THE WEIMAR ETUDES by Henry Pachter


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Pachter, who died last year, was a model of the immigrant German intellectual in New York: of Social Democratic persuasion (after a communist youth), he was a founder of the quarterly Dissent, contributed often to Salmagundi, taught at the New School for Social Research and CUNY, and consistently tried to redeem Germany's past through evocations of the cultural life of Weimar, ""one of the freest states that ever existed."" This collection of 16 essays--most of them previously published, but including some new autobiographical material--centers on that cultural milieu, but in an oddly detached way. Mostly Pachter surveys his subjects, making lists of who-was-who--whether he's writing about youth groups, or German Expressionism's factions and cafes, or the fortunes of Weimar emigrÉs in New York. (The youth groups--socialist, communist, Zionist--he denounces as antipolitical in their Wandersehaft withdrawal from the real world.) The Berlin of Isherwood is here; but Pachter is at pains to establish that Berlin was a city with a working-class and left-wing majority, rather than a sea of fascist thugs surrounding avant-garde artists, and that left- and right-wing artists managed to communicate on an aesthetic and personal level. So Pachter's Berlin--though fun-loving, friendly, and slightly crazed--is also tolerant and therefore free. That air of tolerance, however, is just what accounts for the book's sense of detachment. In essays on the historian Friedrich Meinecke and the politician Walther Rathenau, Pachter discusses the dilemmas of German intellectual activists who consistently tried and failed to impart a moral content to the state--but in a manner at once contentious and noncommital; thus, he criticizes Robert Musil for failing to see Rathenau's political Jacobinism (per the character Amheim in The Man Without Qualities), without himself endorsing Rathenau's politics in anything but ""the Weimar setting,"" where they were an unmitigated failure. For the study of aspects of Weimar culture, the essays have not the critical weight that Carl Schorske brings, collectively, to Fin-de-Siecle Vienna; on Weimar culture per se, John Willett's Art and Politics in the Weimar Period, though not without its weaknesses, affords a more coherent overall grasp. Those with a special interest, however, will find Pachter's perspective useful.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1982
Publisher: Columbia Univ. Press