Departing from Nietzsche: The Breadth of Max Weber’s ‘Resentimment’


Max Weber’s secularization narrative of modern Europe has ramifications for the idea of salvation that was, until the pre-modern period of big governance, a specifically religious concern. His sociological insight allows him to grapple with Friedrich Nietzsche’s questions about salvation and oppression within a critique of modernity. In this paper, I outline how Weber’s departure from Nietzsche’s concept of ‘resentimment’ creates a framework for looking at Weber’s thought overall. There is surprisingly little literature which compiles Weber’s use of ‘resentimment’, and as such it is my intention to let this selection of Weber’s uses of this concept stand together with Weber’s ultimate attention to salvation ideas. Realizing different ‘life spheres’ were in conflict, and that the political sphere had taken the authority once held by the religious, Weber reacts to the change in self-reflexivity that must also occur when society’s hegemony is redirected.

Outlining the Weberian progression forward and what that means for understanding the individual in society, Weber scholar David Owen suggests:

“Nietzsche and Weber’s accounts deploy a principle of evaluation constituted by reference to a conception of the individual… [their] attempts to indicate those movements of modern culture which allow for the possibility of this type of individual.” (80)


I choose the concept of ‘resentimment’ because of its value to the “conception of the individual” as a political actor; I theorize that ‘resentimment’ plays a key role in the non-selection of powerful leadership, by way of its ability and inability to make political change. Weber emphasizes a great duality to this concept, which I seek to delineate. It is at once the defining element between social groups, and also their bonding agent. It is both a defining element of an individual unfit for leadership, and an integrated part of party politics.

It is first important to outline Weber’s departure from Nietzsche about the concept of ‘resentimment’, because he chooses this concept as the juncture at which to paint a societal picture of Nietzsche’s asceticism. Authors Gerth and Mills (1946) emphasize “In contrast to Nietzsche, Weber developed a sociology of utilitarian discipline and rationality as the origins of modernity.” (110) By reading Weber reading Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’, the border of ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ privilege defines ‘resentimment’ among groups. Reading further, when Weber uses ‘resentimment’ without mentioning Nietzsche, Weber creates a spectrum of meaning for the word that extends from political parties to individual politics. He negotiates ‘resentimment’ within politics as a response to hierarchy, but dismisses Nietzsche’s notion that ‘resentimment’ can explain the entirety of these actions in the modern world.

Reading Weber Reading Nietzsche’s ‘Resentimment’

Only by marching through a dense and nearly untranslatable paragraph in Class, Status, Party (1922)[1] can one discover Weber’s most direct criticism of Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’. Written with the intention to analyze the development of status groups from ethnic segregations, Weber differentiates the sense of dignity experienced by ‘positively privileged’ status groups from the ‘negatively privileged’; the ‘pariah’ – the outsiders, who are not subquotients of a monster group – are those ‘negatively privileged’, who challenge the “deportment” (191) of the ‘positively privileged’ main group by having a different social ethic, what Nietzsche called “a slave revolt of morals”[2]. Weber explains ‘pariah’ through European Jewry, which he says is “the most impressive historical example,” (ibid.); this suddenly calls forth both the European Jew’s transitory participation in society and their oppressed position under the monster group. The ‘pariah’ is a typology much larger than the European Jew, encompassing the greater meaning of ‘outsider’. Unlike the Lacanian ‘Other’ that focuses on individual ethics, the term ‘pariah’ is a metaphor for whole social groups who Weber delimits by ethic. ‘Pariah’ would be understood today as more polemical than analytic. Weber fastens the term ‘pariah’ to the presumptuously broad category of European Jewry and in so doing carries on a trope of early-modern rational analysis- the Jewish diasporal experience[3]. Professor Jeffrey S. Librett’s latest publication, Orientalism and the Figure of the Jew (2014), reminds us that Weber theorizes the Jews as outcasts in a world conceived in ‘pariah’s’ etymological meaning, “in terms of an ancient Indian- or Aryan- caste system. This strange structure inscribes Judaism as an internal exterior within Aryan culture.” (331) Weber’s discursive appropriation of Judaism allows him to exemplify the presence of ‘resentimment’ in a groups whose dignity is independent from the monster group’s political societalization:

“The ‘chosen people’s’ dignity is nurtured by a belief either that in the beyond ‘the last will be the first,’ or that in this life a Messiah will appear to bring forth into the light of the world which has cast them out the hidden honor of the pariah people. This simple state of affairs, and not the ‘resentimment’ which is so strongly emphasized in Nietzsche’s much admired construction in Geneaology of Morals, is the source of the religiosity cultivated by pariah status groups.” (Class, 190)


Citing the “simple state of affairs” one might recognize as Hegel’s dialectic[4], Weber suggests that the creation of identity by ‘pariah’ groups is made possible by its difference to the main group, and vice versa. He continues, “Very frequently a status group is instrumental in the production of a thoroughbred anthropological type.” (190) Weber thickened the conversation about ‘resentimment’ by finding the tension between dignity and identity creation. His analysis of dignity as an element of differentiation between Christians and Jews rests on lifestyle purportments, and he compares monster groups with interior-exterior ‘pariah’ on the basis of economic predominance:

“Political membership or class situation has at all times been at least as frequently decisive. And today the class situation is by far the predominant factor, for of course the possibility of a style of life expected for members of a status group is usually conditioned economically.” (190)


By suggesting that class situation is decisive and life-style based, he signals us to think of the ‘positively privileged’ whose, “kingdom is ‘of this world’. They live for the present and by exploiting their great past”; Weber parallels pre-modern German political membership with the ‘positively privileged’ by using a commonality of frequent decisiveness, conditioned economically. In this construction, membership of both a political party and the ‘positively privileged’ group is both lifestyle and class status determined. This claim enfeebles Weber’s prior example of European Jewry, who represented over half of Hamburg’s wealth at the time, but also highlights the angle of difference from Nietzsche’s understanding of ‘resentimment’; Weber intersects the concept of ‘resentimment’ with economic mobility. Gerth and Mills say that Weber’s difference from Nietzsche concerning ‘resentimment’ is constitutive of Weber’s sociology of religion and, “within a broader canvas, this theme determined Weber’s attitude towards morality and modernity.” (4) By maintaining an ancient difference between Christian and Jewish communities and signaling that their lifestyles are now socio-economically class-determined, Weber problematizes the discourse of Nietzsche by antagonizing socio-historical certainties[5].

Class, Status, Party has the most direct criticism of Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’, but a descriptive insight into Weber’s account of Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’ can be found in “The Social Psychology of World Religions” (1915):

“As is known, this theory [‘resentimment’] regards the moral glorification of mercy and brotherliness as a ‘slave revolt in morals’ among those who are disadvantaged, either in their natural endowments or their opportunities as determined by life-fate. The ethic of ‘duty’ is thus considered a product of ‘represented’ sentiments for vengeance on the part of banausic men who ‘displace’ their sentiments because they are powerless, and condemned to work and money-making.” (270)
Reading Weber reading Nietzsche will guide our understanding of their ultimate differences, but first we need to unpack what he means by “mercy and brotherliness”, consider the phrases ’represented’ and ‘displaced’ sentiments”. Weber’s Vocation Lectures hint at ‘brotherliness’, which is a que for understanding the role of ‘resentimment’ within political structures[6], but here “mercy and brotherliness” alludes to Nietzsche’s use of Judeo-Christian tradition as an example of “repressed” vengeance on the part of the oppressed[7], a process which he describes later in (The Sociology of Religion, 1965:110) as “the moralistic quest serves as a device for compensating a conscious or unconscious desire for vengeance.” This ‘compensation’ is the ‘representation’ and ‘displacement’ phenomenon mentioned as a “on the part of the banaustic men”. What’s important to understand here is the way Weber marks a difference in the sentiments held by to parts of society. Weber thinks that for Nietzsche, the “banaustic” men (who are mundanely working and making money) have vengeful sentiments against those who don’t prescribe to the same ‘duty’. They ‘displace’ this sentiment through a glorification of their own morale[8], which is the ‘resentimment’.

Continuing to dissect the phenomena of “replacement” and “displacement” as reactions to ‘resentimment’, Weber goes on to emphasize an element of rationalization within the act of sentimental displacement:

“In treating suffering as a symptom of odiousness in the eyes of the gods as a sign of secret guilt, religion has psychologically met a very general need. The fortunate are seldom satisfied with the fact of being fortunate. Beyond this, he needs to know that he has a right to his good fortune.” (271)


Posturing Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’ as a need for legitimacy of perceived ‘fortune’ over others in society, Weber’s attention to human inequality is addressed as “suffering” which compounds into a social ethic that supports this need for legitimacy. This becomes a delayed reward: “…the sense of honor of disprivileged classes rests in some concealed promise for the future… What they cannot claim to be, they replace by the worth of that which they will one day become, to which they will be called in some future life here or hereafter… by their sense of what they signify and achieve in the world as seen from the point of view of providence” (ibid.) There is a righteous indignation at oppressors to compensate for disprivilege. Professor Jeffrey K. Olick develops the idea of theodicy’s compensations further in his book The Politics of Regret (2007):

“Though tempered by confidence in redemption of suffering; worthiness of this redemption is thus demonstrated, as Nietzsche made clear in book three of Geneaology of Morals, by asceticism, the international exacerbation of one’s own suffering and hence the ultimate preservation of Will.” (157)


Professor Olick’s contribution is important because it frames the theodicy of suffering in terms of asceticism. It is at the juncture of asceticism that Weber departs from Nietzsche in his understanding of ‘resentimment’. He divides religion and psychology at the juncture of guilt. By ‘deserving’ one’s fortune there is ‘ethical meaning’ assigned to it, making it valuable. The principled nature of ‘deserving’ is asceticism, which for Weber must be framed by the “increasingly rational” world in its progress towards ‘resentimment’:

“The need for an ethical interpretation of the “meaning” of the distribution of fortunes among men increased with the growing rationality of conceptions of the world… as magical notions were eliminated, the theodicy of suffering encountered increasing difficulties. Not ‘good’ but ‘bad’ men succeed-even when ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are measured by the yardstick of the master stratum and not by that of a ‘slave morality’.” (275)


Weber is still citing Nietzsche when he says that ‘resentimment’ is acquired from the ‘theodicy of suffering’, but here we see that Weber pivots at the point of “growing rationality”; the measurements of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ had become an issue of the ‘master stratum’ during the disenchantment of the world. Weber suggests that this politicization of society (away from religion) refigured the value judgements, though they remain in essence “legitimation of the religiously determined rationalism of the disadvantaged strata,” (276) in line with Nietzsche.  He is not disagreeing with Nietzsche’s assertion that the theodicy of suffering is “colored by resentimment” (277). Weber is trying to say that suffering is influenced by but not contrived from ‘resentimment’, creating a possibility of interpreting its “yardstick measurement”. The positive notion of asceticism is notable in Weber’s reading of Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’ by Weber’s idea of it as a “theodicy of disprivilege”[9] alongside measurements of salvation.

‘Resentimment’ and ‘Privilege’

Legitimation of vengeance through social ethic depended, for Weber, on their class status. Now that we have an idea about Weber’s reading of Nietzsche with sight to his positive ascetic idea, it is possible to outline Weber’s differentiation between theodicies of suffering between the ‘positively privileged’ and the ‘negatively privileged’. Weber’s positivist conception of ‘resentimment’ implies a change in social ethics that shape the dominant group’s praxis in relation to the ‘pariah’ group’s non-praxis. His differentiation between ‘positively privileged’ and ‘negatively privileged’ social ethic is noticeable immediately after his definition of Nietzschean ‘resentimment’ in “The Social Psychology of World Religions”. He notes ‘resentimment’s’ “bearing (mindern[10]) on social ethics” (270), and warns his reader about the fatal consequences of ‘resentimment’, as a sentiment that has resulted in ancient sacrificial feasts. Little did Weber know (but likely did he suspect) that an expulsion and sacrifice of the ‘pariah’ group would be committed by his not-so-ancient milieu shortly after his death! Weber continues,

“All that can be said is that resentment could be, and often and everywhere has been, significant as one factor among others in influencing the religiously determined rationalism of socially disadvantaged strata. It has gained significance… in accordance with the nature of the promises held out by different religions.” (276)


The “religiously determined rationalism” of the socially disadvantaged – the ‘negatively privileged’ – is influenced in part by ‘resentimment’. This rationalism is for Weber the change in dominance from the religious sphere of life to political sphere of life, which is still rooted in the concepts of salvation provided by that religion. His main example of this history is the popularization of different social ethics with the introduction of Calvinism and Protestantism, and on the ‘negatively privileged’ level, the difference in salvation between Christians and Jews[11]. Within the modern age of ‘master strata’ uniformity in the ‘iron cage’ of economic development, Authors Gerth and Mills remind us that “the utilitarianism aspect of economic ethics and actions was transformed into the positive notion of inner-worldly asceticism and it was this notion which became the basis of Weber’s whole sociology.” (111-12)

The entanglement between inner-worldly asceticism and ‘resenntiment’ is outlined most clearly in “Economy and Society” (1922, post-humous), when Weber suggested the intellectual salvation of Christianity as opposed to the outer-worldly salvation principles of the Jews. Authors Stauth and Turner (1988) agree, suggesting, “Weber separates this intellectual form of rational control – those maintained by Priests, Monks – from the discipline characteristic in Judaism.” (115) Beginning his discussion by reminding the reader of the necessity of meaning derived from salvation, Weber says,

“The meta-physical needs of the human mind as it is driven to reflect on ethical and religious questions, driven not by material need but by an inner compulsion to understand the world as a meaningful cosmos and to take up a position towards it.” (Economy and Society 499)
Stauth and Turner turn to Economy and Society to address Weber’s differentiation from Nietzsche’s concern with the material base of the everyday world, and that ‘resentimment’ was not exclusively explained the deprivation of material needs, but also the internal compulsion to understand the world[12]. Stauth and Turner say about ‘resentimment’, “In Econonmy and Society he connects it [‘resentimment’] to social revolutionary ethics and proletarian instincts of the subordinate working classes,” (115). Weber takes a rational disposition towards social ethic’s basis in salvation and describes the positive inner-worldly ascetic of ‘resentimment’ at its dislocating juncture with intellectualism of religious doctrine:

“The limited significance of the factor of resentimment and the dubiousness of applying the conceptual system of ‘repression’ almost universally, appear most clearly when Nietzsche mistakenly applies his scheme to the altogether inappropriate example of Buddhism. Constituting the most radical antithesis to every type of resentimment morality, Buddhism clearly arose as the salvation doctrine of an intellectual stratum, originally recruited almost entirely from the privileged castes, especially the warrior caste, which proudly and aristocratically rejected the illusions of life both here and hereafter.” (ibid.)


While thematising Buddhist ‘intellectualisation’ of salvation opposite ‘resentimment’, Weber also equivocates Buddhism with the ‘master strata’, and parallels intellectualism with inner-worldly salvation. He separates Buddhism’s type of rational control over salvation – as maintained by Priests and Monks, who found salvation through lifetime duties – from the ascetic characteristic (which he later says is present in Judaism), whose salvation is other-worldly. Weber suggests that intellectuals did not develop a social ethic because of repression, but rather because of the desire to rationalize the world in itself.  Judaism, which “preached immediate revenge” in the context of Judaism’s revengeful God during the first struggle against Romans and later against Gentile subordination (ibid., 112) is different than Christianity or Buddhism, which “developed a more subtle, higher a more indirect and culturally more productive form of revenge in the doctrine of spiritual love.”

Stauth and Turner say, “his idea for salvation in Christianity became associated with intellectualism, which he called ‘another source besides the social condition of the disprivileged’,” (113) reminding us again that ‘resentimment’ is only one factor of the social ethic produced by theodicy. Strauth and Turner continue, “Weber, therefore, implicitly protected Christianity and its drive for salvation against the argument in Nietzsche that the highest religious ethic is the outcome of resentment in morals,” (115) leaving the “burden on social ethic” (207) of ‘resentimment’ to the European Jews. This does not mean that Weber denies the existence of ‘resentimment’ within Christianity, as we will see in his analysis of its place in politics. But rather, this difference in salvation argument foregrounds his understanding of ‘resentimment’ as merely an option in the creation of social ethic, not the cause of all social ethic.

‘Resentimment’s’ Place in Politics

Weber’s citation of Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’ serves the purpose of describing ‘brotherliness’ and vengeance sentiments in not only society, but in politics. In “Suffrage and Democracy in Germany” (1917) Weber clearly delineates the existence of ‘resentimment’ even in the political literati, the littérateurs:

“The ignorance of the litterateurs who do not recognize the difference between the unearned fortune of the coupon-cutting investor and the productive capital of the entrepreneur, and who show as much ressentiment towards the latter as they do covetous benevolence towards the former, have heard something of the ‘finance capital’, both in regulations of a material kind (taxes) and in the selection of ministers, and they think of course that this is a consequence of the ‘parliamentarism’ they fear.” (Political Writings, 86)


Weber again brings up the idea of ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ within the salvational idea of success; The ‘finance capital’ inspires the ‘resentimment’ of the literati, the class exemplified by Weber as potential demagogues and charismatic political leaders such as the Socialist, Kurt Eisner (“Economy and Society”, 1978:242), which in turn implies Weber’s interest in the struggle between financiers and the political literati. The dominance of ‘parliamentarianism’ on the effect of finance capital’s influence in the market triggers the literati’s ‘resentimment’, because their truth-concept of the ‘good’ coupon-clipper winning over ‘bad’ risky investor is challenged, and they are instead dominated by an outside force – “the ‘parliamentarianism’ they fear”. What this tells us is: there are two levels of regulation, the material and the political, which are both controlled by policy. The polity making the policy is the parliament, whose ‘master’ status gives the literati ‘resentimment’ against success they can’t explain with their salvational scheme. What Weber doesn’t tell us is how this ‘resentimment’ plays out; what are the ascetic consequences? Or, does the ‘negatively privileged’ social ethic permit the literati to seek vengeance and a revolution?

He doesn’t give the answer directly, but points in the same direction when discussing balances within parliament. He seems to support the effect of ‘resentimment’s’ inner-worldly influence by saying: “On the other hand, the resentimment of party and co-operative offialdom is ideally suited as a counterbalance to any danger of the parties coming under plutocratic leadership,” (Political Writings, 113). Assigning ‘resentimment’ with the task of counterbalancing the danger of plutocracy, Weber also tells us that he believes in its primacy within political systems. In “Suffrage and Democracy in Germany”, Weber uses ‘resentimment’ as an essential concept for understanding political struggle within the literati and the parties, reflecting his discussion on Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’ as adaptable by way of salvation theory and therefore operating in modern identity politics.

It is not until Weber’s essay “Parliament and Government in Germany” (1917) that he reveals the way ‘resentimment’ works within the political struggle. Addressing ‘resentimment’ as both possibly feeble (135) and as a “will to powerlessness” (158), Weber tells us that ‘resentimment’ is not always an effective force of balance, leaving us to wonder how it is otherwise expressed; in to which social ethic does it go? In this essay, Weber describes ‘resentimment’ as a “congealed Spirit” (158); a concept introduced by Georg Simmel as the potentiality of use. Weber highlights the minority of German literati, and therefore also the gap between political actors and citizens. To this end, Weber suggested an “occupation based model” with law governing the formation of trade unions, like in America (150), but not dissolving them because of their oppositional Weltanschauung, like under Bismarck who “excluded all other political minds besides his own” (161) to the effect of a “night-watchman state” (165). Bismarck’s followers, mere officers (Untertan) and not politicians themselves, did not have the political prowess to challenge him, and those with such leadership capacity were demobilized under Article 9.

Resentimment’ extends for Weber beyond the Nietzschean conception of a reactive “slave morality”, though he does address it as the reactive force exerted by the Untertan. Situating the literati’s “raging against the idea of a patronage of office [as] an open responsibility of the parties” (194), he signifies the reactionism of ‘resentimment’ against that which is “un-German” (ibid.), that which is outside the Prussian hegemony. Weber’s concern with the literati, the leading statesmen of the Reich, is that “political honour” is only a pretext to stay in power, in office, and harms Germany’s foreign affairs through “politically quite useless” publications[13], which sever “any possibility of substantive understanding” with England and France on mutual interests (203). He suggests that publication of beliefs be left to politicians who can “weigh the potential significance of public statements,” for which “everything depends on” (207). In this construction, he has exposed the tool of the literati is not their publications, but the political honour they uphold as a “pretext to stay in power”. Weber would describe this social ethic of political honour as the path to salvation of the ‘negatively privileged’ literati.

Weber moves on to discuss ‘resentimment’ as dependent also upon the individual, not only their class status, by drawing a line of difference between powerful leaders and those who involve themselves with ‘resentimment’:

“a man with a strong instinct for power and all the qualities that go with it would have to be a fool to let himself be drawn into the pitiful business of resentimment amongst colleagues when there is a field of activity waiting to welcome his abilities and desires… Men of that type prefer to finance pan-German newspaper and to allow the littérateurs to churn out their nonsense in them. All the men of this nation with any talent for leadership have been diverted down this path, into the service of private capitalist interests as a consequence of negative selection, which is what our so-called ‘monarchic government’ boils down to, once one has stripped away all hypocritical verbiage.” (172)


Extending beyond slandering those “fools” who allow themselves to participate in the “pitiful” business of ‘resentimment’, Weber also suggests that no powerful leader belongs to the class of those with ‘resentimment’. Considering Weber’s importance to the collection and analysis of Jewish history, he is probably not singling out European Jewry’s ‘resentimment’ as disabling their powerful leadership. Rather, it must become apparent that Weber is pointing towards interpersonal resentimment’ “amongst colleagues”. The spectrum of ‘resentimment’ extends from individual all the way to religion, with political parties in between. Weber insists that men with leadership power are driven away from political office by “negative selection”, a phrase that annihilates the humanity of employment into efficiency ratios; the monarchic government doesn’t facilitate the recruitment of powerful leaders, those unfazed by ‘resentimment’, which is “directed against anyone who strives for and achieves power by any route other than the legitimation bestowed by examination diplomas.” (173) Clearly Weber perceives the monarchic government’s social ethic as regulated by standardized testing.

Continuing to dissect ‘resentimment’ within party politics, the verbiage of ‘resentimment’s’ “harmonization” with bureaucracy sheds further light on his opinion about its governmental involvement:

“The resentimment which men who are party officials by nature feel towards the genuine political leadership is a powerful element in the attitude of some parties… Of course, their resentimment harmonizes perfectly with the like-minded interests of the bureaucracy.” (191)


Allowing resentimment to be natural for powerless officials to feel against the “genuine” leadership, he also “harmonizes” ‘resentimment’ with party bureaucracy, again indicating that the social ethic falls in line with their process of legitimation – bureacracy. The party performs their internal duties as an ascetic praxis under the same ‘slave morality’ as political honor while oppressed by a ruling order. By equivocating the need for legitimation with bureaucracy, Weber is also giving an ontological evaluation of legitimate existence as a harmonious praxis, apparently assuming that all parties experience ‘resentimment’ if they are to be legitimated. The powerful leader would be able to survive this ‘negatively privileged’ environment as long as he doesn’t deal with ‘resentimment’ “amongst colleagues”.

Weber’s “Politics as a Vocation” (1917) discusses the operational background of ‘resentimment’ in politics, putting the “modern” class-warfare at issue, and eventually warning that ‘resentimment’ in politics is not an effective means of achieving salvation and agreeing with himself about powerful leadership staying away from it:

“Under the modern class-warfare, the inner rewards are the satisfaction of hatred and revenge, of resentimment and the need for a pseudo-ethical feeling of being in the right, the desire to slander one’s opponents and make heretics of them.” (364-5)


Weber positioned modern ‘resentimment’ as a desire to slander opponents, furthering his insistence of ‘resentimment’ as a driving force of the literati, those oppositional charismatic leaders like Kurt Eisner. He reminds the reader that the fervor of ‘resentimment’ has the potential of being useless rhetoric, or the future of oppressing others:

“the emotionalism of the revolution is then followed by a return to traditional, everyday existence, the hero of the faith disappears and so, above all, does the faith itself, or it becomes (even more effectively) a part of the conventional rhetoric used by political philistines.” (365)


Then, he continues to align the hopes of ‘resentimment’ with its task of salvation, but in a


negative way:


“The ‘salvation of the soul’ is endangered by each of these [hopes for the future of the Fatherland] whenever men strive to attain them by political activity, employing the means of violence and acting on the basis of an ethic of responsibility… People aren’t responsible for the success of their belief.” (366)


Weber’s picture of ‘resentimment’ in politics is on one hand effective, because of the balancing effect bureaucracy has against plutocracy, and on the other hand quite modern, because the “ethic of responsibility” is always involved. By this, I mean that the “ethic of conviction” is, for Weber, a-political, because the rationality of politics insists that there are inner-worldly convictions. The “ethic of responsibility”, appropriated from the Torah as a description of Judaism’s most distinctive idea, emplies a causal relationship between actions and the world we live in, the inner-world. Weber’s forewarning about “political” ‘resentimment’ in the context of violence brings us back to his warning about its “bearing on social ethics”, including a value-judgement that one’s soul couldn’t be saved if you act violently in hopes of salvation. His argument against violent political ‘resentimment’ rests on the lack of agency one person or one political group has, because revolt depends on more things than just them. His warning to this end both diminishes the reputation of those revolutionary literati and reprimands the “ethic of responsibility” in its potentially violent shortcomings. Weber’s political ‘resentimment’ exists within the modernity of ‘monarchic government’ embodied by bureaucracy, peer ‘resentimment’, and most dangerously, revolutionary tendencies. The powerful political leader does not act with ‘resentimment’, but his followers (Untertan) and supporting party structure do. This makes ‘resentimment’ a functional force within social order but not the only force.


