The legacy of Stefan George, a German poet who inspired an influential literary and academic circle, is the focus of a new special issue of Telos: Critical Theory of the Contemporary, a quarterly journal that serves as an international forum for discussions of political, social, and cultural change. “The Poet and the University: Stefan George among the Scholars” is edited by Paul Fleming, professor of German studies and comparative literature, and Peter Uwe Hohendahl, Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of German and Comparative Literature.
In their introduction, Fleming and Hohendahl describe George’s uniquely direct influence on European scholarship. It is, they write, “a moment in which students and disciples of a poet enter the halls of the university and leave an indelible impression on the traditional academic disciplines: scholarship not about but out of the spirit of poetry.”
The editors write that they are focusing the issue of Telos on “the living poet as the muse, the motivation, the guide, the instigator, as well as the instructor and teacher for academic research. From classics and philosophy to art history, economics, and political science, and including all the Western European national philologies (German, French, Spanish, Italian, English), members of George’s Circle left a deep impression on the scholarly fields defining the humanities and the social sciences.”
Fleming’s essay in the special issue, “Secret Germany / Crooked Germany: Ernst H. Kantorowicz,”examines the second inaugural lecture Ernst H. Kantorowicz gave at Frankfurt University, in 1933. In it, the Jewish Kantorowicz gave an emphatic defense of George’s “Secret Germany,” as distinct from Nazi Germany with which some had tried to conflate it. But while recent scholars see the lecture as declaring “Secret Germany” to be “a regulative ideal or utopia outside of historical time,” Fleming thinks otherwise. He writes that the lecture’s final paragraph shows “Secret Germany” as “prophetically conjured as still forthcoming and merely awaiting its proper historical moment.” Fleming argues that despite Kantorowicz’s rejection of Nazism’s racist politics, “he is not yet immune to the prophetic, myth-making, mystifying notion of history that George cultivated—with all of its political problems.”
In his essay, “Critic or Prophet? The George Circle Reads Nietzsche,” Hohendahl explores the Nietzsche’s reception among George’s followers. The attitude toward Nietzsche was a diverse one among the group, says Hohendahl, with competing interpretations of the philosopher’s work. Hohendahl looks particularly at Ernst Bertram’s Nietzsche: Attempt at a Mythology, a work George approved and which was published by Bondi, the George Circle’s official publisher – but which met with challenge by other members of the Circle. Ernst Gundolf and Kurt Hildebrandt, argues Hohendahl, “wanted to limit the relevance of Nietzsche to the role of the critic of his own time.” But the rise of the Nazi Socialists forced members of the George Circle to reconsider their attitudes toward Nietzsche; Hohendahl examines these re-assessments in comparison to the fascist Nietzsche scholarship of the time.
Associate Professor of German Studies Elke Siegel’s essay, “Contested Legacies of “German” Friendship: Max Kommerell’s The Poet as Leader in German Classicism,” addresses the question of Max Kommerell’s affinity to National Socialism, as well as the relationship between poetic and political leadership. She examines the themes of friendship and politics by looking closely at Kommerell’s “The Poet as Leader in German Classicism,” using it to uncover the interconnections between friendship, community, and leadership. In his monograph, Kommerell discusses his reading of Schiller and Schiller’s relationship with Goethe; Siegel argues that “Kommerell not only explicates the historical constellation of German Classicism but also unveils the master-disciple configuration between George and Kommerell.” Siegel also examines Benjamin’s “German Men and Women” as an “ethical response to the problematic idea of poetic leadership.”