Version classiqueVersion mobile
OpenEdition Books

Les censures dans le monde

 | 
Laurent Martin

Première partie. Des censures d'église et d'état à la censure libérale, xixe-xxe siècles

The Ironies of Censorship in Imperial Germany

Les ironies de la censure dans l’Allemagne impériale

Gary D. Stark

Résumé

Censorship in imperial Germany was an inherently ironic undertaking, producing unanticipated effects quite different from what was originally intended. Institutionalized censorship created a vested interest in the existence of nonconformist expressions; it advertised the materials it sought to suppress; it often magnified their effect and social significance; it sometimes discouraged the very types of expressions it sought to defend and promote; and censors made claims about literature we would expect from writers, while writers made claims we would expect from censors.

La censure en Allemagne impériale était une entreprise intrinsèquement ironique, produisant des effets très différents de ceux voulus par les autorités. La censure institutionnalisée encourage l’intérêt pour les expressions non-conformistes ; elle promeut les matériaux qu’elle cherchait à supprimer, magnifie leur effet et leur importance sociale, décourage les types d’expressions qu’elle cherche à défendre. Enfin, les censeurs traitent la littérature comme s’ils étaient des auteurs, tandis que les écrivains agissent en censeurs.

Entrées d'index

Texte intégral

  • 1 Reichstag delegate Träger (Progressive), Stenographische Berichte über die Verhandlungen des Reich (...)
  • 2 This essay draws heavily on my Banned in Berlin: Literary Censorship in Imperial Germany, 1871-191 (...)

1In 1901 a member of the German Reichstag, commenting on several recent censorship cases that had backfired or otherwise proved embarrassing for the government, observed that “Police meddling with art are like bulls in a china shop.”1 Drawing on the experiences both of the censors and of the censored in imperial Germany, I would like to offer five theses that may help illuminate why censorship, by its very nature, so seldom achieves the results it strives for and regularly leaves behind piles of broken china. These theses certainly apply to imperial Germany; I suggest that several, if not all, apply to censorship in general.2

  • 3 R. Norton, “Unintended Consequences,” The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, [http://www.econlib.o (...)

2Censorship, like many institutions of social control, is an inherently ironic undertaking. When bureaucratic organizations and professional experts seek to legislate or regulate complex systems of social life they habitually fall victim to the Law of Unintended Consequences, producing perverse, unanticipated effects quite different from what was originally intended. The actions of censors, especially, frequently produce ironic outcomes that are often contrary to, or even in mockery of, the results they anticipate or desire.3 Indeed, in many regards censorship is both counterproductive and self-defeating. This was certainly true in imperial Germany, where there was a sophisticated system of censorship but where an array of unusual conditions and important restraints to state power thwarted the efficient exercise of censorship and made it highly unpredictable.

3In the German empire publications were not subject to prior censorship but lèse majesté, blasphemy, and obscenity were criminal offenses. If printed material was thought to violate these laws, the work could be confiscated and its author (as well as its publisher and distributor) could be prosecuted; if those responsible were found guilty they could be fined or imprisoned and the work could be banned from further distribution. Most public theatrical performances, by contrast, were subject to prior censorship. For the purpose of upholding public order and security, in nearly every German city and municipality commercial theater managers were required to submit to the police, at least two weeks in advance, any work they planned to perform for the public. Based on their judgment as to the performance’s likely effect on an audience, police censors approved, forbade, or demanded alterations to the script. Dramatic performances were most commonly banned for moral, religious, or political reasons. In contrast to many other nations with theater censorship, however, German police decisions to ban or alter a work could be appealed to the courts, which regularly overturned the censors’ decisions. Royal theaters were exempt from this police censorship, as were “private” theaters whose performances were not open to the general public.

4Although in some settings censors in imperial Germany did effectively control and suppress expressions that violated established norms, more often than not they unwittingly aided, supported, and promoted the very expressions they hoped to silence, and in other cases they inadvertently silenced the kinds of norm-affirming expressions they wanted to promote. Why and how did that occur?

Thesis 1: Institutionalizing and bureaucratizing censorship creates a vested interest in the existence of nonconformist expressions

  • 4 L. Sendach, “Erinnerungen und Gedanken eines ehemaligen k.u.k. Wiener Zensors,” Bühne und Welt, 4, (...)

5One fin-de-siècle German theater censor confided in his memoirs that no matter how lenient and tolerant he wished to be, from time to time he had to find something objectionable in the submitted works, for otherwise censorship would soon have been suspected of being unnecessary! This censor quickly realized that the more passages he red-lined and the stricter a reputation he acquired, the more trust and respect he received from his superiors.4

  • 5 On how the organizational characteristics of social control agencies help create deviance, see H. (...)

6Studies of the sociology of deviant behavior and its punishment have found that in institutions of social control a reciprocal, complementary, mutually-sustaining relationship arises between the controlling, norm-enforcing authorities and the non-conforming, norm-violating offenders. The existence and work of the one group enables, supports, and even promotes the existence and work of the other. This self-perpetuating, mutually reinforcing dependency arises also between censors and those they censor. The interests of the institution impel it to identify and recruit larger numbers of potential deviants because when there are censors, they must find things to censor.5

  • 6 Dritter Verwaltungsbericht des Königlich-Polizeipräsidiums von Berlin für die Jahre 1891-1900, Berl (...)
  • 7 The Prussian Verzeichnis derjenigen Druckschriften und anderen Schriften und Bildwerke welche von (...)
  • 8 See my “Cinema, Society, and the State: Policing the Film Industry in Imperial Germany,” G. D. Sta (...)

