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Hollywood, Exile, and New Types of Pictures: Günther Anders’s 1941 California Diary “Washing the Corpses of History”

Published in conjunction with the author's translation of Günther Anders's “Washing the Corpses of History: The Hollywood Costume Palace," which can be read here.

Is it not absurd that at the edge of the quiet Pacific there was a group that gathered to discuss political, philosophical, and sociological questions, while at the same time Hitler was raging in Europe and millions were being burnt to ashes in Auschwitz?

—Günther Anders, Günther Anders antwortet: Interviews und Erklärungen[1]

Every sort of emotion, even fright or indignation can be “enjoyed.” The whole History of Art and Drama testify to this fact, not t[o] speak of horror pictures. Nothing is as merry as dange[r], nothing as agreeable as a tiger as long as he is kept behind bars. And ART provides such bars. Wouldn’t it be ridiculous, always to keep . . . rabbits behind them?

—Günther Anders, Carricartoons: A Suggestion for a New Type of Animated Pictures[2]

When Günther Anders arrived in New York in 1936, following three years of exile in Paris, he tried to achieve “‘a typically American’ breakthrough” (Interviews, 37).[3] One of the first ventures this involved was writing a script for a Charlie Chaplin movie, a script, as Anders adds, that “probably went straight into the bin of some Hollywood agent” (37). For those familiar with Anders’s prolific postwar writings, especially the media theory advanced in the two uncannily prescient volumes of Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen (The Obsolescence of Human Beings), these Hollywood aspirations might come as a surprise.[4] By the time Anders published his central works, which are still only partially translated into English, film and television were presented as inherently destructive media that “disfigure” the human.[5] Yet, in the early years of his exile in the United States, and particularly during a four-year spell in California from 1939–1943, film was regarded as having considerable political (i.e., anti-fascist) potential. The move to California coincided with a short-lived liaison with the actress Eva Heymann (Eva Hyde), who had been cast in a Hollywood production of William Tell.[6] Living in Los Angeles, the “Weimar on the Pacific,” also allowed Anders to reconnect with the wider intellectual scene he had been part of in Germany—first, in the early 1920s, as a student in Freiburg, later as a researcher at the University of Frankfurt, and then, together with his first wife Hannah Arendt, in Berlin, the city he had been forced to leave just days after the Reichstag Fire.[7] In California, Anders participated in seminars hosted by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, at times lived at Herbert Marcuse’s house in Santa Barbara, and also had contact with Berthold and Salka Viertel and writers such as Alfred Döblin, Bertolt Brecht (with whom Anders played chess), and the Mann brothers (to name just a few).[8] But predictably, perhaps, the move to Hollywood also ended up taking the “typical” turn. Lacking the means to support himself as a “Doctor of Philosophy, working on his own account” (as Anders is listed in the 1940 Federal Census), the time spent in Los Angeles would not represent a “breakthrough,” but a time of hardship and indignation marked by the realities of unskilled work and “utter anonymity,” experiences which his later texts would continually revisit and draw upon (fig 1).[9]

Extract from Günther Anders’s Declaration of Intent to apply for American Citizenship, 1936
Fig. 1. Extract from Günther Anders’s Declaration of Intent to apply for American Citizenship, 1936. Courtesy of the National Archives as Riverside, Riverside, California.

This brings me to “Washing the Corpses of History,” Anders’s 1941 California diary, published for here the first time in an English translation. The diary “records” Anders’s experience of working as a cleaner for an unnamed costume company in the supply chain of the Hollywood film industry. The text has come to occupy a central position in the now vast secondary literature on Anders that is available in German, French, and Italian.[10] “Washing the Corpses” provides a hauntingly vivid account of the menial work and “misery of exile” that went on to inform Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen 1 and 2 and the diary’s theoretical theses form part of Anders’s sustained reflections on history and the media theory developed in his later works.[11]

As a (distant) relative of Walter Benjamin, Anders was one of the first readers of the text posthumously published under the title “Theses on the Concept of History.”[12] Anders’s correspondence with Arendt reveals that he read it in early 1941 and “Washing the Corpses” suggests a certain affinity to Benjamin’s text.[13] Anders’s media theory, in turn, is primarily developed in the substantial essay “The World as Phantom and Matrix,” which argues that the virtual (i.e., phantom) world of film cannot be opposed to reality, as film is increasingly itself a determining factor in how reality unfolds.[14] By confronting us with Anders’s predicament of potentially having to polish the replica “boots of Nazi storm troopers” despite having run away from the originals, the diary’s first entry places us in the midst of this problematic.[15] The opening image also initiates the text’s alignment of Hollywood and exile, entertainment and destruction, an alignment that is developed into an interlaced and multilayered dialectic between the artificial and the real, the old world and the new, the highbrow and the vulgar, America and Europe, mass-produced trash and humanistic cultural value. On this foundation, the darkly humorous portrayal of the institutional politics that shaped Anders’s daily cleaning routine builds into a sustained reflection on the commodification, transmission, and destruction of European culture by the distinct but yet combined efforts of Hitler and Hollywood.

In the many biographical accounts of Anders’s extraordinary life, “Washing the Corpses” is often treated as a straightforward diary.[16] But things are not as they might at first appear. The diary is not fake—there is no reason to doubt that it stems from original notes—but, as we learn in the Postscript to the collected diaries in which it first appeared in 1967, these diary notes were “retouched” for publication. As the Postscript explains:

The texts have been retouched without exception. Who believes that a lump of dough is categorically more real and genuine [echt] than the bread the dough was baked into will probably call them inauthentic [unecht]. This does not bother me. I did not see my task in dispensing flour or dough. Quite the contrary, I only ever recorded experiences or events if these seemed to demand that they still be thought to an end, lived and experienced to an end, and articulated to an end. This means that the retroactive work on these first sketches—their elaboration and alteration—was not an undertaking that was alien to them and was not something that could have made them “false” [unecht]. In fact, it was my belief that only those snapshots managed to prove themselves as legitimate, as “true and genuine” [echt] if you will, if they managed to gain their full truth with the elaboration and alteration they required.[17]

