Hans Mayer (literary scholar)

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Hans Mayer (born March 19, 1907 in Cologne , † May 19, 2001 in Tübingen ) was a German literary scholar . He also found international recognition as a critic , writer and musicologist . Mayer was also a lawyer and social researcher .


Hans Mayer came from an upper-class Jewish family , his father was a merchant and art collector. His parents were murdered in Auschwitz concentration camp . He attended elementary school and the Schiller grammar school in Cologne-Ehrenfeld . He passed his Abitur in 1924. In his youth he was influenced by the early writings of Karl Marx and the work of Georg Lukács . He saw himself as a socialist and a Marxist .

Mayer studied law and political science, history and music in Cologne , Bonn and Berlin and in 1930 at Hans Kelsen in Cologne with the dissertation The Crisis of the German State and the State believes Rudolf Smend to Dr. jur. PhD. At the same time he joined the SPD and worked on the magazine Der Rote Kämmer . At the end of 1931 he was one of the founding members of the SAPD , from which he was expelled a year later because of his sympathy with the KPD-O . Since he was a Jew and Marxist, he was banned from working after the Nazi takeover in July 1933. Mayer fled to France in August , where he briefly acted as editor-in-chief of the New World , the daily newspaper of the KPO- Alsace. In 1934 he moved to Geneva . Here he received assignments as a social researcher from Hans Kelsen and Max Horkheimer . In 1935 he left the KPD-O. Carl Jacob Burckhardt influenced his literary studies during this time.

From 1937 to 1939 Mayer was a member of the Collège de Sociologie in Paris, founded by Georges Bataille , Michel Leiris and Roger Caillois in 1937 . There he gave a lecture on the political secret societies in German Romanticism and showed how these had anticipated National Socialist symbolism. Other exiles at the Collège were Walter Benjamin and Paul Ludwig Landsberg .

After the end of the Second World War , Mayer returned to Germany in 1945. The US military government appointed him cultural editor of the dpa predecessor German news agency DENA and later political editor-in-chief of Radio Frankfurt. In 1948 he went to the Soviet occupation zone (SBZ) with his friend Stephan Hermlin . There he spoke in 1947 at the First German Writers' Congress in Berlin. After his speech there, Friedrich Wolf moderated him with the words:

“I think the applause proves that even a short presentation with a thesis and an antithesis can trigger a strong approval and inner excitement. We have very different options in the form, as Dr. Hans Mayer has set up and presented his lecture to create a spiritually crystal-clear formulation and exaggeration to create the problem. "

In Leipzig he accepted a professorship for literary studies and became an influential critic of modern German literature. It was possible for him to switch between the East and West German world. In the east he worked through his lectures and discussion groups, in west Germany he was a welcome guest at the meetings of Group 47 . Mayer was also in contact with Bertolt Brecht during this time .

Grave of Hans Mayer in the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof in Berlin

From 1956, his relationship with the rulers of the GDR was marked by increasing friction. In 1963 Mayer did not return to the GDR after visiting the publishing house in Tübingen . Between 1964 and 1967 he moderated the radio and television program Das literäre Kaffeehaus together with the literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki . In 1965 he was appointed to a newly established chair for German literature at the Technical University of Hanover . He held this position until his retirement in 1973. Mayer let himself retire early in protest because the Lower Saxony Ministry of Education decided against his proposal, supported by the faculty and the senate, to appoint Fritz J. Raddatz as professor for newer and newest literature. Afterwards Mayer lived as an honorary professor in Tübingen. In old age he lost his eyesight. Since it was still possible for him to dictate his texts, he was able to remain active as a journalist for a long time.

Hans Mayer died two months after his 94th birthday in Tübingen, after he had prescribed himself to stop living with the sentence: "It is enough" by not consuming any more food or fluids - according to his student Fritz J. Raddatz. His grave is in the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof in Berlin.


