05 Apr 2024

Freundschaftsbriefe im 20. Jahrhundert

Venue: Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung, Ilse-Zimmermann-Saal, Pariser Str. 1, 10719 Berlin
Organized by Nicolas Berg (DI), Falko Schmieder (ZfL)

“Should I thank you? In what form? Just how much easier it would be for me to compose an entire novel than to find the proper and cordial way in which to express my gratitude. Where did I ever have as great a friend as you?” In July of 1934, the author Joseph Roth wrote these lines to Stefan Zweig from Marseille. Zweig immensely supported Roth during his first uncertain months in emigration. In this letter, Roth not only searched for the proper words to express his gratitude, but also for a fitting image, one that was capable of evoking the unequal friendship with his famous colleague—and he chose the striking metaphor “of a barge on the open sea encountering a steamship.” Part of the letter’s point and the author’s unique characteristic is the fact that Roth instantly interprets the juxtaposition of these seemingly unequal boats of friendship. Not only did he conclude from this comparison that a small barge would have more trouble “carrying this friendship,” but, surprisingly, the opposite as well: with regard to the social constellation, the relationship between that which provides and that which receives may be clear, but not when it comes to the idea of friendship; here, the debtor bears the weight of friendship to an equal extent, it quite directly rests on their shoulders.   

Not only does this excerpt from one single correspondence during the turbulent times of the mid-20th century point to the unique function and necessity of letters between friends, but also to the many paradoxes which make them epistemic instruments: who propels, who slows down? Who gives and who takes? Who carries, who is being carried? How much intimacy, openness, and honesty and how much criticism can be invested into these correspondences? Other than commonalities and sympathies: how do differences and dissent become a topic? Friendship letters are always documents of a relationship that is not being prescribed by birth, but is self-chosen: thus, friendship—as expressed through letters and invoked within them—is always already an act of sovereignty, completely independently of their actual contents expressed in these letters. Through letters, a conversation is being slowed down. Within them, friendship becomes “a form of home” (Philipp Lenhard). Other than the exchange between Roth and Zweig, which has become something of a genre classic, there are many other similar examples such as Hannah Arendt’s body of letters of which friendship letters make up the most extensive part.


10.15 am Welcome and opening

  • Eva Geulen (ZfL), Yfaat Weiss (DI)
  • Falko Schmieder (ZfL), Nicolas Berg (DI)

10.30 am Die Erfahrung des Exils

  • Felix Steilen (DI): Der Blick zurück nach Europa: Beobachtungen zu einer brieflichen Konfiguration der 1930er Jahre
  • Christoph Hesse (ZfL): “Über den Ozean ausgestreckte Hand. Tut sehr gut …”: Freunde auf der Flucht – Hermann Borchardt und George Grosz

1.30 pm Literatur und Wissenschaft

  • Zahiye Kundos (DI): The Journal as Letterbox: Contesting the Spirit of Modern Arabic Literature in 1933
  • Magdalena Gronau, Martin Gronau (ZfL): “Eine Mischung von saugrob und zärtlich”: Gelehrte Kritik in Korrespondenzen von befreundeten Physikern im Exil

3.45 pm Aufbruch ins Neue

  • John de Lima (DI): Pseudonyme Autorschaft in Franz Rosenzweigs Freundschaftsbriefen
  • Zaal Andronikashvili (ZfL): Louis Althusser und Merab Mamardashvili: Freundschaft und Ideologie diesseits und jenseits des Eisernen Vorhangs

Media Response

04 Apr 2024
“Eine sehr intime, zarte Dimension”

Workshop announcement by Malte Neumann, in: Tagesspiegel (6.4.2024)