Resentimment’ creates a framework for understanding Weber’s nuanced depiction of society and polity. In this essay, I have selected every descriptive use of ‘resentimment’ by Weber, allowing this concept to stand outside of the Nietzschean discourse. The ultimate difference is the negotiation of ‘resentimment’ within politics as a response to hierarchy, but without Nietzsche’s notion that ‘resentimment’ can explain the entirety of these actions in the modern world. This difference from Nietzsche doesn’t give ‘resentimment’ a back-seat to political action, though. Quite on the contrary, Weber continues to use the concept as a mechanism to determine sources of violence by the polity on society, the potential of leaders, the legitimation of a regime. It is integral to Weber’s understanding about evolving concepts of salvation within the increasingly ‘disenchanted’ world, and yet ‘resentimment’ also represents an enchantment by ideology. It is a concept that contributes to the sociology of politics and religion by virtue of its breadth and prominence.

[1] The title of this translation changed to “The distribution of power in the community: Classes, Stände, Parties” in 2010 by New Zepplin University Waters, Tony, and Dagmar Waters (2015)

[2] Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Geneology of Morals. 1887.

[3] Just two years before Weber published this essay, Martin Buber’s study “The Spirit of Judaism” followed up on the success of Édouard Dumont’s study La France juive (1886).

[4] “Although the earth forms a sphere, history performs no circle around it, but has on the contrary a determinate East. Here rises the outward physical sun, and in the West sinks down: here rises the sun of self-consciousness, which diffuses a nobler brilliance.” The light cast on the West by its origination in the East allows the West to be reflective and aware of its own identity. George Fredrick Hegel. Lectures on the History of Philosophy. 1805-6, trans. E S Haldane, 1892-6.

[5] Gerth and Mills. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Oxford University. 1946. (62)

[6] This is addressed by an analysis of “Politics as a Vocation” and will be addressed briefly.

[7] Morris, Brian. Anthropological Studies of Religion. Cambridge University. 1987.

[8]  The song “Minority” (Green Day, 2000) offers a compelling elucidation of this effect.

[9] Orlick, J. The Politics of Regret. 2007 (157)

[10] In German, the word ‘mindern’ means ‘to minimize’, the illusion of which is lost in a translation that emphasizes the characteristic of oppression.

[11] As discussed in Weber’s Sociology of Religion.

[12] Stauth and Turner. Nietzsche’s Dance. Basil Blackwell. 1988. (114)

[13] The German word for publication, Veröffentlichung, is much more compelling because it expresses an element of timing and exertion, closer in meaning to the word “release” [of thoughts unto the world]. Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time discusses this.

Aetiology of Hysteria in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Das Buch Franza



The plot unfolds as Martin Renner receives a confusing telegram from his sister Franza, who begs him to help her. She has been married to an aged psychiatrist, her “großartiges Fossil” of a husband who has begun to psychologically torture her, like a subject in one of his experiments. Martin finds her in their hometown, Galicia, a former Austro-Hungarian empire now known only as a border-region, and attempts to help his tormented sister by inviting her on his vacation to Egypt. On the way to Egypt, first on a boat to Alexandria, and then by bus, Martin and Franza discuss the origins of her perceived illness. Suddenly, Franza begins a hysteria that leads to her death. The first chapter provides background for Franza’s ultimate death, with a retrospective on her youth during the Austrian Anschluß, the Nazi annexation of Vienna in 1938. The second part is a collection of fragmentary (but chronological) thoughts that are analytical of the world but introspective at the same time.

With two distinct genders, a polarization between families and lovers, set in the first generation post-War era, with a travelling period between the northern and southern hemispheres, and ending in death, the dualities of Ingeborg Bachmann’s Das Buch Franza are many. Criticized and analyzed in the discourses of colonialism, feminism and identity politics, Bachmann’s post-mortem publication has received critical attention that is often related to its position as the second part of her unfinished novel series Todesarten. Bachmann’s unexpected death by apartment fire did not prevent Das Buch Franza from being completed, rather, as she notes in a letter to Klaus Piper in November, 1970, she shelfed (or rather, drawerd) the transcript for “different reasons”:

Das Buch Franza ist zudem in einer Schublade verschwunden und wird von mir, aus verschiedenen Gründen, noch lange  nicht oder überhaupt night veröffentlicht werden, ich weiß es selber noch nicht,” (Women Writers, 13)


From a letter written to Bachmann from Giséle Celan, Bachmann’s close friend and ex-wife

to her extra-marital lover, Paul Celan, it is possible to see that content of Das Buch Franza

was likely not the only thing troubling Bachmann. On May 13th, 1970, Giséle Celan states,

“Paul threw himself into the Seine. He chose the most anonymous, lonely death.”[1] Between

these letters in 1970 and Bachmann’s early death in Rome, 1973, Das Buch Franza was never

published, but its narrative predecessor (though written as a successor to Das Buch Franza) in

the Todesarten series was – Malina (1971).

Das Buch Franza was written around 1966[2], almost 15 years after Paul Celan dedicates his poem “In Egypt” (In Ägypten) to Bachmann[3], and only one year after Paul Celan attempted to murder his wife, Giséle[4]. In the ‘Poetological Afterward’ of Hans Höller and Andrea Stoll’s compilation of Bachmann’s Correspondence (2008) they note, “Bachmann views the title character’s journey to Egypt in Der Fall Franza (TA II: Das Buch Franza ) as a “journey through an illness,”” citing her Büchner Prize acceptance speech for Todesarten, “[…] she uses it [the word illness] in a sense invoked by Paul Celan in order to render visible the word’s implicit dialectic between the outer and inner situations of a first person.” (335) Because of these close connections between Bachmann and Celan’s verbiage and orientation towards Egypt, and because Das Buch Franza is the earliest finished transcript in the Todesarten Projekt, this research will focus exclusively on Das Buch Franza without relation to reoccurring themes throughout Todesarten.

In light of the connection between Celan’s poem In Ägypten, one of his earliest pieces of correspondence with Bachmann, and Das Buch Franza’s plot crescendo at her hysterical episode in Egypt, as well as Bachmann’s own commentary that the book is about illness, this research will focus on the duality of sickness and health, concluding that Bachmann situates Egypt in its duality as Franza’s wellness vacation and her cause of death. I analyze the aetiology of Franza’s death, maintaining the importance of Austrian historical background in as much as Bachmann insists upon it in her unpublished introduction to Das Buch Franza:

“I come from a country, without showing off about its geniuses, which has always concerned itself with those unknown beings, human beings their unfathomability, profundity. I also don’t have any explanation for why a number of revolutionary discoveries have taken place in my country. I’m just acknowledging it. From the undiscovered Sacher Masoch to the greatest pioneer, Sigmund Freud, however historical he may also have been, this line has never broken off, this recherche.” (TP 2:16)


Following the line of Austrian authors, I insist that Das Buch Franza follows the paradigm of hysteria in Sigmund Freud’s Seduction Theory, as outlined in “The Aetiology of Hysteria” (1896) by three groups of hysterics: 1. assaults by adults, concerning Franza’s infatuation with “Sire” in “der schönste Frühling” during the first chapter; 2. relationships between an adult and child, concerning Franza’s marriage to her “großartiges Fossil” Leo Jordan in the second section, “Jordanische Zeit”; and 3. Relationships between two children, usually brother and sister, presuming that one child has already had a relationship with an adult, like Franza and Martin in Egypt.[5] Bachmann’s Das Buch Franza is a piece of literature produced in the wake of Freud’s theories and the death of her own love affair at the hands of Celan’s mental illness.

In the published introduction, Bachmann writes that “This book, however, is not simply about a journey though illness. Ways of death also include crimes. This book is about a crime.”[6] She then suggests that it is the virus of the crime remains even after the end of the Second World War. Bachmann scholar Sara Lennox says, “Instead, in our society, the attitudes of the mind which produced National Socialism now exercise their brutality in the realm of consciousness,” (Murdered Daughters, 162), she quotes Das Buch Franza, “the slaughter is granted a place within the morals and customs of society,” (Franza, 4). The aetiology of the hysteria that caused Franza’s death is, for Bachmann, a crime that manifests in “morals and customs of society”; this situates Todesarten in its literary importance as a psychological case-study, and more importantly, sheds light on Bachmann’s configuration of narrators. Killing one off at a time, Das Buch Franza begins in the first chapter with three narrators: Franza, Martin, and the omniscient narrator, who is intermixed between the two. Martin’s narration drops off in the second chapter, likely because it is a reflection on her time with Jordan. She answers questions from Martin, but it is her and the narrator’s perspective. In the first two chapters, the narrator recounts the “schönsten Frühling” and her marriage to Jordan, about which Sabine Grimkowski suggests that the narrator is in fact another voice of Franza herself. This unity-yet division becomes increasingly noticeable throughout the novel, as the distance between I-narration and omniscient narration becomes unclear. When considering this in a Freudian context, we can relate the birth of the narrator to the initiation of latent hysterical systems, “triggered” by the psychoanalysis of her psychiatrist husband’s experiment. This unconscious memory begins to narrate, ending in Franza’s narration dissolved into the fragmented omniscient narrator.

The narration of Martin’s thoughts aside the hysterical Franza set the scene. His thoughts are narrated as reflections on life situations, “thinking about warts as a reason for marriage” (22), chewing some bread, and reflecting on the value of his parents’ old house, and the type of fossil the professor would be. Suggesting his training as a geologist, the narrator hints at memories “traces” through feldspar fossils, then immediately saying: “his sister was cut through by pain and by something he was unable to explore, given his specialty, for he had no desire to identify or describe his sister’s dissected soul, which was from the Modern Era and not form the Mesozoic.” (29) Immediately we are aware of the tension between the dawn of the Modern Era, and a conflict happening within Franza; Bachmann asks us to think of themes of the Modern Era surrounding Franza’s erratic return to Galicia.

How does Galicia relate to the theme of Egypt, or to hysteria? In both cases, Galicia was during the time before the traumatic event that caused or triggered the hysteria and the dying in Egypt. The narrator establishes spatial information that relate to Franza’s aetiology of hysteria: “The point where three countries converge. Three languages. From here we can retrace our steps backward…” (21); “she had married her father, or at least that’s how he thought of it on first impression, reducing things to the lowest denominator, though later he revised it to “father figure”,” (22). Suddenly Franza’s world is apparent to us, her hometown of Galicia is a retraced step, and her marriage to someone older is referred to by the Freudian Father Complex. Martin even notices the mirrored image of warts on the father’s face and wart on Jordan’s face, a mark of repetition compulsion at the hands of Franza (22). This opens up two possible avenues towards hysteria, both not exclusive of the other: 1. Galicia no longer exists as a city, removing her from her identity and producing a mourning that could end up as melancholy, one form of which would be the Father Complex and ultimately hysteria[7]; 2. she was sexually abused by her father, or perhaps he was absent, hence her attraction to Jordan as Father Complex. The first, suggesting her object-cathexis, is alluded to as both caused by the loss of her Galician culture due to war, and her need to acquire that of the victor: “He was then eighteen and she was twenty-three, about to give up her studies, allegedly having fainted in a hall of anatomy, or in an equally romantic tale she fell into the Fossil’s arms,” (7)  and later, after narrating that there are things in her “tyrannical brain” that she cannot fully uncover, she reverts to solace in her marriage to Jordan, “he’s more contemporary than I am, for I, I, I am from a lower race, and I have known it since it began that it’s one that has wiped itself out. That’s what I am, and he is the type that rules today,” (79). Her distrust of herself as a result of the Father Complex is later alluded to in the novel, when she knows for the first time why she feels “such angst”:

“I saw a graveyard at sunset, and the dream told me: That is the Graveyard of Daughters. And I looked down at my own grave, for I was one of the daughters, and my father was not there. But because of him I was dead and buried there. Maybe in your waking life you know something about a graveyard of children and who is guilty of your death. You’ll never know for sure, but you think about it, as hard as you can, though it will never come to you,” (78)


It is clear in this paragraph that Bachmann has situated fathers in opposition to daughters and responsible for the deaths of some, encouraging a reflection about the real world by using “you” to address the reader, and the ultimately fictive, that of dreams. This passage is ultimately striking because of its attention to patriarchal structures as potential causes for her “angst” and “death”, but also in its allusion to a daughter’s latent memory of fatherly abuse or fatherly neglect.

Franza’s “sickness of the past” (34) is another que to an aetiology of hysteria, placing Franza’s illness (and “destruction”) distinctly on the possibilities of trauma and identity politics:

“She still insisted on keeping hold of Galicia, despite so much having been taken from her, an inclination that was revealed by her forged passport… [he] promised himself to acknowledge who she was, even her faults, because she was being destroyed, yet he hoped she would discover just what had caused her destruction.” (35)


Just as Freud’s subject Dora tells stories in order to “excavate” her hysterical symptoms, so does Franza as they walk in the graveyard, where their father’s grave is absent. After noting that this spring was not the nicest, “but the second nicest,” (34) Franza collapses in a way Martin regards as symptomatic of the past. She is unable to walk, a cue of the expression of a repressed memory, and a textbook hysterical symptom for the traumatic eroticization of the foot, with the dormancy period called the “condition of suitability”. This instance, coupled with the baths she received from her brother, just like the one’s she used to give him, suggest that her repression is triggered towards hysteria. Freud notes that baths from already-sexualized children can also be considered sexual experiences. The brother-sister relationship as the third type of hysteria is assigned here. After the graveyard and her leg paralysis, her “dreamlike trance” changes the narration to be omniscient and retrospective, reflecting on when she met “Sire”. Here, Bachmann adds greater spatial dimension to the narrated past, giving more evidence that Franza is experiencing hysteria.

“Sire”, a British soldier that secured the area of Galicia, was the “first time in her life, [that she] demonstrated her instinctive discernment, a quality that later would help her make her way outside of Galicia… she said to him with confidence and for the third time: Sire!” (41) Her confidence and her pubescent romance come at the same time. “Sire” was the “first man in her life” (42), “who didn’t want her, or to rape her, there was no thought of that” (ibid.), though he did “violently” kiss her mouth before leaving back to England. After Franza sees “Sire” again at a conference in London, the narrator adds:

“And no one stood anymore at the edge of a road, somewhere in Europe, feeling as if she would collapse while trembling, or simply stand there forever in a cloud of dust, as the four tanks rolled on – which could no longer be seen” (48)


Here we can read the encounter between “Sire” and Franza as one of the childhood memories that is related to hysterical symptoms later in life. Could she no longer remember the sexual abuse, or was she experiencing object-cathexis because “Sire” didn’t remember her? Franza’s retrospective narration about eventual sexual approval by an older man is opposite Dora’s Case; Franza is aware that she desired the kisses, awarding her more cognitive agency than Freud allowed Dora, though she, like Dora, still experienced the kissing passively, a requirement for the Freudian idea of hysteria.

The case of Franza and “Sire” could be read as a polemic against Freud’s abandonment of the Seduction Theory in 1897. After protests from his colleagues and the general populace at the idea that childhood sexual experiences with adults were so widespread, Freud dropped the theory by suggesting that the pathological effects from sexual trauma can also be products of imagined encounters. In the Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis Freud says, “The phantasies possess psychical as contrasted with material reality, and we gradually learn to understand that in the world of neuroses it is psychical reality which is the decisive kind.” In the book Assault on Truth (1984) Jeffrey Masson suggests that Freud’s abandonment of the theory also “abandoned the scientific basis of his own work”[8]. In my opinion, Bachmann’s Das Buch Franza also presents a non-definitive answer to the question of rape and by leaving this question open within the context of Modernity, she references the patriarchal demand for Seduction Theory to be silenced.

After the ambiguous attempt to drown herself, from which she was saved (unlike Paul Celan), Franza exhibits another sign of Freudian hysteria, promiscuity, by leaving with the man on a motorcycle for the night. This counts for Freud as a “trigger”; Franza’s condition worsens considerably after that night. In chapter two, “Jordanian Time”, Martin’s narration drops out and Franza’s becomes deeply introspective, and wound together with the omniscient narrator: “Why was I hated so much? No, not me, the other within me. There are many possible explanations, and you’ll have them as soon as I tell you three stories, but as yet I don’t have them myself.” (62) In this instance, the omniscient narrator’s voice takes over for Franza’s self-talk. This shift in narration is particularly striking because it comes right after another “talking cure” narration episode, in which she thinks critically about Jordan’s ex-wives for the first time:

“Only now do I wonder about the other women and why all of them disappeared without a sound, why one no longer left the house, why another turned on the gas, while I myself am the third who amended herself with this name, becoming the third Frau Jordan. It’s as if over the entire time that lies sunken in the darkness a spotlight now shines… full of evidence that can’t be overlooked, and yet how willing I was to believe them dumb, ignorant, at fault-” (62)


Bachmann’s subject Franza cites Jordan as the cause of her breakdown, with evidence that victimizes herself and other women, effectively making Jorden the perpetrator. She describes her condition, with choke marks and peeling skin, claiming to not know where it is coming from except the, “result of a diabolical experiment. Oh, why didn’t he simply kill me. It’s just so unjust.” (63)

The second chapter draws out Bachmann’s attention to historical trauma, particularly the problem of patriarchy. Her explanations of in-house trauma depend on her husband’s mistreatment and because of her own latent condition of “suitability” as a “lesser race”. She says to him, “I think completely differently than you do.” To which he replies, “Ah an enemy in my own house.” (65) Polarizing the high-class Viennese man, to whom Martin describes by his “haughty tone” (18), ascribing the responsibility for Franza’s “changed hairstyle, dropped Galician accent, exchanging it for a different accent in Vienna.” (20) Jordan’s apparent insufferability alongside his cultural superiority forced Franza to conform. This still conforms with a traumatic latency, until her ego is shaken by her perceived erasure from the work she had been helping him with. Would this mean that he was going to divorce her, like the others?  In her article “Female Subjectivity”, author Ingrid Stipa adds to the discourse on Franza experiencing object-cathexis. She says:

“Franza’s psychic destruction in The Franza Case, her social exclusion, begins with the elimination of her name from the manuscript on which she and her psychiatrist husband has been working on together. In addition, Jordan begins to take notes on Franza’s behavior. With these two gestures, he effectively reduces Franza from the status of an autonomous individual participating in public-discourse, to an object of scientific observation or to a psychoanalytic case-study” (Tracing Bachmann, 164)


Even Franza herself notices that her ego is in trouble, she narrates, “my own zeal and sense of conviction had given meaning to my life” (64). By addressing Franza’s status within the public-discourse, Stipa suggests that the loss of perceived “place” in the world objectifies Franza as a case-study. After her husband’s questioning, she stood up and noticed her teeth chattering, and knew she had to leave because she would not get human sympathy from him. This is also a hysterical event listed in Aetiology of Hysteria that is symptomatic of unwanted oral stimulation, and brought up in Das Buch Franza as a conversation and glass of whiskey, then a bout of him screaming at her, all of which she took passively.

Her objectification in this chapter carries on through an invitation to the movies with Prohaska, Jordan’s colleague, which she declines but then accepts after he says it would bring him pleasure. Bachmann’s discussion of Franza’s loneliness is quickly evident of her hysterical condition going untreated. About her husband’s negative treatment of her, she says:

“The wolf doesn’t kill a humiliated opponent, for he simply can’t kill him. Did you know that? He’s simply incapable of biting the throat when it’s held up to him. How wise, how lovely. Yet mankind, possessing the strongest weapons, the strongest beast of prey, has no such qualms.” (70)


Her depiction of the wolf opposite mankind harkens back to Bachmann’s introductory remarks for Das Buch Franza, when she says that these crimes are so subtle that we can hardly perceive them, but we can certainly feel them[9]. Aligning Franza’s dehumanization with death in a gas chamber, Bachmann writes of Franza dreaming Jordan is turning on the gas. In this way, she is exploring female narrative within the context of the Holocaust. Jordan has deemed Franza unfit, no matter what she does, and for this reason he is terminating her, potentially from their marriage. On this topic, author Kirsten Kirk approaches Bachmann’s Todesarten with an idea that Franza’s psychiatric case is here more important than the male-female discourse. She says, “It becomes evident that Bachmann’s primary concern was not only the plight of those murdered in war, but the situation of psychiatric cases, as well as the mentally ill and the insane.” (Bachmann’s Death Styles, 117) The motif of fascism within interpersonal relationships, the husband divorcing the wife for her societal inadequacies and deeming her as “insane” reminds us of the history of hysteria as a disease. Franza herself references the female nature of hysteria: “The flight from reality, female behavior, typical woman.” (The Book of Franza, 69)

Franza herself admits to having “post-traumatic stress” (70) and that her memory is like a bumpy, scratched record – that is, unable to reveal the real music. But, Franza also thinks that her trauma began with Jordan, she says: “I wasn’t sick at all, I didn’t come to him as a patient.” (ibid.) Bachmann scholar Stephanie Bird argues that it is in the second chapter that the narrator invites the reader to adopt a critical position in relation to Franza questioning the validity of her values (Women Writers, 18), which I argue ultimately reflects on Franza’s need to idealize and project a higher moral authority than her perceived own. She recognizes the “norm” that everyone, even those with eczema, are pressed into (73) and says, “I tried to do it, I tried to understand it all, though such attempts were bound up with pain.” (ibid.) Her attempts to be what he wants are futile because he has already planned her destruction: “F.’s self-confidence, something that still needs to be shaken.” (77)

After finding the Fossil’s notes about her, Franza’s narrated sentences become more hectic, and more often in the form of questions. The omniscient narrator suddenly comes in, revealing that she’s talking to Martin. She is telling stories of coughing and choking, two more signs of latent oral trauma, and taking pills to negate the hysterical symptoms. Despite Martin’s self-proclaimed inability to think of things in the Modern Era, he is in the position of her psychologist, letting her talk through the trauma she has experienced. She asks Martin to forgive her for crying, relating it to the forgiveness requested at the Nuremberg Trails in their “disgusting banality” (86). Should Martin be compared to the men who are violent to Franza? I don’t think so, because although he is skeptical about taking Franza with him to Egypt, he still does, and has also promised to take her for who she is. He is also not indoctrinated into the patriarchal ring of psychology that Franza is now afraid of. Egypt is positioned as an offering by her brother in order to leave the fascist society for a while, a sort of cleansing.

In the first two chapters of Das Buch Franza, Bachmann checks off every symptom of hysteria mentioned by Freud in Aetiology of Hysteria, every possible source of the traumatic memory or cathexis, and even veils it under the sub-conscious, the omniscient narrator, as latent and death-causing. Psychoanalysis for Bachmann marks not only traumatic memory, but also the psychological terror that comes from Jordan’s will to power over his object of study, Franza. The motif of a “cure” is also at the same time wrapped up with an institutionalization of her ailment, which Franza reflects on as the displacement of fascism into personal relationships (The Book of Franza, 75). Franza’s panic attacks continue in the third chapter, characterized by trembling, difficulty breathing, moving, and speaking: “The Nile rose and sank quickly, the entire length of it. Franza leanes hard against the small table, her knees feeling weak, and then sat herself down on the stool that Martin shoved beneath her.” (122)

Discussing the way fear operates within her fragile state, scholar Simone Klapper addresses Franza’s inability to “name or judge” her illness symptoms, because she is afraid of conforming to features that would make her abnormal[10]. Lennox also describes the fact that both Franza and the narrator avoid diagnosing the protagonist, making them “unable to transcend racist discourses” (Murdered Daughters, 51). On the other hand, Klapper suggests that the aesthetic experience of Bachmann’s reflexive writing crosses the border of the symbolical order (Aesthetics, 10).  She also points out that the third chapter, “The Egyptian Darkness” alludes to Frued’s statement of the ‘woman as dark as the continent’. She cites Derrida, “Indeed, the desert resembles the characterization of the female (poststructuralist) theory as the open, structureless and indescribable”. It does seem that the desert allows Franza some control over her hysteria: “There was no doubt that her skin had begun to heal as a result of experiencing real necessity. Something (what?) was helping her to gain control over herself, for she no longer trembled for hours on end and was becoming brown and fit.” (103) And: “everything is empty and yet more immediate than anything that claims to exist. Not simply nothingness speculated on by the holders of endowed professorships. It escapes definition.” (89) The desert is not long her cure, but exists in its “otherness” as a safe place for her for some time. Franza is momentarily able to free herself from the experience of the professor, until she encounters the “crimes” she had experienced also in Vienna. Many texts try to localize her psychoanalytic condition in this change, concerning Franza as anorexic, hysterical, neurotic and suicidal[11]. Other texts accuse Bachmann as “othering” Egypt as a cure for the European banality of evil; Monika Albrecht argues that she is pre-destined to die, and the trip to Egypt evokes her lethal spirit[12]; Hermann Weber call her trip to Egypt “Überhöhung und Zelebration der Krankengeschichte einer Europäerin[13] ; Professor Sabine Wilke writes:

diese Genre stelle sich nähmlich heraus, dass es für die (allein oder auch mit Begleitung) reisende weiße Frau nur eine Stellung gibt, die beiderseits (von den weißen Reisenden wie auch vonden afrikanischen Eingeboren) als akzeptable empfunden wird,” (“Wenn Du nach Afrika gehst, vergiss die Peitsche nicht”, 58)


and even criticizes Bachmann’s allusions to colonialism in the context of feminism:

wenn sich der gebildete Wiener, Martin, über die ungebildete, laute, penetrante, rosa Hüte tragende amerikanische Kolonie in Kairo mokiert, ohne auf die europäische Verwicklung mit der kolonialen Geschichte diese Landes zu reflektieren. Que Opferidentifikation wird Franza zu einer Kolonisierten, ihr Mann Jordan zum Kolonisator – ein position, die in der feministischen Kritik der achtziger Jahre noch vollkommen unproblematisch als Beschreibung einer patriarchalischen Prealität rezipiert wurde.” (ibid., 60)


I agree with the critiques of Albrecht, Weber and Wilke about the overuse of Egypt to serve a Western plot, especially concerning the appropriation of Egyptian burial as a metaphor for self-reflection of the white woman’s experience of being judged. When she approaches the “scratched-out symbols of Deir al-Bahari within the temple of Queen Hatshepsut” it dawns upon her that “though [the pharaoh] had deleted her, she was still there. It [the hieroglyph] can still be read, because nothing is there where in fact something should be” (109), that is, by being erased she has already earned her place there. The tombs provoke her as a relatable act of violence, of being read and dissected to the point of destruction just for the idea of science, and for the pleasure of the scientist.

