The “Double Life” of Gottfried Benn

Joseph Frank

in Responses to Modernity

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780823239252
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823239290 | DOI:
The “Double Life” of Gottfried Benn

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One of the most striking phenomena of German literature during the postwar period is the sudden rise to prominence of Gottfried Benn, who published his first book—a volume of brutal, Expressionist poems called Morgue—in 1912. Curiously enough, it is not his poetry that has catapulted him into notoriety. Since the end of the war, Benn has published a series of prose works of indistinct genre, somewhere between dialogue, novel, and personal essay. Among these works, he has included a species of spiritual autobiography, published in 1950 under the title Doppelleben (Double Life), the first part of which was written in 1934 under the impact of Adolf Hitler's accession to power in Germany. Benn's fragments are a violent vindication of metaphysical aestheticism as a valid and inevitable expression of the crisis of modern culture. Benn, who concedes that Klaus Mann and the other literary émigrés may have correctly diagnosed the diabolic evil of Nazism, has today become the apostle of what he calls Doppelleben: “a conscious splitting up of personality.”

Keywords: Gottfried Benn; German literature; poetry; Morgue; Double Life; Adolf Hitler; Nazism; Germany; metaphysical aestheticism; Doppelleben

Chapter.  1912 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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