Review of Manuel Borutta and Nina Verheyen (eds.), Die Präsenz der Gefühle: Männlichkeit und Emotion in der Moderne [The Presence of Emotions: Masculinity and Emotion in Modernity]
Recently, the social sciences have found a new interest in the history of emotions. This "emotional turn," as this epistemological shift has been called, examines the efficacious and contagious role of emotions in historical and socio-political processes. No longer is it assumed that modernity was born of a marriage of rational thinking and technological progress that marginalized and repressed the affective dimension of social life, but rather that it transformed and cultivated particular emotional expectations of its subjects, assigning to men and women different emotive qualities. The common perception that modernity imposed emotionless behavior on men and emotionality on women is, in the volume under review, both affirmed (by tracing it to the emerging bourgeois subject of the 1800s) and also critically evaluated. To claim that a gender-dualistic view of emotional attributions sufficiently characterizes modernity is, according to the volume's overall thesis, the result of failing to see that gender-duality is itself the result of particular historical processes. It is not so much that men in modernity are asked to renounce emotions than to embody particular emotional virtues which, as they transform over time, may be reduced to a narrow range of choices or subjected to specific social regiments. Modernity may have led to the impoverishment of men's emotional choices but it also has eventually given way to a wider range of expressiveness.
In Die Präsenz der Gefühle, the narrowing and widening of male affective expressiveness, both in the public and private realms, is illustrated by focusing on German history from the 1800s to the 1990s. While displaying emotional sensitivity was expected of men in early bourgeoisie, such an affective repertoire underwent a significant contraction in the late nineteenth century and eventually peaked in the habitus of "Sachlichkeit" of the early twentieth century. "Sachlichkeit," which might best be translated as a cold, functional, objective matter-of-factness, describes the behavior of the generations of men from 1914 to 1945. These are the men who fought, endured and witnessed two World Wars. As a masculine ideal, the "sachliche" generation found its most violently criminal outlet in the communal and emotional bonds of "Kameradschaft" (camaraderie) during the Second World War.
Most of the chapters of Die Präsenz der Gefühle go back to a 2007 conference of a working group on history and theory; hence, it is not surprising that most contributors are historians by training and profession, with a few authors coming from the fields of sociology, ethnography, religious studies, philosophy and educational sciences. The bulk of the volume consists of analyses of particular milieus and rhetorical situations in German history, probing the intersectionality of [page 115]masculine/gender theory and the history of emotions. Although the volume is very important for those who study German cultural history, scholars interested in critical issues of masculinity will—if they are able to read German—greatly benefit from working through these pages: for not only do the 13 chapters provide valuable insight into the generations of men that so shaped the darkest period of mid-twentieth century European history, but they also sparkle with theoretical sophistication.
The opening paragraph of the Foreword is worth quoting in length, for it establishes the framework for this fine volume.
The introductory essay by the editors, Borutta and Verheyen, provides a solid overview about the theoretical base of the "emotional turn" in history and how it can be fruitfully applied to an interdisciplinary investigation of masculinity. In regard to the history of emotions, Borutta and Verheyen (as well as other contributors) make repeated references to the works of English-speaking scholars Joanne Bourke, Catherine Lutz, Barbara Rosenwein, and Michelle Rosaldo as well as German authors Ute Frevert, Martina Kessel, Alexandra Przyembel and Daniela Saxer. This list of all-female scholars is complemented by German masculinity studies (e.g. Klaus Theweleit, Wolfgang Schmale, George Mosse, Thomas Kühne, Ernst Hanisch, Martin Dinges). Emotions, Borutte and Verheyen write, are composed of three essential components: they have a physiological dimension, a cognitive dimension (which is linked to normative discernment), and a cultural dimension, the latter of which is "expressed, modeled and represented … in social practices" (p. 17-18). With respect to social practices of masculinity, it is important to keep in mind the wide variety of acceptable male behavior around the globe, from the public lamentation of thirteenth-century Italian men to the public hand-holding of contemporary South Asian men. To lose sight of such global perspective might tempt scholars to make universal claims when studying culture-specific masculinities.
In regard to German masculinity, Borutta and Verheyen state that modern German history shows a "wavelike up and down of the production of masculine emotions," ranging from Friedrich Schlegel's proclaimed "soft masculinity" to the "hard and cold masculine models of the Wilhelmine Empire, the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich" and back again (or, better, forward) to "the construction of a rather soft and warm masculinity of the current federal republic" (p. 20).
