The Centre of an Imaginative Whirlpool: Nosferatu and Weimar Culture – Part 1
The Original Goth – German Expressionism, Nosferatu, and Film Noir
“I read that every known superstition in the world is gathered into the horseshoe of the Carpathians, as if it were the centre of some sort of imaginative whirlpool; if so my stay may be very interesting.” – Bram Stoker, Dracula
What were, if any, the cultural and psychological undercurrents in German Expressionism that expressed the dichotomy between the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler? In the years between World War I and II, from roughly 1919 to 1929, the fledging and the short-lived Weimar Republic in Germany witnessed an extraordinary flourishing of philosophy, arts, and sciences. According to Bollucks (2010), professor of English at UW-Milwaukee, the Weimar Republic was “remarkable for the way it emerged from a catastrophe, more remarkable for the way it vanished into a still greater catastrophe, the world of Weimar represents modernism in its most vivid manifestation” (Wikipedia, n. p.). In addition, some have termed the art movement at this time in Germany, German Expressionism. However, this movement was also evident throughout Europe.
Also, with such a thriving of art, science, and culture, how is it that a Hitler could have arisen in such a milieu? What were the cultural and psychological undercurrents in the collective unconscious that could account for such an apparent dichotomy? More specifically, what were the stated or unstated beliefs of blood and race that shaped the Weimar romantic imagination to produce the string of horror and noir films such as, The Cabinet of Dr. Cagliari, The Golem, Faust, Waxworks, and Nosteratu? How much were such works influenced by the fear of Eastern Europeans; Jews and gypsies in particular?
Finally, and more broadly speaking, why have these fascinations persisted in our psyche and popular culture today? What are the whys, ways, and means of our need to produce monsters? Is there a repeated process, a technology of monster making; of monstrosity? Is this our need to project the alien “Other,” or our shadow? Or is it, as Nelson (2001) posits in The Secret Life of Puppets, the only acceptable way of our rational, Enlightenment selves to allow the eruption and consumption of the supernatural:
The way larger mainstream culture, via works of imagination instead of official creeds, subscribes to a nonrational, supernatural, quasi-religious view of the universe: pervasively, but behind our own backs. Consuming art forms of the fantastic is only one way that we as nonbelievers allow ourselves, unconsciously to believe. (p. vii)
Are the gothic and fantasy genres our method of individuation; our preferred, acceptable method of integrating the rational and irrational? I believe that the answer to all of the above is, “yes” and these are the questions that I will explore in further depth.
In a series of posts, I will show that by reflecting the themes of menace, Germany’s romantic past, the recent humiliation of war, and the liminal space of dreams, fantasy and reality, F. W. Murnau’s 1922 film, Nosferatu: eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror) (2007) captures the unique historical imagination of the Weimar Republic and in turn reflects our continuing need for reconciling the zeitgeist of the times with the spirit of the depths. I will also examine the Dracula vampire phenomenon in later posts.
References (for the German Expressionism entire series)
Dawidziak, M. (2008). The bedside, bathtub, and armchair companion to Dracula. New York: Continuum.
Eliade, M. (1959). The sacred and the profane: The nature of religion. New York: Harcourt, Brace.
Eliade, M. (1961). Images and symbols: Studies in religious symbolism. New York: Sheed & Ward.
Elsaesser, T. (2000). Weimar cinema and after: Germany’s historical imaginary. London: Routledge.
Gombrich, E. H. (1964). The Story of Art, By E.H. Gombrich. London: Phaidon Press.
Jung, C. G. (2009). The red book =: Liber novus. (S. Shamdasani, Ed.) New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
McDonald, B. (2010). Recreating the world: The sacred and the profane in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In J. Lynch, Critical insights Dracula by Bram Stoker (pp. 87-137). Pasadena, CA: Salem.
Moss, S. (1998). Bram Stoker and the Society for Psychical Research. In E. Miller, Dracula: The shade and the shadow (pp. 82-92). Trowbridge: Desert Island Books.
Murnau, F. W. (Director). (2007). Nosferatu [Motion Picture]. Kino International Corporation.
Nelson, V. (2001). The secret life of puppets. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Roberts, I. (2008). German expressionist cinema: The world of light and shadow. London: Wallflower Press.
Stoker. (1997). Dracula: Authoritative text, contexts, reviews and reactions, dramatic and film variations, criticism. (N. Auerbach, & D. J. Skal, Eds.) New York: W. W. Norton.
Stoker, B. (2009). Bram Stoker’s Dracula: A documentary journey into vampire country and the Dracula phenomenon. (E. Miller, Ed.) New York: Pegasus Books.
Wikipedia. (2010). Weimar Culture. Retrieved 12 4, 2010, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weimar_culture