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The Twentieth Century

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  1. The Twentieth Century HUM 2052: Civilization II Spring 2011 Dr. Perdigao April 6-11, 2011

  2. Decline of Civilization • 1914—pride in “accomplishments of Western civilization and confidence in its future progress” (Perry 709) • Nationalism caused divisions, created alliances and hostility, preponderance of pseudoscientific racial and Social Darwinist theories (survival and domination); extension of Imperialist attitudes/goals (Perry 709) • European state system failing; divisions due to nationalist, resulting in alliances • Attack on Enlightenment rational tradition, move to irrational • War as sign of progress • Romantic idealization of nation

  3. Decline of Civilization • Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, heir to throne of Austria-Hungary on June 28, 1914, by terrorist with support of secret Serbian nationalist society Union or Death (Black Hand) • Power of Germany since unification in 1870-1871 • Europe splits into two hostile alliance systems (Perry 712) • Germany’s attempt to keep France isolated leads to creation of the Triple Alliance: Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy and alliance with Russia (Perry 713) • Weakness—Austria and Russia as potential enemies; Germany breaks with Russia when treaty lapses under new leadership; Germany supports Austria (Perry 713) • Triple Entente—France, Russia, Britain—after France courts Russia as an ally; alliance in 1894 • Russia vows to back Serbia after the Balkan Wars • Russia and Germany brought into war • Question of responsibility raised in relation to World War I, frames for writings during and after the period

  4. Framing • German army invades Belgium (August 4, 1914) • World War I (1914-1918); Treaty of Versailles (1919) • Bolshevik Revolution (1917); Industrialization in Soviet Union (1928); Collectivization of agriculture (1929) • Mussolini, power over Italy (1922) • US declares war on Germany (1917); Great Depression (1929) • Hitler becomes chancellor of Germany (1933) • Stalin’s purges in Soviet Union (1936-1938) • Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) • Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (1939) • World War II (1939-1945) • German troops invade Poland, begins World War II (1939) • Germany invades Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, and France (1940) • Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, US enters war against Japan and Germany (1941) • US drops atomic bombs on Japan; Japan surrenders (1945)

  5. Cleaving • “‘Freedom’ and ‘responsibility’ are large and abstract ideas: they are part of an ambitious rethinking of human existence, and of the relationship of individual and society, that characterizes mid-century thought. In their breadth, they interrogate fundamental assumptions about human nature and lay claim to universal significance.” (2096) • Shift in conceptualization of the individual in the larger world against the backdrop of the horrors of World War II • “The existential condition, according to Sartre, is the condition of all humanity, the ‘essential plurality’ of human beings; their inescapable connectedness, is a given for Hannah Arendt; and the power of language to crystallize and to shape thought described by George Orwell, exists wherever speech is found” (2096).

  6. Newspeak • George Orwell (1903-1950) • Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949); Animal Farm (1945) {“All Animals Are Equal, But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others”( 2096)} • Hatred of Communist and Fascist totalitarianism—stemming from time in Spain fighting Fascists during the Spanish Civil War, betrayal by Communist forces; writings reflect a critique of British imperialism (and call to withdraw from India), Soviet Communism, capitalism (2097) • Despised “the misuse of language to obscure the truth and rewrite history for political gain” (2097) • Context for work: P.E.N. Club speeches and refusal to address political liberty despite the fact of it celebrating the tercentenary of Milton’s Areopagitica, defense of freedom of the press (2097) • Dated November 12, 1945, published in January 1946

  7. Age of Fractures? • “One can accept, and most enlightened people would accept, the Communist thesis that pure freedom will only exist in a classless society, and that one is most nearly free when one is working to bring about such a society. . . Freedom of the intellect means the freedom to report what one has seen, heard, and felt, and not to be obliged to fabricate imaginary facts and feelings. The familiar tirades against ‘escapism’, ‘individualism’, ‘romanticism’ and so forth, are merely a forensic device, the aim of which is to make the perversion of history seem respectable.” (Orwell 2099) • “Totalitarianism, however, does not so much promise an age of faith as an age of schizophrenia. A society becomes totalitarian when its structure becomes flagrantly artificial: that is, when its ruling class has lost its function but succeeds in clinging to power by force or fraud. Such a society, no matter how long it persists, can never afford to become either tolerant or intellectually stable. It can never permit either the truthful recording of facts, or the emotional sincerity, that literary creation demands.” (2101)

