Designing the Mensch als Kunstwerk : Kant, hygiene, and the aesthetics of health in Wilhelmine Germany / by Beverly K. Grindstaff.
Western hygiene was first defined in Johann Peter Frank's Complete System of Medical Policy (1766–1788) as a comprehensive set of legislated technologies for preserving and promoting all aspects of civic health. It is now a designatory characteristic of all “First World” countries, yet “[n]o problem in the history of late Imperial German scholarship has been more thoroughly examined in recent years than [hygiene's] criminal perversion during the Third Reich.” The majority of these accounts collapse the entirety of the German ‘hygiene movement’ into a singular, irrational ideology of Rassenhygiene [race-hygiene] that makes National Socialist racial policies, and ultimately the Holocaust itself, inevitable. Their teleological narratives provide seeming explanations of the Holocaust and occlude fuller consideration of pre-appropriation hygiene.The Wilhelmine aestheticization of health is chief among the obviated histories. In Prussia, hygiene was transformed from unrealizable legal mandates over the body into a collective set of internalized social virtues. Kant was a primary mechanism of change. He construed of hygiene as a fundamental obligation to oneself and integrated it into his works on ethics, aesthetics, medicine, and anthropology. The result was the healthy German body, created through ethical dedication to a broad constellation of social values and hailed as the “visible expression of moral ideas that govern man ideally .” Kant enshrined it in the judgment of taste, for the benchmark that secures a priori knowledge is the perfected figure of “ man, alone among all objects in the world, who admits of an ideal of beauty.” It supplanted the Classical ideal and prepared for an aesthetic of hygiene. By the early twentieth century Rudolf Virchow, Hermann Muthesius, Peter Behrens, Èmile Jaques-Dalcroze, and Karl August Lingner counted among those whose theories, design, architecture, art, museums, and manufactures had been inducted into the new realm of the Beautiful. They translated public health code, interrelated systems of ethics, reason and taste, the ‘aesthetic education,’ and factors such as labor and consumerism into a distinctly German, distinctly modern style of hygiene. Investigating German hygiene in context restores its original cultural function, clarifies its availability for National Socialist coöption, and illuminates the social operation of aesthetics.
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