Body, Image, Context
Figure 1 projects a distinctly modern image of the female body and, moreover, a peculiarly German attitude toward the modernity of the body. Such an image of the body is impossible to find in photography—indeed, in the whole realm of visual arts—before 1920. The body of the woman seems to have no "context": suspended in a white void, the body demands that the viewer look at nothing but itself as an autonomous force, free of definition by anything external to it. The pose assumed by the woman is complex, dense with contradiction. The brazen nudity of her torso contrasts dramatically with the veiling of her face by the thrusting elbow. The upward reach of her left arm is in stark tension with the inward coil of her hidden face and right arm. The filmy skirt seems like a skin the woman sheds in her surge toward ecstatic autonomy, yet the choice of a diaphanous material suggests that the flesh itself is a kind of veil that conceals the "real" identity of the body, no matter how naked. Both the pose and the image idealize the muscular sleekness of the body and proclaim the newness of this quality by situating the body within a pure white zone that contains no contaminating sign of the past, no attachments to history. The modern body is, one might say, the context, the determining power of the space it chooses to inhabit: perception of the body determines the identity of the world, the reality external to the self. This decontextualization of the body implies that the more naked the body becomes, the more the body dominates perception, the more the body assumes an abstract identity. Modernity signifies a tendency toward abstractness of form, but this photograph is interesting because it discloses a powerful tension between the sensual materialism of the naked flesh and the abstractness of bodily form released by the nudity.
I begin with this image partly because it is a typical specimen of German modernist attitudes toward the body in the 1920s and partly because the historical identity of the image is also typical. The image appears in a book published in 1927, Tanzkunst und Kunsttanz, by Max Adolphi and Arno Kettmann, but the photograph is by Alfred Ohlen. The book consists almost entirely of Ohlen's beautiful photo portraits of female dancers from Ida Herion's dance group in Stuttgart. Two of the photos show dancers posing in the garden of a villa, and one depicts a male dancer. The remaining sixty pictures show different dancers in different costumes (or nude) assuming different poses against the white background. None of the dancers' identities is known. Indeed, almost nothing is known of Ida Herion, and Kettmann's four pages of text, completely given over to a glorification of "dance art and art dance" generally ("living body feeling and consciousness"), provide no information about either Herion or the people in the images. The title page merely remarks that Adolphi "supervised" the poses Ohlen photographed. Thus, though the image of dance casts a strong feminine aura through the profuse depiction of female bodies, all linked to Ida Herion's group, the view of dance is largely male. But the superior elegance of the photographs is self-sufficient: the bewitching beauty of the images, bodies, and poses implies that the reader does not need to know anything about the dancers, the image-makers, or even dance itself to find dance a liberating and satisfying vocation. And though female readers are far more likely than males to act upon the impulse to make dance a vocation, male readers can hardly help feeling that a woman's power to dance, to assert herself physically with the complexity of signification I have ascribed to Figure 1, is a modern, self-determined condition of her desirability.
The uniquely exquisite charm of Tanzkunst und Kunsttanz should not obscure the realization that the book is but one of a huge, unprecedented multitude of aesthetically distinctive dance and body culture publications produced in Germany between 1910 and 1935. The scale, diversity, and significance of dance and body culture in Weimar Germany in particular has never been adequately recognized, because any serious assessment entails the study of traces left by a great number of people as obscure yet distinctive as Ida Herion and her dancers. The tendency to reduce the Weimar dance culture to the activities of a few major figures—for example, Mary Wigman, Kurt Jooss, and Rudolf Laban—gives a very incomplete view of how dance and attitudes toward the body produced a modern culture within a particular European social context. Indeed, the greatness of someone such as Mary Wigman appears even more mysterious when one views her achievements in relation to the complex spectrum of dance impulses defining the context in which she worked. Much of the powerful Weimar dance culture has been undeservedly forgotten because scholars cannot compile thick dossiers on many personalities and therefore cannot confine
their perception of dance to those manifestations (or documentations) of it that produce a life story about which one can write at length. But strong personalities are not always well documented, and in any case part of dance's intense appeal lies in its promise to free the body from modes of documentation that excessively stabilize it. The concept of dance is key to understanding dance culture, not dances themselves, for the vast majority of these have left so little trace that no one can reconstruct them. Even in the 1920s, before anyone could make any serious effort to record dancers, the concept of dance achieved its most pervasive and perhaps most seductive expression through images of dance staged specifically for photographers or other visual artists. Pictures of dancers and images of dance probably intensified public enthusiasm for dance to a much greater degree than did dance concerts themselves, for images of dance provided greater access to the spirit of the dancing body than concert performance permitted. In a 1957 television interview, the American dancer Ruth Page claimed that she taught herself to dance (ca. 1915) by cutting out pictures of dancers from theatre journals, pasting them on the walls of her room, and imitating the poses depicted (Page, Video Archives, tape 106).
By dramatic contrast, Anna Pavlova explains in her autobiography that her ultimately suicidal passion for dance resulted from her seeing, at the age of eight, a performance of the Sleeping Beauty ballet at the Marinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, around 1890 (Magriel 1–3). Perhaps no other dancer has ever done as much as Pavlova to awaken love for dance through dance performance itself; certainly no other dancer ever toured as widely, as intensely, or as successfully as she. One can say that with every performance she tried to reconstruct the ecstatic enchantment of the first time she saw the dancing body. This ambition to imbue the dancing body with the innocence of a child made her beloved everywhere. But innocence is convincing to the extent that it appears fragile, ephemeral, momentary; for Pavlova, this magical fragility depended not only on the delicate beauty of her body but also on the cultivation of the exquisite melancholy that made The Dying Swan (1907), choreographed for her by Michel Fokine, her signature work. Though Pavlova was extremely photogenic and hardly indifferent to the power of her image to build audiences, she never doubted that the authority of dance to restore innocence to the body lay entirely in the act of watching dance performances.
