Anders, Guenther

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ANDERS, GUENTHER (Stern ; 1902–1992), German philosopher, political writer, and novelist. Born in Breslau as the second child of psychologist William Stern and his wife, Clara, Anders was raised in an assimilatory milieu, or, in his own words, a "tradition of anti-traditionalism." In 1919, he began to study philosophy in Freiburg with Edmund *Husserl, who also supervised his Ph.D. thesis in the field of logic. In 1929 he married Hannah *Arendt (they were divorced eight years later). Two months after Hitler's election, Anders fled the Gestapo to Paris for three years. There he wrote his novel Die molussische Katakombe, a fierce examination of the conditions of thinking and story-telling under dictatorship (the manuscript was reworked several times and finally published after Anders' death in 1992). In 1936 he was awarded the Amsterdam Prize of Emigration for his novel Der Hungermarsch. In the same year he immigrated to the United States, where he developed the focus of his later thought: the status of man in the age of self-iterating technology. Far from being a question of "evolution," under Anders' argument the 20th century locates mankind at a crucial point of its development, i.e., within a process of industrial revolutions that sets up structures inevitably leading to the destruction of life and marginalizing man as a willing executor of his own agony. The triumph of technology over life presupposes the transformation of man into raw material. Herein the final significance of Auschwitz can be seen, a thought not least explicitly formulated in Anders' open letter to the son of Adolf Eichmann (Wir Eichmannsoehne, 1964). In his system of negative anthropology, Eichmann represents man under the reign of technical totalitarianism, willingly fulfilling the demands of the killing machinery and unable to recognize the monstrous consequences of his own deeds. (His guilt remains, since despite his blindness, people are always able to defy the progress of monstrosity.)

Thus the rise of technology, its manifestation as historical protagonist, must be viewed from the perspective of catastrophe. The scenery Anders chose for his principal work, Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen (Part 1, 1956; Part 2, 1980), is Hiroshima; the invention of the atom bomb – a product not answering any economic need, created to end all needs – becomes an initial proof of his apocalyptic reading of cultural history. After returning to Europe (Vienna) in 1950, Anders dedicated most of his efforts to political realities. While his philosophical approach seemed too unorthodox and isolated to enable an academic career (he was recommended by Ernst *Bloch for a professorship at the University of Halle, gdr), Anders was strongly committed to the protest against the Vietnam War (Visit Beautiful Vietnam, 1968) and proceeded to become one of the most prominent activists against military and civil uses of nuclear power (Die atomare Drohung, 1981; Hiroshima ist ueberall, 1982).

Along with several literary awards, Anders received the Deutscher Kritikerpreis (1967), the Österreichischer Staatspreis für Kulturpublizistik (1979), and the Theodor-W.-Adorno-Preis (1983).


W. Reimann, Verweigerte Versöhnung: zur Philosophie von Günther Anders (1990); Text u. Kritik, 115 (1992); K.P. Liessmann, Guenther Anders: Philosophieren im Zeitalter der technischen Revolutionen (2002); L. Luetkehaus, Schwarze Ontologie: ueber Guenther Anders (20022).

[Phillipp Theisohn (2nd ed.)]