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Politics and Culture in Twentieth-Century Germany

Politics and Culture in Twentieth-Century Germany

William Niven
James Jordan
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Politics and Culture in Twentieth-Century Germany
    Book Description:

    The cultural history of 20th-century Germany, more perhaps than that of any other European country, was decisively influenced by political forces and developments. This volume of essays focuses on the relationship between German politics and culture, which is most obvious in the case of the Third Reich and the German Democratic Republic, where the one-party control of all areas of life was extended to the arts; these were expected to conform to the ideals of the day. But the relationship between politics and the arts has not always been one purely of coercion, censorship, collusion, and opportunism. Many writers greeted the First World War with quite voluntary enthusiasm; others conjured up the National Socialist revolution in intense Expressionist images long before 1933. The GDR was heralded by writers returning from Nazi exile as the anti-fascist answer to the Third Reich. And in West Germany, politics did not dictate artistic norms, nor was it greeted with any great enthusiasm among intellectuals, but writers did tend to ally themselves with particular parties. To an extent, the pre-1990 literary establishment in the Federal Republic was dominated by a left-liberal consensus that German division was the just punishment for Auschwitz. United Germany began its existence with a fierce literary debate in 1990-92, with leading literary critics arguing that East and West German literature had basically shored up the political order in the two countries. Now a new literature was required, one that was free of ideology, intensely subjective and experimental in its aesthetic. In 1998, the author Martin Walser called for an end to the author's role as "conscience of the nation" and for the right to subjective experience. This is the first book to examine this crucial relationship between politics and culture in Germany.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-622-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)
    William Niven

    On the eve of unification, a debate was triggered in the feuilletons of German newspapers by the publication of Christa Wolf’s “Erzählung” Was bleibt (1990), in which an author describes her life under surveillance by the East German Security Service (Stasi). This debate, known as the “Literaturstreit,” centered on Wolf herself, and on those other East German writers who had, in West Germany, formerly been admired for their between-the-lines criticism of the GDR.¹ Had they staged literary resistance, as Wolf’s story appeared to imply, or had they in reality been lackeys of the state, shoring it up to the bitter...

  4. From Nature to Modernism: The Concept and Discourse of Culture in Its Development from the Nineteenth into the Twentieth Century
    (pp. 23-42)
    Fritz Wefelmeyer

    The concept of culture has undergone such a highly complex process of development that it would be impossible in a short essay to highlight all its different facets. However, it is possible to gain some impression of this development during the course of the nineteenth century by looking at certain distinctions and definitions that are familiar from today’s academic discourse. One such definition is that of culture as an independent part of a three-fold social order, an idea that has become established over the last twenty or thirty years in a large number of social theories. Although the terms used...

  5. The German “Geist und Macht” Dichotomy: Just a Game of Red Indians?
    (pp. 43-62)
    Stuart Parkes

    In his book on France Vom Glück, Franzose zu sein, the popular journalist and author Ulrich Wickert makes the following claim:

    Die Vorstellung — Helmut Kohl oder Helmut Schmidt — käme auf die Idee, einen Roman, gar über Liebe (!) zu schreiben, würde das deutsche Publikum verwirren. Selbst Gerhard Schröder nähme das deutsche Volk einen literarischen Ausbruch — leider nicht ab. (1999: 200)

    While it is tempting to speculate on why Wickert should ascribe greater literary potential to the current chancellor than his two predecessors, this is not the issue here. What is interesting is the assumption that the worlds of literature and...

  6. “In the Exile of Internment” or “Von Versuchen, aus einer Not eine Tugend zu machen”: German-Speaking Women Interned by the British during the Second World War
    (pp. 63-88)
    Charmian Brinson

    In the course of the Second World War, around twenty-five thousand German-speaking men — from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia — and perhaps four thousand women,² many of them refugees from National Socialism, were held for varying periods of time in British prisons and alien internment camps. The subject of male internment and, in particular, the political, cultural, and educational activity that arose in the men’s camps, albeit in difficult circumstances, have been relatively well researched within the field of German exile studies. Comparatively little is known, however, about the efforts of the women to recreate forms of social, political, and cultural organization...

  7. “Deutschland lebt an der Nahtstelle, an der Bruchstelle”: Literature and Politics in Germany 1933–1950
    (pp. 89-106)
    David Basker

    The relationship between literature and politics in twentieth-century Germany is close and fascinating. In the course of the century the German nation passed through a series of huge political upheavals, each of which involved a public redefinition of what was politically, and even morally, acceptable in the present, measured against the immediate past. While the old imperial elites sought, more or less successfully, to resist such a redefinition under the parliamentary democracy of the Weimar Republic after the First World War, from 1933 the process of Gleichschaltung in the Nazi state ensured that new categories of what was politically acceptable...

  8. “Das habe ich getan, sagt mein Gedächtnis. Das kann ich nicht getan haben, sagt mein Stolz! . . .” History and Morality in Hochhuth’s Effis Nacht
    (pp. 107-124)
    Hans-Joachim Hahn

    Hochhuth's dramatic monologue belongs to the tradition of plays and novels concerned with Germany’s “unbewältigter Vergangenheit,” with its attempt to come to terms with the Nazi past, in the sense of understanding and accepting it. Coming to terms with this past has been a tortuously slow and painful process. It has often been stated that there was little evidence of a process of guilt recognition and a desire for atonement in the immediate aftermath of the war.

