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Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider by…

Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider (original 1968; edition 2001)

by Peter Gay

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436324,126 (3.41)7
Title:Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider
Authors:Peter Gay
Info:W. W. Norton & Company (2001), Paperback, 224 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Wiemar Republic, Germany

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Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider by Peter Gay (1968)



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Peter Gay is careful to position Weimar Culture as an essay and nothing more: "I have not written the complete history of the Weimar Renaissance, though one day I plan to write it." [xiv] Still he packs so much into so brief a space, a clear theme is quickly lost or else threatens to become banal: outsider as insider, yes, or sons against fathers (countered with: revenge of the fathers), or the to-be-fatal alienation of youth, or finally, the Vernunftrepublikaner, those supporters of the Republic who chose with their reasoning heads but never could muster any devotion, condemning Weimar to an anemic polity which succumbed to its inner divisions.

Gay divides his essay into six chapters. The first is a straightforward review of the sociopolitical contours and pressures, "The Trauma of Birth", and pairs well with the "short political history" appended to the book. The concept and role of Vernunftrepublikaner are addressed in the second chapter, "The Community of Reason." Gay focuses on the cultural hold of poetry and especially the Stefan George Circle in "The Secret Germany," and offers a corrolary for Expressionism in "The Revolt of the Son". Vaguest and least persuasive, seemingly an erudite catalogue of personalities and cultural trends, are the fourth and last chapters: "The Hunger for Wholeness" intended as a review of modernity as influence over culture and politics, and "The Revenge of the Father", which read as a rushed coda collecting the remaining years (1927 - 1930 or 1935, depending on when you mark the end) into a loose discussion of how all themes previously discussed coalesced and dissolved under the pressure of ... what? The death of Stresener, and global economic depression, and an unconvincingly-argued position that the stability under Hindenberg was false, was in fact a shell over a diseased body?

The accomplishment here is in avoiding outlandish claims or overly-simplistic arguments regarding causality, or tying Weimar's demise to some German political culture wholly dependent on authority or murderous nationalism, even as Gay identifies themes across many social and artistic fields. Necessarily the result is a loose portrait without clear accountability for what was to come. I'm tempted to conclude an analysis of Weimar boils down to the unhappy fact that Germany and Europe were simply unlucky: the constellation of recent war, of international sensibility more aligned with Versailles-thinking and not one closer to Marshall Plan self-preservation through generosity, increasing local and global economic hardship, a German people sharply divided and accepting of murder among their own (the street fighting is perhaps the clearest sign of the levels of violence the German electorate was prepared to accept) ... all this combined to generate a bloody, hellish part of modern history. If true, this portrait highlights the danger of these extreme circumstances, but seemingly provides hope in the thought such a combination isn't likely to occur again. (The uncomfortable response to such analysis, though, is that it is perhaps no more than a dangerous naivete, another manifestation of Vernunftrepublikaner.)


Read in preparation for Magida's The Nazi Seance, for which it proved an admirable choice: range of subjects, providing a character sketch of political culture as well as a taste of the popular sentiment leading up to the Nazi assumption of legitimate power. Gay also provides as appendix "A Short Political History of the Weimar Republic", useful as reminder of the standard history book touchpoints.

Brief reference to the Warburg Library and Cassirer's comment about needing to stay away as it's too dangerous to his other work. Of course, he didn't and one result was his essay on mythological symbolism (Vol 2 of Philosophy of Symbolic Thought). This is the sort of detail Gay is skilled at providing, one of the only instances I knew of the reference outside Gay's essay. ( )
1 vote elenchus | Mar 31, 2013 |
A study of the cultural history of the German Wiemar Republic from 1999 to 1933. Gay is more interested in the literary and art scene than he is with politics, but it's not like the various plots and counter-plots of the era have not been thoroughly covered elsewhere. Gay covers literary figures like Stefan George, Rainer Rilke, Thomas Mann, and art movements like Expressionism and The Bauhaus. He does offer enough details of the political scene to present convincing arguments connecting them to the literary and art scene, making for a portrait of a society that went from hopeful to hopeless. Unfortunately Gay has an odd disinterest in important musical figures like Kurt Weil, Berthold Brecht, Alban Berg, Anton Webern or Arnold Schoenberg and a detailed picture of the Cabaret scene and the introduction of Jazz which is a serious omission.
The author also chooses not to delve into the competing reactionary literary scene of the era with it's focus on a pseudo mystical racism and paganism without which a real understanding of Nazism is not possible. One also wonders if the author's insistence on pointing out the thinly veiled gay subtext of the scene might not be a tad overstated. Still even if this is an opinionated essay, it is also an important study of an important era.
2 vote DiamondDaibhidJ | May 1, 2012 |
An absolutely tedious book about the culture of Weimar Germany. ( )
  w_bishop | Oct 18, 2009 |
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Peter Gayprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cases, CesareContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Merci, MauroTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393322394, Paperback)

A seminal work as melodious and haunting as the era it chronicles, now reissued with a new introduction.

First published in 1968, Weimar Culture is one of the masterworks of Peter Gay's distinguished career. A study of German culture between the two wars, the book brilliantly traces the rise of the artistic, literary, and musical culture that bloomed ever so briefly in the 1920s amid the chaos of Germany's tenuous post-World War I democracy, and crashed violently in the wake of Hitler's rise to power. Despite the ephemeral nature of the Weimar democracy, the influence of its culture was profound and far-reaching, ushering in a modern sensibility in the arts that dominated Western culture for most of the twentieth century. Vivid and eminently readable, Weimar Culture is the finest introduction for the casual reader and historian alike. "[A]n enormously rich, intriguing, and exciting essay.... A major contribution to the study..."—The New York Times 16 black and white illustrations

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:02 -0400)

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