Karl Heinz Bohrer died yesterday, Tuesday, in London.

The temporary head of literature at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, long-time editor of the cultural magazine Merkur and professor of literary studies at Bielefeld University was 88 years old.

Patrick Bahners

Features correspondent in Cologne and responsible for “humanities”.

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Bohrer came from Cologne and attended Birklehof boarding school in the Black Forest, whose educational program was shaped by the new humanist ideas of Georg Picht. He studied in Göttingen and Heidelberg, where he received his doctorate in German with "Studies on romantic prophecy of history". Arthur Henkel and Friedrich Sengle wrote the reports for the dissertation. Bohrer's singular position in the intellectual life of the Federal Republic is marked by the subject of his second book, which was published by Hanser Verlag in 1970: “The Endangered Fantasy, or Surrealism and Terror”.

His topic was the radicalism of modern aesthetics, alternately as a variety of political radicalism or as an alternative to the program of political revolutions.

For all attempts to base politics and art on morality, which had long been unconstrained in plausibility after the turning point in the eradication of National Socialism in Germany, Bohrer took a position of fundamental contradiction.

Even his attitude towards the student movement, which he reported on as the features editor of the FAZ, was characterized by a fascination for the excess of this actionist movement, for symbolic action that did not work out in its Marxist justifications or in the intentions to better come to terms with the past.

The aesthetic of horror

The habilitation thesis that Bohrer submitted after leaving the newspaper in Bielefeld dealt with a then still living German writer of the century of extreme climaxes, who did not fit well into the post-war world of mediation and connections: Ernst Jünger. The title of the book became proverbial: "The Aesthetics of Terror". A sentence that Bohrer wrote about Günter Netzer, the midfield director of the football club Borussia Mönchengladbach, a symbol of the spirit of optimism of the years around 1970: "Netzer came from the depths of space."

When the Hitler biographer Joachim Fest became the FAZ editor in charge of the features pages in 1973, he replaced Bohrer as editor in charge of literature and literary life with Marcel Reich-Ranicki. Bohrer went to London as a cultural correspondent and used the position of correspondent for writing contemporary history on a large scale in small forms. He did not shy away from national psychology: In the images of self and others from the cultural nations, he recognized figures of highly reflective processing of collective experiences, something like a counter- or backward world to the individualism of modern art. Bohrer's reports from England appeared as a book under the title “A bit of pleasure in the sinking”.