Modernism perhaps made it too easy for itself when it simply apostrophised all the central figures of a "poetic" narrative as literary heroes, just as, conversely, in real-political contexts, heroes sprang up like weeds: from the hero of labour under socialism to the bourgeois hero, from sonorous anti-heroes to anonymous and nameless everyday heroes or superheroes with inhuman names. Two anthems produced in 1977 between pop and punk sum up the all-or-nothing nature of heroism: David Bowie's We can be heroes, Just for one day and The Stranglers' No more heroes anymore.
Yet modern heroism is already gathering momentum with the debates around 1600: Between poetics and general anthropology, texts from Giordano Bruno's The Heroic Passions (1585) to Philip Sidney's An Apology for Poetry (1595) to Balthasar Gracián's The Hero (1637) push the idea of individuation in the context of debates about poetics and fictionality.
Around 1800, the hero of modernity stands fully equipped but alone on a wide open field. Kleist still warns against the short-circuit of confusing the life- and reality-remote construction of the "ideal" hero with the poet, for if such heroism were demanded of poets, it would be the end of them. In turn, Hegel's heroes of education and novels can only "sow their wild oats" at society before being integrated beyond recognition.
In the 20th century, film heroes and heroines join the ranks, and Kleist's warning to leave heroism in the realm of fiction seems forgotten. The film industry bypasses the abstraction template of literature and tends to identify the film star with the hero portrayed. In the undifferentiated media magic of National Socialism, the concept of the hero then fully becomes an ideological-political weapon. The black-and-white view of fascism turns every victim of the First World War into a martyr and hero for the new cause, and the Volkstrauertag (Day of Mourning), celebrated from 1922 onwards, becomes an important reference point for the Nazis' mythologisation efforts in 1934 as a day of remembrance for heroes. After 1945, the Germans seem to have thoroughly lost their appetite for heroes and the hero of yesterday becomes, loosely based on Fritz Bauer, the criminal of today. Heiner Müller disavows the supposed heroes in his story "Das Eiserne Kreuz" (1956) and Brecht's Galilei (U 1943) moans after his forced recantation "Unglücklich das Land, das Helden nötig hat" (Unhappy the country that needs heroes); an exclamation that reads particularly well on the mood in post-war Germany. In the following decades, the Cold War leads to different emphases being placed on the portrayal of literary and cinematic heroes and heroines in the two parts of divided Germany: In the West, male novel heroes are only conceivable as tragicomic figures with banal occupations (Martin Walser), while in the East heroism celebrates its resurrection in female figuration (see Christa Wolf and Irmtraud Morgner) or as the hero of labour. In parallel, feminism in both East and West is making an important contribution to the thorough dismantling of the male hero and the 'gendering' of heroism.
So if the 20th century was especially the century of statistics, as Walter Benjamin had suggested, and the 21st century, as before, has 'Big Data' written all over it, the question arises as to what heroism is still good for? Is it good for everything and at the same time for nothing? Its position in our time is as precarious as that of the individual himself. Does modern mass society, the crush of virtual worlds, no longer need heroes? Are there offers from the filiations of culture that counter this? How, for example, does the world of cartoon and serial heroes, so popular today, access the literary discourse on heroes? Which classical heroes and heroines can be revived today, or which heroic role would have to be rewritten today? Have we even moved from the post-heroic age to a post-post-heroic age again? Are there specifically German hero discourses that have given impetus to the general trend in the West? Questions upon questions that Limbus has set itself the task of investigating for the 15th volume.
Contributions are invited for this volume that analyse the topic of 'heroes' in literary, media or cultural-historical contexts and can thus add new facets to a broad, thoroughly controversial field.
Proposals for contributions are requested by 15 January 2022 to the e-mail addresses below.