Stefanie Susanne Leuenberger: Catalogue data in Autumn Semester 2019

Name PD Dr. Stefanie Susanne Leuenberger
FieldNeuere Deutsche Literaturwissenschaft sowie Allgemeine und Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft
DepartmentHumanities, Social and Political Sciences

851-0101-72LThe Modern City and Cultural Criticism. The "Knowledge of Life" in Reform Movements 1880-19333 credits2VS. S. Leuenberger
AbstractRapid industrialisation, urbanisation and the unique sociopolitical conditions of 19th century Germany led, from 1880 onwards, to radical cultural criticism and calls for reform by parts of the bourgeoisie and youth. This lecture focuses on the theory and aesthetic practice of a wide range of reform movements, the so-called "Lebensreform" (life reform movement).
ObjectiveThe lecture is part of the "Science in Perspective" course programme: students will learn about the precursors of today’s calls for reform and alternative concepts which propagated the "back-to-nature" lifestyle around the 1900s.
ContentThe rapid industrialisation, mechanisation and urbanisation of 19th century Europe gave rise to a whole new set of challenges and problems in cities. From 1880 onwards, the unique sociopolitical conditions in Germany resulted in anti-urban and cultural criticism by parts of the bourgeoisie and academic youth, culminating in the idea that the fanatical belief in progress would end in disaster. Consequently, a wide array of reform movements sprang up, focusing on medical hygiene and sociopolitical, ideological, religious and spiritual concepts, which were intended to heal the mind and body. These movements were a wholly German and Swiss phenomenon and summarised under the term "Lebensreform" which also encompassed naturopathy, dress reforms, naturism, health food and vegetarianism, youth and womens’ movements, sexual liberation and intentional communities, organic farming, land reform, cooperative/free economy/garden city movements, nature conservation and homeland protection, progressive education and country boarding school movement, art education and Dalcroze eurhythmics, expressive dance, theatre reforms, regional literature and art, anthroposophy, the emergence of Germanic-German/German Christian religious communities, religious socialism and the Jewish renaissance.

This movement was clearly politically diverse, and attracted all manner of advocates, for example, those with social anarchist, jingoistic or anti-Semitic beliefs. What made them kindred spirits was their rather negative experience of modernisation: their fantasies about the era merely confirmed that existing interpretations of the human existence (Dasein) were obsolete. Amongst the fantasies was, as described by Gert Mattenklott, the idea of a dramatic shift in current thinking and the creation of a new world, the emergence of a new mankind that embodied the characteristics of youth, and a new community. Strong dichotomies like light and darkness, hot and cold, the fears of dehumanisation and a propensity for vegetarianism were also typical of life reforms.

The lecture is part of the "Science in Perspective" course programme: students will learn about the precursors of today’s calls for reform and alternative concepts which propagated the "back-to-nature" lifestyle around the 1900s. Some of the key concepts used then are unknown today or have been disavowed due to exploitation by the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century. Nevertheless, some of the original topics and objectives have once again become contemporary topics of discussion due to the debate about the future of society, the whole of mankind and the planet. Historization of present-day concepts is the condition on which plans for a possible future can be compared with previous attempts and experiences, and to identify alternatives and potential impasses, and provide objective evidence for debate.
LiteratureThe reading list includes literary texts and discursive texts, amongst others, from Gustav Landauer, Erich Mühsam, Else Lasker-Schüler, Paul Scheerbart, Heinrich and Julius Hart, Rudolf Steiner, Sebastian Kneipp, Max Bircher-Benner, Theodor Hertzka, Franz Oppenheimer, Ebenezer Howard, Theodor Goecke, Hermann Muthesius, Karl Schmidt-Hellerau, Bruno Taut, Gustav Wyneken, Wassily Kandinsky, Ludwig Klages, Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, Walter Benjamin, Martin Buber, Peter Altenberg, Robert Müller, Christian Kracht. Furthermore, we will discuss creative contributions from E. M. Lilien and Fidus (pseudonym Hugo Höppener).