*Die weissen Blätter

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Die weissen Blätter

German periodical, 1913–1920
The literary review Die weissen Blätter (The white pages) was one of the three prominent journals of the expressionist movement. This periodical introduced itself as the “voice of the younger generation,” whose purpose was to be engaged with all areas of contemporary life. In its relatively short history it published many of the essential texts of German Modernism, including all genres of belles-lettres as well as general essays on political and cultural issues. The last pages of each number were interspersed with
advertisements and contained a section of news items, topical notes, commentaries, and polemics. The visual arts played only a minor role (represented largely by Ludwig Meidner’s portrait drawings) and disappeared altogether in 1917. The emphasis throughout was on literary quality rather than on experimental novelty. On principle, Die weissen Blätter encouraged the interplay of various progressive influences, and did not allow any one personality or avantgarde theory to dominate its program. Its editors were averse to any form of militancy. They also rejected the kind of idiosyncratic diversity that made their principal competitors, Franz Pfemfert’s Die Aktion (The action) and Herwarth Walden’s Der Sturm (The storm), more provocative and aggressive, but in the end also more doctrinaire.
The intellectual sponsors of Die weissen Blätter did have a specific agenda, however.
They saw their new publication as a direct challenge to the well-established monthly forum of S. Fischer Verlag, Die neue Rundschau (The new review), which reflected the literary tastes and cultural preferences of the liberal and moderately conservative bourgeoisie. Their model was the Nouvelle Revue Française (New French review).
Financial independence and solid honoraria were guaranteed by the generosity of Erik Ernst Schwabach, a wealthy student of German literature in Berlin, who is listed as the periodical’s first official publisher. Otto Flake served as his literary adviser but was soon replaced by the more experienced Viennese littérateur Franz Blei. In January 1914 the publisher Kurt Wolff took charge as manager of both the journal and an affiliated book publishing venture, Verlag der Weissen Bücher, in Leipzig. After members of this staff were called up for military service in the war, their friend René Schickele, an accomplished man of letters from a small town in Alsace, became the new editor-inchief.
In September 1915 patriotic groups in Berlin falsely accused Schickele of espionage for France and the Office of War Censorship in Munich tried to have the police investigate his activities. He emigrated to Switzerland, where he made preparations to move the journal to Zurich. For the time between April 1916 and July 1917, he found a new publisher in the firm of Rascher & Cie., who had offices in Zurich and Leipzig. This prevented direct interference by the German authorities and saved, for example, the important antiwar issue of May 1916 from confiscation. But the threat of expulsion from a neutral country made further precautions necessary: in July 1918 the editorial office was moved to Berne-Bümpliz and Schickele assumed sole personal responsibility for the next six issues of volume 5 (1918). He did have the support, however, of both the cultural attaché at the German Embassy, Harry Graf Kessler, and the wealthy art critic and dealer
Paul Cassirer, who published the journal during its final two years in Berlin, after June 1920 also serving as its editorial director.
Die weissen Blätter was usually published on the 15th of every month. Sold at a reasonable price, the first issues, in octavo, had between 98 and 120 pages, plus 16 (and proportionately more) pages, numbered separately, of advertisements and commentary.
This more-than-respectable size, and the initial circulation of some 3000 copies, were steadily reduced during the war years until, in 1918, they had shrunk to about one third of the original. Henceforth, the inclusion of longer works of literature was inadvisable, and political debates as well as cultural critiques had to be limited severely.