This typically unapologetic account of why his retroactive interventions expose the truth rather than falsifying it culminates in the Postscript’s final image, in which Anders notes that his diaries are meant to serve as vehicles of perception, as “microscopes” that expose “the ongoing destruction of the world and of our existence today” (Die Schrift, 434, 433). The diaries, therefore, are explicitly envisaged as devices that open critical perspectives onto the present and not as biographical or historical records.[18]

And indeed, it is readily apparent that the 1941 California diary is not a direct historical account, as is already hinted at by the anachronicity of the way Anders introduces himself as an “enemy alien” in the postscript: in March 1941 America was not at war with Germany, so Anders would not (yet) have been classified thus (“Washing”). Attempts to identify the building the diary portrays as the “Hollywood Custom Palace” have so far not yielded any conclusive results. It is probable, to relay a conversation between Olga Rachello and Leighton Bowers, Director of Research and Archives at Western Costume Company (WCC), that the WCC would have been Anders’s place of employment, but the relevant records no longer survive. At the time, the WCC would have been the only company to match key aspects of the account provided in “Washing the Corpses” (such as, for instance, the size of the company, its multi-studio customer base, and the wide range of items kept in storage) (fig. 2). But the actual building the WCC was housed in by 1941 does not fit the description in the diary. What emerges from these discrepancies between the text and the reality it portrays is that the diary seems to operate according to the very logic it ascribes to Hollywood movies: the past it conveys seems to “outshin[e]” what actually was, and its sense of authenticity is in parts projected for dramatic effect (“Washing”).

Employee examining boots at Western Costume Company, Bronson Building, Los Angeles, 1935
Fig. 2. Employee examining boots at Western Costume Company, Bronson Building, Los Angeles, 1935. (Note: the person in the image is not Günther Anders). Courtesy of Western Costume Research Library and Archive.

These inconsistencies, however, can also be read as the strongest indications that Anders’s diary is a genuine product of exile. In an important early portrayal of Anders’s work—in a seminal four-volume overview of German-language literature written in exile—Henri Paucker argues that Anders’s writings, although mostly published after his return to Europe in 1950, “must not only be regarded as Exilliteratur, but must be seen to define the term in an exemplary manner.”[19] Put otherwise, the “misery of exile” is not merely depicted in the diaries, the delayed publication of the diaries is also a reflection of the condition of exile itself, which meant that a German speaking readership could only be reached long after the fact.[20] In the time thus elapsed, the experience of exile came to mediate the eventual reencounter with Europe and European culture. This was not only a reencounter with a departed world that no longer existed, but also a reencounter with the world putatively just left behind in America: by 1950, Europe and the newly formed Federal Republic of Germany, especially, were witnessing the rapid rise of a consumerist society from the physical and psychological ruins left by the war.[21]

Anders’s later work thus not only responds to the impact of technological change, but also to the way in which this coincides with a profound form of cultural amnesia. Anders calls this forgetting “the destruction of destruction,” a destruction that happens through the construction of environments geared to consumerist life-styles that suppressed the past whilst tacitly preserving and reestablishing “gentle” totalitarian power structures.[22] This means that by the time of publication in 1967, the microcosm of the Hollywood Costume Palace was also intersecting with life in a society that was treating the atrocities of the past as if they had happened elsewhere and had been perpetrated by another people.[23] Anders’s later work attempts to expose and confront what the Postscript of the collected diaries calls “the ongoing destruction of our world today,” and in the remainder of this essay I will focus on some of the narrative strategies that it deploys to do so (Die Schrift, 433). It is these strategies, I show, that lead us back to California as they intersect with a number of (unpublished) film scripts that Anders compiled in Hollywood. The scripts reveal that, before becoming an object of overt caricature and critique, Hollywood’s popular genres and “vulgar” products also played a part in the stylistic transformation that Anders’s work underwent during the long years of exile (“Washing”).

This transformation, ironically perhaps, led to the very “breakthrough” Anders was unable to achieve with his film ideas in America. Upon returning to Europe in 1950 and adopting more popular forms of writing, the occupation listed in the 1940 Californian census—“Doctor of Philosophy, working on his own account”—became a reality: Anders was one of the few thinkers of his generation able to live (precariously) from his writing (to date, the German edition of Die Antiquiertheit 1 has sold over 80,000 copies).[24] Today, the intense scholarship on Anders’s work in Continental Europe and its gradual discovery in a number of emerging paradigms in Anglophone scholarship (e.g., the Anthropocene and Posthumanism) are shaped by the growing recognition that Anders’s (deceptively) easy style is not merely a product of a “true obsession” with the reader (as Theodor Adorno scathingly put it in a 1963 letter), but that it is also a direct response to the core problematic of Anders’s later work.[25] This problematic is first spelled out in a contribution Anders made to a seminar on “The Theory of Needs” convened by Adorno and Max Horkheimer in Los Angeles in 1942. Following a reiteration of the core thesis of his early work in philosophical anthropology—“artificiality is the nature of man”—Anders notes that “the artificiality of the human grows” as modernity unfolds, because humans are increasingly becoming the product of their own products.[26] This dynamic is presented as opening an ever wider “differential” (Die Antiquiertheit 1, 16) between the individual and the world of products as a whole.

Much of Anders’s later work tracks the consequences of this “Promethean differential,” which is said to be creating a “world without us” (Die Antiquiertheit 2, 5). As our lives are increasingly outsourced, dependent on and lived through complex machines and the networks of relations they form and bind us into, notions of human agency, freedom, and individual responsibility as articulated by the European Enlightenment tradition become obsolete and ridiculously absurd. For Anders, this absurdity is heightened by the fact that the self-production of the human is now shaped by ever-more stimulating media technologies that feed us with the very image of the human that they themselves have already helped to pragmatically annul. It is this tendency of machines to place us at an ever further and more incomprehensible distance from our own acts and the world we are part of that Anders seeks to viscerally confront us with in the two volumes of Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen, in his prolific writings on nuclear weapons, and in multifaceted interventions in the cultural politics of memory.[27] These writings emerge from a clearly articulated desire to address these topics in a manner that will elicit an emotional as much as intellectual response. The material that survives from the long years exile reveals that this was a time of experimentation in which Anders gradually arrives at the view that writing could create “machines that define feeling,” machines that could thereby expose the unnoticed and unacknowledged effects of more modern forms of technology.[28] And this brings me to film and the Suggestions for New Types of Pictures that Anders developed in exile in California.

