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Disability in Twentieth-Century German Culture

Carol Poore

Publication Year: 2007

Comprehensively researched, abundantly illustrated and written in accessible and engaging prose . . . With great skill, Poore weaves diverse types of evidence, including historical sources, art, literature, journalism, film, philosophy, and personal narratives into a tapestry which illuminates the cultural, political, and economic processes responsible for the marginalization, stigmatization, even elimination, of disabled people---as well as their recent emancipation. ---Disability Studies Quarterly "A major, long-awaited book. The chapter on Nazi images is brilliant---certainly the best that has been written in this arena by any scholar." ---Sander L. Gilman, Emory University "An important and pathbreaking book . . . immensely interesting, it will appeal not only to students of twentieth-century Germany but to all those interested in the growing field of disability studies." ---Robert C. Holub, University of Tennessee Disability in Twentieth-Century German Culture covers the entire scope of Germany's most tragic and tumultuous century---from the Weimar Republic to the current administration---revealing how central the notion of disability is to modern German cultural history. By examining a wide range of literary and visual depictions of disability, Carol Poore explores the contradictions of a nation renowned for its social services programs yet notorious for its history of compulsory sterilization and eugenic dogma. This comprehensive volume focuses particular attention on the horrors of the Nazi era, when those with disabilities were considered "unworthy of life," but also investigates other previously overlooked topics including the exile community's response to disability, socialism and disability in East Germany, current bioethical debates, and the rise and gains of Germany's disability rights movement. Richly illustrated, wide-ranging, and accessible, Disability in Twentieth-Century German Culture gives all those interested in disability studies, German studies, visual culture, Nazi history, and bioethics the opportunity to explore controversial questions of individuality, normalcy, citizenship, and morality. The book concludes with a memoir of the author's experiences in Germany as a person with a disability. Carol Poore is Professor of German Studies at Brown University. Illustration: "Monument to the Unknown Prostheses" by Heinrich Hoerle © 2007 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn A volume in the series Corporealities: Discourses of Disability "Insightful and meticulously researched . . . Using disability as a concept, symbol, and lived experience, the author offers valuable new insights into Germany's political, economic, social, and cultural character . . . Demonstrating the significant ‘cultural phenomena' of disability prior to and long after Hitler's reign achieves several important theoretical and practical aims . . . Highly recommended." ---Choice

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Corporealities: Discourses of Disability

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xii


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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. xv-xxii

The goal of this book is to write disability into a central place in the German cultural history of the twentieth century. It is actually surprising that this has not been done before. After all, many leading artists, writers, filmmakers, and others have taken disability as one of their most significant themes. Intense debates have occurred in many sociopolitical contexts over how to interpret and evaluate particular kinds...

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1. Disability in the Culture of the Weimar Republic

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pp. 1-66

How did disabled people fit into the era of war and revolution, cultural experimentation, economic turmoil, and political crisis that was the Weimar Republic? What was old and what was new about the options open to them? On the one hand, many remained objects of charity or social outcasts. Some lived their lives as invalids hidden away by their...

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2. Disability and Nazi Culture

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pp. 67-138

During the Third Reich, cultural representations of disability and, in a broader sense, of illness constantly circulated. Along with anticommunist and anti-Semitic propaganda, national socialists created countless images of disabled people as the third major prong of their efforts to define the racial goals of their violent political movement. Their attacks on communism frequently presented “Bolsheviks” as subhuman...

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3. No Friends of the Third Reich: Different Views of Disability from Exile

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pp. 139-151

During the twelve years of the Third Reich, it was only in exile that Germans could publicly continue to profess a commitment to universal human equality and advocate adequate support for poor, disabled, and ill people. Since eugenics had found supporters across the political spectrum before 1933, however, very few exiled Germans opposed to...

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4. Disability in the Defeated Nation: The Federal Republic

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pp. 152-194

People with disabilities were the group on whom the national socialists attempted most intensely to enforce their distinctions between the sick and the healthy with the ultimate aim of eliminating the sick from the body of the German nation. Consequently, studying both the lives of disabled people and significant images of disability in postwar German...

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5. Breaking the Spell of Metaphor: Three Examples from Film, Literature, and the Media

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pp. 195-230

After the early 1970s, depictions of illness multiplied rapidly in Westand East German, Austrian, and Swiss literature, autobiography, film,and art. Within the framework of this development, certain illnessesseemed particularly well suited for portraying complex struggles overnormative discourses—whether about the psychic pressures...

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6. Disability and Socialist Images of the Human Being in the Culture of the German Democratic Republic

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pp. 231-272

The relationship of socialist theory and practice to the body, and speci‹cally to the disabled body, is fraught with contradictions. It is a complex story both of seeing and blocking from view; of susceptibility to eugenic, biologistic tendencies; and of compassionate, supportive perspectives rooted in a commitment to human equality. In telling this...

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7. Disability Rights, Disability Culture, Disability Studies

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pp. 273-306

Since the 1970s in the Federal Republic, and then in reunified Germany, many disabled people have increasingly insisted on self-determination and have achieved some notable successes in many areas. The disability rights movement has rejected the outdated view of disabled people as only needy and helpless, and it has worked toward empowering them to...

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8. German/American Bodies Politic: A Look at Some Current Biocultural Debates

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pp. 307-323

During the week of September 18–24, 2003, Berlin became the “City of 1,000 Questions.” A visitor at that time might have been surprised to see large projections on the city’s most prominent buildings with questions such as: “Where is the gene going?” “What if my child wants optimized parents?” “Does disability begin with the wrong hair color?” “Is there...

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9. We Shall Overcome Overcoming: An American Professor’s Reflections on Disability in Germany and the United States

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pp. 324-348

I am a professor of German studies at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Because I contracted polio at the age of three in the epidemic of 1952, I use crutches and wear leg braces. Over thirty-five yearsago I traveled to the Federal Republic of Germany for the first time,spending fifteen months there in 1970–71. Given my family background,...


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pp. 349-396

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 397-402

Index of Names

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pp. 403-407

E-ISBN-13: 9780472025312
E-ISBN-10: 0472025317
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472033812
Print-ISBN-10: 0472033816

Page Count: 432
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Corporealities: Discourses of Disability