Jan 17, 2013

Summer 1981: Male Nudity in German Class

After the 1978 of Grease, my favorite Boomer summer was the summer of 1981. I went to an Italian Film Festival, moved into my own apartment, learned about the Canterbury Tales and the Beat Generation, and saw a dozen movies: Clash of the Titans, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Wolfen, Arthur, American Werewolf in London, Hell Night, The Chosen.  Not to mention TV: One Day at a Time, Alice, Taxi, Soap, Barney Miller. And  subtext songs on the radio.

Every morning I worked in the college library, checking out books and scouring the shelves for works that my American, British, and French literature professors left out. Everyafternoon, I took summer school classes: Chaucer in June-July and Culture and Civilization of Modern Germany in July-August.

When I took Introduction to German Literature a few months before, Dr. Weber tried hard to prove that Death in Venice had nothing to do with gay people.  But now the gloves were off: Homosexualitat absolutely, emphatically, did not exist in 20th century Germany.

Photographer Wilhelm van Gloeden (1856-1931) moved to Taormina,, Sicily, where he specialized in placing local men and boys in classical settings with pillars and laurel leaves, usually nude, channeling the homoerotic glory of ancient Rome. According to Dr. Weber, he was trying to evoke the military might of ancient Rome as a model for Germany's future. No Homosexualitat.










What about Stefan George (1868-1933), who became obsessed with an adolescent named Maximilian Kronberger?   When the boy died of meningitis on the day after his sixteenth birthday in 1904, George wrote a series of poems, The Seventh Ring (1907)which described their encounter as that of a mortal meeting a god (in Dante's Inferno, the seventh "ring" of hell  is inhabited by sodomites).  Eventually the "Cult of Maximin" drew a circle of gay artists and writers.

According to Dr. Weber, Maximin represented the symbolist quest for beauty for its own sake.  No Homosexualitat.





What about the physical culture movement, a celebration of the male body, often nude, a fascination with gymnastics, boxing, and track and field, arguably the origin of modern athletics?  (Franz Kafka, author of The Metamorphosis, was a devotee).


Dr. Weber: the glorification of male bodies was a remedy to the feminization of German culture among the symbolists.  No Homosexualitat.





At least he Said the Word several times.


He didn't tell us about Der Eigene, the first gay magazine in the world, published from 1896 to 1932.  An offshoot of the physical culture movement, it had over 1500 subscribers and contributors like Thomas Mann and Wilhelm von Gloeden.