Date of Award

2014

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

History

First Advisor

Thomas Childers

Abstract

The Gemeinschaft der Eigenen (The Society of the Self-Determined) was established in 1903 on the outskirts of Berlin to realize the social and political goals espoused by its leader: the author, photographer, and perennial activist, Adolf Brand (1874–1945). Inspired by anarchist political thought, Brand and the organization's members used a rhetoric of personal liberation to advocate for greater social acceptance of male bonding and intimacy and to promote a cult of youthful beauty. The group's unwavering faith in the transformative power of culture was central to the realization of these objectives. A secondary goal was the elimination from the German penal code of Paragraph 175, the statute that prohibited “unnatural acts” between men. This dissertation considers how prominent members of the group contributed to and reacted against the emerging political and scientific debates about the nature of male sexuality in Germany. Representative pieces of literature and visual art produced by the group's members are examined within the context of the era's shifting crosscurrents of political ideology, spirituality, and scientific theory in order to provide greater insight into the cultural anxieties and obsessions of German society. Source material is largely drawn from the thirteen volumes of the organization's flagship publication, Der Eigene—published intermittently from 1896 until 1932 and now regarded as the world's first homosexual journal. In its pages, homoerotic literature, illustrations, and photography depicted an honorable masculine tradition of camaraderie and brotherhood that extended from ancient Greece, through the valor of medieval knights, and into the modern era. Although themselves victims of much prejudice, the group that coalesced around Brand and his magazine was not especially enlightened on many social causes. This myopia is partly explained by the group's emphasis on inherited tradition. Such an emphasis led many of the group's members to be resolutely anti-feminist, disdainful of the women's rights movement, and increasingly anti-Semitic. Finally, the dissertation evaluates the collapse and failure of Brand's political goals as well as his ill-fated project to “rescue” German men and intimate male relationships from what he perceived to be the corrupting influences of femininity and scientific investigation.

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