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Weimar on the Pacific: German Exile Culture in Los Angeles and the Crisis of Modernism

Ehrhard Bahr
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 378
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppctn
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  • Book Info
    Weimar on the Pacific
    Book Description:

    In the 1930s and 40s, Los Angeles became an unlikely cultural sanctuary for a distinguished group of German artists and intellectuals-including Thomas Mann, Theodore W. Adorno, Bertolt Brecht, Fritz Lang, and Arnold Schoenberg-who had fled Nazi Germany. During their years in exile, they would produce a substantial body of major works to address the crisis of modernism that resulted from the rise of National Socialism. Weimar Germany and its culture, with its meld of eighteenth-century German classicism and twentieth-century modernism, served as a touchstone for this group of diverse talents and opinions.Weimar on the Pacificis the first book to examine these artists and intellectuals as a group. Ehrhard Bahr studies selected works of Adorno, Horkheimer, Brecht, Lang, Neutra, Schindler, Döblin, Mann, and Schoenberg, weighing Los Angeles's influence on them and their impact on German modernism. Touching on such examples as film noir and Thomas Mann'sDoctor Faustus, Bahr shows how this community of exiles reconstituted modernism in the face of the traumatic political and historical changes they were living through.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93380-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-29)

    For almost a century, Los Angeles has occupied a space in the American imagination between innocence and corruption, unspoiled nature and ruthless real-estate development, naïveté and hucksterism, enthusiasm and shameless exploitation. In his bookLandscapes of Desire,William A. McClung has shown that “two competing mythologies of place and space—one of an acquired Arcadia—a found natural paradise—and the other of an invented utopia—an empty space inviting development—”have shaped the image of Los Angeles (dust jacket; 4–5). There have been numerous attempts to counter this impression and to portray the city as one with intellectual...

  7. CHAPTER 1 The Dialectic of Modernism
    (pp. 30-55)

    When Theodor W. Adorno (1903–69) and Max Horkheimer (1895–1973) began to write theirDialectic of Enlightenment (Dialektik der Aufklärung)in 1941, they unintentionally provided a theory for the experience of exile in Southern California and for a modernism that had become questionable to its practitioners who felt out of place in the vicinity of Hollywood. Developed in discussions between Horkheimer and Adorno and recorded by the latter’s wife, Gretel Adorno,Dialectic of Enlightenmentwas completed in mimeographed form under the titlePhilosophical Fragments (Philosophische Fragmente)in 1944 and first published under its current title by the publishing house...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Art and Its Resistance to Society: Theodor W. Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory
    (pp. 56-78)

    The geographic proximity of Hollywood confronted Horkheimer and Adorno with the products of the movie studios, which had evolved as a major industry since the early 1930s. The movie industry was hit harder by the Depression than any other. In addition, the technological innovations that enabled the production of sound films and their presentation in movie theaters necessitated new investments in the industry. By the end of the 1930s, however, the movie industry had recovered better than other sectors of the economy, establishing itself as one of the major employers in Los Angeles and promising more work in the years...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Bertolt Brecht’s California Poetry: Mimesis or Modernism?
    (pp. 79-104)

    It was Bertolt Brecht who gave Los Angeles a bad name in German literature. Even critics who are not familiar with the original German verse love to cite Brecht’s scathing poem comparing Los Angeles to hell. I quote it in full since it sets the stage for my arguments about Los Angeles as the landscape of modernism:

    On thinking about Hell, I gather

    My brother Shelley found it was a place

    Much like the city of London. I

    Who live in Los Angeles and not in London

    Find, on thinking about Hell, that it must be

    Still more like Los...

  10. CHAPTER 4 The Dialectic of Modern Science: Brecht’s Galileo
    (pp. 105-128)

    During his exile in Denmark, Brecht selected Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), an early representative of modern science, as protagonist for a play that he began to write in October 1938. He represents Galileo as a scientist who first resisted the authorities of his time, but, when threatened with torture or death by the Inquisition, complied in order to survive for the sake of science. Brecht presents Galileo’s recantation as a cunning device to allow him to continue his experiments in secret and achieve earthshaking results in his research. Because he recanted Galileo was able to entrust a copy of his...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Epic Theater versus Film Noir: Bertolt Brecht and Fritz Lang’s Anti-Nazi Film Hangmen Also Die
    (pp. 129-147)

    When American newspapers reported the assassination of SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich in Prague in May of 1942, Brecht and Fritz Lang immediately seized upon the idea of writing a script for a hostage film. In theLos Angeles Timesof May 28, 1942, they found the headline “Assassin Bombs Hitler’s ‘Hangman’ ” and were informed of the event as follows:

    A bomb, either planted in his automobile or thrown as it passed at high speed along the road to Berlin inside Greater Prague, exploded, killing the driver, wrecking the car and seriously injuring the Nazi secret police chieftain, notorious throughout Europe...

