WEIMAR: A Cultural History by Walter Laqueur

WEIMAR: A Cultural History

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Although Laqueur's survey of the intellectual and artistic achievements of Weimar Germany is much more comprehensive than Peter Gay's interpretive essay of a few years ago (Weimar Culture, 1968) it is also far less satisfying. Beyond a reaffirmation of the ""disillusionment"" and ""alienation"" which was the common denominator of Weimar intellectuals, Left or Right, Laqueur is loathe to attempt any connections between culture and politics. The 1960's revival of interest in Bauhaus, The Blaue Reiter, George Grosz, Wilhelm Reich, Brecht and German cinema was, he argues, largely instigated by the New Left in search of precursors and kindred spirits -- and their interpretations are both partisan and distorted. To redress the balance, Laqueur spends many pages on the best-selling novelists of the day, most of whom have now been deservedly forgotten. The social sciences and especially the work done at the Frankfurt Institute are dealt with in more cursory fashion and Laqueur considers physics, mathematics and chemistry beyond his purview for the curious reason that ""they belong to all mankind rather than one particular country"" -- which leaves the unanswered question of why it was Germany which became the locus for scientific discovery. On the plus side, Laqueur takes great pains to show the richness and diversity of Weimar style; he concedes, somewhat grudgingly, that the inter-war years in Germany were a seedbed of cultural modernism while insisting that it was ""an age of experimentation, not of fundamental discovery. . . rich in talent, wanting in true genius."" The fact that most intellectuals of the period felt homeless comes across vividly, but Laqueur's odd reluctance to see in films such as M and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari any social commentary makes the book a less than incisive study.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1974
Publisher: Putnam