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A Poet's Reich

A Poet's Reich: Politics and Culture in the George Circle

Melissa S. Lane
Martin A. Ruehl
Volume: 108
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    A Poet's Reich
    Book Description:

    Stefan George (1868-1933) was one of the most important figures in modern German culture. His poetry, in its originality and impact, has been ranked with that of Goethe and Hölderlin. Yet George's reach extended beyond the sphere of literature. In the early 1900s, he gathered around himself a circle of disciples who subscribed to his vision of comprehensive cultural-spiritual renewal and sought to turn it into reality. The ideas of the George Circle profoundly affected Germany's educated middle class, especially in the aftermath of the First World War, when their critique of bourgeois liberalism, materialism, and scholarship (‘Wissenschaft’) as well as their call for new forms of leadership (‘Herrschaft’) and a new Reich found wider resonance. The essays collected in the present volume critically re-examine these ideas, their contexts, and their influence. They provide new perspectives on the intersection of culture and politics in the works of the George Circle, not least its ambivalent relationship to National Socialism. Contributors: Adam Bisno, Richard Faber, Rüdiger Görner, Peter Hoffmann, Thomas Karlauf, Melissa S. Lane, Robert E. Lerner, David Midgley, Robert E. Norton, Ray Ockenden, Ute Oelmann, Martin A. Ruehl, Bertram Schefold. Melissa S. Lane is Professor of Politics at Princeton University. Martin A. Ruehl is Lecturer in German Thought and Fellow of Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-759-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Melissa S. Lane and Martin A. Ruehl
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)
    Melissa S. Lane and Martin A. Ruehl

    Stefan George (1868–1933) was one of the most important figures in modern German culture. His poetry, in its originality and impact, was ranked by many contemporaries with that of Goethe and Hölderlin. The two collections of his early verse, Das Jahr der Seele (1897) and Der Teppich des Lebens (1899), still stand as landmarks in the history of early modernism, alongside his celebrated translations of Dante and Baudelaire. George’s significance, however, transcended the sphere of literature. At the beginning of the twentieth century, he gathered around himself a coterie of predominantly younger men, later known as the George Kreis,...

  7. I: Members and Mores

    • 1: The George Circle: From Künstlergesellschaft to Lebensgemeinschaft
      (pp. 25-36)
      Ute Oelmann

      In November 1903, an announcement on the front page of the Verzeichnis der Erscheinungen der Blätter für die Kunst, printed in bicolor on beige laid paper, introduced readers to a “Gesellschaft der Blätter für die Kunst.”¹ In fact, this “Gesellschaft” had already been in existence for almost twelve years. It was introduced here retrospectively, in order to correct a certain image it had recently acquired in the public eye. The “Gesellschaft der Blätter für die Kunst,” the authors of the announcement stressed, was a loose association “künstlerischer und ästhetischer menschen” rather than a secret society (“geheime[r] bund”), as the public...

    • 2: Stefan George’s Homoerotic Erlösungsreligion, 1891–1907
      (pp. 37-55)
      Adam Bisno

      “Gestern sagte der M[eister] zu mir, ich sei noch frei wie ein Vogel, da ich noch nicht 16 Jahre sei. Meine Pflicht sei nur, hübsch auszusehen und nett zu sein,” Karl Josef Partsch wrote in his diary on 9 February 1930.¹ Partsch seemed to worry little about George’s appreciation of youthful male beauty. Not so Cyril Scott, who found it difficult to cope with George’s affections.² Maximilian Kronberger also expressed misgivings, even if he failed to register the homoerotic nature of the relationship. Hugo von Hofmannsthal, however, recognized George’s attentions for what they partly were, though a word for the...

