Robert Menasse

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Robert Menasse, 2008

Robert Menasse (born 21 June 1954 in Vienna) is an Austrian writer.


As an undergraduate, Menasse studied German studies, philosophy and political science in Vienna, Salzburg and Messina. In 1980 he completed his PhD thesis "Der Typus des Außenseiters im Literaturbetrieb. Am Beispiel Hermann Schürrer" ("The outsider phenotype within literature").

Between 1981 and 1988 Menasse worked as a junior lecturer at the Institute of Literature Theory at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. He has been working as a freelance publicist, columnist and translator of novels from Portuguese into German ever since.

His first novel Sinnliche Gewissheit, published in 1988, is a semi-autobiographical tale of Austrians living in exile in Brazil. The magazine Literatur und Kritik published Menasse's first poem ("Kopfwehmut") in 1989. His later novels were Selige Zeiten, brüchige Welt (1991, translated into English as Wings of Stone ISBN 0-7145-4295-4), Schubumkehr (1995, Engl. Reverse Thrust) and Die Vertreibung aus der Hölle (2001, Engl. Expulsion from Hell).

Menasse's language is at times playful and at times subtly sarcastic. Recurring themes in his novels are loneliness and alienation within human relationships and as a result of his character's lives' circumstances. In his work Menasse often criticises what he sees as the latent form of antisemitism still widespread in the German-speaking world today.

Menasse has also written some essays on Austria (especially on Austrian identity and history; "Land ohne Eigenschaften" (1992) a.o.). More recently, he wrote about the future of Europe and the European Union, criticizing tendencies of re-nationalization (especially in Germany, but also elsewehere) and anti-European integration movements, which he interprets as a reaction to the financial crisis of 2007–2008 and its aftermath (Euro crisis) ("Der europäische Landbote", 2012).

Since returning to Europe from Brazil, Menasse has mainly lived in the cities of Berlin, Vienna and Amsterdam. He currently[when?] lives in Vienna and is married.[citation needed] Since 2011 Menasse has been curating a writer in residence programme with the one world foundation in Sri Lanka.[1]

His books have been translated in over twenty languages, among others: Arabic, Bask, Bulgarian, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, English, Flemish, French, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Dutch, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian, Slovenian, Spanish and Swedish.

Today, Menasse lives alternately in Vienna, in the Waldviertel (Forest Quarter) in Lower Austria, and in Brussels. He is the son of the footballer Hans Menasse and the brother of the journalist and writer Eva Menasse.


Robert Menasse's first short story Nägelbeißen (Engl. Nail-Biting) was published in the journal Neue Wege in 1973. From 1975 to 1980 he worked on his unfinished and unpublished novel Kopfwehmut (Engl. Mind's Melancholy), a social novel set in 1970s Vienna. His first published novel, Sinnliche Gewißheit (Engl. Sensual Certainty) appeared in 1988 as the first part of a trilogy started in Brazil Trilogie der Entgeisterung (Engl. Trilogy of Dismay), which also includes the 1991 novel Selige Zeiten, brüchige Welt (Engl. Wings of Stone, 2000), which is at once a crime story, a philosophical novel and a Jewish family saga, and finally the 1995 novel Schubumkehr (Engl. Reverse Thrust, 2000) as well as the postscript Phänomenologie der Entgeisterung (1995, Engl. Phenomenology of Dismay).

In Schubumkehr, against the background of the private life of the literature teacher Roman, who was already introduced in Selige Zeiten, brüchige Welt, Menasse describes the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 and the breakdown of the familiar order in a small Austrian village. This novel, which is not least an artistic treatment of the spirit of the age, was awarded the Grimmelshausen Prize in 1999 and made the author a household name. As suggested already by the title of the novel Schubumkehr and in the Trilogie der Entgeisterung Menasse turns Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit on its head. In contrast to Hegel, who assumes a development of human consciousness to all-embracing spirit, Menasse postulates a regressive development, whose final stage will be "sensual certainty", according to Hegel the most naïve form of consciousness.[2]

In his novel Die Vertreibung aus der Hölle (2001; Engl. Expulsion from Hell) Menasse casts doubt on the objectivity of history, coupled with the personal history of the author and his Jewish roots. As a spin-off of his researches on the character and real person Menasseh Ben Israel for his novel Die Vertreibung aus der Hölle translated in ten languages, Menasse formulated the hypothesis of Abaelard‘s influence on Menasseh Ben Israel and Spinoza, published among others in his essay Enlightenment as Harmonious Strategy.[3] In 2007 he published Don Juan de la Mancha, where he tells of more or less fictitious events from the (love) life of the newspaper editor Nathan – a mixture of listlessness, drive, lust and the search for the fulfilment of love. As a character, Nathan stands for the generation that was socialised in the 1970s with the claim for the “sexual revolution".

