Arthur Koestler

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Arthur Koestler (1969)

Arthur Koestler , CBE (born September 5, 1905 in Budapest , Austria-Hungary ; died March 1, 1983 in London ) was a Hungarian-British writer . He wrote mainly in German and English , occasionally in French and Hungarian . His contemporaries saw him as the most important renegade of the KPD , of which he had been a member for seven years.

Live and act

Origin and education

Koestler was the son of a German-speaking Jewish industrialist and experienced as a child in Hungary the end of the Habsburg monarchy and the communist revolution under Béla Kun . During the Romanian occupation of Budapest in 1919, he moved with his family to Vienna , where he studied engineering from 1922, but also philosophy and literature. During his studies he became a member of the Jewish-academic association Unitas . In the mid-twenties he became enthusiastic about Zionism , which he believed to have made a radical break with the history of European Jewry. He broke off his studies shortly before his exams and went to Palestine in 1926 . Here he spent a few weeks in kibbutz Chefziba , but his application for membership was rejected by the kibbutz assembly. From Haifa , where he was von Jabotinsky’s secretary , he sent reports to Ullstein Verlag in Berlin , which were published in its Vossischer Zeitung .


In 1930 he moved to Berlin, where he became deputy editor-in-chief of BZ am Mittag and worked as a foreign policy editor . In this capacity he took part in the Arctic voyage of the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin airship in 1931 . On December 31, 1931, while he was still working for the liberal Ullstein publishing house, Koestler applied for membership to the KPD's central committee without informing the publisher. In January 1932 the request was granted and the party book was handed over to him under the pseudonym "Iwan Steinberg". In 1932/1933 he traveled to the Soviet Union , where he met Langston Hughes by chance in Ashchabad , the capital of Turkmenistan . Koestler was aware of the catastrophic conditions in the Soviet Union (there was currently a famine that claimed millions of victims); but initially he remained connected to communism , since he still regarded the conditions that he observed as inevitable “aftermaths” of the revolution and hoped for an improvement. From 1934 to 1936 he worked for the press service Inpress published by Sándor Radó in Paris .

War correspondent

In 1937, during the Spanish Civil War , Koestler went to Spain as a war correspondent for the republican news agency Agence Espagne , where he was captured by Franco's troops and sentenced to death as an alleged spy. He was held in solitary confinement in Málaga prison for five days, during which time five thousand people were shot dead. Koestler was then taken to Seville. The British obtained his release after ninety days by means of a prisoner exchange. He processed these experiences in his Spanish Testament . It was published in the Left Book Club and helped his breakthrough as a writer.

Under the impression of the great Stalinist purges and show trials , Koestler turned away from communism in 1937/1938. With Willi Münzenberg he founded the anti-fascist and anti-Stalinist magazine Die Zukunft in 1938 .

England, the new home

After he was interned in the French camp Le Vernet in 1939/1940 , Arthur Koestler lived and worked in England from 1940. There he befriended George Orwell , who in some respects had a similar development behind him. Koestler initially worked as a journalist for the News Chronicle , later writing for numerous English and American magazines. After the Second World War, he temporarily returned to France and associated with left-wing intellectuals around the philosopher Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre . In Beauvoir's key novel The Mandarins of Paris , the character Scriassine is identified with Koestler. He had a brief liaison with Simone de Beauvoir, which may explain the mutual dislike between Koestler and Jean-Paul Sartre, de Beauvoir's long-time partner. Koestler's further successes as a novelist were the Spartacus novel The Gladiators (1939) and God's Throne Is Empty (1951).

From 1954 he turned away from fiction and politics and turned to scientific and parapsychological topics . In 1959 Die Nachtwandler was published, a story of astronomy that focuses on the transition from the geocentric to the heliocentric worldview .

Koestler developed an interest in parapsychology. As early as 1937 he had a mystical experience on his Spanish death row when he reconstructed Euclid's proof that there are infinitely many prime numbers . In 1952 he became a member of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR).

Languages, married life

Koestler was fluent in German , Hungarian , English and French , but also had a command of Russian , Hebrew and probably Yiddish . He lived in Hungary , Austria , Germany , Palestine , the Soviet Union , Switzerland as well as in England , Wales , France and the USA .

His multilingualism was also reflected in his work. He wrote the gladiators and solar eclipses in German. The original manuscripts were lost while fleeing France, the German version known today is a back translation from English. In summer 2015, however, the original manuscript of Solar Eclipse was discovered in the archives of the University of Zurich. A man jumps into the depths ( Arrival and Departure ) he wrote in English.

