- Fabricating Pleasure: Fashion, Entertainment, and Cultural Consumption in Germany, 1780–1830
Karin Wurst takes fashion seriously. The dissemination of modern mentalities evident in new discourses on entertainment during the German Sattlezeit forms the central focus of her recent book. She seeks to explore the "multiple layers of discourse, meanings, practices, and codes that fabricate the discourses of pleasure" and relates them to the formation of upper-middle class identity (xxv). Based on her readings of such classic writers as Goethe and Schiller, as well as fashion magazines, travel accounts, novels, and plays, Wurst argues that a new emphasis on entertainment and an expansion of cultural activities emerged in the decades between 1780 and 1830. She expands her study on cultural life to material, domestic, and visual culture—fashion and the magazines and illustrations that supported it, dinner parties, landscape gardens, resorts, and theatrical performances—to argue that middle-class lifestyle extended beyond the Habermasian model that underscored the central role of literature and critical discourse. She concludes that varied forms of cultural entertainment, understood as the desire for novelty and stimulation, and the consumption associated with them fostered a "consensus-based modern hegemonic social order" (350-351).
The first chapters in Wurst's interdisciplinary study feature theoretical and historiographical discussions that place her work among literary scholars and cultural historians. She employs the term, "cultural consumption" to associate the symbolic and socioeconomic aspects of middle class lifestyle with the dynamic of entertainment. Concerned with material artifacts and the discourses that gave them significance, she argues against a binary model of culture and emphasizes such multifaceted cultural practices as fashion, traditionally overlooked or maligned by scholars. She also distinguishes between the emergence of the middle class and the ongoing process of differentiation within the middle class. She asserts that there were two "waves" in the "fluid construction of middle-class identity," one that distinguished the middle class from the nobility and another consisting of "interaclass differentiation in which the members of the different communities within the middle class define themselves in contrast to each other (23)." According to Wurst, leisure and entertainment were central to this process and women played an especially important role in the work [End Page 224] of cultural consumption. Furthermore, she contends that the notion of entertainment shifted among the middle class from an Enlightenment oriented rational and useful site for self-improvement and self-education to an occasion for self-actualization. As other studies on the middle class, she highlights individualism as a key attribute to the emerging bourgeois culture. Pleasure is defined as a "quality of experience" derived from entertainment that individuals seek to repeat as frequently as possible (59). Thus, she positions middle-class leisure, pleasurable pursuits, and cultural consumption as central to the formation of unique individualistic lifestyles.
Print culture forms the backbone of this study, and the Journal des Luxus und Moden is drawn on repeatedly as both a text and an indicator of new values associated with cultural consumption. Unfortunately, Wurst does not fully introduce or analyze the journal and its content until the second third of the book. Her discussion of fashion, however, is very broad and includes dress, domestic environment, and the body. Ultimately, she concludes that fashion generated a nexus of print culture, luxury items, entertainment, and a discourse on economic development that structured and defined the middle class. The final two chapters feature various forms of sociability, including domestic entertaining, gardens, leisure travel and spas, the theatre, as well as panoramas and dioramas—all representative of new middle-class lifestyles.
Wurst raises many intriguing points in her study and draws together histories of culture and society, fashion and material culture, and visual and literary analyses. A project this ambitious is bound to have some weaknesses. Interdisciplinary works require crisp and clear prose, and in this case, effective editing would have improved the book. Too many threads run through chapter sub-sections that remain unbound. Although many of her examples and citations are very interesting, they seem...