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Friedrich Sieburg, "Worshipping Elevators" (1926)

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What America produces in the way of artistic and moral values comes from the pariahs of the country, the Negroes, Jews, and Germans. They are persecuted and oppressed, and deprived, with justice, of the title of a one-hundred-percent American.

What in the world drives a portion of Berlin’s literati to admire these people, to write millionaire dramas, to adorn boxers with halos, to depict Canadian lumber traders, to worship elevators, to prattle on about steel rhythms, to kneel before the General Motors Company? A writer nearly burst into tears because he heard a song on a gramophone in which the singers said “Tyenaseee” instead of Tennessee. Why is this? What does he say when he hears “Laipzch” instead of Leipzig? Is a new romanticism being born here? Should [Peter] Rosegger or [Arthur] Achleitner be repressed? Perhaps country boys and girls are putting on airs, and maybe the tuxedo no longer suggests a contrast. This is how we begin now: “McCormick reached for the telephone and, with an iron expression on his face, ordered the twelve train cars with wheat for Ohio off onto dead-end tracks.” I do not see the alternatives being between an ideology that throws a certain human type—the peasant—into relief and opens the way to general admiration and one which idealizes motors, elevators, and businessmen at the expense of other human and figurative values. Without denying that a skyscraper and a forest both have their aesthetic value, I still do not agree that they are particularly to be recommended as ideal symbols. The so-called Americanization of the world is certainly not yet an established fact.

Such unfamiliarity with the world is expressed in this engineer romanticism, which does not understand the workings of a carburetor and therefore hears the breath of our time in the pounding of six cylinders. Where one once wore velvet skirts and loose neckties, one now goes around in a leather jacket. I see no difference. It is astounding that a writer of animal stories, Charles Robert, is celebrated and by exactly the same people who make fun of [Hermann] Löns, who is certainly no worse. Germany will soon make a place for the stories of [Thomas Henry] Marshal and [James Oliver] Curwood in which disillusioned amateur hunters gather up virginal daughters of millionaires, drape them over their horses, and gallop off to the preacher. And they will be taken seriously for the reason that they take place in New Brunswick and not on the Luneberg heath.

The machine need not be an enemy, nor should it be an object of worship. It has released other powers, but has created no new ones. The machine can be understood and, to the mechanic, is not a mystical object. Why then for the writers? How can something learnable inspire reverence? One looks with regret at the replacement of Hölderlin’s Greece by America just because some people do not know what happens on the wheat exchange in Chicago or inside an electrical power plant.

Source of English translation: Friedrich Sieburg, “Worshipping Elevators” (1926), in The Weimar Republic Sourcebook, edited by Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, and Edward Dimendberg. © 1994 Regents of the University of California. Published by the University of California Press, pp. 402-04. Reprinted with permission of the University of California Press.

Source of original German text: Friedrich Sieburg, “Anbetung von Fahrstühlen,” Die literarische Welt 2, no. 30 (July 23, 1926), p. 8.

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