Kafka days

In order to break up the work into more manageable bites, we’ll do work around Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist” on Thursday, May 2nd, and work around his story “In the Penal Colony” on Tuesday May 7th.  


Again, an entrypoint to thinking about the word “manifesto”:


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
For other uses, see Manifesto (disambiguation).

manifesto is a published verbal declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer, be it an individual, group, political party or government.[1][2][3] A manifesto usually accepts a previously published opinion or public consensus and/or promotes a new idea with prescriptive notions for carrying out changes the author believes should be made. It often is political or artistic in nature, but may present an individual’s life stance. Manifestos relating to religious belief are generally referred to as creeds.

(wikipedia “Manifesto“)

German and European avant-gardeisms for beginners (a nutshell in a nutshell with a tiny bit of a manifesto at the end))

Europe and particularly Germany in the early 20th Century are awash in what we still today recognize as avant-garde art movements. Avant-garde = French for vanguard — the troops at the front of a battle.

Expressionism (starts in Germany)

courtesy wikipedia

courtesy wikipedia

Futurism (predominantly Italian)

Dada (which will turn into Surrealism- international with a strong German component)

The Blue Rider (der Blaue Reiter- German)

courtesy wikipedia

courtesy wikipedia

Bauhaus (mostly architecture and furniture-German)

These movements are all interested in the new:  in using the challenges to human thinking and living presented by technology, industrialization, and modernity in general to create art forms that either mirror that fastness (cinema), and/or they may resist it by creating work that challenges professionalism, the idea of talent or genius, the traditions of literature and art, and the very assumptions of values that we consider “good.” In particular, Expressionism and Dada critique the war machine of Germany and Europe.  The original cut of the film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari did not include the frame story — making it a radical critique of power, violence, and thought-control, which many believe was an indictment of WW1.

Greil Marcus sees the Dadaists as the first “punks” and his book Lipstick Traces discusses the role of the avant-garde in the creation of the punk rock scene.

Very few artists working in Europe are not influenced by these movements. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is considered a textbook example of Expressionism. Brecht was definitely influenced by Expressionism. Kafka is a somewhat more complicated case. Yet he too is clearly rebelling against older forms of writing, and is arguably using Expressionism and Dada to formulate his own very weird, and haunting aesthetic.

Perhaps the best way to think about what these avant-garde movements are trying to do is to think about the aesthetic from a point of view put forth by a group of critics called the Russian Formalists. Operating right after WW1, the Russian Formalists argued that art had to slow down perception in the viewer/reader, by making art “strange.” The art put forth by Ernst, Picabia, Hans and Sophie Arp, Kandinksy, Klee, and the Bauhaus builders all aimed to do that. To astound, to trouble, and to slow us down — to force us to pause and consider what we are looking at/reading/experiencing. This is probably why these artists remain my personal favorites — they inspire me to make work that tries to make people think and feel.  Differently.

Here is a nutty example of how powerful this work can be for people:

historical background to the turn of the century — Germany (Yay! the country finally exists [sort of])

The following is exerpted from the Wikipedia article “the German Empire.” Use the following only as a very simplistic jumping-off point for more research about aspects that interest you personally.

The German Empire
On 10 December 1870 the North German Confederation Reichstag renamed the Confederation as the German Empire and gave the title of German Emperor to the King of Prussia as President of the Confederation.[22] During the Siege of Paris on 18 January 1871, King Wilhelm I of Prussia was proclaimed German Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles.[23]

The 1871 German Constitution was adopted by the Reichstag on 14 April 1871 and proclaimed by the Emperor on 16 April,[23] which was substantially based upon Bismarck’s North German Constitution. Germany acquired some democratic features. The new empire had a parliament called the Reichstag, which was elected by universal male suffrage. However, the original constituencies drawn in 1871 were never redrawn to reflect the growth of urban areas. As a result, by the time of the great expansion of German cities in the 1890s and first decade of the 20th century, rural areas were grossly overrepresented.

Legislation also required the consent of the Bundesrat, the federal council of deputies from the states. Executive power was vested in the emperor, or Kaiser, who was assisted by a chancellor responsible only to him. The emperor was given extensive powers by the constitution. He alone appointed and dismissed the chancellor, was supreme commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and final arbiter of all foreign affairs. Officially, the chancellor was a one-man cabinet and was responsible for the conduct of all state affairs; in practice, the State Secretaries (bureaucratic top officials in charge of such fields as finance, war, foreign affairs, etc.) acted as unofficial portfolio ministers. The Reichstag had the power to pass, amend or reject bills and to initiate legislation.
Although nominally a league of equals, in practice the empire was dominated by the largest and most powerful state, Prussia. It stretched across the northern two thirds of the new Reich, and contained three fifths of its population. The imperial crown was hereditary in the House of Hohenzollern, the ruling house of Prussia. With the exception of the years 1872–1873 and 1892–1894, the chancellor was always simultaneously the prime minister of Prussia. With 17 out of 58 votes in the Bundesrat, Berlin needed only a few votes from the small states to exercise effective control.

