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Gottfried Benn (2 May 1886 Putlitzmarker, Brandenburgmarker – 7 July 1956 West Berlin) was a Germanmarker essayist, novelist, and expressionist poet. A doctor of medicine, he became an early admirer, and later a critic, of the National Socialist revolution. Benn had a literary influence on German verse immediately before and after the Nazi Germany.

Sketch of Gottfried Benn

Biography

He was born the son of a Lutheran pastor in Mansfeld, now part of Putlitzmarker in the district of Prignitzmarker, Brandenburgmarker. He was educated in Sellinmarker in the Neumark and Frankfurt an der Odermarker before studying theology at the University of Marburgmarker and military medicine at the Kaiser Wilhelm Academy (Pépinière)in Berlinmarker.

Benn started as an expressionist author before World War I when he published a small collection of poems (Morgue, 1912) concerned with the physical decay of the flesh.

His poetry offers an introverted nihilism: an existentialist philosophy which sees artistic expression as the only purposeful action.
In his early poems Benn used his medical experience and terminology to portray a morbid conception of humanity as another species of disease-ridden animal.
John Collins (Bullock & Woodings, 1984, p.61)


Benn enlisted in 1914, spent a brief period on the Belgian front, and then served as a military doctor in Brusselsmarker. Benn attended the trial and execution of Nurse Edith Cavell. He worked as a physician in an army brothel. After the war, he returned to Berlin and practiced as a dermatology and venereal disease specialist.

Hostile to the Weimar Republicmarker, and rejecting Marxism and Americanism, Benn, like many Germans, was upset with ongoing economic and political instability, and sympathized for a short period with the Nazis as a revolutionary force. He hoped that National Socialism would exalt his aesthetics, that Expressionism would become the official art of Germany, as Futurism had in Italymarker. Benn was elected to the poetry section of the Prussian Academy in 1932, and appointed head of that section in February 1933. In May he defended the new regime in a radio broadcast saying "the German workers are better off than ever before".

The cultural policy of the new State didn't turn out the way he hoped and, in June, Hans Friederich Blunck replaced Benn as head of the Academy's poetry section. Appalled by the Night of the Long Knives, Benn abandoned his support for the Nazi movement. He decided to perform "the aristocratic form of emigration" and joined the Wehrmacht in 1935 where he found many officers sympathetic to his disapproval of the régime. In May 1936 the SSmarker magazine Das Schwarze Korps attacked his expressionist and experimental poetry as degenerate, Jewish, and homosexual. In the summer of 1937, Wolfgang Willrich, a member of the SS, lampooned Benn in his book Säuberung des Kunsttempels; Heinrich Himmler, however, stepped in to reprimand Willrich and defended Benn on the grounds of his good record since 1933 (his earlier artistic output being irrelevant). In 1938 the Reichsschrifttumskammer (the National Socialist authors' association) banned Benn from further writing.

During World War II, Benn was posted to garrisons in eastern Germany where he wrote poems and essays. After the war, his work was banned by the Allies because of his initial support for Hitler. In 1951 he won the Georg Büchner Prize.

Benn favorably reviewed Julius Evola's Revolt Against the Modern World.

He died in West Berlin in 1956, and was buried in Dahlem Waldfriedhof, Berlin.

Works

  • Morgue und andere Gedichte [Morgue and other Poems] (Berlin, 1912)
  • Fleisch (1917)
  • Die Gesammelten Schriften [The collected works] (Berlin, 1922)
  • Schutt (1924)
  • Betäubung (1925)
  • Spaltung (1925)
  • Nach dem Nihilismus (Berlin, 1932)
  • Der Neue Staat und die Intellektuellen (1933)
  • Kunst und Macht (1935)
  • Ausgewählte Gedichte [Selected Poems] (May, 1936) Note: 1st edition contained two poems that were removed for the 2nd edition in November 1936: 'Mann und Frau gehen durch die Krebsbaracke' and 'D-Zug'. The vast majority of the 1st editions were collected and destroyed.
  • Statische Gedichte [Static poems] (Zürich, 1948)
  • Ptolemäer (Limes, 1949); Ptolemy's Disciple (edited, translated and with a preface by Simona Draghici, Plutarch Press, 2005, ISBN 0-943045-20-7 (pbk).
  • Doppelleben (1950); autobiography translated as Double Life (edited, translated, and with a preface by Simona Draghici, Plutarch Press, 2002, ISBN 0-943045-19-3).
  • Stimme hinter dem Vorhang; translated as The Voice Behind the Screen (translated with an introduction by Simona Draghici (Plutarch Press, 1996, ISBN 0-943045-10-X).


Collections

  • Sämtliche Werke ("Stuttgarter Ausgabe"), ed. by Gerhard Schuster and Holger Hof, 7 volumes in 8 parts, (Stuttgart 1986-2003, ISBN 3-608-95313-2).
  • Prose, Essays, Poems by Gottfried Benn, edited by Volkmar Sander; introduction by Reinhard Paul Becker (Continuum International Publishing Group, 1987, ISBN 0-8264-0310-7 & ISBN 0-8264-0311-5 (pbk.)
  • Selected Poems (Clarendon German series) by Gottfried Benn (Oxford U.P., 1970, ISBN 0-19-832451-0)
  • Gottfried Benn in Transition by Gottfried Benn, edited by Simona Draghici (Plutarch Press, 2003, ISBN 0-943045-21-5)
  • Poems, 1937-1947 (Plutarch Press, 1991, ISBN 0-943045-06-1)


References



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