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Eighteenth-Century Studies 35.4 (2002) 642-644



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Book Review

Making Sense of National Stereotyping:
Two New Comparative Studies

Jutta Birmele,
California State University, Long Beach


Ruth Florack, ed. Nation als Stereotyp. Fremdwahrnehmung und Identität in deutscher und französischer Literatur. Studien und Texte zur Sozialgeschichte der Literatur (Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag 2000). Pp 344. 84.00 paper.
Helmut Kuzmics, and Roland Axtmann. Autorität, Staat und Nationalcharakter. Der Zivilisationsprozeß in Österreich und England 1700-1900 (Opladen: Leske & Budrich, 2000). Pp 427. 34.90 paper.

Fascination with issues of national identity shows no signs of diminishing and the enormous complexity of the topic continues to leave ample room for scholarly studies, especially when they venture into new territory. Nation als Stereotyp and Autorität, Staat und Nationalcharakter share a comparative perspective, with the former investigating French and German manifestations of national identity, while the latter examines "the civilizing process in Austria and England" as the subtitle indicates. Here, however, the similarities by and large end. Nation als Stereotypis the work of literary scholars while the authors of Autorität, Staat and Nationalcharakter are sociologists.

The fourteen contributions to Nation als Stereotypconstitute the published results of the 1997 colloquium German-French Patterns of Perception and the Concept of National Identity in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century held [End Page 642] at the University of Stuttgart. The authors analyze a diverse group of texts covering the genres of literature, poetry, criticism, travel literature, medical treatises, periodicals and encyclopedias to identify reflections of national stereotypes: How do the Germans and the French perceive themselves, and what stereotypes do they attribute to their neighbors? The volume tracks those well-known characteristics that adhere to this day to the French and German national collective: on the French side, attributes of superficiality, irresponsibility, generosity, and social adeptness, while the Germans are supposedly "deep," upright, honorable, loyal, ill-bred, and socially inept. The studies show a remarkable persistence in these characteristics of stereotyping patterns over several hundred years, and they even endure through mechanisms of adaptation and transference in anthropological, sociological and psychological scholarly studies. However, the stereotypes do find their limits when their functional value is reduced or even counterproductive. There is clearly a difference between the use of stereotypes in comedies (for the entertainment value of recognizable and unexamined conventions) and reference to national characterizations in travel literature, for example, where at least "soft" verification, and therefore moderation, is required. Klaus Malettke in his essay on the perception of Germans in the Encyclopédie and Gérard Laudin in his discourse on journals such as L'Esprit des Journaux, Le Journal Encylopédique and La Gazette universelle de littératureprovide rather unbiased and balanced representations of German issues, since these publications served to inform the political class in France.

Political events and trends, such as the French Revolution or Danish-German rivalry tend to strengthen, politicize and legitimize the stereotyping. Sven-Aage Jørgensen's essay on perceptions of Germans in Denmark exemplifies this approach, which serves to bring forth another national perspective. In the concluding paper, Ruth Florack takes up the identification of national typecasting with gender roles, in which national fears and yearnings are expressed. While the volume offers no clearcut answers or summations, it fully succeeds as a repertory of the variety of sources that deserve examination in the phenomenon of national stereotyping. The wealth of useful notes and well-constructed methodological arguments make this a volume worth consulting.

Kuzmics' and Axtmann's ambitious study of English and Austrian "habitus," or the set of those elements that have become "second nature" in the social life of a nation, aims at tracking the historical stages in the formation of the Austrian national character vis-à-vis that of the English path towards becoming a civil nation. Given the considerable differences in the geopolitical background and the nature of the domestic populations in either country, the comparison is startling. It is apparent that the authors are largely indebted for their analytical and theoretical tools first to Norbert Elias and second...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-315X
Print ISSN
0013-2586
Pages
pp. 642-644
Launched on MUSE
2002-07-01
Open Access
No
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