Gert Ueding was Ernst Bloch’s last assistant, when he was more than eighty years old. Disillusioned, the great utopian turned his back on the GDR after the Wall was built in 1961 and from then on held a visiting professorship at the Philosophical Seminar in Tübingen. Ueding, who was expelled from Silesia with his family as a small child, also studied there. He chose German as his main subject and took the opportunity in Tübingen to attend the only rhetoric seminar in the Federal Republic of Germany with Walter Jens. This disciplinary triad gave rise to a life’s work that culminated when Ueding succeeded Jens in 1988. Because according to the classic vir-bonus ideal of the Tübingen understanding of rhetoric (and Walter Jens’ self-image), a well-educated man was needed for this chair.
Ueding recalibrated the seminar created especially for his predecessor: less antiquity, more contemporary literature, media practice and also philosophical aesthetics. Under Jens Quintilian and the author of Herennius Trumpf’s theory of rhetoric had been Trumpf, but now it was Jean Paul or those baroque rhetoricians who attracted the attention of German literature at the time. The internationally exploding poststructuralist and deconstructivist interest in rhetoric, on the other hand, was neglected, with the result that newer research focuses in the discipline shifted to local universities that did not even have rhetoric chairs.
His rhetoric dictionary is a feat of philology
Nevertheless, Ueding provided an inspiring lesson – precisely because he was so broadly interested. With the “Historic Dictionary of Rhetoric” he tackled a mammoth journalistic project as editor, which, even in its form, reduced from the planned ten to eight volumes, can be considered one of the last global feats of German philology. With that, Ueding stepped out of the shadow of Walter Jens, who had lacked such a systematic interest.
In public, however, Ueding was present with something completely different: as a reviewer of this newspaper under Marcel Reich-Ranicki, as a juror at the Ingeborg Bachmann Competition in Klagenfurt and as the founder and main juror of the annually awarded “Cicero” for the best German speech of the year . Ueding paid off his debt of gratitude to his teacher, who died in 1977, in a sustainable manner when he founded the Ernst Bloch Society in his hometown in 1986. Because Ueding has a profound love for the popular works of Wilhelm Busch and Karl May, two authors who were ennobled by Bloch’s admiration and honored by the student in biographical studies. How influential the aged, almost blind Bloch was for Ueding can be seen in his small volume with memories of the philosopher, published in 2016: A picture of a German Borges emerges before us.
After the time of teaching, one of writing has now come: last year, Ueding, the genre lover, even dared to write a campus crime novel. located in Tübingen, of course, the university town to which he has remained loyal since 1965. Ueding will undoubtedly spend his 80th birthday there reading, because he has always been interested in “why books change with their readers and why readers change with their books,” as it says in his standard work “Outline of Rhetoric”. And further: “The art of rhetoric is an educational medium in its original meaning everywhere.” But for a long time it was only taught in Tübingen and there for more than a quarter of a century by Gert Ueding.