CIAO DATE: 10/07
"White, everything white." White was the color of the Weimar Republic, or at least so it seemed to cultural critic J.E.Hammann writing in the journal Die Form in 1930. In his article Hammann did not just note the trend toward white in interior design, but rather he was determined to understand the greater significance in his fellow Germans' overwhelming color preference. White, Hammann surmised, was a "characteristic mark of the way in which we grasp our age," a "chief indicator of the times," and a powerful evocation of the "new spirit" behind Weimar's "modern weltanschauung". The following essay proceeds from the assumption that Hammann was right: the turn to white, especially in the built environment, does indeed provide a significant avenue for interpreting the self-consciously modern culture of 1920s Germany. This investigation will show that Hammann's own interpretation was one-sided and probably too optimistic. Streamlined white buildings and simplified interiors may have offered an attractive feeling of "freedom, air, [and] light," but at the same time this was an aesthetic whose origins lay in the crassly utilitarian creed of the bourgeois hygienic reform movement. These unreflected origins tragically undercut the political effectiveness of avant-garde architecture, which was used to great effect in egalitarian Social Democratic housing schemes and which was clearly intended to be liberating and empowering. The very form of the modernist environment resisted any such utopian inscription, however, as its whiteness in particular reinforced ingrained, bourgeois-functional values of individual work, health, efficiency, and performance. Modernists thus unwittingly undermined their own best efforts to construct a "new man" and a new society, and may well have exacerbated the crisis of employment that led to the demise of the Weimar Republic.
In this essay I examine the dispute between the German Green Party and some of the country's environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) over the March 2001 renewal of rail shipments of highly radioactive wastes to Gorleben. My purpose in doing so is to test John Dryzek's 1996 claim that enviromentalists ought to beware of waht they wish for concerning inclusion in the liberal democratic state. Inclusion on the wrong terms, argues Dryzek, may prove detrimental to the goals of greening and democratizing public policy because such inclusion may compromise the survival of a green public sphere that is vital to both. Prospects for ecological democracy, understood in terms of strong ecological modernization here, depend on historically conditioned relationships between the state and the environmental movement that foster the emergence and persistence over time of such a public sphere.
In November 1993, more than fifty years after patrons of the popular Café Josty on the famed Potsdamer Platz in Berlin came to enjoy a good cup of coffee and a piece of cake, or smoke a rare fine cigar before the bombs would raze the café to the ground, a hydraulic excavator's bucket stopped in mid-air and miraculously saved five white porcelain cups with the initials CJ engraved upon each one in red. The delicate cups had rested under no more than ten feet of loose soil and rubble near the place where the café's basement had been. The bombs that fell on the Potsdamer Platz between 1943 and May 1945 and a scoop by an excavator bucket bookend a series of perilous situations the cups survived. The East German regime sent tanks across the square during the uprising in June of 1953, and the wall separating Berlin was built right through the middle of it in August of 1961. After lying dormant and overgrown with weeds for many of its subsequent thirty years, the Potsdamer Platz was finally all but leveled; the Weinhaus Huth was the only building that escaped the dynamite and wrecker ball. The swing of the wrecking ball made room for the most controversial construction project in recent German history: the city-within-a-city Daimler-Benz would build on the Potsdamer Platz.
Omer Bartov, Mirrors of Destruction: War, Genocide, and Modern Identity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000)
Omer Bartov begins his most recent book with a revealing mixed metaphor. The book was designed, Bartov explains, as "a prism through which we can distill a clearer understanding of the atrocity" at the center of twentieth-century history. To achieve this better understanding of the Holocaust, Bartov leaves behind the detailed explorations of ever technical minutiae of the "final solution," the sterile debates about exceptionality and uniqueness, and the quasi-religious reverence that have dominated Holocaust studies for too long. With refreshing vigor and ambition, Bartov weaves together the histories of Germany, France, and Israel and rewrites the cultural-intellectual history of state sponsored mass violence in twentiethcentury Europe. Despite the astounding breadth of his intervention, which leads us from the trenches of World War I to the most recent attempts of shaping the collective memory of the "final solution," Bartov never loses sight of his central concern: to explain the Holocaust to the citizens of the twenty-first century. But, as we follow Bartov's tour de force, we often find that his new venues of interpretation pose as many questions as they answer. Just like the opening catachresis, ambiguously combining optical and chemical symbolism, the book's multiple levels of engagement force the reader to continue the groundbreaking work begun by its author. Consequently, the study opens the intellectual space that the discipline so desperately needs; this achievement will turn the book into a landmark even for those readers who might disagree with some of Bartov's conclusions.
