Please note: The use of ‘we’ below implies that this blog post is voiced by us the editors: Graham Bartram, Sarah McGaughey, Galin Tihanov
Sixty-eight years after his death in US-American exile in 1951, the Austrian-Jewish writer Hermann Broch is widely recognized as one of the great European novelists of the twentieth century. His two major works, known throughout the Anglophone world, in Europe, and in the Far East, were the multi-layered Schlafwandler-trilogy (1930-1932), a modernist masterpiece that draws the reader into the social and cultural fragmentation of the age, and the hypnotically lyrical Tod des Vergil (1945), a novel confronting the experience of mortality and the conflict between art and political power.
Broch also produced an extraordinarily wide ranging body of cultural criticism, historical and philosophical theory and studies in mass psychology: works fuelled by a ceaseless effort to create a conceptual apparatus capable of coming to grips with the political and cultural crises of his time, including the susceptibility of large swathes of German and Austrian society to Nazi / Fascist ideology.
Broch’s oeuvre is widely available in translation, yet despite the influence of his political and social theories on both his contemporaries, like Hannah Arendt and Elias Cannetti, and later thinkers, this part of his work continues to be lesser known. Indeed, up to now, there has been no comprehensive English introduction to his works. Camden House’s Companion to the Works of Hermann Broch could hardly appear at a more timely moment.
The idea of a Companion, in fact, reaches back some ten years, to the evening of July 4, 2009, when over dinner in Lancaster, UK, the three editors-to-be found themselves discussing how Hermann Broch might be presented to an English-speaking readership.
The dinner was a part of an international symposium on Broch’s Schlafwandler organized at Lancaster University by Graham Bartram, in which both Galin Tihanov and Sarah McGaughey participated. In the way of all good conference conversations, connections were being made between the remarkable novel that we were reading and discussing and the wider context of Broch’s life and philosophy. Not only the extraordinary breadth but also the renewed actuality of Broch’s thought convinced us that his work needed to be (re)-introduced to audiences who were hitherto mainly acquainted with his literary masterpieces. But all three would-be editors had projects that needed to be completed first. When some time later we returned to the concept, our proposal for a Broch Companion found a positive reception from Camden House’s Jim Walker, who has continued to give the project his moral and practical support throughout its genesis.
When the Companion was first conceived, the world was reeling from the shock of the global financial crisis. In the year of the Companion’s publication, that crisis has deepened and broadened, its cultural and political dimensions becoming ever clearer. Broch’s writings had a dual aim: to confront what he saw as the dangerous cultural vacuum of the present and to lay the groundwork for a new humanitarian ethos. Today’s issues are in many ways quite different from those of the 1930s and 1940s, but some alarming parallels between our era and his have given his work and his voice a renewed urgency.
This guest post was written by the editors of A Companion to the Works of Hermann Broch: Graham Bartram, Sarah McGaughey and Galin Tihanov
Graham Bartram retired as Senior Lecturer in German Studies at the University of Lancaster, UK. Sarah McGaughey is Associate Professor of German at Dickinson College, USA. Galin Tihanov is the George Steiner Professor of Comparative Literature at Queen Mary University of London, UK.