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German Literary Culture at the Zero Hour

German Literary Culture at the Zero Hour

Stephen Brockmann
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    German Literary Culture at the Zero Hour
    Book Description:

    In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, German intellectuals and writers were forced to confront perhaps the most difficult complex of problems ever faced by modern intellectuals in the western world: the complete defeat and devastation of their country, the crimes of the Hitler dictatorship, the onset of the Cold War, and ultimately the political division of the nation. To a large extent these debates took place in literature and literary discourse, and they continue to have pressing relevance for Germany today, when the country is rediscovering and exploring this previously neglected period in literature and film. Yet the period has been neglected in scholarship, and is little understood; for the first time in English, this book offers a systematic overview of the hotly contested intellectual debates of this period: the problem of German guilt, the question of the return of literary and political émigrés such as Thomas Mann, the relevance of the cultural tradition of German humanism for the postwar period, the threat of nihilism, the politicization of literature, and the status of German young people who had been indoctrinated by the Nazis. Stephen Brockmann challenges the received wisdom that the immediate postwar period in Germany was intellectually barren, characterized primarily by silence on the major issues of the day; he reveals, in addition to attempts to obfuscate those issues, a German intellectual--and literary--world characterized by an often high level of dialogue and debate. Stephen Brockmann is professor of German at Carnegie Mellon University. He is the recipient of the 2007 DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in German and European Studies/Humanities.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-652-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    S. M. B.
  4. Introduction: The Zero Hour
    (pp. 1-20)

    Although the immediate postwar period known to Germans as the “Stunde Null” (zero hour) laid the foundation for the subsequent development of literary and political culture in the two German states that emerged in 1949 and the reunified Germany that succeeded them in 1990, it has received surprisingly little attention in literary scholarship, particularly in English. Most literary histories of the postwar period tend to stress the importance of figures like the later Nobel prizewinners Heinrich Böll and Günter Grass, who emerged as major writers over the course of the 1950s, while eliding the complex and contradictory literary-cultural situation of...

  5. 1: The Consciousness of German Guilt
    (pp. 21-70)

    In a 1946 article in the Deutsche Rundschau, Rudolf Pechel suggested that the question of German guilt “is perhaps the most difficult problem, faced by us all, without exception.”¹ Whether explicitly articulated or not, the problem of guilt lay at the root of many intellectual debates in the postwar period, from the dispute between “inner emigrants” and exiles to discussions of German youth and their predicament; it was, as Barbro Eberan has suggested, “a mirror of German self-understanding” in the years after the war.² Martin Niemöller declared in 1946 that the problem of guilt “is the real question behind all...

  6. 2: The Writer, the Conscience, and Absolute Presence
    (pp. 71-89)

    Koeppen’s Der Tod in Rom is one indication that postwar German culture generally and literature specifically were fundamentally implicated in and cognizant of a nexus of knowledge, guilt, and catastrophe. However Der Tod in Rom was not published until 1954, well after the zero hour itself. It shows one postwar German writer’s response to the situation that had led Johannes R. Becher, in January of 1946, to express a desire for the development of “something like a . . . national conscience” in and around the zero hour,¹ but as a work that appeared almost a decade after the zero...

  7. 3: Two Kinds of Emigration
    (pp. 90-114)

    The physical and political devastation of Germany in 1945 was compounded by a moral, spiritual, intellectual, and cultural devastation that, while particularly evident at war’s end, had begun long before 1945. Germany’s intellectual ruin was intensified by the loss of many of its major talents, who had left the country during the 1930s. The National Socialists’ persecution of independent artists, writers, and scientists precipitated an intellectual exile that was unprecedented in human history. Germany lost thousands of its most talented and educated citizens, from writers like Bertolt Brecht and Anna Seghers to scientists like Albert Einstein. Peter Gay has rightly...

  8. 4: The Property of the Nation
    (pp. 115-141)

    In a 1949 manifesto proclaiming the importance of Goethe for postwar Germans, the Socialist Unity Party (Sozialistische Einheitspartei or SED) of Germany — soon to become the ruling party of the German Democratic Republic — expressed thoughts that directly echoed those of Thomas Mann, and which helped to explain why authorities in the Soviet zone believed it was so important for them to secure Mann’s visit to Weimar that year. Goethe, declared the SED’s manifesto, “embodied German spiritual and linguistic unity in a torn and splintered Germany. He had a decisive role in the formation of German national consciousness.”³ Otto Grotewohl, a...

  9. 5: Yogis and Commissars
    (pp. 142-169)

    With increasing insistence after 1945, German writers asked: what is the political role of literature? This question went beyond the ethical question of the writer’s relationship to political authority in a totalitarian state; implicitly and explicitly, men and women of letters asked not just what they should have been doing during the Nazi dictatorship but also what they should do in the future, during the postwar period then beginning. As Ernst Wiechert put it in an impassioned article published in January of 1946, “What we must ask ourselves is no longer or not yet the question how it could have...

  10. 6: A German Generation Gap?
    (pp. 170-207)

    Given the apparent moral bankruptcy of several generations of German leaders culminating in the cultural, political, military, and economic disaster of the Third Reich, it was only natural that the end of the Second World War saw a widespread interest in the search for a younger generation untainted by association with Nazi crimes. As Rudolf Schneider-Schelde, a Munich writer and the editor of a 1946 collection of essays devoted to the problem of youth, put it, “the world is worried about the subject of youth.”¹ The supposed historical superiority of the younger generation in Germany in 1945 found expression two...

  11. 7: The Darkening of Consciousness
    (pp. 208-240)

    Ernst Jünger was one of the first Germans to speak consistently of the period around the end of the Second World War as a Nullpunkt (zero point) in modern history. For Jünger, and for many other German conservatives, the zero of the Nullpunkt implied nothingness and its philosophical counterpart, nihilism: the belief in nothing and no one. In an attempt to describe the basic premise of this world view, the Munich psychologist Philipp Lersch declared in 1947 that nihilism is “the conviction that behind everything that human beings can desire and expect from life stands the cheerless emptiness of absolute...

  12. Postscript: Revisiting the Zero Hour
    (pp. 241-262)

    During the immediate postwar period no single phrase monopolized designations of the current era. Many phrases competed with each other, each suggesting a slightly different point of view. Jünger’s “Nullpunkt” implied a spatial perspective. Words like “crisis” and “catastrophe” suggested a state of affairs, while noun forms derived from verbs, like “end,” “decline,” and “collapse,” implied a process taking place over time, and hence focused attention on an earlier, no longer sustainable state of affairs. Holthusen’s “tabula rasa” suggested a volumetric perspective, emphasizing not what had been eliminated but rather the infinite possibility of the new, an emptiness yet to...

  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 263-284)
  14. Index
    (pp. 285-295)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 296-296)