Martin Kuester

It is with profound and great sadness that we write these lines in memoriam Martin Kuester, who passed away on 1 April 2024 in Marburg. Born at Immerath, Martin Kuester studied English and French at the universities of Aachen, Caaen, Trier and at the University of British Columbia. After his First State Exam at the University of Trier, he studied towards his PhD at the University of Manitoba, where he wrote a dissertation on the Canadian historical novel, published as Framing Truths: Parodic Structures in Contemporary English-Canadian Historical Novels (University of Toronto Press UTP, Toronto 1992). 

In Framing Truths, Kuester follows a Bakhtinian approach to texts and adapts Linda Hutcheon’s definition of parody to define the “parodic process” in contemporary Canadian texts. The fact that his literary corpus consists of Canadian texts is a direct consequence of Kuester’s opinion that such an approach to parody is “of special importance in the context of the new literatures in English that have to define their own stances in opposition to a strong literary tradition stemming from the British Isles” (Framing 22). The mutually enriching influences between British and Canadian literatures never ceased to fascinate Kuester who dedicated a large share of his scholarship to the acknowledgement of their productive connections. 

After his PhD, Martin Kuester returned to Germany and became assistant professor at the University of Augsburg. He wrote his second book (Habilitation) on John Milton’s work and published it under the title „Prudent ambiguities“. Zur Problematik von Sprache und Bedeutung im Werk John Miltons (WVT, Trier 1999; reprinted in English as Milton’s Prudent Ambiguities: Words and Signs in His Poetry and Prose which appeared in 2009 at the University of America Press). Upon its original publication, Kuester’s monograph was a highly unorthodox reading of Milton’s complete oeuvre that went against the grain of established Miltonic practices. In this study, Kuester departs from previously established humanistic readings of Milton’s work and employs linguistic theory to analyse Milton’s use of language, in addition to conceptions of language and meaning formation that were circulating in the poet’s own time. 

In 1999, Kuester was appointed professor of English Literature at Philipps-Universität Marburg, where he became an active and enthusiastic promoter of Canadian Studies. Kuester was a founding member of the Marburg Centre for Canadian Studies in which he served as general director for twenty years and for which he published the journal Ahornblätter. He was also the editor of SALC, Studies in Anglophone Literatures and Cultures published by Wißner-Verlag, Augsburg, and a member of the editorial board of the Marburger Kanada-Studien series. A constant active and committed member of the GKS, the Association for Canadian Studies in German-speaking Countries, he was its Vice President (2009-2011) and President (2011-2013) as well as the head of its section for English-Canadian Language and Literature (2003-2009). 

Over the years, the Marburg Centre for Canadian Studies organized yearly Canadian Literature Day events, numerous Canadian Studies conferences, guest professorships, internships by young Canadian scholars, readings, and film and lecture series, taking Canadian Studies way beyond the walls of the Ivory Tower of academia. In addition to attracting a large audience not affiliated with the university, the Centre’s conferences and events were expanded to include high-school staff and pupils from the Marburg area who participated enthusiastically and were instrumental in popularizing the study of Canada in Germany. 

In the more than twenty years of Kuester’s directorship, the Marburg Centre for Canadian Studies hosted, among others, Jewish-Canadian, French-Canadian, Black-Canadian, and First Nations scholars, artists, and authors at readings, performances, exhibitions, and conferences. Several of the invited authors listed here honoured the Marburg audiences on more than one occasion: George Elliott Clarke, Henry Beissel, Christl Verduyn and Walter Hildebrandt, Guillermo Verdecchia, Rudy Wiebe, David Chariandy, Tomson Highway, Drew Hayden Taylor, Patricia Cano, Joan Clark, Aritha van Herk, Larissa Lai, Rita Wong and Hans-Jürgen Greif. As George Elliott Clarke mentioned at the international conference in Kuester’s honour, “Journey Across B/Orders in Canadian Studies” that took place June 2022 at Marburg University, Martin Kuester brought the diversity of Canadian literature to Marburg and Germany.

On a more personal level, as a scholar, mentor, and university teacher, Kuester inspired his love of Canadian studies, Milton, and postmodern literature in the minds and hearts of numerous students and PhD candidates whose professional careers have been fundamentally influenced by his work and guidance. He continually encouraged his students and PhD candidates to participate in Canadian Studies events, to present and publish their work and to pursue their careers without reticence and fears of failure. Without Martin, many of his students would never have encountered Canadian studies and many of our reading and research interests may never have come into existence. 

Martin Kuester’s commitment to the study of literatures in English, his expertise and passionate involvement in academia, his patience and intelligence, his wit and warm-hearted humour will be sorely missed by colleagues and students alike. Thank you for everything, Martin. 

Anca-Raluca Radu and Kirsten Sandrock