The third chapter’s archeological metaphors of expeditions, ruins, artifacts, ancient signs and digging all relate to the book’s commentary on psychoanalysis. They also express a shift from her foreign privilege of interest in the culture, until the Nile mud bath, during which she was reminded of some rules to prevent her skin from burning and suddenly had an attack. At this point in the book, the reader is invited to question Franza’s status as a victim; is she unable to live in a world with rules? Freud would notice here that Martin had been rubbing the mud on her body, an indication of sexual contact that would result in Franza’s complete paralysis. Author Shanmuganathan draws attention to this episode in the mud as Freud’s consideration of people being buried alive to be the most “uncanny” (unheimlich), because it is a transformation of the fantasy to live in the womb.[14] After participating in the womb with her, the symbolism expressing the brother-sister relationship that occurs in the latter third of hysteria patients in Aetiology of Hysteria just as it occurs in the latter third of this novel, Martin considers either himself or another having sex with her as the cure: “He had to get rid of the Fossil” (108) Her body, fossilized in mud, is undergoing narrative dissociating the body from Franza’s mind. The eroding structures of her mind during the reiteration of birth in the mud suggest that in Egypt she no longer lives under the pressure of memory, or her identity or otherwise, but now under the pressure of her status to Martin as a fossil that needs to be gotten rid of, rather than helped.

“This urge to destroy, carried out with great chisels, this desire to erase a great figure. […] She only said, he was not able to destroy her.” (110) After Martin’s assumption that Franza needed sex, the patriarchal nature of the story becomes vivid; the theme of death among ruins and among weddings both mirrors and perpetuates the theme of scientific maintenance of ruins. The narrator has taken over for both Martin and Franza, expressing details about their surroundings’ hopelessness against the “whites” (112), referring to a building project that was occurring along the Nile at the time. These dualities of death and life are more predominant in the third chapter, and between the two so is blame. As Franza charges the “whites” as the cause of suffering, she is also referring to the “white” of a fossil, the intricate past structures that make up its sturdy core, and if broken, cannot be reassembled.[15]

While Martin is partying with his friends instead of concerning himself with Franza, he becomes a violent actor. By allowing her to be raped by the beach cretin, and insisting that she smoke hash, he negates her needs and instead imposes his ideas upon her. “She began again to smoke, obedient, sensing nothing,” (115) “the hemp had taken them to different places.” (117) The world of patriarchal dominance existed in Cairo, too, and without Martin’s help, he was effectively participating. This resonates as a conversation about guilt during National Fascism. In this particular wave of hysterics, the narrator begins to focus not on the Egyptians, but on the Europeans around Franza. As her subconscious, the narrator exposes Franza’s distance from the world and her seeking to understand it. Wilke writes:

“Die Erzählerin fantisiert sich in eine Welt hinein, in der die Ich-Grenzen verschwimmen und stattdessen eine Verschmelzung der einzelnen Körper im sexuellen Akt stattfindet, als die Heilung von der individualisierten europäischen Kultur empfunden wird.” (64)


This particular distortion, of finding one’s self in a stranger as a process towards healing is significant by way of Franza’s recognition of the Egyptian woman who is seemingly enslaved by the man, and also in its Freudian context, as a “healing” from the iron cage of individualized European culture through the dissolution of her own body. Her attention to the strange woman and the narrator’s attention to the flooding and the “whites” coming cannot be discussed without the contribution of Paul Celan’s poem In Ägypten. He writes:

‘In Egypt’
For Ingeborg

June, 1948

Thou shalt say to the eye of the woman stranger: Be the water!
Thou shalt seek in the stranger’s eye those whom thou knowest are in the water.
Thou shalt summon them from the water: Ruth! Naomi! Miriam!
Thou shalt adorn them when thou liest with the stranger.
Thou shalt adorn them with the stranger’s cloud-hair.
Thou shalt say to Ruth and Miriam and Naomi:
Behold, I sleep next to her!
Thou shalt most beautifully adorn the woman stranger near thee.
Thou shalt adorn her with the pain for Ruth, for Miriam and Naomi.
Thou shalt say to the stranger:
Behold, I slept next to these!


The poem sets up the feminine, Torah- abiding heroines of Jewish literature, Ruth and Naomi. Ruth, who inspires us to transcend the negativity in life after losing her husband, represents feminine grace[16]. Naomi, her friend, seeks to marry Ruth to her brother, a similar story to Martin’s desire to find someone to sleep with Franza. And Miriam, a separate story, is the sister of Moses who is “associated with bringing husband and wife back together again” through the ritual of Mitveh, which purifies the body[17]. Her name, as well, means “bitter sea”, connected with the bitter salt water that killed the traveling Israelites and drowned the Egyptians. This resonates with us as the conversation about water and flooding, which I will address briefly.

The beloved Jewish figures are set against the “stranger” who saves as vessel for them. There is no point of recognition of the stranger except through the identification of these three – even the acknowledgment “Behold, I sleep next to her” of the stranger is made directly to the three spirits. The poem is a process of conjuring – it is not the stranger who is talked to, but the “strange woman’s eye” which is commanded to be the water. It is this water, perhaps the water of the unconscious given that the eye reflects us back to ourselves, which allows for the interaction to take place. The poem moves from the command to acts – seeking, calling forth, adorning… it is in lying with the stranger that the three spirits are adorned, which reads as both a ceremonial and an act of love. They are adorned with the “cloud-hair” moving from the eyes in which they are to the frame, making the stranger an instrument to them and incidental in herself. “Behold I sleep next to her” follows – an act of giving, of conquering, for the sake of the spirits. But the poem ends with a focus turned back on the stranger, as she is beautified more with the presence of the pain over Ruth, Miriam and Noemi than her hair could provide for them. The importance is in the memories, in the subconscious the speaker is bringing to sleeping with this strange woman, and she is lit up in the beauty of his own imaginings. The poem ends on a declaration made to the stranger – still a stranger – after having lain with her. “Behold, I slept next to these.” The spirits have left, the moment is gone, but there is beauty in what has happened and the revelation is able to take place now that the spell is broken.

Coming across Dr. Körner, a man who ascribes to the Western treatment of illness and wears a white coat like her husband, Franza participates in her own subjugation by asking him to complete her process of death. Martin symbolically facilitates this process because she stels $300 from him to bribe the doctor with. Dr. Körner didn’t know her husband in the tight Viennese circles after having fled before denazification, so Franza began to feel agency due to her knowledge from her husband’s work, but her independence without his reputation. She already had the notes on Dr. Köner, but he did not have them on her; she knew that he had murdered sick women in the camps, “the immediate eradication of the unwanted sick, the assisted deaths, the mercy killings.” (The Book of Franza, 129) Rambling on to him only facilitates his aggression towards her, as he shirks off responsibility by saying, “I was never that high up” (ibid.). Demanding her to specify her illness, she instead demands a lethal injection. He denies her and escapes. She has been rejected by both her brother and the Dr. Kröner while in a hysterical state. The sadism of the oppressive males, and those who traumatize her through rape, cause the masochism of Franza’s suicide. Freud would suggest that we interpret this as an exaggerated and self-brutalizing ego. As readers, we are left only with Franza’s reconstruction of the story, the same as Martin.

Without a discussed incest-taboo, Martin is a figure not unlike Robert Musil’s Mann Ohne Eigenschaften, Man Without Qualities (1948) or his Ises and Osiris (1923), in which the sister rebuilds her brother’s body[18]. After killing herself, the narrator tells us of Martin: “He hoped that she had not resented staying in the room at the Semiramis or his lack of concern about her condition, and that she did not die conscious of any of these,” (144) proving his guilty feelings, and also reflecting on the intimacy that they maintained. Her relationship with Martin is the only love-relationship in the story with the exception of “Sire”; like Naomi, Martin wants to help Franza find “feminine grace” in her separation from Jordan, potentially through the cleansing effect of going somewhere else, but unlike Ruth and Miriam, the beautiful figures of myth, Franza exists in the Modern Era, fossilized as a victim of trauma.

His further conundrums about lying her back to Galicia speak to the meaning of Egypt as a place for hope but eventual death. He thought that “Wadi Halfa would soon be flooded. That’s where she should lie, because that was where she had been the happiest.” (ibid.) And yet, he says that Egypt would have been a mistake for him, because it is “so similar to the present.” (145) He is rejecting the romanticization of Egypt for himself, but would like her to be in the flood there. Bachmann situates Egypt in its duality as Franza’s wellness vacation and her solidification of death. The narrator continues and ends:

“It wouldn’t be swept away, for nothing can be swept away. It couldn’t be dragged under, for there was no current. Instead, a great flood. Rising.

The Egyptian darkness, after all, is absolute.” (146)


Coming back to Paul Celan’s poem on Ingeborg, the realization of what has happened and what could have been is only apparent once the spirits of Ruth, Naomi and Miriam are gone; once Franza has died, the narration of Egypt’s flood by way of “the whites” who built a canal there is symbolic of the Modern Era’s negation of those who are different. Situating Franza as the fallen hero of this flood myth, Bachmann puts her in conversation with the Jews enslaved in Egypt and achieving Exodus. By recognizing Bachmann’s influence from Paul Celan’s poem, and from his suicidal illness, we are given the framework for understanding Franza’s Aetiology of Hysteria, and also her reflection on fascism and human negation. Bachmann’s illusion to the Jewish heroines written about by Paul Celan is a framework in itself, set within the larger discourse of the crimes of fascism and the illness of hysteria caused from it.


[1] Höller, Hans. Stöll.  Correspondence. Seagull Books. 2010. (295)

[2] Lennox, Sara. Cemetery of the Murdered Daughters. University of Massachusetts. 2006.

[3] Höller, Hans. Stöll.  Correspondence. Seagull Books. 2010. (324)

[4] Timeline. Höller, Hans. Stöll.  Correspondence. Seagull Books. 2010. (351)

[5] Gray, Richard. Lecture Notes. University of Washington. GER 390. Winter 2016.

[6] The Book of Franza and Requiem for Fanny Goldman. 1999. (3)

[7] “Object-cathexis”. Freud, Sigmund, “Mourning and Melancholia”. Pg. 245.

[8] Gray, Richard. Lecture Notes. University of Washington. GER 390. Winter 2016.

[9] Filkins, Peter. Introdcution: “Darkness Spoken”. The Book of Franza and Requiem for Fanny Goldman. ix. January, 1999.

[10] Klapper, Simone. “The Aesthetics of Fear in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Novel Fragment Das Buch Franza” 2000.

[11] C.F. Kunz. Postmoderne Literatur in deutscher Sprache. (142)

[12] Albrecht, Monika. “Esmuss geschrieben werden” Kolonisation und magische Welt-sicht in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Romanfragment Das Buch Franza. Würzburg, 1998. (68)

[13] “Zerbrochene Gottesvorstellungen: Orient und Religion in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Romanfragment Der Fall Franza.” Ingeborg Bachmann – Neue Beitrage zu ihrem Werk. Internationales Symposium Münster. 1991.

[14] Shanmuganathan, V. “Time, pain and myth in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Das Buch Franza and Anne Duden’s Übergang.”

[15] Klapper, Simone. “The Aesthetics of Fear in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Novel Fragment Das Buch Franza” 2000.

[16] Kohn, Leah. “The Book of Ruth: An Exploration of Jewish Femininity” Women in Judaism. ProjectGenesis, Inc. 2000.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Lecture Notes. Professor Henrietta Herwig. GER 297. UC Davis. 23. May 2017.

Arrested Narrative in Pierrot Le Fou; The Fine Line Between Reality and Absurdity


We leave him on the beach. One must imagine Ferdinand happy. Also known to his femme-fatale as “Pierrot” and maybe to the viewer as “le Fou”, Jean-Luc Godard’s Ferdinand rejects the disillusionment of Parisian society and embraces life on the run as he searches for meaning in the countryside. The realistic cinematography and escape of the absurd in Pierrot Le Fou (1965) involves intellectual, moral and narrative ambiguities[1] emblematic of the ethos belonging to French New Wave auteurs like Godard[2]. About Pierrot Le Fou, Godard remarked, “One should not describe people, but what lies between them and the world”[3]; our melancholic hero’s struggle with inauthenticity results in his disassociation with Parisian society and ultimately his mélange with death. In this account of Pierrot Le Fou, I argue that cinematic realism is asserted briefly through the cinematic landscape’s spatial unity and mise-en-scène, while Godard asserts realism through Ferdinand’s battle to find authenticity. Preempted by asocial feelings, Godard’s fragmented narrative of Ferdinand’s melancholy sees some progression, but results in self-murder.

The Unheimlich Party

“We’re living in an age of rump,” suggests Ferdinand in preparation for the evening cocktail party, mocking the banalities of his wife’s preparations. Very tightly scripted, which is perhaps why the absurd portion of Pierrot Le Fou is so fascinating, the cocktail party’s technicolor and staged theatricality show an inventiveness that breaks boldly from straight-laced historical dramas or melodramatic adaptations of literature. The women inside the party, however seemingly liberated by their bare breasts and partner-switching, resonate no differently than a traditional advertisement. Unimpressed by the rump-shaping fascination of his wife or the aqua-net commerciality of the nameless party-goer, Ferdinand can only blow smoke at the shallow discussions until his entrance into the room without a color filter, with an American film director.  I think that Godard’s use of hypercolorful filters suggests the commodity culture of pop art of the 1960s, moreover, blue and red, the primary colors of Godard’s attention, assert themselves as an extension of the French flag that encompasses Ferdinand from the beginning of the film, in his comfortable blue and red striped robe, to the end, when he wrapped his blue-painted face in red dynamite. This attention to color as a social commentary is addressed by Edgar Morin in his book The Cinema, Or The Imaginary Man (1978):

“Color is only a luxury of perception but any luxury, taking root, becomes a need. It does not have the powers of black and white, but it develops others. Color goes hand in hand with sobriety and splendour[…]

So, if color is on the way to becoming necessary to film, it needed twenty years of perfecting and insistence to begin to devitalize black and white, which had not waited for its arrival to institute a total universe.” (The Cinema, 138)


Morin insists that film aesthetics are a “history of perpetual adaptation… always adjusting itself to the ebbs and flows of spectatorial expectation and subjective needs,”[4] and suggests that color can be attributed to both technology and social desire, revealing the historical significance of uses in cinema which “have today become needs,” (The Cinema, 142).

This aestheticization of Godard’s attention to then-contemporary French society through Pierrot Le Fou’s existential journey could potentially answer Ferdinand’s question, “What exactly is cinema?” To which Godard would answer about Pierrot Le Fou in particular: “It is a film about painting, well not really painting, but a film that resembles a work of art.”[5]  Posed to the American director filming an adaptation of Baudelaire’s attestation to the decadent plague of Parisian society, Le Fleurs Du Mal (1857), the response “like a battleground,” full of blood, violence and love, doesn’t fulfill Ferdinand’s query, prompting his exit to the party. Should André Bazin have been cast as the director, rather than Samuel Fuller, perhaps the answer would have pleased conflicted Ferdinand: “[Cinema is] to reveal the hidden meaning of being and things without breaking up their continuity,” (What is Cinema?, 104). Like Godard, Bazin is inscribing himself into a debate about cinematic form that is ontologically valenced. This makes Ferdinand’s comment, “A person ought to feel unity… They [the party attendees] are like separate machines, there is no unity,” applicable within the scene of the party, staged without realistic character movement and exclusively scripted, mechanical interaction, but compliant with a photographic unity of space by way of full shots and logical montage. The realistic cinematography of Ferdinand walking from room to room is offset by the absurdist conversation.

The cocktail party is the only sequence in Pierrot Le Fou that proceeds with a realistic temporal slowness and logic inherent to Bazin’s idea that cinema should substitute for what is real, which “must have spatial density on the screen… or you run the risk of threatening the very ontology of the cinematographic tale,” (What is Cinema?, 47). The single event of the party is presented fragmentarily, with scrolling shots that maintain Ferdinand as the only moving referent among people sitting and smoking in what is a believably suffocating Parisian atmosphere. Godard’s manipulation of Bazinean realism is clear; the full-shots and logical montage maintain a verisimilitude to realistic movements throughout a party, but the content of the attendees’ interactions is inane, banal and therefore, absurd.

Godard’s juxtaposition of realism and absurdity extends throughout Pierrot Le Fou, but the party scene heightens and elicits Ferdinand’s existential angst that spurs the rest of his journey and eventual death. In my opinion, the disjointedness of his experience culminates in the snap change to green in a previously blue room, at which point Ferdinand mutters through his gros bédo, “Olympio’s melancholy” – no doubt an allusion to Victor Hugo’s “Melancholy of Olympio” (Beams and Shadows, 1840). In this poem, Hugo’s realization is that nature’s endless beauty is cruel to human beings, whose happiness is unsustainable: “How little time it takes for you, Nature, with your unwrinkled brow, to change everything, disregardingly, and, in your acts of transformation, to snap the mysterious threads that bind our hearts.”[6] This bit of foreshadowing before Pierrot Le Fou’s transcendence of the absurd Parisian lifestyle to his death in the countryside is another gesture towards the social as an unheimlich space.

To address the party as unheimlich is to give Ferdinand the hero’s role, apart from the others, including even his wife. Ferdinand confirms this distance and estrangement from society when he says “A man alone always talks too much,” and, with a jump-cut change, he throws cake in his wife’s face and retrospectively narrates the plot change as “Next chapter, despair”. What is important about his admittance that the next chapter is despair, is that we can differentiate the first chapter as something other than melancholia; the omniscient viewer and the perturbed Ferdinand are the only privy to the strangeness and absurdity of Parisian society, privileging the viewer’s empathy with Ferdinand’s existential angst, that ultimately leads to his following melancholia, or sense of loss[7]. Heidegger says that while experiencing angst, it “does not signify that the world is absent, but tells us that the innerworldly entities are of so little importance in themselves that on the basis of this insignificance of what is innerworldly, the world in all its worldhood is all that still obtrudes itself,” (187) that is, being in the world is all that is left, and everything else becomes the unheimlich[8], the strange. This angst leads Ferdinand to search for meaning in the world, a sense of comfort that something is still left: “Some days are like that. You meet nothing but squares. So you start to look in the mirror and have doubts about yourself. Come on. I’ll take you home.” At this point, Ferdinand and his former lover Marianne embark on his journey to find a heim, a comfortable home, his unity, transcending the absurdity of Parisian society from which he feels estranged.

Ferdinand’s search for unity, he says, “between his eyes and ears” is also his search for belief in the world. In Cinema 2, Deleuze comments, “Only belief in the world can reconnect man to what he sees and hears. The cinema must film, not the world, but the belief in this world, our only link.”[9] This resonates with Godard’s suggestion of cinema as the relationship between man and the world, rather than the focus on man as the subject. Thereby, Godard departs from Bazin’s necessary verisimilitude for the remaining Pierrot Le Fou by juxtaposing the real and the absurd through the relationship between Ferdinand and the world, rather than focusing on Ferdinand as a subject in a linear narrative. After the escape from Paris under Bastille Day fireworks, concrete scenes are no longer synthesized into a temporal logic, but move as a “disjointed synthesis”[10] no longer subsumed under the imposition of innerworldly entities. Instead of the linear melancholic psychoanalysis we might expect in “Next chapter, despair,” Pierrot Le Fou’s narrative is arrested by a chain of signifiers relating to the engendered diametric opposition of Ferdinand and Marianne, and of filmic illusion and actuality.

Engendered Opposition

Ferdinand and Marianne were lovers, confirmed by the singular intimate contact between them while Ferdinand drives her home after he leaves the “boring” cocktail party. Placing his hand lightly on her shoulder, the viewer’s expectations become that of a typical romance – let their love cure his angst! Instead, Godard continues the unheimlich eeriness for the viewer (but not for Ferdinand): a strangely silent, unrealistic, diegetic sound of car movement; swirling iridescent colors unlike any street lamps I have ever seen; the unembodied but spoken sexual encounters, “I put my hand on your knee.” “Moi aussi, Marianne,” while leaving both hands on the wheel. It is important to note here, that his promise “I’ll do whatever you want, Marianne,” foreshadows Marianne as the force that propels the narrative forward. It is her desire for freedom, both with and from Ferdinand, that promotes his interaction with the world. Without her, would he embark on his journey to transcend the absurd? Had she survived at the end, would he have killed himself? The passive-active opposition of Marianne and Ferdinand display Godard’s penchant for the existential-ontological cinema, while their fragmented adventures resist a Bazinean condition of realistic cinematic spectacle.

Though driving the car, Ferdinand’s passivity is initially expressed by his conversation with Marianne about life’s difference than books. Marianne suggests that she wishes life were easier to understand – like books – “clear, logical, organized,” to which Ferdinand says life is. She responds, “Non, Pierrot.” This is the first of many moments of disagreement between the two, and the instance of naming Ferdinand “Pierrot”, which refers to the Commedia dell Arte clown-figure who imitates the absurdity of others[11], but also to the adventurous nature that Marianne loves about Pierrot-Ferdinand. The initial car scene is significant, because in Ferdinand’s attempt to escape the absurdity of Parisian life, he clarifies that he believes in the “clear” authenticity of the world he wishes to find, a desire seen as foolish, “le fou”, by active Marianne.

Laura Mulvey, author of Visual Pleasures and Narrative Cinema (1975), would reject the understanding of Marianne as active, saying: “Presence of woman is an indispensable element of spectacle in the normal narrative film, yet her visual presence tends to work against the development of a storyline, to freeze the flow of action in moments of erotic contemplation,” (Visual Pleasures, 84). Considering Marianne as the passive figure in this narrative about Ferdinand’s quest for authenticity is possible by considering that she punctuates his intellectual progress by her capricious governance. Increasingly throughout the film, Ferdinand attempts to propound his ideas in his journal, embellishing the static nature of his physicality and yet asserting the forward-moving linearity of his intellectual journey.

Ferdinand’s journaling serves as fragmented intertitles to the otherwise questionably linear plot development. I assert here that Godard expresses realism through Ferdinand’s existential-ontological journey through long-shots during Ferdinand’s leadership in the relationship with Marianne, much like Ferdinand values his intellectual pursuits until she interrupts them, at which point Godard fragments the verisimilitude to innerworldly activity through abstracted montage and action. Take, for example, the chunk of discussion beside the bridge with no beginning, where they intend to burn their car after an escape from the gas station brawl. Marianne, directing Ferdinand’s driving to make their death from a car crash “look real, this isn’t a movie!”[12], is still infatuated with her obliging Pierrot, though he is clearly in disagreement with their activities. He states, “Always fire, blood, and war,” alluding to Samuel Fuller’s description of cinema at the cocktail party, to which she responds by exploding the car with a shotgun and saying, “Pretty, isn’t it?” This scene is not only a source of disagreement, but important to the development of the plot: Ferdinand has purposefully left Marianne’s gun-running money inside the car, an attest to his disavowal of society and a separation between Marianne and Ferdinand’s ideas about progress. Ferdinand says, “Travel broadens the mind, let’s go,” taking the active role during the middle section of the film, in which Godard’s cinematography changes from fast jump-cuts of action, to long-shots through rivers and forests, and voice-over narrative.

Leaving the absurd piece of bridge behind in a long-shot of a them walking through a field, “like shadows,” “through a mirror,” Godard’s auteurism shows itself. The theme of the mirror can be addressed as a cinematic reflection back to the viewer of what they already know[13]. Godard’s framing of Ferdinand and Marianne during their traversal of France is distinct from the distracting jump-cuts of their criminal life, which, according to Jean Mitry in The Aesthetics and Psychology of the Cinema (1963), “produces a sort of preoccupying fascination which confines the impressions of consciousness within a frame”[14] and eliminates the viewer’s ability to contextualize that the film isn’t reality. Godard’s assertion of narrative linearity in this middle portion allows the viewer to relax from the anxiety of trying to piece together suggestive montage, and allows us to participate in Ferdinand’s voice-over narrative realization of his impulses[15]. Their captivating, romantic journey is cut off by Marianne calling Ferdinand a “liar”, and a non-linear jump to the pair in a city, discussing the make of a car while Ferdinand reads a children’s book. I argue that Marianne is the active character because the film does not end with Ferdinand’s discovery of authenticity, rather, Marianne wins the struggle against him by throwing his books into the ocean and asking herself “What am I going to do?”, a precursor of her leaving Ferdinand and forcing his attention to divert from static writing (but active thinking) to actively finding her (and ceasing his quest for authenticity). This cessation of Ferdinand’s journey and ultimately his death could allude to Marianne as a femme-fatale.