Hans Mayer's work comprises more than forty volumes. Mayer dealt in his research on literary history a . a. with Büchner , Thomas Mann , Bertolt Brecht , Montaigne , Robert Musil , James Joyce , Uwe Johnson , Günter Grass and Hans Henny Jahnn .

In 1935, while in exile, he began preparatory work for his large work on Georg Büchner. This work was later recognized by the University of Leipzig as a habilitation thesis . In 1962 he brought out the collection of essays on German literature of the time . In 1986 he had this volume followed by the book The Unhappy Consciousness - On German Literary History from Lessing to Heine . In 1982 he published his two-volume memoir under the title Ein Deutscher auf Widerruf .

The study Outsiders , published in 1975, is considered by some to be his main work. In this volume he deals with the literary representation of three groups that have often been discriminated against in history: women, male homosexuals and Jews. As a Jew and homosexual he had gained relevant experience. The Tower of Babel from 1991 is an obituary for the GDR. The key phrase is often seen: "The bad ending does not disprove a potentially good beginning". For him, the GDR had been the better of the two German states for a long time. His last book is the memories of Willy Brandt from 2001.

Reception and honors

When honoring Mayer's work, these points are often emphasized:

  • In the midst of Stalinism , he defended authors such as Kafka , Proust , James Joyce and Ernst Bloch .
  • In his lectures it was important to him to repeatedly examine literature to determine whether it was suitable for promoting humanity.
  • His special attention to the insubordinate and outsiders is particularly emphasized.
  • Mayer was an important sponsor for some young authors, such as Uwe Johnson .

Hans Mayer is an honorary citizen of the city of Leipzig, honorary doctorate from the universities in Brussels, Wisconsin and Leipzig, honorary professor at the University of Beijing, winner of the national prize of the GDR and the Great Cross of Merit with star and shoulder ribbon of the Federal Republic of Germany . At a reception for former Tübingen Jews in the town hall in 1987, Professor Hans Mayer received the city of Tübingen's citizen medal. He was honored with the German Critics ' Prize in 1965 and the Ernst Bloch Prize in 1988. In 1990 he received the Austrian Decoration of Honor for Science and Art . He was a member of the Berlin Academy of the Arts and an honorary member of the Saxon Academy of the Arts .

On December 4, 2002, the Hans-Mayer-Weg was dedicated to him in Hanover in the Welfengarten behind the university . In Cologne, on May 28, 2009, on the initiative of Thomas Geduhn, district board member of the Association of German Writers , Cologne District, the extension of the Alphons-Silbermann- Weg in the campus of the university in Cologne between Zülpicher and Luxemburger Strasse "Hans-Mayer-Weg " named.

Hans Mayer, along with Walter Benjamin , who was also at the Collège de Sociologie with him, is one of the most important literary critics of the 20th century.

The Hans Mayer Society was founded in June 2018. It has set itself the goal of bringing the literary, cultural-political and political thinker Hans Mayer back into the consciousness and thinking of the present.

Works (in selection)

  • Georg Büchner and his time. 1946.
  • Karl Marx and the misery of the mind. Studies on the new German ideology. Westkulturverlag Anton Hain, Meisenheim 1948.
  • Henri Bergson's world and impact . In literature of the transition period. Berlin W 8: Volk und Welt, 1949, pp. 98–116.
  • Richard Wagner . 1959.
  • From Lessing to Thomas Mann. Changes in bourgeois literature in Germany. 1959.
  • On the German literature of the time. 1967.
  • The happening and the silence. Aspects of literature , Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1969
  • The representative and the martyr. Constellations of literature , Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1971
  • Outsider. 1975.
  • A German on withdrawal. 1982.
  • Outsider. 1983, several later editions.
  • Contradictions of a European Literature. , Rimbaud Presse, Aachen 1984, ISBN 3-89086-997-1
  • The unhappy consciousness - On German literary history from Lessing to Heine . 1986.
  • The Tower of Babel. 1991.
  • Trial via Hans Henny Jahnn . 1984, 1994.
  • Again: "Germany and the Germans." 1991. In: Thomas Mann: Germany and the Germans . 1945. Series: EVA-Reden 1. Europäische Verlagsanstalt, Hamburg 1992, ISBN 3-434-50101-0 , pp. 41-66.
  • Turning times - About Germans and Germany. 1993, Suhrkamp.
  • The withdrawal. About Germans and Jews. 1994.
  • Brecht. Suhrkamp. 1996.
  • Contemporaries: Memory and Interpretation. 1998.
  • Lived music - memories. 1999.
  • Memories of Willy Brandt . 2001.
  • Letters 1948–1963. Edited and commented by Mark Lehmstedt, Leipzig 2006.