New Types of Pictures: Exaggeration, Caricature, and the Revelatory Power of Laughter

The starting point for my engagement with Anders’s film scripts has to be a cautionary remark. From the late 1920s onwards, Anders predominantly turned to poetry and literature in his attempts to confront the rise of fascism. This is evident in his own prolific literary and poetic production, which is comprised of novellas, a substantial anti-fascist novel and hundreds of poems mostly written and published during the years of exile (with the intent, as this is put in a 1946 letter to Heinrich Mann, to generate “didactic terror”).[29] In parallel, Anders also produced the aforementioned scholarly essays in philosophical anthropology (published in French in the mid 1930s) and substantial engagements with predominantly modernist literature and art. These include a book on Franz Kafka, and essays on John Heartfield, Georg Grosz, Samuel Beckett, Alfred Döblin, Bertolt Brecht, and Rainer Maria Rilke. In the late 1920s and early 30s, Anders also conducted phenomenological investigations of music and listening. In 1930, Anders’s short essay “Spuk und Radio” ("Haunting and Radio"), written in Berlin in response to the appearance of commercial radio sets equipped with loudspeakers, made an early attempt to confront the unsettling forces of technological modernity: “when humans let loose their own products into the world, they reap their haunting in return.”[30] Anders equates this feedback loop with the “demonic spirit” of modern technology and this early diagnosis already insists that it is above all else “surrealistic literature” that was trying to “‘keep up’” with the “ghosts” released by our “own excessive innovations” (“Spuk und Radio,” 66).

Anders’s investment in a surrealist literary imaginary is easy to detect in the portrayal of “The Hollywood Custom Palace,” as is the influence of his more scholarly writings.[31] These initially conceptualize the human as a being that is intrinsically estranged from the world [weltfremd], a condition manifest in the fact that we require the shocks of experience to get to know it.[32] The experience of exile, however, leads to a more singular, nuanced and political perspective in which Weltfremdheit is presented as the mark of the émigré’s exclusion, as the mark of not sharing the experience of those left behind or met abroad. This worldlessness [Weltfremdheit], Anders notes in 1946, is made all the more unbearable by the fact that émigrés experience the suffering of those who did not escape as “their own moral failure,” “a failure,” Anders adds, that is “amplified by their inability to act” and utter powerlessness to change the situation.[33]

The transformation of Anders’s style of writing and praxis can be seen as a product of this burning desire to “act” and intervene. The tension between highbrow European culture and the “vulgar” popular products of Hollywood that “Washing the Corpses” stages at every turn at least partially reflects this desire, as this tension is central to the protracted reflections about style that survive from the years of exile. This material underlines how the ever-bleaker reports from Europe led Anders to fundamentally question his own poetic and scholarly praxis. As the war came to an end, the prospect of writing for a German-speaking readership that had lived through the horrors of the war as perpetrators and victims (and often both), merely added to this profound self-doubt about his mode of address. This personal struggle to find an appropriate tone resulted in the almost total abandonment of writing poetry and scholarly works and gave rise to more accessible and popular forms of writing: “Washing the Corpses” is a prime example. And as part of this struggle Anders also turned to Hollywood film. As we will see, beside viewing scriptwriting as a potential source of income, cinematic experience is sought out because Anders deems it capable of generating “shock,” a shock that could make the incomprehensible horror of the war “real” by inscribing abstract knowledge with the immediacy of a lived experience.[34]

In order to induce this shock in a manner that could ensure that his films could be “enjoyed” by a wide audience, Anders turns to the power of laughter and surrealistic humor. As such, the film scripts that survive in the Anders Archive, located above the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, reveal that the “vulgar” products of Hollywood that “Washing the Corpses” so forcefully denigrates also informed Anders’s own reorientation as a writer. The scripts also corroborate the verdict Jean Michel Rabaté reaches on Anders’s pioneering book on Kafka, namely that Anders’s later critiques of technology “conceal a theory of laughter.”[35] The cinematic experiments advanced in the film scripts intersect with the narrative strategies deployed in later (written) works, which are explicitly written for a “post-literary” age in which images take precedence over words (Die Antiquiertheit 1, 3). This diagnosis in itself underlines the vital role that the deceptive immediacy of feeling, laughter, and sensory perception comes to play in Anders’s thought.

The film scripts kept in the Archive are written in English and they were completed during Anders’s early years of exile. The earliest is entitled Suggestions for New Types of Pictures and comprises two outlines entitled “IF” and “MAN WITHOUT FACE” (the typescript is headed by Anders’s Hollywood address and dated 1939).[36] A later, more substantial typescript is called Carricartoons: A suggestion for a new type of Animated Pictures (1942 or 1943, possibly completed back in New York). I will align these scripts with, arguably, one of the funniest scenes of “Washing the Corpses,” the portrayal of the three “identical” Napoleon costumes that is offered in the entries dated March 15 and 16, 1941. This can illustrate how the cinematic techniques contemplated in the scripts intersect with the narrative techniques adopted in later texts, which thereby become what might be called a form of written film, and through this alignment the wider political and philosophical stakes of Anders’s turn to cinema become visible.