Industrial power – overview
For 30 years, Germany struggled against Britain to be Europe’s leading industrial power, though both fell behind the United States. Representative of Germany’s industry was the steel giant Krupp, whose first factory was built in Essen. By 1902, the factory alone became “A great city with its own streets, its own police force, fire department and traffic laws. There are 150 kilometres of rail, 60 different factory buildings, 8,500 machine tools, seven electrical stations, 140 kilometres of underground cable and 46 overhead.”[24]

Lacking a technological base at first, the Germans imported their engineering and hardware from Britain, but quickly learned the skills needed to operate and expand the railways. In many cities, the new railway shops were the centres of technological awareness and training, so that by 1850, Germany was self-sufficient in meeting the demands of railroad construction, and the railways were a major impetus for the growth of the new steel industry. However, German unification in 1870 stimulated consolidation, nationalisation into state-owned companies, and further rapid growth. Unlike the situation in France, the goal was support of industrialisation, and so heavy lines crisscrossed the Ruhr and other industrial districts, and provided good connections to the major ports of Hamburg and Bremen. By 1880, Germany had 9,400 locomotives pulling 43,000 passengers and 30,000 tons of freight, and forged ahead of France.[32]

Industry in specifics

Industrialization progressed dynamically in Germany and German manufacturers began to capture domestic markets from British imports, and also to compete with British industry abroad, particularly in the U.S. The German textiles and metal industries had by 1870 surpassed those of Britain in organization and technical efficiency and superseded British manufacturers in the domestic market. Germany became the dominant economic power on the continent and was the second largest exporting nation after Britain.
Technological progress during German industrialization occurred in four waves: the railway wave (1877–86), the dye wave (1887–96), the chemical wave (1897–1902), and the wave of electrical engineering (1903–18).[33] Since Germany industrialized later than Britain, it was able to model its factories after those of Britain, thus making more efficient use of its capital and avoiding legacy methods in its leap to the envelope of technology. Germany invested more heavily than the British in research, especially in chemistry, motors and electricity. Germany’s dominance in physics and chemistry was such that one-third of all Nobel Prizes went to German inventors and researchers.
The German cartel system (known as Konzerne), being significantly concentrated, was able to make more efficient use of capital. Germany was not weighted down with an expensive worldwide empire that needed defense. Following Germany’s annexation of Alsace-Lorraine in 1871, it absorbed parts of what had been France’s industrial base.[34]
By 1900, the German chemical industry dominated the world market for synthetic dyes.[35] The three major firms BASF,[36] Bayer and Hoechst produced several hundred different dyes, along with the five smaller firms. In 1913, these eight firms produced almost 90% of the world supply of dyestuffs and sold about 80% of their production abroad. The three major firms had also integrated upstream into the production of essential raw materials and they began to expand into other areas of chemistry such as pharmaceuticals, photographic film, agricultural chemicals and electrochemicals. Top-level decision-making was in the hands of professional salaried managers; leading Chandler to call the German dye companies “the world’s first truly managerial industrial enterprises”.[37] There were many spinoffs from research—such as the pharmaceutical industry, which emerged from chemical research.[38]
By the start of World War I (1914–1918), German industry switched to war production. The heaviest demands were on coal and steel for artillery and shell production, and on chemicals for the synthesis of materials that were subject to import restrictions and for chemical weapons and war supplies.

writing homework for April 30th — Marx and Reality Hunger

If you were in class on Thursday use your interviews to compose a short 750 opinion piece, where you compare what your interviewees said about Marx, communism, and the Communist Manifesto with what you understand Marx to be actually saying in the manifesto. Where are the biggest misunderstandings, and where are the biggest commonalities?


Consider the following:

From Chapter 2 of the Communist Manifesto:

“The bourgeois sees his wife a mere instrument of production. He hears that the instruments of production are to be exploited in common, and, naturally, can come to no other conclusion that the lot of being common to all will likewise fall to the women.

He has not even a suspicion that the real point aimed at is to do away with the status of women as mere instruments of production.

For the rest, nothing is more ridiculous than the virtuous indignation of our bourgeois at the community of women which, they pretend, is to be openly and officially established by the Communists. The Communists have no need to introduce community of women; it has existed almost from time immemorial.

