Friday, November 6, 2009

Translation of Friedrich Sieburg's German Wikipedia entry

As supplied by the formidable Mr. Judd, who would like to point out he hasn't tackled a translation of this length for years. The source Wikipedia entry can be found here (as at this date). The translation is a work in progress but I thought it might be a good idea to put it up as Stephen goes, before the post becomes last week's news.

Those interested in herr Sieburg can check out the cover of Es werde Deutschland (also unearthed by Stephen) and pp. 85-88 of Elliot Yale Neaman's Ernst Jünger and the politics of literature after Nazism, which happen to be available online in the Google Books preview.

Friedrich Sieburg


Friedrich Sieburg came from a mercantile family. He attended a Realgymnasium [Latin only grammar school] in Altena, and afterwards a classical grammar school [one with Latin and Greek] in Düsseldorf. He published his first poems as a 16 year old in the Düsseldorf News.


In 1912 he began university study of philosophy, history, literature and economics in Heidelberg. In 1919 Sieburg completed a doctorate in literary studies at Münster (subject: The ranks of lyrical forms -- Contributions towards an aesthetic of lyric style.) Max Weber and Friedrich Gundolf numbered among his lecturers. He had connections to the George Circle [the group of poets surrounding Stefan George]. In the First World War he was at first an infantryman, and from 1916 saw action as an air force officer.

Weimar Republic

From 1919 to 1923 Sieburg lived as a freelance writer in Berlin, was a supporter of the revolution and at this time mostly wrote film reviews. From 1923 on he was, at first loosely, active on behalf of the Frankfurter Zeitung. In May 1926 he became their foreign correspondent in Paris. There his most well known book was written: God in France?.
From 1930 to 1832 he was a foreign correspondent in London, then again in Paris.

In 1929 Sieburg published an article in the young conservative monthly Die Tat (The Deed), which could be considered a renunciation of the bourgeois-liberal general line exemplified by the Frankfurter Zeitung.

In 1932 he also published several pieces in the Täglichen Rundschau (Daily Review) which like Die Tat was edited by Hans Zehrer. Sieburg supported Zehrer's efforts towards a cross-party alliance between "left" National Socialists around Gregor Strasser, unionists and social democrats to prevent Adolf Hitler from becoming Chancellor. In his book Es werde Deutschland (My Germany) which he finished in 1932, but which first appeared after Hitler's seizure of power, he moved, according to the verdict of his friend Carl Zuckmayer in his 1944 secret report, to a "very dangerous and completely blurred border - between Nation Socialism, criticism of 'liberal thinking' and political progressiveness." In any event, that did include the decided rejection of antisemitism, for which the book was banned in 1936.

During the Nazi era

Although Sieburg had not committed himself to a political party in his broadsheet [I want to translate this word which literally is "struggle writing" as 'polemic' but my dictionaries disagree] "Germany Becoming", he made his views known in the English translation which appeared after the seizure of power, but in favour of National Socialism and he campaigned journalistically for "the new Germany", and thus drew the enmity of German emigre circles. On the other side, he disapproved of the seizure of power in letters to the publisher Heinrich Simon, for whose Frankfurter Zeitung he was active as foreign correspondent in Paris 1932-39. He found words of approval for authoritarian regimes such as those of Portugal and Japan in the books "New Portual" (1937) and "The Steel Flower" (1939). His 1935 biography of Robespierre can only be attributed to the withdrawal into "inward emigration" [the phenomenon of avoiding engagement with the 3rd Reich and Nazi movement among those intellectuals who stayed in Germany].

