Warm Brothers: Queer Theory and the Age of Goethe

Warm Brothers: Queer Theory and the Age of Goethe

Warm Brothers: Queer Theory and the Age of Goethe

Warm Brothers: Queer Theory and the Age of Goethe

Synopsis

In eighteenth-century Germany, the aesthetician Friedrich Wilhelm Basileus Ramdohr could write of the phenomenon of men who evoke sexual desire in other men; Johann Joachim Winckelmann could place admiration of male beauty at the center of his art criticism; and admirers and detractors alike of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, felt constrained to comment upon the ruler's obvious preference for men over women. In German cities of the period, men identified as "warm brothers" wore broad pigtails powdered in the back, and developed a particular discourse of friendship, classicism, Orientalism, and fashion.

There is much evidence, Robert D. Tobin contends, that something was happening in the semantic field around male-male desire in late eighteenth-century Germany, and that certain signs were coalescing around "a queer proto-identity." Today, we might consider a canonical author of the period such as Jean Paul a homosexual; we would probably not so identify Goethe or Schiller. But for Tobin, queer subtexts are found in the writings of all three and many others.

Warm Brothers analyzes classical German writers through the lens of queer theory. Beginning with sodomitical subcultures in eighteenth-century Germany, it examines the traces of an emergent homosexuality and shows the importance of the eighteenth century for the nineteenth-century sexologists who were to provide the framework for modern conceptualizations of sexuality. One of the first books to document male-male desire in eighteenth-century German literature and culture, Warm Brothers offers a much-needed reappraisal of the classical canon and the history of sexuality.

Excerpt

In its issue of November 19, 1907, the magazine Youth (Jugend) published a cartoon by A. Weisgerber, in which Schiller no longer wants to hold hands with Goethe in the monument to the two poets, because the sexologist and homosexual rights campaigner Hirschfeld is in the vicinity. “Wolfgang,” Schiller says, “Let go of my hand!—Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld is coming!” (11.18: 1089). the title of this cartoon is “Panic in Weimar.”

Although one might think that merely broaching the possibility of a sexual relationship between the two great poets of German classicism was a bold and transgressive move, the cartoon is not necessarily a progressive statement in favor of homosexual rights. James Steakley has shown that it fits into satirical campaigns against the Hohenzollern court, which was immersed in scandals involving noble favorites of Kaiser Wilhelm ii like Philipp, Prince zu Eulenburg-Hertefeld, who was said to have sex with other men (“Iconography”). It also appears in the company of many somewhat bigoted, chauvinistic, and jingoistic cartoons about the German colonies, so one can see that Jugend, despite catering to a liberal bourgeois public, was not immune to nationalist and racial prejudices. Indeed, Hirschfeld is portrayed as a Jewish caricature, with a short physique and a long, crooked nose. While it may seem to implicate Goethe and Schiller humorously in the homophobic anxiety inspired by Hirschfeld’s liberal theories, the cartoon ridicules the homosexual rights movement of its time.

One of the underlying theses of this book, however, is that the connection between authorial intent and a text is not indissoluble. Thus, this arguably anti-Semitic, homophobic cartoon also provides encouragement to the queer reader today. One of the striking points about the cartoon is its age. the fact that Germans could joke about the possibly queer sexuality of their national poets in 1907 illuminates the long tradition of the queer appropriation of literature. While right-wing academics today decry the contamination of literary studies by such allegedly sensationalist and trendy approaches . . .

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