Thomas Mann "German Republic" and "Germany and the Germans"

These two texts could be seen as sort of framing the time period at stake. In "German Republic," a speech of 1922, Mann, previously  a prominent conservative, came out in defense of the young Weimar Republic. He did so with a rhetorical device: finding compatibility between the notionally very German figure of Novalis (the romantic author Friedrich von Hardenberg) and the icon of American democracy Walt Whitman.  If Novalis could be seen as akin to Whitman, then (so the argument) Germans could become comfortable with democracy.  One can therefore note this speech also as an early (but not the first) encounter by Mann with American material.  "Germany and the Germans" however is in a much more American context. As he tells us, he is now an American citizen. He is speaking in the Library of Congress in late May 1945, so a couple of weeks after the German surrender in the Second World War.  The contexts are very different, spatial and historical, but there are some figures of thought that stretch between the two texts.

 

A few topics to think about it:

 1) Ambiguity of identity (or: theorizing exile and displacement):  In GR Mann wants to insist on his stability, but he is also addressing a "migration" from right to center-left, from monarchy to democracy. Versions of "patriotism" or "nationality" seem to mediate the transition. In G&G there is a similar gesture, some implied deep affinity between American identity (as a meta-identity of immigrants) and German identity (as not quite national, related to some cosmopolitanism, albeit deficient).  For us, what kind of assumptions do we make about identity and belonging in order to talk about exile? What rhetoric follows from claims of identity and exile?

 2) But it's not only about identity politics.  Clearly the "state" is at stake as well, especially in GR; in G&G it's about politics.  Achieving an identity of state and culture (GR) is the humanistic goal: I think this means a criticism of a state that is separate from and above society. The notion of politics in G&G seems different: somewhat more sober and technical. The Germans, so Mann claims, aren't good at that: it's almost as if in 1922 he wants to overcome instrumental politics while in 1945 he accepts the realism of their importance.  Has he tempered his romanticism?  In any case, "exile" evidently means not only displacement in terms of identity and culture but also in terms of state and politics (assuming we can distinguish).

 

3) How does the evaluation of romanticism change? In GR, Novalis is the romantic and therefore the touchstone of Germanness; in G&G romanticism is inwardness, musicality but also backwardness, belatedness.  We begin to encounter the trope of the one Germany that is both good and evil (high culture, catastrophic politics).  We can read that as an estimation of German cultural history. But we can also think of it as function of the rhetorical position of an exile: --the need to assert continuity and to explain distance.

4)  Note important passage, p. 29, just before paragraph break: a kind of political-theoretical geography between "the political mysticism of slave state" [Slaventums!  ==a mistranslation, this should be something like "of the Slavic world, i.e., Russia] and the "radical and anarchistic individualism of a certain West"  = the "Union of freedom and equality.  Compare to the similar syntheses at the closing of the essay.

5) I realized that pp. 34-35 of the English pdf are missing and will try to get them. However (as you can see if you check against the German, 154-554)), the figure he is attacking here is Oswald Spengler and his Decline of the West. Let's follow TM's logic on p. 37 (English): rejects Spengler's theory of "radical differences between cultures" by citing the example of Mahler's "Song of the Earth" and the hybridization of Chinese poetry and western music.  But then he glosses that claim with a renewed query into "humanity" which (I think) rejects the notion of a sum total of all humans (ever) and for something "inmost and essential", an ideal. Facing his conservative audience, he has to (at the end of that paragraph) claim that such a meta-national universalism is (also) poetic (a term otherwise reserved for the local, national, the particular, etc.).

6) Political internationalism: in both speeches there are gestures to overcoming national sovereignty (international law, a state of states, etc.).  How does that fit into discourses of migration, immigration, exile?

7) GR culminates in an "erotic" account of democracy, via Whitman.  Love is somehow the alternative to alienation of state and nation. Some read this as particularly gendered: a male republic?  I think the corollary in G&G is the discourse on "grace," part of the network of biblical and theological references indicative of his contemporary work on Doctor Faustus.  The "love rhetoric" of 1922---does it anticipate subsequent erotic cultural politics? Or the ecstasy of revolutionary regimes? Or the biopolitical management  of life?  Can these intellectual historical concerns be mapped onto the dynamics of exile?