Demetz, Peter

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DEMETZ, PETER (1922– ), Czech scholar and writer. Born in Prague into a Czech-Jewish-German family, Demetz spent the last years of the war in a Nazi labor camp for mischlinge. After finishing his studies at Charles University in Prague, he went into exile in 1949. He settled in the United States, where in 1962 he became professor of German and comparative literature at Yale University, retiring in 1979. He lectured at many American and European universities and after 1989 also in the Czech Republic. In 2000 he was awarded the Medal of Merit by President Havel.

The existence of three cultures – Czech, German, and Jewish – in the Czech lands was always in the foreground of his research and literary activities. Among his works are Franz Kafka a Praha (1947; "Franz Kafka and Prague"), including "Franz Kafka and the Czech Nation," and studies of Rilke, such as The Czech Themes of Rilke (1952) and René Rilkes Prager Jahre (1953; "Prague Years of René Rilke"; Cz. tr., 1998).

Other works include Die Literaturgeschichte Švejks (1989; "The Literary History of Schweik") and Über Literaten und sanfte Revolution in Berlin und Prag (1991; "On Writers and the Velvet Revolution in Berlin and Prague"). Böhmische Sonne, mährischer Mond: Essays und Erinnerungen (1996; Cz., 1997) is a collection of essays on Hašek, Rilke, Kafka, Masaryk, and others. Prague in Black and Gold. The History of a City (1997; Cz., 1998) is a detailed history of Prague from the early Middle Ages until the period of T.G. Masaryk, with emphasis not only on its multicultural character but also on its longstanding tradition of rationality, realism, science, and the spirit of criticism.

Demetz returns to Franz Kafka in his study The Air Show at Brescia, 1909 (2002; Cz., 2003), in which he explores the circumstances under which Kafka wrote his article "Die Aeroplane in Brescia," published in Bohemia in 1909. He includes the portraits of those who took part in the air show: Max *Brod and his brother Otto, Italian poet and novelist G. d'Annunzio, the composer Puccini, and the aviators.

Additional works of Demetz deal with German literary history, including Marx, Engels und die Dichter (1959; "Marx, Engels and the Poets"), Formen des Realismus: Theodor Fontane (1964, 1966; "Forms of Realism: Theodor Fontane"), German Post-war Literature: A Critical Introduction (1970, 1972), and many others.

Demetz also published old tales of Prague and many translations of well-known Czech authors into German (Božena Němcová, Jiří *Orten, Jaroslav Seifert, Ludvík Kundera, etc.).


L. Nezdařil, "Zpráva o Petru Demetzovi," in: Literární noviny (1992, 1997).

[Milos Pojar (2nd ed.)]