Our bourgeois, not content with having wives and daughters of their proletarians at their disposal, not to speak of common prostitutes, take the greatest pleasure in seducing each other’s wives.

Bourgeois marriage is, in reality, a system of wives in common and thus, at the most, what the Communists might possibly be reproached with is that they desire to introduce, in substitution for a hypocritically concealed, an openly legalised community of women. For the rest, it is self-evident that the abolition of the present system of production must bring with it the abolition of the community of women springing from that system, i.e., of prostitution both public and private.”

Compare that statement to Jenny Marx’s letter to a colleague asking for money:

Jenny Marx to Joseph Weydmeye

React on a personal, autobiographical level to these very different documents. Does Jenny Marx’s letter reinforce or problematize her husband’s manifesto? What do YOU think about marriage as an economic institution? What power-relations do you perceive in your family, friends, interviewees (if this came up), that connects with Marx’s critique? What’s lacking in Marx’s critique that is present in Jenny Marx’s letter?

If you identify as a person of color, as a woman, as a queer person, as a trans person, as a member of an oppressed religious group — how do you react to these documents. Be specific.

“reading” for Tuesday, April 30th

Please watch and take notes on the film THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI.

There are several online versions. This one has music, which I like.

Notes on the film to follow.

The film is about 50 minutes long. If you are watching something shorter, you aren’t seeing the whole movie.

If you are watching a film that isn’t silent, you aren’t watching the correct film.

watch the film for free on youtube here.

updated assignment for Hoffman/Brentano due April 23rd

If you are turning your Hoffman writing assignment in today (Wednesday April 24th) or later, I think it will be more useful to you to write 750 words or so on how the Hoffman and Brentano stories are changing around/critiquing the fairy-tale format and characterizations we saw in the Grimm Brothers. So please do this assignment and not the earlier one. I think it will be more valuable to you at this point, and will set you up better to do the close reading assignment due in less than 2 weeks. Thank you. Stephanie H.

Look What Napoleon did! (historical context to Hoffman and Brentano)

“The Sandman” – 1817

“The Queen’s Son” – Written in 1808 (published in 1844)

Napoleonic Wars, 1803-1815

Hoffman’s life and career were repeatedly disrupted by the Napoleonic Wars. He spent the early part of his career – working as Prussian government employee in Poland – but then was driven out of Warsaw .  Here’s what Wikipedia tells us:

On 28 November 1806 during the War of the Fourth CoalitionNapoleon Bonaparte‘s troops captured Warsaw, and the Prussian bureaucrats lost their jobs. They divided the contents of the treasury between them and fled. In January 1807 his wife and two-year-old daughter Cäcilia returned to Posen, while he pondered whether to move to Vienna or go back to Berlin. A delay of six months was caused by severe illness. Eventually the French authorities demanded that all former officials swear allegiance or leave the country. As they refused to grant him a passport to Vienna, he was forced to return to Berlin.

The next fifteen months were some of the worst in Hoffmann’s life. The city of Berlin was also occupied by Napoleon’s troops. Obtaining only meagre allowances, he had frequent recourse to his friends, constantly borrowing money and still going hungry for days at a time; he learned that his daughter had died. (Wikipedia article on Hoffman)

sidebar:  In the middle of all this turmoil, by the way, our friend Goethe meets Napoleon who is a huge fan of the Sorrows of Young Werther—an excerpt of which you used for your nature diary entry. They meet in Erfurt in 1808, after Napoleon’s army has occupied Weimar and dispossessed many of Goethe’s friends of their homes and property. Not Goethe’s, though.

Here’s how much of Europe, Napoleon has conquered at a certain point. It’s kind of flabbergasting (if you can make that into an –ing word).  Click on the map to see how much territory Napoleon won (as far as the red line):


Bettina Brentano’s life was less dramatically  impacted by the Napoleonic Wars because of her family connections. Her success is in part a product of post-Napoleonic politics. She  becomes a close associate of the King of the post Napoleonic kindgdom of Prussia, and this keeps her safe despite her very progressive political views. She also knows famous people like Goethe… which always helps. Note however, how her story, which was written for her fiance, the writer Achim von Arnim, isn’t published til years later. Her apparent lack of productivity may be explained by the fact that she had 7 children, ran a house in the 19th Century (no washing machine, no dishwasher, no oven, nor refrigerator), and was also a singer! Her daughter Gisela von Arnim also became a successful writer.

Learn more about the amazing Bettina Brentano (aka Bettina von Arnim) here.