These "wavelike" transformations are well represented in the chapters that follow. Andreas Reckwitz, for example, distinguishes between four phases that [page 116] transformed and produced different hegemonial forms of male emotionality: the sensitive sentimentality of early bourgeois morality ("empfindsame Bürgerlichkeit"); the production of gender-dualistic assignments of emotions during hegemonial bourgeoisie of the late nineteenth century (the rational masculine achiever vs irrationally emotive women); the radicalization of an emotion-deprived, cold masculinity ("Sachlichkeit") in the early twentieth century; and the emergence of a postmodern ideal of the emotional self in the 1960s and 1970s, which encouraged men not to repress but to cultivate their repertoire of emotionality.
Chapters that illuminate the transformation from early bourgeois sentimentality to the gender-rigidity of the nineteenth century include Catherine Newmark, who looks at the engendering of reasonable emotions that were valued as manly virtues (following Rousseau, Kant and others); Stefan-Ludwig Hoffman's study of intimate, non-sexual friendships among freemasons; and Ellinor Forster's empirical study of the spectrum of emotional expressiveness as gleaned from divorce documents of rural Tyrol.
The next three chapters address masculine behavioral ideals as they were formed and radicalized in the early part of the twentieth century. Nikolaus Buschmann traces the discourse on patriotic and political loyalty from 1848 to the Weimar Republic. He shows how the emergence of the German nation state went hand in hand with a German masculinity that relied on loyalty to the national community, on camaraderie, and on a fear-defying mentality that resulted in the cold matter-of-factness earlier described as "Sachlichkeit." Daniel Morat further pursues "Sachlichkeit" as an attitude that characterized German men in the Weimar Republic. Based on Helmut Lethen's extensive work on this issue (which Lethen called "Verhaltenslehre der Kälte" [behavioral teaching of coldness]), Morat interprets the code of "Sachlichkeit" not as one without emotion but, rather, as one that tries to combat and defy a strong emotion. "The incantation of a painless body machine," he writes, ultimately serves like a "magic charm" to defend oneself against "vulnerability" and to "manage a particular emotion: namely fear" (p. 165). This behavioral ideal eventually led to a male mentality of dissociation that the Nazi regime could exploit in their "brutalization of politics" (p. 169). It found its pinnacle in the "camaraderie" of the German Wehrmacht. Camaraderie, Thomas Kühne states in his chapter on "Tenderness and Cynicism," forged strong communal, male-male bonds among soldiers; it provided them the needed emotional sustenance and cohesion in order to maintain one's loyalty to the brutal fighting and the killing operations. "The 'human' face of Kameradschaft," Kühne concludes, "made bearable the 'inhuman' face of war and one's own participation in it" (p. 199).
The last four chapters speak to the post-1945 phase of transformation. Encouraged by countercultural movements, manly ideals emerged that rebelled against the masculine roles and ideologies of the fathers. It was the 1968 generation that led the charge against the father generation. Yet, as Aribert Reimann writes, these men remained caught in strong machismo culture under the banner of revolutionary zeal and sexual liberation. Similarly, the socialist ideals in the GDR, according to Sylka Scholz, remained in contradictory tension between the public praise of the socialist worker-hero and the increasing retreat into privacy, where a new image of tender fatherhood emerged. Benno Gammerl observes a widening of emotional expressiveness among homosexual men (in West Germany) in his [page 117] comparative analysis of personal ads from the 1960s and 1990s. These ads display little difference in terms of quantitatively measurable emotionality, Gammerl concludes, but qualitatively things changed a great deal, best summarized in the idiomatic change from seeking a "kindhearted comrade" (1960s) to a "tender boyfriend" (1990s) (p. 276). Finally, the spiritual and esoteric new age movement of the 1970s and 1980s, with its appeal to body therapy and personal transformation, encouraged German men to renew themselves by discovering their feminine self, speaking from their hearts, and integrating "intellect and intuition, heart and hand, head and belly" (p. 292).
With respect to the post-1945 phase of the emotional history of German masculinity, a chapter on the crucial 1950s is sorely missing in this otherwise excellent volume. After all, it is in this decade that the old and cold masculine ideals—which had peaked in the supremacist, racial ideology of Herrenmenschen (master race), but now found itself defeated and discredited—transitioned into moderately democratic and youthfully rebellious alternatives. This transformation, however, did not happen naturally or automatically. Rather, the 1950s culture managed to change national loyalty to the value of private fidelity by reestablishing a male-ruled household, in which men were the breadwinners and women the reproductive laborers. On the surface, normalcy and moral decency (Anständigkeit) reigned, but these only masked a subterranean geography of conflictual emotions.