Moreover, her notion of dance performance was virtually untouched by modernist ideas of bodily movement: the body recovered its innocence insofar as the dancer projected an attitude toward the body which prevailed the first time one had seen, with a child's eyes, the enchanting beauty of the dancing body. The innumerable photographs of Pavlova displayed a more modernist sensibility than did her performances, in which she presented an "eternal," ethereal image of the (female) body hardly modified by any of
the modernist currents in movement theory that had emerged since 1900. She was an enormous inspiration, yet few of the multitudes she inspired actually regarded her as a model for their own ambitions in dance (Money; Lazzarini). Her dances suggested that the innocence (and melancholy) of the female body resulted from the dancer's complete submission to nineteenth-century ballet technique, which assumed that the female body, being a highly volatile and unstable force, preserved its magical innocence through an elaborate, powerfully institutionalized set of conventions governing every movement toward the ideal incarnation of feminine beauty. What made Pavlova great was the beautiful poignancy she brought to the pervasive and ambivalent perception of a fundamental tension, provoked by aesthetic movements of the body, between innocence and modernity.
The complex and very seductive body culture emerged in early-twentieth-century Germany questioned, though did not entirely dissolve, this tension between innocence and modernity. The relation between innocence and modernity was more complex (and ambiguous) in Germany than elsewhere because of German tendencies to link innocence with conditions of maturity and evolution rather than to a "lost," childlike state of perception. This ambition to present modernity as a condition of innocence depended on the situating of the body within elaborate philosophical frameworks, a persuasive metaphysical rhetoric. The concept of dance, for example, had to include more than the evidence of mere dances. Thus, the great theorist of bodily movement, Rudolf Laban, spoke of "the dance of flowers," "the dance of constellations," "the dance of peoples" (RL 150). Dance was a cosmic force that was only partially visible in dance performances as such. But when dance assumes this sort of metaphorical identity, its meaning, its power to liberate, derives as much from its image and from ideas about it as from witnessing dance performances themselves.
This point receives some initial support from Figure 2. Like Figure 1, it is of a dancer from the Ida Herion group, but it comes from a different book, Getanzte Harmonien (1926), and is the work of a different photographer, Paul Isenfels. The book was popular enough to run through seven editions in one year. It contains 120 photos, and the dancers assume a much wider array of poses and costumes than in Tanzkunst und Kunsttanz; the book also contains more nude poses, more group poses (two women and one man; two men and a woman; three women; four women; one man and seven women), and far more images of male dancers. But the major difference between the Isenfels imagery and the Adolphi is that Isenfels views the dancers within a highly specific physical context. In all the images, the dancers pose within the luxurious rooms and garden of a wonderful neoclassical villa. Figure 2 typifies the visual complexity of these images, which present the dancing body as the decisive phenomenon effecting a "harmonious" reconciliation of nature (the garden) and monumentally civilized
architecture. The woman opens her body to the sunlit garden yet remains a shadow to the viewer. Isenfels likes setting the bodies against stone or marble-tiled surfaces engraved with elegant geometric designs, as if to blur the distinction between organic and inorganic forms. He photographs the dancers on stone stairways, on stone balustrades, in stone archways, against stone columns, or through stone colonnades, and it seems that the dancers are neither entirely indoors nor entirely outdoors but somehow poised between "inner" and "outer" zones of being. Isenfels intensifies this perception in numerous images, adroitly manipulating delicate shadow effects and making exquisite use of sunshine to create luminous backlighting of the bodies. But in spite of the obvious preoccupation with compositional elegance, the viewer always sees the body as a phenomenon that resists abstraction, that does not need to be seen as anything other than itself. The neoclassical architecture connects the body to a grandiose sign of tradition or history, in great contrast to the Adolphi photos, which establish the modernity of the body by freeing it from any visible historical context.
Yet all of the Isenfels images remain modern precisely because the bodies assume new poses and a bold new authority over the space. These dancers, with their supple gestures and sleek vulnerability, seem to have invaded this "old" space and imposed upon it a daring will to freedom—and the space accommodates them generously, luxuriantly. In all the photos by Adolphi or Isenfels, it is the body itself—through its poses, its nudity, or its relation to other bodies—that casts the controlling sign of modernity. Perhaps the visibility of this corporeal modernity in Figures 1 and 2 is due less to the photographic approaches of Ohlen or Isenfels than to an attitude toward the body absorbed by the dancers from their teacher, Ida Herion, whose identity is only slightly less obscure than that of her students. However, despite the lack of information regarding the people who produced these books, the images are significant for their power to link modernity to the body itself rather than to external signs such as masks, costumes, or decor. The latter is more obviously the case in Figure 3, depicting Ursula Falke in a pose from her dance The Prince (1925), or Figure 4, a Bauhaus image of Karla Grosch performing her Metal Dance (1929). Moreover, the difference between Ohlen's and Isenfels's ways of seeing the Herion dancers suggests a large degree of instability in the image of dance and of the modernity of the body. Prevailing attitudes toward the body did not create a unified vision of human identity but instead spawned contradictory strands of perception.
A Theoretical Context
My interest in German body culture of the 1910s and 1920s arose from a lifelong curiosity about modernistic representations of the human form in
German theatre, literature, psychology, film, sexology, photography, and art, especially that produced by the expressionists. The latter group's distinctively dynamic and mysteriously distorted images of the human body urged me to explore ever more facets of German culture to understand this powerful and disturbingly modern expressivity ascribed to the human body. The Germanic way of seeing the body seemed aggressively modern, but it was not clear why. Post-1950 scholarship on modernism has not provided convincing answers, guided as it has been by the assumption that modernity implies impulses toward abstraction and a consequent estrangement from the body itself as a source or site (rather than simply a sign) of historical tensions. To construct more persuasive answers, it was necessary to recover a great mass of primary material that previous European cultural studies had either ignored altogether or treated as marginal. This mass of primary material reveals that the scale and complexity of Germanic body culture was far greater than previously supposed, even during the time it unfolded. My main concern in this book is to offer a fairly comprehensive description and interpretation of specific achievements peculiarly associated with Germanic ideas about what makes the body modern. But any comprehensive history of these achievements means accommodating a bewildering variety of contradictory goals, motives, ramifications, strategies, implications, and consequences. As a whole, German body culture was neither a unified nor a unifying force on the European cultural scene. It repeatedly and often brashly declared its intention to be such a force, but in reality it achieved almost the opposite effect: an increasingly crowded and confused cultural space in which the body consistently triumphed as a source of difference rather than sameness. This effect was a much greater achievement than what those responsible for it may have intended. The outstanding legacy of the German body culture is that it showed how modern bodies project an ambiguous historical function: bodies are modern because they create significant instabilities of perception.