  12. CHAPTER 6 California Modern as Immigrant Modernism: Architects Richard Neutra and Rudolph M. Schindler
    (pp. 148-171)

    Between the 1930s and 1940s immigrant modernism and exile modernism overlapped in Southern California. The representatives of immigrant modernism had arrived here during the 1920s. Many of them were working in the film industry, as, for example, William Dieterle, Ernst Lubitsch, Josef von Sternberg, and Erich von Stroheim; others, such as Richard Joseph Neutra (1892–1970) and Rudolph Michael Schindler (1887–1953), established careers in architecture. Both Neutra and Schindler had designed and built their signature examples of modernist architecture in Southern California before the first exiles from Nazi Germany arrived in Los Angeles. Therefore, Neutra and Schindler were, strictly speaking,...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Between Modernism and Antimodernism: Franz Werfel
    (pp. 172-196)

    For the Prague poet and novelist Franz Werfel (1890–1945), the year 1933 was not the occasion of a definite rupture, as it was for the other artists, writers, and intellectuals from Germany. This was in part because he was a citizen of Czechoslovakia who had opted to live in Vienna, and he was not affected by events in Germany until 1938, when Austria was annexed. The other reason was that Werfel had made his accommodation with reactionary conservatism and was vacillating between modernism and antimodernism. His conflicted position dated back to the early 1920s. Before 1923 Werfel had belonged...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Renegade Modernism: Alfred Döblin’s Novel Karl and Rosa
    (pp. 197-222)

    Of all the German exile writers in Los Angeles, Alfred Döblin (1878–1957) is the least known. The novelist, who had established himself as the most avant-garde prose writer of the Weimar Republic with the publication of his novelBerlin Alexanderplatzin 1929, departed from modernism in his exile works in tandem with his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1941. As a Jew, a socialist sympathizer, and a member of the avant-garde, he had been a target of the Nazis already during the Weimar Republic. After the burning of the Reichstag in 1933, he immediately fled Germany via Zurich to...

  15. CHAPTER 9 The Political Battleground of Exile Modernism: The Council for a Democratic Germany
    (pp. 223-241)

    In July 1943 newspapers in the United States reported that the National Committee for a Free Germany had been founded by German exiles and German prisoners of war in the Soviet Union. The Soviet leadership appeared to be using the committee as, among other things, a political tool to attempt to bring about an early end to the war, even at the cost of a compromise peace with the German government. In July 1943 the opening of the second front by the Western Allies was still far in the future. In spite of the military successes since the battle of Stalingrad,...

  16. CHAPTER 10 Evil Germany versus Good Germany: Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus
    (pp. 242-264)

    Before Thomas Mann was able to finish his novelDoctor Faustus,he delivered a lecture at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., in May 1945. This lecture was part of his contract as consultant for German literature at the Library of Congress, a position that Agnes E. Meyer, his patron and wife of the publisher of theWashington Post,had obtained for him in 1941. He had given two lectures before, and in early January of 1944 he consulted with the Library of Congress and Meyer about possible lecture dates for 1945. He chose the title for this lecture, “Germany...

  17. CHAPTER 11 A “True Modernist”: Arnold Schoenberg
    (pp. 265-288)

    Before Schoenberg was able to read Thomas Mann’s new novelDoctor Faustus,well-meaning friends—among them Alma Mahler Werfel—told him the bare facts of the plot and informed him especially of the life and death of the protagonist and his method of composing music. Although he had received a personal copy of the German original with a handwritten dedication by the author, Schoenberg probably never read the entire novel because of his failing eyesight, but his assistant, Richard Hoffmann, recorded the sections of the book that dealt with musicology on a Dictaphone (J. Schmidt 163). Schoenberg was neither amused...

  18. CONCLUSION: The Weimar Legacy of Los Angeles
    (pp. 289-300)

    Los Angeles is often called a city without historical memory. Critics argue that people came here to escape history. They refer to the fact that most houses are built of wood and stucco and not of stone. According to their observations, the people here read, but only trade journals and magazines. Their shelves are filled with knickknacks and souvenirs rather than books. Most Angelinos allegedly get their political information from television. History for them is a Hollywood set that can easily be changed for the next production in a different country and a different century. These clichés about “Lotusland” and...

  19. Chronology
    (pp. 301-308)
  20. Appendices
    (pp. 309-322)
  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 323-346)
  22. Index
    (pp. 347-358)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 359-361)