Shaping Modernity: Publishers, Avantgarde, and Youth Culture
Meike G. Werner (Vanderbilt University, USA) [BIO]
In late nineteenth-century Germany, and in connection with new printing techniques and the “reading revolution,” print media advanced to become a “fourth force” (Andreas Schulz) in the constitution of public opinion. But as the German public sphere was culturally and politically fragmented, different political parties, as well as separate social and religious milieus and diverse cultural movements, found expression in a range of publishing venues. This paper focuses on three of the most famous publishing houses at the turn of the century, each a vessel for modern literature and culture. These houses comprise Samuel Fischer in Berlin, Eugen Diederichs in Jena, and Kurt Wolff in Leipzig. They were modern publishers, but they represented different, even competing modernities. Historians of literature have offered detailed pictures of different authors and literary movements within these competing modernities. Less well understood is how the major publishers, pursuing business and marketing strategies, as well as intellectual agendas of their own, navigated this complex literary landscape.
Samuel Fischer, who founded the S. Fischer publishing house in Berlin in 1886, started out by publishing the young revolutionary movement of literary naturalism. With his commitment to avantgarde literature, Fischer became the most important publisher of what we call today classical modernism, including naturalists like Gerhart Hauptmann, impressionists like Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Arthur Schnitzler, as well as modernist novelists like Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse. Eugen Diederichs, who founded his publishing house ten years later in Florenz and Leipzig, was seen as an antipode to S. Fischer’s Berlin modernism. As “Kulturverleger” Diederichs organized in his publishing house all literary and cultural movements attempting to transcend Wilhelmine reality, and re-enchant a disenchanted modern world. Whereas Fischer published the literary avant-garde, Diederichs promoted the new youth movement as well as other neo-idealistic, neo-mystic and neo-Romantic intellectual movements. Finally, Kurt Wolff (38 years younger than Fischer and twenty years younger than Diederichs) appeared on the publishing scene in 1913 by supporting a new generation of young poets and writers. With his uncanny sense for originality, he became the first publisher of Robert Walser and Franz Kafka, both initially outsiders to the literary establishment. At the same time Wolff shaped the new literary movement of expressionism.
This paper addresses the strategies of three publishers and inquires about the extent to which they shaped the literary and cultural phenomena now associated with their publishing houses. It pays special attention to how these strategies influenced the emergence of competing literary cultures of youth on the eve of World War I.