PRINT December 2014


Diedrich Diederichsen

A decade ago, when Per Leo, a young German novelist, was organizing the books of his deceased grandfather, a former SS official, he made two piles: “cultural heritage” and “barbarism.” Yet Leo eventually found himself forced to create a third pile of texts that he could not definitively put into one or the other category—those by strange (anti-) modernist and anti-Semitic poets or cultural philosophers such as Ludwig Klages. So the research began for Der Wille zum Wesen (The Will to Essence) (Matthes & Seitz), a brilliant history of the ways in which the often lamented increasing anonymity in modern urban life in the nineteenth century brought forth all kinds of characterological theories and practices. Exploring the tension between (racist) stereotyping and modern psychology, Leo found a huge field occupied by of all kinds pseudosciences that were once, especially in the

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