7Censors, who are charged with judging normality, are able to “construct” deviance by enlarging its definition and they can create more deviance to censor by broadening their activities. By subsuming more forms of behavior under their control, they generate more rules to enforce and find more activities on which to focus their attention; this in turn greatly expands their ability to identify and enlist more potential deviants. Throughout the imperial era in Germany, the censors’ surveillance was steadily extended. Changes in the Commercial Code in the 1880s allowed local police to monitor sensationalistic pulp fiction (so-called Schmutzund Schundliteratur) which, although not legally obscene, was considered morally deleterious. Police now began banning from the colportage trade any printed or pictorial works they considered religiously or morally offensive.6 In 1900 the law regarding obscenity and morally offensive materials was broadened; thereafter it became a criminal offense for colporteurs to sell or distribute to minors any printed or visual material “which, although not [legally] obscene, grossly offends the sense of modesty,” and catalogs were soon compiled listing thousands of items meeting this criterion.7 Similarly, the censor’s reach was extended ever further into other public entertainments: the licensing of variety shows (so-called Tingeltangel) was tightened, and police tried to extend censorship to certain private theaters, which had always been exempt. Beginning in 1906 cinema performances were censored, and even the posters advertising them required police approval.8 The outbreak of war in 1914, of course, extended prior censorship to the press and to most other publications.

  • 9 R. Hawkins and G. Tiedeman, Creation of Deviance, op. cit., p. 341. Erikson notes “The amount of m (...)

8And the more censors there were in imperial Germany, the more they found to censor. As censorship offices became larger and more formally organized, the greater was the likelihood they would find something objectionable in the material they scrutinized. Organizational demands for efficiency and maximal processing of cases mean pressures to enforce the rules remain constant, even though the actual number of violations may not: censors not only tend to find what they need to find, but they seem to find it at a fairly consistent rate.9 Thus, in the 1870s, when theater censorship in Berlin was handled on a part-time basis by one or two officials of the political police division, fewer than 3% of the plays submitted for censorship were banned. By 1914, however, the institutional mechanisms of stage censorship in Berlin had expanded greatly, and so too had the frequency with which works were banned: an independent division employing several police officials now handled theater censorship duties, and they banned nearly 9% of the works they scrutinized. Once the various federal states established central film censorship offices employing several full-time film censors, these offices banned an even greater percentage (about 18%) of the films they screened.

  • 10 A successful prosecution of Panizza depended on the state’s proving a reader had been offended by (...)
  • 11 See my “Pornography, Society, and the Law in Imperial Germany,” Central European History 14, Sept. (...)

9German authorities sometimes helped create deviance through “covert facilitation”: using hidden or secret means, they generated opportunities for rule-breaking by potential deviants, as when obliging police officials in Leipzig took offense at Panizza’s Das Liebeskonzil so the Munich prosecutor could have a reason to indict him.10 The best example of how institutionalized censorship helped perpetuate deviance in imperial Germany by facilitating and encouraging norm violation is the Central Police Office for Suppression of Obscene Material (Zentralpolizeistelle zur Bekämpfung unzüchtiger Schriften, Abbildungen, und Darstellungen). This agency employed more than a dozen individuals and had an annual budget of nearly 20,000 marks. A major part of its duties consisted of procuring supposedly obscene materials and then using these materials to prosecute pornographic suppliers. The staff perused a wide variety of domestic and foreign publications and responded to advertisements for pornographic books, images, and objects. In 1913, this office sent out 440 letters in response to advertisements for obscene material and received 303 replies. That year alone it spent 3,000 marks subscribing to numerous domestic and foreign risqué publications and ordering hundreds of pornographic books, pictures, and paraphernalia. In other words, one of the major consumers of pornography in imperial Germany was the very institution that was charged with suppressing it. These censors’high annual demand for pornographic materials played no small role in keeping up the supply of it.11

10It is not difficult to understand why the institutionalization of censorship should produce such a curious state of affairs. If an undertaking’s reason for existing is to find, control, or prosecute a certain kind of deviant behavior–when its power and authority, its budget, its employees’ jobs, and its continued existence is contingent upon the pursuit of this deviant behavior–then it is virtually certain this deviant behavior will indeed be found, especially when the seekers themselves are in a position to define and identify what constitutes deviance. And the more deviance it can find, of course, the more the agency’s existence is legitimized and the easier it becomes for it to justify expanding its power, activities, staff, and budget. Censorship, like many other institutions of control, thus becomes self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating. Much as the criminal justice establishment develops a vested interest in the existence of at least some criminality, or asylums a vested interest in insanity, or hospitals a vested interest in illness, censorship too develops a vested interest in the existence of some expressions that endanger or subvert the society’s norms. Once censorship is institutionalized, if such expressions did not exist, the censors would be forced to invent them. By the very nature of the institution, then, censors are inevitably able to find–or create–material that must be censored, and in fact the very existence of the censors more or less guarantees an endless supply of such material.

Thesis 2: Censorship frequently advertises and even helps popularize and increase distribution of the very materials it seeks to suppress

  • 12 Quoted in T. Mechtenberg, “Vom poetischen Gewinn der Zensur,” Deutschland Archiv 9, Sept. 1985, p. (...)

11Attempts to ban a work inevitably generate much public attention, and often stimulate the public’s interest in and demand for the censored work. Already in 1775 a German brochure on censorship noted: “One can be sure no book or publication will entice more readers than when the press announces it has been banned, and that those who purchase it will be heavily fined; for one immediately suspects that it must speak the truth, otherwise they wouldn’t confiscate it.”12 In the imperial period one prominent German cultural critic, commenting in 1903 on theater censorship, observed that:

  • 13 F. Avenarius, “Theaterzensur,” Der Kunstwart 16, no. 2, Heft 14, Apr. 1903, p. 55.