    • 3: The Secret Germany of Gertrud Kantorowicz
      (pp. 56-78)
      Robert E. Lerner

      If one were to imagine a study called “The Women of the George Circle,” who would be among the cast of characters?¹ Given the Master’s gender preferences, the cast would not be large. One might include several women by virtue of their proximity to prominent disciples: Hanna Wolfskehl, Erika Wolters, Fine von Kahler — the last intimate with both Friedrich Gundolf and Ernst Kantorowicz. But these women, however lively, had rather little independent intellectual profile. One might consider as well two women George knew and for whom he showed respect: Georg Simmel’s wife Gertrud, who wrote books on philosophical and...

  8. II: Poetry, Prophecy, Publics

    • 4: The Poet as Idol: Friedrich Gundolf on Rilke and Poetic Leadership
      (pp. 81-90)
      Rüdiger Görner

      Whatever organizes itself in the shape of a circle, or ring, signals that it intends to contradict the idea of linear progression or evolutionary development. In this context, movement only seems to serve the purpose of completing circles, and the obvious suggestion or implication is that one can, at least potentially, come full circle at any time. Furthermore, forming circles reflects an attempt of kindred spirits to share a certain set of values and beliefs. By the same token, the circle should also be seen as an answer to the ever-fragmenting experience of modernity.

      The ring as a dominant poetic...

    • 5: Kingdom of the Spirit: The Secret Germany in Stefan George’s Later Poems
      (pp. 91-116)
      Ray Ockenden

      My title indicates a concern to offer some kind of counterweight to the sociological, historical and biographical considerations with which this volume is largely concerned. At the start of her magisterial work on the George Circle, Carola Groppe noted: “Seit den achtziger Jahren ist das Interesse an George und vor allem an seinem Kreis wieder gestiegen . . . Georges Lyrik wird weniger wichtig, entscheidend werden sozial- und kulturhistorische Fragestellungen; das Interesse reicht zudem weit über die Fachgrenze der Germanistik hinaus.”¹

      This tendency has notably increased since the publication of her book, as is reflected in publications concerning the scholarly...

    • 6: The Absentee Prophet: Public Perceptions of George’s Poetry in the Weimar Period
      (pp. 117-130)
      David Midgley

      When Stefan George died in December 1933, an obituary appeared in the exile journal Das neue Tagebuch, which is remarkable for both its judicious respect and its trenchant critique. The author was the prominent liberal essayist Ludwig Marcuse, and the article began as follows:

      Wenn heute alle Deutschen, die um den Dichter Stefan George trauern, an seinem frischen Grabe sich versammeln würden, so würde eine seltsam-bunte Trauergesellschaft zusammenkommen. Die erbittertsten Feinde würden hier nebeneinander stehen und sich empört fragen, mit welchem Recht eigentlich der Nachbar es wagt, sich zu diesem Toten zu bekennen. Müßte dann aber jeder Trauergast in einem...

  9. III: Wissenschaft and Herrschaft

    • 7: The Platonic Politics of the George Circle: A Reconsideration
      (pp. 133-163)
      Melissa S. Lane

      That Plato became a passionate concern of Stefan George and his Circle is not in doubt. Some twenty-six books about Plato were published by members of the Circle, culminating in Platon: Der Kampf des Geistes um die Macht (1933) by the medical doctor and philosopher Kurt Hildebrandt. Yet even before Hildebrandt’s book was published, external discussion of Plato’s importance for the Circle had already begun with Franz Josef Brecht’s 1929 Platon und der George-Kreis.¹ It is well known that Friedrich Wolters’s reference to the Circle as a “staat” was a deliberate invocation of Plato’s Republic. In particular, as Peter Hoffmann...