In the next scene, Marianne says, “show me you’re a man,” to which Ferdinand responds, “let me read this.” Unlike the Mulveynean assertion of the masculine gaze making a female character passive, their engendered difference exists only in the world of Marianne as the leader. The dialogical difference between the two is engendered, notable in Marianne’s statement, “You talk to me with words, and I look at you with feelings,” and the sexualized appropriation of Marianne’s “ejaculatory force of the eyes”[16] with which she lies to Ferdinand with words “I won’t leave you” but looks directly into the camera. Looking at the viewer, she reveals that she is lying, breaking the fourth wall without addressing the camera with words. Marianne’s presence takes up more time than Ferdinand’s journaling, possibly to his dismay, and their dialogue with the viewer about the other arrests the narrative through this fourth wall’s break. Scenes in which Marianne is the active character comprise the majority of the film and cut off Ferdinand’s quest for authenticity, resulting in his suicide.



Illusion and Actuality

On the drive away from Paris, Marianne comments on the radio’s announcement of the deaths in Vietnam, an awkward intrusion of then-contemporary news media into their romance’s revival. She says: “115 killed. Yet each one is a man, and we don’t even know who he is.” She connects the unheimlich feeling of the Barthean “blind field” of the photograph, which captures its referent but leaves out the activity of the referent’s life[17], with contemporary events that affect society but take place outside of her experiential world. This intrusion of actuality[18] arrests the opposing narrative of their romance and receives a response from angsty Ferdinand, “Oui, c’est la vie.” Life, for Ferdinand, and cinematic realism for Godard, is interrupted by society’s absurdity of external actions taking precedence in an otherwise linear narrative. Godard’s existential-ontological cinema includes the intrusion of external matters (Marianne’s gun running business) on the consciousness (Ferdinand’s quest for authenticity).

The next morning, inside Marianne’s apartment, the montage of art takes visual precedence over the murdered man, continuing to skew the conventions of linear narrative and verisimilitude in film. The attention to art is Ferdinand’s, as we can tell by his commitment to Elie Faure’s Histoire de l’Art (1921), but also Godard’s, he says: “It’s a film about painting, well not really painting, but a film that resembles a work of art, a landscape, like the painters do in both a portrait and a landscape. At the beginning my goal was the same as that of a painter”[19]. I think that Godard meant to express that his film has a chain of signifiers, a representation of both society and the self. Author Robert Kinsman suggests that painting in Pierrot Le Fou has political intention, the same as Godard’s “counter-cinema”[20], by virtue of art’s ability to prescribe actuality within the illusion of the cinema. Kinsman cites Barthes’ discussion of Brechtian theatre, that “techniques of the stage,” in this case, the montage of art, “are themselves committed to history” (Radical Form, 25). I agree with this, and suggest that the chain of signifiers between socio-historical actuality and cinematic fiction arrests the narrative by way of breaks in the film’s intention and suggestive montage.

Each time Vietnam is thematized, through the radio, the movies discussion and their impromptu skit, actuality crops up and there is a fissure in the otherwise existential mood. Unlike the wholly postwar concern of Alain Renais in Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), Godard evokes a Deleuzian concept of the “world-memory” of wartime suffering. Deleuze would recognize the shoreline relation between dissociated Ferdinand and the American soldiers as, “quite different characters and unconnected places which make up a world-memory,”[21] a memory which is addressed through the asocial position of Ferdinand and Marianne, and Ferdinand’s chosen reality. Like Godard, Deleuze incorporates the importance of consciousness into the globally-shifted postwar world, “the world has become memory… but the brain itself has become consciousness,” (Cinema 2, 121).

Shifting focus from the streets of Paris to the shorelines of soldier presence, Pierrot Le Fou doesn’t make banal the international influence of war, but shows its externality to the “real” quest of Ferdinand’s authenticity. Likewise, attending to the imposition of real feelings on Ferdinand, Godard demands his progression from angst- to mourning- to melancholy with the loss of his objet-petit-a, Marianne, when she runs off. Though alone, without Marianne’s distraction, Ferdinand’s melancholic disposition fragments his efforts in his quest for authenticity, resulting in non-linear narrative throughout the remainder of the film. Sigmund Freud discusses how mourning can lead to fragmentation and melancholy in his seminal article on the progressive stages of angst, Mourning and Melancholia (1917). He says, “Mourning is regularly the loss of a loved person, or to the loss of some abstraction which has taken the place of one, such as one’s country, liberty, an ideal and so on” (243). I add emphasis to abstraction as the fragmentary work of mourning.

“So what is the work that mourning performs? I do not think I am stretching the point is I present it in the following manner: reality testing has revealed that the beloved object no longer exists, and demands that the libido as a whole sever its bonds with that object… Each memory and expectation in which the libido was connected to the object is adjusted and hyperinvested, leading to its detachment from the libido.” (Mourning and Melancholia, 204)


Ferdinand’s hyperinvestment in finding Marianne leads to his murder of her and her lover, which affirms the loss and drives him to suicide. The use of art and Vietnam as social illusions also fragment, or “abstract”, the narrative linearity because they represent a loss of the conscious ego to the imposing socio-historical memory, the concept which Ferdinand attempts to transcend in its absurdity.


Pierrot Le Fou is an excellent example of cinematic realism taking a different shape in the Nouvelle Vague. Godard’s attention to his referent’s consciousness and fragmentation of the narrative linearity provokes the viewer’s involvement with the film, to which Godard has said, “Yeah, well, sometimes in life if children are asleep and you make a noise they wake up, but if they’re already awake it doesn’t do anything at all,”[22] emblematizing his “countercinema” positionality. Pierrot Le Fou maintains an adventurous chain of signifiers between conscious discovery of one’s self and the arrest of consciousness to society. He problematizes Ferdinand’s relationship with his worldliness is provoked by his necessary entrapment within an unheimlich society, the love for Marianne, and socio-historical details that make up his surroundings, making Godardean cinema that of existential-ontological value.


[1] “Interview “Pierrot Le Fou”. Cahiers Du Cinema Oct. 1965: “Godard: The film, alas, is banned to children under eighteen. Reason? Intellectual and moral anarchy.”


[2] “French New Wave – Cahiers Du Cinema.” Review. Audio blog post. Fuds on Film. (2016)


[3] “Interview “Pierrot Le Fou”. Cahiers Du Cinema Oct. 1965

[4] Schoonover, Karl. “The Cinema, or The Imaginary Man and The Stars by Edgar Morin.”

Senses of Cinema. (2010)


[5] “Jean-Luc Godard Raconte “Pierrot Le Fou” – Archive INA.” YouTube. Inaculture. (2012)

[6] “Olympio’s Sadness – Summary” Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition Ed. Steven G. Kellman., Inc. 2009
[7] Freud, Sigmund, Mourning and Melancholia. (1917). I will discuss this point under the section “Illusion and Actuality”.

[8] Heidegger, Martin. Sein Und Zeit. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1979. Pg. 188.


[9] Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time Image, trans. Hugh T. and Robert Galtea (London and New York: Continuum, 2005) Pg. 172.


[10] Ibid.

[11] Wills, David. Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge UP, 2000. Pg. 101.


[12] The irony of this scene is a source of humor, given the artificial-looking crash alongside the chunk of bridge, which inspired me to use Pierrot Le Fou for this paper.


[13] Mitry, Jean. The Aesthetics and Psychology of the Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana U, 1968.


[14] Ibid. Pg. 82.


[15] Ibid. Pg. 84.

[16] Bresson, Robert. Notes on Cinematography. Copenhagen: Green Integer, 1997. Print.

[17] Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Noonday, 1988. Pg. 57.


[18] I use “actuality” instead of “reality” in order to maintain the differentiation between the absurdity of society and Ferdinand’s perceived reality of the mind.

[19] “Jean-Luc Godard Raconte “Pierrot Le Fou” – Archive INA.” YouTube. Inaculture. (2012)


[20] Kinsman, Robert Patrick. “Radical Form, Political Intent: Delineating Countercinemas beyond Godard.” ProQuest Document View. University of Michigan Press, 2007. Pg. 25.


[21] Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time Image, trans. Hugh T. and Robert Galtea (London and New York: Continuum, 2005), 113.

[22] “Jean-Luc Godard Raconte “Pierrot Le Fou” – Archive INA.” YouTube. Inaculture. (2012)

Documentary Value and Aesthetics in ‘Erinnerungsliteratur’



Twenty-eight years after the end of the Second World War, in 1973, literary use of the German word “Erinnerung” erupted, and now, fourty-four years later, Erinnerung has yet to find its crescendo[1]. During the years 1918 and 1947, marking the end of World War One and Two, Erinnerung peaked in literary mention, and shortly after, in 1932 and 1960, Erinnerung’s usage dipped into troughs lower than ever before. The concurrence of Erinnerungsliteratur with post-War dialogue is clear, but what does this tell us about memory as a discourse? Why has German literature’s attention to memory expanded exponentially with each generation, and when will it flatten? To answer these questions, this paper will turn to author Marianne Hirsch’s conception of “post-memory” to conceptualize the generational trickle-down of memory that inspires Erinnerungsliteratur, while also considering the symbolic and fetishized nexus of traumatic memory’s inscription into German history through Walter Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood around 1900 (1950) and Jennifer Teege’s My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me (2015). I argue that these two works exemplify individual memory’s abstraction of the historical index and post-memory’s plasticization of it[2]. In an “effort to distinguish between the documentary and the aesthetic”[3], I look to chronologic and stylistic variation of these texts, that is, their allusions to time and space, in order to delineate their narrative approaches to memory as separated by generation and fidelity to recollection.

Indexicality of the Documentary

Author G. Thomas Couser writes in Memoir, An Introduction (2012) that “memoir now rivals fiction in popularity and critical esteem and it exceeds it in cultural currency” (3). What does it mean to be in the age of memoir, and what can the difference between Benjamin and Teege’s works tell us about the peaks and troughs of Erinnerungsliteratur? Couser focuses on the form of memoir as inherently less complex than other kinds of life-writing due to the absolute requirement of verisimilitude; he notes that the differences between these can be detected by the use of dialogue and ‘scene’ within the literary fiction, and ‘summary’ within the memoir: “In a scene, we look at events as they unfold, usually verbally, while in a summary we adhere to the retrospective” (70). This distinction in form is important to our textual comparison of Benjamin and Teege because it differentiates their entrances into memory: Benjamin, writing what would be defined by Couser as “life narrative”[4], animates his childhood through aesthetic scenery, while Teege’s memoir defines the past through factual summaries.

Berlin Childhood explores individual nostalgia and its relationship with collective memory through a child’s recollection of a home that Walter Benjamin cannot return to because of his displacement and the city’s destruction during war. My Grandfather functions as an act of reclamation after Teege’s discovery of her Nazi heritage by “put[ting] the pieces into a frame, and they make a clear picture”[5]. Though sharing a similar purpose in creating an identity narrative of their past[6], Benjamin and Teege depart stylistically. Benjamin readily admits that the necessity of retrieving his experiential memory lies outside factuality:

“This has meant that certain biographical features, which stand out more readily in the continuity of experience than in its depths, altogether recede in the present undertaking. And with them go the physiognomies- those of my family and comrades alike.” (37-38)
This is in stark contrast to Teege’s inclusion of family members as the names of chapters! Teege’s matrilineal approach, including biographical information, photos, and recorded conversation with family members and acquaintances, is also factually substantiated by the presence of a secondary author, external to the narrative – Nikola Sellmair. Quoting Ben Yagoda’s Memoir: A History (2009), Couser would agree with Teege’s approach to factual presentation because “narrative demands a degree of specificity that memory cannot supply” (78). It is this difference, between the documentary value of Teege’s work and the aesthetic value of Benjamin’s, that intrigues me: How does the aesthetic contribute to the historical index of Erinnerungsliteratur? Do their differing styles have to do with their generational differences?

Indexicality of the Aesthetic

In his book Cultural Memory and Early Civilization: Writing, Remembrance and Political Imagination (2011), author Jan Assmann reminds us that Romans paraded their ancestors by way of portraits and masks, “a conscious reference to the past that overcomes the rupture between life and death” (20), a ritual tradition that reinforced the historical index of cultural memory through object association and bodily experience. Assmann’s consideration of a balance between “repetition” of history, the documentary function of the photo, and “interpretation” of history, the aesthetic of the mask, “are functionally equivalent processes in the production of cultural continuity” (72). As Teege documents history through biography, so must Benjamin through a narrative of aesthetics. By means of material culture, Benjamin approaches Berlin Childhood: “I have made an effort to get hold of the images in which the experience of the big city is precipitated in a child of the middle class… the images of my metropolitan childhood perhaps are capable, at their core, of performing later historical experience.” (38). Benjamin declares his intention to preserve a series of vignettes for future generations; the narrative of the aesthetic provides a conceptual understanding and perceptual encounter, rather than the overt, which acts as a mnemonic device[7].

A prime example of this symbol-creation is the “mimetic exchange”[8] between Benjamin and the butterfly. In this chapter, Benjamin’s butterfly hunt is accompanied by his reflections on the butterfly’s terror – he knows this terror of being hunted because he is a hunted man himself![9] Likewise, he relates to the butterfly (mimetically) through some stanzas that deserve unpacking:

“Between us, now, the old law of the hunt took hold: the more I strove to conform, in all the fibers of my being, to the animal – the more butterfly-like I became in my heart and soul – the more this butterfly itself, in everything it did, took on the color of human volition and in the end, it was as if its capture was the price I had to pay to regain my human existence” (51)


“The Butterfly Hunt” adheres to a mimetic routine of the hunter and the hunted, one that spans Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood and through his death in exile. J. Assmann’s contribution of “mimetic memory” (Cultural Memory, 5-6) surfaces here, allowing Benjamin’s personal and aesthetic contribution enter into the greater cultural memory, the historical index. Assmann says, “Action can never be completely codified. Other areas such as everyday manners, customs, and ethics still depend on mimetic tradition” (6). By shifting the meaning of Benjamin’s butterfly hunt to a greater mimetic tradition of human hunting, Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood enters the historical index of humankind through an abstracted depiction of “the old law of the hunt” (Berlin, 51).


The purpose of aestheticizing the human will to hunt is, for Benjamin, determined by his “inoculation” desire, to infect himself (and the reader) with just enough memory (of the terror of hunting) that he would be free of “homesickness” (nostalgia) for time in the future. As I mentioned before, the desire to write is not entirely different between Teege and Benjamin, but their relationship to time is linear and non-linear respectively. Their level of removal from their origins defines their differing approaches to time, and therefore also speaks to their distinct documentary and aesthetic modes during different periods of Erinnerungsliteratur. This section seeks to underline the importance of generationality and distance, allowing the indexical value of the aesthetic to play a different generational role than the indexical value of the documentary.

Both Teege and Benjamin suffered from depression and, in Benjamin’s case, eventual suicide. Sigmund Freud’s Mourning and Melancholia (1917) investigates the psychological underpinnings of their respective melancholia as a sense of loss, a mourning: “Mourning is regularly the loss of a loved person, or to the loss of some abstraction which has taken the place of one, such as one’s country, liberty, an ideal and so on” (243). I suggest that both Benjamin and Teege suffered the melancholic stage of loss for different reasons. Teege underlines Freud’s concept of prolonged object-cathexis creating a forgetting of the loss in the subject, and resulting in an indefinable depression[10]:

“For my whole life I had felt that there was something wrong with me: behind my sadness, my depression. But I could never quite put my finger on what was so fundamentally wrong […] Is the depression that has plagued me for so long connected to my origins?” (My Grandfather, 6-10)


Her secondary author, Sellmair, tells us that depression in adopted children has been dealt with at the scale of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, stating that all children have a right to know their origins (129). By explaining this to the reader, Sellmair takes the trustworthy authorial role, in place of Teege’s authority that the reader is doubting because of her melancholic disturbances. Benjamin’s melancholy isn’t stated as a depression in Berlin Childhood, but manifests later in his life upon suicide. His mourning, on the other hand, is entrapped in the non-linearity and fragmentary nature of Berlin Childhood. Freud says:

“So what is the work that mourning performs? I do not think I am stretching the point is I present it in the following manner: reality testing has revealed that the beloved object no longer exists, and demands that the libido as a whole sever its bonds with that object… Each memory and expectation in which the libido was connected to the object is adjusted and hyperinvested, leading to its detachment from the libido.” (204)


Benjamin’s method of writing is wholly hyperinvested in the object of Berlin, and his perception of the objects of his childhood are adjusted as well. While Teege seeks to overcome her melancholia by redeeming her “missing object” of origination, Benjamin relies on “physiognomies” to corroborate the continuous influence of Berlin as homesickness; Benjamin can never be “free and uninhibited” (Mourning, 205). His acknowledgement of his mind’s fragmented entombment between past and present is also related to origin, as he reflects on his mother’s family narrative in “The Fever”: “Pain was a dike that only finally withstood the narration but that later, as the narration gained strength, was undermined and swept into the sea of oblivion… thanks to my origins” (74). Peter Szondi’s introduction to Berlin Childhood corroborates my placement of origin within Benjamin’s focus on time: “Benjamin’s new conception of history is rooted in the dialectic of future and past, of messianic expectation and remembrance. “The origin is the goal”,” (28). By compiling moving portraits of his childhood through past-present relationships, “palimpsest” in nature[11], Benjamin’s dialectical relationship with his origin narrative structures his relationship with time. Benjamin’s “precipitates” of experience are aesthetics that define his childhood in Berlin without linearity or biological value, unlike Teege’s which hold exclusively biological value and linearity due to her adoption (and therefore experiential distance from her origins) and linear narrative of discovering her family history.

Marianne Hirsch’s account of ‘postmemory’ conceptualizes Teege’s relationship with memory as the “generation after”, the generation which bears tertiary witness to “the traumatic fragments of events that defy narrative reconstruction and exceed comprehension”[12]. Though Hirsch does not explicitly say so, the second generation becomes the space of history-making. Hirsch states that first there is an event, and finally there is memory. Postmemory allows for the indexicality to break down – first there is a memory, like Benjamin’s childhood, then there is a physical manifestation of the memory as an event (a retelling, like Berlin Childhood) and then there is a space for the myopia – this space is the indexical break. Putting Hirsch into conversation with J. Assmann becomes necessary here, as we trace memory as a cultural construct, always flowing through different mimetic rituals like retelling or tradition into a space for collection that is available to extended generations for treatment and analysis (like My Grandfather). Postmemory becomes the affect of transmitted, indexical memory. The second generation does not have an associated experienced event to feel for, therefore, they must create one for themselves – a recreation of the index, filling the myopia.

There could be a danger here, as Svetlana Boym argues in her book The Future of Nostalgia (2001): “The nostalgic desires to obliterate history and turn it into private or collective mythology, to revisit time like space, refusing to surrender to the irreversibility of time that plagues the human condition.” (22) Intrinsic to nostalgia is a sentimentality that Teege explores but is not subsumed under, thanks to her second narrator’s story. Without him, her memoir may receive an accusation from Couser as “at best glorified gossip, at worst naked narcissism,” (Memoir, 47).  According to J. Assmann, doesn’t cultural memory become myth anyway, so how does this “obliterate history”? According to Boym, the mythic arrives from retrospective nostalgia, which takes on a “utopian dimension” and, “unlike melancholia, which confines itself to planes of individual consciousness, nostalgia is about the relationship between the individual biography and the biography of groups or nations” (23). J. Assmann would agree with Boym that the mythic inhabits cultural groups instead of individuals, but would protest that “Through memory, history becomes myth. This does not make it unreal – on the contrary, this is what makes it real, in the sense that it becomes a lasting, normative and formative power.” (Cultural Memory, 38) Boym’s conception of nostalgia cedes to the formative power of historical myth, but proposes that “It is up to us to take responsibility of our nostalgia and not let others “prefabricate” it for us. The prepackaged “usable past” may be of no use to us if we want to cocreate our future.” (45)

Teege’s work is an example of the “usable past” inasmuch as Benjamin’s is a “creation of the future”. Teege’s reliance on documentary sources and adherence to the Holocaust narrative of her origin could be perceived as her addition to the “prefabricated” index of Erinnergunsliteratur. Benjamin, on the other hand, does not have a canon of Holocaust Erinnerungsliteratur to work with, so he looks to the aesthetic recollections of his personal past as a testament for the creation of the historical index. His nostalgia doesn’t mythicize the past because it isn’t dependent on a pre-existing canon.

Because Benjamin’s piece is both nostalgic and encounters the first stage of melancholia, mourning, we must critically analyze the way his photographic seeing into the “then and there”[13] of childhood by using the “here and now” of adult perception actually leaves a myopia. Keeping in mind his mimesis with the butterfly, perhaps Benjamin is using his aesthetic juxtapositions of time to prescribe a break in the mimetic cycle, particularly in this case of human hunting. Benjamin’s response resists appropriative empathy for the mimetic tradition and preserves a boundary, however tenuous, between the future and the past, the individual memory of Berlin and the collective, and, at the same time is open to perceiving divergent connections through his use of childlike curiosity.


Both Teege and Benjamin visit spaces of their origin story, using the images, both documentary or allegorical, to reconstruct and present their origin-loss. These spaces are engaging on the level of being shown and being already known; who hasn’t gone for walks in Berlin’s Tierpark or Munich’s Schwabing? Berlin Childhood aestheticizes the cityscapes individual from each other and My Grandfather defines them in relation to each other, but both texts imbue spaces with the historical index of their origin stories and document them through pictures. In this section, I want to analyze why Benjamin didn’t abstract his spaces and how Teege’s geography “cocreates” a historical index of past and present.

By capturing the way in which a child perceives the image-world, whether that means hearing the wrong things – a “Näh-Frau” (Needlework woman) instead of “Gnädige Frau” (Madame) – or remembering the smell of the loggias of his birthplace, and the childlike gaze upon the cityscapes he inhabits, Berlin Childhood “memorializes a world that was about to disappear, not without marking its complicity with the unending brutality of the “victor”,”[14] writes translator Howard Eiland. Elaborating on this point, Eiland describes that Benjamin’s thought desired to reveal that seemingly obvious things, such as the Gnädige Frau and the logicality of the cityscape, are concealed from us as children but told to us as we become educated by society. Using “a cunning dissociation of consciousness from identity”[15] Benjamin is trying to describe an interiority and singularity of these spaces in Berlin, 1900, from which he, as an adult, and the 20th century seems to be drawing away from. Unlike his mimetic disclosures about humankind, Benjamin’s specific spatiality provides the aesthetic conditions from which the child “falls” into adulthood.

One of Berlin Childhood’s closest disclosures of this antecedent reality, Benjamin describes the Narnia of rolled-up socks within the wardrobe:

“Nothing surpassed the pleasure of thrusting my hand as deeply as possible into its interior… When I had closed my fist around it and, so far as I was able, made certain that I possessed the stretchable woolen mass, there began the second phase of the game… For now I proceeded to tease it out of its woolen pocket. I drew it ever nearer to me, until something rather disconcerting would happen… It taught me that form and content, veil and what is veiled, are the same.” (The Sock, 96)


As Benjamin would pull the sock’s interior, the sock would spring to recognizable form – a game that Benjamin attributes to his earliest awareness of enigma. This pattern of conversion narrative, the then-I versus the now-I[16], is already imbued in Benjamin’s perspective of a loss of childhood understanding, “the fall from grace”[17]. Benjamin’s childhood home is full of enigmatic objects, “an arsenal of masks” (16), on which he focuses and idealizes in favor of the “uncanny” (unheimlich) spaces that adults inhabit (17). Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida (1980) positions Benjamin’s enigmatic image-space as a space of fantasmatic desire, that is, between documentary and dream-space (Camera, 16). This correlates with Benjamin’s nostalgic response to memory, his childhood aesthetic, for which he “allows the detail to arise from its own accord into affective consciousness” (55), and from which there is what Barthes would call a “blind field”, in which something beyond his view is occurring – the unheimlich. For both Barthes and Benjamin, that “blind field” has a “Victorian Nature” (Camera, 57), a “societal” and matured character that is inaccessible to a child.

Author Dora Osbourne makes an important contribution to the study of Benjamin’s spatiality in her book, Traces of Trauma (2013), by suggesting that Benjamin’s hunchback figure is an “embodiment of ruptured history and distorted memory” (41). His ‘embodiment’ is a space itself, but he also exists among documentary-value spaces like the Brauhausberg and Benjamin’s cellar, not only distracting him but making him clumsy (Berlin, 122). Osbourne says: “The hunchback is an embodiment of a failed genealogy which serves to remind us of the rupture in any notion of historical continuity” (42). Thus, the hunchback inhabits the space of Benjamin’s “belated memory”[18], like the next generation’s experience of the Holocaust, explained by Osbourne using Freud’s theory of Nachträglichkeit. Freudian Nachträglichkeit violates the empirical principles of linear space and time (much like Berlin Childhood) assumed under the positivist notion of causality.

Barthes would call this quality of the unknown the “erotic” which leads to aesthetic abandonment that cannot universalize itself except through particularity of documentation (59). Though Benjamin relies on specific, documented spaces when reflecting on his childhood, he is trapped in the paradox of being specific of place but not of linear time; as a child, Benjamin is not yet involved in “positive formulas” of time, but sees “the shoreline of adult life” (Berlin Childhood, 68) when he is encountered by objects that show duration, like adults:

“A paradox: the same century invented History and Photography. But History is a memory fabricated according to positive formulas, a pure intellectual discourse which abolishes mythic Time; and the Photograph is a certain but fugitive testimony; so that everything, today, prepares our race for this impotence: to be no longer able to conceive duration affectively or symbolically.” (Camera, 93)


Benjamin’s use of photography and specific places ushers in an intractable reality that is otherwise questionable through his aesthetic recollections. Berlin Childhood’s documentary value exists only in its necessary relationship to the aesthetic; by recognizing that some image-spaces are enigmatic and others unheimlich, Benjamin substantiates his critique of the “The Society”, the maturation and adulthood, into which the child “falls” by way of being unable to see the enigmatic truths of spaces that gives one their origin (for Barthes, the “genius”, 77) and sees only the documentary truth of what-has-been.

