George Blecher commemorates Lothar Baier

Lothar Baier (1942-2004)

Since I heard of Lothar Baier’s death, I’ve had the nagging wish to call Lothar in Montreal to try to make sense together of this weird, tragic event. It wouldn’t be the first time that I’d turn to him to clarify things. I can’t count the times that we discussed in person or by phone or e mail issues that seemed too big and complex to get a hold of. But he was intellectually fearless; he believed that everything could be comprehended if you approached it with humility and openness. His gentle, bemused voice and slightly ironic smile were ways of assuring you that thinking through a problem was an eminently worthwhile thing to do; and if you did it with an intellectual partner like Lothar, it could also be one of the most pleasurable activities known to man.

I wasn’t the only one to work with Lothar in this way. For friends and colleagues all over the world, he was our intellectual and moral conscience, a conscience at once rigorous and compassionate, realistic yet full of empathy. From the moment I met him 14 years ago at a conference in Berlin for writers and editors of European journals – a group that ultimately gave birth to Eurozine – he was the one we all instinctively turned to for the last word. He never sought that position; he was always modest and soft-spoken to a fault. But he was a little smarter and wiser than the rest of us. His mind was encyclopedic and original, untrendy and eternally curious. In both writing and speaking he could always be counted on to find a hidden aspect of an issue that, once revealed, would cast new and useful light all around it.

In recent years Lothar moved from Frankfurt to Montreal, a city that he loved. It wasn’t an easy move, but he rarely complained about his personal or professional setbacks. Quite the contrary. With boyish enthusiasm he related anecdote after anecdote about Montreal and especially about Saint-Henri, his adopted neighborhood. Though he wasn’t naïve about some of the dark sides of the New World, he was delighted by its informality, spontaneity, and above all its unpredictability, which seemed to refresh and revitalize him. At least from where I was sitting, he appeared to be entering a phase of his life that would combine his intellectual interests with new experience and a sense of adventure.

At the moment I can’t imagine how we’ll survive without Lothar. He was our yardstick, the standard against which we measured the accuracy and depth of our insights. I feel bereft and deserted, and profoundly sad. I’m afraid that these feelings can only increase as time passes.

Published 16 July 2004
Original in English

© George Blecher / Eurozine

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