Koestler was married three times: from 1935 to 1950 with Dorothy Asher, from 1950 to 1952 with Mamaine Paget and from 1963 until his death with Cynthia Jefferies. In 1972 he was honored with the British title CBE .

Illness and suicide

In 1981 Koestler was elected Vice-President of the British suicide association EXIT , and on March 1, 1983, he and his third wife, Cynthia Jefferies, who was twenty-two years his junior, died by suicide . He suffered from Parkinson's disease and leukemia . He donated his fortune to the establishment of a chair in parapsychology, which was established two years later at the University of Edinburgh through the mediation of his executor John Beloff .

Allegations posthumously

Twelve years after Koestler's death, Michael Foot accused him in the Financial Times of attempting to rape Foot's wife, Jill Craigie. David Cesarani took over these accusations in his controversial Koestler biography from 1998, Arthur Koestler, The Homeless Mind , about which Gina Thomas ruled that “there is no solid evidence for his serious allegations”, Cesarani even criticized Koestler as a “serial rapist”, which led to the removal of a Koestler bust from the University of Edinburgh.


Detail of a monument to Arthur Koestler in Budapest

"Solar eclipse"

His reckoning with communism he carried out in the book Sonnenfinsternis (English title Darkness at Noon ), which appeared in England in 1940 and became an international bestseller. The main character of this novel, inspired by old Bolsheviks like Nikolai Bukharin and Karl Radek , who fell victim to the Moscow trials , personifies the willless submission of the individual to a murderous political machine. A copy of the German-language original typewriter script, believed to be lost, was discovered in 2015 by a doctoral student at the University of Kassel in the archives of the University of Zurich and published in 2018. At the same time Koestler published essays under the title The Yogi and the Commissioner , which were supposed to expose the inhumanity of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Moscow regime.

"Of saints and automatons"

In 1960 Koestler published The Lotus and the Robot (in German in 1961 under the title Von Heiligen und Automaten ), in which he deals with Eastern wisdom. Western followers of Buddhism experience criticism in it - e.g. B. Christmas Humphreys and Eugen Herrigel  - but also D. T. Suzuki , whose statements Koestler often characterizes as mystifications of rather banal insights. In his books The Act of Creation (1964; German: The divine spark ) and The Ghost in the Machine (1967; German Das Gespenst in der Maschine, 1968) he presented his theories about bisociations , open hierarchical systems and holons . In 1968 he organized an international symposium as part of the European Forum Alpbach . The lectures held there have been published in the volume Das neue Menschenbild ( Beyond Reductionism ), edited together with J. R. Smythies .

"The toad kisser"

Having advanced to become one of the most important and successful writers in the English language, Koestler caused a sensation in the 1970s with his Paul Kammerer biography The Toad Kisser (1971) and with The Thirteenth Tribe (1976), which contained the thesis that a large part of Eastern Judaism originated from the people of the Khazars , which aroused so much anger in Israel that "the Israeli ambassador to England referred to the book as a 'Palestinian-funded, anti-Semitic act'". In the biography of the Austrian biologist Paul Kammerer, Der Krötenküsser , Koestler attempted to refute the allegations of scientific fraud raised against Kammerer in connection with his well-known toad experiment to prove the inheritance of acquired traits. In the following book The Roots of Coincidence (German: The roots of chance ) Koestler deepened the topic of the theory of the series, which Kammerer had already dealt with, also in the sense of " synchronicities ", as Carl Gustav Jung called and linked them these theses with quantum physics . In the mid-1970s he founded the KIB Foundation (after Koestler's death, the Koestler Foundation ) with Brian Inglis and Tony Bloomfield to promote “research in areas beyond the boundaries of orthodox science”.