In Teege’s story, there is no “fall from grace”. Her story’s focus is not on the discovery of her matured nature’s origin, or of society’s, but rather on the discovery of her origin myth – is she hunting the hunchback? Teege’s story is already cast, a pre-figured inheritance that she is uncovering, rather than the childhood “becoming” or societal “developing”[19] in Benjamin’s Berlin. Teege questions, “On the matter of blood: What did I inherit from him? Does his violent temper manifest itself in me and my children?… I no longer trust myself: Am I going mad, too? Am I already mad? At night I am plagued by terrible nightmares.” (15) Teege’s body is a physical space inasmuch as the city of Munich, or the camps in Poland. The way she expresses the past living within her own physicality is where she bridges the gap between documentary value and abstraction; she attempts to recover this gap and document her “madness” through visitations to the psychologist. Like the second author, the psychologist’s role in telling Teege about her condition (in relation to case studies about others) maintains the documentary possibility of Teege’s body as a space. In Teege’s memoire, the historical index of those who “died from their fathers” (My Grandfather, 140), as if genetics were an affliction, is cast within the postmemory of the Holocaust specifically.

Teege’s body-space is inhabited by two cultural memories: the Holocaust, and her “skinny legs and long black hair” (14). She inherited her black skin from her father, but “Where was he now?” (184) The space she gives to her father’s biography and her Nigerian heritage are limited; she mentions him on only five pages throughout the memoire, never including his name, and only sacrificing half a paragraph to his religious temperament (“the chi” of the Igbo people, 185) that may or may not inhabit her body, too. Teege doesn’t discuss much about the Nigerian half of her genetic inheritance, but situates her blackness using space:

“In Germany, black people are a minority. When we run into each other on the street, we nod and say “hello” even if we don’t know one another. Our skin color creates an affinity.
In the African quarter of Paris, the color of my skin was nothing out of the ordinary. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was among my own kind.” (185)


By documenting her change of feelings with a change of space, Teege reminds us that Germany, the nation with borders and its own historical index, is her point of reference. This is important for Teege’s contribution to Erinnerungsliteratur, because she adds to a specific canon of Holocaust memory studies. Though her placement in the canon is indeed fragmented by her blackness in a then-predominantly white Germany, the melancholic focus of the documentation attends to postmemory of the Holocaust without deviation.

Unlike Benjamin, Teege’s special references don’t draw attention to the development within one specific place, but stretch the narrative of Holocaust memory across borders. She maps Amon Goeth’s, her grandmother’s and her mother’s lives from Poland, within Munich and to Israel, while also providing her travelogue between Germany, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. By tracing the footsteps of her heritage, she “cocreates” history by filling the myopic gap with what inhabits those spaces now: “Without the informational displays, one would never guess at the atrocities that were committed here all those years ago.” (56) Spaces also provide the impetus for her photographic inclusion, without the stigmatic value or ambivalence of Benjamin’s “Victory Column” or “Typical Middle-Class German Home” photos. Teege’s photos document her personal visitation of the spaces, and gives a face to the names of Amon and Irene Goeth; “it compels me to believe its referent existed.”[20]

Space encounters a documentary value for both Teege and Benjamin, but diverges at the site of meaning. Teege’s spaces bring the past forward, allowing the reader to gain a deeper geographical understanding of her own bodily inheritance, and the memorial inheritance of spaces outside her body. Benjamin’s spaces reflect not on physicalities of memory, but the development of memory. His documentation of spaces serves as a ground for his abstraction of their meaning; Berlin Childhood focuses on the change in meaning and what is lost in “the fall”, or, the forgetting.

The Holocaust as Creation Myth of Erinnerungsliteratur





Assigning human experience the task of making peace with death, the authors of The Worm at the Core reflect on literal and symbolic immortality as a process of “biosocial transcendence, derived from the literal and symbolic connection to future generations” (The Worm, 221). This division between literal and symbolic inheritance embraces postmemory through its embeddedness in culture, the genetic expression of DNA, the repisodic nature of memories, and the transience of trauma. The latter is what gives Erinnerungsliteratur its postmemory character, but is also what limits its interpretation. Given that humans are mobile in a world that is “all too often unpredictable, tragic and grotesque,”[21] post-traumatic consciousness transcends national and linguistic borders. Would it therefore be reductionist to consider Erinnerungsliteratur, a language-based category, from only the standpoint of the Holocaust as we have done thus far?

Let us consider Teege’s power narrative, which focuses seamlessly on the Holocaust despite her Nigerian roots, as a starting point for this discussion of mobility of   Erinnerungsliteratur. In Unclaimed Experience, Cathy Caruth famously asks, “What does it mean for history to be a history of trauma?” (185) and goes on to explain that history arises where understanding may not. In the case of Erinnerungsliteratur, German history is at stake, with a Svetlana Boymian “prefabricated” myth about what-has-been. Though the relationship between peaks and troughs of ‘Erinnerung’ in German literature correspond with the Holocaust, the upward trend in ‘Erinnerung’ continues even after the second-generation of postmemory begins to age and die. One could argue that the myopic latency of Holocaust history continually inspires writers, or, one could look to Michael Rothberg’s description of memory as “multidirectional”[22]. Unlike the right-wing intellectual position in the Historikerstreit of the 1980s, Rothberg demonstrates that the Holocaust has “enabled the articulation of other histories of victimization”[23]. Rothberg’s emphasis is that Erinnerungsliteratur can be connected to the Holocaust, whether historically, politically or structurally, but in the neo-liberal politics of the twenty-first century, the legacies of violence perpetrated on diverse populations have occurred alongside and in connection with each other. The resonances and entanglements between them, much like the fragmentary nature of Benjamin’s childhood memories, create a broader narrative than can be addressed by looking at Erinnerungsliteratur through only the frame of the Holocaust.

To this end, I take issue with Aleida Assmann’s approach in On the (In)Compatibility of Guilt and Suffering in German Memory (2006). According to A. Assmann, the “various levels of heterogeneous memory can exist side by side if they are contained within a normative frame of generally accepted validity” (2). A. Assmann’s goal is to compile generational memory into a German frame in order to overcome the cognitive dissonance between narratives of the past. Her attention to Väterliteratur and Familienliteratur proves a reductionist gap, a blind spot, of multicultural history in Germany[24]. She chooses to normalize interpretation of memory under the validity of Germany’s historical narrative, effectively affirming a creation myth of the Holocaust from which future analysis of Erinnerungsliteratur must escape. In my opinion, her analysis of postmemory would have been made stronger if she addressed the argument in Freud’s Moses and Monotheism, that if we forget about the past, the second generation will atone for the guilt of the father by imposing the laws of the father, perpetuating a cycle that could have ended with a stronger historical index.

By eliciting elements of time and space under aesthetic and documentary values within Berlin Childhood and My Grandfather, I have attempted to subvert the understanding of Erinnerungsliteratur from the orientation of exclusively the Holocaust to broader categories of literary theory, psychoanalysis, aesthetic theory and memory theory. It is my conclusion that the aesthetic scenery of Berlin Childhood beckons for the myopic space to be filled with indexical information, while the documentary summarization of My Grandfather reaffirms a German cultural memory. I hope my reader has gained a broader understanding of memory’s character and generationality within these two texts and begins to ask themselves about German Erinnnerungsliteratur in a Germany with open borders. Would we suffer  “forgetting” the Holocaust, or would it remain as a piece of the historical index among others? By corroborating literary technique and theory, the aesthetic and documentary natures of Erinnnerungsliteratur come to light as both the opening and distilling of Germany’s historical index.

[1] “Google Ngram Viewer.” Google Books. “Erinnerung” Web. Mar. 2017.

[2] I am referring here to the ‘plasticization of the historical index’ as presented in Jan Assman’s Cultural Memory and Early Civilization Writing, Remembrance, and Political Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. Print.
[3]Hirsch, Marianne. “The Generation of Postmemory: After Auschwitz.” Columbia University Press. Pg. 23
[4] I am referring here to the ‘life narrative’ in Couser’s Memoir: An Introduction. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. Print

[5] Teege, Jennifer, Nikola Sellmair, and Carolin Sommer. Interviews. My Grandfather Would

Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi past. New York: Experiment,

  1. Print.


[6] Benjamin famously notes that he intends to “inoculate” himself against the homesickness of

exile. Berlin Childhood around 1900. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 2006. Print.


[7] Goebel, Rolf J., and Gerhard Richter. “Benjamin’s “Ghosts”: Interventions in Contemporary Literary and Cultural Theory.” The German Quarterly 76.3 (2003)


[8] Jennings, Michael W. “The Mausoleum of Youth: Between Experience and Nihilism in Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood 1.” Paragraph 32.3 (2009): 313-30.
[9] Benjamin wrote this book while he was in exile. Berlin Childhood around 1900. Pg. vii.

[10] Drawing from “Mourning and Melancholia” Freud, Sigmund, and Peter Gay. The Freud Reader. New York: W.W. Norton, 1989. Print. Pg. 256.

[11] Eil Berlin Childhood around 1900. Pg. xii
[12] Biography: “Marianne Hirsch”. Web:

[13] Jennings, Michael W. “The Mausoleum of Youth: Between Experience and Nihilism in Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood”. 2009. Pg. 315.

[14] Berlin Childhood around 1900. Pg. xiii.
[15] Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Noonday, 1988.

Print. Pg. 12.
[16] Couser, G. Thomas. Memoir: An Introduction. Pg. 38.

[17] Rugg, Linda Haverty. “Picturing Ourselves.” (1997) Web. Pg. 146.


[18] Osborne, Dora. “Traces of Trauma in W. G. Sebald and Christoph Ransmayr.” Alibris. (2013)

[19] Here I’m alluding to the French etymology of développer, the “unfolding” of centralized cities and expansion of state power.

[20] Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Pg. 77.

[21] Solomon, Sheldon, Jeff Greenberg, and Thomas A. Pyszczynski. The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life., 2015. Print. Pg. 225.

[22] Rothberg, Michael. Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2009. Print.

[23] MR Book cover

[24] This gap was the inspiration for my project.

Kafka and Modernity: A Chinese Intellectual Approach

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In Franz Kafka’s Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer, there is a silence and juxtaposition between the official justification of the building of the Great Wall and the hidden knowledge of the Chinese. The lack of opposing rationales or reflection on opposition makes it impossible for the subjects of China to gain freedom. The narrator, on the other hand, does not look to the Emperor and his classical teachings, but looks to the characteristics of the world around him – the people, the construction of the wall – to investigate the situation. This type of rationale is akin to modernism, a subject prominent in Chinese intellectual thought of Lu Xun, Kang Youwei and Liang Shuming. These thinkers, as well as Walter Benjamin, give us insight to the expression of modernism in terms of worldliness. The ultimate goal of this study is to provide a case for the worldliness presented in Mauer by highlighting themes of Chinese modern thought.

The Case of China and Kafka

It wasn’t only Kafka who likened himself, im Grunde, to the Chinese[1]. For Kafka’s tenth Todestag memorial, Walter Benjamin contextualized Kafka’s mythic spirit in Chinese genealogy, “Unter den Ahnen, die Kafka in der Antike hat, den jüdischen und den chinesischen, auf die wir noch stoßen werden, ist dieser griechische nicht zu vergessen.” (Benjamin, 5) At once Benjamin invokes Kafka’s worldliness, grounding him in the primordial cornerstones of the early modern world. What makes Kafka particularly Chinese is essentially what makes him non-European: “Die natürliche Auslegung ist der eine, die übernatürliche ist der andere; am Wesentlichen gehen beide – die psychoanalytische wie die theologische – in gleicher Weise vorbei.” (ibid., 16) Unanswering to the investigations of European modernity, Benjamin uses the Zeitgeist to organize Kafka under the utter difference ascribed to the Chinese:

“»Ihm gilt grade die Fülle der Welt als das allein Wirkliche. Aller Geist muß dinglich, besondert sein, um hier Platz und Daseinsrecht zu bekommen« Das Geistige, insofern es noch eine Rolle spielt, wird zu Geistern. Die Geister werden zu ganz individuellen Individuen, selber benannt und dem Namen des Verehrers aufs besonderste verbunden.« […] Es ist nun freilich nicht Kafka, von dem hier die Rede ist – es ist China.” (ibid., 20)


What is most important about Benjamin referencing China is not what he suggests about Kafka’s work in its “inexhaustible intermediate world”[2], rather that Kafka’s Chinabild is canonized alongside him, confirming a cross-cultural process of modernity. Though Benjamin quotes Franz Rosenzweig’s Stern der Erlösung, a piece in which China is placed opposite the West, he is not polemicizing Kafka nor China, but emphasizing the unorthodoxy of Kafka’s contribution “um die Frage der Organisation des Lebens und der Arbeit in der menschlichen Gemeinschaft.” (ibid., 11)

In binding the Chinabild with Kafka’s fictional oeuvre, Benjamin posits that Western culture is “haunted by its own structural obverse”[3]. That is, the West is comprised of systems of binaries: the subjective vs. the collective, and the material vs. the spiritual. “In seiner Tiefe berührt Kafka den Grund, den weder das »mythische Ahnungswissen« noch die »existenzielle Theologie« ihm gibt.” (ibid., 22) Kafka doesn’t ground himself in mythical divination or existential theologies that his Western upbringing supplied him with, but adds to the constitution of the West by exemplifying a critical antithesis. Benjamin positioned “Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer” in its profound contrariety to Western dualities, “eine Erfahrung, die tiefer geht als die des Durchschnittsbürgers, trifft auf sie auf,” (ibid., 19) and through this, brought forth the worldliness of his work. In this essay, I will respond to Benjamin’s assertion of Kafka’s worldliness in Mauer, looking not to Western dualities from which it differs, but to conception of worldliness that offers a framework for how we might understand Kafka. By analysing Kafka’s canonical European literature through the works of Kang Youwei, Liang Schuming and Lu Xun, his worldliness becomes an alternative dialectic of modernity.

 Fragmentation in Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer

Kafka’s testament to the Great Wall of China is not a parable of reason or of God, but as the title infers, a parable beim Bau. Alluding to the Great Wall’s fragmented and episodic construction, Kafka’s title also requires his reader to consider its emblematic status in the development of China. Built across 6,259 kilometres of China’s northern border, the disjointed assembly of the Great Wall submits to its representation of cultural, geographic and historical continuity. Kafka’s German title already suggests an architectural and epochal fragmentation of the wall, while it’s English title, “The Great Wall of China”, misses this allusion.

Paradoxically, Kafka’s fragmentation became a prominent example for the construction of Europe’s “dominant literary tradition”[4]. Advancing Benjamin’s conviction that Kafka cannot be “oedipalized by a mother narrative”[5], that is, categorized in European terms, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari allow Kafka a canonical exegesis as a “minor literature” in which “there is insurmountable discontinuity… in his mode of expression through fragments” (Deleuze, 72). Deleuze and Guattari distinguish three categories of “minor literature”, which have influenced my coming reflection on Kafka’s fragmentation: collectivity, politics as “neither imaginary or symbolic” (ibid., 7), and deterritorialization. They address Beim Bau der chinesischen Mauer specifically: “the fragments refer so much to the imperial transcendence and a hidden unity that certain persons will feel that the discontinuous wall will find its only finality in a tower.” (ibid., 72) By this they mean that the signification of a unified China relies on the gaps in the Great Wall’s construction, which still represent a border to the north. These gaps concurrently enfeeble and uphold the unity of China.

The idea of “minor literature” is precisely that discontinuities are the basis for an understanding of any literary Zeitgeist. The categorization of “major literature” necessitates the opposition of “minor literature” to reify its existence. Carlos Rojas situates “minor literature” in a socio-cultural context as “the extent to which even a putatively unitary sociocultural space or tradition may contain radically incommensurate languages or semiotic systems” (Rojas, 78). Creating a category for Kafka’s early modernity literature as inherently non-European emboldens the understanding of modernity by challenging the laurels of a northern hemisphere development narrative. As Benjamin insisted, depicting Kafka’s Mauer as a fragmentation requires an analysis outside of historiographical time, outside the Western prescriptions of modernity, but nonetheless with an eye to intermediary of societal development:

Das Vergessene – mit dieser Erkenntnis stehen wir vor einer weiteren Schwelle von Kafkas Werk – ist niemals ein nur individuelles. Jedes Vergessene mischt sich mit dem Vergessenen der Vorwelt, geht mit ihm zahllose, ungewisse, wechselnde Verbindungen zu immer wieder neuen Ausgeburten ein. Vergessenheit ist das Behältnis, aus dem die unerschöpfliche Zwischenwelt in Kafkas Geschichten ans Licht drängt.” (Benjamin, 20)


In this essay, I propose that we cannot address Kafka’s “ungewisse” in terms of Benjamin’s, Deleuze’s or Guattari’s European dualities, rather, we must look to authorship that upholds Kafka’s “ancient genealogy”; Chinese author Lu Xun’s history asserts an understanding of Kafka’s narrator in relationship to the state, Liang Shuming prioritizes ‘unscientific’ development as a basis for modernity, and Kang Youwei’s ‘One World’ philosophy emphasizes Kafka’s state critique as non-utopian. These three themes, the individual, science and the idyll, fill the ‘gaps’ of major literature in the time of European modernity.

Historiography as Worldliness in Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer

Benjamin formulated the most engaging analysis of Kafka’s work in relation to the fragmentary evolution of the state: “Er hat nur in dem Spiegel, den die Vorwelt ihm in Gestalt der Schuld entgegenhielt, die Zukunft in Gestalt des Gerichtes erscheinen sehen.” (63) This guilt assigned to Kafka could be interpreted as the weight of modern structures of judgement, which forces man to look within himself and acknowledge his ancestral development. There is no “answer” to be drawn from this reflection, but rather a concession to the various historical stratum that project into reality. Mauer has two examples of this problematized history: first, the Tower of Babel and the Great Wall, and second, the emperor and the directorate I mean that the Tower of Babel and the Emperor represent a divine shadow implicit to the modern rulers – the Great Wall and Kafka’s directorate. Considering the historiographic contest these dualities provide to the “master narrative” of development, author Sebastian Veg highlights that Kafka’s Mauer delimits the concept of time in history:

“On a reflexive level, this sets aside from the linear conception of time often criticized as the implicit subtext of modernity: on the contrary, they underline that democratization is bound up with an “open” view of history that allows the readers to forge their own understanding and define their place in it.” (Veg)


Ritchie Robertson recognized this particular privileging of bygone modes of bureaucracy as well. He postures Kafka in relation to Eastern European Jewry, wherein the “nostalgia for the belief in the sacred nature of political organization, are seen as obstacles to the full empowerment or liberation of the individual.” (Veg) Of course, both Veg and Robertson are drawing from the entirety of Kafka’s canon, and yet this historiographic problematic also rings true in Mauer and with the views of Chinese literary intellectual, Lu Xun.

Already alluding to his worldliness by contemplating the Nietzschean understanding of history, that is, that world literatures should be brought forward to promote societal evolution, Lu suggests that the “savage forces of history are irrefutable,” (Lu, 98) and suggests that civilization buds from the “flower of savagery” (ibid.). Though speaking of Mara poetry, Lu’s intention to reflect on the “savage” in order to find “Nature” resonates as the Dionysian dithyramb Nietzsche borrowed from the Greeks in The Birth of Tragedy.  Promoting the “incomparably wise and mighty ancestors” (ibid.) of past civilizations, Lu encourages the nation to remain faithful to its “illustrious past”: “As a nation grows, concern for the past has merit that lies in clarity […] So I say that taking a nation’s spirit forward depends on how much one knows of the world.” (ibid. 98-99) Suddenly we must recall the situation of Kafka’s narrator: a young man, who knows details only about the directorate to build the wall, but has passed only the lowest exams in school. He is feeling lucky to be enlisted among “die arbeitenden Massen” to work on a project that holds meaning in its antiquated spirit as the new Tower of Babel, and in its practical contribution “zum Schützen gegen die Nordvölker gedacht,”. Kafka expresses a natural unity of the workers (their blood) with China at the site of the Great Wall:

“Jeder Landmann war ein Bruder, für den man eine Schutzmauer baute, und der mit allem, was er hatte und war, sein Leben lang dafür dankte. Einheit! Einheit! Brust an Brust, ein Reigen des Volkes, Blut, nicht mehr eingesperrt im kärglichen Kreislauf des Körpers, sondern süß rollend und doch wiederkehrend durch das unendliche China.”


Though entirely “das System des Teilbaues”, a paradox in itself which will be covered in the next section, the workers feel unified. Here we see that modernity, as represented by the Great Wall, does not gain legitimacy through its non-linear trajectory, but rather through the funnelling of energy toward a singular task, rooted in the ideological program of the Babelian fairytale. This fragmented project of the Great Wall echoes Lu’s citation of Carlyle:

“The Czar of great Russia, with soldiers, bayonets, and cannon, does a great feat in ruling a great tract of land… When soldiers, bayonets and cannon are corroded, Dante’s voice will be as before. With Dante, united, but the voiceless Russian remains mere fragments” (Lu, 4)
By using only the semblance of the Tower of Babel, the workers and work of the Great Wall are voiceless. Referencing Kafka’s story “The Tower of Babel”, Veg considers that the building of the Great Wall is “essentially a pretext” (53) to convey the manipulation of nation’s subject. What he means here is exactly the voicelessness expressed by Lu Xun; when the individual lacks attuned historical knowledge, he is unable to free his voice from the “subtext of modernity”, that is, the national imagination.

For Lu Xun, a Chinese literary renaissance is required to emancipate the voices under the shadow of a national imagination. His strategy commits to worldliness when he says, “fortune lies in being Western Europe’s antithesis,” (107). Reflecting on the “desolate” and “stagnant” history of China, Lu sees progress through influence from the outside. Mauer is of the same mind; as Veg contends, the construction of the Great Wall is positioned as an oppressive institutionalization of subjects, who “hatten alles Vertrauen zu sich, zum Bau, zur Welt verloren,” (X), whose faith in the world had been lost due to the project of closing themselves off to it: “Durch das Fenster aber fiel der Abglanz der göttlichen Welten auf die Pläne zeichnenden Hände der Führerschaft.” (X) Kafka argues for worldliness in his argument against the oppression incurred by borders.

Veg considers about this oppressive silence of the leadership as a “blurred border between the legitimate and the illegitimate” (Veg, 65) which calls to mind Mauer’s scene in the directorate (Führerschaft) and Lu Xun’s ideal of Chinese polity: “Don’t disturb” (Lu, 101). When inside the polity, there is still an “Abglanz der göttlichen Welten”, that is, the polity takes a cosmopolitan stance by considering itself divine, and inside it there’s still a semblance of the mythical, which has human voices trapped inside: “in dieser Stube kreisten wohl alle menschlichen Gedanken und Wünsche und in Gegenkreisen alle menschlichen Ziele und Erfüllungen.” (X) One might recall here the River Styx, where the soul revolves in an infinity of wishes with constant disappointment[8], which you cannot cross without an emblem of the gods. Wearing an emblem also is Kafka’s messenger of the Emperor, who is unable to pass through the bureaucracy of the empire while trying to deliver a message to the people.[9] At this point, Kafka begins to delimit the understanding of the people to simply “dunst und nebel” (X), and his narrator sets himself a mission of tracking down how the wall is “von diesen Fragen wesentlich betroffen.” He discovers that his singular curiosity about the Emperor is answered only by obscured meanings from different portions of the huge country: “So groß ist unser Land, kein Märchen reicht an seine Größe” The country itself cannot educate the people, so they understand the Emperor merely as the empire itself, as a fairytale: “Das Kaisertum ist unsterblich, aber der einzelne Kaiser fällt und stürzt ab,” Lu agrees that communication between the polity and the public must remain open, or “new voices cannot be raised in China” (Lu, 108) and things will not progress “since the old taint is deep” (ibid.). Lu and Kafka recognize that the worldliness of understanding as communication beyond the bureaucratic borders, allowing the population new information beyond mere reflections of the past. Kafka juxtaposes fragments associated with various times, suggesting that linear, contemporary history is not understandable except in its “autoreferentiality”[10], its ability to obscure meaning; the farcical unity of humanity with “den Geist der Zeit”.

Non-Utopianism in Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer

Though Mauer’s narrator states that the present conditions are not acceptable, “So bereit ist man bei uns, die Gegenwart auszulöschen,” and the government is to blame, “zwar ist sie in der Hauptsache von der Regierung verschuldet,” Kafka’s text cannot be understood as the European idea of a “dystopia” because not everything is unpleasant or bad, and his consideration of a better world- one with freer communication and less imaginative oppression- is inherently not “utopian” because he doesn’t discuss any type of pre-determined idyll. The civil society parable is a condition for reflection, not for prescription. The narrator does, though, consider the cultivation of knowledge being insufficient and the borders totalitarian. He describes that the borders create a weakness in people’s imaginative power and faith: “eine Schwäche der Vorstellungs- oder Glaubenskraft beim Volke”.

Understanding worldliness through the abolition of borders is a fairly easy task, but the process by which this is conceived is not so clear. Rojas contemplates that Kafka’s narrator’s destructive and creative considerations as a dialectic of inclusion and exclusion, “upon which modern culture is conceived” (Rojas, 80). Likening Kafka’s discussion on the Tower of Babel’s “weak foundation” to the gaps in the Great Wall so far, Rojas suggests that it is exactly the Great Wall’s construction of an artificial unity that “offers a structural foundation for the inverse project,” (79). He argues that without the project of the Great Wall, the narrator would not understand the “weak foundation” of the empire’s people. In this sense, the opportunity to create worldliness lies in the civilization’s lack thereof.

