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Ludwig Hohl (9 April 1904 – 3 November 1980) was a Swiss author writing in the German language. Outside of literary mainstream, he spent most of his life in extreme poverty. He is still not known by the public at large, but has been praised by several well-known authors for his writing and his radical thoughts about life and literature.
Hohl was the son of a pastor and was born in the small town of Netstal. He went to a Gymnasium in Frauenfeld but was dropped from school, allegedly due to the bad impact he had on fellow pupils. He never worked in a "normal" profession and so spent most of his life in poverty; he also suffered from alcoholism. From 1924 to 1937 he lived outside of Switzerland, first in Paris (1924–1930), then in Vienna (1930/31) and The Hague (1931–1937). He then returned to Switzerland and lived first in Biel, then in Geneva, from 1954 to 1974 in a small basement flat which became sort of legendary. His financial situation then improved due to an inheritance, but in his last years, he suffered from several physical illnesses. Hohl died in 1980 from an inflammation of his legs. He had been married five times and had one daughter.
Hohl’s works never gained him commercial success; several of them he published himself. His small income was made up from works for magazines and newspapers as well as private and public support. In the 1940s and 50s, he had to take legal actions against his publisher who refused to print the second volume of his Notizen (see below) because the first volume had sold less than two hundred copies. Hohl won the trial – which, according to some sources, substantially improved the position of authors against publishers in Swiss jurisdiction – but the second volume sold equally badly. In the 1970s, he finally got some acceptance from the literary world. Siegfried Unseld, leader of the Suhrkamp Verlag, had become acquainted about Hohl by Adolf Muschg, and Unseld and Hohl could reach a contract about a new edition of his works. In 1970 and 1976, Hohl was awarded prizes by the Schweizerische Schillerstiftung, in 1978 he got a special prize remembering the 100th birthday of Robert Walser, and in 1980 he won the Petrarca-Preis. Ludwig Hohl's literary estate is archived in the Swiss Literary Archives in Bern.
Hohl published some poems and stories. His best literary work might be the narrative Bergfahrt (the German word Bergfahrt, literary mountain ride, is an old term for climbing) which he wrote in 1926, rewrote several times over the next decades and which was finally published in 1975. A translation into English of this novella, with title Ascent, has been published in 2012; it is the first and, as of 2013, only English translation of one of Hohl's works.
Many regard Die Notizen oder Von der unvoreiligen Versöhnung as Hohl’s opus magnum. The title could be translated as The Notes, or: About the non-premature reconciliation. Hohl wrote it in 1934-36; problems with his publisher (see above) delayed the publication until 1954; it was finally published again, with some additions and in one volume, a few months after his death in 1981. The work is divided into twelve parts (with titles like “About working”, “About writing”, “About death”) which consist of hundreds of "notes". These might be short essays, aphorisms, quotations, poems, sketches for stories etc. Hohl insisted that these notes are not only a collection of aphorisms, but have a deep inner connection. The main thought which lies behind these notes might be that there is only one true meaning of life which Hohl calls "Arbeit" (work), that is, to exercise one’s own creative forces. This "work" includes the philosophical concepts of knowledge and action: they become one in the person who works. Hohl also polemizes against the masses of people who do not "work" in this way, but are very busy in trying to avoid work. Hohl personifies this flawed way of life in his antagonist, "der Apotheker" (the pharmacist) or "Herr Meier".
A second work written in a similar fashion was not published until after Hohl’s death. Its title is Von den hereinbrechenden Rändern (About the closing-in edges) or simply Nachnotizen (After-notes).
Hohl often quoted the few authors and thinkers he held in highest esteem, e.g. Goethe, Lichtenberg, Montaigne and Spinoza. He called Goethe’s writings his "daily bread". Hohl’s opinion was that many good things had already been said, and that he was not able to improve the way those thinkers had said them, but it is important to re-think them for oneself.
As of 2008, Hohl’s influence remains extremely small. Most of his works are (again) out of print. However, there have been several authors who have praised Hohl’s writing. Among them were and are fellow Swiss authors Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Max Frisch and Adolf Muschg as well as Austrian author Peter Handke.
- Literary estate of Ludwig Hohl in the archive database HelveticArchives of the Swiss National Library
- Publications by and about Ludwig Hohl in the catalogue Helveticat of the Swiss National Library
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