  8. Toward the Existential • Existentialism—Perry, Chapter 31 (804-805) • Response to anxiety and uncertainty during time of world wars, popularity after World War II (Perry 804) • Some as atheists, some believed in God but not Christianity, some were Christians, Jewish • Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), like Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Albert Camus, and Simone de Beauvoir, involved in resistance to Nazi occupation during World War II (Perry 807)—choice for French citizen to be a patriot or a traitor during German occupation (Perry 807) • Declined Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964 and French Legion of Honor in 1945 • Evil as “central and permanent fact of human existence” (Perry 807) • Facing capture and death, recognition of solitude in a hostile universe; rediscovered human freedom (Perry 807)

  9. Being and Becoming • Sartre as atheist; atheistic existentialism, rooted in individual rather than God, pre-established ethic, “uniform conception of human nature” (Perry 807) • “In Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology, the French thinker proposed a theory of human existence that found eager adherents in a postwar society tired of authoritarian structures and ready to experience the pleasures of freedom” (2102). • Novel Nausea (1938), play No Exit (1944) • Breaks with Camus as a result of his support of totalitarian regimes, support of social revolution • “. . . he explored the relationship between absolute freedom for the individual and a moral responsibility for collective action” (2103). • Individual versus the collective—from Dostoevsky to Marx and Engels. How the self is located in the world. Responsibility for individual choice, freedom to choose independent of regulating structures.

  10. “Existence precedes essence is a famous statement of that paradigm: our actions are constantly determining the person we will have been at the end. There is no pre-existing essential identity. . . Instead, the existential self is always in process.” (2103). • Continuation of Pirandello’s scheme in the sense of the freeplay of identity and meaning. “There exist no higher realm of Being and no immutable truths that serve as ultimate standards of virtue. It is unauthentic to submit passively to established values, which one did not participate in making. The individual has nothing to cling to; he or she is thrown into the world ‘with no support and no aid’” (Perry 807). • Potential identity as existential self comes into being through a series of conscious choices, only “essential” or fixed at moment of death • “. .. each person is an absolute choice of self from the standpoint of a world of knowledges and of techniques which this choice both assumes and illumines; each person is an absolute upsurge at an absolute date and is perfectly unthinkable at another date.” (2105) • Rather than abstract philosophy, true philosophy “makes commitments and incurs risks” (Perry 807). Rejection of Marxist theory that represents us as “objectified instruments” and Freudian theory that unconscious drives determine our actions (Perry 807).

  11. Die Welle? • • •

  12. Making the Underground Man • Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) • Studied philosophy with Heidegger; like Sartre, studied anti-Semitism, was interviewed by Gestapo, fled to Paris, worked to aid Jewish refugees, was imprisoned for a few weeks (before escaping), eventually fled to US in 1941 • After WWII, became naturalized citizen of US, taught at Berkeley, Princeton, Northwestern • The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) as first work; later work On Revolution, controversial because considers American Revolution a success and French Revolution a failure • Realization with burning of German Reichstag in 1933 and persecution of Jews: “That is, I was no longer of the opinion that one can simply be a bystander” (2107) • Arendt reassessing the “ability of pure philosophy to address political reality and everyday human affairs” (2107). • She attempts to distinguish herself not as a philosopher but rather as a political scientist, yet she is considered a political philosopher.

  13. Distinguishing Characteristics • “Modern society—an atomized mass society—produces loneliness; with loneliness comes a fear of being weak and a corresponding desire for power; violence and terror provide that power. Totalitarian terror is uniquely threatening because it depends not on people or laws, but on a presumed logic of history or a ‘natural law’ that supersedes civic institutions and absorbs human beings into one faceless mass. Under a totalitarian system, the lonely individual of mass society has not only lost a sense of connectedness with other human beings but has been reduced to the status of an interchangeable piece in the larger movement of history.” (2108) • Here is another version of the underground man—becoming part of a faceless mass with no sense of connectedness, no sense of individual responsibility for action—what we see in Borowski’s text as well.