German culture between 1910 and 1930 cultivated an attitude toward the body unprecedented in its modernity, intensity, and complexity. This attitude motivated the formation of body culture. But despite the body's apparent finiteness as an object of cultural development, body culture tends to encompass an ever expanding range of activities, including the performing arts, literature, the fine arts, sports, athletics, medicine, sex, sexology, fashion, advertising, labor, ergonomics, architecture, leisure activities, music, physiognomic study, and military discipline. German culture made interesting and often spectacular contributions in all these areas. However, it is useful to observe that a genuinely modern attitude toward the body entails more than a modern attitude toward the representation of the body or toward identities imposed upon the body. Much of what most people consider modern, such as fashion or machines, is external to the body; the
body itself remains a constant, even eternal mode of being, far more obedient to pressures of biology than of history. Indeed, much of German body culture may seem to fit this doctrine of modernity. But then one encounters the plenitude of evidence that indicates an ambitious attempt by the culture to physicalize modernity within the body and to view the body itself as a manifestation of modernist desire. Body culture appears as a mode of aesthetic performance that collapses conventional distinctions between mind and body, subject and object, self and world. Of course, other cultures within industrialized countries experimented with modernizing the body, especially in the realm of sports and athletic development. Germans also made prodigious contributions in these fields, but it is difficult to see how these contributions disclosed a distinctly Germanic perception of the body, for they differed little from the techniques, goals, and rhetoric of sport culture pursued by Americans, Italians, Swedes, or Russians during the interwar years. I therefore have not paid a great deal of attention in this book to German sports history, which in any case has already received monumental analysis (Ueberhorst; Diem; Pfister).
The uniquely Germanic construction of the modern body involved two large categories of performance: nudity and physical movement, particularly ideas about movement introduced by the most turbulent dance culture in history. The Germans powerfully emphasized nudity and movement as the decisive elements bestowing modernity upon the body. But the body culture was never able completely to resolve fundamental tensions between these elements, largely because the more dancelike movement became, the more difficult it was to resolve underlying tensions between the sexes. The interweaving of material on nudity, movement, and dance shows the uncertainty within the culture about whether modernity was ultimately an ecstatic condition of nudity or an ecstatic release of movement. I propose that nudism and dance were answers to questions circulating, often unconsciously, within the social reality that created the culture. The questions may be summarized as follows:
How can the body itself assume a modern identity? What are the dominant signifiers of a modern body?
What are differences between normative, ideal, and perverse bodies in a modern context?
How do the sexes differ in using their bodies to signify attitudes toward modernity?
What are relations between modern bodies and mechanized identities?
How does modernity construct a new relation between the body and metaphysical dimensions to identity, such as soul, spirit, consciousness?
What sacrifices are required to achieve a modern body?
How does a modern body function as a sign of tension between individual and social identity?
Nacktkultur, Körperkultur, and dance never gave coherent answers to any of these questions. Rather, the answers became fragmented into a widening domain of competing ideas, personalities, and institutional gestures. I use the term "empire" to designate the scale of this diversity and will to power (or appropriative energy) defining the complexity of the body culture.
Chapter titles identify themes or theoretical categories, such as "Aesthetic Nudity" or "Group Dancing"; each chapter comprises subsections mostly devoted to personalities whose achievements made a difference in the manifestation of the abstract category. The motive for this method of organization is to show how the notion of a modern body provoked numerous categories of difference that achieved their strongest expression through the formation of intensely different personalities. Even by the standards of the Germanic body culture itself, the ultimate value of the modern body lay in its power to designate a distinct personality that established the authority of difference over unity. The emancipatory goals of the culture, its strategies for redefining conditions of freedom, focused on amplifying the power of nudity or movement to promote difference and accommodate further differences.
Related to the use of the word "empire" is my inclination to speak of "Germanic" rather than "German" body culture. I make this distinction because it is necessary to view the body culture as a phenomenon that extended beyond the national borders of Germany. Body culture had serious export value for Germany, and numerous personalities with international careers developed German ideas abroad. Moreover, many people who contributed significantly to the body culture in Germany did not originally come from Germany. The body culture was "German" insofar as distinct personalities regarded Germany as somehow decisive in shaping their ideas and careers, but it did not exist only and entirely in Germany. I therefore make occasional excursions to other countries in following the achievements of several personalities. Indeed, in an earlier draft of this book I included a large section that examined the dissemination of Germanic body culture throughout Europe, the United States, and Japan. However, this section became so large that I have decided to make a separate project of it.
In our time, the following question inevitably arises: to what extent was the body culture responsible for the advent of the Third Reich? The question seems especially significant because of the deep-rooted presumption of the "irrationality" of early German body culture, a prejudice William H. McNeill summarizes very succinctly: "Since World War II, repugnance against Hitlerism has discredited rhythmic muscular expression of political and other sorts of ideological attachment throughout the western world.
Distrust of visceral responses to such exercises prevails" (McNeill 151). In this book, however, I gather a large amount of evidence to show the difficulty of constructing a decisive correlation between particular attitudes toward the modern body and impulses toward fascism or totalitarian beliefs. Some forms of body culture that we might consider irrational failed altogether to interest the Nazis; moreover, the body culture pervasively attempted to anchor itself in theoretical discourse precisely to overcome the widespread suspicion that any aesthetic or pleasurable preoccupation with the body was irrational.
