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Thomas KohutA German Generation: An Experiential History of the Twentieth Century

Yale University Press, 2012

by Anna Fishzon on October 6, 2014

Thomas Kohut

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[Cross-posted from New Books in Psychoanalysis] Germans belonging to the generation born at the turn of the twentieth century endured staggering losses, many of which became difficult to mourn or even acknowledge: their parents in World War I, financial and physical security during the Weimar Republic, the racially pure utopian promise of the Third Reich, and likely several loved ones in the catastrophic final throes of World War II and the privation of the immediate postwar period.

Thomas Kohut, in his provocative and moving book, A German Generation: An Experiential History of the Twentieth Century (Yale University Press, 2012), argues that the Weimar-youth generation’s inability to work through these losses informed its members’ particular brand of anti-Semitism, enabling them to look away from the Holocaust and leading them to seek comfort in the collective, the Volksgemeinschaft  – initially in the Youth Movement, then the Reich Work Service, and finally the Free German Circle in their twilight years.  The turn to the collective not only compensated for loss but also impeded empathy for the plight of Jewish neighbors and engendered chronic optimism and psychic fragility.

Through an analysis of sixty-two oral history interviews condensed into six composites, Kohut argues for the importance of empathy (defined as thinking one’s way into the experience of another) for both history and the consulting room.  Empathy facilitates reparative mourning and guilt while its absence — as affect, social practice, and critical category – can have devastating, indeed genocidal, consequences.

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Robert StolzBad Water: Nature, Pollution & Politics in Japan, 1870-1950

October 2, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in East Asian Studies] Robert Stolz’s new book explores the emergence of an environmental turn in modern Japan. Bad Water: Nature, Pollution & Politics in Japan, 1870-1950 (Duke University Press, 2014) guides readers through the unfolding of successive eco-historical periods in Japan. Stolz charts the transformations of an “environmental unconscious” lying at the foundation of [...]

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Kwasi KonaduTransatlantic Africa, 1440-1888

September 30, 2014

Most of what we know about the trans-Atlantic slave trade–particularly before the nineteenth century–comes from documents produced by slavers and those Europeans and euro-Americans who interacted with them. Most, but, as Kwasi Konadu points out in Transatlantic Africa, 1440-1888 (Oxford University Press, 2014), not all. It is possible, Konadu shows, to construct a narrative of the slave experience [...]

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David WrightDowns: The History of a Disability

September 30, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in Medicine] David Wright‘s 2011 book Downs: The History of a Disability (Oxford University Press, 2011), offers readers a history that stretches far beyond the strictly defined genetic disorder that is its namesake. Wright shows us how the condition that came to be known as Down’s syndrome has as much to do with the [...]

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Todd A. HenryAssimilating Seoul: Japanese Rule and the Politics of Public Space in Colonial Korea, 1910-1945

September 21, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in East Asian Studies] Todd Henry’s new book is a wonderful study of public space as a laboratory for producing the experiences and engines of colonial society. Assimilating Seoul: Japanese Rule and the Politics of Public Space in Colonial Korea, 1910-1945 (University of California Press, 2014) explores the forms of spatialization of colonial Keij? as a [...]

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Edward E. BaptistThe Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

September 8, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in American Studies] An unflinching examination of the trauma, violence, opportunism, and vision that combined to create the empire for slavery that was the Old South, Ed Baptist‘s new book The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (Basic Books, 2014) challenges popular conceptions of that region that imagine it as [...]

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John TreschThe Romantic Machine: Utopian Science and Technology after Napoleon

September 5, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in Science, Technology, and Society] John Tresch’s beautiful new book charts a series of transformations that collectively ushered in a new cosmology in the Paris of the early-mid nineteenth century. The Romantic Machine: Utopian Science and Technology after Napoleon  (University of Chicago Press, 2012) narrates the emergence of a new image of the machine, a [...]

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Ovamir AnjumPolitics, Law, and Community in Islamic Thought: The Taymiyyan Moment

August 22, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in Islamic Studies] In Politics, Law, and Community in Islamic Thought: The Taymiyyan Moment (Cambridge University Press, 2012), Ovamir Anjum explores a timely topic, even though his focus is hundreds of years in the past. In order to present his topic Professor Anjum asks a series of foundational questions, such as: How have Muslims understood ideal government [...]

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David B. DennisInhumanities: Nazi Interpretations of Western Culture

August 8, 2014

I occasionally teach Western Civilization and you may have taken it in college. We all know the drill: Greeks-Romans-Dark Ages-Middle Ages-Renaissance-Reformation-Scientific Revolution-Enlightenment-Romanticism-Modernity. Or something like that. I teach Western Civilization as a “march of ideas”: Reason, Beauty, Freedom, Equality, Justice (caps intended) and the like. This way of telling the tale is sort of Whiggish, [...]

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David N. LivingstoneDealing with Darwin: Place, Politics, and Rhetoric in Religious Engagements with Evolution

August 6, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in Science, Technology, and Society] David N. Livingstone’s new book traces the processes by which communities of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that shared the same Scottish Calvinist heritage engaged with Darwin and Darwinians in different local contexts. Dealing with Darwin: Place, Politics, and Rhetoric in Religious Engagements with Evolution (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014) locates [...]

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