As readers, we are introduced to the three “identical” Napoleon costumes “with sewn-on snow” by means of a trick of perspective that is contemplated in “MAN WITHOUT FACE” (“Washing,” 5). We “see millions of things” in the course of our daily lives, as the strange title of the script is explained, but the one thing we do not see is “ourselves”; as such we constitute “a hole in [our] visible world” as we “see solely parts of our body or our hands or encounter ourselves in the mirror (Suggestions, 5). Shooting a movie from this perspective, Anders elaborates, would heighten realism but would also create a surrealistic effect as audiences are accustomed to visual mastery and control; they are used to look “at” heroes not through their eyes (5). It is this separation and detachment that the new genre of film would seek to subvert by “show[ing] the average day of an average person without showing the ‘person of the day’” (6). The portrayal of the Napoleon costumes serves to underline that the “man without face” technique finds deployment in the diaries. These often are narrated with the aid of a first-person narrative voice that continually provides a disjointed, real-time account of what this “I” can see and what its hands are doing, thus inviting the reader to co-execute its movements and thoughts. This narrative perspective lends the theoretical reflections that are woven into these fragments of experience an immediacy and experiential backdrop that makes them seem intuitive, tangible, and concrete.

The most apparent manipulation of perspective Anders’s later works conduct is their investment in exaggeration and comic distortion. This procedure is central to Anders’s Carricartoons, which discusses the potential of this approach by means of a peculiar sales pitch that opens with a critique of the American cartoon (i.e., Micky Mouse). Because cartoons are from the outset conceived as a “commodity . . . to be sold,” the script opens, they seek to please the widest possible audience (Carricartoons, 2). Yet the resulting “harmlessness” and desire to appease, Anders continues, has condemned cartoons to only ever being amusing (2). “[R]eal laughter,” the script insists, must be directed at a concrete target and negotiate a power relation or else it is not animated by the “feeling of sudden relief and superiority” from which laughter is said to draw its irrepressible force (2). “[T]he pupil who bursts out laughing when his teacher is effectfully [sic] imitated by one of his schoolfriends,” Anders explains, only does so because the teacher’s superiority is “real” and because this superiority is also “experienced with fear” (3). And whilst pitching a new genre of cartoon that is informed by the European tradition of caricature, the script goes on to provide a rudimentary outline of the theory of laughter that Rabaté suspects to have informed the later works.

In the schematic Anders begins to introduce with the aid of the example, laughter is equated to an act of perception. The pupil, because of his schoolfriend’s imitation, is made to face a “real” power relation and feared authority in a new way, and the very act of laughter inevitably also makes the pupil complicit with a challenge to authority that may otherwise perhaps not even have happened in thought. What becomes apparent here, then, is that Anders’s recurring insistence that his diaries and writings are vehicles of perception—microscopes to look through and not portraits to look at—is more than a mere metaphor. Anders’s statement is consistent with the logic outlined in the film script, a logic that is operative both on the level of narrative perspective (e.g., “Man without Face”) and on the level of content, which consists of comically distorted portrayals (e.g., Napoleon), frequent impressions of work colleagues and caricatured descriptions of his own role in the Hollywood Custom Palace. In the scripts, these techniques are explicitly tasked to translate abstract, suppressed, and putatively distant and unlived realities into an immediate affective response. The wider stakes of this approach are revealed as we align the targets we are made to laugh at in the retouched Californian diaries with the ones we are offered in the envisaged films.

Like “IF” (a third film idea, which I turn to below), Carricartoons engages with current events and subverts a realist genre (fig. 3). The plot Anders introduces as an example of a carricartoon mimics a German news reel about a Hitler speech, but in place of a propaganda film, we are made to imagine a graphic vision of ruin. A grotesque audience of the assembled dead is placed before our mind’s eye, an audience that gradually displaces a rapt Nazi crowd, and it is this vision of death and decay that is used to inscribe the celebratory words of the news reader with the reality they conceal. To achieve the desired effect, the aesthetic of such a carricartoon, Anders elaborates in his addendum, would have to categorically break with the aesthetic of propaganda cartoons and comic portrayals of Hitler such as Chaplin’s, which are dismissed for being too funny, childish, and amusing, capable of instigating a mere “dollhouse-catastrophy [sic]” (p. b). In their place, Anders pitches a veritable cinematic weapon. Its aesthetic would be informed by “The Horrors of [Goya],” “the deadly ridiculing of Daumiers [sic] Charivari Lithographies [sic],” and Georg Grosz’s “X ray-like unmasking of seemingly worthy people” (b–c). The final product ought to ensure that a “climax . . . of fun, of fright, of indignation” strikes with “the suddenness of an explosion” (c). The laughter envisaged here is a gasp of shock and is anything but funny or cathartic; it is a bursting valve that vents forcefully built-up horror and indignation. As such, the whole script speaks of Anders’s burning desire to act in view of the reports from across the Atlantic. By bringing the European tradition of caricature into cartoon, a tradition, which, as the script asserts, “was always a sort of unbloody defense against the supp[r]essor,” Anders explicitly seeks to confront the American public with an experiential impression of the reality “over there”; a reality that this disinterested public did not face with the émigré’s intense personal anguish and sense of guilt (3).

 A suggestion for a new type of Animated Pictures”
Fig. 3. Extract from the typescript “Carricartoons: A suggestion for a new type of Animated Pictures” (c. 1942/3). Courtesy of the Literary Archive of the Austrian National Library.

By the late 1960s, as “Washing the Corpses” exemplifies, such full-blown attacks on readers’ sensibilities have been dismissed, and instead, many of Anders’s writings directly stage the condition of exile and feelings of powerlessness in an exaggerated manner. Rather than depicting horror directly and imagining it for us in an amplified form, later works invoke horror only by bracketing it out. They achieve this by making the reader adopt an émigré’s point of view. Rather than facing horror, we as readers are made to impersonate Anders and, in this new and elaborately dramatized guise, we are made to confront our own inability to face and imagine horror. As the portrayal of the three “identical” Napoleon costumes helps to disclose, our gaze is not directed at the past but at the present. And this brings me to the “target” of the portrayal of the three identical Napoleon costumes.