Kafka’s recognition of imperialism by way of the northern, walled border calls to mind Chinese intellectual Kang Youwei’s “One World” philosophy. In his magnum opus, The Grand Commonality, Kang observes worldly suffering, not unlike Kafka’s narrator in Mauer. Neither Commonality nor Mauer observes teleological doctrine as a source for information, rather, they both highlight a reform for the betterment of human nature. To the extent of Kang’s vision on language does Kafka’s narrator agree. Depicting a scene of near violence due to linguistic differences of a dialect from the neighbouring province, Mauer problematizes antiquated language. It is in this passage that the villagers would wish to obliterate the present, making room for new dialogue in advanced and intelligent tongues.  Kang approaches the site of language in Part II of The Grand Commonality, suggesting that an entirely new language should form with a Peking dialect. They both appropriate Peking as the imagined empire, but why? And, does Kafka’s narrator also wish to create an entirely new language for all subjects of neighbouring villages?

According to Ban Wang, Kang Youwei’s aspiration toward worldliness “has to work through a specific culture in order to access a common ground,” (Wang) which explains the appropriation of Peking. Wang continues to suggest that the path to worldliness is attained from “engaging one’s native culture reflectively and creatively.”[11] I added emphasis to the “and” in order to highlight the virtue of new language expressed by Kafka’s narrator. Though Mauer asks for an evolution in language, it also envisions a dream world in the heavenly clouds of Peking. Wang cites Kang’s reinvention of a “language of Heaven” as “endowing humanity with universal reason”, much like Kafka’s narrator aspires for reason and understanding beyond simply sitting at the window, dreaming.

In opposition to Kang, Kafka’s intention is not aimed at the destruction of the old language, but rather the aspiration of an understanding beyond the realm of dreams. Attaching “dreams” to the “imagination” of Peking, the subjects of China in Mauer envision the state as a heaven, through which they could achieve a great understanding. Mauer’s worldliness would compose once the retrospective, traditional knowledges are transcended by the knowledge they desire, from Peking. In building the wall, there is a transcendence of scientific knowledge and a re-development of the educational system, but it is the ‘gap’ of knowledge about the empire (and the Emperor, and Peking) that is a unifying force, “gerade diese Schwäche eines der wichtigsten Einigungsmittel unseres Volkes zu sein scheint.” Kafka’s narrator stops at that point, leaving the reader to wonder: What can a unity of those dispossessed of rational knowledge accomplish? Kang Youwei and Lu Xun both suggest that the way towards worldliness is through the borderless expansion of knowledge – but how does a unified people achieve this?

We must remind ourselves that the civil society depicted in Mauer is a parable for reflection; the narrator has devoted himself to the histories of different people, “fast ausschließlich mit vergleichender Völkergeschichte beschäftigt”, much like Kang and Lu Xun devoted themselves to the understanding and critical assessment of other nations. Kang says, “It is as if we were all parts of an electrical force, which interconnects all things, or partook of the pure essence that encompasses all things.” (Kang, 3-4) Wang ascribes this passage as taking “a vignette of long-distance learning and interaction by way of far-reaching sense and sensibility” (Wang, 7) and, in the style of Kant, Wang applies this to the “international arena composed of mutually opposed, self-serving states” (ibid.) He sees that in order to maintain interstate relations, the “parochial agendas” of each state must be antagonized; education must evolve beyond simply traditional matters, “by rising over and above the interests of self-preservation and pressure of survival” (ibid.).

In this same way, Mauer’s narrator’s intention is to bring about a worldly understanding of the situation in China as the only path to understanding the Empire, the holders of the divine, outside their superficial education: “Halbbildung wogt bergehoch um wenige seit Jahrhunderten eingerammte Lehrsätze, die zwar nichts an ewiger Wahrheit verloren haben,” Kafka’s narrator emphasizes a brilliant paradox that, although education exists, and it supplies the population with eternal truths, it is still “Halbbildung”. By unpacking what the other half of this education could be, we can understand the worldliness that Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer aspires towards.

Unscientific Development in Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer

            Worldliness is, for Kafka, a process towards the understanding of needs, which for Lu Xun and Kang Youwei becomes the overcoming of an oppressive institution through knowledge that expands beyond it[12]. Kafka sets the condition for discussing worldliness by problematizing the borders between the nation and the people, the people and knowledge, and, in this section I will show his link between knowledge and the fulfilment of a worldly humanity. Worldliness as humanity, gained through knowledge, can be traced back as far as Plato: His consideration about poetic art as essentially imitative in the Republic, when Plato suggests that, “all imitative poetry would seem to maim the reasoning of those hearers who do not possess an antidote in the knowledge of its real nature,” (Aesthetics, 24). This projection of reasoning is banished by the divinity of beauty in Plato’s Symposium: “Beauty, however, is in harmony with the divine.” (Aesthetics, 37d) Two distinct elements from Mauer are depicted: reasoning and knowledge of the Empire’s real nature, and the aspiration for understanding of the divine Peking. The “eternal truths” in Mauer are those imitations, the retrospective that maims the full education. Kafka’s narrator imagines Peking as representative of the “divine”, which the leadership holds apart from the subjects, and suggests that the subject’s education has been deprived from understanding it. The eternal half of the education is superficial, it is the retrospective, while the missing half of the Halbbildung is the divine.

Wang suggests that Kang Youwei’s “One World” philosophy echoes the ethical aesthetic consummated by Kant, especially by virtue of the attention to education: A narrative of human progress is posited: cross-cultural learning is an educational as well as maturing project, a process akin to the program of rationally and aesthetically inspired Bildung in German Modernism.” (Wang, 8) Likewise, I have argued that Mauer’s depiction of modernity is essentially worldly, and will use its theme of education to emphasize this further.

Looking to Chinese intellectual Liang Shuming will assist in beginning a conversation about the education in Mauer, because his philosophy emphasizes the “spirit” and “distinctive characteristics” of a culture as necessary for the reform of education (Shuming, 109). For Schuming, cultural identification and the “perennial problem of the meaning of human existence” was necessary to participate in a global pattern of modernity[13]. He, like Kafka’s narrator, did not necessarily reinforce the Western hegemony of an idyll education[14], but both placed the “arcane” institutions of China in dialogue with the scientific notions of the West[15]. The piecemeal construction of the Great Wall as an effort to protect the Chinese subjects from “die ungläublichen Völker…. Unter ihnen… Dämonen” of the north calls into question the logic of the Chinese authorities, and the knowledge of the people of the outside world[16]. Do they really believe the people there to be demons?

The naivety of the Chinese subjects to both historical knowledge and scientific knowledge is moreover exposed by the appropriation of the Tower of Babel. Author Robert Lemon provides an explanation of this theme as a “Biblical exegesis” wherein the fall of the Tower of Babel requires the building of a new one, rather than the challenging of God’s (the Empire’s) supremacy. Schuming would consider the appropriation of the Tower of Babel and the fragmentation of the Great Wall as essentially Chinese: “To completely ignore objective standards and regulations, and focusing on revering the gifted- this is the spirit of [of China]” he continues, “one needs to examine in them the earliest and see in them China’s tendency to “return to the past” […] For as long as a person has read the Four Books and the Five Classics, he or she will be able to take care of everything.” (Shuming, 111-112) Through Lemon and Shuming, it becomes again clear that the Chinese Führerschaft in Mauer passes only unscientific education to their subjects, and demands from them trust in the institution.

Kafka’s narrator says: “Damals war es geheimer Grundsatz Vieler, und sogar der Besten: Suche mit allen deinen Kräften die Anordnungen der Führerschaft zu verstehen, aber nur bis zu einer bestimmten Grenze, dann höre mit dem Nachdenken auf.” Here he is reverberating the issue that knowledge and truth lies within the government itself. Liang agrees: “In China, governing depends on respect for a singular ruler […] What kind of habit is it to confirm what has not been examined? An unscientific habit.” (113-116) He problematizes the role of Chinese people as scienceless subjects, “If their own ideas are not their own, how can there be any freedom to speak of?” (121)

Emphasizing freedom as a matter of education outside of the Empire’s traditional style, Liang and Kafka’s narrator also constitute the issue of freedom. Kafka’s narrator is in fact trying to understand the science of the Great Wall’s fragmentation, in order to bring the people closer to the Emperor- closer to freedom through the divine. The narrator stumbles upon a problem, though, that the fragmentation of the Great Wall must always be referred back to the Empire, constituting the “autoreferentiality” observed by Veg. According to Shuming, China cannot accomplish its worldliness if the subjects are not free to think for themselves, which aligns with the dilemma of Kafka’s narrator. Though the narrator uses worldliness as a method, that is, gaining insight from all the Chinese subjects rather than simply the Emperor, worldliness cannot be achieved because of the Empire’s totality.

Genau so, so hoffnungslos und hoffnungsvoll, sieht unser Volk den Kaiser.” This duality considers the struggle of the people to both rely on the Empire for knowledge, but receive nothing in return. Beim Bau der chinesischen Mauer, the people are only further inaugurating the acceptance of sciencelessness by bordering themselves from the outside. This inverse of this is worldliness, in which each subject can think beyond the borders of the Empire.

The Importance of Worldliness

In this introduction to the worldliness conferred by Franz Kafka in Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer, the topics of historiography, non-utopianism and sciencelessness have allowed us to access the concept of knowledge as an institutional development and freedom as a divine concept. Author Walter Benjamin offered us insight to the worldliness of Kafka himself, while Gilles Delueze and Félix Gattauri expanded upon the significance of “minor literature” to the overall concept of modernity. Through these ideas, the significance of fragmentation as elemental to a whole concept became evident. Lu Xun provided an expansion of the idea of fragmentation in Kafka, showing us that overlapped histories cannot be treated as myths, as they were in Mauer, if we want to attain knowledge. Moreover, Kang Youwei emphasized the condition for knowledge as the breaking of boundaries, particularly the wall, allowing access to a divine knowledge. Liang Shuming took us one step further and emphasized freedom of thought as impossible in the Chinese Empire, allowing us to dissect Kafka’s heavy paradox of sciencelessness. This analysis of Kafka’s Mauer aims to emphasize the “minor literature” claim that European modernism is in fact built upon differences within the canon. Much like the fragments of the Great Wall are still a part of its massive length, so are the narratives of literary and intellectual development substantiated by their differences.





















Works Cited

Alitto, Guy. The Last Confucian: Liang Shu-ming and the Chinese Dilemma of Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979).

Benjamin, Walter. “Zur Zehnten Wiederkehr Seines Todestages.” Gesammelte Schriften. Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main. 1977.

Bensmaïa, Raya. Deleuze. Gattauri. “Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature”, “Foreword”. Theory and History of Literature, Volume 30. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. 1986.

Davies, Gloria. “High Culture Fever: Politics, Aesthetics, and Ideology in Deng’s China . Jing Wang.” The China Journal 41 (1999): 209-11. Web.

Engel, Manfred, and Dieter Lamping. Franz Kafka Und Die Weltliteratur. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006. Print.

Kafka, Franz. “Projekt Gutenberg-DE.” Beim Bau Des Chinesischen Mauer.

Kang, Youwei. “Sources of Chinese Tradition | Books | Columbia University

Press.” Columbia University Press. Web. Oct. 2016.

Keller, Karin. Gesellschaft in Mythischem Bann: Studien Zum Roman “Das Schloss” Und Anderen Werken Franz Kafkas. Wiesbaden: Akad. Verl.-Ges. Athenaion, 1977. Print.

Lemon, Robert. “The Contingent Continent: Kafka’s China.” Imperial Messages: Orientalism as Self-critique in the Habsburg Fin De Siecle. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2011. Print.

Lu, Xun. “On the Power of Mara Poetry.” Modern Chinese Literary Thought: Writings on

Literature, 1893-1945. By Kirk A. Denton. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1996. 97-109.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. The Birth of Tragedy, Ecce Homo, The Case of Wagner and Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1967. Print.

Rojas, Carlos. “Writing on the Wall.” Journal of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature. 17 Feb. 2015. Web.

Shuming, Liang. “The Cultures of East and West and Their Philosophies.” Tao: A Journal of

Comparative Philosophy. Web. Oct. 2016.

Veg, Sebastian. “Democratic Modernism: Rethinking the politics of early 20th-Century Fiction in China and Europe”. Boundary 2; Volume 38, Issue 3. (2011) Web.

Wang, Ban. “Aesthetic Humanity and the Great World Community: Kant and Kang Youwei.” State of the Discipline Report. Web.





[1] In a 1916 postcard to Felicia Bauer, his ewige Verlobte, Kafka wrote “im Grunde bin ich ja Chinese”. Meng. Kafka und China. 30.

[2] Rojas, Carlos. “Writing on the Wall: Kafka, Bourges and the Chinese Imaginary.” 425F 1.13 (2015): 71-81. Duke University, 2015. Web.

[3] Ibid. 74.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Bensmaïa, Raya. “Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature”, “Foreword”. Theory and History of Literature, Volume 30. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. 1986. ix.

[6] Veg, Sebastian. “Democratic Modernism: Rethinking the politics of early 20th-Century Fiction in China and Europe”. Boundary 2; Volume 38, Issue 3. (2011) Web.

[7] Veg, Sebastian. “Democratic Modernism: Rethinking the politics of early 20th-Century Fiction in China and Europe”. Boundary 2; Volume 38, Issue 3. (2011) 56.

[8] Here I’m referencing Lord Byron’s “Don Juan” (1819), in which he laments that his thoughts are both free and restricted by the “liberal age” and references the god Apollo as the keeper of the instruments that would allow him access to his free thoughts in the River Styx.

[9] Veg, Sebastian. “Democratic Modernism: Rethinking the politics of early 20th-Century Fiction in China and Europe”. Boundary 2; Volume 38, Issue 3. (2011) 52.

[10] Ibid. X

[11] Wang, Ban. “Aesthetic Humanity and the Great World Community: Kant and Kang Youwei” Web, no pages.

[12] It is worth recalling the earlier discussion of histories “overlapping” towards the knowledge about our place in time.

[13] Guy Alitto, The Last Confucian: Liang Shu-ming and the Chinese Dilemma of Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979).

[14] As Edward Said’s notion of “Orientalism” would suggest.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Lemon, Robert. Imperial Messages. “The Contingent Continent: Kafka’s China” (2011) 125.


Melancholy, Dandyism and the Death Drive in Thomas Mann’s The Blood of the Walsungs (Wälsungenblut)



Problematized as an essential discontinuity with the past, the fin-de-siècle is haunted by the critique of the decadent; the ostentatious, self-conscious aesthete manifests as the plague of decadence. Decadence proves to be a-temporal, fragmented by meaning and by its dialectic as a ‘necessary sickness’ to society. To the western ear, decadence reserves a hyperbolic meaning, often correlated with sweet deserts: ‘sinful’ amounts of hot fudge may produce a ‘death by chocolate’. But outside the sphere of contemporary advertisement, the indulgent perception of decadence remains closer with its Latin roots, decadere, “to decay” and “to fall”, allowing the concept to maintain a privileged appropriation as an essential discontinuity with the past. These two examples highlight the paths taken to analyse decadence as a concept: the first is apathetic to the socialized path of decadence, and the second is a source of its destruction. Aligned with the Zeitgeist, decadence becomes a direct product of development, but also holds meaning as a pejorative qualifier for individual actions and lifestyles within a socialized civilization.

Reflecting on “decay” of individual actions, decadence as a social critique emerges throughout history, but distinctively at the fin-de-siècle; a literary trope of decadence manifests as an ostentatious, self-serving male aesthete – the “Dandy” – an avatar of post-Enlightenment class-consciousness, whose delight in elegance is meant as a symbol of the “aristocratic superiority of mind.”[1] It is this particular embodiment of decadence in Thomas Mann’s Blood of the Walsungs that I investigate. I propose the dandy’s decadence as the collapse of an equal relationship to society, physicalized in the experience of melancholia as it’s defining element.

Literature Review

The feigned refinement of decadence is the point of departure for Nietzsche’s considerations of the fin-de-siècle aesthete. Though the meaning of decadence was lacking in German-French dictionaries by 1879[2] but had entered in to them as “Verfall… heruntergekommen,” and “Dekadenz(epoch)”[3] by 1969, Nietzsche’s purpose was not to advance a definition of decadence, but rather to problematize it from a French origin. Author Charles Bernheimer discusses Nietzsche’s relationship with decadence by highlighting his use of the French word décadence[4] as a “poorly informed” cultural allusion, though it could also be attributed to its formal lack of German equivalent. Like I am not discussing definitions, Nietzsche did not dwell on decadence in The Birth of Tragedy (1876), but suggested it as an outcropping of madness and a “symptom of the failing power” of morality in the “developing hegemony of reasonableness, practical and theoretical utilitarianism, as well as democracy itself.” (§4) Here we can see that decadence is in relationship to society. This set the tone for Nietzsche’s departure from the Dionysian for a depiction of decadence in The Case of Wagner in 1888[5].

Like Nietzsche’s response to the Zeitgeist of decadence manifests as his own bodily illness in Wagner, author Charles Bernheimer reacts to Nietzsche’s relationship to decadence as an “agent provocateur”. That is, he localizes Nietzsche as a decadent himself; decadence becomes a descriptor for the ails Nietzsche suffers: “his susceptibility to horrible migraines, gastric ailments, and eye troubles are all symptoms, he tells us, of his décadence.” Choosing Nietzsche as both a heretic of decadence[6], and a decadent himself[7], Bernheimer appropriates nine points of Nietzsche’s reflection that offer insight to decadence. These nine points will help me signify decadence in Walsungs as a “waste”, a “fragmentation”, an “expression of condemnation”, “modernity”, suffering through rather than escaping, “the body”, which I will treat as all physicality, “the illness”, “a woman”, and “superficiality”[8].

Agreeing with the idea that decadence leads to healthier value systems through a “natural excretory function,” (9) Bernheimer ascribes decadence, “a necessary and beneficial place in the economy of life.” (10) As in The Case of Wagner, Decadent Subjects treats decadence as “a disease that must be resisted for the sake of healthy and ascending vitality” (21) and yet it is “involved in an ongoing struggle that requires that the limits of power be constantly reassessed.” (17) These two examples of the duplicities of decadence in relationship to the body and to the body of society represent those “two paths” of decadence, and the anthropomorphic attention to decadence, making analysis of the Dandy figure a relevant contribution to this Fin-de-Siecle dialogue.

“These beings have no other status, but that of cultivating the idea of beauty in their own persons, of satisfying their passions, of feeling and thinking…. Contrary to what many thoughtless people seem to believe, dandyism is not even an excessive delight in clothes and material elegance. For the perfect dandy, these things are no more than the symbol of the aristocratic superiority of his mind.” (Painter)

Charles Baudelaire, an eminent French Dandy himself[9], postures the Dandy as much more than a narcissist, but rather a “signifier which seeks, through his melancholia, the return of the masculine self.”[10] Siegmund of the Walsungs embodies the melancholic sickness of Dandyismus, as did Nietzsche, both of whom have a problematic relationship with normality. For the modern reader, this metaphor of melancholy should resonate as a subtype of depression, a psychiatric disorder for which the origins remain so multi-faceted that an express diagnosis is convoluted. So how could this act as a metaphor for the Dandy?  When we are talking about ailments at the fin-de-siècle, the psychoanalytic work of Sigmund Freud, particularly for this discussion “Mourning and Melancholia” (1917) is essential. Freud investigates the psychological underpinnings of the physicalized melancholy:

“[Melancholy is] a cessation of interest in the outside world, loss of capacity to love, inhibition of all activity, and a lowering of the self-regarding feelings to a degree that finds utterance in self-reproaches and self-revilings, and culminates in a delusional expectation of punishment.” (Mourning, 244)


It is clear that melancholy stands outside the realm of physical investigation, in fact, it is just the opposite; much like the concept of decadence, melancholia is signified by an inward-turning and self-hatred. Siegmund embodies these aspects of both melancholia and decadence. Though melancholy can be seen, as a Dandy can be seen, neither decadence or melancholia can be traced to its origins. Nietzsche and Bernheimer imply decadence as an extra-physical ailment in a similar way to Freud. Nietzsche claims, “And here my seriousness begins. I am far from looking on guilelessly while this décadent corrupts our health-” (Wagner, §5) Bernheimer responds, “Mining his illness as a resources for adventurous, original speculation, the (decadent/hysterical) philosopher transposes the body’s nonknowing into written “symbolism for the eye.”” (DS, 18) That is, Nietzsche uses bodily illness to embody decadence – a hysteria – which comes from the body’s “nonknowing”, its extra-physical state.

This epistemological aspect of decadence reveals its dynamic spirit, which Bernheimer tries to restore from its “previous reduction that substitutes a pattern of human growth” (4) by analysing several decadent works, or works about decadence, which present “unexpected avatars of the death drive” (Todestrieb) (6). By reading Bernheimer’s Decadent Subjects with attention to decadence as a reaction to the death drive, we can see that he implies hysteria as a reaction to the death drive, too. Therefore, I consider that the melancholia expressed by the most decadent character in Thomas Mann’s Blood of the Walsungs, Siegmund, as also representative of the death drive.

In order to understand Siegmund as the most decadent character, we must recognize his essential disengagement with society. Much like Carl Emil Schorske’s “aestheticist hypothesis”, which dissects Viennese culture as “aesthetic modernism emerging in opposition to historical consciousness and political engagement”[11], Bernhnheimer’s “avatars” of the death drive are disengaged with the socio-economic sphere, but react to it. Siegmund, likewise, reacts to his division from society in the way of hysterical decadence[12]. Nietzsche, though fragmented in his own writing, emphasizes the fragmented socio-political character of decadence as a struggle towards freedom, with its effects increased by the scope of organization:

“But this is the simile of every style of décadence: every time, the anarchy of atoms, disintegration of the will, “freedom of the individual,” to use moral terms,—expanded into a political theory, “equal rights for all.” Life, equal vitality, the vibration and exuberance of life pushed back into the smallest forms, the rest poor in life. Everywhere paralysis, arduousness, torpidity or hostility and chaos: both more and more obvious the higher one ascends in forms of organization.” (Wagner, §7)


This notion of fragmentation is better described by Bernheimer, using Nietzsche’s work as a body for example: “separate units are animated at the expense of coherent argument, historionic exaggeration undermines serious conviction” (18) Decadence is seen as a multi-faceted rotting of coherence, and a melodramatic hysteria that erodes the possibility of “serious conviction”, which for Nietzsche would be the struggle towards freedom. Considering Siegmund of the Walsungs, we see his melancholia as a reaction to his oppressed and removed relationship to society as both a Jew and a Dandy. Siegmund’s perspectivism distinguishes decadence from realism, signalling to us that we are not reading about an oppressed group’s Kampf. Decadence becomes a dialectic of necessity and plague to society, a reflection of society but also a turn towards the self, a repeating phenomenon of personal origin and yet, for Schorske, “a political surrogate for a marginalized liberal bourgeoisie” [13]. Schorske’s attention to decadence as a cultural phenomenon is problematic[14], but suggesting decadence as an effect of marginalization echoes the distance between Siegmund and ‘normality’. I will show that Dandyism is a symbol of decadence and an “avatar” of the death drive through the marginalization and resulting melancholia experienced by Siegmund.

The Blood of the Walsungs

We see a manifestation of marginalization in Thomas Mann’s The Blood of the Walsungs (1905), which was “nur ganz diskret nur ein paar mal angedeutet”[15] according to a letter Thomas wrote to his brother, Heinrich Mann, concerning the anti-semitic, stereotypical picture produced in Walsungs, “es war konsequent und obsessiv”[16]. According to Décadence in Deutschland, Walsungs follows three categories of stereotyping: bodily characterizations, mental qualities and social identity. It is within these three categories that we find the “drooping nosed” “loquacity” of family Aarenhold, a merchant family of Ashkenazi decent living in Germany. Though published in 1905, a quarter-century before the Shoah, Mann shades the decadence of the German Jahrhundertwende with the rise of antisemitism. In doing this, Mann sheds light on the subjects’ motivations for aesthetic superiority; Family Aarenhold is foremost ruled by their reputation as a “lesser organism”[17] within German society. Nietzsche also acknowledges decadence to occur as, “instincts of the weak… the exceptions… the abandoned, the abortus,” (DS, 14) Mann situates his main character of decadence, Siegmund, as both socially weaker with Jewish blood, and also abandoned by his twin sister for her non-Jewish marriage.

Siegmund is initially characterized by his conscious attempt to withhold his Jewish features: “He had a strong growth of black beard but kept it so close-shaven that his sallow face with the heavy gathered brows looked no less boyish than his figure.” (290) In the face of anti-Semitic marginalization, Siegmund’s outward appearance is of primary importance. He focuses himself on maintaining appearances and due respect: Mann writes, “The blond-haired citizenry of the land might go about in elastic-sided boots and turn-over collars, heedless of the effect. But he –  and most explicitly he [Siegmund] – must be unassailable and blameless of exterior from head to foot.” (300) Focusing in on the cause of his desire to be “blameless”, we must also interrogate why he feels guilty. First assuming that Siegmund has not suffered the baptismal waters, we can consider that his inward transfixion is a consequence of solipsism[18]. Author Rhonda Garelick addresses the “self-containment”[19] of the Dandy figure: “a self-created, carefully controlled man…the suppression of the “natural”.” (Dandyism, 1).

