Malika Maskarinec

Jan 5, 2022

The Forces of Form in German Modernism

Northwestern University Press 2018

The late 19th and early 20th centuries in Europe were times of intense technological, social and political change and transformation, and so it’s no surprise that much of the art and literature of this period was equal in its innovative intensity, attempting to make sense of times that were radically out of joint. Traditional scholarship on this period has focused on the alienation and disassociation that can be experienced when trying to keep up with the frenetic pace of modern life. But is this what the artists and writers of the day were trying to communicate to their audience?

Without discounting the alienating effects of modernity, Malika Maskarinec has stepped in with a fascinating monograph on the period, The Forces of Form in German Modernism (Northwestern UP, 2018), which challenges and complicates this reading, drawing our attention to other themes present in the work of the period. Turning to various archival sources to see what the artists and their peers were interested in, Maskarinec finds a collection of figures reflecting on questions of the forces and forms that hold bodies together against the weight of gravity. In this intellectual milieu, buildings and statues capacity to hold themselves up can be part of profound aesthetic experience, abstract shapes maintaining their position on a page can stir feelings of empathy, and even simple everyday activities such as laying down, standing up and walking around are activities of profound existential importance. Touching on figures such as Schopenhauer, Rodin, Simmel, Klee and Kafka, Maskarinec’s book is overflowing with insights that will help students and scholars of the period revisit these works with fresh eyes, and like the artists and writers discussed, she will prove an excellent interlocutor for all those interested in what it means to be human.

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