1. On ›Romanistik‹
German Romance Studies Leading up to Nazi Time
In some reviews from the end of the Weimar period, Walter Benjamin inveighed both against separating literary history from general history and against the premises of what eventually came to be called ›cultural science‹ (Kulturkunde), which were a lay ritual celebrating ›eternal values‹ of ›word art‹. He identified as the »seven heads of this hydra of academic esthetics: creativity, empathy, transcending the moment, re-creation, identification, illusion, and art appreciation«. Its crisis was part of a general crisis of Bildung (education, acculturation) which was out of synch with the actual production and reception of books. At the same time of crisis, Brecht’s reflections on the social position of art (for example the notion of copyright) arising out of his court case about The Threepenny Movie, as well as Gramsci writing in prison, arrived at similar pioneering conclusions.
German Romanistik or Romance Studies was, together with the bastions of chauvinism in the German and Classical Studies, probably the most exasperated case of the frenzied Idealism stigmatized by Benjamin. It arose out of German reactions to the French Classicism and then French bourgeois literature and theatre dominant in Europe from Lisbon to St. Petersburg and from Louis XIV to World War 1. The universal claims of the French Revolution – carried on by Napoleon – meant that the middle class ethical objections against French-speaking aristocracy, exemplified by Lessing’s Hamburg Dramaturgy, were now co-opted by German aristocracy into a historical block based on linguistic nationalism, which Herder had identified as the »national character, possessing its own spirit (Geist) and language«, and which finally issued in Bismarck’s unification of Germany by means of war against France. The singularity of each nation is here a defence against the universal claims of the revolution and of the French language; obversely, the German Left, often forced to emigrate to France (Heine, Marx), remained throughout admirers of French achievements. In language and literature, German moves from a subaltern to a competitive position towards French in a zero-sum game: whatever German may gain must be at the expense of French. Geist was a God-word, Esprit was at best frivolous if not corrupt; France was hysterically feminine (as Treitschke and Thomas Mann had argued), Germany virile. Academically, this maintained the domination of Classical as against Romance studies in the 19th Century.
The Herderian Holy Trinity of Nation-Geist-Language meant that in Germany, and in all other European national movements from Ireland to Russia, both linguistics-cum-literature and philology-cum-criticism became a serious and at times central political business: «Philology gives to an oppressed present the image of a great past, thus feeding the hope for a better future [of the nation]«. From Petöfy in 1848 to Polish and Czech theatre under Stalinism, ›word artists‹ became at exalted moments ideological legislators of nations. This meant that literary studies were dominated by linguistics (a position that will later facilitate the triumph of Saussureanism and other linguistic imperialisms in literary studies against both Marxist and Americanist universalism) in an unholy alliance with a historicism for which, as Meinecke wrote in 1936, »human soul and spirit were the deepest forces that move history«. The leading Romanist of pre-Nazi times, Karl Vossler, not only subsumes as a matter of course criticism under linguistics but also allows »pure esthetics« only in preparatory monographs, while the culmination of »Idealist criticism« will be reached by synthesizing groupings of »the speech forms«, articulated both chronologically and »geographically by way of nations and races, issuing finally into ’national individuals’ and spiritual affinity«. The tone of such Romance Studies, as of German philology in general, was overwhelmingly chauvinist, antimodernist and authoritarian (no women need apply). Whatever debate there was dealt with how to reconcile linguistic analysis of individual poetic physiognomies with political and historical synthesis: Vossler’s great Italian Idealist exemplar, Benedetto Croce, opted mainly for the former, whereas Vossler himself flirted with historical, at times even vaguely sociopolitical, syntheses of a ›spirit of the times‹ (Zeitgeist – cf. his French Culture as Mirrored in the Development of its Language). In both cases, one had to find a »spiritual nucleus« or »bearing of the soul«: periods or indeed nations can only be understood as supposed individuals. Analyses of opposed interest within the same period or nation were impossible from such a point of view, where materials which did not fit were declared irrelevant (›not poetic‹ or ›not beautiful‹ in Croce, ›writing‹ (Schrifttum) rather than ›literature‹ in German philology). No wonder materialists such as Auerbach and Krauss dissented.