As a manifestation of modernity, the body culture was, like romantic music or precision tool machinery, accessible to a wide spectrum of political positions. Several personalities discussed in this book became ardent supporters of the Nazi cause, and I have tried wherever possible to give an accurate account of how all the personalities of that time responded to the Nazi cultural program. But the mere fact that several people enthusiastic about Weimar body culture also became enthusiastic about National Socialism does not mean that some deep, inherent connection between body culture and Nazism needs to be explained. Arguing as much is like arguing that because Hitler was a vegetarian, a deep connection exists between vegetarianism and Nazism. The evidence presented here suggests that those who embraced Nazism and those who did not acted for uniquely personal reasons rather than because body culture somehow predisposed them to follow one direction or another. People embraced body culture for equally personal reasons rooted in powerful, individuating desires rather than in self-sacrificing devotion to abstract concepts such as nation, state, or class. If anything, body culture strengthened the authority of personalities and individuality and thus dramatized with auspicious and even audacious viscerality the importance of placing the political within the personal.
Related to the question of whether the body culture was "responsible" for Nazism is the more difficult problem of defining the context for the body culture. What caused body culture to emerge? I have avoided the tendency of some cultural histories to cast cultural phenomena as virtually mechanistic responses to large-scale political or social events such as the Great War, the revolution, the catastrophic inflation, or the Great Depression. The body culture did not remain indifferent to such events, but the advantage of gathering evidence from throughout the period between 1910 and 1930 is that it allows us to evaluate body culture in relation to events that might seem to distinguish, for example, Weimar culture from Wilhelmine culture. The evidence indicates a remarkable firmness of purpose across the period; the aims of German body culture in 1914 were fairly consistent with the aims of 1929, and one can observe in it a determination not to let big events undermine its emancipatory ambitions. Yet much of the body culture seems to have entered a period of decline in the early 1930s. The Nazis did
express aggressive hostility toward it, but they cannot be entirely blamed for a decline that set in before they assumed power. It was a decline marked more by theoretical stagnation than by diminishing membership rosters.
The context, therefore, must extend further back into history, perhaps deep into German history, if it is to explain the Germanic uniqueness of the body culture. In earlier drafts of the book, I included extensive discussion of theoretical discourses related to bodily identity: the physiognomic research of Carus, Klages, Kretschmer, Stratz; the "characterological" theories of Prinzhorn and Utiz; the race theories of Hertz, Günther, Müller, and Lenk; the eugenic philosophies of Muckermann, Reich, the League for Sexual Reform; the prolific and often monumental messages of sexologists such as Moll, Wulffen, and Stekel. However, effective examination of these and other theorists requires another book in itself. Moreover, these theorists do not answer our primary question: what was the context for this German eruption of theory about bodily identity? I am inclined to propose that general conditions of modernity, perceived more intensely in Germany than elsewhere, urged Germans to look more intensely at the body as a projection of identity. Pure theorists tend to view the body as a hypothetical construct, a generic organism. My focus here is to show how bodily performance , through the nudity and movement of specific bodies, strengthens the projection of modern identity. Nudists, dancers, and gymnasts made more insightful contributions to theories of bodily identity than did the pure theorists. The great, unconscious, and untheorized contribution of the pure theorists was to establish the context of body culture in language itself, in a mysterious and unexplained relation between, on the one hand, properties peculiar to the German language that control perception and, on the other, the limited ability of language, as a thing without body, to make the body completely visible. The tendency of the Germans to assign a deep, metaphysical significance to the body suggests serious uncertainty about the extent to which humans can see themselves or each other on the most physical level. Language is deep inside the body, yet no one can see it. In other words, I feel the most convincing context for explaining the emergence of the Germanic body culture is cognitive , that historically unique conditions of modernity activated a cognitive condition that focused perception on the body as a source of meanings that hitherto had remained hidden (instead of being created as such by manifestations of modernity). However, it is obvious to me that humanity does not yet possess the resources or the knowledge (especially of language) to discuss how this cognitive notion of context actually works to produce cultural history. I think it is unwise to speculate further about the body culture's origins, which already seem tinged with mysticism.
Germanic body culture was largely the achievement of women who associated modernity with expanded opportunities for freedom of identity and
action. These women believed that unprecedented assertions of freedom and power for their sex depended on revised perceptions of the female body and its expressive capabilities. The desire for a modern identity in a modern body entailed a desire for unprecedented expressions of ecstatic experience resulting from a collapse of difference between inner and outer forms of being and metaphysicality. The rhetoric of modernity never detached itself from mystical metaphysics, even among the most rational advocates of the body culture. But ecstasy does not occur without the perpetration of excesses, severe instabilities and ambiguities of perception that attend any collapse of difference and subsequent effort to appropriate minds, bodies, spaces, and institutions on a national scale. Yet every excess exposes a limit or boundary designating a difference. An "excessive" number of women inhabited the body culture only if one assumes that society should have urged them to articulate female desire in some other way than the celebration of the body as an emancipatory, salvational force. But one might just as well complain that men showed greater reluctance to participate in dance or gymnastics than in nudism because society failed to urge them to focus their desires more avidly on the idea of the body as an emancipatory, salvational force. Obviously men felt that the more their bodies moved with dancelike qualities, the more their bodies assumed a feminine identity, for dance endeavors precisely to make the body the dominant sign of instability, or "viscosity," of identity. This sexual difference was at the heart of the problem in reconciling nudity and movement to produce a coherent definition of the modern body. However, this sexual difference was not unique to German culture; it is pervasive in premodern, modern, and postmodern societies. What was unique to the Germanic body culture, in both the Wilhelmine and Weimar eras, was the intensity with which it self-consciously treated modernity as a problem of sexual difference rooted in deep uncertainty about the power of the body, of a biological "destiny," to become a decisive agent of history. The vast outpouring of sexual discourse produced, from increasingly "scientific" perspectives, during the Wilhelmine and Weimar eras testifies to this gathering uncertainty about the relation between modernity and sexuality, though it failed to provide answers that might have lessened our own uncertainty about this relation.