In 1939 Sieburg was called to the German foreign service and was then active in the German embassy in Brussels. From 1940 until 1942 he was in occupied France and in 1940 became diplomatic advisor in Paris. In a speech "d'hier et de demain" to the Groupe Collaboration which was later printed, Sieburg explained that he was "raised to be a fighter and a National Socialist". According to the NSDAP card file he applied on April 9 1941 for membership in the Nazi party, which application was accepted on 1 September 1941. However according to a paper in Sieburg's surviving literary remains the application was only submitted on 9 April 1942 and rejected on the 28th of November 1942. To this day there has no success in clearing up these discrepancies. In the form he gave to the French military government after WWII, he claimed not to be a member of the Nazi party. After that he turned to financial newspapers and was one of Marshall Petain's Companions of Honour.

After the end of the war, which he witnessed in Bebenhausen, Sieburg was prohibited from publishing (1945-48) by order of the French occupying authoriy.

Sieburg's works New Portugal and The Red Arctic were placed on the list of literature to be withdrawn in both the Soviet occupied zone and the German Democratic Republic.

In 1948 he become an employee and then an editor at the weekly newspaper The Present. In his books about France he strongly distanced himself from National Socialism, backed away from the idea of a special German consciousness and extolled modern French literature. Active from 1956 onwards for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, he was until his death one of the most significant commentators on literature and life in Germany. Especially Sieburg's expert plot summaries, in which he masterfully anticipated critcism and thereby made any concluding arguments superfluous, are held to be unexceeded.

In 1953 the state of Baden-Württemberg appointed him professor. From 1956 he was an ordinary member of the Academy of Arts in Berlin. Friedrich Sieburg supported the Adenauer government, was an opponent of post-war literature and criticised "Group 47" many times in sharp and even polemical form. He judged art like life, as a conservative, according to the subjectivist measure which only valued the exceptional.

From 1963 until his death in 1964 Sieburg lived at the Villa Schwalbenhof in Gärtringen.


Sieburg's achievements as writer and critic met with widely differing judgements. While members of the Gruppe 47 repudiated him, and Alfred Andersch lambasted him vilely, there were verdicts, which despite all criticism of his conduct during the time of National Socialism, endeavoured to understand and acknowledge the aesthetic standards of Sieburg the critic.

Thomas Mann for example was deeply impressed by a review of Felix Krull, which Sieburg praised effusively in his 1954 essay "Culture is Parody." In that essay he spoke of the inexpressible spiritual pleasure given by this work, the big parodied successor of Wilhelm Meister. He said it was unthinkable "that a writing mortal could wield the language in a more complete, refined and meaningfull way than Thomas Mann in this picaresque novel."

In contrast to Erika Mann he [Thomas] declared Sieburg, who "showed himself to be astoundingly inspired", to be a "special head." In Sieburg's book "The desire for doom" shrewd and stylistically superior things were to be found, even if from "the un-German perspective that literature is criticism." In his diary Thomas Mann confided that there were similarities with the "Reflections of an Unpolitical Man." Sieburg had a few years earlier in the article "Peace with Thomas Mann", published in the magazine the Present, declared Thomas Mann's work to be "the greatest achievement in cultural criticism which the German spirit has produced." The starting point for this essay was the political problem of the twofold reputation of Thomas Man on either side of the iron curtain, with the Goethe prize in Frankfurt and the civic prize in Weimar. Thus the iron curtain went "through the middle of the fragile world of our spiritual values."

Gottfried Benn praised Sieburg's Only for Readers -- Years and Books and called it a "Brockhaus of literary events." [after the German encyclopedia, qv Britannica]. He said Sieburg showed tolerance even for those authors who were not dear to his heart. The author [Sieburg] had written a popular book "of edifying vision and exquisite literary structure" with great feeling for style and sensibility.

According to Klaus Harpprecht Sieburg had renounced Heinrich Heine like a secret mentor, demonstratively and defiantly in a "shameful failure." His demonstrative patriotism during the time of National Socialism was marked by self-pity and "the passive opportunism of a German bourgeois soul." One could speak of the "pathos of accomodation." For Sieburg the looming barbarism of the decline of the language announced itself. The German citizenry could discover many truths in its spiritually-rich writings and rediscover itself in them.

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