“If one is not able to see [a banned drama] on the stage, then one at least wants to read it or hear it read aloud, and so playwrights and publishers end up doing a good business anyway, even if the highest court upholds, rather than overturns, the police’s decision. In this way, works that are initially ignored completely may sometimes gain a great glory and reputation.”13

12Another German writer wrote to his censored friend:

  • 14 Ernst Wichert to Paul Heyse, 22 Sept. 1901, quoted in A. Pöllinger, Der Zensurprozeß um Paul Heyse (...)

“Works that come into conflict with the censor gain, for that very reason, a certain prospect of success. And it is amazing to see how the press immediately sides with [the banned work], before they can have the slightest idea of its content.”14

  • 15 For example, the publishers S. Fischer, Schuster & Löffler, the publishers of the confiscated jour (...)

13The extensive publicity that often surrounded acts of police censorship in imperial Germany, especially ones that were later reversed by the courts, always had the potential of turning an unknown censored author into a celebrity, and frequently created more publicity, a wider audience, and greater sales for the work. In this way, the stern censors of imperial Germany unwittingly helped create a number of bestsellers or box office hits. To cite but a few of many examples: Unsuccessful government attempts in the 1890s to prohibit performances of controversial plays by Gerhart Hauptmann (Die Weber), Hermann Sudermann (Sodom’s Ende), and Paul Heyse (Maria von Magdala) dramatically boosted attendance at these plays. Likewise, temporary police confiscations of various issues of the satirical journal Simplicissimus after 1898 bolstered sales of that publication. The publishers of various German literary journals and even renowned publishing houses were often quick to exploit police attempts to ban their publications: when one of their publications was confiscated by police but later released by the courts, these publishers widely advertised the incident and sometimes dramatically raised the price of the work in question.15

  • 16 Sudermann to Dorothea Sudermann, 28 Oct. 1890, in Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach, Cotta Archiv, (...)
  • 17 Klabund to Herr Heinrich, 11 Feb. 1913, and 11 Aug. 1913, in Klabund (pseud. for Alfred Henschke),(...)
  • 18 See my Banned in Berlin, op. cit., p. 240-241.
  • 19 Ibid., p. 235.

14Many censored German authors appreciated and capitalized on the notoriety and commercial benefits that a ban of their works could bring, and a few authors even deliberately sought it. Hermann Sudermann, for example, boasted of the sudden fame and commercial benefits that a short-lived Berlin ban of one of his dramas brought him, while Hermann Bahr recalled fondly how his fame as an author grew after police confiscated his novel.16 When police confiscated literary journals containing obscene poems by Hugo Ball and Klabund, both poets saw the incident as an opportunity for self-promotion and as a way to gain greater public recognition for their work.17 And there is the case of Oskar Panizza, whose irreverent and scandalous drama Das Liebeskonzil earned him a year’s imprisonment for blasphemy in 1895. There is ample evidence that Panizza not only willfully exploited the notoriety his imprisonment brought, but that he had also actively sought a confrontation with the authorities over his work as a way of achieving literary fame and success.18 And other authors, such as Wilhelm Busch, Maximilian Harden, Alfred Kerr, and Frank Wedekind, far from being deterred by censorship, were emboldened by it and became radically outspoken, even provocative, with their subsequent work.19

  • 20 See for example Die Nationalzeitung, 26 Sept. 1894, which admitted the police ban of Die Weber and (...)
  • 21 Kurt von Glasenapp and BPP to Prussian IM, 15 May 1902, Landesarchiv Berlin A: Pr. Br. Rep 030 Ber (...)

15Eventually, even the German censors and their conservative supporters came to recognize the counter-productivity of many censorship decisions. In the 1890s, the conservative press frequently expressed anger and frustration at how attempts to ban works like Hauptmann’s Die Weber, Panizza’s Das Liebeskonzil, or Max Dreyer’s Das Tal des Lebens, had merely made the authors famous and boosted public interest in the banned works.20 In 1902 the Berlin Police President himself confided that when police bans of dramas were later reversed by the courts, as had recently happened several times in Prussia, a curious public then flocked to the performances of the work. Bans and their reversals, the police chief stated, only create greater publicity for such works and play into the hands of unscrupulous, greedy directors and authors who hope to create a sensation as a way of overcoming their financial difficulties. For this reason, the Berlin Police President stated that in the future, he would be far more cautious about banning works outright.21 Indeed, from the turn of the century to World War I, both Prussian and Bavarian authorities often hesitated to prosecute the satirical journal Simplicissimus or to ban certain works by Wedekind or others because they feared the action might backfire and turn the authors into public martyrs.

Thesis 3: Attempts by censors to suppress certain materials can also magnify their effect and social significance

  • 22 S. Worchel and S. E. Arnold, “The Effects of Censorship and the Attractiveness of the Censor on At (...)
  • 23 V. Pareto, Mind and Society: A Treatise on General Sociology, A. Bogniorno and A. Livingston (tran (...)
  • 24 Laube, Erinnerungen, quoted in S. Ghirardini-Kurzweill, “Das Theater im den politischen Strömungen (...)