"The human being. Evolutionary errant "

In his book Janus (dt .: The human being, aberration of evolution ) he summarized the theories that he had won in his examination of the "science of life" in a kind of final balance. Through comments on his holon theory, through discussions in relation to the phenomenon of humor, as well as art, he comes to a criticism of the " synthetic theory of evolution " of that time, as it was u. a. was represented by Jacques Monod and Ernst Walter Mayr . He relies here in particular on Ludwig von Bertalanffy and the British biologist Sir Alister Hardy . From Hardy he takes over the concept of “ organic evolution ”, in which the activities of living beings, e.g. B. to develop new behaviors in order to occupy new habitats are considered essential for evolution. He also sees the inheritance of acquired traits as a not insignificant factor in evolution. Koestler rejects the behaviorism , which was still prevalent at the time, as well as Freud's psychoanalysis as essentially inaccurate. In his opinion, the human problem within the evolutionary process consists in a gap between thinking and acting, and he is unsure whether humanity will not ultimately wipe itself out in an atomic war, although he, who suspects many civilizations in the cosmos, that Conviction expresses: "It is (...) a comforting thought that only the 'good' among these civilizations will survive, while the 'bad' will destroy themselves." Koestler stands by his dualistic view ("Divine Spark") and, in the sense of the philosopher Henri Bergson , has nothing against calling his views on the finality and purposefulness of all living beings as " vitalism ".

According to Koestler, the evidence from the human past and contemporary brain research equally indicate that something went astray at some point during the final stages of development of anatomically modern humans ( Homo sapiens ). According to Koestler, it seems as if there was a defect, a possibly fatal construction error, built into the pathways of the human nervous system. Perhaps this mistake explains the paranoia that runs like a red thread through human history. Koestler names some of the pathological symptoms he believes are conspicuous as reflected in the history of the human species:

  • The ubiquitous ritual of human sacrifice (for example, Abraham's willingness to cut his son's throat out of pure love for God), which ranges from prehistoric beginnings through the high points of pre-Columbian civilizations and in some parts of the world to the beginning of our century;
  • the constant readiness of humans to wage war against their own kind . Only humans (apart from a few still controversial findings in rats and ants) kill members of their own species, both individually and collectively, for motives ranging from sexual jealousy to metaphysical dogma dispute;
  • the paranoid gap between rational thinking and irrational, sentimental beliefs.


Since 2000, the German Society for Human Dying has been awarding the media prize, which is usually advertised annually and is named after Arthur Koestler and is endowed with € 2000, to people who have taken on the subject of dying while taking into account the right to self-determination.


