Exploration of the Personal Archive of Hildegard Brenner, Literary Scholar, Cultural Historian, and Editor
The project is dedicated to the intellectual biography of Hildegard Brenner (born in 1927), whose scholarly and journalistic activities played a decisive role in the West German debates over literary and cultural theory in the 1960s and 1970s. Brenner, who began her career as a journalist and a non-fiction writer and later became professor of literary studies at the University of Bremen, also published the journal alternative from 1964 to 1982. This publication became widely known for its contributions to materialist aesthetics and French structuralism, but it also prominently treated East German and exile literature, as well as the labor movement.
Beyond her own theoretical and historical works on Hölderlin, Benjamin, Brecht, and the National Socialist art policy, Brenner also initiated the book series collection alternative and published the only German-language translation of texts by Latvian theater actress and director Asja Lācis (1891–1979), with whom she actively corresponded. The extensive networks from which Brenner drew can be reconstructed through her personal archive, it includes, among other things, letters to and from Étienne Balibar, Roland Barthes, Wolf Biermann, Volker Braun, Lucien Goldmann, Julia Kristeva, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Pierre Macherey, Heiner Müller, and Helene Weigel, as well as correspondences with numerous publishers, magazines, and the radio stations for which Brenner produced programs taking their cues from the humanities.
The diverse contexts of her publications emphasize the need to discuss the significance of non-canonized writing and publishing in the history of theory. Journalistic writing and different forms of publishing mediate between academic, mass media, and political contexts but often escape the attention of intellectual historiographies. Furthermore, both Brenner’s career and her work provide an opportunity to inquire into the history and historiographical representation of female intellectuals in the 20th century.
Brenner’s papers and recordings, which were handed over to the ZfL in 2019, complement the editorial archive of the alternative at the German Literature Archive in Marbach. The aim of the project is to develop an intellectual biography that approaches her life and work from diverse perspectives and understands academic, journalistic, and publishing practices as pivotal points for problems in the histories of theory, media, and gender.
Fig. above: © Moritz Neuffer
- Prekäre Theorie, oder: Wer ist Hildegard Brenner?, in: ZfL Blog. Blog des Leibniz-Zentrums für Literatur- und Kulturforschung, Berlin, 14 Jan 2021