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Weimar Publics/Weimar Subjects

Weimar Publics/Weimar Subjects: Rethinking the Political Culture of Germany in the 1920s

Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 420
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    Weimar Publics/Weimar Subjects
    Book Description:

    In spite of having been short-lived, "Weimar" has never lost its fascination. Until recently the Weimar Republic's place in German history was primarily defined by its catastrophic beginning and end - Germany's defeat in 1918 and the Nazi seizure of power in 1933; its history seen mainly in terms of politics and as an arena of flawed decisions and failed compromises. However, a flourishing of interdisciplinary scholarship on Weimar political culture is uncovering arenas of conflict and change that had not been studied closely before, such as gender, body politics, masculinity, citizenship, empire and borderlands, visual culture, popular culture and consumption. This collection offers new perspectives from leading scholars in the disciplines of history, art history, film studies, and German studies on the vibrant political culture of Germany in the 1920s. From the traumatic ruptures of defeat, revolution, and collapse of the Kaiser's state, the visionaries of Weimar went on to invent a republic, calling forth new citizens and cultural innovations that shaped the republic far beyond the realms of parliaments and political parties.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-846-1
    Subjects: History

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)
    (pp. ix-ix)
    Kerstin Barndt, Kathleen Canning and Kristin McGuire
  5. List of Contributors
    (pp. x-xiv)
  6. INTRODUCTION: Weimar Subjects/Weimar Publics: Rethinking the Political Culture of Germany in the 1920s
    (pp. 1-28)

    The place of the Weimar Republic in Germany’s twentieth century has been defined by its catastrophic beginnings and end—Germany’s defeat in 1918 and the Nazi seizure of power in 1933. Weimar’s history has, until recently, been preoccupied with politics as an arena of flawed decisions and failed compromises. The fault lines in Weimar politics have been exhaustively analyzed and debated in the search for answers to the question, both political and moral, of how those fissures enabled the Nazis to rise to power, more or less legally, in 1933. Weimar culture was characterized by its own contradictions—“exuberant creativity...

  7. Part I. Defeat and the Legacy of War

    • CHAPTER 1 The Return of the Undead: Weimar Cinema and the Great War
      (pp. 31-41)

      German cinema in the wake of the First World War is haunted by images of ghosts, monsters, and comatose creatures. It appears as if the movies themselves are looking for ways to cope with the experience of death on a massive scale—the central experience of the First World War when two million young German men were killed in the span of four years. The trauma of “accelerated dying,” as Rilke put it in 1914, had a profound impact on all cultural production after the war, but especially on cinema, which, barely twenty years old, was still in the process...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Work of Art and the Problem of Politics in Berlin Dada
      (pp. 42-65)

      “Der Kunstlump” [The Art Scoundrel] is a diatribe by Berlin Dadaists George Grosz and John Heartfield that appeared in the journalDer Gegner[The Opponent] in April 1920. Notorious for its “anti-art” stance, “Der Kunstlump” was written in response to an appeal by Oskar Kokoschka in which the Expressionist painter and playwright had beseeched the German public to take measures to ensure the preservation of the cultural heritage under conditions of civic unrest. In a statement that ran in more than forty German newspapers in March 1920, Kokoschka implored those involved in violent political conflict to avoid damaging works of...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Secret History of Photomontage: On the Origins of the Composite Form and the Weimar Photomontages of Marianne Brandt
      (pp. 66-92)

      Faced with an explosion of photographically based, printed mass-media during the period of the Weimar Republic, a number of avant-garde artists turned images from illustrated papers into ready-mades for the medium of photomontage. By cutting up and repositioning the illustrated press’s pictures from everyday experience and political events, photomonteurs created often playful works that also functioned as a sophisticated mode of imbedded cultural critique. While a number of artists would later claim to have invented the medium of montage, it is clear that all were inspired by earlier forms of popular and private imagery, including advertising, postcards, and scrapbooks. Yet...

  8. Part II. New Citizens/New Subjectivities

    • CHAPTER 4 Mothers, Citizens, and Consumers: Female Readers in Weimar Germany
      (pp. 95-115)

      “Women need books, and books need women.” For a particular moment in 1931, the circular logic of this slogan captured the spirit of a heated debate about reading, gender, and culture in the late Weimar Republic. In a massive stream of publications, lectures, advertising campaigns, and other public interventions, publishers, politicians, and feminists probed the relationship of women and books as seldom before. While these groups tried to understand and shape contemporary shifts between gendered acts of reading and the public acts of publishing, selling, and politicking, women readers themselves also raised their voices, clamoring for inclusion as equal partners...