It will be apparent how kindred this Idealism is to chauvinist nationalism and how easily it slides into racism: simply substitute, in its structural slot for Geist, ›national character‹, remarks Jehle. In Romance Studies this culminated after Germany lost the First World War, to the point where the conservative Vossler, in his keynote speech of 1922 against enemies of philological values such as Esperanto furthered by Bolshevik doctrine, nonetheless exclaimed about teaching French: »Let us rather speak Slavic with the Slavs, or Esperanto, or – the best choice - German, but never again French«. His pupils wrote books where, e.g., the French future tense expresses thirst for power, and he himself coined a famous slogan about ›the continuous Frenchman‹ (Dauerfranzose – Vossler hated antisemitism and was probably avoiding ›eternal Jew‹ echoes). ›Cultural history‹ enlarged this to consideration of the ›sworn enemy’s‹ postcards or forgotten newspapers: juicy dissertations loomed on the horizon. Or indeed, Geist could be substituted by ›racial character‹: there was a group of studies ascribing all good French qualities to Norman or Frankish – i.e. Germanic – traces in the French North, pedantically followed through onomastics, though it was considered somewhat excessive (not by Hitler, who thought about an independent Burgundy). In Nazi times, there will be a boom in such essentialist anthropology, culminating in Arnold Gehlen’s Der Mensch. But obversely, any attention to how social production or reception is inside, not outside texts, was dispatched as old-fashioned ›positivistic determinism‹, as Spitzer’s reproach to Auerbach’s first attempts goes.
Accommodation with the Nazi Regime
After 1933, most scholars disliked Nazis but saw them as a variant of the hated mass society that stifles individual spirituality (Klemperer blamed both Nazis and Communists on Rousseau). The Gallo-Romanisten could not, as Iberists and Italianists, simply praise the followers or precursors of Salazar, Mussolini and Franco (Vossler, who had proposed Spanish be taught instead of French, had no qualms accepting a high decoration from Franco’s minister in 1944, and in his speech of thanks indicated as root of his Spanish studies the aversion against positivism and materialism). Linguists could go on doing dissertations about Designations of Jawbone in Gallo-romanic. But – to concentrate, as Jehle also does, on the central studies of French literature – scholars had here a problem in dealing with the writings of Hitler’s pet enemy nation. Professionally, they continued declaiming against individualism, parliamentary corruption, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and French national egotism as before, but the ambitious ones accentuated some aspects, such as the division between bad Frenchmen (e.g. the ›half-Jews‹ Montaigne and Proust, the ›quarter-Negro‹ Dumas) and the acceptable manly ones (e.g. Corneille or Romains); after 1936, they accompanied the shift of Nazi policy from ›tribal‹ stress to praise of Classicism. The Nazis were after all favouring an offshoot of their own stance, so that both convinced racists (maybe a dozen non-entities) and the much more frequent fellow-travellers and time-servers could easily produce books such as Race and Style in Lamartine by Edgar Glässer, who also wrote an Introduction to Racial Linguistics, cited in well-known West German bibliographies until revolted students in the 60s started talking about the university’s collaboration with Nazis. Civically, the Romanisten in majority did not enter into the Nazi party or entered without much enthusiasm and activism, but they cautiously protested only if their innocuous research was at stake. Fired Jewish colleagues were not defended (the only solidarity seems to have been manifested by some of Spitzer’s assistants), no voices were raised to talk about incompatible values, and archival research has shown a wealth of denunciations within universities. The Nazis had other fish to fry and contented themselves with kicking out ca. 20% of university Romanisten (so there were lots of promotion chances), favouring ›cultural‹ or area studies, shrinking the student numbers (so there was lots of time for research) and promoting their followers.
The Exceptions: Partially Spitzer, Maybe Curtius, Certainly Auerbach
Were there significant exception among the Romanisten? There were four: partly Spitzer and Curtius, fully Auerbach and Krauss, the only one who had a little circle of followers (Auerbach was dismissed in 1934, too soon to form a circle, Curtius was notoriously self-centered). Fortunately, the latter three are the most important and enduring scholars in the profession: for even Vossler is today of limited interest, and I’m afraid this also holds for large stretches of Spitzer, outflanked by the Russian Formalists and Structuralists. I take Spitzer and Curtius as partial exceptions not because there is doubt of their deep aversion against the Nazi regime, but because the structure of their writing shifted little from the Idealist and conservative norm. The brilliant Leo Spitzer, always a cosmopolitan and forced to emigrate because Jewish, expanded his linguistic interests to English texts, praising US advertising as popular poetry just as he had praised San Juan de la Cruz, with sensitive observations imbricated into arbitrary ideologemes claiming both a quasi-mystic illumination and scientificity for a ›stylistic criticism‹ of literature. His ›immanent criticism‹ was in the USA popularized and conflated with Anglo-American New Criticism by Wellek and Warren’s ubiquitous handbook Theory of Literature (1942 and still in print), and returned in force to a Europe shell-shocked by competing totalizations. It established direct links between language forms and the writer’s psychology, very attuned to religious and humanist values but deaf for social conflicts. But as Auerbach wrote in an early critique, Spitzer’s method »knows history only as history of emotional forms«.