At first sight, the portrayal of the costumes seems to suggest that Napoleon himself is the object of caricature. The initial depiction of the costumes conflates sameness and difference and thus creates a comically distorted image—“I don’t deny of course . . . that No. 2 is a hand’s width longer than No. 1, and that No. 3 is a hand’s width longer than No. 2” (“Washing,” 5). This leads, suggestively, into a vision of a whole Napoleon product range. The text further strengthens the affective bond to Napoleon thus generated by asking the reader to imagine what the world would look like “if” Napoleon had died before giving rise to his own serialization. As this question is central to the film idea entitled “IF,” we can be reasonably certain that it is here also deployed with the hope that it will generate, what the script calls, “surrealistic shock” (Suggestions, 3).

But the amusing exercise of trying to fill the costumes with actors of different sizes and shop shelves with Napoleon products only to then unimagine Napoleon’s existence altogether merely serves to dress up the anxiety we are said to feel when we are confronted with unique items. The portrayal of Napoleon thus lends immediacy and realism to the sense of powerlessness and panic Anders evokes, whilst leading us into the (somewhat Benjaminian) image that history is but one giant inferno that is continually “turning unique copies into ash—no matter if these are books, laws, institutions, or humans” (“Washing”). By shifting the “target” of caricature onto Anders’s (i. e. our) own inability to imagine horror, the surrealistic form of humor discussed in Carricartoons now produces a very different effect. In place of gasping horror, the portrayal of Napoleon offers us a gentler form of laughter, but with its aid, the reader, like the pupil in Anders’s example, is forced to acknowledge a powerlessness that is “real.” Laughter here references panic and thus opens a path to the examination of private feelings of indignation and shame that are so powerfully suppressed that we need the aid of laughter to tease them into the open.[37] And it is “On Promethean Shame,” the first chapter of Die Antiquiertheit 1 that provides the punchline of the entire scene: what is caricatured with the aid of Napoleon is the “credo” of the Enlightenment tradition itself, the postulate, namely, that “each individual . . . is irreplaceable (and ‘irreplaceably valuable’).”[38] If Hitler annulled this “credo” by patent acts of destruction, or so the inference of the Napoleon scene seems to run, then Hollywood does the same by means of adaptation and reproduction.[39]

With this analogy between Hollywood and Hitler the wider stakes and contexts of the self-contained portrayal of exile in “Washing the Corpses” begin to become apparent. Looking back at his own work in the Preface to his 1947–1949 New York Diary Lieben gestern (“what being in love meant yesterday”), which was published in 1986, Anders relates how “amazed [he] is to realize how closely related even the most thematically diverse, context specific and spontaneous [okkasionellsten] of [his] writings are” especially as they were not the product of a preexisting philosophical “system.”[40] This “system après coups,” to cite Christian Dries, seems animated by the very delay between the recording of experiences in the form of notes, fragmented opportunist reflections, and then returning to these to “live,” “think” and “feel them to an end” through the act of retouching (Die Schrift, 427).[41] The scene with Napoleon is a prime example that initial ideas give rise to a number of variations across multiple genres: an early version of the idea that no commodity can claim to be original or singular can already be found in the (unpublished) 1927/28 Notes for a Louvre Diary.[42] It is picked up in the remarkable essay “Homeless Sculpture,” which was published in English in 1944, and records a speech Anders delivered on the March 13, 1943 at the Vigovino Galleries in California in the context of a major exhibition of Rodin’s sculptures.[43] It is featured again in several further iterations in both volumes of Die Antiquiertheit and is mostly evoked with the aid of anecdotes from California and a set of diary entries also dated to 1941.[44] As this peculiar type of humor is merely one of the resources of Anders’s writing style—many of Anders’s later works adopt different rhetorical strategies and most diaries are written in a much more sober and somber tone—the fact that these Californian scenes are consistently portrayed with the aid of comic exaggeration traces the contours of a possible unifying logic. For the way in which references to a specific time and place are used to inscribe abstract ideas with affective content confirms that California does not seem to stand for a place or even Anders’s own personal past, but that it signifies the “posthumanist condition” his work seeks to map out. More than this, with the aid of humor, it also seeks to make the reader acknowledge it as a condition that is “real” and that is being met with an unarticulated “fear.”

To bring this connection further to the foreground, I will end with a small glimpse at a variation of the Napoleon scene that can be found in the 1956 essay “On Promethean Shame” (chapter 1 of Die Antiquiertheit 1), which opens with a collection of diary entries from California dated to March 1942. “On Promethean Shame” at once pre- and postdates “Washing the Corpses” (a 1941 diary published in 1967), thus further exemplifying the inextricable temporal and chronological confusions of exile that shape Anders’s work. “On Promethean Shame” opens by recounting a visit to an exhibition of household appliances to introduce the “shame when confronted by the ‘humiliatingly’ high quality of fabricated things” (the feeling from which the text draws its title) (On Promethean Shame,” 30, emphasis in original). This new form of shame, as the diary entries speculate, is ultimately rooted in the fact that we owe our existence to the “blind and uncalculated, the highly archaic process of procreation and birth, which places [us] in stark contrast to the immaculate products, which are carefully designed through and through” (30). “Promethean shame” thus names the active, but tragically unrealizable desire to be a machine and escape the “malaise of being unique,” and it is in the section entitled “Iconomania,” which addresses “our addiction to images” taken of ourselves, that we can find a variation of the Napoleon scene (51–56, 56–58, 56). But rather than focusing on enhanced and ever more splendid costumes, “On Promethean Shame” discusses the fate of the bodies that they adorn.

As soon as projected photorealistic images become our principle point of access to the world, the section opens, our own inescapably singular existence as originals is in danger of being experienced as an intolerable, anxiety inducing flaw. To escape this, one takes pictures of oneself and carries these along, thus voluntarily transforming oneself into a phantom self that achieves the concreteness of an object and thing-like quality of other products. The moment this anxiety is felt, however, as Anders elaborates, the meaning of “authenticity” has already been inverted from within, for it has become a measure of the original’s ability to live up to the projection, and thus measures the pragmatic realism of the image that exceeds that of the original. “It follows as a matter of course,” Anders adds, that in this changed reality movie stars become objects of envy, as their existence in a “product range” (to cite “Washing the Corpses”) demonstrates that they have made “successful inroads into the sphere of mass products” (“On Promethean Shame,” 56).