In 2017 Menasse published his analytical novel Die Hauptstadt (The Capital), which has been described as the first novel about Brussels as the European Union's capital, and which received the German Book Prize.[4] The story is focused on officials from the Department of Culture, who are expected to add polish to the image of the EU Commission on its birthday. This is to be accomplished with a "Big Jubilee Project" event with concentration camp survivors in Auschwitz. The life stories of characters lead the reader into six EU countries. The stage director Tom Kühnel and the dramaturg Ralf Fiedler translated the novel into a theatrical version with about twenty characters played by seven actors, which was premiered in January 2018 at the Theater am Neumarkt in Zürich.[5] The English translation, The Capital by Jamie Bulloch, was published by MacLehose Press in February 2019.

Essays and writings on cultural theory[edit]

Robert Menasse addressing the plenary forum of the European Parliament in Brussels at the official ceremony to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaty on 21 March 2017
Jakob Augstein and Robert Menasse in conversation on 15 May 2017 in the Theater Neumarkt in Zurich

In his political and journalistic work, Menasse is seen as an "old-style Enlightenment thinker," whose intellectual predecessors are especially Hegel and Marx but also Georg Lukács, Ernst Bloch and the philosophers of the Frankfurt School.[6] Essays like Die sozialpartnerschaftliche Ästhetik (1990; The Aesthetics of Social Partnership) and Das Land ohne Eigenschaften (1992; The Country without Qualities), which brought Menasse fame as an essayist, but also provoked criticism for "fouling his own nest," were followed in time by the essay collections Hysterien und andere historische Irrtümer (1996; Hysterics and Other Historical Errors) and Dummheit ist machbar (1999; Stupidity is Doable), Erklär mir Österreich (2000; Explain Austria to Me) and Das war Österreich (2005; That Was Austria). In these texts the author deals in critical-ironic way with political history, mentality history and literary history of the second Republic of Austria, takes a position on the current cultural policy situation in his homeland and recurrently draws attention to the latent continuity of Austrofascism.[7]

Since 2005, i.e. since his Frankfurt Poetics Lecture, Die Zerstörung der Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (The Destruction of the World as Will and Representation), Menasse has increasingly devoted his essays to themes around the EU and globalisation. In this European or worldwide context Menasse criticises in particular what he sees as the deficits in democratic policies and the idea that these deficits are structurally determined, which he argues obscures the prospects of possible alternatives. In doing so he does not oppose the European Union in principle but bases his critique of democratic deficits especially in the influence and power of individual nation states, while valuing positively the purely European institutions, such as the Commission. In Der Europäische Landbote (2012; Engl. transl. 2016 as Enraged Citizens, European Peace and Democratic Deficits: Or Why the Democracy Given to Us Must Become One We Fight For The European Messenger), he draws a portrait of the non-petty-minded supranational organs and bureaucracies of the EU in Brussels and further develops the “Habsburg Myth” of Claudio Magris into a "European Myth". This also leads to a different and more positive retrospective of the Habsburg Monarchy.[8] In this connection Menasse also speaks in favour of the specific vision and its realization of a “European Republic”[9] formulated together with the political scientist Ulrike Guérot on the basis of a Europe of regions[10][circular reference] beyond the nation states.[11]

Controversy about fake quotations[edit]

Menasse commenting

In December 2018, Welt am Sonntag revealed that Robert Menasse had fabricated several quotes attributed to Walter Hallstein (1901-1982, one of the founding fathers of the EU) to support his argument for overcoming nation states.[12] Menasse had been using these alleged quotes in many of his articles, essays and speeches since 2013, and they had been taken up in parliamentary debates and publications by other authors.[13] Menasse defended himself arguing that these sentences reflected what Hallstein had meant and that Hallstein "would have had nothing against" Menasse invoking his authority in this way.[12] However, historian Heinrich August Winkler disputed Menasse's interpretation of Hallstein's actual statements on the matter.[12]

