Revolutionizing Weimar Germany's Public Sphere

Step 3: Read and Look!

Step 3: Now let's take Tucholsky's accompanying essay of the "Foreword" into account:

Tucholsky addresses directly the binary between individuality and group culture in his essay, tying in the issue of photography and its presumed authenticity. Photographs can blur the lines between the private and the public sphere. The first photo can be typical for the “upper middle-class” (GG 3) while it is also “private” (GG 3), showing individuals as Tucholsky marks by providing placeholders, for their individual names “Mr. A, and Mr B and C and D with their ladies” (GG 3). The danger to categorize these individuals as types for a specific social class lies not only in the openness of the photograph to be interpreted one way or another. A textual component that could provide clarification to the visual ambiguity also carries a risk due to its irreversible unequivocalness. Once a citizen or worker, who is not part of public life, is photographed and then “captioned,” in a way that she becomes and represents her social class, it can also lead to a mishap and even legal complications that would threaten the publication of GG (3). Hence, Tucholsky directly appeals to his readers that he will provide contextualizations for GG's photos — despite the preface’s title about the impossibility to write text for a photograph in order to find the typical within them, “the typical” (3). Even the font for “the typical” is changed in the third to last paragraph of the “Foreword,” making it stand out and underline Tucholsky’s goal to provide a profile of Germany, not leaving out the “maggots” (3) like so many photo books about Germany did at the time (12). 

While this direct appeal that he will not invade the individual’s private sphere is certainly influencing the readers’ mindset, there are two additional ways Tucholsky is educating his reader, so as to not being a mass-consumer who just briefly looks at photographs while moving on to reading the accompanying text. The first way is the focus on the reader’s body and senses. With appellative commands, using the imperative “Look!” (3) (much like me asking you to Stop Reading! Look!) and directly addressing the reader with the informal “du/you,” Tucholsky aims to foster a very personal interaction of the reader with the photographs. It goes so far that the reader is told not to just look at a photo for several minutes, but to crawl (“hineinkriechen”) into a photograph (2). This goes beyond a critical stance of a reader just looking and observing. The reader’s crawling, aligning her with an infant that is, like her, also still learning or an animal, will lead to the images talking back, as Tucholsky claims. However, the reader will not learn any facts, but learn about the subjects, their emotions and mindsets. By casting his readers as infants or animals paired with an emphasis on using their senses, Tucholsky underlines that his readers do not need an intellectual approach in order to understand images. This way anyone, high or low class, literate or illiterate has a chance and ability to understand what they see.

In fact, once a reader immerses herself in a photograph, these will “speak” and deliver messages that are part of an endless stream of visual messages — similar to the mass media’s constant output of content (2). There is a flood of images, a “unending picture book — Germany” (2) coming at his readers. In one long sentence, Tucholsky lists what can be seen in these images: the list moves from people and their various personal characteristics, to their economical status — focusing on the millions of workers — and finally to places, starting with the workers’ houses, which Tucholsky does not place within cities. In his idyllic imagery, the workers’ houses are surrounded by “fields (2). Workers, as GG will show in text and image, usually lived in tight quarters within a city. The list of places continues then with references to both landscapes and public buildings:

This long sentence and its endless list of places, marked by an ellipsis in the end, ends neither with a natural space, nor with an artificial one, but with one of imagination: the movie theater. In fact, while the entire paragraph is based on the antitheses of natural spaces and artificial ones, Tucholsky ends with the cinema and the very last words: “picture book —: Germany” (2). Like in the movie theater and the picture book, GG will show Germany to its readers, asking them to be open to this representation, without seeing themselves in natural spaces or at work. Instead the reader is supposed to take a step back and to consider their actual reality, the one of photographs and acknowledge the difference between these two kinds of realities, all the while starting to imagine an alternative reality. Tucholsky does so by underlining that an image is not an image, but rather built on ambiguity that escapes the unequivocalness of words.

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