Sunday, January 27, 2013

How could it happen? / 11 / changing ideas

We are still reading "Heinrich Mann.  Ein Leben wird besichtigt", biography of Heinrich Mann, by Dr. Ringel, my cousin's husband, whom I haven't talked to about this yet.  We shall have to make a list of questions for him, and try our best to sound intelligent.

Last post, we highlighted Heinrich Mann's work with the paper "The 20th century" and were shocked by the aims and guidelines of the publication.   We noted that later Heinrich Mann kept his involvement with this paper a secret.  With his living in France and Italy and moving in the circles of actors and artists, his views became considerably more liberal, citing love as the overarching principle of life, personal as well as political.  The brotherly, humanitarian view needed to guide society and the average citizen needed to have his consicousness raised to more lofty views of spirit and intellect ("Geist"  in German;  I never know what's the best way to say it in English.  "Geist" sounds very lofty.  It is so lofty that the average person can hardly aspire to have any or much of it.  It is the realm of the Uebermensch, the academic, the recluse, the philosopher, the very holy cleric, someone not quite in touch with reality, but living in a higher realm.)  (In any case, you and me could hardly aspire to it with our every day existence.)

So, in this regard, we have an interesting observation on page 174 about Thomas Mann, the famous brother of Heinrich Mann, on the occasion of the breaking out of World War 1:

Still Thomas Mann is suspended between hope and fear.  He even admits to himself that he may not be wanting to accept the seriousness of the situation in order to flee from the 'pressure of reality'.  Until this day, reality had been only the play material for his novels and stories.  Detached from reality, he had been able to hover over it, he the god-like poet, over these profane matters and had created for himself a world in his own works.  Now, however, reality dared to exhibit its own dynamic, through what it was no longer the play material of the poetic fantasy.  

The emotions in the country at the beginning of the war seem strange to us.  It seems like a pent up steam was let out and war had a aura of necessity and new hope about it.  If they had been able to foresee the disasters of the 20th century, none would have been jubilant.  But apparently there was jubilation.

The enthusiasm in the Reich is unimaginable:  the citizens cheer the soldiers.  The general dreaminess is difficult to explain: 'The firm conviction of the German population that its leadership was in no way to be faulted for the outbreak of hostilities... cannot be the full explanation of the often documented joy... rather the enthusiasm of August 1914 is founded much more decisively in the confidence that the nation which had broken into so many various warring factions, has now reached a new unity.  (p. 175)  

Even many artist and intellectuals were pro-war.  Even Hermann Hesse, later a pacifist, enlisted in a first wave of enthusiasm.  Thomas Mann described the mood thus:  "How could the artist, the soldier in the artist, refrain from praising God for the collapse of the world of peace, which he was so sick of, so very disgusted! War!  It was a cleansing, a freedom--which we felt--together with a great hope."  (p. 175).

The hope apparently was that the war would close the "great ditch" which "separated the esoteric work of the literary and artistic elite from the feelings of the broad mass of people".  Some hoped for a new and more original art, rooted more deeply in the totality of the people. (p. 175).

It seems to me unfathomable that war was supposed to be able to clear the air, bring unity and such clarity, that it was to usher in reform of the people and their relationship to art.  Something seems to be really misfiring here.  If they had had any idea of what was to come.  If they had had an idea.  They were sick of this peace.

This business with the totality of the German people did not work for Heinrich Mann, however.  He saw himself more connected to the totality of western civilization as a whole, as he saw it.  In his essay "Geist und Tat"  (spirit/intellect and deed) in 1910, he had confessed his affinity to the ideals of the French Revolution.  The theme had been Rousseau and his importance to the French Revolution.  Thus the French Revolution was not mainly about lack of necessities but the people had been denied a justice.  They had been treated as wild animals.  Rousseau had convinced them that they had "Geist" (spirit/intellect), and that they were capable of true humanity and what was good. Man was not to be like a wolf to another but as a human being.  (p. 178)

He critiqued German literature because it had instituted the monarchy which is an organization of human emnity.  The "Geist" had withdrawn into the ivory tower, in Germany.  The separation between "Geist" and "Tat" (deed) is said to be a fundamental law in Germany.  The good in man had been denied completely.  The intellectuals had failed completely because exactly they should have promoted true humanity.  But no.

The German thinkers had missed their calling and had come into the service of "power" and become denigrated thus.  "For several decades already, Germany had seen the cultus of the "unspiritual", for the sophist justification of injustice, for the dread enemy, "power".  What strange disaster has brought him thus far?  How can you explain a Nietzsche, who is the very type of this kind of genius?  And all those who follow him?"  (p. 179)

Heinrich Mann probably had something there.  How can you explain a Nietzsche?

Anyhow, the essay gets more complicated in explaining all this.  We can't cover it here.  One of the excuses of the intellectuals is the "disgust of nihilism"...

Heinrich Mann then wrote another essay on Voltaire and Goethe.  He is trying to see if their work contributed towards the hopes of democracy.  He believes that the goal of literature is democracy.  No doubt, that should be it.  He cites Goethe as a problem, or rather the intellectual who tries to emulated, or copy him.  "In Germany, Goethe is the huge idol.  The intellectual tried to copy his 'deedless life'" (p. 180)  Voltaire is said to have been a bad man, but he was a person of "Geist", who raised the consciousness of the people against injustice.  The passion of the "Geist" is what let Voltaire become the defender of humanity.  Goethe, on the other hand, is about the laws of nature.   He accepts suffering and happiness as law of nature.   But Voltaire stands up and fights for a better world.

The emancipation of the masses must lead to democracy. His novels must serve this purpose.

Because of the need for deeds, Heinrich Mann can also justify the deeds of Robespierre and
Danton of the Reign of Terror.  Mann recognizes the dilemma here.   What does one do with the guilt?  Ja, well,  it is a problem but to do nothing brings guilt, too.

Thomas Mann sees himself criticized by his brother.  We noted Thomas' attitudes earlier.  He writes a book against the "Civilisationsliterat", the civilization writer, a detestable type of writer.  Thomas Mann confesses his conservative attitudes, but yet calls himself "unpolitical".  Nature is his highest sovereign.  He denies the love of man among the political. The unpolitical understands the plight of man and helps him bear it, instead.

Kant gets brought into this fight among the brothers.  Kant would certainly insist that good thinking would also insist on acceptable means.   Heinrich thinks that you can't be too timid in choosing your means, lest you miss the deed.

While Thomas and Heinrich were fighting literary wars, another brother was actually fighting in the war.  (Page 191)

--Ok, why this entire excursus?  I am still thinking about the Chesterton quote from the last post.  What good is all this doing the man in the factory?  What good all this intellectual wrangling?  What good all this "who is more spiritual than another"?  I don't find either Thomas Mann's or Heinrich Mann's positions very consistent or convincing.  Here we have them bouncing off each other, but would others combine them by adopting both the will to power and deed, the idea of the total German people full of literary and cultural "Geist", adoring nature as sovereign.

We have men dying in ditches for no good reason at all.  That's the cold reality of it all.  And so many more atrocities were committed in cold blood by cultured people.  Atrocities beyond the wildest imaginations.  Timothy Snyder lays them bare in "Bloodlands".  14 million civilians killed in cold blood for the higher values of different "movements". We will get to that.

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