This book focuses on the great outpouring of bodily performance that attempted to resolve the tension between biology and history by ascribing to the body—and especially the female body—an unprecedented power to give ecstatic experience a large public dimension. It hardly diminishes the achievement of the body culture to observe that it created far more uncertainty than it resolved (or than subsequent historical eras have resolved). Thus, another reason I have kept the context of the body culture fairly open is that the value of these achievements does not depend on a specific set of historical conditions, even if the conditions were necessary to produce the
achievements. Despite decades of scholarly neglect, most of what the body culture had to say about the relation between the body and modernity still seems as relevant and exciting for people throughout the world as it was for those who transmitted its message.
Some commentators, several fairly recently, have suggested that the body culture mania of the 1920s was an intense reaction to the excessive rationalization and mechanization of European civilization, whose malignant consequence was the war. Such observers stressed the government "culture film" Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit (1925), with its juxtaposition of grim factory-life imagery and bucolic shots of radiantly active bodies in sun-dappled meadows. Stated one, "Every era until the great war had something of a true orgy of obedience to reason. In its complete aridity it could only end in such a catastrophe" (Graeser 12). But, as will become apparent, body culture, especially gymnastics and dance, was hardly lacking in enthusiasm for system, for rationalistic, technocratic, and mechanistic constructions of identity, even if its advocates proclaimed the opposite.
One of the most significant of these romantic metaphysicists of the body was Wolfgang Graeser (1906-1928), whose book Körpersinn (1927), remains an engrossing commentary on the body culture of the era. Graeser was a protégé of Oswald Spengler, and he shared the master's vision of apocalyptic transformation in Western civilization: "The evolution of the West now stands in its final stage. The path is prescribed upon which we must move forward" (47). This path "can only come out of those sources of life which gymnastics has rediscovered," for "so long as we feel the red pulse of our bloodstream our being is assured" (47). Graeser's book contained no pictures, no "totems" (as he put it) of body culture, no discussion of any body culture personalities, no discussion of any techniques, specific dances, body types, schools of physical education, or documented achievements; it did not even contain any dates, except for frequent reference to the war as the decisive moment in the awakening of modern "body sense." Although he clearly differentiated the objectives of sport, gymnastics, and dance, Graeser treated them as abstract theoretical categories, which he did not analyze in relation to subcategories or specific manifestations. He specified sport as the most "rational" mode of body culture because of its (unhealthy) attention to records and quantitative evaluations. Graeser sought to reveal the metaphysical significance of the body, but unlike adherents of the "characterology" cult he did not believe this significance resided in the "invisible" cognitive processes, which shifted analytical energy away from objects or forms to the logic of perception itself. For Graeser, no form of sport, gymnastics, or dance possessed the
power to produce unique personalities or distinctive expressions of identity. The transformative value of these modes of body culture lay in their power to bring bodies to a more abstract condition of being, one that transcended the oppressive constraints on identity through rationalistic particularization and differentiation. Gymnastics and dance brought people closer to the unconscious identity of life itself, to blood, breath, pulse, rhythm: "Reason and will do not undermine the pulsebeat of our blood, it is completely spontaneous and the most elementary life-rhythm which penetrates our being. In the heart is the central driving motor. . . . But we can only feel the heartbeat indirectly, because it is so overpowering. Breath is different. . . . We feel the breath directly. It vibrates with every feature of our body, the expansion of the chest puts all muscles of the body into play. When we free the breath from constraining will and muscles and submit to it, we feel with all our senses the rhythm of life itself, the 'id' within us" (145).
Graeser compared the psychoanalytic attitude toward the body with the gymnastic attitude. Psychoanalysis hoped to reveal the unconscious source of life through a new sexual discourse on the body, but its ultimate aim was to domesticate the body and adapt it to the life-draining demands of "Faustian" or "Uranian" rationalism. Language was no more capable than numbers of bringing to light the protean creative energies of the unconscious. Gymnastics, by contrast, focused on locating the unconscious foundation of power and being in the irrational, in an abstract pulse over which the rationalizing will exerted no control. But for Graeser, whose other publications were annotated editions of Bach's music, the highest and most abstract form of body culture was dance because of its close attachment to music, the core of which is rhythm (although he insisted that music and dance do not exist in "mutual slavery" to each other) (120). Dance was the superior abstraction of the body rather than an intensified particularization of it, and modern identity disclosed itself through degrees of abstraction: "It is the new dance that mirrors the image of our era in all its qualities. One finds embodied in dance the image of the machine, one finds the eruption of the chaotic ideas of the Bolshevik world as well as the strict forms of fascist hierarchies, but above all an unbridled dynamism, the sensually turbulent ecstasy of movement in the frenzied lunge toward the Immeasurable that is our life" (106). The glamorizing rhetoric of blood and irrational pulse beat is reminiscent of Nazi mythology. Graeser acknowledged that both bolshevism (in the European rather than Russian mode) and Italian fascism "feel the elementary power of red blood" and were "forms of the chthonic-barbaric life-stream which have opened a new path through the petrified crust"—they signaled an impending "revenge of the blood" (148). He did not indicate his preference for one ideology or the other, but, more than any other thinker of the era, Graeser seemed prophetically conscious of a
great potential for violence in the effort to recover through dance or gymnastics the repressed "rhythm of life itself."
Graeser presented the modern impulse to expose the unconscious rhythm of life as an entirely aesthetic phenomenon in tension with the rationalized regulation of everyday life in the socioeconomic realm. But the notion of "life-rhythm" did not originate with him, and perhaps the recovery of the life-rhythm could have greater consequences on the workaday world than Graeser's approach indicated. Such was the message of Karl Bücher's Arbeit und Rhythmus , the first edition of which appeared in 1896. Although this encyclopedic book, supplemented with photos, tables, and musical examples, came equipped with a rigorous scholarly apparatus, it went through many revised editions until 1930 and apparently enjoyed an unusually large audience for a work that initially appeared as Volume 17 of the Proceedings of the Royal Saxon Society of Sciences.