The case of E.R. Curtius is more interesting. Like Vossler, he was a conservative hater of the Weimar Republic, and after the purge of Jewish professors both remained as acknowledged scholarly authorities who could afford to keep aloof from daily matters. Curtius had begun with probings whether a reconciliation with France were possible under the banner of elite anti-democratism, »not sellable to Americans«. His 1919 Die literarischen Wegbereiter des neuen Frankreichs was a popular success but sorely ruffled Romanisten feathers, so that Jehle to my mind rightly reads the following book coming down hard on Maurice Barrès and French nationalism as »an offer for armistice, gladly accepted«. Where Vossler was allied to Croce, Curtius was allied rather with Ortega y Gasset, to whom he wrote in 1924: »Germany is after war and revolution falling more and more under Eastern (Russian and Asian) influences. I believe it is necessary to oppose to such tendencies the clear face of Latin and Mediterranean culture«. This is to be followed at length in Curtius’s 1932 Ortegan book Deutscher Geist in Gefahr (The Endangered German Spirit), which ascribes all ideology and sociology to »rootless nihilist intellectuals..., uncapable to give themselves to an absolute value«; and it must »sorrowfully« be said about »our Jews« that »they are mostly sworn to skepticism and destruction«. After three further books on mainly modern French writers and culture, which played a prominent mediating role, Curtius turned to strictly selected European writers, and after the Second World War published his magnum opus, the erudite and still useful if resolutely one-sided book European Literature and Latin Middle Ages (no philosophy, sociology, psychoanalysis nor his hated cultural history is to be allowed into philological scientificity). His turn to Adenauer Europeanism allied him to T.S. Eliot’s idea of tradition and the resurgent huge West German boom in Ortega. Spitzer remarked in a 1949 polemic that Curtius’s position as the high priest of ›German Geist‹ expresses »the wrath of the elite, provoked when the immortal Goethe is attacked..., but holding back when millions are assassinated«. The shift in Curtius after the 1930s is that Geist is no longer tied to a nation but to ›western culture‹ rooted in ›Latinity‹ and elitism (he refused the vote for women...). The talk about tradition ignores the most monstrous break of tradition in Nazi crimes, concludes Jehle; as Richard Alewyn, a returned emigrant, encapsulated: »Between us and [Goethe’s] Weimar lies Buchenwald«.
I cannot do even minimal justice here to Erich Auerbach, deservedly the most world-famous German Romanist (and possibly German literary scholar) of his generation. Not only is his Mimesis one of the great books of 20th Century, but his other works on Dante, figuralism, and so on, are historically and methodologically of equal importance. I can only deal here with some main characteristics of his already radically innovative work before expatriation, and principally the pathbreaking French Audiences in 17th Century. Auerbach turned away from the basic premise of Geisteswissenschaft, the sharp ontological division between the reality of art (in ›word art‹: of language) and the reality of life. In its resolute Idealism, such philology could connect language forms only with an imputed individual psychology: first of the particular text’s writer, then of other texts of his, and as the untranscendable horizon, with the psychology or ›character‹ of his age and finally nation: no gender or class differences were relevant. What happened to the writers’ bodies or books was the domain of sociology or ideology, pollution by which meant professional ostracism. Auerbach dared to break through this blockade by asking which social strata were the literary works not only written for but also determined by. This is especially important in theatre, where the Romantic idea of author as genius has always been untenable, and particularly before Romanticism and copyright laws. He expanded the one-way binary of Author-Opus into complex interactions between an intended audience, an often collective author, and a text (he did not enter into performance matters) in feedback with the preceding two factors, which thus shape its lines. As Auerbach wrote in his study of Montaigne, literary production and reception are mutually constitutive: »Montaigne addressed himself to a new whole, the educated audience, and in so doing, he created this whole; his book proved its existence for the first time«. Today this is the ABC of literary and theatre studies.
