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German Literary Culture at the Zero Hour


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In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, German intellectuals and writers were forced to confront perhaps the most difficult complex of problems ever faced by modern intellectuals in the western world: the complete defeat and devastation of their country, the crimes of the Hitler dictatorship, the onset of the Cold War, and ultimately the political division of the nation. To a large extent these debates took place in literature and literary discourse, and they continue to have pressing relevance for Germany today, when the country is rediscovering and exploring this previously neglected period in literature and film. Yet the period has been neglected in scholarship, and is little understood; for the first time in English, this book offers a systematic overview of the hotly contested intellectual debates of this period: the problem of German guilt, the question of the return of literary and political émigrés such as Thomas Mann, the relevance of the cultural tradition of German humanispostwar period, the threat of nihilism, the politicization of literature, and the status of German young people who had been indoctrinated by the Nazis. Stephen Brockmann challenges the received wisdom that the immediate postwar period in Germany was intellectually barren, characterized primarily by silence on the major issues of the day; he reveals, in addition to attempts to obfuscate those issues, a German intellectual--and literary--world characterized by an often high level of dialogue and debate.

Stephen Brockmann is professor of German at Carnegie Mellon University. He is the recipient of the 2007 DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in German and European Studies/Humanities.


Throughout the course of his thorough and well-researched chapters, Brockmann provides various perspectives that allow political, literary, and critical definition of the Zero Hour to take shape, and he effectively reintroduces the writings of the time period.... GERMAN QUARTERLY

[A] rich and clearly organized book.... This is an important contribution to 20th-century German literary history, a detailed and balanced examination of a brief, but crucially important, literary moment-as-concept, carefully embedded in its broader socio-historical context. THE EUROPEAN LEGACY

[T]his fascinating study [is] a compelling tour de force.... Throughly researched, judiciously reasoned, and lucidly written, it can be recommended to a broad audience of students and scholars interested in 20th-century Germany and the cultural history of modern Europe. MONATSHEFTE

This is an excellent book which demonstrates the centrality of literary culture... to the heated debates on individual and collective responsibility, German identity, and the kind of politics appropriate to a defeated and disgraced nation. It focuses on the period marked by the brief intellectual, political and cultural flowering which preceded the establishment of the two postwar German states in 1949.... [R]equired reading for all those interested in the relationship between culture, historical and intellectual debate and political activity in the period. GERMAN HISTORY

Brockmann, with a refreshing zeal, revisits the 1945-49 period, seeking to establish whether literature and literary culture in the aftermath of the war really were to uniformly conservative and hidebound.... [A] highly insightful study that provides a differentiated reading of an often neglected and unjustly maligned literary period. MODERN LANGUAGE REVIEW

A very useful and much-needed overview of the literary scene in the occupational years that goes far in challenging ... widespread misconceptions and disputing the prevailing myths such as the "zero hour," the "catastrophe," and the "collapse." GERMANIC REVIEW


First Published: 06 Aug 2004
13 Digit ISBN: 9781571132987
Pages: 307
Size: 9 x 6
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: Camden House
BIC Class: DSB

Details updated on 05 Oct 2015


  • 1  Acknowledgments
  • 2  Introduction: The Zero Hour
  • 3  The Concsciousness of German Guilt
  • 4  The Writer, the Conscience, and Absolute Presence
  • 5  Two Kinds of Emigration
  • 6  The Property of the Nation
  • 7  Yogis and Commissars
  • 8  A German Generation Gap?
  • 9  The Darkening of Consciousness
  • 10  Postscript: Revisiting the Zero Hour
  • 11  Works Cited
  • 12  Index

Writers and Politics in Germany, 1945-2008

Writers and Politics in Germany, 1945-2008