Bücher, an anthropologist, sought to uncover an archaic relation between labor and rhythm by analyzing a vast number of work songs and chants as well as performance conditions of premodern societies throughout the world. He also examined work songs of ancient societies in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Bücher analyzed songs in relation to the work performed (milling, spinning, plucking, dredging, hammering, digging, lifting, circumcising, infibulating, carrying, piloting, scrubbing, dealing with animals, and so forth); in relation to whether work was performed alone or in a group; in relation to sexual identity of the workers; and in relation to the cultural identity of the workers. He also analyzed the relations between words and work, between rhythms and work, between bodily movement and musical rhythm, and between motives for singing (magic, inspiration, communication of instructions, group dialogue, stimulation of "compatible feelings," and so forth). He then theorized on the origins of song and dance in labor and their separation from labor in most of the contemporary world. Although no single musical rhythm seemed to dominate relations between song and work, one could nevertheless observe an "original unity" in which "labor, play, and art blended into each other" to establish "rhythm as an economic principle of development" (413). This unity was possible to the extent that the worker-singer did not perceive the thing produced by labor as alien to his or her expectations of life: "Labor is for [the worker] no longer music and poetry as well; production for the marketplace no longer brings him personal glory or honor as does production for his own consumption" (441). Machines have their own complex rhythms, Bücher observed, but in machine-driven labor, "the tempo and duration of the labor is detached from the worker's will; he is chained to the
dead and yet quite living mechanism" (439). Superficially, Bücher's impressive treatise seemed to carry a message somewhat similar to Graeser's, notwithstanding Graeser's assertion that the war was responsible for the new consciousness of the body. Bücher, however, stressed rhythm as an external (though "organic") unifying economic principle that controlled the relation between body and production, whereas Graeser stressed the body as the source of an internal rhythm that was an end in itself, a purely aesthetic experience, not a mechanism of production, and therefore a much more chaotic phenomenon.
Bücher's idea of rhythm as an aesthetic-economic principle that tied bodily movement to production was obviously less disturbing than Graeser's more apocalyptic vision of a world rhythm emanating from the pulse beat of blood, and in 1909 he noted with approval the gathering appeal throughout Europe, especially in Germany, of the doctrine of "rhythmic gymnastics" developed by a Swiss pedagogue, Émile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865–1950). But rhythmic gymnastics was to experience a consequence quite remote from what Bücher perhaps imagined. Jaques-Dalcroze came from a well-respected Genevan family; his father was Viennese representative for a watch firm when Dalcroze was born. The family was musical, and Dalcroze was a child when he decided to pursue a career in music. He studied in Vienna, where one of his teachers was Anton Bruckner. The early part of his life he spent striving to establish a reputation in Paris and Geneva as a composer, chiefly of theatrical works and songs. He wrote many of these for his wife, Nina Faliero, who was a splendid singer. Dalcroze composed a huge quantity of music throughout his life, but after about 1910 he designed the bulk of his compositions in direct relation to his pedagogic work.
In 1889 Dalcroze met the Swiss composer Mathis Lussy (1828–1910), who had published theoretical works on expressive values in music, especially the expressive functions of rhythm, accent, and phrasing, somewhat in contrast to the dominant interest of the time in harmony, counterpoint, and polyphonic coloring. Lussy's ideas moved Dalcroze toward the perception of rhythm as a suppressed power not only within music but within the body. The Geneva Conservatory appointed him professor of music in 1892, but it was not until 1904 that he actually conducted a course in rhythmic gymnastics at the conservatory and not until 1907 that he offered (in Stuttgart) any extensive public demonstration of the method. In 1909, as a result of a widely publicized demonstration tour through Austria and Germany, Dalcroze received an invitation from Wolf Dohrn to establish in Germany an institute for the study of rhythmic gymnastics. Before his fatal accident, Dohrn (1878–1914) was secretary for the Deutscher Werkbund, a
loose union of workshop artisans dedicated to the reform of urban and industrial culture. He came from a distinguished family of scientists and educators, and his ambition apparently was to become a kind of golden prince of modern art. Dohrn agreed to provide the financial backing to open the institute in Hellerau, a suburb of Dresden. Dalcroze believed the denizens of Hellerau, a Werkbund "garden city," were more sympathetic to his ideas about bodily rhythm than were the Berliners, who, he claimed, put too much emphasis on purely musical applications of his ideas. Dohrn and Dalcroze collaborated with architect Heinrich Tessenow, Swiss scenographer Adolphe Appia, and Russian designer Alexandre Salzmann on the design and construction of an elegant complex of neoclassical buildings with spacious garden zones for open air performance. In 1912 the school had more than 600 students from all over Europe, but Hellerau was by no means the only place offering instruction in the Dalcroze method of rhythmic gymnastics. By this time private schools dedicated to the teachings of the master flourished throughout Germany and in Stockholm, Paris, London, and Geneva. The Dalcroze school in St. Petersburg, promoted by Imperial Ballet impresario Serge Volkonsky, had 800 students in 1912. But Hellerau was, so to speak, the great temple of rhythmic gymnastics, to which the disciples made pilgrimage. It attracted enormous attention from the press, partly because so many famous people in the arts paid visits to it.
Dalcroze inspired extraordinary confidence because of his impeccable cosmopolitanism and eminently rational vision of bodily movement as the foundation of, as his friend Ernest Ansermet put it, a profoundly social art. He corresponded voluminously with important personages in the arts and traveled serenely throughout Europe, and though he continually felt compelled to correct publicly (but genially) what he believed were "misunderstandings" of his theories by his disciples, he never ceased to display a remarkable self-composure and teacherly patience toward obtusity. He suffused the emerging cult of the body with an aura of radiance, linked the discovery of bodily rhythms almost entirely with the experience of joy, and dispelled the anxieties, phobias, and psychic shadows that until that time made the body a supreme sign of irrationality (Figure 5). In 1912 a luxurious yearbook, Der Rhythmus , was launched in Hellerau, and it did much to advance the sunlit benevolence of Dalcroze's vision, as did the grandiose festival productions of Orpheus (1913) and the Genevan Fete de Juin (1914), a single performance of which was attended by 6,000 spectators.