16Intentionally crossing something out unintentionally underlines it; something marked or signified is rendered more important. Likewise, singling out a work, action, or person as deviant or socially harmful invests it with a new meaning and enhanced significance. Psychologists have found that when information is restricted or censored it is empowered in unintended ways, becoming more desirable, more highly valued, and more persuasive than before it became scarce.22 And Pareto and other sociologists have noted that repression of certain instincts or expressions can intensify people’s sensitivity toward all references to what has been repressed; pent-up energies of expression concerning the forbidden may erupt at the slightest opportunity, and in extreme cases people develop an obsession with a taboo topic or type of behavior.23 Where criticism of something (such as a religion, a symbol, or a political issue) is commonplace, people become somewhat immunized to such criticisms and pay them less attention than where such remarks are strictly prohibited and where, consequently, the slightest critical expression about a taboo object makes a deeper impression. (Recall how the Danish newspaper cartoons of Mohammed in 2005 produced violent worldwide protests, attacks on Danish and Western embassies as well as on churches and Christians resulting in 200 dead; or how in fall 2012 the anti-Islamic movie trailer for “Innocence of Muslims” similarly sparked a wave of violent demonstrations, hundreds of injuries, and 50 deaths.) As noted playwright and theater director Heinrich Laube recalled of the more heavily-censored pre-1848 era in Germany, when no open discussion of a topic is possible, the result was “a secretive silence, in which a spirited author’s barest whisper is heard, understood, and interpreted to excess (überreich gedeutet).”24

  • 25 H.-U. Wehler, introduction to Ludwig Quidde, Caligula. Schriften über Militarismus und Pazifismus,(...)

17In imperial Germany, for example, lèse majesté was frequently and severely punished. But precisely because criticisms of the monarch were heavily sanctioned, they were eagerly devoured by the public and made a deeper impression than in nations like Belgium or Britain, where lèse majesté was more tolerated and where, as a result, people took less notice of it. This point is well-illustrated by the famous case of Ludwig Quidde’s Caligula: A Study of Roman Imperial Madness--a clever piece of lèse majesté that, in the words of one historian, “struck [imperial Germany] like a bomb.”25 On the surface merely a historical study of the depraved Roman emperor, Quidde’s essay was actually a thinly-veiled, devastating satire of Emperor Wilhelm II’s bizarre personality and Byzantine megalomania. Published in late March 1894, it at first received little public notice until the ultra-conservative press bitterly condemned it and suggested Quidde be severely punished. That newspaper article, which more explicitly stated many parallels between Caligula and Wilhelm II that Quidde had only hinted at, created an immediate national sensation and Quidde’s satire was soon the talk not only of the German but also of the international press. Everyone, it seemed, suddenly wanted to read Caligula: within a year it had gone into more than 30 printings, sold hundreds of thousands of copies, and was probably read by a million or more people, making it the most famous political pamphlet of the imperial era.

  • 26 K. Erikson, Wayward Puritans, op. cit., p. 22-23.

18Although Quidde escaped legal action at the time, many of his fellow citizens did not. During the Caligula-craze of 1894-95 (which coincided with a broader anarchist scare sparked by the assassination of French President Carnot in June 1894), German authorities zealously pursued alleged insults against the monarchy: more people were convicted of lèse majesté in Germany in 1894 and 1895 than at any other time. While verbal attacks on the monarch, like Quidde’s, probably fanned fear of further attacks (whether verbal or physical), it may be that the fear also helped to inspire the attacks. The symbiotic relationship between deviance and authority means that deviant, censorable material usually appears precisely at those points where it is most feared, and in precisely the shape and form suspected: someone terrified of witches or Communist subversives, for example, will soon find them everywhere. While it is true the deviance creates the fear, it is also true the fear creates the deviance.26

  • 27 J. D. Halliday, “Censorship in Berlin and Vienna During the First World War: A Comparative View,” (...)

19One of the most vivid examples of how Central European censors unwittingly spotlighted specific objectionable passages occurred in neighboring Austria-Hungary. For reasons of time and cost, newspaper publishers and editors during the First World War were allowed to leave a blank (white) space where government censors had struck out something from the final proof copy. The growing number of white spaces in the press during the war was increasingly noticeable and embarrassing (and stimulated wild rumors among the general public). One group of editors pointed out to police that “The reader must gradually come to the conclusion that there, where the white space is, the dangerous truth once stood.”27 (In Germany, such blank spaces were prohibited–just for this reason no doubt; editors had to reset the type of that issue.)

Thesis 4: Censors’hypersensitivity to certain subject matter can discourage the very types of expressions they are trying to defend and promote

  • 28 Memo of Glasenapp, 27 Sept. 1904, Landesarchiv Berlin A: Pr. Br. Rep 030 Berlin C: Polizeipräsidiu (...)
  • 29 Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Rep. 77: Ministerium des Innern, Tit. 1000, Nr. 5, (...)

20Berlin’s theater censor believed that to protect the unique position the reigning sovereign occupied in the nation “it cannot be permitted for just anyone to bring the personality of the monarch onto the stage. […] It is totally impermissible that the actions of a reigning ruler who appears in a dramatic presentation should be subjected to the critical evaluation either of a playwright or an audience, much less to an audience’s applause or hisses.”28 For this reason actors or entertainers were not permitted to publicly portray the emperor on stage, whether in serious dramas or in lighthearted vaudeville skits. And since, as the Berlin Police President noted, it was important nothing be permitted that might undermine loyalty to the ruling dynasty by arousing false impressions about the personalities, deeds, and character of its members, especially among society’s lower and semi educated strata, it was also forbidden to depict the emperor’s Hohenzollern forebears on stage without his express approval, and then only if at least 100 years had passed since that historical figure’s death.29 Wilhelm II of course rejected any frivolous, undignified farces with which the dynasty wanted no association, but he also forbade many light comedies, serious dramas, and historical tragedies, including those by noted authors such as Otto Ludwig, Fritz von Unruh, Paul Ernst, Emil Ludwig, or Herbert Eulenberg, writers who were by no means critical or disparaging of the Hohenzollerns. Indeed, many of these banned dramas were highly patriotic and contained idealized, even fawning portrayals of the most popular and beloved Hohenzollerns, especially Frederick the Great. However, most works about Frederick the Great’s painful, humiliating treatment by his brutal father were not allowed, regardless of how patriotic and historically accurate the portrayal. In the end, the house of Hohenzollern’s hypersensitivity to its historic image and the heavy-handed controls it used to keep so many of its forebears off the public stages of Germany was sadly short-sighted. By prohibiting the performance of numerous highly patriotic plays dealing with some of the emperor’s most popular ancestors, the monarchy lost numerous opportunities to establish closer emotional ties with the populace and heighten their nationalist sentiments. But more seriously, such policies created a kind of Gresham’s law (“Bad money drives out good”) in this field, for bad Hohenzollern dramas drove out good ones, virtually guaranteeing that little of lasting artistic merit would be written about the dynasty. Only the collapse of the monarchy in 1918 ended the stifling censorship of Hohenzollern characters on stage, resulting in the final irony that it was much easier to stage a drama about the Hohenzollerns in the Weimar republic, after the dynasty was deposed, than in the imperial era, when it reigned.

