4/5/2 | Programmlinien / Constructing the Subject /Oskar Pastior - Components of a Biography

Oskar Pastior – Components of a Biography


The project Oskar Pastior – ‘The distinctive is good’. Components of a Biography, supported by the FWF (Austrian Science Fund) will outline and develop the core components of Oskar Pastior’s biography, focusing on the complex relationship between his life and work, as well as his public reception. Oskar Pastior (1927-2006) is one of the most significant German-language poets of the twentieth century and received the Büchner Prize in 2006. The influence of Dadaist puns, Romanian Surrealism and the German literary tradition are drawn together in unique synthesis in his experimental poems. Pastior is an interesting biographical subject not only for his literary merit, but also because of the huge impact historical contexts made on his life and work.

As part of the German-speaking minority in Romania he was deported to the Soviet Union in 1945 to perform forced labour. He returned to Romania, or the Romanian People’s Republic as it was by then known, in 1949. He studied German Literature in Bucharest between 1955 and 1960 and worked as an editor for the Romanian state broadcaster from 1960. In 1968 he fled via Austria to West Germany, where he worked as an author and freelance translator until his death. Oscar Pastior’s life is a paradigmatic reflection of the tensions, ruptures, and upheavals that defined Europe in the second half of the twentieth century.

Alongside performing a study of Pastior’s subjective worlds of experience, a particular challenge and a fascinating area of historiographical research, especially in terms of new approaches to lines of historical conflict, will be the investigation of the junctures and transitions in Pastior’s life story as well as the author’s complex public reception. A differentiated analysis of the reception of Oskar Pastior in Romania and in the German-speaking world is also of great interest, as differing constructions of his life path can be traced back to different national attributes; even today Pastior’s life offers a vehicle for projections and identifications by nation-states or other groups.

The result of this research project will be a monograph on Pastior, looking in particular at his reception in literature and the media. Of particular interest is the 2009 novel Atemschaukel (The Hunger Angel) by Nobel Prize-winning author Herta Müller, depicting Oskar Pastior’s imprisonment in a Soviet labour camp. Pastior’s life and his productive literary reception by Herta Müller offers a rich area of research within literary studies on the dynamic transfer between autobiographical account and literary-biographical depiction.

The posthumous discovery of Pastior’s activities in the Securitate (the Romanian secret police) led to a fundamental reappraisal of his life and work. Together with the accompanying changes in his reception, researching this issue will be a particular concern of the project, as part of which questions relating to the discourse on victims and perpetrators will be reassessed.

The distinctive aspect of developing the components of a biography lies in historiographical contextualization, the critical reflection of narrative structures, as well as the situating of Oskar Pastior in cultural spaces, with particular attention to the way meaning and power is constructed within them.

The project will close with a symposium in which the results of the research will be presented and discussed with experts.

Foto: Ayse Yavas


Ludwig Boltzmann Institute
for the History and Theory of Biography
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1090 Vienna

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