“He had so abnormal and constant a need for purification” (298) that he stood for an hour or more in front of his mirror, an object that Baudelaire describes as a necessary accoutrement to the Dandy[20]. Garelick evokes Barbey d’Aurevilley’s definition of Dandyism, “A Dandy can spend… ten hours at his toilette, but once it is done, he forgets it” (83) This brings to mind Siegmund’s constantly reddened hands from washing them[21], or his tendency to change ties multiple times a day. Garelick continues that fundamental idea of the dandy as concerned with “his object-like identity” (39), adding a physical object scope to the category of “bodily characteristics”. Siegmund’s image is decadently fragmented into his multiplicity of luxuries, excess and ornamentation. The bearskin rug and the mother-of-pearl box (full of brandy chocolates and maraschino cherries) act as mnemonic devices of their wealth, a wa(h)re Liebe[22] that serves as an abstraction of their relationship to society. Associating themselves with fine things, the Aarenhold family expresses a decadence, but Mann places Siegmund often on the receiving end of these things. Siegmund is the one who is offered the treats, who lies on the chaise lounge for hours, and who adorns himself with powders of the toilette. This immediate link between the social constructions of wealth and consumption problematizes Siegmund’s distance from society; they are the empty signifiers, the meaningless objects, of the Aarenhold family’s attempt to assimilate. Like Siegmund rejects the leather-bound books with his family stamp, he also does not participate in the assimilation process. Here we see the inward-turning decadence that allows for dandyism.

Physical characterizations go even deeper than the accoutrements of the Aarenholds, down to the quality of their blood: “He [Herr Aarenhold] knew that they were united against him, that they despised him: for his origins, for the blood which flowed through his veins and through him in theirs;” (293) The father, whose Jewish blood he has given to his children, is evoked in the title Wälsungensblut: “Wälse” is the father of Siegmund and Sieglinde in Die Walküre. It is important to note here, that the mother’s blood is not mentioned, instead she is “short, ugly, and prematurely aged” (289), who does not heed the hairstyle advice of her family (290) and “hated” by Siegmund when von Beckerath, the fiancé of Sieglinde, comes around (294). Mrs. Aarenhold’s contribution to the family’s half-Jewishness beckons a Nietzschean analysis of literary decadence, that in it “life no longer dwells in the whole. The word becomes sovereign and leaps out of the sentence, the sentence reaches out and obscures the meaning of the page, the page gains life at expense of the whole.” (Wagner, §

7) Bernheimer reminds us that the obscured whole represents the fragmentation of decadence itself (DS, 9). Although the family Aarenhold is genetically Jewish, they have a “composite, calculated, artificial, artefact”[23] half, a projection of decadence that demands its subject to “parish!” (DS, 11) The death drive, manifested in the essential genetic division of mother and father, the oedipal law, is aligned with the decadence, the decay of unity. The Aarenhold family’s decadence evokes Siegmund’s aggression towards his mother, an early-emerging symptom of his melancholy.

Siegmund’s melancholic tones resonate as the secondary category of mental characterization. His Jewish self-hatred cannot go unnoticed, “Long he looked at each mark of his race: the slightly drooping nose… those large black eyes that glowed like fire and had an expression of weary sufferance” (314).  This trait of suffering clearly comes from his father, who “had been a worm, a louse if you like. But just his empty capacity to realize it so fully, with such vivid self-contempt, had become the ground of that persistent, painful, never-satisfied striving that made him great.” (293) Why does the suffering make his father “great” and Siegmund “weary”? Freud’s depiction of melancholia as “constitutional ambivalence”, helps us frame the difference between Siegmund and his father.

His father, though clearly also afflicted with Aarenhold familial decadence, takes great care to remain determined in life. He advises Sieglinde’s fiancé, “if you want to enjoy your new life, really enjoy it, consciously and artistically, you must take care to never get used to your situation. Getting used to things is death. It is ennui” (293). Siegmund, on the other hand, “passes his days vacantly and swiftly” (299) as a dilettante of drawing and painting. “He was too shrewd not to know that the conditions of his existence were not the most favourable in the world for the development of a creative gift” (ibid.). His shrewdness, his judgement, had such “glowing expectations” that although “Siegmund had been born into superfluity, he was perfectly adjusted to it” (ibid.). Though Siegmund was thrilled and occupied by his superfluous objects and maintained a “shrewd enterprise”, same as his father, “he had no time for a resolve” (300). Instead of marrying in to a non-Jewish family, like his sister and his father both, Siegmund remains preoccupied with “preparation” and “lavish equipment” of his decadence:

“How much mental effort had to be expended simply in making a proper toilette! How much time and attention went in to his supplies… how much occasion for making up his mind lay in that moment, recurring two or three times daily, when he had to select his cravat!” (300)


Invoking the objects which preoccupy him as signifiers of his attachment to society, Bernheimer would describe Siegmund’s energy expenditure as “a pleasurably perverse relation to the world” (DS, 182). Freud would draw a difference between Siegmund’s expense of energy, compared to that of his sister and his father who interact with society, if only with a “benevolent neutrality” (301) to their own mourning of social oppression:  “Mourning is regularly the loss of a loved person, or to the loss of some abstraction which has taken the place of one, such as one’s country, liberty, an ideal and so on” (243) but because “the disturbance of self-regard is absent in mourning” (244) Siegmund’s detachment with society is positioned as melancholy. Just as the Aarenhold family experiences decadence, they are also mourning the loss of their relationship to society as Jews. But, it is only Siegmund who suffers dandyism and melancholy.

Sieglinde, undeniably the effigy of Siegmund’s, as she “suffers the same as he” (Walsungs, 308) is also his object of desire, his objet petit-a. Mann writes, “Sometimes their gaze sought each other’s, a melting together in an understanding” (290), positioning the gaze as a site of construction of identity in each other. This echoes Siegmund’s “gazing” into mirrors, as well. They share common examples of decadent behaviour when speaking aggressively at the dinner table is framed as “their habitual posture of self-defence” (291), “their words rang sharp as though sharpness, hardness… were demanded of them as survival values” (296). Recalling Nietzsche’s proclamation that a decadent cannot necessarily fight for his freedom, relevancy of their Jewishness comes to a disturbing caprice. Though necessarily decadent in the eyes of German society by virtue of half-Jewishness, Siegmund is the singular family member who has not involved himself in German society. Just as the dandy is inward-turning, His melancholic and hysteric decadence make him an “anti-natural” part of society, “to be forcibly removed from the infected organism” (DS, 14). The German-Jewish question is brought forth by their attempts at survival through sharp-tongues and consumerist signifiers while within the greater society, and through Nietzsche’s hint at necessary “Ausrottung”[24]. Considering that they “love each other alone” (290), could it be racial narcissism that promotes their “survival values”?

When investigating Siegmund’s possible narcissism, we much reflect on Baudelaire’s assertion that the dandy is more of a neurotic than a narcissist. Freud would agree that dandyism, in its inherently decadent fragmentation, is not narcissistic:

“The difference, however, between narcissism and hysterical identification may be seen in this: that, whereas in the former the object-cathexis is abandoned, in the latter it persists and manifests its influence, though is usually confined to isolated actions and innervations” (Melancholy, 250)
Here, Freud suggests that when the internal project of object-loss is negated, the subject then experiences narcissism, which is different than hysteria. So, the dandy’s separation from society, and his assertion to achieve a feigned superiority in this light, is not a narcissistic act, but rather a melancholic, or hysteric one. Again placing melancholia within the diagnosis of decadence, the death-drive emerges at the site of memorializing the loss of ego status with the prolonged object-cathexis[25].

Rather than narcissism, I think Siegmund sees himself in Sieglinde, because as a dandy he “is a woman in certain aspects” (Dandyism, 25). Bernheimer recognizes and discusses the feminization of decadence, in his closing chapter on Freud: “Masculine speculation [about the self] is replaced by the girl by unmediated desire, the premise of that desire being the female lack. Here, in ovo, is the rapacious drive motivating the decadent femme fatale.” (DS, 176) That is not to say that Siegmund actually envisions himself as castrated, but rather that he views Sieglinde as a cultural continuation of himself. “He has no friends, never had had one but this, his exquisitely groomed, darkly beautiful counterpart,” (Walsungs, 301). Bernheimer discusses that this “greater imaginative mobility released by the decadent fantasy” (183), that is, his solipsist fantasy, allows the object of affection to be seen as a muse. Sieglinde is, in fact, one of Siegmund’s few social stimulations, whose decadence he values. By alluding to Sieglinde as his Apollonian muse, she also is illuminated as his “missing half” in the course of unity. She is an identical fragmentation, who regards formal society when he does not, giving them an Einheit if merged together that would otherwise be a Zweiheit der Geschlechter (Tragedy, §1).

The implied incestual relationship between the two can also be seen as decadence, fitting with the Nietzschean poisoning of decadence as “sterile, unproductive and destructive,” (DS, 10), Mann writes, “they doffed aside the evil-smelling world and loved each other alone.” (Walsungs, 301). Mann’s Walsungs ultimately positions the decadence of the Aarenheld twins as unproductive, “like self-centered invalids” (315), Siegmund and Sieglinde are together “a suppression of anteriority”[26] they experience in relation to society. Particularly for Siegmund, who is further removed from society than Sieglinda, we see that without her, in the absence of his twinning unity with her, his indolent dandyism is indeed an “avatar” of Freudian death-drive.

Her purpose for him is more than as an incestual fetish. Recalling Baudelaire’s assertion that a dandy is attempting to regain his own masculinity, Sieglinde becomes both the object his is losing, and the mirror through which he can establish himself as a man while immersed in an effeminate world. His removal from the world exists alongside Sieglinde, as cast by their carriage ride together. ““Shall I shut us in?” asked Siegmund. She nodded and he drew the brown silk curtains across the polished panes.” (304) Upon arriving at the theatre, the melodies of Die Walküre “voiced their eternal yearning” (305), of whom we are unsure because of the mixed narratives between the Die Walküre and the Walsungs. Foreshadowing their own relations later in the evening and also highlighting Siegmund’s object-cathexis of Sieglinde, she whispers to him, “She will come back to him at once.” (307) After the opera, Siegmund went to lie on his bearskin rug, “and there was tragic meaning in the dragging step that bore him towards it” (314) His suffering in this final scene must also be interpreted as his last night together with Sieglinde, whom he is pre-emptily mourning the loss of as a “libidinal cathexis”[27].

Though it goes unstated, I believe that Siegmund’s loss of Sieglinde is unlike his loss of attachment to society because he is able to consciously conceive of what he has lost, and this is what gives rise to his hysterical melancholia, not narcissism. After the play, Siegmund’s “complaints are really ‘plaints’ in the old sense of the word. They are not ashamed and they do not hide themselves.” (Mourning, 248) Staring into the mirror yet again, showing us that he is aware of the object-cathexis of his love Sieglinde, Siegmund gives in to a full melancholic illness, “[he] moved as though to get up-but sank back again, his head against his outstretched arm, and stopped there, silent” (314). Saving him from a possible plunge into a manic sadism, Sieglinde returns to Siegmund.[28].

Thus does Siegmund’s life replicate the Dionysian tragedy of Die Wälkure. Greek tragedy, however, is an especially beautiful art form because it is made up simultaneously of intoxication and dreams[29]. “To understand the tragic myth we must see it as Dionysian wisdom made concrete through Apollonian artifice” (Tragedy, §6). In a dreamlike state, Siegmund “was seeking to clothe in reason what he was trying to say” (315) to Sieglinde, giving way to the peak of their tension that had been “carried tither in expectant dreams” (ibid.). This moment in which they “forgot themselves in caresses” (ibid.) creates a resolution – a dimension of the aesthetic “primordial oneness”, the point when decadence resolves its hybridity and becomes a unified whole. Mann’s Walsungs represent the Wagnerian opera, which weaves together the Dionysian and Apollonian at the climax of their incest (it had never before been committed: “the borders of a kingdom she had never entered” (315)) as the “perpetuum vestigum [the eternal mark] of a union between the Apollonian and Dionysian… a magical mirror of the world, as the primordial melody… [which] gives birth to poetry from itself.” (Tragedy, §6) This primordial melody, the child birthed, “grew and waxed the seed of that hated, unprized race” (311) in Die Walküre, and for Siegmund and Siedlinde Aarenhold, so grew and waxed the unity of their race in the face of societal exigency.

Siegmund’s achievement of unity cannot be aligned with the death drive. In this scene, he has transcended both melancholia and decadence, he has overcome the Nietzschean fragmentation, and evokes his life-drive. As an opposition to the events so far, this culmination adds to the assertion that Siegmund, until this point, has been involved in a melancholia of the death-drive. Though his marginalization by society remains unchanged, and we do not know of his future mourning once he loses Sieglinde to marriage, he reaches a unity that will forever change his ethical dimensions[30], and perhaps relieve him of dandyism.


Siegmund Aarenhold is shaped by melancholia, decadence and dandyism in The Blood of the Walsungs, His departure from other characters emphasizes the melancholy particular to a dandy, whom, according to Charles Bernheimer, represents the Freudian death-drive in its decadence. Using authors Rhonda Garelick and Charles Bernheimer, dandyism is treated through the analysis of its particular decadence, and reveals the melancholic separation of Siegmund from society and his family members. Decadence is prescribed to the family Aarenhold as well: Sieglinde, as the mirror and libidinal attachment of Siegmund, and Mr. Aarenhold, the figure of Jewish self-hatred, are decadent in their fragmented relationships to German society, but refrain from becoming dandies because of their involvement in the socio-political sphere. In this diagnosis of melancholia, the subject of decadence is also treated in its fundamental relationship to the Dionysian impulse. Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy proves useful in shedding light on the problematic illness of decadence in The Case of Wagner, and also helps the reader focus on the shift from melancholic death-drive to passionate life-drive at the end of the story.

Looking Ahead

There was a certain problematic that emerged when using Nietzsche’s and Bernheimer’s texts to dissect the decadence of Walsungs. The decadence considered by Nietzsche relies primarily on French authorship to describe German decadence, and Bernheimer, likewise limits his notion of “Decadent Subjects” to the particular place of Western Europe. The Aarenhold family’s decadence, though, cannot be separated from their Ashkenazi narrative; though they are living in (but not integrated into) German society, their decadence has meaning beyond the aestheticist center of Western Europe. Though their relationship to the centre of society produces Siegmund’s need for an “unassailable appearance”, it also disregards their movement from the periphery.

Nietzsche, Bernheimer and Schorske rely on a common canon of turn-of-the-century authors to paint a picture of fin-de-siècle decadence, yet maintain a Nietzschean assumption of decadence as inherent to any time[31]. Seeing decadence beyond this set of binary oppositions, author Scott Spector investigates the “third figure… that is, the self-conscious figure of the historian himself” which suggests that the aesthetic project of investigating decadence is “fragmented” moreover by the lens through which we investigate it. Spector’s article, “Marginalizations”, interrogates the paradigm of the fin-de-siècle as a political reaction by suggesting texts from Central Europe at the turn of the century, effectively producing an “interlocking dialectic… which was meant to contain a revolutionary force…- in the inclusive sense of embrace, rather than the exclusive sense of closing off” (150).

Spector’s investigation broadens the scope of future investigation into decadence. It is in this vein of borderlessness that I envision the widening and deepening of the project of decadence. Canonizing The Blood of the Walsungs alongside Jewish immigrant and third-culture literary theories could offer a productive insight to the decadence experienced by Siegmund and his family, beyond that which I have drawn out in relation to the Western European circumscription of decadence. The Blood of the Walsungs is a broadly enlightening text concerning Jewish decadence, which I have treated in its psychoanalytic posture among the fin-de-siècle thinkers.












Works Cited

Baudelaire, Charles, and Jonathan Mayne. The Painter of Modern Life, and Other Essays. London: Phaidon, 1964. Print.

Dr. Friedrich Köhlers Französich-deutsch Taschen Wöterbuch. Leipzig: Leipzig Verlag, 1879. Print.

Erlich, Gloria Chasson (1978) “Race and Incest in Mann’s “Blood of the Walsungs”,

Studies in 20th Century Literature: Vol. 2: Iss. 2, Article 3.

Freud, Sigmund. “Mourning and Melancholia.” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Vintage, 2001. N. pag. Print.

Garelick, Rhonda K. Rising Star: Dandyism, Gender, and Performance in the Fin De Siècle. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1998. Print.

Hadlock, Philip G. “The Other Other: Baudelaire, Melancholia, and the Dandy.”

Nineteenth-Century French Studies, vol. 30, no. 1/2, 2001, pp. 58–67.

Langenscheidt Worterbuch – FranzösischDeutsch. Völlige Neubearbeitung. Berlin, München, Zürich: Langenscheidt. (1969)

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. The Birth of Tragedy, the Case of Wagner. New York: Vintage, 1967. Print.

Spector, Scott. “Marginalizations: Politics and Culture beyond fin-de-siècle Vienna.”

Rethinking Vienna 1900. By Steven Beller. New York: Berghahn, 2001. 132. Print.





[1] Baudelaire, Charles. “The Painter of Modern Life” (1863)

[2] Dr. Friedrich Köhlers französich-deutsch Taschen Wöterbuch. (1879)

[3] Langenscheidt Worterbuch – FranzösischDeutsch. Völlige Neubearbeitung. Berlin, München, Zürich: Langenscheidt (1969)

[4] He uses the French rather than the German Dekadenz.

[5] Recognizing the hedonistic Dionysian impulse in relation to dandyism sets the stage for discussing the climax of The Blood of the Walsungs.

[6] Nietzsche published an excess of literature focusing on the ethical dimensions of tragedy and Wagner. His works both slant and promote the Dionysian impulses of Wagnerian opera.

[7] Bernheimer cites Max Nordau’s Degeneration as “exemplary of the fin-de-siecle degenerate”. 19.

[8] Bernheimer. Decadent Subjects. 26-27.

[9] Hadlock, Philip. “The Other Other: Baudelaire, Melancholia, and the Dandy.” (2001) 58–67

[10] Ibid.

[11] Spector, Scott. “Marginalizations: Politics and Culture beyond fin-de-siècle Vienna.”

Rethinking Vienna 1900. (2001) 132.

[12] Evidence for this is provided in the section “The Blood of the Walsungs”.

[13] Ibid.

[14] I will discuss this more in the section “Looking Ahead”.

[15] Décadence in Deutschland. 407.

[16] Ibid.

[17] I’m referring here to page 10 of Decadent Subjects, “A society… should be thought of as an organism that is made up of a federation of lesser organisms.”

[18] Garelick says there is a “required solipsism of dandies”. Dandyism. 29.

[19] Garelick. Dandyism. 84.

[20] “The dandy must aspire to be sublime without interruption; he must live and sleep before a mirror.” Baudelaire, Painter.

[21] Ehrlich, Gloria. “Race and Incest in Mann’s “Blood of the Walsungs”. 1978.

[22] “Wa(h)re Liebe” is a pun: true love and commodity love.

[23]Nietzsche. The Case of Wagner. 170.

[24] Drawn from Decadent Subjects. 14 : My word choice is considering Hitler’s speeches about the extermination of European Jewry as an allusion to the fascist appropriation of Nietzsche’s work.

[25] Drawing from Mourning and Melancholia. 256.

[26] Garelick. Dandyism. 28.

[27] Freud. “Mourning and Melancholia”. 245.

[28] I’m alluding to the next step after melancholy according to Freud.

[29] The art is beautiful precisely because it is a harmonious combination of Apollo and Dionysus.

[30] Together the Apollonian and Dionysian create an ethical evolution of the self, which is Nietzsche’s point of departure for the ethical aesthetic in The Birth of Tragedy.

[31] Nietzsche. The Birth of Tragedy. §2.

Evolutionary Geopolitics and the Economy of Alterity


Evolutionary Geopolitics and the Economy of Alterity

Erin T. Altman
20 March 2013

There are several reasons why a philosopher should wish to study geography. The first is the essential one, which ethical theory ought to be applied to practical situations, such as the phenomenal spatial organization of geography. If we do not analyze the principles behind these territorial choices, we disregard years of subjective belonging expressed by nationality, welfare and representation through governance. Assuming a human tendency towards hierarchical community, geographic spacings illuminate development of power and modernity (Arendt, 1958). Historicity of geographic spacings in the establishment of territories follows axis of power (value) and modernity (time), with phenomenal spikes and dips towards the now-epoch of geopolitical conjecture- globalization. I suggest globalization as an ‘epoch’, rather than as a phenomenon, because of its inexorable character and yet, interdependency with geographical signification. Evolutionary geopolitics expresses changes in nationality, legibility and representation, but could this economy of alterity actually perpetuate globalization?

Understanding globalization as beginning with the empirical, objective view of the world as comprised of modern nation-states marks the beginning of the globalization epoch. Situating globalization as an epoch, rather than a phenomenon, is due to the impact of modernization on empirical spatial orientations. Given that the global perspective was limited through the Age of Discovery (15th-17th century) and even in the founding of the “New World” (Murphy, 2013), the epoch of modern nation-state division realized the totality of the geographical world. Although differing from geopolitics, which expanded phenomenally with hegemonic explorations and assertions of power, globalization holds a similar a priori truth; both geopolitics and globalization are essentially geographical. Globalization holds this truth as it asserts a representation of the world’s entirety. The epoch of globalization exists in the modern development of nation-states because of the completed empirical perspective of geography.

Situations of power under modern constructions of the nation-state initiated a globalized perspective, known as the “God View” (Haraway, 2007). The macro-level “God View” differentiated nation-states from each other, through an economy of alterity. This ‘Logic of Alterity’ deserves a thematic underpinning, provided by the work of Anna Secor. Conceptualizing ‘alterity’ as a “spatialized strategy of differentiation” (p. 358), Secor antagonizes the hegemonic definition of nationality as an intentional tool for power. Maintaining that the modern nation-state geography is a product of organization of military powers and colonial expansion (Murphy, 2013), and that nationality is systemically related to territory (JJW, 2004), geopolitical evolution becomes inherently related to nationality. Defining geopolitics by nationality creates a state-civil society map of the world, through which the crucial geopolitical narrative is built.

Consequences of this geopolitical narrative are within the inherently bound state-civil society relationship. The relationship between nationality and nation-state create internal and external assertions of power (JJW, 2004) by establishing a formal definition of identity. Formal definition of nationality, by way of empirically recognized sovereignty over a territory, is a theoretical basis for state-civil society function. Secor unpacks the Kurdish ‘Problem’ by suggesting that their inclusion as Turkish nationals created a separation between state and civil society. Such as Paul Routledge’s definition of geopolitical expertise, nation-state power is expressed in formal (theoretical), practical (implemented) and popular (felt) means. The Kurdish civil-society was theoretically not Turkish- creating an identity struggle, was not treated as Turkish- creating a class struggle, and were banned from feeling Kurdish- creating a representational struggle. This expresses the intuition that the civil society is also legitimated under the hierarchy, through practical consolidation of power- legibility (Mann,1984) and popular consolidation of power- governmentality (Foucault, 1977).

Building on the work of Secor’s “Logic of Alterity”, the alterity lies in the hegemonic consolidation of power through nationality, legibility and representation. These interconnected parts comprise an economy of alterity. Usage of the word ‘economy’ serves a charged purpose in its etymology as an organization of resources. In a geopolitical sense, the Logic of Alterity becomes an economy because of the focus not only on definition of nationals, rather also on the legitimating of power through claiming a specific territory (Turkey). Such organization of resources towards a differentiation from other geopolitical actors can have significant recoil, in the separation of state from civil-society (the Kurdish).

Unlike globalization, separatist movement is not an epoch of the nation-state. As a product of geopolitical discourse, whereby consolidation of power inherently sparks rebellion (Foucault, 1977.), separatist movement generates the internal fluidity of geopolitics. Using ‘economy of alterity’ to describe the consolidation of nationality, legibility and representation under a hegemonic power, separatist rebellion assumes the lack of state legitimacy given to civil society. Internality, I suggest, is either inclusive or exclusive state relationship towards civil society. This also assumes the inherent power of the state, as civil society is reacting towards it.

So then what perpetuates the state’s inclusive or exclusive economy of alterity? ‘Inclusive’ and ‘alterity’ are oxymoronic, which is where the concept of ‘economy’ lies. As earlier posited, economy describes a stringent organization of resources- an efficacy. Maintaining that state development is particularly contingent on geopolitical relationships (Murphy, 2013), the economy of alterity becomes a geopolitical organization of resource difference- the consolidation of power. That said, states must maintain alterity from geopolitics, and inclusivity of internality. In the case of Turkey, ‘othering’ the Kurdish through designation of nationality, legibility as Kurdish, and Kurdish representation in governance allowed for a consolidation of formal, practical and popular Turkish politics. These internal consolidations of power elicited the Kurdish separatist movements, which attracted global attention to the Turkish oppressive democracy.

Globalized attention to separatist movement is contingent not only upon the modern global perspective, but also on the geopolitical position of the country at issue. Turkey, revered for its independence and economic upswing, was denied entrance to the European Union because of oppressive discrepancies between the state and the civil society of the Kurdish. Globalized humanitarian concerns have arisen from the nation-state consolidation of power, such as the Human Rights Watch. Globalization of human rights is significant in its magnification of economy of alterity, to an entirely global scale. Treaties to this effect, such as those under the United Nations, signify the magnification of globalization as a whole.

It has been repeatedly argued that the ‘Core’ and ‘Gap’ countries must unite in ideology, to overcome the tensions that lie between (Barnett, 2003). Since the signification of the modern nation-states, the visibility of a-geopolitical countries has called attention to the differences between the ideologically unified, and the ‘Other’. In an anti-geopolitical view, the desire to liberalize the ‘Gap’ signifies nothing more than a post-colonial imperialism, quite like exclusive internalities. Barnett would argue, that globalization would allow a greater commitment to humanitarian and economic prosperity. Does the ‘Core’ have its own economy of alterity, and is the ‘Gap’ a separated civil society? As economy of alterity begins to align through international policy agreements, globalization continues.