Yet all was not well. Dalcroze faced endless difficulty in persuading public school officials to introduce rhythmic gymnastics into their curricula. Dohrn died in February 1914, and war broke out in July, leaving Dalcroze in no position to maintain funding of the institute. The Hellerau experiment came to an end after only three glorious years. Dalcroze returned to Geneva, and there in 1915 he established the Institute Jaques-Dalcroze in
conjunction with the Geneva Conservatory. He continued to coordinate an international network of schools and became closely attached to the Dalcroze Center in London. In 1919 the ballet of the Paris Opera, of all places, began instruction of rhythmic gymnastics under its director, Jacques Rouche. Dalcroze himself thought this idea was premature, knowing well the vehement hostility of the ballet world (including the powerful ballet critic André Levinson) toward his teachings. (Indeed, when Rouche departed in 1925, the Opera forbade its members to study rhythmic gymnastics.) But Dalcroze's influence in Germany waned considerably with the collapse of Hellerau. True, a Dalcroze-Bund remained quite visible in Germany until the mid-1930s, and many of the Hellerau students—most notably Mary Wigman, Henny Rosenstrauch, Valerie Kratina, Suzanne Perrottet, Hilda Senf (who taught in the Paris school), and Elfriede Feudel—became significant figures of Weimar body culture. In 1915 a group of Germans took over the Hellerau complex and gradually converted it to a school-company devoted to expressionist dance; in 1925 the company accepted an invitation to move its entire operation to the castle of Laxenburg in suburban Vienna. But the Hellerau-Laxenburg school of the 1920s, like nearly all other schools of dance or physical education in Germany, paid little attention to the discourse then issuing from Geneva, even if the Germans accorded Dalcroze himself enthusiastic receptions on his visits to Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Berlin in 1929. The war had undermined German confidence in the neoclassical optimism of the Dalcrozian ideology of rhythm; to a defeated nation struggling to recover its competitive cultural identity, Dalcroze's method appeared too Gallic in its reasonableness and perhaps too imbued with a Rousseauian belief in the innate innocence of bodies. The Germans now offered a body culture that showed less fear of the very shadows, the dark, "inner" impulses, that Dalcroze tried so hard to pretend were merely mythical illusions.
Dalcroze wrote many occasional articles on rhythmic gymnastics, but he lacked the temperament to produce books, which might have presented his manifold thinking in a sustained, systematic, and comprehensive manner. The semi-improvised lecture-demonstration was his ideal medium, but it also led to numerous misperceptions of his program. It was (and still is) not altogether clear what the "method" of rhythmic gymnastics entailed, for the success of the method depended as much on unique personal qualities of
the teacher as on the governing set of general principles that Dalcroze published. That was both the appeal of the method and its primary limitation. Dalcroze was a great teacher, not a great scholar, artist, or philosopher. He loved being in the classroom more than anywhere else and believed that the most intense learning occurs through immediate, physical application of ideas as managed by a teacher, not a book. Dalcroze hoped that rhythmic gymnastics would eventually become accessible to all people, regardless of age or class. The aim of rhythmic gymnastics was to create a heightened condition of individual freedom as well as a stronger sense of social unity by "establishing rapid communication between the brain which conceives and analyzes and the body which executes" (Dutoit-Carlier 346). The expression of individuality required the disclosure of a "unique rhythm." But rhythmic gymnastics, ostensibly at least, did not prepare bodies for professional careers as performers; it embraced all bodies, regardless of talent, aptitude, or intelligence. Dalcroze persistently attacked ballet training as a tyranny that intimidated people into thinking they had no business exploring their bodily expressivity if they lacked rare physical gifts. He proposed that people become conscious of their bodily rhythms by listening, especially to music. In the Dalcrozian system, the development of bodily awareness never occurred independently of music, a point of contention among many German physical educators.
Awareness of bodily rhythms began with the heartbeat. A body's unique response to different rhythms was the result of a distinctive heartbeat. Then a drumbeat and eventually piano tunes would permit the students to explore different rhythms: 4/4, 3/4, 3/8, 5/4, 2/2, 6/4, 9/8, 3/2, and so forth. Students moved in relation to different rhythms and different tempos; they moved only the left hand or only the right hand; they moved only the head; they moved only the left hand and the head; they moved the left hand in 4/4 while the right hand moved in 3/8. They marched, they hopped, they skipped, they stamped, they crept, they undulated; they moved in unison, in a line, in a column, in concentric circles, in parallel circles; they moved in a canon; they mirrored each other's rhythms in duets, trios, quartets, and so forth. They introduced accents and syncopations, then added expressions into the movement, displaying anger or delight when the teacher so instructed. Eventually students would add their own voices to the movement and construct "rhythmic dialogues" within the group (rhythmic gymnastics, unlike ballet training, is always a group activity). The exercise trajectory was always from the simple to the complex, so that rhythmic mastery nearly always implied a capacity to express multiple rhythms within the body simultaneously. The variety of such exercises was practically infinite, and Dalcroze liked nothing better than to compose hundreds of them, for he believed that the exercise, not the lecture or reading, was the key to effective learning.