Julian Young, Heidegger, philosophy, Nazism (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997).
Herman Philipse, Heidegger's Philosophy of Being: A Critical Interpretation. (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1998).
Michael Friedman, A Parting of the Ways: Carnap, Cassirer, and Heidegger (Chicago: Open Court, 2000)
For a decade or so, philosophers in the so-called analytic tradition have grown increasingly conscious of the fact that their way of doing philosophy has a history. This is not an awareness that has come easily, since philosophers of this bent are famously indifferent to their past. They still tend to say that before Ludwig Wittgenstein, or Bertrand Russell, or-if they are bold enough to recall the nineteenth century-Gottlob Frege, there really isn't much worth keeping alive. And, while conceding that Kant got them on the right track, they will further claim that their way of doing things today represents such an improvement upon past habits that one may rightly regard the history of philosophy as yielding, at best, only the vaguest premonition of correct practice. This is a caricature of analytic philosophy, of course. But it is a caricature that captures its basic indifference to its own origins. It also captures the way analytic philosophers aspire to the scientific notion that we are converging upon the truth. And so, until recently at least, there has been a strong future-directedness to analytic philosophy, while its consciousness of its past debts has remained obscure.
Linda Fuller, Where Was the Working Class? Revolution in Eastern Germany (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999)
Jonathan Grix, The Role of the Masses in the Collapse of GDR (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000)
Two recent studies of the "peaceful revolution" in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) examine the role of ordinary citizens in the political upheaval of 1989/90. Linda Fuller's Where Was the Working Class? and Jonathan Grix's The Role of the Masses in the Collapse of the GDR employ similar methodologies in focusing on the activities and perspectives of "ordinary" people. Fuller sets out to answer two questions: "To what degree and in what ways were workers, the overwhelming majority of GDR citizens, involved in the politics of the 1989/90 revolution, and how can their involvement best be explained?" She maintains that the peaceful revolution was a middle-class movement characterized by the absence of working-class activists. In explaining why this was the case, she draws on feminist standpoint theory to begin her inquiry from the perspective of one of the least powerful and privileged groups in GDR society, workers. Similarly, Grix employs a "bottom-up" approach to understanding the peaceful revolution by "examining the actions of ordinary citizens leading up to and during the Wende of 1989". He argues that the academic literature has placed too much emphasis on external factors contributing to the GDR's collapse as well as on the role of elites, in particular of oppositionist activists, and has also focused almost exclusively on East Berlin and the southern cities of Leipzig and Dresden, ignoring the northern regions. Grix hopes to rectify these gaps in the literature with a case study of the activities of ordinary citizens in the northern city of Schwerin.
Elke P. Frederiksen and Martha Kaarsberg Wallack eds., Facing Fascism and Confronting the Past. German Women Writers from Weimar to the Present (Albany, 2000).
Lorna Martens, The Promised Land? Feminist Writing in the German Democratic Republic (Albany, 2001).
Towards the end of her novel Patterns of Childhood Christa Wolf inserts this literary aside, setting it in parenthesis, so as to address the reader directly:
(Interview question: Do you believe in the effectiveness of literature?-Certainly, but probably not in the same way you do. I believe that the apparatus which is responsible for receiving and digesting truth is shaped by literature [...]-How did we become the way we are? One of the answers would be a list of book titles.)
The two books reviewed here both address the mirroring in literature of the circumstances individual women writers found themselves in and in turn ask the question, How far does literature shape our perceptions of those circumstances, indeed, shape us? One of the volumes examines women writers engaging with the Nazi experience; the other explores women's lifetimes spent in the German Democratic Republic and asks if the socialist Germany lived up to the promises made to its female citizens.