Germanic Languages | "The Birth of the Nation from the Spirit of Culture"
G563 | 2820 | Chaouli

German 563: "The Birth of the Nation from the Spirit of Culture"

When I hear the word "culture," Goebbels is reputed to have
said, I reach for my gun. (What he intended to do next, is not
reported.) We will reach for books, in order better to grasp the
vexed relationship of culture and politics that has prevailed in
Germany and the German lands for quite a while. At times, it
seems as though the idea of culture was invented specifically to
avoid an engagement with politics: thus the quietism of Lutheran
Protestantism and of pietism, the differing attitudes towards
the church maintained by the French and German enlightenment,
the peculiar Innerlichkeit that has led so many thinkers and
artists to withdraw from the political arena would seem to draw
a wedge between the concepts of culture and politics. And yet,
the very conception of a German nation (including the one that
Goebbels relied on) is heavily indebted to a notion of cultural
identification. Thus at times, culture seems to be the only
thing that holds together the diverse peoples in the center of

The aim of the course, specifically designed as an introduction,
is to articulate the tension in these differing conceptions,
both historically and conceptually. Historically, the course
will have its focus in texts (literary, philosophical,
polemical, essayistic) drawn from the second half of the 18th
century through the 19th century, though it will make forays
both backwards and forwards in time. Conceptually, it will
attempt to disentangle ideas such as Volk, Nation, Heimat,
Kulturnation, Muttersprache, Nationaltheater, Nationalliteratur,
etc. We will look to work from contemporary cultural theory for
aid in this project.