21The same strange dynamic occurred with dramas dealing with religious matters, an area where German censors intervened frequently. They did so, however, not to defend Christianity against its many critics but rather to uphold Germany’s fragile interconfessional harmony by preventing any flagrant violation of believers’ religious sensibilities. For a work that ridiculed the faith of others, aroused confessional enmity, or treated profanely things that Christians held most sacred could inflame religious passions and provoke violent outbursts and demonstrations that endangered public order. In practice, this meant banning or excising militantly Protestant works that might offend Catholics and militantly Catholic works that disparaged Protestantism (though little was done about anti-Semitic works). It also meant an extreme reluctance to allow any biblical material, especially portrayals from the life of Christ, to be treated on the public stage. Such performances could directly or indirectly demean events and figures sacred to Christians, and thus have an unpredictable, perhaps dangerous effect on a Christian audience familiar with the biblical stories being depicted.

22Imperial authorities’ punctilious efforts to keep dramatic portrayals of Christianity’s most sacred figures off public (and sometimes even off private) stages was as shortsighted as their policies regarding Hohenzollern dramas. In the same way that censorship policies discouraged the writing and public performance of artistically notable works that might have helped Germany’s theater-going populace identify more closely with the Prussian dynasty and its history, the censors’ general opposition to dramatic portrayals of Christ’s life and teachings could hardly have encouraged playwrights, theaters, or performers who hoped through drama to introduce or reintroduce people to the holiest elements of the Christian faith. From the standpoint of the state there were legitimate reasons for denying audiences the opportunity to see the pro-Christian works of authors such as Paul Heyse, Maurice Maeterlinck, A. von Wilbrandt, Heinrich Bulthaupt, or Heinz Ewers, and even some highly devotional Passion plays. Yet this kind of censorship likely helped erode, rather than preserve religious faith. Certainly such attempts to defend the religious order met with much less public understanding and support, and generated more public controversy, than did the censors’ policies in any other area. Even conservative Christians often found it hard to comprehend why pious, reverential works like Heyse’s Maria von Magdala were banned. Censorship of literature on religious grounds also revealed a troubling lack of consensus among imperial authorities: not only did the Berlin theater censor, the Police President, the Prussian Interior Minister, the Prussian Religion Minister, the Brandenburg District Administrative Council, and the Prussian Supreme Administrative Law Court frequently disagree about particular works, but authorities elsewhere (for example in Württemberg and Oldenburg) disagreed sharply with the Prussians. These differences reflected the deep religious divisions within the empire and the increasingly politicized nature of that discord. Using literary censorship to defend the religious order, protect religious sensibilities, and preserve interconfessional harmony in an age of declining religious belief and increasing religious tension was a most problematic undertaking indeed.

Thesis 5: To justify their actions, censoring authorities make claims about literature we would expect to hear from writers and their defenders, and the latter make claims about it we would expect from the former

  • 30 A. Barsch, “Literatur und Recht aus literaturhistorischer Sicht,” in B. Dankert and L. Zechlin (ed (...)

23Like many contemporary literary theorists, imperial authorities were concerned less with the work (text) itself or the intentions of its author than they were with the (anticipated) responses of its readers or audiences. This turns on its head what some have seen as the fundamental relation between literature and the law. Achim Barsch and others, for example, have argued that conflicts between the “literature system” and the “justice system” arise because jurists and administrators incorrectly assume the meaning of a text is fixed in the text itself and that certain textual meanings lead readers to certain responses. Recent literary theory and the “literature system,” however, recognize that meaning is not fixed, but rather readers (or members of a theater audience) play an active role in “cognitively constructing” a work’s meaning. How recipients decode a text depends on factors such as the recipient’s personality, prior knowledge and experiences, familiarity with linguistic rules, interests, motivations, and his/her social relations, so a text will have different meanings–and different effects–for different recipients. Moreover (Barsch et al argue), just as meaning is not inherent in a text, neither is “literariness,” the quality of being a (reputable) work of literature; “a reader’s decision to consider a text as literary, and to receive it accordingly, is indeed a subjective, individual decision.” Consequently, the effects of a work of art cannot be deduced from the text, but rather are grounded in “how a recipient, on the basis of his previous experiences, deals with the work in [different] social and situational contexts.” Because of these two dissimilar, in principle incompatible constructions of reality, conflicts between the literature system and the justice system are all but inevitable.30

24But in imperial Germany (and perhaps in most censorship systems) these two perspectives are in fact reversed. It was the censoring authorities–the “justice system”–who implicitly recognized the recipient’s crucial role in the construction of literary meaning and who were preoccupied with a work’s Wirkung (effect), the anticipated responses of readers or members of a theater audience. Conversely, it was writers and their defenders–the “literature system”–who usually argued that their censored work did not really “mean” what authorities alleged it did; that the author’s intended meaning (which was, of course, purely innocent, artistic, apolitical) should be accepted as the correct one; that certain works were inherently “good art” and so must be judged by different standards than works without artistic merit; and that one need not worry that certain (for example working-class) audiences were likely to find more politically or morally questionable meanings in a work, or respond to it differently, than other (for example middle-class) audiences. Ironically, too, censors and members of the nonliterary public frequently ascribed more power to literature–that is, its ability to affect people–than did members of the literary community, who, for expediency, often downplayed or dismissed a work’s potential impact or effect on the public.

