Laudatio on the Presentation of the Goethe Medal of the Goethe Society to Jorge Semprún, Weimar, February 2003
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Jorge Semprún hails from Madrid, but he writes in French. For years he was the Minister of Culture of Spain, but he had also been a refugee from his homeland when it was a Fascist country. In France, where he now lives in Paris, he was “l’Espagnol Rouge” and later in Germany he was “der Rotspanier,” both of them designations that were not meant as compliments but which he proudly affirmed, accepted, and made his own: In other words, a life of paradoxes, contradictions, and surprises. Not the least of these is that this author, who is at home in two countries and has been honored in both, has written a work whose central landscape lies neither in France nor in Spain, but where we stand now, here in Weimar, at the Ettersberg, in Buchenwald. The dissonance contained in this trio of names was summarized by Richard Alewyn in his simple statement: “Between us and Weimar lies Buchenwald” and has been with us ever since, like a scratch on an old gramophone record. It is the theme and background of five books by today’s honoree: the discrepancy between high culture and Hell’s kitchen and, more specifically for Semprún, the unbridgeable abyss between the German books and poets he admires (Brecht, Thomas Mann, Paul Celan, in addition to the corpus of German philosophy) and, on the other side, the looming threat of being tortured to death by Germans on German soil, a fate that he narrowly escaped as a very young man.
KeywordsGerman Philosophy Lyric Poetry Grand Tour German Soil German Book
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