  • 1934: Of white nights and red days. 12 reports from the Soviet periphery. 180 p., German, Ukrainian state publisher for the national minorities in the USSR, Charkow 1934, DNB 993249701 . New edition: Promedia-Verlag, Vienna 2013, ISBN 978-3853713563 .
  • 1937: A Spanish will. ( Spanish Testament, London 1937) Europa-Verlag, Zurich 1938. Guhl, Berlin 1979. Fischer-TB, 1980, ISBN 3-596222524 .
  • 1939: The gladiators. Novel about the Spartacus uprising. ( The Gladiators , London 1939) Springer, Hamburg 1948. Europaverlag, Vienna 1980, ISBN 3-203507307 .
  • 1940: Darkness at Noon Cape, London 1940.
    • In German as: solar eclipse. Novel. Retransmission from English by Arthur Koestler, Atlantis-Verlag, Zurich 1946. Many other editions, including Europa-Verlag, Vienna 2001, ISBN 3-20379150-1 .
    • Solar eclipse. Novel. First edition based on the original German typescript believed to have been lost until 2014. Edited and with an afterword by Matthias Wessel, foreword by Michael Scammell. Elsinor Verlag, Coesfeld 2018, ISBN 3-94278840-3 .
  • 1941: Scum of the Earth. London 1941.
    • Published in German in 1971 as: Scum of the earth. In Collected Autobiographical Writings . Vol. Two. Molden, Vienna 1971. (The autobiographical book describes Koestler's experiences in France after the beginning of the Second World War up to his flight to Great Britain after the defeat of France by Hitler's Germany)
  • 1943: A man jumps into the depths. Novel. ( Arrival and Departure . Macmillan 1943) Artemis-Verlag, Zurich 1945. Europa-Verlag 1981, Fischer-TB, 1983, ISBN 3-596253322 .
  • 1945: The Yogi and the Commissioner. Arguments. ( The Yogi and the Commissar , 1945) Bechtle, Esslingen 1950. Suhrkamp, ​​1974, ISBN 3-51806658-7 .
  • 1945: Twilight Bar. Drama, 1945. ( Excerpt from a German translation by Friedhelm Sikora, 2006.)
  • 1946: Thieves in the night , Macmillan, London 1946
    • Thieves in the night. Chronicle of an experiment. Danubia-Verlag, Vienna 1949. Europa-Verlag, Vienna 1979, ISBN 3-203506998 .
  • 1951: God's throne is empty. Novel. ( The Age of Longing, 1951) S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1951.
  • 1952: Arrow into the blue. Report of a life. 1905-1931. (Arrow in the Blue, 1952) Translated by Eduard Thorsch. Desch, Munich 1953.
  • 1954: The secret script. Report on a life 1932 to 1940. ( The Invisible Writing, 1954) Translated by Franziska Becker, Desch, Munich 1955.
  • 1959: The Night Walkers. The image of the universe through the ages. ( The Sleepwalkers, 1959; Penguin Books 1990) Scherz 1959. Suhrkamp 1980, ISBN 3-518370790 .
  • 1961: The Lotus and the Robot. 1961. Of saints and automata. Scherz, Stuttgart / Vienna 1961.
  • 1961: with Albert Camus , Ernst Müller-Meiningen Jr. a. Friedrich Nowakowski : Vengeance is mine. Theory and Practice of the Death Penalty. Battenberg, Stuttgart 1961.
  • 1964: The divine spark. The creative act in art and science. ( Act of Creation 1964) joke, 1966, 1968,
  • 1967: The ghost in the machine. ( The Ghost in the Machine, 1967) Molden, Munich 1968.
  • 1971: The toad kisser. The case of the biologist Paul Kammerer. ( Case of the Midwife Toad, 1971) Molden, 1972. Rowohlt, 1974, ISBN 3-499168642 . Czernin, Vienna 2010, ISBN 978-3-7076-0314-9 .
  • 1972: the roots of chance. About theories of parapsychology. ( The Roots of Coincidence , 1972) Scherz, 1972. Suhrkamp, ​​1974, ISBN 3-51806681-1 .
  • 1972: The gentlemen call girls. A satirical novel. ( The Call Girls , 1972.) Scherz, Munich 1973. Fischer-TB, 1985, ISBN 3-59628168-7 .
  • 1976: The thirteenth trunk. The Khazar Empire and its legacy. ( Thirteenth Tribe, 1976.) Molden, Munich 1977, ISBN 3-21700790-5 .
  • 1978: Man: a stray in evolution. The gap between thinking and acting. ( Janus 1978) Scherz 1978. Goldmann 1981. Fischer, 1989-1993.
  • 1983: As a witness of time. The adventure of my life. Scherz-Verlag 1983, ISBN 3-50218388-0 . Fischer-TB 2005, ISBN 3-59616143-6 .
  • 1995: Like a mango tree miracle. Detective novel. Written with Andor Németh. Verlag Das Neue Berlin, ISBN 3-359-00764-6 (first published between February and April 1932 in five episodes in the features section of the Münchner Illustrierte Presse ).
Articles, speeches, interviews, special cases


Literature (selection)

in order of appearance

  • Peter Alfred Huber: Koestler. The literary work. Fretz & Wasmuth, Zurich 1962.
  • Jenni Calder : Chronicles of Conscience. A study of George Orwell and Arthur Koestler. London 1968.
  • Werner Röder; Herbert A. Strauss (Ed.): International Biographical Dictionary of Central European Emigrés 1933-1945 . Volume 2.2. Munich: Saur, 1983 ISBN 3-598-10089-2 , p. 641
  • Christian Buckard : Arthur Koestler. An extreme life. 1905-1983. Beck, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-406-52177-0 .
  • Reinhard Müller : From Arthur Koestler's Moscow cadre file. To the prehistory of the solar eclipse. In: exile. Forsch., Wissens., Ergeb. , 24. Jg., 2004, H. 2, S. 44-60.
  • Joseph P. Strelka : Arthur Koestler. Author, fighter, visionary. Francke, Tübingen 2006, ISBN 3-7720-8144-4 .
  • Martin Mauthner: German Writers in French Exile, 1933-1940. London 2007, ISBN 978-0-85303-540-4 .
  • Michael Scammell: Koestler: the indispensable intellectual. Faber & Faber, London 2010, ISBN 978-0-571-13853-1 . In the USA under the title Koestler. The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic. Random House, New York 2010, ISBN 978-0-394-57630-5 . Review in the FAZ
  • Tony Robert Judt : The Forgotten 20th Century. The return of the political intellectual. Hanser, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-446-23509-0 , therein: Arthur Koestler, the intellectual par excellence , pp. 35–53.
  • Marko Martin : A man jumps into the depths - Arthur Koestler . In: ders .: Dissidentical thinking. Travel to the witnesses of an age . The Other Library, Berlin 2019, ISBN 978-3-8477-0415-7 , pp. 306–339.

