By Bernd Widdig
For lots of Germans the hyperinflation of 1922 to 1923 was once some of the most decisive stories of the 20 th century. In his unique and authoritative research, Bernd Widdig investigates the results of that inflation on German tradition throughout the Weimar Republic. He argues that inflation, with its dynamics of massification, devaluation, and the quick movement of cash, is a vital part of contemporary tradition and intensifies and condenses the event of modernity in a demanding means.
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Extra info for Culture and Inflation in Weimar Germany (Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism)
Playful, postmodern New Historicism sometimes lacks explanatory power and may ultimately fall prey to the subjective passions of individual “gatherers” who remain somewhat unconscious of their own interpretive interests. The “hunter/gatherer” opposition in its unmediated form is ultimately not very productive; yet its heuristic value helps us realize how both concepts are dialectically linked together. Every “hunter” is at the same time a “gatherer,” and even the most innocent collecting of historical peculiarities, even the most associative, noncausal linking of cultural artifacts bears some hunting instinct.
The impact of inﬂation on a professorial, bourgeois household is the theme of one of the most sophisticated and subtle accounts of the inﬂation, Thomas Mann’s novella Unordnung und frühes Leid (Disorder and Early Sorrow). The textual analysis of this novella provides a background for a general discussion about the socioeconomic situation of intellectuals. Alfred Weber’s inﬂuential speech Die Not der geistigen Arbeiter (The Distress of the Intellectual Workers) at the 1922 convention of the Verein für Sozialpolitik represents a programmatic document that addresses the inﬂation’s threat to the economic livelihood of intellectuals and raises the fundamental question about the very survival of high culture in modern German society.
These are signiﬁcant because they were the ﬁrst to exhibit many characteristics of modern inﬂations. The ﬁrst of these devaluations is closely connected to John Law (1671–1729), the Scottish banker and ﬁnancial adviser to the French court. Law had the revolutionary idea to issue money not as coins but as banknotes, as billets, that were printed on paper. In several letters to the French crown, he argued the advantages of such paper banknotes. As long as the public trusted the promise that the notes were backed by gold and silver, Law insisted, they would be superior to coins, because they simpliﬁed monetary transactions and were easy to transport.
Culture and Inflation in Weimar Germany (Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism) by Bernd Widdig