Features » Literature


Bettina Wassmann

Short biographies of bookseller Bettina Wassmann and her husband, Alfred Sohn-Rethel. By Gabriele Goettle

Bettina Wassmann is a bookseller and publisher in Bremen. After finishing school in 1958, she trained as a bookseller in Rodewald, near Bremen. From 1961 to 1969 she worked at "Wolffs Bücherei" in Berlin, returning to Bremen in May 1969. In July of that year she opened her own bookshop in Bremen on the street, Am Wall 164. There she started publishing an edition of bibliophile titles, among them "Der perfekte Mord" (The perfect murder) by Djuna Barnes; "Abschied von gestern. Kritische Theorie heute" (Yesterday's farewell. Critical theories today) by Detlev Claussen; "Das Abendmahl, das Geld und die neuen Medien" (The last supper. Money and new media) by Jochen Hörisch; "Bartleby, der Schreiber. Eine Geschichte aus der Wall-Street" (Bartleby, the writer. A story from Wall Street) by Hermann Melville; "H. c. Alfred Sohn-Rethel" by Oskar Negt; and "Das Ideal des Kaputten" (The ideal of the broken) by Alfred Sohn-Rethel. Bettina Wassmann was born in 1942 in Plauen in the Vogtland (where the family had moved to avoid the bombing of Bremen). Her father was a cotton merchant (Baumwoll-Börse Bremen), her mother an artist. Bettina Wassmann was married to Alfred Sohn-Rethel, who died in 1990.

For those unfamiliar with Alfred Sohn-Rethel, I'll try to paint a brief portrait here. He was born in 1899. He was learned, without being lost in an ivory tower. He was an epistemological thinker with an excellent knowledge of Marx. Of all the Marxists, he was certainly the most original. From the 1920s on he worked on his materialist critique of epistemology. When this was published in the 1970s it won him widespread acclaim. Neither Max Horkheimer's withering criticism nor Theodor Adorno's praise could divert his attention. Alone and resolute, he continued to work on his heretical theory of money until he reached a ripe old age. With the patience of an angel he went about showing that the form of thinking develops out of the form of goods, and that the transcendental subject owes much to the idiosyncracies of products, exchange and money: that the origin of pure thought lies in the form of goods, and not the other way around. His work aimed at unveiling the secret of transcendental philosophy, in revealing the transcendental subject in the form of goods. His life's work was comprised of meticulously lifting this veil.


The biographies originally appeared in German in Die Tageszeitung on October 31, 2005.

ranslation: jab. - let's talk european