  14. “German Guilt” • From Organized Guilt and Universal Responsibility (1945) • Focus on Heinrich Himmler, chief of the SS, head of the Gestapo, executes Hitler’s Final Solution and established death camps in Poland • “It was not very pleasant even when we had to bury our false illusions about ‘the noble savage,’ having discovered that men were capable of being cannibals. Since then peoples have learned to know one another better and learned more and more about the evil potentialities in men. The result has been that they have recoiled more and more from the idea of humanity and become more susceptible to the doctrine of race, which denies the very possibility of a common humanity. They instinctively felt that the idea of humanity, whether it appears in a religious or humanistic form, implies the obligation of a general responsibility which they do not wish to assume.” (Arendt 2111)

  15. Applications of Theory • “Any belief in civilization, in common humanity, or in divine Providence is sorely tested: Borowski’s bleak picture questions everything and does not pretend to offer encouragement” (2304). • Here is what Arendt raises at the end of her essay, the notion of a “burden of guilt” that all carry, even though this protagonist attempts to suppress it with his “impersonal attitude” (2304). • The attempt to “suspend, for the moment, one’s humanity” in the midst of a landscape underwritten with the “hollowness of their civilized image” (2306). Ultimately, the story paints a picture of “spiritual desolation that not only illustrates a shameful moment in modern history but raises questions about what it means to be civilized, or even ‘human.’” (2307) • This is the tearing of the veil— “the horror” Marlow conceals. It is the culmination of what Montaigne argued about civilized and savage. Here the masking in language of “Ladies and Gentlemen” juxtaposed with horrors of the experience.

  16. Contexts • Tadeusz Borowski (1922-1951) • Borowski arrested, sent to Auschwitz with Maria Rundo in 1943 • 1946 collection We Were Auschwitz, “literature of atrocity” • Own job in camp as orderly in hospital, “burden of guilt,” connection to Arendt • Letters to Maria—published in Auschwitz, Our Home • “world of antiheroes, those who survive by accommodating themselves to things as they are and avoiding acts of heroism” (2305) • The World of Stone (1948 collection)—life in postwar Germany, disgust at the “false normalcy of postwar society” (2305)

  17. Paradoxalist? • Emphasis on his writing, how he will “grasp the true significance of the events, things, and people” he has seen; “For I intend to write” (2305). • Courted by Poland’s Stalinist government, wrote stories, intelligence work in Berlin for Polish Secret police; but with revelation of Soviet prison camps, became disillusioned, felt “complicit with the oppressors” • Committed suicide by gas July 1, 1951 • Theodor Adorno’s famous comment that “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” in 1949

  18. Framing the Text • Birkenau (second and largest of three concentration camps at Auschwitz) (2306) • “systematic dehumanization” and “common vulnerability” leads to “alienation and rage at their fellow victims rather than at their executioners” (2306) • “gentlemen” • Red Cross ambulance • “the only permissible form of pity” in deceit (2313) • “Canada” • “Religion is the opium of the people” (2309) • Darwin (2315) • “throw out circles of light into the impenetrable darkness” (2319) • Esperanto (2311) • “unnatural mothers” (2317) • “are we good people?” (2315) • 131-132 (2314) • “It was a good, rich transport” (2320)

  19. Framing the Text • Birkenau (second and largest of three concentration camps at Auschwitz) (2306) • “systematic dehumanization” and “common vulnerability” leads to “alienation and rage at their fellow victims rather than at their executioners” (2306) • “gentlemen” • Red Cross ambulance • “the only permissible form of pity” in deceit (2313) • “Canada” • “Religion is the opium of the people” (2309) • Darwin (2315) • “throw out circles of light into the impenetrable darkness” (2319) • Esperanto (2311) • “unnatural mothers” (2317) • “are we good people?” (2315) • 131-132 (2314) • “It was a good, rich transport” (2320)