AMichael Althen died on May 12, 2011, and since then he has been missing for us, his readers, who, when they delved into his texts, were always faced with this one question: How does he know so much about me? So why is it that he writes about sensations I thought I was alone with?
And at the same time Michael Althen is missing from all those whose works and performances he wrote about, the actors, the authors, the directors and artists. Hardly any other critic was read by those he criticized as closely and honored as sincerely as he was – and how the one thing is connected to the other is the magic, the mystery, the wonder of these texts.
One can try to describe the magic simply: Michael Althen did not forget who he was in life and what he wanted from this life when writing about works of art. The texts were true to life, their author had a heart. You can also put it a bit more complicated: These texts watched themselves looking, reading, writing; they reflected the conditions of compassion and reflection so vividly that one was immediately ready to trust this critic and his judgements. And that’s why the creators honored him so much: because this critic was exactly the viewer, reader, listener that one wishes as an artist.
In October 2012, the Michael Althen Prize for Criticism was awarded for the first time. The winner was the author Sarah Khan – with a text about the TV series “Dr. house”. In October 2013, Willi Winkler won with a text from the Süddeutsche Zeitung about Karlheinz Deschner, the late writer and author of the “Criminal History of Christianity.” In 2014, Hans Hütt won with an attempt on the “Fear of Equality”, a blog entry. In October 2015 the prize went to Rupprecht Podszun for his text “Please don’t mix anything!”, the report on the copyright process surrounding Frank Castorf’s Munich production of “Baal”. In 2016, Kia Vahland won with the report Masters who fell from the sky, which was published in the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”. And in October 2017 Lara Fritzsche won “reissue”, a portrait of the writer and film director Helene Hegemann, which appeared in the magazine of the Süddeutsche Zeitung. In 2018 Antje Stahl received the prize for her text “No more women’s ghetto, please!”, which appeared in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. And in 2019, Verena Lueken, editor in the feuilleton of the FAZ, was honored for “This is life”, praise from the American writer Richard Ford. In the past two years, the prize was awarded without a celebration due to corona – to Mareike Nieberding , for her article “Flight & Punishment”, a portrait of the French writer Alice Zeniter, which appeared in the magazine of the Süddeutsche Zeitung. And to Ulrich Gutmair for “Kebab Dreams in the Walled City”which appeared in Merkur.
This year, the FAZ is once again awarding the Michael Althen Prize for Criticism. It’s about criticism that doesn’t necessarily want to be right, about criticism that doesn’t hold its own feelings at bay with watertight terms, about criticism that thrives on the awareness that analytical sharpness and truthfulness of the emotion are not mutually exclusive.
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