But Auerbach went further. Most heretically, it is the alliance of the Court aristocracy (la cour) and the upper bourgeoisie (la ville) which makes possible both French absolutist monarchy and French theatre. As in the Montaigne study, Auerbach calls the symbolic mediation cementing this alliance Bildung: the new education, no longer exclusively in the hands of Latin-using clerics, resulted in a »closed front of public opinion« opposed both to medieval authority and to the uneducated populace. However sharp differences of opinion there could be within that alliance, they all shared the new poetics of a verisimilitude rejecting medieval miracles and the indocte vulgaire that responds to it. The feedback between texts and history is thus underpinned by a sociopolitical awareness, which even takes into account that the new class block was cemented by bourgeois purchases of official positions. French Classicistic tragedy made every spectator deeply cherish the grand passions, thus presenting a new ideal world of values – quite unconnected with Christian thought. But this laicization is simultaneously a loss of daily reality: both in the tragedy and in Molière, Auerbach’s main source, »there are no seasons, no day or night, sun or rain, sleep or feeding; the unification of time and space is simultaneously their nullification«.
The dialectics of interaction reposes on Bildung, a later German term used because central to Auerbach’s democratic liberalism. Against Curtius, for whom at all times small quasi-monastic islands of culture contend against a sea of barbarism, Auerbach therefore insists on the Renaissance, when Latin gives way – first with Dante – to active participation in culture reposing on everyday language, at first the privilege of a ›numerous minority‹ but potentially extendable.This approach, which we could call a kind of Popular Front esthetics, will be in Mimesis decisively extended in the reliance on the three stylistic levels and their relation to everyday life.
The vexed conflict between historical Positivism and Geistesgeschichte as to whether priority is to be given to creativity or environment, commented Krauss in an appreciative 1934 review, is here shown as unnecessary. He then made an overt parallel from Auerbach’s repudiation of this dichotomy to the »methodologically as wrong« basis vs. superstructure determinism of the Second – but meaning the Third – International.
Such pioneering renewals will not be picked up in West Germany until the 1960s or later. The underlying continuity in literary scholarship, self-defined as ›philology and not history‹, was broken neither by 1933 nor by 1945. Despite Mimesis, which is in its intimate traffic between representative text passages and social history perhaps still the best introduction to understanding European literature, Auerbach is less present in Germany than in the English-speaking world.
2. Werner Krauss
The Furthest Exception
In November 1942, Werner Krauss (born 1900), serving in a Berlin Wehrmacht translation unit as specialist for Spanish, was arrested as member of the Schulze-Boysen resistance group, the so-called ›Red Orchestra‹ (not predominantly Communist), and condemned to death. He had been from 1931 to 1940 Assistent (instructor) – and then Dozent (assistant professor) – at Auerbach’s Romance Seminar in Marburg University. His defence strategy, aided by other group members, was to play the unworldly professor who had participated in anti-Nazi leafleting without understanding its scope, out of love for a woman member. His friends and family organized a large dossier of letters by colleagues (including Vossler, Curtius and Gadamer) and psychiatrists testifying to his mental instability, Marburg University officially asked the Ministry of Education for clemency. Krauss had the luck to be a bona fide ›Aryan‹ of good family who had served in the army 1918-19, and to be judged by a military and not SS court. His sentence was in 1944 commuted to prison, which he escaped at end of war. While waiting for decision, he managed to write a study about Gracián, an early expert on survival, and the Kafkaesque novel about a bureaucratic world PLN (meaning ›postal code‹).
In 1945 Krauss became a member of the German Communist Party. Though reinstated in Marburg and promoted to full professor, he found Nazi sympathizers riding strong, his request for compensation was refused, and his book of essays prohibited by US military administration and the type destroyed (a grotesque CIA postwar report on him is published in Lendemains). He became in 1947 chair of the Romance Institute at Leipzig University in the Soviet occupation zone and a member of the Berlin Academy of Sciences. In Leipzig he, Ernst Bloch, the Germanist Hans Mayer, and the historian of revolutions Werner Markov formed a nucleus whose teaching and publications made it alongside Brecht and his circle, probably the most important center of non-dogmatic Marxist thought in the GDR. But they were seen with growing suspicion by the SED party, Markov was fired as ›Titoist‹, Krauss’s overtly sociopolitical essays were again censored, some of his students were arrested, and he increasingly moved from teaching to research in the Berlin Academy of Sciences. He died in 1976, and his voluminous studies have since been published in eight volumes. I shall here pick only three among his main works for comment.