25How many of my 5 theses are valid for censorship generally, not only for censorship in imperial Germany? German censors in this period were constrained by a constellation of factors: a decentralized federal structure with widely varying state and local laws; institutionalized civil liberties; well-established legal safeguards of free expression and a relatively free press; an independent judiciary that generally made an earnest effort to protect defendants’ rights; and a healthy “public sphere” where public opinion served as a powerful deterrent. These legal and structural constraints often thwarted the efficient exercise of censorship in imperial Germany by making it porous, irregular, and highly unpredictable, producing the many unintended consequences and ironies I have discussed above. As this conference undoubtedly makes clear, in other places and in other periods, under other circumstances and other regimes, censorship was certainly more effective in suppressing opinions and in restricting freedom of expression, and it had more dire consequences for the lives of the censored. But even where censorship has been less constrained and more effective than in imperial Germany, one can ask--indeed one should ask: To what extent did it really achieve the results it aimed for? Did the Law of Unintended Consequences operate there, too, making censorship counterproductive and self-defeating? Are piles of broken china indeed an inherent or inevitable outcome when censors meddle in art or in other aspects of free human expression?

Bibliographie

REFERENCES LIST

Allen A. T., Satire and Society in Wilhelmine Germany, Kladderadatsch & Simplicissimus 1890-1914, Lexington, KY, University Press of Kentucky, 1984.

Barsch A., “Literatur und Recht aus literaturtheoretischer Sicht,” in B. Dankert and L. Zechlin (ed.), Literatur vor dem Richter. Beiträge zur Literaturfreiheit und Zensur, Baden-Baden, Nomos, 1988, p. 63-90.

Bauer M., Oskar Panizza. Ein literarisches Porträt, Munich, C. Hanser, 1984.

Becker H. J., Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance, New York, Free Press, 1963.

Blumenthal O., Verbotene Stücke, Berlin, H. Steinitz, 1900.

Brauneck M., Literatur und Öffentlichkeit im ausgehenden 19. Jahrhundert. Studien zur Rezeption des naturalistischen Theaters in Deutschland, Stuttgart, J. D. Metzler, 1974.

Brown P. D. G., Oskar Panizza: His Life and Works, New York, Peter Lang, 1983.

Erikson K., “Notes on the Sociology of Deviance,” Social Problems, 9, no 4, Spring 1962, p. 307-314.

Gove W. R., “The Labeling Perspective: An Overview,” in W. R. Gove (ed.), The Labeling of Deviance: Evaluating a Perspective, 2nd edition, Beverly Hills, CA, Sage, 1980, p. 9-26.

Hawkins R. and Tiedeman G., The Creation of Deviance: Interpersonal and Organizational Determinants, Columbus, OH, C. E. Merrill Pub. Co., 1975.

Holmquist M., “Corrupt Originals: The Paradox of Censorship,” PMLA, 109, no 1, 1994, p. 14-25.

Houben H. H., Verbotene Literatur. Von der klassischen Zeit bis zur Gegenwart. Ein kritischhistorisches Lexikon über verbotene Bücher, Zeitschriften und Theaterstücke, Schriftstelller und Verleger, 2 vol. Berlin, 1924. Reprint: Hildesheim, 1965.

Jelavich P., “Paradoxes of Censorship in Modern Germany,” in M. S. Micale and R. L. Dietle (ed.), Enlightenment, Passion, Modernity: Historical Essays in European Thought and Culture, Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 2000, p. 265-285.

Leiss L., Kunst im Konflikt. Kunst und Künstler im Widerstreit mit der “Obrigkeit,” Berlin, de Gruyter, 1971.

Lenman R. J. V., “Censorship and Society in Munich, 1890-1914, With Special Reference to Simplicissimus and the Plays of Frank Wedekind,” Ph. D. diss., Oxford, 1975.

Marx G., “Ironies of Social Control: Authorities as Contributors to Deviance Through Escalation, Nonenforcement and Covert Facilitation,” Social Problems, 28, no 3, Feb. 1981, p. 221-246.

Meyer M., Theaterzensur in München 1900-1918. Geschichte und Entwicklug der polizeilichen Zensur und des Theaterzensurbeirates unter besonderer Berücksichtigung Frank Wedekind, Munich, Kommisionsverlag UNI-Druck, 1982.

Pollinger A., Der Zensurprozeß um Paul Heyses Drama “Maria von Magdala” (1901-1903), Frankfurt, Peter Lang, 1989.

Praschek H. (ed.), Gerhart Hauptmann’s “Weber.” Eine Dokumentation, Berlin, Akademie Veralg, 1981.

Quidde L., Caligula. Schriften über Militarismus und Pazifismus, Hans-Ulrich Wehler, ed. Frankfurt, Syndikat, 1977.

Stark G. D., Banned in Berlin: Literary Censorship in Imperial Germany, 1871-1918, New York & Oxford, Berghahn Books, 2009.

Stark G. D., “Pornography, Society, and the Law in Imperial Germany,” Central European History, 14, Sept. 1981, p. 200-229.

Stark G. D., “Trials and Tribulations: Authors’ Responses to Censorship in Imperial Germany, 1885-1914,” German Studies Review, 12, no 3, Oct. 1989, p. 447-468.

Worchel S. and Arnold S. E., “The Effects of Censorship and the Attractiveness of the Censor on Attitude Change,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 9, 1973, p. 265-277.

Worchel S., Arnold S. E., and Baker M., “The Effect of Censorship on Attitude Change: The Influence of Censorship and Communicator Characteristics,” Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 5, 1975, p. 222-239.

