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Biography of Ernst Jandl


On 11 June 1965, a spectacular group reading in London’s Royal Albert Hall became a landmark event. Ernst Jandl, until then largely unknown, provoked ‘a pandemonious riot’, as a contemporary observer put it, with a reading of his sound poems to an audience of 7,000. Today the performance-artist Jandl counts as one of the best-known German-language poets after 1945. His poems reached, and continue to reach, far more than the proverbial 1,500 potential poetry consumers. Apart from poems, his work includes radio plays, theatre texts, essays and translations, and owes much of its linguistic diversity to the poetic adaptation of everyday language. It is in this way that Jandl’s oral and sound poetry came into being, including his so-called ‘surface translations’ and texts in ‘decayed language’, as well as visual poems. Jandl's programmatic demand for innovation is matched by the fascinating diversity of material in his estate in the Literary Archives of the Austrian National Library.

Ernst Jandl’s position within the international avant-garde as well as his combination of experimentalism with autobiography, demand that his criticism of traditional biographical patterns, formulated in theoretical writings, be taken seriously, and new forms of biographical representation be sought.

The Ernst Jandl biography, which is in progress, will create junctures connecting various thematic areas. The chapter 'Biographie einer Stimme' (‘Biography of a Voice’) is exemplary of this. It connects medial aspects, the religious background to Jandl’s upbringing, his status as a performance artist, and his affinity to the English language, together with biographical configurations and theoretical concepts on voice and performance. Related to this is the Ernst Jandl DVD project (released in November 2010), conceived as an alternative model to traditional biographies. This multi-medial DVD makes use of the connective possibilities offered by hypertext. The constantly changing pathways enable the many-layered (life) material to be accessed in diverse ways.

An exhibition in the Wien Museum, which ran from 4 November 2010 to 13 February 2011, offered a further opportunity for the presentation of this project. The ‘Ernst Jandl Show’ displayed the variety, intermediality, and international quality of Jandl’s work. It was also exhibited at the Literaturhaus Munich (4 March - 1 May 2011) and at the Literaturhaus Berlin (14 May - 17 July 2011). In this exhibition, Ernst Jandl emerges as an artist working at the crossroads of literature, music and visual art, whose life and work shed new light on the concept of the (auto)biographical. A companion volume to the exhibition has also been published.

The Ernst Jandl Show

An Exhibition of the Wien Museums and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for the History and Theory of Biography together with the Austrian National Library.


Ernst Jandl Connected

Die Ernst-Jandl-Show. Ed. by Bernhard Fetz and Hannes Schweiger. Vienna, Salzburg 2010


Ernst Jandl
Music Rhythm Radical Poetry

Ernst Jandl. Musik, Rhythmus, radikale Dichtung. Ed. by Bernhard Fetz. Vienna: Zsolnay 1998.(=Profile 12)