a page by Harold Marcuse, UC Santa Barbara
in Fall 2002 this page was superceded by my higher-level Günther Anders Project homepage
jump below to: biographies, documents, books and articles
A personal note by the author of this page: My grandfather Herbert
Marcuse and Anders both studied with Heidegger in Freiburg in the 1920s and,
as Jews, fled from Germany to the US in the 1930s. Anders lived in my grandparents'
home in the US for a time in the 1930s or 1940s. I corresponded with him in
the early 1980s, shortly after my grandfather's death. Since I had been too
young to have a political correspondence with my grandfather, Anders at one
point jokingly wrote that he was in a way my Ersatzgrossvater (surrogate
grandfather). I think Anders may have been somewhat envious of the fame my grandfather's
One Dimensional Man (1964) had brought him during the heady days of the
student movement. Anders said that much of what Herbert wrote was contained
in his own Antiquiertheit (1956), but Anders was barely known by the
broader public until the late 1980s. In any case, when I went to Vienna in 1983
on a week-long field trip with a Munich art history seminar, I visited Anders
at his flat there. He was very cordial, and may have "buried the (real
or imagined) hatchet" with my grandfather at that time. In the 1980s I
was a U.S. student working towards an M.A. in History of Art in Germany; in
1992 I became a professor of German history at UC Santa Barbara. In the late
1990s Routledge was looking for someone to write an article about Anders for
its Encyclopedia of Contemporary German Culture (1999), and I volunteered.
At that time there was almost nothing about Anders on the web, so I created
Anders, born Günther Stern, attained notoriety since the early 1960s as an activist and philosopher of the antinuclear movement. An assimilated German Jew, he studied under Martin Heidegger and Edmund Husserl, completing his dissertation in 1923. After the University of Frankfurt rejected his habilitation, he began work as a cultural critic. When a Berlin editor with too many writers named Stern on his staff suggested he name himself "something different," he responded "then call me 'different'" ("anders"). The name is characteristic of Anders' unsparing bluntness. He emigrated to Paris in 1933 and the United States in 1936, divorcing Hannah Arendt, who found his pessimism "hard to bear," as he later put it. [They were married from 1929 to 1937. The photo is from the Hannah Arendt Trust, and is displayed on the Library of Congress website.]
In the United States Anders worked at menial jobs, but also wrote for Der Aufbau and later lectured at the New School for Social Research. His first book of philosophical reflexions, The Writing on the Wall: Diaries 1941-1966 (1967), begins with his musings as a laborer in a Hollywood warehouse of historical costumes. Auschwitz and Hiroshima mark turning points in his consciousness. He returned to Europe in 1950 and began work on Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen (The Outdatedness of Human Beings, 1956). In addition to analyzing human feelings of inadequacy in comparison with machines, and to a philosophical settling of accounts with Heidegger, Anders lays out the principles of 'blindness to the apocalypse,' the hallmark of his later work. Pressured to categorize his ideas, he later coined the term Diskrepanzphilosophie (philosophy of discrepancy) to describe his focus on the increasing divergence between what has become technically feasible (e.g. the atomic holocaust of the entire globe), and what the human mind is capable of imagining.
With Robert Jungk, Anders cofounded the antinuclear movement in 1954. He published his philosophical diary of an international conference in Hiroshima (Der Mann auf der Brücke, The Mann on the Bridge, 1959) and his correspondence with a pilot in the Hiroshima squadron (Burning Conscience, 1962). His politically acerbic books from the 1960s include an open letter to the son of Adolf Eichmann, a speech about the victims of the three world wars, and a primer of American warspeak in Vietnam. In 1967 he served as a juror on the Russell tribunal publicizing atrocities in Vietnam. Anders' oeuvre encompasses numerous literary and philosophical works, including books on Kafka (1951, English 1960) and Brecht (1962), essays on the atomic age (Endzeit und Zeitenende, Die atomare Drohung, 1972, 1981), reflections from his diaries (among others Ketzereien, Heresies, 1982), and a second volume of Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen (1980).
Anders won numerous awards and honors for his work from 1936 to 1983, some of which he rejected for political reasons. His unsparingly critical pessimism may explain why his pathbreaking works have seldom sparked sustained public discussion, with the major exception of his Theses on Violence during the peace movement of the 1980s. The renaissance of interest in his works in the 1990s indicates that his uncompromising moralism may have been ahead of its time.
page created Feb. 9, 2000
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last updated Aug. 26, 2002; then superceded by New Günther Anders Project homepage
author: H. Marcuse
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