Notes

1 Reichstag delegate Träger (Progressive), Stenographische Berichte über die Verhandlungen des Reichstages, Haus der Abgeordneten, 10. Leg. Periode, II. Session, 52. Sitzung (20 Feb. 1901), Bd. 180: p. 1463.

2 This essay draws heavily on my Banned in Berlin: Literary Censorship in Imperial Germany, 1871-1918, New York & Oxford, Berghahn Books, 2009, especially the Conclusion, p. 261-82.

3 R. Norton, “Unintended Consequences,” The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, [http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/UnintendedConsequences.html], accessed 22 May 2013. The subfield of the sociology of irony studies the intended (“manifest”) and unintended (“latent”) functions of organizations and systems, illuminating the unexpected consequences, paradoxes, contradictions, and even deceptions that frequently follow from agents’ conscious motivations and professed goals. See R. K. Merton, “The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action,” American Sociological Review, I, 1936, p. 894-904 and Social Theory and Social Structure, Enlarged edition, New York, Free Press, 1968, p. 73-138; D. Matza, Becoming Deviant, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall, 1969, p. 69-85; L. Schneider, “Ironic Perspective and Sociological Thought,” L. A. Coser (ed.), The Idea of Social Structure. Papers in Honor of Robert K. Merton, New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975, p. 323-337; G. T. Marx, “Ironies of Social Control: Authorities as Contributors to Deviance Through Escalation, Nonenforcement and Covert Facilitation,” Social Problems 28, nr. 3, Feb. 1981, p. 242. Also: E. Tenner, Why Things Bite Back. Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences, New York, Knopf, 1997, and S. M. Gillon, That’s Not What We Meant To Do: Reform and its Unintended Consequences in the 20th Century, 2000. For other recent studies of the “paradoxical” or ironic consequences of censorship, see A. Kuhn, Cinema, Censorship and Sexuality, 1909-1925, London and New York, Routledge, 1988; M. Holquist, “Corrupt Originals: The Paradox of Censorship,” PMLA 109, no 1, 1994, p. 14-25, and P. Jelavich, “Paradoxes of Censorship in Modern Germany,” M. S. Micale and R. L. Dietle (ed.), Enlightenment, Passion, Modernity: Historical Essays in European Thought and Culture, Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 2000, p. 265-285.

4 L. Sendach, “Erinnerungen und Gedanken eines ehemaligen k.u.k. Wiener Zensors,” Bühne und Welt, 4, pt. 1, 1902/03, p. 782, 785.

5 On how the organizational characteristics of social control agencies help create deviance, see H. Becker, Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance, New York, Free Press, 1963, p. 147-163; R. Hawkins and G. Tiedeman, The Creation of Deviance: Interpersonal and Organizational Determinants, Columbus, OH, C. E. Merrill, Pub. Co., 1975, p. 178-214; and Marx, “Ironies of Social Control,” p. 221-46. Also: K. Erickson, Wayward Puritans. A Study in the Sociology of Deviance, New York, Wiley, 1966, p. 14-15, 19, and “Notes on the Sociology of Deviance,” Social Problems 9, nr. 4, Spring 1962, p. 311. “For the observation that prison fails to eliminate crime, one should perhaps substitute the hypothesis that prison has succeeded extremely well in producing delinquency. […] Although it is true the prison punishes delinquency, delinquency is for the most part produced in and by an incarceration which, ultimately, prison perpetuates in turn,” M. Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Alan Sheridan (trans.), New York, Pantheon, 1977, p. 277, 301.

6 Dritter Verwaltungsbericht des Königlich-Polizeipräsidiums von Berlin für die Jahre 1891-1900, Berlin, 1902, p. 388. A comprehensive list of all titles banned by Prussian authorities was compiled in 1897 (Verzeichnis der im Gebiete des Preußischen Staates auf Grund des § 56 Nr. 10 der Reichs-Gewerbeordnung vom Feilbieten im Umherziehen ausgeschlossenen Druckschriften, andere Schriften und Bildwerke, herausgegeben im Ministeriums des Inneren zu Berlin, Berlin, 1897); annual supplements published in 1897 and 1898.

7 The Prussian Verzeichnis derjenigen Druckschriften und anderen Schriften und Bildwerke welche von preußischen Behörden (der einzelnen Bezirksausschüßen, in Berlin von dem Polizeipräsidenten) zum Feilbieten im Umherziehen nicht zugelassen worden sind, herausgegeben im Ministeriums des Inneren zu Berlin, Berlin, 1908, was 239 pages long and listed over 4100 items; annual supplements from 1909 to 1914 added thousands more. Devising yet another form of control, Hamburg even reportedly passed an ordinance allowing street peddlers to display and sell only those titles listed in an official catalog compiled by the police. Prussian IM memo 1 Apr. 1910, in Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin-Dahlem, Rep. 77, Tit. 380, Nr. 7, Adh. 2, Bd. 1, Bl. 40ff.

8 See my “Cinema, Society, and the State: Policing the Film Industry in Imperial Germany,” G. D. Stark and B. K. Lackner (ed.), Essays on Culture and Society in Modern Germany, College Station, TX, Texas A & M University Press, 1982, p. 122-186.

9 R. Hawkins and G. Tiedeman, Creation of Deviance, op. cit., p. 341. Erikson notes “The amount of men, money, and material assigned by society to ‘do something’ about deviant behavior does not vary appreciably over time, and the implicit logic […] seems to be that there is a fairly stable quota of trouble that should be anticipated,” Wayward Puritans, p. 24.

