin Wall. He took advantage of his experience and wrote a number of travel books, the first being Ortsangaben. Kunert's travel pieces are not amusing anecdotal tour guides but rather social critical analyses and historic-philosophic meditations. In 1972 he traveled to the United States as a visiting associate professor at the University of Texas in Austin. While in the United States, he wrote the satiric travelogue Der andere Planet. After a year spent in England at the University of Warwick in 1975, Kunert wrote another autobiographical book of essays, Ein englisches Tagebuch, and a volume of poetry, Verlangen nach Bomarzo.
Kunert is also known for his numerous Kafkaesque short stories and Brechtian prose sketches, found in the collections Tagträme, Die Beerdigung findet in aller Stille statt, and Tagtrame in Berlin und andernorts. Kunert employs parables because they can illuminate abstract ideals without explicit political didacticism. He avoids clear ideological stances, instead focusing on "recurrent themes and images—the pilot, for example, as a symbol for man's cosmic aspirations, as opposed to the buccaneer who perishes in his search for El Dorado—emerge in ever new variations to express a dialectical tensions between the ideal and the real, between hope and disillusionment," according to Helene Scher in the Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century. Kunert's satiric, grotesque, surreal, and ironic works are sometimes listed as science fiction; however, though they are concerned about the dehumanizing effects of technology, they do not center primarily around technology as much as they do around social and political life.
Though cultural authorities became disturbed as Kunert's writing grew critical of socialism and more pessimistic, he still received the Johannes R. Becher Prize in 1973. His 1977 expulsion from his political party followed his signing of a letter distributed among East Germany's literary community protesting the revocation of singer/poet Wolf Biermann's citizenship. Increasing official harassment in the late 1970s further impeded Kunert's work. In 1979 he obtained a long-term visa and left East Germany for Itzehoe in West Germany, where he became much more productive.
Less critically successful are the author's longer fiction works, such as his long story "Gast aus England," his radio play Der Kaiser von Hondu, and the novel Im Namen der Huete. In the novel, a Jew named Henry fights for his survival and encounters hats that give him visions of their previous owners' lives.
Still, Kunert's acclaim as a master of short forms continues. According to an article in Die Zeit by critic Fritz J. Raddatz noting the significance of Kunert's work among contemporary literary works dealing with the mythical, Kunert is "the most radical herald of the end of the enlightenment." Though Kunert's later work illustrates his disillusionment, he rejects the labels "pessimist" and "nihilist." Kunert is concerned about humanity's historical amnesia, its inability to learn from the past. He writes as a matter of survival, as he says in Warum schreiben: "As long as one is writing, destruction is held off, mortality does not happen, and that is the reason I write: in order to endure the world, which is continually disintegrating into nothingness."
Kunert told CA: "Early reading of books in my childhood first got me interesting in writing. My work is most influenced by my experiences. When I write, sometimes a poem needs weeks, months or years. Prose goes more quickly. The most surprising thing I have learned as a writer is the need to be two persons, like Jeckyll and Hyde, but less dangerous. My favorite of all my books is always the most recently published."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary World Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1993.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 75: Contemporary German Fiction Writers, Second Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1988.
Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century, 3rd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Gerber, Margy, and Judith Pouget, Literature of the German Democratic Republic in English Translation: A Bibliography, University Press of America (Lanham, MD), 1984.
Gerber, Margy, and Christine Cosentino, Studies in GDR Culture and Society Three, University Press of America (Lanham, MD), 1983.
Grimm, Reinhold, From Kafka and Dada to Brecht and Beyond, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 1982.
Kunert, Guenter, Warum schreiben: Notizen zur Literatur, Aufbau (Berlin, Germany), 1976.
Weber, Betty Nance, editor, Bertolt Brecht: Political Theory and Literary Practice, University of Georgia Press, 1980.
Antioch Review, spring, 1985, review of Windy Times: Poetry and Prose by Günter Kunert, p. 248.
Choice, June, 1984, review of Windy Times, p. 1471.
Die Zeit, July 6, 1984, article by Fritz J. Raddatz, pp. 13-14.
Library Journal, December 15, 1980, Susan Shafarzek, review of Four German Poets, p. 2545; June 15, 1984, review of Windy Times, p. 1243; November 15, 1984, review of Windy Times, p. 2117.
Times Literary Supplement, October 10, 1980, review of Abtötungsverfahren, p. 1153; October 16, 1981, review of Verspatete Monologe, p. 1214; September 28, 1984, review of Windy Times, p. 1094; October 5, 1990, review of Fremd Daheim, p. 1064.
World Literature Today, summer, 1978, review of Ein anderer K: Hörspiele, p. 454; summer, 1979, review of Camera obscura, p. 506; autumn, 1979, review of Verlangen nach Bomarzo: Reisegedichte, p. 674; winter, 1979, review of Unterwegs nach Utopia, p. 109; spring, 1980, review of Ein Englisches Tagebuch and Die Schreie der Fledermäuse, p. 277; spring, 1981, review of Abtötungsverfahren, p. 307; spring, 1982, review of Verspatete Monologe, p. 336; winter, 1984, review of Disseits des Erinnerns, p. 97; summer, 1985, review of Zurick ins Paradies, p. 419; winter, 1985, review of Stilleben, p. 85; summer, 1986, review of Von der Sintflut: Das Gedicht als Arche Noah; Frankfurter Vorlesungen, p. 468; summer, 1987, review of Berlin Beizeiten, p. 442; winter, 1990, David Scrase, review of Die befleckte Empfangnis, p. 101, and Ian Hilton, review of Auf Abwegen und andere Verwirrungen, p. 109; winter, 1996, Hans J. Fabian, review of Beton: Reisen zwischen Ober-und Unterwelt, p. 187; spring, 1998, Christian Grawe, review of Erwachsenenspiele: Erinnerungen, p. 366; autumn, 1999, David Scrase, review of Nachtvorstellung, p. 732; spring, 2002, David Scrase, review of Nachrichten aus Ambivalencia, p. 198.