Though the very name of these “white pages” signaled an editorial policy of unbiased openness, even of a self-conscious innocence in politicis, this aversion to providing a platform for sectarian propaganda did not imply, even before the war, a complete withdrawal from agitation on behalf of specific programs. On the whole, however, the review remained remarkably consistent in its emphasis on literature. It espoused at first a vague and idealistic “socialism without functionaries” (in contributions by such diverse writers as Eduard Bernstein, Ernst Bloch, Martin Buber, Georges Duhamel, Rosa Luxemburg, Carlo Mierendorff, and Anna Siemsen), with Schickele editorially advocating “a government formed by the majority of comrades who have learned to live physically and mentally without using coercion, without applying force” (January 1919).
Aside from a dutiful commitment to democracy (for example, “Die Pflicht zur Demokratie” [November 1916; The duty to support democracy]) and to a rejuvenated humanism (discussed in issues from April 1916 until July 1917), a Christian federalism appeared to promise the best hope for Europe’s future.
Lead articles as early as 1913 speak out in favor of pacifism, which more and more became Schickele’s credo. He also, and immediately, supported the aims of an organization of intellectuals, Clarté: Internationale de la Pensée (Clarity: international thought) which Henri Barbusse and his friends had founded in May 1919; he published their statutes (December 1919) and principles (“Leitsätze von Clarté”; Guiding principles of Clarté) in March 1920, but distanced himself from their communist sympathies.
Three essay highlights in the journal may be singled out: first, Heinrich Mann’s reaction against his brother Thomas Mann’s war euphoria in his treatise “Zola” (November 1915), a plea for the truth of the mind (Geist) as superior to the rights of the state and a celebration of the democratic artist as the true politician; second, Schickele’s “Der Mensch im Kampf” (Man’s struggle), his first editorial (April 1916), a condemnation of the intellectuals’ betrayal of political morality and a call for European unity in the fight for new fatherlands; and finally, his “Revolution, Bolschewismus und das Ideal” (December 1918; Revolution, bolshevism, and the ideal), a defense of utopian idealism and an appeal for moral change (“Menschenverwandlung”) in the face of revolutionary violence.
“Die Verwandlung” (“The Metamorphosis”) is also the title of the most famous piece of fiction published in Die weissen Blätter (February 1915), i.e. Kafka’s story. Other prominent contributions include Gottfried Benn’s scene “Ithaka” (March 1914), Hasenclever’s play Der Sohn (April–June 1914; The son), the dramatization of a fatherson conflict, and Heinrich Mann’s Madame Legros (March 1916). Novellas by Sternheim, Edschmid, and Leonhard Frank exemplify the best of prose fiction; Franz Werfel and J.R.Becher are the lyrical poets most frequently represented. Max Brod’s Tycho Brahes Weg zu Gott (Tycho Brahe’s Road to God), serialized between January and June 1915, tried to undo what damage the journal’s reputation for literary integrity had suffered when it accepted Gustav Meyrink’s tale of fantasy horror, Der Golem (December 1913–August 1914), which became an international bestseller.
Die weissen Blätter published with principled imagination and often under difficult conditions, but it did not survive the immediate postwar years. Its demise can be blamed on the political and social uncertainties of that time and on the need of expressionist writers to find new directions. But it was the impact of inflation, most of all, and the collapse of the literary market that made it impossible to sustain an independent literary journal of high quality.


Further Reading
Göbel, Wolfram, “Der Kurt Wolff Verlag 1913–1930; mit einer Bibliographie des Kurt Wolff Verlages und der ihm angeschlossenen Unternehmen,” Archiv für Geschichte des Buchwesens 15 (1976):521–962, and 16 (1977):1299–1456
Haase, Horst, Die Antikriegsliteratur in der Zeitschrift “Die weissen
Blätter” (dissertation), Berlin: Humboldt University, 1956
Hellack, Georg, “René Schickele und die Weissen Blätter: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte expressionistischer Zeitschriften,” Publizistik 8 (1963):250–57
Raabe, Paul, Die Zeitschriften und Sammlungen des literarischen Expressionismus, Stuttgart: Metzler, 1964
Raabe, Paul, editor, Index Expressionismus: Bibliographie der Beiträge in den Zeitschriften und Jahrbüchern des literarischen Expressionismus, 1910–1925, vol. 13, Nendeln, Liechtenstein: Kraus-Thomson, 1972: cols. 1976–2058

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