    • 8: Political Economy as Geisteswissenschaft: Edgar Salin and Other Economists around George
      (pp. 164-203)
      Bertram Schefold

      The aim of this essay is to examine the role of the economists among Stefan George’s followers and the more distant associates of his Circle.¹ Many of those followers — in my view the best and closest — either emigrated after 1933 or eventually joined the opposition against Hitler and the Nazi regime.² That they included a large number of economists is striking not least because George, having rejected the socio-economic corollaries of modernity, did not contemplate any alternative models of economic organization.³ He did not call for a planned economy nor did he envision any economic utopias, and he...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • 9: “Imperium transcendat hominem”: Reich and Rulership in Ernst Kantorowicz’s Kaiser Friedrich der Zweite
      (pp. 204-248)
      Martin A. Ruehl

      Ernst Kantorowicz (1895–1963), though only a junior member of the George Circle in the 1920s, is now generally considered one of its preeminent figures. He is the subject of three biographies, numerous articles, and the secret hero of Ulrich Raulff’s recent study on George’s afterlife.¹ The cumulative effect of these publications could be described as hagiographical. Kantorowicz, a former Freikorps soldier and an outspoken critic of the democratic and cosmopolitan features of the Weimar Republic, is celebrated as an “arch-liberal” and a “modern humanist,” who bravely defended the “Weimarian principles of tolerance and safeguarding human dignity” after the Nazi...

  10. VI: The New Reich and the Third Reich

    • 10: Third Reich and Third Europe: Stefan George’s Imperial Mythologies in Context
      (pp. 251-268)
      Richard Faber

      For most National Socialist propagandists, the German Reich began with the Saxon king Henry the Fowler (876–936) and his imperial descendants.¹ They denounced Charlemagne, accordingly, as the butcher of the Saxons (Sachsenschlächter) and a traitor to the national cause, because he championed the idea of Rome.² The reprobation of Charlemagne on the part of German nationalists had long been fuelled by racial as well as kleindeutsch and Protestant concerns. Hitler himself took a different view: “Wenn wir überhaupt einen Weltanspruch erheben wollen,” he declared in February 1942, “müssen wir uns auf die deutsche Kaisergeschichte berufen. Die Kaisergeschichte ist das...

    • 11: From Secret Germany to Nazi Germany: The Politics of Art before and after 1933
      (pp. 269-286)
      Robert E. Norton

      In 1927, the Austrian writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal gave a lecture at the University of Munich with the significantly untranslatable title “Das Schrifttum als geistiger Raum der Nation.” One might reasonably render it as “Literature as the Spiritual Domain of a Nation.” But it is notable that the first three operative words in the English version — namely, “literature,” “spiritual,” and “domain” — are of Latin origin, whereas the original words “Schrifttum,” “geistig,” and “Raum” are all unmistakably and intractably Germanic.¹ And that was, in part, the point of Hofmannsthal’s lecture: he proposed that the literature of a people, the...

    • 12: The George Circle and National Socialism
      (pp. 287-316)
      Peter Hoffmann

      Stefan George declared himself a revolutionary.¹ When Ernst Robert Curtius visited him on 16 April 1911, George remarked: “Manche meinen, in meinen Büchern sei nur Künstlerisches enthalten, nicht der Wille zum neuen Menschlichen. Ganz falsch! Algabal ist ein revolutionäres Buch.” In 1919, again in conversation with Curtius, George described his books as prophetic, explaining that Geist always found the necessary solutions first, and that events lagged behind.² But which solutions did George have in mind, and which events might be said to have resulted from them? Did he call for “spirits from the vasty deep,” and did they come?³ Were...

    • 13: Stauffenberg: The Search for a Motive
      (pp. 317-332)
      Thomas Karlauf

      When Stefan George is discussed today outside the seminar rooms of German departments, it is usually in the context of Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg. At the end of his expansive study Secret Germany: Stefan George and His Circle, Robert Norton, too, touches on Stauffenberg and his plot to assassinate Hitler. Having devoted more than seven hundred pages to demonstrate, with the zeal of an inquisitor, that a direct line led from George to Hitler, Norton’s decision to conclude his book with a portrait of Stauffenberg seems somewhat puzzling. It is by no means clear why Stauffenberg, who had been...

  11. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 333-336)
  12. Index
    (pp. 337-350)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 351-351)