Between 1954 and 1976 Hans Mayer published works of older and more recent German literary criticism. These appeared as a uniform edition under the title:

  • German literary criticism . Henry Goverts publishing house, Stuttgart and Frankfurt 1962–76
    • Vol. I: Masterpieces of German literary criticism. Enlightenment, classical, romantic
    • Vol. II: German literary criticism in the 19th century. From Heine to Mehring
    • Vol. III: German literary criticism in the twentieth century. German Empire, World War I and the first post-war period (1889–1933)
    • Vol. IV, 1 and 2: German literary criticism of the present. Pre-war, Second World War and the second post-war period (1933–1968)

Literature and film

  • Olaf Ihlau : The Red Fighters. A contribution to the history of the labor movement in the Weimar Republic and in the “Third Reich”. Meisenheim am Glan 1969, Reprint Erlangen 1971, ISBN 3-920531-07-8 .
  • Volker Ladenthin : Hans Mayer and the "unhappy consciousness". In: Volker Ladenthin: Modern literature and education. Hildesheim-New York 1991. pp. 136-162.
  • Thomas Grimm . Germanist in Germany . Hans Mayer . MDR , 30 min. 1991
  • A German revoked - Hans Mayer 90th . Film by Claus Spahn , WDR 1997.
  • Clemens Berger : The late Hans Mayer. Aspects in the life-work of an outsider. 2003 (diploma thesis, Vienna).
  • Thomas Grimm: Hans Mayer. Gallows bird in the coldest Stalinism. In Left Fatherland Journeyman. Socialists, anarchists, communists, ruffians, and other non-conformists. Pp. 150-168. Parthas Verlag, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-932529-39-1 .
  • Stephan Moebius : The sorcerer's apprentices. Sociological history of the Collège de Sociologie 1937–1939. UVK, Konstanz 2006, ISBN 3-89669-532-0 .
  • Marcel Reich-Ranicki : Hans Mayer - The eloquent scholar . In: The Lawyers of Literature . dtv 1996, pp. 251-692.
  • Günter Hefler: Hans Mayer . In: Robert Walter / Alfred Schramm: The circle around Hans Kelsen. The early years of pure legal theory , Vienna: Manz 2008 (series of the Hans Kelsen Institute; 30), ISBN 978-3-214-07676-4 , pp. 293-314.

Web links

Commons : Hans Mayer  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Moebius, 2006
  2. Ursula Reinhold, Dieter Schlenstedt, Horst Tanneberger (eds.): First German Writers' Congress October 4-8, 1947. Protocol and documents , Aufbau Verlag, Berlin 1997, ISBN 978-3351018832
  3. No place for birds of paradise . In: Die Zeit 7/1973.
  4. 3sat, December 6, 2010: Interview video Fritz J. Raddatz led by Peter Voß , series Peter Voß asks ...
  5. Tübingen City Chronicle 1987 .
  6. Helmut Zimmermann : Hanover's street names - changes since 2001. In: Hannoversche Geschichtsblätter , New Episode 57/58 (2003), pp. 277–286
  7. The foundation of the Hans Mayer Society
  8. ^ "Contradictions of a European Literature" , ZEIT edition 42/1983, lecture at the opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair 1983
  9. ^ On the death of Hans Mayer on May 19, 2001, WDR television, May 2001