One of my personal literary heroes, Polish-German literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki, died today aged 93. Here is a wonderful tribute from Kulturzeit with plenty of Reich-Ranicki clips and here are two more obituaries from the New York Times and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the paper where Marcel Reich-Ranicki worked as a literary critic for more than fifty years.
Now literary critics are dime a dozen, but Marcel Reich-Ranicki was unique. His literary taste was pretty much diametrically opposed to mine, I hardly ever agreed with his verdicts and I suspect that he would have hated my books, if he had ever read them. Nonetheless, Marcel Reich-Ranicki’s TV show Das Literarische Quartett (The Literary Quartet) was one of the most entertaining programs on German TV. And considering that it was a 75 minute program of four literary critics sitting around a table and discussing the sort of heavy literary tome I rarely read, that is saying something. And what made Das Literarische Quartett so bloody entertaining was Marcel Reich-Ranicki’s sharp tongue, his bluntness and his utter lack of embarrassment. In fact, the show was so entertaining that I was shocked when Sigrid Löffler, one of Reich-Ranicki’s fellow critics, walked out in 2000 after a disagreement over a Haruki Murakami novel. I’d always assumed that the animosity between the critics was just part of the performance and was stunned to learn that Sigrid Löffler really hated Marcel Reich-Ranicki’s guts.
She wasn’t the only one, for Marcel Reich-Ranicki told it as he saw it. He eviscerated books and was hated by the elite of German postwar literature to the point that in 2002 two different novels murdered a thinly disguised Reich-Ranicki stand-in. Marcel Reich-Ranicki was the man who conjugated the F-word live on German television (warning: clip is totally not safe for work). He was the man who declined the German TV Award live during the awards ceremony, because he did not want to be honoured alongside stupid reality and talent shows and was subsequently given half an hour to expound on his views on television in an interview with the very awards show host he had snubbed.
All those angry young and not so young men* critics who expound their views about the current state of the SFF genre with lots of swearing and rude words? They’re just pale imitations with not a tenth of the acrid wit and sheer bloody entertainment value of a single episode of Das Literarische Quartett.
Marcel Reich-Ranicki was the real deal and he will be missed.
*And they usually are men. And I’m not supplying names, since I’m sure you can supply your own.