    • CHAPTER 5 Claiming Citizenship: Suffrage and Subjectivity in Germany after the First World War
      (pp. 116-137)

      In the aftermath of war and revolution in Germany, citizenship emerged as a new political imaginary. In this essay I analyze through the lens of citizenship a prolonged moment of crisis and transformation in German history, in which a war was lost, an empire crumbled, and a revolution ushered in a decade of experiments in democracy unprecedented in German history. I am concerned here with the rhetorical and legal processes that framed, instituted, and embodied women’s citizenship during the early years of the Weimar Republic. I argue here that gender inflected both the symbolics and subjectivities of this citizenship, which...

    • CHAPTER 6 Feminist Politics beyond the Reichstag: Helene Stöcker and Visions of Reform
      (pp. 138-152)

      Headlines in Berlin dailies in the early months of 1919—and especially in the women’s press—were full of calls for women to recognize their privileges and duties as citizens (Staatsbürgerinnen) of the new republic. Slogans such as “Women, learn to vote!” “Women in the forefront!” and “Voting rights are voting duties!” called women into the new democratic polity where they were to be equal, voting members. Gaining suff rage and constitutional equality marked a moment of triumph for many women who had been active in suff rage campaigns since the late nineteenth century. Th e enthusiasm surrounding the vote...

    • CHAPTER 7 Producing Jews: Maternity, Eugenics, and the Embodiment of the Jewish Subject
      (pp. 153-172)

      As we consider how to “rethink Weimar” with respect to the history of German Jews, it is useful to reflect upon the ways in which the question of what constituted “Jewish difference” simultaneously fueled the nineteenth-centuryJudenfrageand gave rise to numerous Jewish reconceptualizations of both Judaism and Jewishness. Within contemporary historiography, historians have sometimes approached the issue of “Jewish difference” in conflicting ways. Jewish historians have tended towards overemphasizing Jewish distinctiveness, not only because of their a priori interest in the Jews as a group, but also because of their emphasis on those aspects of Jewish life that distinguished...

  9. Part III. Symbols, Rituals, and Discourses of Democracy

    • CHAPTER 8 Reforming the Reich: Democratic Symbols and Rituals in the Weimar Republic
      (pp. 175-191)

      It is a historiographical commonplace that the Weimar Republic lacked the symbolic appeal to bind collective sentiment and win widespread popular support.¹ The historian Detlev Peukert, in an important study of the period, argues that the first German democracy had no founding ritual, and that the absence of such a central symbolic moment in national history contributed to the republic’s general lack of legitimacy.² His assessment is sustained not at least by major democrats of the period, who testify to the republic’s dearth of “propagandistic charisma.”³ Gustav Radbruch, a major representative of the Weimar SPD, for instance, states that the...

    • CHAPTER 9 High Expectations—Deep Disappointment: Structures of the Public Perception of Politics in the Weimar Republic
      (pp. 192-210)

      The legitimacy and stability of a political system depends not only on its “real” capacities but also on the expectations placed upon it.¹ The higher the expectations, the fewer political options the system has, since disappointment is a constant threat. If there are political alternatives (which, unlike in the US and Great Britain, was generally the case for continental Europe until long after the Second World War), political stability can often be viewed as less the result of a system’s effectiveness than of the lower expectations that have been placed upon it. This may, in fact, help explain the stability...

    • CHAPTER 10 Contested Narratives of the Weimar Republic: The Case of the “Kutisker-Barmat Scandal”
      (pp. 211-235)

      The so-called Kutisker-Barmat scandal unfolded in the first half of 1925, when Reich President Friedrich Ebert, along with other leading Social Democrats and members of the Center Party, were accused of being corrupted byOstjuden(Jews from Eastern Europe) who supposedly had used their political connections to procure by fraud and bribery large loans from the Prussian State Bank and the Postal Service. The prelude to the affair started at the end of 1924 when it became clear these loans could not be repaid. The arrest of the Lithuanian citizen Iwan Kutisker in mid-December 1924 and of Julius and Henry...