Prizes, awards and scholarships[edit]

With the prize money that Robert Menasse received for the Austrian State Prize (1998) he re-founded the Jean Améry- Preis für Europäische Essayistik, whose winners so far have been Lothar Baier (1982), Barbara Sichtermann (1985), Mathias Greffrath (1988), Reinhard Merkel (1991), Franz Schuh (2000), Doron Rabinovici (2002), Michael Jeismann (2004), Drago Jančar (2007), Imre Kertész[23] (2009), Dubravka Ugrešić (2012), Adam Zagajewski[24] (2016) and Karl-Markus Gauß (2018).



  1. ^ Cf. Karin Cerny: Sri Lanka: Hintereingang ins Paradies, profil, 21 August 2014
  2. ^ For a comment on Hegel's reception of this particular treaties see
  3. ^ (retrieved on 31 March 2018).
  4. ^ Steve Erlanger, "Brussels, E.U. Capital, Gets a Novel, Both Tart and Empathic", in: The New York Times, 14 January 2018 (retrieved 2 April 2018),
  5. ^ Theatre reviews by Maximilian Pahl, Daniele Muschionico (NZZ), Andreas Klaeui (SRF) and others: “Spiel mir den Europa-Blues”, in, 18 January 2018, (retrieved on 2 April 2018, German).
  6. ^ See also Hans-Dieter Schütt, Die Erde ist der fernste Stern. Gespräche mit Robert Menasse, Berlin (Karl Dietz Verlag) 2008. ISBN 978-3-320-02152-8, as well as: Eva Schörkhuber (ed.), Was einmal wirklich war. Zum Werk von Robert Menasse, Wien (Sonderzahlverlag) 2007. ISBN 978-3-85449-273-3.
  7. ^ Robert Menasse: “Warum dieser Februar nicht vergehen will”, in: Der Standard, (retrieved on 2 April 2018).
  8. ^ Robert Menasse quoted from "Das Gestern war noch nie so jung", in: Die Presse, Vienna, 9 May 2014, Spectrum p. 1.
  9. ^ Ulrike Guérot and Robert Menasse, “Manifest für die Begründung einer Europäischen Republik”, in: Die Presse, Vienna, 23 March 2013, (retrieved on 7 April 2018). See also Robert Menasse, “A brief history of the European future Or, why we must earn our inheritance”, in: Eurozine: the network of European cultural journals, 17 July 2015, (retrieved on 2 April 2018)
  10. ^ de:Europa der Regionen#cite note-2
  11. ^ Robert Menasse quoted from the interview: “Zukunft der EU: Über die Feigheit der europäischen Politiker”, in: Die Zeit, Hamburg, 30 September 2011, (retrieved on 2 April 2018).
  12. ^ a b c "Schriftsteller - Menasse hat Hallstein-Zitate erfunden". Deutschlandfunk (in German). Retrieved 23 December 2018.
  13. ^ Graw, Ansgar (22 December 2018). "Robert Menasse hat Zitate erfunden: „Was kümmert mich das Wörtliche"". DIE WELT. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
  14. ^ de:Hugo-Ball-Preis
  15. ^ Der Marie-Luise-Kaschnitz-Preis Archived 27 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Erich Fried Preis
  17. ^
  18. ^ de:Österreichischer Kunstpreis für Literatur
  19. ^ de:Das politische Buch
  20. ^ de:Max Frisch-Preis der Stadt Zürich
  21. ^ "Robert Menasse wins German Book Prize 2017 | Books | DW | 9 October 2017". DW.COM. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  22. ^ de:Walter-Hasenclever-Literaturpreis
  23. ^ Imre Kertész was awarded the Jean Améry Prize HLO. 8 July 2009, Retrieved 31 March 2018
  24. ^ On the occasion of Zagajewski's award ceremony was published a conversation between Robert Menasse and Cathérine Hug: Warum? Das Vermächtnis des Jean Améry, Siegburg (Buchhandlung R²) 2016. ISBN 978-3-945426-21-0