“Washing the Corpses of History” is a translation of Günther Anders’s 1941 Californian diary “Der Leichenwäscher der Geschichte”. It mobilises the experience of working at a Hollywood costume company to contemplate the commodification, transmission and destruction of European culture by the combined but distinct efforts of Hitler and Hollywood. Since its first publication in 1967, this (“retouched”) diary has come to occupy a central position in the now vast secondary literature on Günther Anders available in German, French and Italian. It is also considered a key text in German Exilliteratur. Anders’s prolific body of work, comprising of close to thirty books, represents a major gap in the reception of 20th century German thought. As a relative of Walter Benjamin, the first husband of Hannah Arendt, student of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, and interlocutor of most key émigré intellectuals and authors, his work intersects with the critiques of modernity advanced by contemporaries, and also with the anti-American sentiments that shape much of German thought post World War Two. Yet it also radically stands apart. A brief stint as a lecturer at the New School for Social Research in New York from 1947-1949 was the last academic post he ever accepted. Instead, Anders developed his own mode of address that allowed him to live from his writing alone. “Washing the Corpses” is a prime example of this new approach and opens a window on a unique body of work that is still to be fully discovered in the English speaking world.
Bibliographical noteA translation of Günther Anders’s 1941 diary “Der Leichenwäscher der Geschichte”, which first appeared in print in German in 1967. Published in conjunction with the contextualising essay “Hollywood, Exile and New Types of Pictures” which can be read at https://modernismmodernity.org/articles/m%C3%BCller-hollywood-exile-anders.
- cultural industry