Karl Heinz Bohrer

Speaking with Daggers - The Literary Hate Effect

(German title: Mit Dolchen sprechen)
ca. 493 pages
Karl Heinz Bohrer
Foto: Karl Heinz Bohrer
© Isolde Ohlbaum

Karl Heinz Bohrer, born in Cologne in 1932, literary critic, publisher, scientist, creator of many works revolving around the central ideas of Momentanism and “suddenness”. Long experience in France and in England, where he lives, consciously aware of being one face of the »other«. Secondary school teacher in Germany, England and the USA. He was awarded the Heinrich-Mann-Prize in 2007 and received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2014.


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Hate as the pivotal literary medium of expression

Twelve analyses of world literature’s great creators of hate-characters: From the Renaissance to the present


Particularly in recent times, the term »hate« has made a career in public importance. In the journalistic and socio-historical critique of the reaction to the refugee crisis prevalent in Germany and Europe it moved to the forefront of the discourse alongside terms like »identity« and »racism«.

But Karl Heinz Bohrer’s study in twelve chapters searches for something entirely different in the literary hate effect. It’s not about hate as the emotion accompanying a political-ideological programme, but about the role of hate as a medium of excessively heightened poetry. This shows a privileged role of characters of hate and their expressive powers within literature used as a model along which the expressivity of literary language itself develops.

Bohrer’s studies take us from the beginning of the early modern periods, from Shakespeare, Kyd and Marlowe, to Milton, Swift, Kleist, Baudelaire, Strindberg and Céline to the present: to Sartre, Bernhard, Handke, Jelinek as well as Brinkmann and Goetz. And to Houellebecq, in whose works the malicious affirmation of the hateful, a contemporaneity without hope, culminate.


»Comparatist Karl Heinz Bohrer shows that literature has a strong voice when it comes to hatred, indeed, that it is virtually an expert on hate, in what are, for the most part, brilliant readings [...]« Martina Wagner-Egelhaaf, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

»[Karl Heinz Bohrer] deals with hate in literature. […] In the depiction of the extreme, […] language often achieves an extreme intensity. This is what Bohrer demonstrates by taking the example of literary hate speech from the 16th century to the present.« Manfred Koch, NZZ am Sonntag

»With passion, literary scholar Karl Heinz Bohrer protests against moralistic aesthetics of sentiment. His book is a plea for hate in prose and poetry. He analyses scenes of violence from Homer to Houellebecq and creates an aesthetics of evil that describes the essence of literature.« DIE ZEIT

»Literature not conceptualized as counsel, a beautiful object or a mental cuddly blanket but from the perspective of one of the most complex feelings: the impetus of hatred.« Mara Delius, Die Welt

»The most important literary theorist explores the feeling of the hour and cultivates well-founded answers from the richness of his subject.« Katrin Hillgruber, Der Tagesspiegel

»Particularly lucid is the conjecture that we would have been spared the disgusting political-ideological hatred in 20th-century journalism if the German literature of the 19th century hadn’t abandoned poetic hate speech by and large in its obligation to idealistic philosophy but had nurtured and developed it.« Eberhard Geisler, Frankfurter Rundschau

Other publications

Jetzt/Now (2017)

Rights available

Plötzlichkeit. Zum Augenblick des ästhetischen Scheins/Suddenness (1981)

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English world rights (Columbia UP), Chinese simplex rights (China South Publishing & Media Group); previously published in the respective language / territory; rights available again: Poland (Oficyna Naukowa)