Krauss’s first, never forsaken enthusiasm had been Spanish culture and literature: he lived in Spain from 1922 to 1926, where he had wide contacts, including Anarchist circles, and published a number of early writings on it. He held that the Spanish post-1898 generation of intellectuals was exemplary for Germany in its critique free of servility to the State and its melding of philosophical, political, poetic and economic interests, and he never stopped writing about Spain. But his first major work, Corneille as Political Poet (1936), expanded on Auerbach’s turn by arguing that Corneille, by training a lawyer who knew well new theories of the State, rewrote in theatrical terms the French absolutist social landslide which dispossessed the popular masses and opened upward mobility to the upper bourgeoisie, so that his heroes’ striving relies on their own reason and will. If the problem of Bodin’s theory of new legal sovereignty was for Krauss »how can the citizen’s freedom be protected in an absolutist State«, this mutates in Corneille’s dramatic dialogues obsessed with State power into »how can such domination be legitimated in the world of men«; Jehle perspicaciously reads this also as a mirror for the Nazi destruction of civil society. In Horace we are shown how the iron law of imperial rule is established, where private ties are without hesitation sacrificed to the raison d’état but where the murdered sister’s »scream of humanity« also shows up the price of State power. In Cinna, the bourgeois wish for a »humanized State« is balanced by the fact that »the dictatorship is a judgment that the decaying republican ideology passes on itself«.
In a follow-up study on Corneille’s final ›Christian martyr‹ tragedies, published in the GDR in 1951 but apparently stemming from 1940 (both dates are significant in different ways), the return to Christianity is read as a reaction to the all-powerful State, a Pascalian »search for a space of spiritual independence«. Within this stance, Krauss can revaluate the often pooh-poohed Rodogune, as well as Corneille’s failures and the rise of Racine after 1650, when the consolidated absolutism renders pointless discussion of contradictions within it. In Racine, »the necessity that the individual follow... the claims of totality« has become a convention, and power has been internalized into a politics of the heart. The fate prefigured in Horace’s sister has become the sole theme: how to live, and magnificently die, inside the whale. While Krauss had begun to seriously read Marx around 1932 (and like Benjamin he was much struck by Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness), he is here a militant humanist reflecting on the reasons and price of the liberal republic’s breakdown, and reconducting it to Marx’s newly discovered writings on alienation. Rather than in an ideological critique of Corneille, Krauss is interested in how he makes possible »an insight into State destinies« and thus stimulates »a decision by the individual thrown head over heels into history«.
Krauss after 1945: Literature as History
After 1945, Krauss’s main interest was to rethink the history of German intellectuals in order to guarantee a »libertarian founding of German national consciousness«. To his mind, after 1848 the Bismarckian co-optation of nationality methodically created an opposed set of ›German values‹ based on quasi-Romantic interiority: »Kultur is invoked against civilisation, ethics against morality, community against society, the people (Volk) against the mass, development of personality against human rights, etc.«. On the contrary he wants, as in Montesquieu, to reconduct any national character to concrete forms of State power in a given moment. Jehle sees as the red thread of his work a plea not to throw the baby of popular democracy out with the dirty water of the bourgeois class: for Krauss, nationalism can only be fought by developing civic rights, what Gramsci will at the same time call the civil society as against the State. But ever since Herder the cultural and spiritual aspects have in Germany been sundered from a »radical reformation of social and national life«.
Krauss’s mature thoughts, mostly left in notes because unreceivable as political intervention in both parts of Germany, became best known through the famous 1950 essay Literaturgeschichte als geschichtlicher Auftrag (Literary History as a Historical Mandate). The West German literary theoretician Hans Robert Jauss, who dared to take his students to the GDR in order to meet Krauss, called it »the manifesto of dismissal for esoteric Geistesgeschichte and ritual work-interpretation« and used it as one of the bases for his ›reception esthetics‹. Jehle notes that Krauss’s essay massively interfered with the self-satisfaction of the philological profession that explained Nazi academic work as an ›ideological‹ derailment from the ›scholarly‹ norm. Krauss focusses on the historicity of all literature, by which he meant »being struck with a tradition understood as a demand for choice« (a witty demolition of Curtius accompanies this). A scholarly literary history becomes possible only when its ›mandate‹ is understood as a third path between a national and nationalistic literary history – for one’s own history and language are intimately shaped by interaction with others – and a ›general‹ or ›comparative literary history‹ which forsakes along with nationalism also all critique of power. Elsewhere Krauss polemically notes that the huge hermeneutic apparatus, implying the greater a work of fiction is the more it must be mysterious and need decoding, arises out of a refusal of the work’s historicity, which would allow for explanation. What remains is a professional practice which uses the postulated ›self-concealment‹ to develop special proceedings for de-concealment, needing experts who bestow meaning on the text.
