4/5/1 | Programmlinien / Constructing the Subject /Arthur Koestler

Arthur Koestler

The biographies of writers, academics and other public intellectuals are useful sources in understanding how cultural achievement is evaluated, narrated and instrumentalized. Reading about a person’s engagement with an important issue may also further public understanding of history, politics or culture. A life that offers plenty of room for reflection on these issues, and others, is that of Arthur Koestler (1905-1983). His life, as Danilo Kiš wrote, ‘contains the potential biography of every Central European intellectual – in its radical realization’.

Koestler was born in Budapest to Jewish parents and died in London. He made a name for himself as a journalist and as an author of both fiction and non-fiction books. Koestler emigrated from Austria to Palestine in 1926, later working as a journalist in Paris and Berlin. He travelled in the Soviet Union before being arrested during the Spanish Civil War. He also lived in France, America and Britain. His life is sometimes said to reflect the events of the twentieth century: he was a Zionist, then a Communist, then an Anti-Communist.

Even aside from his politics, Koestler’s life has been dogged by controversy. His interest in the paranormal, his suicide pact with his third wife, and the posthumous rape claim levelled against him have impacted on the reception of his political writings and his fiction. Since his death he has been the subject of several biographies. However, Koestler’s biographers disagree in their assessment of him and, at times, with the way Koestler portrayed himself in his autobiographical writings.

This project resulted in a book published by Reaktion Books in the series 'Critical Lives' in 2017.

Further information


Dr. Ed Saunders
Tel.: +43 1 4277 43097
Fax: +43 1 4277 42150
Email: edward.saunders@gtb.lbg.ac.at

Ludwig Boltzmann Institute
for the History and Theory of Biography
Porzellangasse 4/1/17
1090 Wien