Germany’s unique romanticism

“Romanticism took different forms in different national contexts but everywhere it was part of modernity. At its center stood the celebration of the self. In France and England, it partook of democratic and egalitarian traditions to a far greater degree than in Germany, where it combated such claims. No one understood this better than Thomas Mann. Commenting on the ‘melancholy history of German Innerlichkeit,’ he said that the ‘romantic counterrevolution against the Enlightenment’ had made decisive contributions to Weimar’s ‘old-new world of revolutionary reaction’ as well as to National Socialism. Speaking of Hitler’s Germany, he wrote that ‘there are not two Germanies, a good and an evil one, but only one, which through the cunning of the devil turned the best to the service of evil.’ National Socialism reconciled Innerlichkeit and modern technology. The reactionary modernists were German ideologists who selected from their own national traditions those elements that made these cultural reconciliations possible.”

The smartphone screen as railcar window

“With speed, there is quantitatively more for the brain to deal with. This is not specific to the railroad but part of modernity more broadly, including the rise of the city. The classical social theorist Georg Simmel described this urban perception as an ‘intensification of nervous stimulation,’ as opposed to slow, lasting impressions which ‘use-up, so to speak, less consciousness than does the rapid crowding of changing images.’ The modern condition was thought of as a general onslaught of things to pay attention to, newly positioning the urban railroad-riding individual as a kind of spectator to an existence slipping quickly by.

The railroad positioned the world for the traveler as some thing passing, distant, to be taken as scenery framed by a cabin window. Schivelbusch expands on philosopher Dolf Sternberger’s description of this way of seeing as a ‘panoramic vision,’ a view that foregrounds the back—the passenger barely noticing that which is most near, reduced to an incon sequential blur by rapidity—and detaches the passenger from this space immediately surrounding the train car. Opposed to slower travel, where the passing landscape can be lingered upon and seen in great detail, railway speed produced a panoramic vision where the landscape is not seen for as long or intensively, its particularities are instead taken in as a part of an ongoing flow instead of discreetly. Always quickly vanishing, the landscape becomes more impressionistic, evanescent; panoramic vision is seeing the world as montage. This panoramic vision produced by the rapid succession of imagery is a useful way to frame the contemporary type of vision that social photography encourages, both in how we make and consume the images. The social photo is often viewed through the grid, stream, or story to be finger-scrolled, swiped, and tapped. The images in their proliferation and rapidity create an emergent stream in aggregate, and for the person doing the swiping, there is a more panoramic view of social life, akin to the montaged scenery from the train window.”