The seduction of culture in German history /

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Main Author: Lepenies, Wolf.
Format: Book
Published:Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c2006.
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Review by Choice Review

How can German culture, steeped in the musical and literary genius of Mozart, Beethoven, Goethe, Heine, and Mann, be reconciled with the barbarism of the Third Reich? German-born sociologist Lepenies (Free Univ., Berlin) grapples with this question in a highly thought-provoking, if not contentious, series of "history of ideas" vignettes. Lepenies traces the evolution of the Kulturnation, a nation united by culture rather than by political institutions, from the 18th century, when it emerged in the absence of a central German state, until German reunification in 1990. Substituting culture for politics was neither exceptional nor unique to Germany, yet it managed to play a "greater role" and had more serious consequences there than elsewhere. Thomas Mann stands out as Lepenies's "guide" or pivotal figure. Mann's Faustian struggle between Kultur and Politik (politics) mirrored that of his fellow citizens and played out on two continents over the course of four decades. Chapters offer insight into the Franco-German "culture wars," Germany's immediate post-WW II cultural effervescence (1945-49), the different responses of a divided Germany to culture and politics, and finally the ways in which a reunified Germany remembers the Holocaust. Lepenies concludes with a cautiously optimistic view of Germans' reconciliation of culture and politics. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. M. Shevin-Coetzee formerly, George Washington University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

The German obsession with high culture has no parallel elsewhere: Berlin alone has three opera houses, and Hitler was more distraught by the Allied bombing of Nazi-approved cultural monuments than the destruction of his cities. Lepenies, a leading German intellectual and journalist, examines this pride, a phenomenon he says is at odds with the status of culture in France, Britain and America. In the latter countries, the concept of "culture" includes everything from politics to sports, morality to social issues. Only in Germany does Kultur solely represent the exalted life of the mind; it opposes, "with mandarin-like scorn," everyday politics and economics, and carries a concomitant belief in the superiority of the German nation over other nations concerned with such matters. Lepenies brilliantly argues that this notion of Kultur has profoundly influenced Germany's domestic and foreign policy for centuries. According to Lepenies, the German indifference to politics partly caused the downfall of the Weimar Republic (too few could be bothered to defend it from its enemies), contributed to the rise of Nazi ideology and continues to shape Germany's sometimes troubled relations with its European neighbors and America. Lepenies's concise insights make for a fascinating read. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

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