But for Germans, a Gallic rationalism pervaded this approach. Dalcroze's idea of rhythm was too metrical, too mathematical. He linked all movements of the body to note values to produce synchronization of body and music; he had no concept at all of body movement performed against the rhythm of the music. Moreover, he showed far too little consideration for the relation between movement and musical values other than rhythm, such as tonality, harmony, and dynamics. And Dalcroze all too easily reduced the notion of expression to a simple correspondence between a vague, one-word category of emotion—such as fear—and a generic set of movements. The great weakness of exercise-driven instruction is that it makes students masters of fragments but hinders them from structuring actions in relation to a culminating point. In spite of his many compositions for the theatre, Dalcroze had little understanding of dramatic action; he understood parts but not the whole, and he really did not understand how a body could display mastery of ideas in movement without displaying much mastery of rhythmical movement. Moreover, Dalcroze scarcely considered space as a material value effecting bodily rhythm; space for him was pretty much an abstract category, a thing in a schematic diagram rather than a particular place for the body. In Der moderne Tanz (1921), Hans Brandenburg complained of an aesthetic that even before the war was losing adherents "through an evermore tortuous metricality, evermore convoluted and entangled rhythms, wherein neither the body nor music moves forward" and neither the body, nerves, nor mind acquires any strength (107). Brandenburg also criticized the use of archaic Grecian costumes in rhythmic gymnastics, and he denounced the excessively austere auditorium at Hellerau and the "pretentious" obsession (due to Appia) with lighting and luminosity at the expense of dramatic effects. For Dalcroze, what happened in the classroom tended to be far more interesting than what happened on the stage, but this attitude was not helpful in enhancing the public value of either dance or physical education.
Such criticisms were surely significant in urging Dalcroze, upon his return to Geneva, to focus his energies on the rhythmic education of children, which was also the focus of the Dalcroze-Bund in Germany. Yet Dalcroze was and remained a decisive, deeply respected figure in Germany, precisely because he showed how the teaching (perhaps more than the learning) of bodily movement was an intensely liberating expression of individuality. This was no small achievement, for it quickly became obvious that it was extremely difficult to pursue a life devoted to expressionist dance without also being a teacher. More than anyone before the war, Dalcroze established a pervasive didactic credibility for activities that, from a social (if not particularly public) perspective, even long after the war, might otherwise have seemed excessively aesthetic, mere narcissistic body worship.
Dalcroze looms over the relation between modernity and carnality in Germany before and after the war. Perhaps more than any other figure, he made it possible for modern dance to become the most powerful contribution of Weimar body culture. I have hardly provided a comprehensive analysis of the intellectual-cultural context in which peculiar manifestations of body culture, especially dance, emerged, for I have ignored much evidence from psychology, sexology, race theory, physiognomic theory, feminism, eugenics, medicine, social hygiene, literature, painting, graphic arts, film, fashion, sculpture, theatre, and music. I intend to use some of this evidence in analyzing the German modern dance culture, but I do not want an obsessive preoccupation with the context of German body culture to deflect attention away from a major consequence of that context. A new view of modern German perceptions of the body and identity requires examination of hitherto neglected yet revelatory sources of information. These sources lead us to four principal conclusions. First, a powerful dance culture emerged in German society during the modernist era because that society displayed an unusually intense preoccupation with the body as a redemptive sign of a deep, or metaphysical, identity. Second, they show that the cognitive-cultural context that made such preoccupation possible was not reducible to a single or dominant set of ideas, personalities, or events. What dominated the body-consciousness of modernist Germany was the notion of modernity in relation to carnality. Many ideas about the body never intersected with each other or achieved universal circulation, and many fascinating and influential theories about the body came from people who are today quite obscure but whose thinking was readily accessible to audiences of that time. Third, the continuity between Wilhelmine and Weimar body culture was much stronger than one might suppose when one interprets, as so often happens, Weimar culture almost entirely in relation to a set of immediate, violent political events, such as the war, the November Revolution, and the turbulent adventures of the state. The continuity between Wilhelmine and Weimar body culture was actually much stronger than the continuity between Weimar and Nazi body culture. The war, of course, was by no means irrelevant to the production of body culture, but people in Germany thought about the body, regardless of whether the state thought about it. The Wilhelmine and Weimar states, more than any other, let them think about it, whereas the Nazi state emphatically did not. Fourth, the scale of the German discourse on modernity and carnality was vast, both in quantity of documentation and ideological ambition, and it involved an extraordinarily diverse range of participants, even if the driving force of the body culture was essentially middle class. A peculiarity of the personalities I have discussed so far was their determination to integrate body consciousness into a larger cultural framework: they crossed disciplines, ignored borders between art and science, sought to transcend clearly defined identities,
and were especially curious about zones of experience that were "between worlds." If anything is clear, it is that as one examines the body as a configuration of identity, identity becomes more ambiguous than authentic.
But the context, as I have presented it, does not explain why Germany was a favored site for such an immense discourse on the body. The answer does not depend entirely or even mostly on analysis of historical events; one can as well argue that attitudes toward the body are responsible for historical events as vice versa. It requires a semiotic analysis of distinctive features of the German language, features that bestow a unique power of perception (and a distrust of perception) with regard to forms, bodies, and appearances. Great anxieties and ecstasies must seem embedded in the need to name "authentic" forms or form "authentic" names, the need to produce an ecstatic unity of internal and external conditions of being in which, as Novalis remarked, "the world-state is the body." The problem is primarily cognitive, and I do not think we should remain excessively skeptical of the many German theorists of body culture who kept insisting that the value of their subject actually lay deep within the body. But such an analysis of language and its power to construct identities is not within my skill and demands a much deeper mind than mine. My chief concern is to show how dance was the most powerful, complex, and memorable manifestation of German body culture. It is not possible for dance to achieve such unprecedented vitality outside of such a convoluted and, indeed, dark context. Dance offers perhaps the most startling and revelatory challenges to a culture's perception of the body. Moreover, the context, as a cognitive-cultural phenomenon, is primarily synonymous with theories of body culture, and it seems largely devoid of participation by women. But this perception is misleading. One may lament the marginalization of women's contribution to Weimar film, literature, music, philosophy, fine arts, architecture, medicine, law, and science; but in the realms of dance and physical education women achieved such a large measure of expression, both theoretically and practically, that it is necessary to argue that a deep preoccupation with the body as the secret of identity is not altogether a feminine mode of being. That women overwhelmingly chose these disciplines over others may have to do with a great desire, shaped by gender politics, to expose the limitations of language and signification governing those disciplines. These women responded to a context that was not entirely of their own making, and their success in shaping that context means that they were by no means content to regard their insights or their identities as a fate determined either by sex or by gender.