Who needs A New History of German Literature?[1] What is wrong with the old ones? Quite a lot, actually. The most famous, Wilhelm Scherer’s Geschichte der Deutschen Literatur, was inspired by the noble conviction that “poetry is a holy vocation of our nation.” But it begins with an evocation of the Urvolk der Arier, the prehistoric Arian race, and such a perspective—though innocent enough in the nineteenth century—is hopelessly compromised today. The same objection applies, only more so, to Josef Nadler’s gargantuan work with the same title, written in the 1930s and expurgated in the 1950s, which saw the history of German literature through the prism of the regional “tribes”—a variation on the theme of Blut und Boden, blood and soil. Only a Nazi would want to boast about being provincial. More recent histories are equally flawed by critical...


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