As in Brecht, whose Short Organon Krauss cites approvingly, esthetics becomes a matter of social efficiency inherent in a literary form. The condensed handbook on Basic Problems of Literary Scholarship, published in West Germany, can stand for a number of writings where he devotes attention to literary genres. They testify that literature has super-individual presuppositions and cannot be confined simply to ›expression‹, and furthermore that it is (quite openly until mass literacy) written for given social classes. Stemming from the most ancient times as magical sayings or blessing formulae, work songs or war songs, they are renewed in forms such as the short story, the movie scenario, the radio play, the TV play. Our notions of ›poetry‹ or indeed ›literature‹ have appeared as relatively late, novel delimitations of speech forms. Even poetry, renewed after Rimbaud, is not primarily an expression of feelings but »creation in words, which should lead to new, all-subverting relationships among things«. As a summary of Krauss’s experiences between the formalism of ›immanent interpretation‹, which wrongly assumes an Adamic language relating univocally to the world, and the crudities of Stalinism stands his Auerbachian discussion of mimesis, refusing banal mirroring, and his definition: »the course of literature intersects continually with the ways of history: literature is sometimes its actualisation, sometimes its depth dimension.« Within this spectrum, a difference should be made between nations such as France, which can afford an autonomous literature, and the great majority of peoples for which literature is an indispensable weapon in the struggle for political existence. But it is always »a goal-oriented process with an address, meant for an audience that the author intends to make a partner or accomplice of his literary creation«; in other notes, Krauss will affirm: »As the word, as a sentence, as a letter, ... poetry [meaning all literary creativity, DS] moves in the direction of an understanding. Thus the adressed society is created within it...« The sterile alternative between Positivist ›external influences‹ and Spitzerian Idealism can be overcome by »the highest Marxist form« of materialism, eschewing determinism. Only thus can radical renewals of tradition be understood. Unfortunately, Krauss wryly notes in the latter 60s that, as different from »applications«, »the contribution of socialist Germany [the GDR] to the theory of Marxist understanding of literature is on the whole not very large«. A final »troubling question«, appended to his book, is »Whom does the interpretation of literary works serve?« When literature becomes an object of mass consumption, the stance of an esoteric science is as insufficient as that of a supercilious vulgarisation. Between the two blocks and the two Germanies, this may be taken as Werner Krauss’s testament, looking to our common future.
Krauss and Enlightenment: Democracy with Marx
One further major endeavour and horizon of Krauss’s, in particular after moving in 1961 to Berlin, was Enlightenment research. Both his central interests, literature as a ›thick‹ unity of all that was written for given audiences in a historical period and what Jehle calls »keeping the democracy question open with Marx« in Germany, found here a focus. Krauss had attentively studied how Geisteswissenschaft was openly designed by Dilthey as a »deepening of the higher classes«, much as culture in his contemporary Arnold, and how history was meant by post-Romantics such as Savigny as a focus on »those inner values which the Enlightenment had passed by«, the permanent national character. He began teaching on 18th Century in 1948, in 1952 published a textbook anthology on French Enlightenment and Revolution with a long Introduction, in 1958 left Leipzig University and took over the GDR Academy’s Enlightenment team, and in 1962 founded its Institute for Romance Languages and Culture, where he worked with numerous pupils. This tactical retreat into the past was also a roundabout way to talk about the relation of consciousness to politics and revolutionary thought, disallowed in both Germanies. It strongly implied a reflection on Marxism too, which would by analogy with the dynamic Enlightenment be seen as changeable – as befits its strong roots in that age. Krauss’s methodological axiom was »that the reformation of our scholarship can only begin in particular disciplines«. In view of the ruling dogmatism, generalizations should be prudent and theoretical conclusions kept open. To that end, Krauss insisted on following the actual polyphony of the investigated age by going through all the available written texts, rather than selecting the mountain heights for a soulful dialogue with the interpreter: posthumous fame says little about a work’s significance at the time of first diffusion. His work through 25 years is to be found in volumes W 5, 6 and 7, not counting mountains of excerpts and notes. He also insisted on keeping to a horizon of work at least potentially relevant to all German-speaking states, and he had a few devoted colleagues in West Germany. This bore fruit after German unification by allowing further functioning of substantial parts of the research facilities and completion of the publication of his scholarly work. They include two fat volumes on French Enlightenment, and one on the German and Spanish ones.
