Contingency: the Great Challenge of Weimar

Nicola Creighton (Queen’s University Belfast)

As Foucault observes, two discourses from the same era are more similar to one another than the same discourse in two different eras. This is because of the particular knowledge paradigm, or assumptions about the possibilities of knowledge, operating in a given era. With this observation in mind and with a focus on the discourse of art history and political theory in the Weimar Republic, I would like to present an approach to Weimar that would surpass its reductive treatment as an age of ‘glitter and doom’ or ‘utopia and despair’.

Weimar was an age of exceptional spirit of experiment: in aesthetic, ethical, political and practical ideas and in practice/action. Experiment requires openness to contingency, which is ultimately an aesthetic stance, but equally judgment, which is a political/ethical matter, on the issue of what is open for experimentation. Departing from a number of studies on modernist and avantgarde aesthetics including Inge Baxmann’s work Mythos: Gemeinschaft. Körper- und Tanzkulturen in der Moderne (Munich 2000), I wish to propose, in place of the neat dichotomies of older histories, a spectrum based on degrees of openness or closure to contingency. This theoretical approach can be applied to political as well as cultural material (I take aspects of Carl Schmitt’s political theory and of Carl Einstein’s art historiography as my examples). Breaking with the tendency to categorise according to how progressive or how reactionary or proto-fascistic a given work/artist/thinker/group was, this approach allows a more nuanced analysis of the discourses of the Weimar Republic.

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