    The first generation of postwar writers, those associated with Gruppe 47, seem to have done little to promote the cause of Holocaust recognition...

  9. Stefan Heym and GDR Cultural Politics
    (pp. 125-142)
    Reinhard K. Zachau

    For years Stefan Heym led a Kafkaesque existence in the German Democratic Republic, where he lived and wrote his novels about people under socialism, but where most of his books were not published. Instead, all his novels were published in the West, where he became a hero and the most important spokesman for a free socialism in the GDR. In West Germany Heym was known as the ultimate “nonperson,” somebody who existed physically, but was not recognized as a person by East Germany’s Socialist Unity Party (SED). In this essay I will attempt to show how Heym was forced into...

  10. Reviving the Dead: Montage and Temporal Dislocation in Karls Enkel’s Liedertheater
    (pp. 143-162)
    David Robb

    The political song scene of the GDR in many ways illustrated the interdependence of culture and politics in that state. Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler’s Kampflieder, and indeed the whole tradition of 1920s proletarian artistic protest, was viewed as cultural Erbe and promoted as such. From the birth of the GDR onwards this tradition was nurtured in the schools, the army, and later in the Freie Deutsche Jugend (FDJ)-Singegruppen. Two writers who grew up through these institutions were Steffen Mensching (born 1958) and Hans-Eckardt Wenzel (born 1955). They are generally known in the context of the alternative young poets’ scene...

  11. Living Without Utopia: Four Women Writers’ Responses to the Demise of the GDR
    (pp. 163-184)
    Gisela Shaw

    It was in 1929, sixty years before the collapse of the German Democratic Republic, when the world economic crisis was picking up momentum and social and political tensions in Germany were rising fast, that the sociologist Karl Mannheim published his seminal work Ideologie und Utopie. Here Mannheim explores the significance of the utopian elements in our thinking and our experience, attributing to them a real impact on people’s actions and on social reality. Talking about his own time, he notes a disappearance of the utopian element, an absence of suspense, as politics is reduced to economics, our view of the...

  12. A Worm’s Eye View and a Bird’s Eye View: Culture and Politics in Berlin since 1989
    (pp. 185-200)
    Ulrike Zitzlsperger

    After a decade of transition,¹ Berlin, with its new skylines, now faces the challenges of its long-desired role as a metropolis. A period in which lack of normality was turned into an art form may be coming to an end. Simultaneously, the debate on the future of large cities in general makes it obvious that there is currently more at stake than one particular city.² While increasingly open to new definitions and interpretations, cities still offer possibilities of liberation in a wide variety of forms (see Diederichsen 1999: 22). But in contrast to London, Paris, or Los Angeles, Berlin — together...

  13. Remembering for the Future, Engaging with the Present: National Memory Management and the Dialectic of Normality in the “Berlin Republic”
    (pp. 201-226)
    Caroline Gay

    At the international conference on the Holocaust held in Stockholm in January 2000, Gerhard Schröder asserted: “Einen Schlußstrich unter die deutsche Geschichte kann niemand ziehen, und die überwältigende Mehrheit der Deutschen will das auch nicht.”¹ Even if the German population wanted to forget it would not be able to. It is a fact as obvious as it is paradoxical that at the beginning of the twenty-first century the Holocaust has become less of an event in history than one in current affairs. Take the first six months of the year 2000 alone when Germany witnessed the “symbolic” start of construction...

  14. “Wie kannst du mich lieben?”: “Normalizing” the Relationship between Germans and Jews in the 1990s Films Aimée und Jaguarand Meschugge
    (pp. 227-244)
    Stuart Taberner

    Since unification in 1990 Jews have been all the rage in Germany. Victor Klemperer’s Tagebücher 1933–1945 (1995) — serialized for television in 1999 — and Ruth Klüger’s weiter leben (1992) are only the two most outstanding examples of the current passion for what Thomas Kraft calls “jüdische Memorienliteratur” (2000: 11). Writer and journalist Maxim Biller is bizarrely popular, despite — or more likely because of — his insistent “Jewishness,” and a renamed Lea Rosh, the raucous television chat-show host, has cemented her celebrity status with her campaign for a Holocaust memorial in Berlin, armed only with a single Jewish grandfather and a prodigious...

  15. Models of the Intellectual in Contemporary France and Germany: Silence and Communication
    (pp. 245-262)
    John Marks

    The main argument of this essay relates to the ways in which French and German intellectuals in the postwar era have conceived of their own role and mode of activity in strikingly contrasting ways, particularly with regard to issues of communication and the public sphere. In very general terms, the most influential German model, theorized most lucidly and practiced most assiduously by Jürgen Habermas, has been that of the intellectual as a crucial and enabling stimulus to the construction of a public sphere in which citizens might develop an active and intersubjective discussion about political ends. In contrast, the most...

  16. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 263-264)
  17. Index
    (pp. 265-274)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 275-275)