A Dubious Past

Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism

Book 19
Univ of California Press
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A Dubious Past examines from a new perspective the legacy of Ernst Jünger (1895-1998), one of the most fascinating figures in twentieth-century German intellectual life. From the time he burst onto the literary scene with The Storms of Steel in the early 1920s until he reached Olympian age in a reunited Germany, Jünger's writings on a vast range of topics generated scores of controversies. In old age he became a cultural celebrity whose long life mirrored the tragic twists and turns of Germany's most difficult century.

Elliot Neaman's study reflects an impressive investigation of published and unpublished material, including letters, interviews, and other media. Through his analysis of Jünger's work and its reception over the years, he addresses central questions of German intellectual life, such as the postwar radical conservative interpretation of the Holocaust, divided memory, German identity, left and right critiques of civilization, and the political allegiances of the German and European political right. A Dubious Past reconceptualizes intellectual fascism as a sophisticated critique of liberal humanism and Marxism, one that should be seen as coherent and—for a surprising number of contemporary intellectuals—all too attractive.
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About the author

Elliot Y. Neaman is Associate Professor of History at the University of San Francisco.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Univ of California Press
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Published on
Sep 23, 1999
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Pages
329
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ISBN
9780520921917
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / European / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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The major essays of Dan Diner, who is widely read and quoted in Germany and Israel, are finally collected in an English edition. They reflect the author’s belief that the Holocaust transcends traditional patterns of historical understanding and requires an epistemologically distinct approach. One can no longer assume that actors as well as historians are operating in the same conceptual universe, sharing the same criteria of rational discourse. This is particularly true of victims and perpetrators, whose memories shape the distortions of historical narrative in ways often diametrically opposed.

The essays are divided into three groups. The first group talks about anti-Semitism in the context of the 1930s and the ideologies that drove the Nazi regime. The second group concentrates on the almost unbelievably different perceptions of the "Final Solution," with particularly illuminating discussions of the Judenrat, or Jewish council. The third group considers the Holocaust as the subject of narrative and historical memory. Diner focuses above all on perspectives: the very notions of rationality and irrationality are seen to be changeable, depending on who is applying them. And because neither rational nor irrational motives can be universally assigned to participants in the Holocaust, Diner proposes, from the perspective of the victims, the idea of the counterrational. His work is directed toward developing a theory of Holocaust historiography and offers, clearly and coherently, the highest level of reflection on these problems.

Scott Spector’s adventurous cultural history maps for the first time the "territories" carved out by German-Jewish intellectuals living in Prague at the dawn of the twentieth century. Spector explores the social, cultural, and ideological contexts in which Franz Kafka and his contemporaries flourished, revealing previously unseen relationships between politics and culture. His incisive readings of a broad array of German writers feature the work of Kafka and the so-called "Prague circle" and encompass journalism, political theory, Zionism, and translation as well as literary program and practice.

With the collapse of German-liberal cultural and political power in the late-nineteenth-century Habsburg Empire, Prague’s bourgeois Jews found themselves squeezed between a growing Czech national movement on the one hand and a racial rather than cultural conception of Germanness on the other. Displaced from the central social and cultural position they had come to occupy, the members of the "postliberal" Kafka generation were dazzlingly productive and original, far out of proportion to their numbers. Seeking a relationship between ideological crisis and cultural innovation, Spector observes the emergence of new forms of territoriality.

He identifies three fundamental areas of cultural inventiveness related to this Prague circle’s political and cultural dilemma. One was Expressionism, a revolt against all limits and boundaries, the second was a spiritual form of Zionism incorporating a novel approach to Jewish identity that seems to have been at odds with the pragmatic establishment of a Jewish state, and the third was a sort of cultural no-man’s-land in which translation and mediation took the place of "territory." Spector’s investigation of these areas shows that the intensely particular, idiosyncratic experience of German-speaking Jews in Prague allows access to much broader and more general conditions of modernity. Combining theoretical sophistication with a refreshingly original and readable style, Prague Territories illuminates some early signs of a contemporary crisis from which we have not yet emerged.
Munich, notorious in recent history as the capital of the Nazi movement, is the site of Gavriel Rosenfeld's stimulating inquiry into the German collective memory of the Third Reich. Rosenfeld shows, with the aid of a wealth of photographs, how the city's urban form developed after 1945 in direct reflection of its inhabitants' evolving memory of the Second World War and the Nazi dictatorship.

In the second half of the twentieth century, the German people's struggle to come to terms with the legacy of Nazism has dramatically shaped nearly all dimensions of their political, social, and cultural life. The area of urban development and the built environment, little explored until now, offers visible evidence of the struggle. By examining the ways in which the people of Munich reconstructed the ruins of their historic buildings, created new works of architecture, dealt with surviving Nazi buildings, and erected new monuments to commemorate the horrors of the recent past, Rosenfeld identifies a spectrum of competing memories of the Nazi experience.

Munich’s postwar development was the subject of constant controversy, pitting representatives of contending aesthetic and mnemonic positions against one another in the heated battle to shape the city’s urban form. Examining the debates between traditionalists, modernists, postmodernists, and critical preservationists, Rosenfeld shows that the memory of Nazism in Munich has never been "repressed" but has rather been defined by constant dissension and evolution. On balance, however, he concludes that Munich came to embody in its urban form a conservative view of the past that was inclined to diminish local responsibility for the Third Reich.
The major essays of Dan Diner, who is widely read and quoted in Germany and Israel, are finally collected in an English edition. They reflect the author’s belief that the Holocaust transcends traditional patterns of historical understanding and requires an epistemologically distinct approach. One can no longer assume that actors as well as historians are operating in the same conceptual universe, sharing the same criteria of rational discourse. This is particularly true of victims and perpetrators, whose memories shape the distortions of historical narrative in ways often diametrically opposed.

The essays are divided into three groups. The first group talks about anti-Semitism in the context of the 1930s and the ideologies that drove the Nazi regime. The second group concentrates on the almost unbelievably different perceptions of the "Final Solution," with particularly illuminating discussions of the Judenrat, or Jewish council. The third group considers the Holocaust as the subject of narrative and historical memory. Diner focuses above all on perspectives: the very notions of rationality and irrationality are seen to be changeable, depending on who is applying them. And because neither rational nor irrational motives can be universally assigned to participants in the Holocaust, Diner proposes, from the perspective of the victims, the idea of the counterrational. His work is directed toward developing a theory of Holocaust historiography and offers, clearly and coherently, the highest level of reflection on these problems.

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