Hans Magnus Enzensberger stepped onto the literary scene as Germany’s angry young man in the 1950’s, a time when the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) was cashing in on its economic miracle. Enzensberger’s anger, which would continue to fuel his verse, was directed against a world controlled by an inhumane technologized civilization and the repressive machinery of power, be it government or industry, politics or the military, or even the mass media of the “consciousness industry.” As an independent, abrasive political poet and polemicist, he stands in the tradition of Heinrich Heine and Bertolt Brecht. Gottfried Benn’s influence, evident from the beginning, has become more pronounced since the early 1970’s. Enzensberger remains the defender of freedom against authority and power, seeking “revision, not revolution.”
Enzensberger makes a systematic effort to relate theory and praxis by combining aesthetic and political reflections in his literary works. He fuses literature and history, or historical documentation and literary “fiction,” referring to this mixture as Faktographien (factographs). Though his concept of literature rests decidedly upon a political commitment, this is never so explicit in his poetry as to be reducible to a platform of positions. Although Enzensberger, like Brecht, is conscious of the functional value of poetry, its social utility, his aesthetic is fraught with ideological reservations. He rejects monolithic philosophies and political dogmatism, and his position can perhaps be best described as an enlightened and critical skepticism.