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The German Genius: Europe’s Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution, and the Twentieth Century Peter Watson (2011)

April 16, 2014

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“A final effect of the reading revolution was on self-consciousness. Print-as-commodity, says Benedict Anderson, generates the “wholly new” idea of simultaneity, as people throughout society realize—via their reading—that others are going through the same experience, having the same thoughts, at the same time. “We are…at the point where communities of the type ‘horizontal-secular, transverse time’ become possible.” In this way public authority was consolidated, helped along by the depersonalized nature of state authority. (66) These developments were more important than they might seem at first because it was these (vernacular) print languages, says Anderson, that laid the basis for nationalistic consciousness. Anderson’s conclusion is that print-capitalism operated on a variety of languages to create a new form of “imagined community,” setting the stage for the modern nation, in which a “national literature” was an important ingredient. (67) In Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Götz von Berlichingen mit der eisernen Hand (Götz von Berlichingen with the Iron Hand), a play about liberty, which describes the decline and fall of an Imperial Knight, the author himself said that the theme of the play was “Germanness emerging” (Deutschheit emergiert).* In the nineteenth century, says Thomas Nipperdey, all this would lead to Germany becoming “the land of schools.””

[op. cit., p. 58]

Manuel J. Matos‘s insight:

There are two things about this passage that I find remarkable. The first is the modernity of such an idea at the time and the huge influence over society that was already patent in it; the other is a mere side note, to make a parallel with the same sort of effect today, via, for lack of a better word, the internet (social media).

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