Collection of texts - some background information


That there are several texts included which are of German origin has not so much to do with the personal background, i.e. the fact that I am of German origin. This may play a role as reading at least of some of them had been part of the standard  repertoire at German schools. However, many of these texts, as for example the one by Henrich Heine or Freiligrath's Ca Ira - a phrase that translates to "it will go", "it will be possible" - had not been taught at German schools or they had been and still are marginalised.

At the times the texts of Heinrich Heine, Freiligrath and Henrich von Kleist in particular had been written the entity which we know today as Germany had been characterised by small states - the "Kleinstaaterei", as it had been frequently called.

It had been for economic reasons that the then bourgeoisie was fighting against the traditional structures - structures of an economic and political systems that reflected the interests of the royalty and nobility, in economic terms largely based on agriculture. The bourgeoisie, however, needed space, needed to overcome the borders to allow for the development of industrial production and trade.

Even if, of course, the pressure for a fundamental change had been only given with the emerging industrial production of emerging capitalist societies it had been already the big landowners - the "Junker" - of the still agricultural societies who tempted to cross the borders, to gain access to markets on a larger scale.

Kleist's novel on Michael Koolhaas can be seen as a masterpiece in describing this process as seen from the somewhat revolutionary landowners who felt the limitations of the existing system, hindering in the expansion of their business. It is this what Karl Marx meant when he wrote in the Preface to the Contribution to the Ciritque of Political Economy - you find the complete text elsewhere on this site: 'At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or — this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms — with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution.'

From the other side, from the nobility and even the royalty, this process was mostly answered by supression and violence - and we should never forget that as violent Michael Koolhaas was, he only answered the violence he faced by the existing conservative, oppressive powers of the existing ruling system.

What can clearly be seen is the intertwinglement of the economic and the political interest - and in the case of Koolhaas it can be shown that the lack of insight in this regard caused the individualist approach of trying to break the fetters by what would be call anarchist or even terrorist strategy in today's terms.

And it had been of course, as it always is the case in the early course of revolutionary processes, when the new is only emerging, visible for an avant-garde in an embryonic capsule, difficult to link the individual situation, the oppression which is strongly felt as personal oppression, difficult to develop a conscious social movement - later this had been discussed for many times under the terms of the development from the class on its own to a class for its own.

Both, Heine and Freiligrath are in a way typical, showing that the development of such consciousness had been at least to some extent depending on the "view from outside". Heine came back from France, where he lived in a kind of exile.  And Freiligrath was pushed between the provincialism of his East-Westfalian origin and the enforced cosmopolitism during his years of travel and exile.

And Heine's poem in particular shows that already at that time a national or even patriotic perspective could well link into a European perspective, claiming - as I would read it - the historical perspective of sublation and supersession. He obviously rejected  the arrogance of the German imperialism, but wanted nevertheless connect to the German traditions of a democratic people of - as it had been said for many times - poets and thinkers. And to vitalise this national potential it was obviously - and paradoxically - necessary to overcome the provincialism that is so affectionately and with this sarcastically captured in this - and many other - poems by Heinrich Heine.

Finally however, it has to be seen as well that the overcoming of the given system was not least a process that had been somewhat allowed or even initialised by the royal and noble class as well. It had been Thomas Mann who described this in the novel Royal Highness.

The tension between hate and love, patriotic conviction as expression of the desire for democracy, the emergence of solidarity instead of  isolation and competition can be clearly made out in the various pieces, even if from so contradictious perspectives.


What - en passent - may be of some interest is that Freiligrath wrote the poem in Switzerland. Even if he had to leave later from Zurich to England for political reasons it is interesting that the neutral Switzerland had been for many times a kind of refuge for people who had to leave their own country – or at least who felt they have to. Vladimir Iljitsh Lenin was one of them – and perhaps it is justified to see in James Joyce somebody who felt that he could only unfold his “inner emigration” only in such a country.