This work seems to me as important today as anything else Krauss did. As opposed to Adorno and Horkheimer famous Dialectics of Enlightenment, which starts from a category of universal history, Krauss insists on a quasi-Benjaminian, anti-essentialist ›constellation‹ of French, German or Spanish Enlightenment. Its early impulse in Germany, for example, came from the »bourgeois republics« of Hamburg (Lessing) and Zürich, as well as the Frankfurt from which Goethe came, and not the small tyrants’ courts, such as the Weimar to which Goethe came. One can imagine the horror of Germanisten at such anti-Classicist heresy. I must say that the undifferentiated refusal of Enlightenment by the great majority of post-1968 Left is to my mind one of the reasons as well as measures of our ideological subalternity in the Post-Fordist age. Neither a fetish for good nor for bad, it should be dealt with as one of our great ancestors, needing correction and further grafts but not vilification. In so doing, Krauss’s strong arguments that the usefulness of Enlightenment much exceeds its limitations should be given due weight. Though its social theory was stymied by the contradiction between individualist and community interests, the Enlightenment had »for the first time suceeded to involve everybody in the discussion of the sense of human existence« and erected the »image of a natural society« in opposition to »the ruling classes claim that their rule is natural and eternal«. He reviewed respectfully the Adorno-Horkheimer book, but doubted the »fatalistic inevitability« of the descent into irrationalism. Thus, if not for Krauss against Adorno, I would plead at least for Krauss as relativising and fundamentally modifying Adorno.
Conclusion: On Blockades
Krauss’s early review of Auerbach’s method was later encapsulated by him in a retrospective sentence which fits him too: »The text testifies not only to the creator’s will but no less to the convictions of those for whom it was created«: it is a kind of open dialogue. If this brings him very near to Bakhtin, and I have also pointed out, after Sabine Kebir, how near he was in places to both Brecht and Gramsci. His work was often also a quarter century in advance of the best ›Western‹ critics: on Corneille in relation to the Théâtre populaire critics like Bernard Dort; on the social history of literary forms in relation to Lucien Goldmann, Raymond Williams (whom he also resembles in his splendid works on historical semantics) and Fredric Jameson; and on reading not only Voltaire but also the »history-creating community« of all the obscure provincial heretics and imaginary voyages in relation to post-Foucauldian discours social. His principle to take up positions on general political questions based on his professional knowledge is much like the one repeated in the last years by Bourdieu (both go back to Pascal, at the beginnings of Enlightenment).
It is therefore quite scandalous that the larger intellectual public didn’t and doesn’t know about him. To speak personally: as a part-time Romanist and full-time practitioner of literary history and theory who studied in western Europe and visited both Germanies, I had never heard of him in the 1950s-60s, while born again Nazi fellow-travellers like Kayser and Gadamer were on everybody’s lips. Even his fellow Leipzig triumvirs Bloch and Mayer, eventually driven to West Germany, lived long enough to see constant reprints and English translation. And yet, past his centenary, we still have much to learn from Krauss’s work and stances. Possibly, the later critics said better much of what he had said. But enough remains to make mandatory the violation of this particular shameful blockade, erected jointly by East and West hegemonies. It is fervently to be hoped some publisher like Versus would give us a substantial English translation from his opus (and an even more adventurous one his novel PLN). And I hope half of the translation would be his take on Enlightenment writings and horizons.
Finally, what of the German Romanistik? Even with the three or four illustrious exceptions and a few pupils of theirs, the record was to my mind catastrophic. It proves Benjamin’s point: »The catastrophe is that things go on as before«. Hausmann finds the contributions of Romance scholars to Nazi ideology »rather harmless« in comparison to anthropologists, lawyers, classical philologists, historians and Germanisten, though he concedes many are »shameful and even monstrous«. His defence may be true but it is irrelevant: it is the contribution to bringing the Nazis about which was, and is again, relevant.