This new-found power and influence, however, comes at a price, one that Anders spells out with the aid of a photograph of a Hollywood star actress, a photograph that will keep on smiling even as the original goes “the way ‘of all flesh’” (57) (fig. 4). The inexorably widening gap between the singular original and the eternally “wrinkle-free” photographic replica of her younger self is presented as the cause for a new form of shame that is introduced to the reader as “Hollywood privacy” (57). In order to preserve the validity of the disseminated image, the actress is under pressure, from various directions and also from within, to “hide everything that could become detrimental to [its] validity” (57). Even while seemingly celebrating and paying homage to the actress’s singular beauty and distinction, the image thus devalues and undermines the singular and finite existence she embodies. With this the “credo” of the Enlightenment vision has been pragmatically annulled, even while being disseminated and celebrated via various channels. The actress has become exiled, she is forced to flee her own image, for her very attempt to participate in the world with its aid has led to her exclusion from it. She has handed herself over to others in effigies, and these effigies now lay claim to her in multiple ways. Thus, with the rise of Hollywood, the putatively celebrated actress, whose fate is exaggerated to contemplate the fate of all of us, has become wordless in a new way.

Portrait Photograph of Greta Garbo
Fig. 4. Portrait Photograph of Greta Garbo (1905–1990). “The immortal Garbo” is referenced in Anders’s discussion of Hollywood privacy (“On Promethean Shame,” 57). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The account of the star actress, the negative image of the Napoleon scene, underlines how much of Anders’s later work attempts to trace the contours of what it presents as a growing but unacknowledged worldlessness and expropriation in an increasingly “conditional” world.[45] This is a world shaped by unprecedented constellations and concentrations of power that configure themselves around ever more powerful and capable technological objects. The “Hollywood privacy” diagnosed in the above example is one of multiple forms of anxiety, doubt and embarrassment Anders isolates to suggest that the body has already began to autonomously devalue itself by measuring itself up to the machine and the image, rather than measuring these against itself. The wager of Anders’s rhetoric, of course, is that the feelings thus exaggerated will spontaneously feel familiar and that even the slightest smile will automatically suggest the presence of a repressed truth that is “real” and being faced with fear.

This short glimpse at “On Promethean Shame” should suffice to underline, therefore, that the later works do indeed deploy a theory of laughter as Rabaté suggests, and this is a theory that strongly aligns with the logic of caricature introduced in the scripts. Exaggeration thus not only has the analytic function of making something hidden visible, which Anders comments on in his frequent analogies to microscopy.[46] Exaggeration also doubles as a form of comic distortion that is tasked to act as an “unbloody defense against the supp[r]essor” and “a counterpressure against real social or political pressure” (Carricartoons, 3, 4). By animating laugher, the later texts thus also seem intent on automating a silent revolt against the ongoing “‘technificiation’ of our being” and the way this impacts on the contingencies of existence.[47] “There are truly few things that are as profoundly comical,” Anders concludes in a 1946 “lullaby for lovers, philosophers and members of other lines of work,” “as the contingent fact that we all . . . factually exist and that each and every one of us exists precisely as themselves.”[48] This double fate, as Anders jibes at the deadly earnest of Heidegger’s Being and Time, can only be faced with “humor”—it can only be faced with “a mixture of amazement and joy, warmth and renunciation of meaning, nihilism and amusement” (Mariechen, 83, emphasis in original).

Outlook: “A newly acquired Past”

This excursion into the Anders Archive and the light it sheds on the rhetorical strategies deployed in “Washing the Corpses” cannot resolve the question what changes Anders made to the original text whilst “retouching” his diary notes for publication. I hope, however, that this essay has served to reinforce Henri Paucker’s suggestion that Anders’s later works are genuinely and inextricably linked to modernity and the condition of exile. Whilst confronting and personalizing these world historical forces, Anders’s diaries do not offer us affects that are as frightful as the “terrifying tiger” envisaged in the film scripts, instead they opt for more mundane and more subtly distorted images. Yet in the process of harnessing and redirecting his own experience of exile to animate feelings of indignation, powerlessness, and hypocrisy for the reader, Anders truly does become a “man without face.” For the presence we meet in the text is itself a phantom. Its captivating presence is all too easily mistaken to be authentic and real, but it begins to disintegrate the moment one seeks to probe its existence. It serves as a vehicle to wrest us as readers out of “the ivory tower of perception,” in an attempt to activate imagination “as a corrective force” and “empirical method” that can bring monstrous realities into sight that we usually fail to consciously acknowledge and see.[49] The inconsistencies that can be found in Anders’s diaries, and his own paradoxical presence in them, are thus fully consistent with the condition of exile from which they emerge and which they seek to expose.

This translation of one of Anders’s key short texts will hopefully add further momentum to the discovery of his work in the English-speaking world, not least because, as is often highlighted, the significance of the perspectives it opens seems to be growing not diminishing. Put otherwise, and to end on a line from “Washing the Corpses,” Anders’s work can open up onto a “newly acquired past” in more ways than one (11; emphasis in original). It constitutes a substantial gap in the history and reception of twentieth-century German thought, one that has already been acknowledged (and partially addressed) in Continental Europe. As such, it also lends itself to a reassessment of the overdetermined image of émigré intellectual life in 1930s and ‘40s California, an image which intersects with the wider anti-American sensibilities that can be detected in much of postwar German thought. This is an image, as Martin Woessner puts it, that invites us “to picture Europe’s most vaunted artists, musicians, and writers baking, in their Old-World suits and ties, on the beaches of Southern California”—“a place,” he continues, “as foreign to their cultured sensibilities as could possibly be” (Heidegger in America, 41). While this catches some of the “sensibilities” that find expression in “Washing the Corpses,” Anders’s work also radically stands apart. It is the product of the kind of institutional precarity that has become the norm for emerging scholars today, and, whilst navigating the hypocrisies and contradictions that shaped humanities research in a time in which its subject matter was already beginning to be cast as antiquated and obsolete, it arrived at diagnoses that might be similar to that of his contemporaries, but which nevertheless translate into the present in a much more immediate manner. And the “shock,” comic and otherwise, that Anders’s diagnoses are at times still capable of inducing, is the realization that his surrealistically exaggerated portrayals of the past often seem to have aged into realist depictions of the world today.


