Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Catholic Poetics

Catholic Formalist Thought (Formdenken) and Plans for Catholic Literature after the World Wars

Dr. des. Sebastian Susteck, Christine Lienau


Among the cultural lines of demarcation dividing Germany in the 19th and early 20th century and which today have for the most part faded, there was the the border between Protestantism and Catholicism. The nearly complete (self-)exclusion of Catholics from the social elite and “the Protestantizing of public life” (Thomas Ruster) in the 19th century shaped German society. So did Catholic attempts – observable as of 1890 (approximately) and specifically escalating in 1914 and 1918 -- to produce a new connection with the national-liberal majority culture which lasted into the 1950s. Although parallel connections have been studied intensively both by historians and sociologists, they have received less attention in the field of literature. This is all the more astounding inasmuch as Catholic thought to a substantial degree is aesthetic thought, the attraction of which is based on an adherence to form and order. What Catholicism offers is form, which embraces the interpretation of history as well as the organization of the social life-world and thereby provides a basis for (in the narrow sense) literary and artistic endeavors.

This project investigates the “Catholic endeavor” -- i.e., the attempt to affect the formation of culture from within Catholicism – as an aesthetic effort. It focuses thereby on the decades after the world wars in which a revaluation of Catholicism was taking place, not only in the self-perception of the Catholic milieu but from in general perception of society. While in the Weimar years a crisis of the Protestant state and state idea appeared to open up a space that had to be filled by something Catholic, after the Second World War there was a German, indeed “Western” catastrophe which could only be processed in the categories of salvation history made available by Catholic thought. Conceptual interactions formed particularly in the 1920s and 1950s to the extent that these were connected (in the case of the latter) to the Weimar period. A debate was carried out with the fundamental principles of Catholic formalist thought – often inspired by Thomism --  as well as with the Catholic literary projects of the time, which are mostly forgotten today and which have resonated little in the field of literature.

In addition, extrapolating from the sources poses particular challenges. Since Catholic discourse after 1918 and 1945 is chiefly articulated in periodicals, unfolding there dialogically “in speech and counter-speech” (Ulrich Bröckling), to research it presupposes that one has an overview of the periodicals landscape. For this purpose, we are carrying out a review and indexing of the serials, their authors, themes and debates. The general culture journals of Catholicism will be considered as well as the journals of the Catholic “movements” and the specific literary journals of Catholicism.