22 Feb

Literature as a cultural and spiritual resource in modern societies

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mindenm Modern German Literature is a case study of literature as a cultural and spiritual resource in modern societies. It is as much about literature, as a variety of social and artistic practices, as it is about Germany. It is neither literary criticism nor literary history but something in between.   It asks what kind of resource many different kinds of writing in German from many different parts of Europe have been in the period one could roughly describe as ‘modernity’. I understand this to mean the part of European history that goes from the high tide of the Enlightenment in the middle of the eighteenth century to the end of the Cold War in 1989, when it finally ceased to be possible to believe that capitalism meant freedom simply because it was not state-controlled.

Beginning with the emergence of German language literature on the international stage, the book plays down the familiar labels and periods of German literary history in favour of the explanatory force of international cultural impact and symbiosis. It explores, for instance, how specifically German and Austrian conditions shaped major contributions to European literary culture such as Romanticism and the ‘language scepticism’ of the early twentieth century.

From the First World War until reunification in 1990, Germany’s defining experiences have been ones of catastrophe. Abandoning chronology, the book provides an overview of the different ways in which German literature responded to historical disaster. They are, firstly, modernism (the ‘literature of negation’), secondly, literature under totalitarian regimes (the Third Reich and the German Democratic Republic), and thirdly, the various creative strategies and evasions of the capitalist democratic multi-medial cultures of the Weimar and Federal Republics.

The book aims at a balance between textual analysis and cultural theory, hoping to combine intellectual independence with usefulness to readers who wish to learn about a body of significant European literature.

D r Michael Minden is Senior Lecturer in the Department of German and Dutch at Jesus College, University of Cambridge.