I would like to thank Olga Rachello for her research assistance in Los Angeles which made a considerable contribution to this article. Leighton Bowers, Director of Research and Archive at Western Costume Company (WCC), has provided invaluable information and I would like to thank her for permission to include some images from the WCC Archive. Gerhard Oberschlick, Anders’s literary executor, has kindly granted permission to reproduce quotes from Anders’s unpublished film scripts, and I am also grateful for the help of Kerstin Putz, from the Literary Archive of the Austrian National Library in Vienna, whose knowledge of Anders’s work and the archive has contributed to this work. Michaela Ullmann, Exile Studies Librarian at USC Libraries Special Collections, very helpfully providing me with remote access to the Anders-Feuchtwanger correspondence cited below. Finally, I would like to thank Sorrel Dunn for her very helpful editorial suggestions and support. Unless otherwise stated, all citations from German source texts are my translations.

[1] Günther Anders, Günther Anders antwortet: Interviews und Erklärungen, ed. Elke Schubert (Berlin: Tiamat, 1987), 36.

[2] Günther Anders, Carricartoons: A suggestion for a new type of Animated Pictures (1942 or 1943, unpublished typescript), LIT 237/W29, Nachlass Günther Anders, Literary Archives of the Austrian National Library, Vienna. All further references refer to the typescript. Since submission of this article, Carricartoons, and the other film scripts discussed here, have been published as part of the fifth substantial posthumous book volume of Anders’s unpublished writings. See Günther Anders, “Caricartoons: A Suggestion for a New Type of Animated Pictures,” in Schriften zu Kunst und Film, ed. Reinhard Ellensohn and Kerstin Putz (Munich: C.H. Beck, 2020), 73–83.

[3] Günther Anders (1902–1992; born Günther Stern) was a German-Jewish writer, philosopher, literary author, and political activist. In the English-speaking world, Anders is perhaps still best known for his many links to key literary and intellectual figures of the twentieth century. He was a relative of Walter Benjamin, the first husband of Hannah Arendt, and completed his doctorate under Edmund Husserl at University of Freiburg where Martin Heidegger was also one of his teachers. In the early 1930s, Günther Stern adopted the name “Anders” whilst writing for a Berlin newspaper. He was forced into exile in early March 1933 and after three years in Paris he moved to America in 1936. In exile, Anders worked a number “odd jobs,” published poetry and scholarly articles and, from 1947–1949, he was also a lecturer at the New School for Social Research in New York (Interviews, 37). Upon his return to Europe in 1950 he settled in Vienna and opted against an academic career. He became a writer and political activist and went on to publish close to thirty books. Late in life, his work was honored with a number of prizes, including The Theodor Adorno Prize (1983) and The Sigmund-Freud Prize for academic prose (1992). A detailed and beautifully illustrated account of Anders’s extraordinary life and work is available from the International Günther Anders Society.

[4] Günther Anders, Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen 1: Über die Seele im Zeitalter der zweiten industriellen Revolution (Munich: C.H. Beck, 2010); Günther Anders, Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen 2: Über die Zerstörung des Lebens im Zeitalter der dritten industriellen Revolution (Munich: C.H. Beck, 2002). There is currently no consensus in anglophone scholarship on how to translate the title of Anders’s central work. I have opted for The Obsolescence of Human Beings here. The Outdatedness or Antiquatedness of Human Beings are possible and perhaps more literal alternatives.

[5] Günther Anders, “The Obsolescence of Privacy,” trans. Christopher J. Müller, ConterText: A Journal for the Study of the Post-Literary 3, no. 1 (2017): 20-46, 25. The German original, “Die Antiquiertheit der Privatheit,” was first published in Die Antiquiertheit 2, 210–246.

[6] It is not entirely clear if Eva Hyde was in fact Anders’s girlfriend at the time, as the secondary literature and Anders’s own archival material also suggest a love affair with the Hungarian dancer Veronica Pataky.

[7] See Ehrhard Bahr, Weimar on the Pacific: German Exile Culture in Los Angeles and the Crisis of Modernism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007). Bahr’s study mentions Anders only in passing. A more detailed account of Anders’s time in California can be found in Martin Woessner’s Heidegger in America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 66–78. For a discussion of Anders’s omission from anglophone accounts of émigré life in California, see Adi Armon, “The Parochialism of Intellectual History: The Case of Günther Anders,” Leo Baeck Institute Year Book 62 (2017): 225–241.

[8] The connections listed here are documented mostly through correspondences, anecdotal references, and through Anders’s own writings. In 1936, Max Horkheimer had helped Anders emigrate to the United States and obtain a visa by providing money and an official (if merely imputed) invite to work for the Institute of Social Research. Peter Marcuse, Herbert Marcuse’s son, notes: “My recollection is that, in 1940 or 1941, Anders was pretty well down and out. He rented a room in our house in Santa Monica, 218 18th Street, and lived there for a number of months” (“Charlotte Zelka [1930-Oct. 6, 2001],” Günther Anders: Journalist, Philosopher, Essayist, 1902-1992—a page maintained by Harold Marcuse, accessed November 1, 2019). The following extract from a 1985 interview can give an impression of how Anders would later characterize the years of exile in a manner that cultivated a position of being “Philosophy’s Outsider” (to use Konrad Paul Liessmann’s expression): “during my emigration, I temporarily lived in the house of Herbert Marcuse in Santa Monica; but also Marcuse and I did not actually ‘do philosophy’ together. I did not belong anywhere. I was no longer a Heideggerian, I’d given that up many years earlier, did not belong to the circle of Adorno and Horkheimer, was never a member of the Frankfurter Institute and was not a party member. I was not actually taken seriously: not by Brecht, because my philosophy was not Marxist enough, and not by the academics, because these did not understand me when I said: Astronomers do not primarily study the Astronomical Theories of other people, Astronomers study the stars” (Konrad Paul Liessmann, “Between the Chairs: Günther Anders—Philosophy’s Outsider” in The Life and Work of Günther Anders: Émigré, Iconoclast, Philosopher, Man of Letters, ed. Günter Bischof, Jason Dawsey, and Bernhard Fetz [Innsbruck: Studien Verlag, 2014], 73–82; Interviews, 102). For a detailed account of Anders’s circumstances and the intellectual networks he was part of in California, see Max Beck, Günther Andersʼ Gelegenheitsphilosophie: Exilerfahrung—Begriff—Form (Vienna: Klever, 2017), 28–43 and Kerstin Putz, “Improvised Lives: Günther Anders’s American Exile,” in Quiet Invaders Revisited: Biographies of Twentieth Century Immigrants to the United States, ed. Günter Bischof (Innsbruck: Studien Verlag, 2017), 231–241.

