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Polyphonic Traditions: Schiller, Sinn und Form and the “Thick” Literary Journal

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 February 2023

Matthew Philpotts
Affiliation:
University of Manchester
Sabine Rolle
Affiliation:
University of Edinburgh
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Summary

FOUNDED BY JOHANNES R. BECHER in 1948, the legendary East Berlin literary journal Sinn und Form exemplified the restorative, “all-German” cultural policy promoted by the occupying Soviet military administration. The journal was not to be a Kampfblatt for a radical new beginning under German socialism. Rather, in a project which was always intended as an international showcase, Becher chose as his editor-in-chief the non-aligned poet Peter Huchel, and together they drew self-consciously on a number of highly respected “bourgeois” antecedents: Hugo von Hoffmansthal's Neue deutsche Beiträge; Willy Haas's Die literarische Welt; Thomas Mann's Maß und Wert; and even Stefan George's Blätter für die Kunst. Of these, the most obvious debt owed by Sinn und Form was to Mann's exile journal. After Mann had turned down a direct request from Becher to adopt the title Maß und Wert for his new journal project, Becher wrote again to Mann indicating that in Sinn und Form he had “doch einen eigenen Titel gefunden, der […] in gewisser Weise erinnern kann an Maß und Wert.” Just as Mann had invoked the “measure” and “value” of elite intellectual endeavor as a counterpoint to the barbarity of National Socialism, so Becher and Huchel insisted on “meaning” and “form” as enduring cultural values in the crisis of the immediate postwar years.

Clearly, Sinn und Form was a GDR cultural institution which was positioned within its own, non-socialist tradition. But equally importantly, that tradition predisposed the journal to adopt a particular synthesizing attitude to the cultural heritage understood more broadly. Writing to Becher in 1948, for example, Heinz-Winfried Sabais drew an explicit parallel between the conception of Sinn und Form and the function of George's Blätter für die Kunst: “Wenn ich es richtig verstehe, hieß diese Funktion, […] Tradition und Fortschritt zu vereinen.” While Sabais restricted his comparison to George's journal, he could just as easily have extended it to include the editorial programs of Mann and Haas, both of whom drew on Goethe in order to validate a similar blend of cultural innovation and tradition. While in 1937 Mann promoted “das Neue, das sich aus den erweiterten Elementen des Vergangenen gestaltet,” in 1926 Haas had sought to defend “ein höchst harmonisches und organisches Gebilde aus geistiger Vergangenheit und geistiger Zukunft.” Indeed, if we consider the striking echo here of the programmatic aims of one of the major Western competitors to Sinn und Form, Hans Paeschke's Merkur, this blend starts to emerge as a defining characteristic of a particular kind of German literary journal:

Type
Chapter
Information
Edinburgh German Yearbook 3
Contested Legacies: Constructions of Cultural Heritage in the GDR
, pp. 184 - 197
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2009

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