Web links

Commons : Arthur Koestler  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. On the day of death on the KGB's black list. In: Berliner Zeitung , September 5, 2005. Retrieved March 2, 2014.
  2. Harald Seewann : Circle and Zion Star. Volume 1. Graz 1990, p. 134.
  3. A god who wasn't. Zurich 1950, p. 29.
  4. A god who wasn't. Zurich 1950, p. 34f.
  5. See Koestler: As a witness of time. P. 171f.
  6. Arthur Koestler: The Secret Script. Report on a life from 1932 to 1940. Desch, Munich / Vienna / Basel 1955, pp. 318–326.
  7. ^ Kindler's New Literature Lexicon. Study edition. Munich 1988. Volume 9, p. 577.
  8. The Monsignor and the Husband. A conversation with Arthur Koestler about genius in science and art. In: Die Zeit , No. 32/1966.
  9. ^ The Invisible Writing. Macmillan, New York 1954, pp. 350–354 ( online excerpt )
  10. a b c Fortean Times: Features: Profiles - Arthur Koestler ( Memento of September 27, 2007 in the Internet Archive ). October 2005
  11. a b Thomas Rüther: The Signatures of Life Risk, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung of April 24, 2016, p. 47 ; Michael Scammell, A Different 'Darkness at Noon'. in: "New York Review of Books" of April 7, 2016, p. 22
  12. A life in extremes. In: Human Life - Human Dying (HLS). Volume 25.2005 / 3, pp. 21ff. pdf, 115 kB ISSN  0938-9717 .
  13. ^ Website of the Koestler Parapsychology Unit
  14. Michael Foot . In: Der Spiegel . No. 16 , 1995 ( online ).
  15. Gina Thomas: After the solar eclipse. In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of May 3, 1999, accessed on September 15, 2017
  16. Gina Thomas: After the solar eclipse. In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of June 17, 2014, accessed on October 14, 2014
  17. BBC News : Women force removal of Koestler bust . December 29, 1998.
  18. ^ William Skidelsky: Arthur Koestler's personal failings should not wholly detract from our appreciation of his achievements. In: The Observer , February 14, 2010.
  19. Shlomo Sand: The Invention of the Jewish People. Israel's founding myth put to the test. List, Berlin 2014 (6); ISBN 978-3-548-61033-7 , p. 354.
  20. 2009: Die Presse: On the current discussion about this experiment
  21. Irrläufer, 1978, p. 7.
  22. Hardy, Alister: The living stream. London 1965; a German translation is not known.
  23. Irrläufer, 1978, chapter 10 (recourse to Lamarck)
  24. Irrläufer, 1978, Chapter 14: A look through the keyhole.
  25. Irrläufer, 1978, p. 328
  26. Irrläufer, 1978, p. 329.
  27. Irrläufer, 1978, p. 275.
  28. Koestler quotes Bergson as saying: “The viatistic principle may not be able to explain much, but it is at least a shield that we can attach to our ignorance so that we can remember it, while the mechanism tempts us to do so Ignoring ignorance. "(Irrläufer, 1978, p. 263.)
  29. Irrläufer, 1978, p. 263.
  30. Irrläufer, 1978. In: Der Spiegel , 5/1978, p. 162 f.
  31. Koestler 1940: Press release 2015 from the University of Kassel on the original manuscript of a solar eclipse
  32. Koestler 1971: with an afterword by Peter Berz and Klaus Taschwer.
  33. Koestler 1978 (Irrläufer) - book editions in the DNB -.
  34. Koestler 1983: Compilation from the earlier books Arrow into Blue , The Secret Script , Spanish Testament .
  35. Koestler 1934/2013: Review of Comrade Piepvogel in the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung
  36. ^ Film 1942: Description of the film in the DRAFD Wiki
  37. Koestler 1964 - Interview with Gaus in the SFB on
  38. with JR Smythies (ed.): Beyond Reductionism. 1969, ISBN 0-8070-1535-0 (contains Koestler's Some general properties of self-regulating open hierarchic order (SOHO) )
  39. ^ Honorary Members: Arthur Koestler. American Academy of Arts and Letters, accessed March 8, 2019 .
  40. ^ Literature 2004 - review of: Buckard: Arthur Koestler. An extreme life 1905–1983. Munich 2004. By Siegfried Schwarz. In: H-Soz-Kult , March 1, 2005, [1] .
  41. ^ Literature 2010 - Review by Henning Ritter