10 A successful prosecution of Panizza depended on the state’s proving a reader had been offended by the contents of the confiscated work. After finding that only a score of copies had been sold in Munich and that the purchasers were all either noted anticlericals who would clearly not find Das Liebeskonsul offensive, or urbane Catholics who would brush it off as something no one could take seriously, Munich police contacted their counterparts in other cities to inquire whether anyone there had complained about Panizza’s drama. Obligingly, the Leipzig police president reported that indeed, a police sergeant had purchased the book and that he and another police official had read the play and their religious sensibilities had been deeply offended. The next day, Panizza was formally indicted. See my Banned in Berlin, op. cit., p. 158-159, and P. Jelavich, Munich and Theatrical Modernism. Politics, Playwriting, and Performance 1890-1914, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1985, p. 56-57.

11 See my “Pornography, Society, and the Law in Imperial Germany,” Central European History 14, Sept. 1981, p. 218-219.

12 Quoted in T. Mechtenberg, “Vom poetischen Gewinn der Zensur,” Deutschland Archiv 9, Sept. 1985, p. 977.

13 F. Avenarius, “Theaterzensur,” Der Kunstwart 16, no. 2, Heft 14, Apr. 1903, p. 55.

14 Ernst Wichert to Paul Heyse, 22 Sept. 1901, quoted in A. Pöllinger, Der Zensurprozeß um Paul Heyses Drama “Maria von Magdala” (1901-1903), Frankfurt, Peter Lang, 1989, p. 149.

15 For example, the publishers S. Fischer, Schuster & Löffler, the publishers of the confiscated journals Modernes Blätter and Simplicissimus, and Hamburg theaters all profited from Berlin bans. See my Banned in Berlin, op. cit., p. 237-240.

16 Sudermann to Dorothea Sudermann, 28 Oct. 1890, in Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach, Cotta Archiv, Nachlaß Sudermann, XVI 139, Bl. 10; H. Bahr, Selbstbildnis, Berlin, S. Fischer, 1923, p. 257.

17 Klabund to Herr Heinrich, 11 Feb. 1913, and 11 Aug. 1913, in Klabund (pseud. for Alfred Henschke), Briefe an einen Freund, E. Henschke (ed.), Cologne, Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1963), p. 64-65, 69-70; E. Ball-Hennings, Hugo Ball. Sein Leben in Briefen und Gedichten, Frankfurt, Suhrkamp, 1991, p. 248; G. E. Steinke, The Life and Work of Hugo Ball, Founder of Dadism, The Hague, Mouton, 1967, p. 82; and Ball to his sister, 4 Nov. 1913 and 10 Nov. 1913, and letter of 27 May 1914, in H. Ball, Briefe 1911-1927, Zurich, Benzinger, 1957, p. 22-24, 29.

18 See my Banned in Berlin, op. cit., p. 240-241.

19 Ibid., p. 235.

20 See for example Die Nationalzeitung, 26 Sept. 1894, which admitted the police ban of Die Weber and its later reversal by the courts “hatten sich als wirksamstes Agitationsmittel erwiesen”; the comments of the anti-Semitic Deutschen Volksblatt, 17 May 1896, lamenting how Panizza and “the moderns” used his trial and imprisonment as a “Reklametrommel” and as a clever, deliberate “Reklameschwindel”; and the complaint by the Münchener Neuste Nachrichten, 7 Feb. 1903, that the bungled police attempt to ban Das Tal des Leben made it a “sensation.”

21 Kurt von Glasenapp and BPP to Prussian IM, 15 May 1902, Landesarchiv Berlin A: Pr. Br. Rep 030 Berlin C: Polizeipräsidium Berlin, Tit. 74–Theatersachen, Th804, and Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Rep. 77: Ministerium des Innern, Tit. 1000, Nr. 7, Bd. 3, Bl. 112-114.

22 S. Worchel and S. E. Arnold, “The Effects of Censorship and the Attractiveness of the Censor on Attitude Change,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 9, 1973, p. 265-277; S. Worchel and S. E. Arnold, and M. Baker, “The Effect of Censorship on Attitude Change: the Influence of Censorship and Communicator Characteristics,” Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 5, 1975, p. 222-239.

23 V. Pareto, Mind and Society: A Treatise on General Sociology, A. Bogniorno and A. Livingston (trans.), New York, Dover, 1935, III, p. 7211ff; also J. M. van Ussel, Sexualunterdrückung. Geschichte der Sexualfeindschaft, Reinbeck, Rowohlt, 1970, p. 34-55.

24 Laube, Erinnerungen, quoted in S. Ghirardini-Kurzweill, “Das Theater im den politischen Strömungen der Revolution von 1848,” Inaug. Diss., Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität zu München, 1960, p. 69.

25 H.-U. Wehler, introduction to Ludwig Quidde, Caligula. Schriften über Militarismus und Pazifismus, H.-U. Wehler (ed.), Frankfurt, Syndikat, 1977, p. 12-13.

26 K. Erikson, Wayward Puritans, op. cit., p. 22-23.

27 J. D. Halliday, “Censorship in Berlin and Vienna During the First World War: A Comparative View,” The Modern Language Review 83, no 3, July 1988, p. 618.

28 Memo of Glasenapp, 27 Sept. 1904, Landesarchiv Berlin A: Pr. Br. Rep 030 Berlin C: Polizeipräsidium Berlin, Tit. 74-Theatersachen, Th495.

29 Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Rep. 77: Ministerium des Innern, Tit. 1000, Nr. 5, Bd. 4, Bl. 293ff.

30 A. Barsch, “Literatur und Recht aus literaturhistorischer Sicht,” in B. Dankert and L. Zechlin (ed.), Literatur vor dem Richter. Beiträge zur Literaturfreiheit und Zensur, Baden-Baden, Nomos, 1988, p. 63-90, quotes from p. 73, 85-86.

Auteur

Professor of History Emeritus, Grand Valley State University

© Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2016

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540