Helmut Lethen, born in 1939, is one of Germany’s most renowned academics in the field of cultural studies. He taught at the University of Utrecht before accepting the chair for contemporary German literature in Rostock. Between 2007 and 2016, he headed the International Research Centre for Cultural Studies in Vienna. 2006 saw the publication of his biography of Gottfried Benn, entitled The Sound of the Fathers.
NOT SMART ENOUGH FOR THIS LIFE
Fear of the bombs, a wartime childhood – this is the beginning of Helmut Lethen’s memories that go on to cover more than seven decades of German history. The shock of being confronted with the Holocaust in Resnais’ film Nacht und Nebel when he was eighteen. The feeling of liberation when he moved from Bonn to the liberal city of Amsterdam. Then to Berlin – turbulent with protest: here Lethen demonstrates against a visit from the Shah in 1967. The Maoist K-Group excludes him because of a "tendency to conciliation", and yet the "Radicals Decree" – the employment ban in Germany – applies to him and proves to be an inadvertent blessing. In the Netherlands, Lethen writes the "Verhaltenslehren der Kälte", ‘with which he revolutionises our image of the interwar period’. Süddeutsche Zeitung