German-speaking Swiss Literature

German-speaking Swiss Literature

Swiss literature, literature on Switzerland in the four national languages.

The overarching attempt to constitute the collective identity of a literature with a national attribute is particularly problematic for Swiss literature.

For linguistic and territorial reasons, it exists in quadruple distribution with various extra-national relationships that are already manifest in the languages ​​spoken both in Switzerland and in the countries surrounding it. Swiss literature can be understood neither from a territorial, linguistic or cultural unit, but solely from the fact that its parts belong to the political unit of Switzerland. The overarching characteristic, however, is their strong regional character.

German-speaking Swiss literature owes its primacy in Switzerland to the historical, political, cultural and numerical dominance of the German-speaking Swiss in the national context. In the historically leading German-Swiss cantons, a Swiss national consciousness emerged, which gradually spread to the other language areas of Switzerland or was actively taken up by them. In German-speaking Switzerland, too, this awareness was not at the origin of their literature, but is at best one of their historical factors. As a possible starting point, one can take the cultural landscape and the intellectual and economic centers of the Upper Rhine-Alpine region in the Middle Ages.

Early and High Middle Ages

In its beginnings, German-language literature in Switzerland was involved in the development of the written culture in the entire German-speaking area (German literature). In Old High German times, essential impulses came from the monastery of Sankt Gallen, one of the earliest and most respected spiritual and spiritual centers; here were translations and glossings of Latin-Christian literature, among which the psalm transcriptions Notkers III. stick out. In the vicinity of the monasteries, collections of folk-language proverbs and mystery games were created, as well as texts from the area of ​​the monastic transfer of knowledge. In the High Middle Ages, alongside the clergy, the service aristocracy, the ministry, emerged as the bearers of literature; The creators of the two most important genres of contemporary secular literature, minstrelsong and courtly epic, mostly came from this class, geographically in the area of ​​tension between the spheres of influence of the Zähringer and Staufer rule, aesthetically under the impression of the knightly courtly culture determined by France. Hartmann von Aue is here as one of the earliest and most important representatives from the Upper German-speaking area for the period from 1160/65 to around 1210; Around the turn of the 12th to the 13th century, Ulrich von Zatzikhoven from Thurgau wrote his »Lanzelet«. Konrad von Würzburg, one of the most productive and literarily versatile Middle High German poets of the late 13th century, lived and worked in Strasbourg and Basel in the service of ecclesiastical and patrician clients. At the turn of the 13th to the 14th century, a circle of high clergy and city nobility around Rüdiger II. Manesse († 1304)who was interested in Minnelyrik was active. a. dedicated to collecting, from which the most important and most magnificent collection of medieval German poetry, the »Codex Manesse« (Manessian manuscript), emerged. Among the poets handed down here, the Swiss minstrels represent the most important group (around 20%); In addition to J. Hadloub, who is sponsored by the Manesse Circle, the West Swiss Rudolf von Fenis as well as Ulrich von Singenberg, Walther von Klingenand Steinmar should be mentioned. The oldest dramatic work in Swiss literature is Muri’s Easter play. The very popular collection of fables “Der Edelstein” by U. Boner (created around 1350, printed in 1461) already indicates bourgeois sentiments.

18th Century: The Literature of the Enlightenment

During the Enlightenment, German-language Swiss literature reached a high point of European influence. A. von Haller – as one of the most important poets of the early German Enlightenment – based the literary language on the ideal of a standard German language (“Trial of Swiss Poems”, 1732) and laid the foundation for a new one with the poem “The Alps” (1732) literary feeling for nature as well as for a new image of Switzerland. J. J. Bodmer and J. J. Breitinger worked in Zurich as literary reformer initially in the spirit of J. C. Gottsched, but soon as his most bitter opponent. To the norms of French classicism they set the principle of the miraculous and the English models (J. Milton, S. Richardson et al.). The (later) greats of literary Zurich met in their circles, including the fable poet J. L. Meyer von Knonau (* 1705, † 1785), J. G. Sulzer, J. K. Lavater, S. Geßner and J. H. Pestalozzi. From a changed perspective of nature – preparedby A. von Haller and by J.-J. Rousseau’sideas deepened – and a national understanding of history thus arose a new Swiss consciousness (especially through Bodmer’s studies and patriotic dramas). The Tell dramas were written before Schiller Samuel Henzis (* 1701, † 1749), JJ Bodmers,Zimmermanns and Johann Ludwig Ambühls (* 1750, † 1800); In 1786 the first volume of the “Stories of the Swiss Confederation” (5 volumes, 1786–1808) by Johannes von Müller was published, an important source for Schiller’s “Wilhelm Tell” (1804). JK Lavater, whose »Physiognomische Fragmente…« (4 volumes, 1775–78) had an impact far beyond Switzerland, also wrote »Schweizerlieder« (1767) for the »Helvetic Society«. The Basel Enlightenment philosopher I. Iselin and Pestalozzialso frequented the city.

