Germanic Languages | Historical Study of German Literature IV (1900-present)
G577 | 22328 | Benjamin Robinson


4:00-5:15 / TR
Topic: Weimar Republic: Objectivity/Performance/Pathos

We start with a conceptual problem in the representation of what was
new in Weimar social life—how to grasp it in a manner suitable to the
technological precision and the mass political demographics of
modernity. Without taking the rubric “neue Sachlichkeit” in any strict
sense, the course engages a variety of cultural responses to the
perceived failings of prewar expressionism in art and politics in the
context of the postwar Republic. This particularly fertile culture
period can overwhelm historical approaches to literature, so we will
shape our approach by focusing on two strands of thought about the
era. One strand, represented by Helmut Lethen’s 1994 Verhaltenslehre
der Kälte, uses an anthropology of performance to characterize the
era’s insight into the constructedness of public identity in the era
of mass culture—an approach resonant with the performativity theorized
in the work of Judith Butler. Helmut Plessner’s political
anthropology, which underlies Lethen’s approach, specifically opposed
the extreme pathos of Weimar political life. Another strand,
represented by Detlev Peukert’s 1987 Weimar Republik. Krisenjahre der
klassischen Moderne, use a semantics of crisis to characterize the era
in terms of ruptures, rather than constructions, of identity. Here,
the unmanaged social extremes of modernity take center stage in
defining Weimar’s particular historical qualities, above all, its
cathartic political gestures. Between crisis and performance, then,
lies a range of works that seek to rearticulate a dynamic basis for
living in modernity: in the most formalistic sense of classical
rhetoric these works try to establish the proper mixture of logos,
ethos and pathos for capturing the reality of Weimar. We will
alternate between theoretical attempts to conceptualize what was
happening in the interwar era, and narrative-essayistic
exemplifications and descriptions of this particular modern
experience. The course aims to provide a historically specific
overview of Weimar culture as well as to indicate some theoretical
problems of representation and reference in modernity more generally.

Our reading will include fiction by Ludwig Renn, Marieluise Fleißer
and Robert Musil; essays that run the gamut from Siegfried Kracauer
and Edmund Husserl to Peter Sloterdijk; diaries by Harry Graf Kessler;
verses by Bertolt Brecht; essay collages by Kurt Tucholsky; and advice
from the erstwhile dada-ist and conman Walter Serner. Helmut
Plessner’s criticism of radicalism will be contrasted with the divine
violence of Bloch and Benjamin. Our main background reading are the
texts by Peukert and Lethen—I suggest reading them before the start of
the seminar: they will serve as foils and guides, not as direct
discussion material during the semester (both are also available in
English translation).

Texts:
Kurt Tucholsky, Deutschland, Deutschland über alles Rowohlt 1989
(ISBN: 3499146118)

Ludwig Renn, Nachkrieg Das Neue Berlin 2004 (ISBN: 3360012461)

Detlev Peukert, Weimarer Republik Suhrkamp 1987 (ISBN: 3518112821)

Helmuth Plessner, Grenzen der Gemeinschaft: Eine Kritik des sozialen
Radikalismus Suhrkamp 2004 (ISBN: 3518291408)

Helmuth Lethen, Verhaltenslehre der Kälte: Lebensversuche zwischen den
Kriegen  Suhrkamp 1994 (ISBN: 3518118846)

Bertolt Brecht Hauspostille Suhrkamp 1999 (ISBN: 3518395416)

Harry, Graf Kessler, Tagebücher 1918-1937 Insel 1996 (ISBN: 3458334793)

Marie-Luise Fleißer, Eine Zierde für den Verein  Suhrkamp 1975 (ISBN:
3518367943)