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Cool Conduct

Cool Conduct: The Culture of Distance in Weimar Germany

Helmut Lethen
Translated by Don Reneau
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 263
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  • Book Info
    Cool Conduct
    Book Description:

    Cool Conductis an elegant interpretation of attitudes and mentalities that informed the Weimar Republic by a scholar well known for his profound knowledge of this period. Helmut Lethen writes of "cool conduct" as a cultivated antidote to the heated atmosphere of post-World War I Germany, as a way of burying shame and animosity that might otherwise make social contact impossible.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91641-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface to the American Edition
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Fending Off Shame: The Habitus of Objectivity
    (pp. 1-20)

    At about 11:00 a.m. on the first or second of November 1918, a thirteen-year-old boy waited at Vienna’s North Station for his father to return from the front. He waited for some hours, enduring the ice-cold wind blowing across the tracks. Decades later the boy will recall seeing, among the disembarking passengers after the train finally arrived, an officer shouting at his orderly to pick up the pace. ThePutzfleck—to use the Habsburg imperial army’s label for such a servant—was loaded and overloaded with baggage, bathed in sweat despite the cold, barely able to lift his head. Still...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Rapture of Circulation and Schematicism
    (pp. 21-32)

    On 11 March 1932, theFrankfurter Zeitungpublished a sketch by Siegfried Kracauer of a gloomy railway underpass near the Charlottenburg Station in Berlin. The ceiling, constructed of countless riveted iron girders, appears to the author to sink gradually deeper and deeper into the earth, prompting comparison to a nightmare. Pedestrians passing through the tunnel seemed gripped in permanent displeasure. A few chronic inhabitants—a baker in white, a beggar with a harmonica, an old woman—are reduced to reliefs against sooty brick walls, absorbed into the functionality of the underpass while others, bent on their individual courses, lacking the...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Conduct Code of the Cool Persona
    (pp. 33-100)

    The historical avant-garde of the years 1910–30 is fascinated by characters with simple contours. Free of the complexity of deep psychological structures, these characters appear as “metallized bodies,” innocent of organic frailty. Armored, they hold their own in the “force field of destructive currents.”¹ They strive for the greatest possible mobility and are constantly alert, “as if they had an electric bell going off nonstop inside them.”² They avoid public displays of emotion. If they should happen to suffer fatigue, they say only, with Charles Lindbergh in Brecht’sOzeanflug:“Carry me off to a dark hangar, so no one...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Cool Persona in New Objectivity Literature; or, Figures Devoured by the Shadows They Cast
    (pp. 101-186)

    The era of the first republic set the pain of separation and the desire for fusion—two sources of aesthetic fascination—at opposing extremes.¹ A bourgeois culture of shadings and mixed temperatures gives way to aesthetic segregation, the polarization of life spheres, and a fascination with distinct boundaries and clear contours. The phenomenon of fluid boundaries becomes as suspect in politics as in aesthetics. The art of terrible simplification grows attractive, not only because it offers relief, but primarily because it is terrible. In the hothouse climate resulting from rampant status inconsistencies, variations on cool make it possible to register...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Radar Type
    (pp. 187-194)

    In the middle of the twentieth century the sociologist David Riesman observed a new character type in American cities. Speaking of the “other-directed character” in 1950, he noted how difficult it was to define.¹ And within the German tradition, familiar historical assumptions and cultural antipathy made the figure even more difficult to perceive: witness research into the gray hordes of white-collar employees in the 1920s, studies of the “authoritarian character” during the 1930s, institution theory in the 1940s and 1950s, and construction of “one-dimensional man” in the 1960s. The new objectivity generation identified an “other-directed” figure and accorded it the...

  10. CHAPTER SIX The Creature
    (pp. 195-214)

    The creature illuminates the other side of modern consciousness. The opposition to the radar type, as manifest in their respective orientations toward the mass media, could not be greater. While the radar type moves among the mass communication media like a fish in water, the creature feels put upon. Unable to decipher the signals to its own advantage, the creature faces an impenetrable destiny.

    The logic of a book that begins with conduct codes for the cool persona and ends with the creature nourishes an expectation that this final figure will emerge as the epitome of unmasked essence. It suggests...

  11. Afterword
    (pp. 215-216)

    In the 1930s and 1940s action theories of balance—conduct codes and handbooks to help the new objectivity individual compensate for a “basic lack of equilibrium”—were put to the severest tests. The duelist’s favored slogan,distinguo ergo sum, was taken over by state institutions. The furor over distinguishing, one of the few manias the cool persona permitted itself, took on the form of a “purification” of all political camps. In the shadow of the dictatorship, the only possible basis for authentic decisions could be the conscience. Intellectuals in exile reacted by recasting codes of conduct that allowed them to...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 217-238)
  13. Index
    (pp. 239-249)