Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sex After Fascism

Sex After Fascism: Memory and Morality in Twentieth-Century Germany by Dagmar Herzog

Very interesting work here. Takes a partial cultural history of German life, specifically focusing on the forms of sexuality at different points in the twentieth century. The main argument is that, contrary to the common view, Nazi Germany was not sexually repressive for "pure" Germans. In fact, Herzog documents a lot of evidence and recollection that suggests hypersexuality as a component of the Third Reich. While the Nazi movement gained electoral appeal in part by offering conservative social mores against the Weimar "decadence", once in power birth control flourished, and sex before or beyond marriage was seen as partial of the racial perogative. In part this reinterpretation is part of a continuing rebuke of the old view of Nazi Germany as a totalitarian state, as a polity where the German populace was margainalized, terrorized and restricted. Instead, there’s clear indication here that repression for the poor and racial Others went hand in hand with priviledges for the racial elite, that forced sterilization and genocide went hand by hand with a loosening of prior middle-class sexual norms. Along witht he glorification of the physical body was the glorification of certain types of pleasure, seen as part of the expresion of the Aryan community, and a general disadain for reliance on bourgeoise conventions.

Even more interesting is the story of how this tradition was developed in postwar Germany, with the highly conservative sexual focus of the Adenaur government and then in the ’60s student activism invented the notion of a sexually repressive Nazi past. It’s an engaging narrative with lots of interesting detail and a fascinating central argument. At times Herzog seems to be overstating the case for the sake of contrast, and like many historians her incorporation of the GDR into this historical theme is rather partial and unconvincing. Overall it’s a fascinating work, however, featuring the ongoing major historiographical debates and the way new venues can be opened by focsuing in on erotics.

Better than: Women and the Nazi East by Elizabeth Harvey
Worse than: Sweeping the German Nation by Nancy Reagin

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