Please join us for a Talk by
Professor of German Literature and Intellectual History,
Director, Arts & Humanities, Institute of Advanced Study,
at the University of Durham
Botho Strauß, Two Cultures, Literature and Evolutionism
time and place (and format!) TBD
Botho Strauß (1944-) is still regarded as one of the leading contemporary German writers, famed for his earlywork in the theatre with Peter Stein (Trilogie des Wiedersehens, 1976) and his postmodern re-invention of the superannuated genreof the Bildungsroman (Der junge Mann, 1984). Always regarded as an intellectual and ‘difficult’ writer in the tradition of Heidegger, Adorno and Derrida, Strauß alas ruined his avant-garde reputation with the essay Anschwellender Bocksgesang (1993-1994),which many saw as an appeal to the neo-nationalist right. Since then his public profile has been much reduced. This paper argues however with George Steiner’s On Difficulty (1978) that the chief significance of Strauß’s literary project and major impulses for his self-understanding are to be found neither in leftish Critical Theory and deconstruction nor reactionary rightish Heideggerism. Instead, it seeks to disclose something almost untouched in scholarly research on Strauß: his lifelong fascination with evolutionary theory, so that he in fact belongs with his hero Thomas Mann in the great Classic-Romantic tradition of the poeta doctus. The genetic-aesthetic motif of random copying with modification, derived from the evolutionist philosopher Jacques Monod, not only connotes Strauß’s perennial habitus of intertextual rewriting. It also symbolises both the search for authentic selfhood of Bekker in Rumor (1980) and of the intrinsically uncreative recycler Syks in the cultural evolution experiment of Der junge Mann. Later, moreover,following Strauß’s celebration of the complex evolutionism of system theory in Beginnlosigkeit (1992), the copying motifenables his attempt in the autobiographical Die Fehler des Kopisten (1997) to circumscribe the father-son relationship with a new, postmodern, posthumanist poetic of plural self-construction. In all this Strauß is argued to be a writer whose central purpose is not (only) radical politicsof left or right, but in the age of science (Werner von Siemens) to bridge the ‘two cultures’culture divide made famous by C.P. Snow.