I find the economic geopolitics to be significant in this regard. They, like classical geopolitics, divide the world based on resource use and abundance, but incorporate the neoliberal ideologies of humanity and sustainable development. In align with this discussion, is the creation of the Knowledge-based bio-economy. Although originating in China, the bio-economy sets a precedent for sustainable economic development (particularly through resource accumulation and distribution) and consolidates its power through educational means, rather than policy initiatives. The Knowledge-based bio-economy is an interesting way to conceptualize the globalization of economy of alterity, because it suggests geopolitical agreement for the greater good of the world, rather than of a singular nation-state. Transnational agreements do still beget a labeling of actors (nationality), a regulation of them (legibility) and the allowance for equal input from actors (representation).

Geopolitical evolution is fluid. Changing power dynamics nuance the consolidation of power, which begets rebellion (Foucault, ibid.)  Given that power leads to rebellion, and rebellion inspires solidarity among state actors in or against the favour of another, I argue that geopolitics is paradoxically globalizing. Despite the nation-state’s consolidation of power, the overarching solidarity between states transcends geopolitical borders and will increasingly do so, due to the stratifying economy of alterity. Could the globalized pressure on creating inclusive economy of alterity be positive for civil society actors? Or is it a threat to the sovereignty of modern nation-states? As evolutionary geopolitics become further integrated- as the globalization of internalities dominates- does the civil society gain more power than the state? The epoch of globalization is inherently geographical, as a summation of all actors in a “God View” towards the ultimate dissolution of geopolitical boundaries, in favour of civil society power.

Model European Union 2013; Great Britain Position Paper


Position Paper on a European banking union

The United Kingdom

I. Introduction

The United Kingdom welcomes a discussion of common banking oversight as a key instrument in stabilizing financial relations across the shaken Eurozone. Recent years have painfully exposed the insufficiency of the status quo to protect both the Eurozone from financial crises that engulf its neighbors and partners as well. Yet if substantial steps are necessary, negotiations for a Eurozone banking union must also stress pragmatism and the prudent protection of the diverse interests of all EU Member States. We must focus on concrete measures directly related to strengthening Eurozone financial actors, not rush to unrelated grand initiatives merely to show action against the backdrop of crisis.

II. Background to the British Position

As home to Europe’s largest financial center, with roughly 36% of the EU’s financial business, the United Kingdom has profound interests in financial stability across the continent. Even were our financial concerns not so strong, economic stability in the Eurozone would be of fundamental importance to the British economy because it accounts for 58 per cent of our foreign trade. The UK is in a position to participate in some efforts to respond to these challenges, and may encourage others among Eurozone members. At the same time, it must also safeguard the distinct interests that come from retaining its own currency and relating to its special position in European and global finance.

In its deepest and most long-term elements, Europe’s economic challenge today concerns fiscal policy and debt more than oversight of financial markets. Improved regulatory instruments and practices are desirable, but the reason why oversight and a capacity for correction action is necessary is because banks and governments themselves are awash in debt. The UK confronts its own version of this challenge and is making important progress to reduce spending, control debt, and so reinvigorate growth. As we make the hard choices necessary for a better economic future, it is even more important than in more prosperous times that the EU do nothing to risk that a return to growth. Pragmatic regulatory change and firm national commitments to mastering debt must be the order of the day.

III. Great Britain’s Proposal

The United Kingdom believes that the Council discussions on Banking Union must begin by recognizing a distinction, and indeed a strong separation, between two kinds of proposals advanced by the Presidency. The first group of proposals seeks to endow the Eurozone with a stronger regulatory framework for oversight and crisis support of banks. The United Kingdom welcomes these proposals, agreeing that the Eurozone needs better banking supervision, though they must include better arrangements to safeguard the interests of non-Eurozone EU members.  The second group of proposals suggests new taxes—a VAT increase and a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT)—but offers no clear purpose for raising the EU’s tax burden at this time. The United Kingdom proposes to set aside the Presidency’s ill-considered VAT proposal and perceives important problems with the FTT idea as well. As Europe struggles to escape the deepest recession in living memory, facing painful but necessary cuts in spending to confront unsustainable debts, this is not the time to consider vaguely-justified tax increases that could lead financial firms to leave our continent.

The key addition to the Presidency’s proposals on banking union is to make clear that non-Eurozone member-states will be protected from policies that discriminate against their financial sectors, intentionally or unintentionally, and that decision-making processes allow them input and influence alongside discussions among Eurozone members.

The United Kingdom acknowledges that of the two proposed tax increases, the FTT notion at least has some rationale relating to recent financial challenges. The main purpose of such a tax, as originally developed by economist James Tobin, is not to raise revenue but to deter speculative financial transactions (though of course they also raise revenue). Whatever the merits of this policy in the abstract, it is difficult to implement in the EU setting without bringing more costs than benefits—and especially to the UK. If extended across all of the EU, an FTT will effectively be a tax paid disproportionately in Britain, since so much of European financial activity occurs there. The British contribution to EU coffers will thus rise, absolutely and relative to other countries. Moreover, such a tax could risk London’s place in global finance, encouraging at least some global firms to move to other world centers. If applied only in the Eurozone or a subset of Eurozone members, the FTT will have the same effects on the less robust financial sectors of the participating countries. The United Kingdom would counsel its EU partners not to pursue this option.

Written Supplement; Historical Analysis of the Geographic and Institutional Implications to Economic Development



Varying patterns of development illuminate global inequalities. Measured by the welfare of citizens, ‘development’ is empirically represented by the standard of living in a given nation-state. Originating in 16th century France, development was used to describe the développer, the “unfolding” of centralized cities and expansion of state power. Referring to an increasing spatial-political relationship, development is rooted in understanding welfare as the unfolding of institutional structure within a geographically defined territory. Empirical definition of development is contentious, because it suggests that standards of living are a measurable construct. Applied through a quantitative lens, economic development analyzes the standard of living between national economies. Based in economic growth, economic development suggests the application of resources towards the welfare of citizens- the ‘welfare state’. Through a historical analysis of the ‘welfare state’, economic development is framed as dependent upon empirical geographical and institutional advantages.

What is a Nation?

Europe’s 17th-century rise of nation-states birthed the concept of economic development. French développer of cities gained signification; economic prosperity became institutionalized under the “nation-state”. As a recognized sovereign territory, the nation-state economically integrated cities in to a mercantilist capital accumulation regime. Since the 16th century, the economic doctrine of mercantilism drove the imperial practices of western European powers towards the creation of nation-states. Focus on capital accumulation towards a strengthened central military can be assumed as the first consideration of economic growth. Differing from economic development, economic growth is the measure of domestic production, without heeding to increase in the standards of living. This important difference between ‘growth’ and ‘development’ is illuminated in the mercantilist ideology; the extraction of resources towards the benefit of the central state was not dispersed through social programs, but rather towards the infinite growth of the state. These protectionist policies played the role of early political economy, as mercantilism was an effective tool in strengthening the centralized state. Important to economic development, the birth of the nation-state created a founding institutional centralization of the economy. Despite territorial convergences in later decades, the role of geographic recognition was to create a territorial commonality under a centralized economic institution.

Specific to the 250 years of Mercantilist theory is the concept of extraction. Framed by authors James Robinson and Daron Accemoglu, strong mercantilist nations of Great Britain, France and Spain practiced extractionary politics through colonization. Extraction describes the mercantilist theory of economic growth, described by Acemoglu and Robinson as operating a ‘zero-sum game’, wherein benefit to the state was at a loss to another. Extraction becomes important to economic development of colonized nations, because, unlike the centralized institutions within territorially defined nation-states, colonized nations experienced a decentralized organization of labor, effectively destroying possibilities for a welfare state.[1]


The Role of Inclusive Institutions

Although the idea of economic development was unconceivable in the Mercantilist period, the birth of the centralized nation-state set the institutional and geographic parameters for economic growth, which is essential to economic development. Moreover, Mercantilist economics engaged Western European nations in the forging of institutions through warfare, effectively destabilizing governments and giving rise to labor and unionist movements. Authors Acemoglu and Robinson address this phenomenon as the process of ‘creative destruction’, whereby established power relations are broken and give rise to innovation. Established trade relations, such as the Hudson’s Bay Company, supplemented the changing tide of institutional relationships with the rising economic nationalism. International trade became a vital source of economic growth, while the role of institutions shifted from centralized to representative.

Acemoglu and Robinson organize their book Why Nations Fail around the supremacy of institutional organization in economic development. The premise of this is derived from the Machiavellian persona of Mercantilist nations, whose collapse preceded inclusive institutions, and a ‘virtuous circle’ of economic development. Suggesting that Great Britain’s Glorious Revolution of 1688 was the first step of an institution towards inclusivity, WNF aligns Great Britain’s success in the industrial revolution with redistributed taxation. Beginning with the 1572 Poor Law, British taxation was given a welfare-like status. Unlike welfare, the Poor Law was parochial and redistributed in the form of workhouse care. Tradition of socially-minded taxation allowances were perpetuated through the settlement of Ireland, and transitioned in to lower taxation for plantation land ownership. This increase in land ownership also increased opportunity for profit, growing the middle class. On the other coin, extractive French taxation maintained allowances only for the noble élite, causing disproportionate growth in wealth. Mercantilist economics allowed élite French to hold almost 90% of wealth, and the French could not sustain their wars leading up to the French Revolution from merely taxing 10% of the economy. The burgeoning inclusivity of Great Britain’s institution of taxation exemplifies the ‘virtuous circle’ role that inclusivity has on economic development. The French institution of extractive taxation caused a ‘vicious circle’, resulting in collapse of public finance. Economic nationalism plagued the Western European nations, particularly France, as military spending became unsustainable. The Bourbon Monarchy came to its knees in the face of public upheaval after the dismissal of a land tax proposal in 1776. French élite chose to act in self-interest and maintain extractive taxation, instead of have their lands taxed. Power in the hands of a few resulted in the upheaval by many.

‘Creative Destruction’ of the French Revolution’s power vacuum established governance by multiple ruling classes. Most poignantly, inclusion of the Tiers État, the third class society members, asserted institutional control by the hands of merchants and laborers. Stressing working class issues and trade priorities, the National Constituent Assembly and successive Legislative Assembly involved conflicting interests of the élite and the Tiers État, resulting in the highly symbolic overthrow of the French aristocracy in favor of a Republic. This highly influential succession of institutional development played a significant role in French public policy, under which solidarity was introduced to French governance. Taking the form of a welfare precursor, French solidarity measures were not direct redistribution of government funding to the lower classes, but rather the levying of land tax and restriction of agricultural tax. Allowing the agricultural sector to flourish, while collecting tax from the élite, the French middle class expanded and pushed towards the industrial revolution.

Inclusive taxation institutions grew the middle class in both Mercantilist nation-states of France and Great Britain. In both cases, this allowed investment of both capital and labor to flow from the agrarian sector to the industrial sector, inspiring the industrial revolution. France and Great Britain developed from Mercantilist nation-states in to nationalist production economies, due to changes in the role of institutions as taxation policy.

The Role of Economic Geography

Mobilization of workers was intrinsic to the movement from agrarian society to industrial society. Political geography of France and Great Britain was changing, as demand for labor in to industrial centers encouraged movement from outlying sectors. The role of this geographical transition to economic growth is clear; new industry heightened national production and demanded labor, and the average wage rose, increasing supply of labor. This spatial adjustment of population did increase production and average wage, but had an adverse affect on standards of living. Assumed by economic geographer Paul Krugman to encounter a ‘rent seeking’ ideology, which is unsustainable for economic development, the industrial revolution in Great Britain and France encountered a changing population spatiality, and thereby, an unequal distribution of wages.

First, in discussing the role of geography to Great Britain and France’s economic development, infrastructural developments must be highlighted. Transportation of workers to the industrial centers- the process of urbanization- greatly exaggerated the core-periphery differentiation within nation-states. Still at the forefront of economic growth, and therefore, economic development, France and Great Britain had a cyclical relationship of wanting to attract laborers to the industry, therefore increasing transportation expenditure, and laborers wanting to make higher wages in the industrial sector, therefore increasing transportation innovation (Krugman, 1991). Urbanization effectively created an economy of scale for laborers to participate in, which, like the introduction of small industry to economies of scale, disvalued the labor.

Krugman suggests that under the marginal production theory of income distribution the ‘rental rate’ of a given industry must equal the production value of laborers to maximize profit. So, as industry expands, demand for labor must increase with wages relative to the costs of production. This ‘rent seeking’ ideology is at issue, because in the case of a large supply of labor moving from agrarian to industrial society seeking employment, profit can be maximized by not distributing wages at the ‘rental rate’ equilibrium. Wage inequality is not an institution, because it was not a policy, but is instead the effect of geography by way of population and labor supply. Wage inequality begets the institution of solidarity movements after the transfer of knowledge from the German welfare state.

Economic Growth to Economic Development

Transfer of knowledge between economies is an effect of trade. The impact of the industrial revolution was the increase in demand and supply of labor and goods, because of the heightened middle-class as discussed through the role of institutions. Trade theory, developed significantly after the industrial revolution, explains the nature of trade and its benefit to industrialized economies. Trade theory is important to the role of geography and the role of institutions, as it conceptualizes reasoning for and effect of actualized spatial-political relationships. Trade theory also further explains the intrinsic nature of Mercantilist desire for economic growth, to the beginning of economic development.

Assuming that all actors will act rationally, economic theory always suggests profit-maximizing behavior. Conditioned by Keynesian economics, the gains from trade maximize supply and demand, increasing the opportunity for profit through comparative advantages. The Hecksher-Ohlin model (1933) suggested that even in a situation of absolute advantage, gains from trade were possible due to relative advantages of goods and labor. Relative advantage highlights the disproportionate production possibilities among actors, but does not recognize the disproportionate competition between them. Competition occurs because there is profit-maximizing opportunity in increasing supply, in order to meet the larger demand of trade. With demand increasing through trade, and supply increasing thusly, industries involved in trade will develop increasingly, given that the factors of endowment are also increasing. The Linder hypothesis (1961) shows that competition is essentially dependent on production possibilities, which are dictated by factors of endowment, such as capital, labor, resources and technology. These ‘externalities’ affect growth of industry, creating imperfect competition between actors.

According to Linder, imperfect competition limits the possibilities of trade, because actors with dissimilar factors of endowment are unable to inspire competition in industry. By operating under the assumption that gains from trade are necessary for economic growth, but actors are endowed with different factors, it is reasonable to assume that there are supplementary motivations for trade. The Gravity Model suggests that relative size of economies (their factors of endowment) and relative distance of trade are the contingencies of benefit (Tinbergen, 1962.) Distance of trade is meant to limit transportation costs, similarly to Krugman’s assumption of urbanization as cost saving. Geography’s role in economic growth is shown here- neighboring nations tend to trade with each other.

Tendency to trade with relatively close countries will be analyzed specifically by the parameters of the Gravity Model, to emphasize the process from economic growth to economic development, rather than the socio-political relationships between countries. Although significantly more able to trade due to historical relationships of language and culture, neighboring countries tend to establish trade relations at an institutional level- with underpinnings of geographic spatiality. Coming to a case-in-point, trade relations between Germany and France perfectly represent this Gravity Model, because of their relative distance. Krugman suggests that the geographical relationship supersedes the necessity for relative factors of endowment, and the Linder hypothesis speculates that the syncing of German transportation and industry to the levels of France and French increase in levels of welfare to Germany represents this relationship.

German and French difference in factors of endowment in the industrial revolution must be analyzed first through the difference in institutional arrangement. Present-day Germany did not exist, in that it had not undergone the same pattern of nation-state building as France, due to maintenance of parochial taxation in Germanic territories (Nietzsche, 1885). The reasoning for this 1881 federalization of Germany is speculated as an effect of rising German nationalism, in response to French nationalism and militarization of German territories (Said, 1978), which would correspond to geographic role in synchronization of factors of endowment. Also correspondent, is the upswing in German transportation efforts nearly a century after the industrial revolution began in France and Great Britain. Increasing German nationalism after the Napoleonic Wars threatened German territory began the process of transportation building, especially near the French border and along the Rhein. Germany’s geographic growth in facilitated trade, and the coming of the industrial revolution, under the guise of national protection in warfare.

Learning from France’s regularity in working class institutional change, the development of the German state was based in Otto von Bismarck’s welfare programs. Germany offered the first economic development plan, by learning from the failure of extractive economic growth policies of the French. France, likewise, modeled it’s own welfare program after that of the Germans; policy making in an effort to stabilize the French institutions necessitated working class benefits, because of the severe wage inequality issue due to labor demand and supply. This institutional learning curve is suggested by the Linder hypothesis, because of Germany’s geographical relativity to France. Dialectic of German and French nationalism would soon be overshadowed by the increasing tension over remaining variances in factors of endowment.

Geographic development of infrastructure and institutional development of welfare in the German federation lead to quick expansion in factors of endowment. Coupled with the German access to warfare and industry resources of iron and steel, the French became defensive over the German’s economic development. Political tensions rose and resulted in World Wars I and II, which destroyed both French and German economic development up to that point. Despite the remaining principles in the benefit of a welfare state, when economic growth is depleted like it was due to warfare expenditure, economic development is impossible. Measured empirically by gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, ‘economic development’ is a country-based analysis of quality of life (Krugman, 2010). Measuring economic development by GDP per capita aligns all given factors of endowment with the country’s welfare. Maintenance of the welfare state is considered “economic development” because of the definition of welfare within the industrialized Western European countries. After WWII, the concept of foreign aid became related to economic development, as the welfare of Europe gained assistance from the United States’s Marshall Plan for European Recovery.


International Institutions and Economic Development

Politics of development assistance between the United States and Europe did not rest in pleasant diplomatic relations, seeing as world warfare had just cost both sides great deals of money and citizens. Rather, the United States’ interest in European economic development was towards the end of reconstructing the benefit of trade. As the most developed economy next to the United States’, Europeans had a history in purchasing power for traded goods, based on the Gravity Model’s suggestion of relative factors of endowment in industry. Geographical and institutional significance of foreign aid as a means of economic development lies in the globalization of economic growth, and the regionalization of economic development.

Institutionally, the Marshal Plan was significant in it’s ability to suggest peace negotiations among European nations. Instigating the first supranational free trade and common monetary system, the European Recovery Program recognized the tensions between trade barriers, and disregarded the geographically disjointed Europe. The European Union’s force as both an intergovernmental and supranational regime is unique in its configuration, and shares historical commonalities. The successful binding of national economies is fluid in nature, allowing for moderation and stabilization when necessary. With the recent Euro Crisis, this economic unity is threatened by the vacuum of power towards a higher authority, the European Central Bank. Economic development, the process towards increasing welfare, has become a supranational institution, threatening the sovereignty of nations involved. Geographically transcendent, the European Union still maintains tensions between institutional roles of intergovernmental actors.

Shown by the activity of the Development Assistance Committee, international aid is disproportionately decided upon by the 55 wealthiest nations in the world (Ragnar, 1961). The implications of this disproportionate aid include economic development dependence, resulting from the unstable institutions began during the extractionary period of colonization (WNF). Recent global politics suggest that the effect of development assistance created a tertiary extraction regime, whereby trade benefits only the country with greater factors of endowment. Trade between countries with varying factors of endowment can obviously result in tension and warfare, but if the one country is institutionally and geographically disadvantaged, the Linder model fails in applying the logic that it can essentially “scale up” to the factors of endowment of its larger trading partners. Subsumption of smaller economic industry in to economies of scale is represented through trade agreements like NAFTA, suggesting that despite the relativity in distance, the disproportionate factors of endowment negate efficient trade models. Specifically NAFTA represents this issue; the United States, although attempting to boost economic growth of Mexico towards the benefit of its agricultural relative advantage, effectively destroyed welfare of it’s farmers. The cyclical relationship between economic growth and economic development is realized by the downturn in economic growth due to lack of farming development. Farmers, dependent on United State’s investment, are economically unsustainable and suffer severe weaknesses thereby.

Implications of the institution of foreign investment and aid resonate in dependency theory. Unlike the Marshal Plan investment in Europe, which aided the re-growth of economically competent countries, the introduction of small economies with relatively little economic history, to large economies with significant economic competence assumes a sort of dominance of “development” (Ragnar, 1961). Derived from the French concept of the unfolding of political-spatial relationships, is development aid a mechanism of instituting foreign policy? Benefits derived from trade with developed countries are empirically visible in the increase of competition, and the significance of industrial growth to economic development. The role of institutional policy on economic development can be assumed as positive, in it’s responsive nature towards inclusive demands. The role of geography problematizes institutional benefit, because it suggests that a necessary institutional cohesion between geographically different nations, despite their different factors of endowment. Institutional cohesion, as seen on the supranational level of regional free trade agreements NAFTA and the EU, must respect the sovereignty of the country’s policy creation. If policy makers have little experience with economic development and no history in the welfare state, like NAFTA, they can fall in to a ‘vicious circle’ of economic dependence.

Works Cited

Acemoglu, Daron, and James A. Robinson. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. New York: Crown, 2012. Print.

Krugman, Paul R., and Maurice Obstfeld. Internationale Wirtschaft: Theorie Und Politik Der Außenwirtschaft. München [u.a.: Pearson Studium, 2010. Print.

Krugman, Paul R. Cities in Space: Three Simple Models. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1991. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. New York: Modern Library, 1995. Print.

Nurkse, Ragnar (1961). Problems of Capital Formation in Underdeveloped Countries. NY: Oxford University Press.

Tinbergen, Jan. Mathematical Models of Economic Growth. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1962. Print.

[1] This phenomenon of geographic and institutional implications in economic development will be discussed further in relation to foreign aid and economic development.

Financial Transaction Tax and Eurobonds. Republic of Finland. Position Paper.

Model EU Summit, August 2012.
Eurobonds and Financial Transaction Tax
Finland – Position Paper




How did the small, peripheral economy of Greece begin to threaten the world’s biggest economic area? The European Union’s sovereign debt crisis began with the economic and political gaps in governance, leading to the Greek budget deficit, Spanish and Irish liability depletion, and European responsibility for the bail out of its sovereign members. Sovereign debt illuminates the fault of member states in the downfall of national banks. Deregulated banks capitalized on risky investments, but lowered investment-failure reserves. Resulting in necessary bail-outs by national governments in 2008, the threat of EU member state economic collapse necessitated European Central Bank intervention.

EU intervention in once-sovereign banking affairs is the crux of current political debate. ECB austerity measures were issued in the form of a bail-out package known as the European Stability Mechanism. Essential to the ESM, are the binding regulations on bank reserves and the deleveraging process for repayment of the loans. It is in the regulation of the banks, that the EU is deepening from a monetary union to a fiscal union. But would a total fiscal union create liability for economically stable countries?

As banking sovereignty is stripped from the indebted countries, the EU seeks repayment and fiscal stabilization for the health of the common currency. Proposed measures to this effect include the introduction of Eurobonds and the Financial Transaction Tax. Eurobonds, as a mechanism to pool debt of countries, in the interest of maintaining the credit rating of the indebted countries, would increase the liability of economically stable countries. Shared responsibility for the downfall of specific member states is justifiably contentious. To mitigate the Eurozone retraction, and further regulate the risky investments of banks, the Commission proposed the FTT. Through taxing financial transactions, the Eurozone would theoretically gain revenue, at the cost of member state GDP. The FTT, like the Eurobond, is a deepening mechanism for fiscal unity, creating a shared responsibility for maintenance of the common Euro.




Relative to other economies of scale, the Republic of Finland maintains the best possible credit rating (AAA; by Standard and Poor, 2012.) and most consistent economic growth in the EU. As a welfare state, Finland is known for high taxes, high subsidies and responsible fiscal regulation. With a history of sovereign debt and national bank bail out in the early 1990’s, Finlands governance began regulation of the banking sector investments. Investment preference towards trade relations represents Finlands 41.4% manufacturing economy, and substantiates the interest in joining the Eurozone in 1995. Adoption of the Euro allowed Finland to expand their market without trade barriers, but has since seen depletion of European investment since the beginning of the sovereign debt crisis. To counterbalance inevitable GDP decrease, Finland increased foreign investment through trade agreements with Russia, and increasing outsourcing at a rate of 2.6% of the manufacturing economy per year.
Would the acceptance of responsibility through Eurobonds subject Finland to higher taxes, or a minimalized welfare state? Would the FTT negatively impact the large amount of foreign investment, forcing Finland’s large manufacturing sector to decline?


Finland and the Eurobond


The Republic of Finland recognizes the necessity for Eurozone stimulation and stability. Considering Finlands mitigation of sovereign debt crisis in the early 1990s, Finland feels that it is the responsibility of each member state to manage public finances through austerity measures of the EU. Apart from Estonia, Finland is the only member state to have met all fiscal requirements of the European Fiscal Compact. Finland denounces being punished for the poor governance of other member states, and considers the risky investment of sovereign credit towards poorly managed states to be an institutionalization of the banking sector mismanagement.

It is in this logic, that Finland supports tightened fiscal regulation of member states, in the form of a European Redemption Fund. Regulation over a long-term scale would incentivize and encourage debt-redemption rather than debt accumulation.


Finland and the FTT


Finland supports developing a plan for the implementation of the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) because it is necessary to ensure available funds for any potential bank bailouts. Furthermore, the use of FTT would approximately generate €50-57 billion in revenue per year which would then allow banks to re-pay their debts for the 2008 financial crisis.

However, Finland is becoming skeptical of the possibility for the FTT and is carefully questioning the FTT’s ability to positively affect domestic economies. Finland is especially concerned about its neighbor’s (Sweden’s) negative experience with FTT during the 1980s, which caused futures trading volumes to fall by 98%, options trading to fall to zero, and bond trading to fall by 80% (  In light of Sweden’s vehement opposition to the FTT, Finland is beginning to reevaluate its own stance for it and questions whether the FTT would indeed have a damaging impact on the development of Finland’s financial markets and economy comparable to the damages in Sweden.