Institute of Slavic Studies of the University of Mainz inaugurates archive from the estate of Wolfgang Kasack

Private library of renowned Slavicist Wolfgang Kasack enriches the library of the Institute of Slavic Studies

10.02.2009

The literary scholar and translator Wolfgang Kasack was one of the world's best-known German Slavicists. After Kasack's death in 2003, his widow handed over the administration of her husband's scientific, editorial and translated works to Professor Frank Göbler, a former student and long-time colleague of Kasack at the University of Cologne, now himself holding a professorship for Slavic studies at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. It was in packing cases that the pre-sorted private library of Wolfgang Kasack finally arrived at the Institute of Slavic Studies. While its primary and secondary literature books could soon integrated into the stock of the institute's library and have been available to students and interested parties in the field for some time already, it took considerably more time to screen and to sort the archive consisting of correspondences, hand-written notes, copies of essays, text commentaries, newspaper articles as well as translations. This at times painstaking but no less fascinating work has now been completed with the aid of Leif Murawski, a doctoral student at the Mainz Institute of Slavic Studies. He reviewed the material Kasack and his colleagues had collected over decades, and sorted it by author. "This brought to light some treasures, the existence of which we were completely unaware when we took over the archive," stated Professor Frank Göbler on the occasion of the opening of the "Kasack library".

According to Leif Murawski, "the archive contains unique material on approximately 2,000 Russian writers of the last century, from Abbakumova to Ženov. The letters sent to Kasack by a variety of Soviet authors are partially of a very personal nature, others are very much in the light of their historical time, and some even constitute a high-level discussion on literary theory." "The perusal of these manuscripts and Kasack's correspondences will certainly result in many ideas and points of departure for future master's and doctoral theses," Professor Göbler encouraged his students.

Kasack became known to a wider public particularly for his founding work with the title "Lexikon der russischen Literatur ab 1917", which was published for the first time in 1976 and then supplemented to become "Lexikon der russischen Literatur des 20. Jahrhunderts" in 1992. It is to Kasack's lasting credit that with this lexicon he was first to introduce Russian literature of the 20th century as a whole, that is, he presented both officially tolerated, sponsored Soviet authors and those censored by the authorities, prohibited from working, oppressed and in some cases exiled or even murdered. In order to be able to write about authors ostracized in the Soviet Union and forced to go underground, as well as about emigré writers, Kasack frequently sought personal contact. This is why his private library - apart from primary works from the canon of Russian literature - also contains a large number of valuable records of his time: correspondences, discussion notes, tape recordings, translations, text commentaries, and dedications, which are now accessible at the Institute of Slavic Studies.

About Wolfgang Kasack

Wolfgang Kasack was born in Potsdam on 20 January 1927. His interest in Russian language and culture was more the result of his own fate and the times in which he lived than of a conscious decision on his part: At the age of 18, Kasack became a Soviet prisoner of war and only survived the camp because he managed to acquire a basic knowledge of the Russian language within a very short time and was therefore soon employed as an interpreter in the camp's kitchen. Despite this traumatic experience, Kasack also brought a love of the Russian language back to Germany. He subsequently trained as an interpreter. He embarked on Slavonic studies, continuing to obtain a doctorate, and finally a professorship. In September 1956, Kasack was an interpreter in the delegation sent to Moscow by the German chancellor Adenauer; the year after, he was appointed as chief interpreter of the new Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in the Russian capital. From 1960 to 1968, Kasack worked as the main organizer of the scientific exchange programme with the USSR on behalf of the German Research Foundation (DFG) before being appointed as Professor for Slavic Philology at the University of Cologne in 1969.

Kasack also made a contribution to a more comprehensive picture of Russian literature in the 20th century outside the official Soviet circles through his text editions series "Arbeiten und Texte zur Slavistik". Suppressed works by authors such as Mikhail Bulgakov, Andrei Platonov and Gennadi Aigi were made accessible to both readers and researchers in the West: works that had mostly been produced in the Soviet Union, but had had no chance of publication, and had quite often reached the West in a variety of adventurous ways.

After his retirement in 1992, Kasack made use of his freedom from university duties to conduct even more intensive research and publishing work; an updated directory of his publications, encompassing more than 1,000 titles, appeared only a few months before his death on 10 January 2003.

 

PHOTO GALLERY

Autobiographical book manuscript Cover picture of Il'ya Erenburg's book Inside cover page of Il’ya Erenburg's well-known novel Aleksej Remizov's book Typescript pages from a novel by the underground author Vladimir Kazakov, who could not be published in the USSR. On top is a covering letter adressed to Wolfgang Kasack, dated June 4, 1977.