    • CHAPTER 11 Political Violence, Contested Public Space, and Reasserted Masculinity in Weimar Germany
      (pp. 236-254)

      As Richard Bessel has noted, Weimar Germany in many respects remained a postwar society.¹ A shaky economy and deep divisions of opinion about the political system seemed to preclude the reconstruction of peacetime stability. Political violence is often seen as both a symptom and a cause of these divisions. Thus, studies of the Weimar Republic have emphasized the links between those soldiers who joined theFreikorpsin 1919 because they were unable to readjust to civilian life and the Nazi stormtroopers of the early 1930s.² However, as this essay attempts to show, the political violence that ultimately pervaded and helped...

  10. Part IV. Publics, Publicity, and Mass Culture

    • CHAPTER 12 “A Self-Representation of the Masses”: Siegfried Kracauer’s Curious Americanism
      (pp. 257-278)

      In his review of a Berlin operetta production in February of 1933, Siegfried Kracauer contrasts the small chorus lines of “Girls” and “Boys” with their American prototype and refers to the latter as “a self-representation of the masses subject to the process of mechanization.”¹ At first glance, this formulation seems untouched by the critical ambivalence that marks Kracauer’s famous essay on “The Mass Ornament” (1927), not to mention his disillusioned indictment of American chorus lines in “Girls and Crisis” (1931). However, as I will try to show, the idea that mass culture might harbor the possibility of an aesthetic and...

    • CHAPTER 13 Neither Masses nor Individuals: Representations of the Collective in Interwar German Culture
      (pp. 279-301)

      The image was made by the Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy in 1927, entitledMassenpsychoseor, alternatively,In the Name of the Law(Figure 13.1). It is one of Moholy-Nagy’s photoplastics, a mixed-media form that he experimented with during his years as a Bauhaus teacher. Moholy-Nagy emphasized that the photoplastic image portrays “concentrated situations” that can be developed instantaneously through associations.¹ An Eskimo would be unable to understand a photoplastic sheet, he claimed, because the image speaks only to viewers accustomed to an urban world characterized by the compression and simultaneity of objects and events. The photoplastic image teaches such viewers...

    • CHAPTER 14 Cultural Capital in Decline: Inflation and the Distress of Intellectuals
      (pp. 302-318)

      For many Germans, inflation was one of the most decisive and traumatic experiences of the twentieth century, an experience that had repercussions far beyond the economic sphere. The ever faster-swelling stream of money betrayed long-held persuasions, swept away livelihoods, and destroyed the trust and confidence of a whole generation.

      At the root of the inflation was the German government’s attempt to finance the First World War and the reconstruction of the postwar society largely through loans and excessive printing of new money. Political and financial leaders—some willfully—disregarded the monetary consequences, and Germany underwent an inflationary process during and...

  11. Part V: Weimar Topographies

    • CHAPTER 15 Defining the Nation in Crisis: Citizenship Policy in the Early Weimar Republic
      (pp. 321-338)

      Between 1918 and 1922, revolution and postwar settlements radically altered the political map of Europe. Postwar treaties did not simply redistribute territory in Central and Eastern Europe; rather, by allowing the principle of national self-determination to govern the territorial arrangements of the postwar world, these settlements legitimated nationalism as the most important organizing principle of the region. Self-determination meant different things to Ukrainian peasants, the Czech proletariat, and Polish intellectuals, but the slogan’s power allowed it to capture the imagination of men and women across Central and Eastern Europe. New boundaries shaped national identities throughout the region, and at the...

    • CHAPTER 16 Gender and Colonial Politics after the Versailles Treaty
      (pp. 339-359)

      In November 1918, the revolutionary government of republican Germany proclaimed the political enfranchisement of women. In June 1919, Article 119 of the Versailles Treaty announced the disenfranchisement of German men and women as colonizers. These were tremendous changes for German women and for the colonialist movement. Yet colonialist women’s activism changed surprisingly little, and the Weimar Republic proved to be a time of vitality for the colonialist movement.

      The specific manner in which German decolonization took place profoundly shaped interwar colonialist activism. It took place at the hands of other colonial powers and at the end of the first “total”...

    • CHAPTER 17 The Economy of Experience in Weimar Germany
      (pp. 360-382)

      One of the defining features of political culture in the Weimar era was the conviction that Germany’s future depended on a fundamental replenishment of experience that would then be available for conversion into political and social capital. There was no agreement on just where these experiences might lie, but contemporaries repeatedly cast themselves as intrepid explorers of new dimensions of time and space to seek them out. They endeavored to open up unrealized sources of politically sustainable time to carry Germans forward or else attempted to divest themselves of outmoded practices and assumptions in order to finally maximize their ability...

    (pp. 383-401)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 402-406)