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This report is taken from PN Review 47, Volume 12 Number 3, January - February 1986.

German Notes Michael Hulse
If in Britain we were asked to name one feuilletonist who wielded greater power than any other on the literary scene, we might well find it difficult to answer. In West Germany, however, where for many years one obviously powerful spider has squatted securely at the heart of the literary web, we can instantly and confidently name Marcel Reich-Ranicki. The pope of German literary journalism, Reich-Ranicki commands influence and prestige so great that it is probably no exaggeration to say that, for the past two decades, he has done more to dictate the patterns of literary reception than any other single critic. Of course it is de rigueur to pooh-pooh his judgements, dispute his abilities, dislike his pomp and circumstance, and impute to him base motives and power-mania. None of this at all affects the strength of his position.

Born in 1920 into a Polish Jewish family, Reich-Ranicki grew up in Berlin but was deported to Poland in 1938 and from 1940 lived in the Warsaw ghetto, from where he succeeded in escaping in 1943. In the post-War period he devoted himself to German literature, settled in the Federal Republic in 1958, and worked his way into prominence as a critic for Die Zeit in the 1960s: his weightier essays of this period are collected in Literatur der kleinen Schritte, which opens with a study of Böll's Ansichten eines Clowns and closes with observations on Wolf's Nachdenken über Christa T.' Since 1974 Reich-Ranicki has headed the literature department of ...


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