Germany’s best known literary critic, Marcel Reich-Ranicki, died last week at the age of 93. As a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, a Jew in Germany and a sharp-tongued critic, he always remained an outsider but set unique standards.
On September 19 the Neue Zürcher Zeitung observed:
“Marcel Reich-Ranicki was an institution. With his death, a chapter in the history of German literature, an entire era, comes to an end: that of the so-called grand critic, who answers as an individual for his judgements, preferences and mistakes. He wanted to be – and could be – as caustic as [Karl] Kraus, as ironic as [Heinrich] Heine and as elegant as [Alfred] Kerr….
“Perhaps his many caricatures are the best testimony to the importance of this master of self-caricature because few could match the originality of Marcel Reich-Ranicki. Pope, priest or lord of the books: perhaps it was the triumph and tragedy of this at times astonishingly sensitive man that to the end no one took his roles and self-images away from him.”
• • • •
For many years Reich-Ranicki was the central figure in a popular television program Das Literarische Quartett, which in many ways resembled the CBC’s Fighting Words. In the CBC program, Nathan Cohen, Canada’s leading critic at the time, performed a similar function.