Born in Essen in 1949, the social philosopher Axel Honneth is a professor at Columbia University in New York and was director of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research from 2001 to 2018. As an acceptance theorist, he is one of the best-known representatives of the third generation of Frankfurt-style critical theory.
SZ: What are you reading right now?
After I read a few current novels again with a slight disappointment, I have now – that may sound strange – returned to “Lotte in Weimar”, just as one remembers old love affairs from time to time – of which Thomas Mann’s novel then also acts. After just a few pages, I was again enraptured by the ironic distance that Thomas Mann is able to create.
Which book did you admire when you were 15?
I mostly devoured thrillers, everything from Goldmann’s red series. However, from that age on I wished for the new volume of Suhrkamp’s “Spectaculum” series every Christmas and began to read dramas, especially American ones, everything that was just appearing in our country at the time, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Thornton Wilder , Eugene O’Neill – “The Death of a Salesman” and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” are unforgettable to me, as is often the case with early reading impressions.
What was the last really good book you read?
There were several, I read all of them not long ago and resented all of them for ending much too soon: “Portrait of the Middle-aged Master” by Colm Tóibín, “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “Everyone But Me” by Francesca Melandri”the short stories of Alice Munro – and if I had to rank them, the Tóibín would be the first to succeed in making Henry James the protagonist of a Henry James novel.
What was the last book that made you cry?
It’s not easy to say, since I’m easily carried away to tears. I think it was the end of Thomas Hardy’s “Far from the Madding Crowd”, a novel which, by the way, also includes it in its portrayal of the great, completely original and self-confident protagonist Bathsheba Everdene “Madame Bovary” or “Anna Karenina”.
They live in New York City half of the year. What is the best New York novel?
Oh, there are many! Again and again “Manhattan Transfer” by John Dos Passos, but also the “New York Stories” by Dorothy Parker, which could be set in any western metropolis of the 1930s. Of recent novels, I’ve particularly enjoyed reading Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy and, even more so, Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire. I also read Donna Tartt’s “Goldenfinch” with enthusiasm – as you can see, the list is almost endless!
… and what do you prefer to read, American or German literature?
It goes back and forth all the time, sometimes for months I prefer German-language novels, such as the one by Ulrich PeltzerUlrike Edschmid or Arno Geiger – I thought “Unter der Drachenwand” was great – then again I turn to American novels because they are less ambitious, more direct and yet, despite their comparative ease, they precisely reveal key existential experiences, such as Richard Ford, Elizabeth Strout or Kent Haruf.
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