GHDI logo

Rudolf Kayser, "Americanism" (1925)

page 2 of 3    print version    return to list previous document      next document

Americanism thus appears as the strongest opponent of romanticism, which sought to flee worldliness. It is the natural enemy of all distraction from the present, whether through a backward-looking conception of history, through the mystical, or through intellectualism. Americanism is very northern, clear, and secure; it billows with a seawind. It has a strong and exact relation not only to the exactness of a machine, organization, economy but also to nature. It does not experience nature as a symbol of subjective feelings or as a Rousseauian idyll but as the mightiest and most extravagent reality, which people do not face, but in which and with which they live. This new experience of nature reverberates most strongly in the books by Knut Hamsun, as in the Scandinavian character in general—one thinks too of Johannes V. Jensen—he is very close to Americanism (which Robert Müller likewise emphasized). But it is Prussian in its sober technical methods and reaches down into the Latin countries insofar as clarity of form and rationalism are at issue. Nothing, however, is more foreign and bygone to Americanism than the old Russian East, its fatigue and passivity. Americanism hates unfruitful passions, the unplumbable depths of the soul, and a stifling, deadening religiosity. Only in the world of reality does it find a worthy test for humanity.

Marcel Proust’s declaration, “Toute action de l’esprit est aisée, s’il n’est pas soumise au réel,”* is casily understood by Americanism (and, incidentally, understood in the sense of the American philosophy of pragmatism). But Paul Valéry’s elevation of architecture to an ideal—not in the sense of classical laws of form but by virtue of the experience of building and statics—also contains a recognition, despite the writer’s formal strictness and musicality, of reality. Perhaps, though, the proximity of these two Frenchmen to Americanism is controversial. Its literary inroads become clearer in cases of writers who consciously turn away from tradition in their desire to create a new world in a new form out of the radical experience of the immediate present, for example, the epic writers Alfred Döblin and Ilya Ehrenburg. Their novels are carried by the experience of collectivism; they are visions bursting with vitality and monumental legends of the present. Electrical centers explode into action and send their energy waves through the mechanized world. In the most recent Parisian literary fashion, Surrealism, the attempt is made to reduce this new experience of reality—a near total opposite of the old biological–romantic naturalism—to a theoretical formula.

*“All action of the spirit is easy, if it is not subordinated to the real.”

first page < previous   |   next > last page