At home in exile: co-creation and intellectual labor in a socialist group
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This dissertation examines forms of collaboration among a small group of German-speaking artists and intellectuals between 1911 and 1941, illuminating the mechanics and meaning of their life and work together. The group, which included the writers Karin Michaëlis, Walter Benjamin, and Bertolt Brecht, the actress Helene Weigel, and the dramaturge Margarete Steffin, had its roots in turn-of-the-century Vienna and in Weimar Berlin, but found its fullest expression in southern Denmark, where most of its members spent the first six years of their exile from Nazi Germany. It argues that because of their commitments to socialism and their relative disinterest in liberal notions of singular authorship, these figures devised a system of intellectual cooperation that included co-writing, conversation, criticism, correspondence, editorial intervention, and performative experimentation. It prioritized notions of labor, rigor, mutual obligation, and togetherness over more conventional concerns about accreditation and authorship. Rejecting a model based on sex and competition between "Brecht's women" or on an asymmetrical friendship between Brecht and Benjamin, this dissertation shows that, during their exile in the area of southern Denmark around the Svendborg Sound (1933-1939), the group developed a stable division of labor and a daily routine which resisted hierarchy to a significant degree. Reaching across their differences in gender, ethnicity, health- and exile-status, and across their differing understandings of socialism, this group strove for a unity that would make good use of their dissimilarities. They sometimes failed to achieve this, however, because of discriminatory habits of mind and behavior. Their lapses into sexism or anti-semitism necessarily complicate an understanding of their priorities and limits, delineating the boundaries of the group and illuminating the difficulties of pushing against the norms of the Europe of the 1930s. A repertoire of care that included conversation, leisure, and the giving of advice, help, and gifts smoothed the way for productive intellectual collaboration as well as a sustainable daily life on the Svendborg Sound. Thus, this project raises questions about the study of intellectual history beyond the study of ideas and texts to incorporate the social, material, and spatial realities of every day life.