Open Access

Heiner Müller’s Cooperation with the “Institution of Art”— An Analysis of His Performance at the Büchnerpreis Award Ceremony

Jens Pohlmann


Heiner Müller was celebrated in the West as an East German dissident, but he was also respected as a fierce critic of capitalist society by the West German left. His award speech at the Büchnerpreis award ceremony in 1985 has been interpreted as a rebellion against the social norms of the West German “Kulturbetrieb,” with which he resisted co-optation by the cultural establishment. In this essay, I take another look at Müller’s performance at the award ceremony and examine the extent to which this literary prize posed a threat to his image as avant-garde author and critic of capitalist society. My interpretation reevaluates Müller’s aesthetic and performative strategies when maneuvering within the circumstances of a Western media public sphere, as he did in and increasingly after accepting the prize. I claim that Müller’s performance displays the difficulties of presenting an artistic critique of capitalism within a Western media public sphere and under the influence of a developing brand culture. (JP)

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