Maxim Biller

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"Walls I ran against"

Grimm P[oetikp]rofessor Maxim Biller shows thoughtfulness

Maxim Biller (2016)

"The Used Jew" was the title of the lecture with which Grimm P[oetikp]rofessor Maxim Biller opened his series of events in the Owl Hall of the Murhard Library in December 2008.

However, anyone who had expected flaming polemics or a keynote speech on the (im)possibility of biographical writing from the lecture and seminar was disappointed. The author, who had occupied the public more than through his novels with his columns and most recently through the spectacular damages trial surrounding his book Ezra, gave himself in this literary offering of the University of Kassel, where academic and urban audiences mingle for three days every year, rather thoughtful and almost philosophical. He seemed to have left behind the sharp polemics for which he is famous, or to find them inappropriate for the role of temporary literature professor. A consistent theme of his work is the relationship between Jews and Germans in all its aspects, from the historical to the elusive real life in Germany today, in the precise description of which he brings his own personal experiences. This problem was also the focus of his opening lecture and seminar. Above all, Biller described his relationship to Germany through his own life course as a student in Munich and developing writer, trying to be clear about his own place both in literature and in society. The definition of the 'Jewish' especially in contrast to anti-Semitism took up a lot of space. In the process, he was preoccupied with translating his experiences and insights into writing, describing the "walls I ran up against." Literarily, as he explained, Philipp Roth became his inspiration and role model. But Biller also felt affected by his sister's comment: "Novels are only made of words, not reality". Part of his critical distance from contemporary Germany may also be due to his early language experience: Biller first read Czech until he was a teenager; only later did German become the language in which he thinks and writes. He sees history as a "quarry" for exciting stories that he wants to tell. The question posed to the seminar, whether there is a specific "Jewish literature" in today's Germany, ultimately remained unanswered.

Claudia von Dehn (Publik, January 27, 2009)

Prizes and awards (selection):

  • 1994 Toucan Prize of the City of Munich
  • 1996 Prize of the European Feuilleton
  • 1996 Otto Stoessl Prize
  • 1999 Theodor Wolff Prize
  • 2012 Würth Literature Prize