Despite all its patriotism, the “Swiss Enlightenment” always retained a supranational character: A. von Haller, who tried to erase any reminiscence of his origins in the language, taught S. Geßner’s “Idyllen” in Göttingen from 1736 to 1753 (1756) worked far beyond the German-speaking area; JK Lavater gave his patriotic poems a generally human perspective, I. Iselin (“Philosophische Muthmeßungen über die Geschichte der Menschheit”, 2 volumes, 1764, revised 1768 under the title “Über die Geschichte der Menschheit”) became an important mediator between French and German reconnaissance; the natural poetry by J. G. von Salis-Seewis was strongly inspired by contemporary German literature, Pestalozzi incorporated his pedagogical ideas into the novel “Lienhart and Gertrud” (4 volumes, 1781–87), which was important for the entire Enlightenment; As a professor in Berlin, JG Sulzer wrote the lexical sum of the German Enlightenment Aesthetics, Zimmermannmade a brilliant career abroad, J. von Müller worked at the courts of Mainz, Vienna, Berlin and Kassel. Outside of all literary circles, U. Bräker discovered the works of Shakespeare for himself and wrote an autobiography that was important for all of German-language literature with “The life story and natural wages of the poor man in Tockenburg” (1789).

Since the nineties

The most recent Swiss literature in the German language is polyphonic: the problematic connection of many authors to their homeland is still evident, for example with S. Blatter and K. Merz to the Aargau, with P. Imhasly to the Valais. A theme that is frequently taken up is the loss of free space, the inhospitable city, as in Christoph Bauer’s (* 1956) texts experimenting with shapes, and the dwindling certainty of home, as in the novels by H. Schertenleib , A. Capus and Lukas Hartmann (* 1944), who defines the defense of the foreign as a Swiss peculiarity.

Since the 1980s, there has been a gradual shift in the thematic focus. The insecurity of the outside world appears only through art, but above all through language. The contemporary Swiss literature brings stylistically independent v. a. in the area of ​​novelistic narration and short prose (so among others with T. Hürlimann, U. Richle and K. Aebli ). Your own biography becomes more important than Swiss identity. This tendency is already among others. visible in C. Geiser and R. Hänny, since the 1990s it has determined prose, among other things. by U. Widmer, R. M. Dean, B. Steiger , AC Sulzer and P. Stamm , v. a. but also the works of younger authors, such as the prose by Ruth Schweikert (* 1965), Peter Weber (* 1968), Perikles Monioudis (* 1966), with postmodern means by Tim Krohn (* 1965). In poetry, Arnim Senser (* 1964), Christian Uetz (* 1963) and Raphael Urweider (* 1974) each try out their own handwriting. One of the most important young dramatists in the entire German-speaking area is L. Bärfuss . Also the novels and stories by M. Moser and Z. Jenny find her readers here. Thematically and linguistically new impulses are brought to Swiss literature by those authors who were originally connected to other cultures through their origin and family and who process their biographies in German in different artistic manuscripts: for example André Kaminski (* 1923, † 1991) with his bestseller » Next year in Jerusalem “(1986) about the story of his Polish-Jewish family, Dante Andrea Franzetti (* 1959, † 2015), of Italian descent, whose novels trace historical and cultural contexts, including the prose by Christina Viragh (* Budapest 1953) and Aglaja Veteranyi (* Bucharest 1962, † Zurich 2002) is clearly autobiographical and reflects the problems of the cultural search for identity.

Dialect literature as an equal part of Swiss national literature has broken away from purely avant-garde (language) gadgets since the 1980s. It is now both provincial and provincial, for example in the literary monologues of Ernst Burrens (* 1944)and Toni Schallers (* 1935, † 2016), as well as in the dramas by H. Stalder . Without the earlier thematic and linguistic taboos, it serves as an instrument for verbalizing the most immediate impressions and observations with authors as diverse asJulian Dillier (* 1922, † 2001), Martin Frank (* 1950), B. Sterchi and Peter Morger (* 1955, † 2002).

So far, a German-speaking writer from Switzerland has received the Nobel Prize for Literature: C. Spitteler (1919).

German-speaking Swiss Literature