[9]Sixteenth Census of the United States: 1940”, California, Los Angeles, Hillcrest Rd. Günther Anders is listed under his given name Günther Stern at 1977 Hillcrest Road (alongside Eva Hyde), accessed May 16, 2020); Günther Anders to Lion Feuchtwanger, April 12, 1944, quoted in Kerstin Putz, “Improvised Lives,” 234, trans. Kerstin Putz. Anders describes how “[a] number of publishing options, in magazines and newspapers slowly take shape. If my office job gives me time, I will now probably be able to crawl out of my utter anonymity a bit” (“Improvised Lives,” 234).

[10] Since Anders’s death in 1992, over 50 academic monographs and book length engagements with Anders’s work have been published in German, French, and Italian. Comprehensive bibliographies of Anders’s primary texts, secondary literature, and translations can be accessed online. For material of published prior to March 2012, see the Bibliographie Günther Anders. For material published since March 2012 (this covers most of the secondary literature and translations available in English), see here. For collections of secondary literature on Anders in English see especially The Life and Work of Günther Anders and the special journal edition “Utopia Inverted: Günther Anders, technology and the social,” Thesis Eleven 153, no. 1 (2019).

[11] Günther Anders, “The Émigré” [1962], trans. Otmar Binder, in The Life and Work of Günther Anders, 171–86, 186.

[12] Anders characterizes his relationship to Walter Benjamin as follows in a 1985 interview: “For me, Benjamin was not part of the Adorno circle, he was my second cousin, whom I knew since I was one year old. I cannot say that we did philosophy together in Paris [Anders followed Benjamin into exile to Paris in 1933—trans.]. We were first of all anti-fascists, second to this we were anti-fascists, and then we were also anti-fascists. We may also have done some philosophy besides this, but you have a wrong image of our emigration if you believe that we had the time to sit together and speculate. Adorno and Horkheimer may have had time, because they were financially secure” (Interviews, 102).

[13] In a letter dated to August 7, 1941, Hannah Arendt asks Günther Anders for news about the decisions regarding the posthumous publication of Benjamin’s “Theses on the Concept of History,” because “Wiesengrund [Adorno] apparently does not deem it necessary to keep me up to date” (Hannah Arendt and Günther Anders, Schreib doch mal hard facts über Dich: Briefe 1939 bis 1975, ed. Kerstin Putz [Munich: C.H. Beck, 2016], 46, my translation). The correspondence reveals that Benjamin’s text seems to have initially not been rated very highly by Anders, and this was cause for tensions between Anders and Arendt (on this point see Kerstin Putz, “The Letters of Günther Anders: His Correspondence with Hannah Arendt,” in The Life and Work of Günther Anders, 131–42, 137–38). In an entry dated to August 1941, Brecht records the news of Benjamin’s suicide and that he was reading Benjamin’s final text, which “Günther Stern has handed to me with the remark that it was opaque and confused [dunkel und verworren]” (Bertolt Brecht, Arbeitsjournal, ed. Werner Hecht [Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1973], 1:294, my translation). Brecht vehemently disagrees, and his diary entry ends disparagingly with the note that “the short text is clear and disentangles from confusion [klar und entwirrend]” (Brecht, Arbeitsjournal, 1:294). For accounts of Anders’s role in circulating Benjamin’s “Theses” and the tensions it led to, see Kerstin Putz, “Nachwort: Korrespondenzen Hannah Arendt und Günther Anders,” in Schreib doch mal, 227–54, 243–44 and Anna Pollmann, Fragmente aus der Endzeit: Negatives Geschichtsdenken bei Günther Anders (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2020). A detailed account of the relationship between “Washing the Corpses” and Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” can be found in Anna Pollmann, “Verdinglichung und Zerstörung. Günther Anders und der Begriff der Geschichte im Jahr 1941,” Naharaim: Zeitschrift für deutsch—jüdische Literatur und Kulturgeschichte 13, nos. 1–2 (2019): 117–138. See also note 23 below for an extract from Anders’s “After ‘Holocaust’ 1979” which engages with Benjamin’s “Theses” directly.

[14] See Die Antiquiertheit 1, 97–210.

[15] Günther Anders, “Washing the Corpses of History,” trans. Christopher John Müller, Modernism/modernity Print Plus 5, cycle 4 (2021).

[16] See, for instance, Elke Schubert, Günther Anders: Mit Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1992), 38–40.

[17] Günther Anders, Die Schrift an der Wand: Tagebücher 1941–1966 (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1967), 427. This passage is from the postscript. Besides “Washing the Corpses,” the volume includes the following diary texts (titles in translation and in order of appearance): “Vertigo Temporis (New York 1943)”; “The Mourned Future (New York 1946)”; “Post Festum (1962)”—translated by Otmar Binder in The Life and Work of Günther Anders as “The Émigré”; “Reunion and Forgetting (The Return to Europe 1950)”; “Ruins Today [Journey through Germany] (1952/53)”; “The Attack (1962)”; and “Visiting Hades [Auschwitz and Breslau] (1966).”

[18] I should add here that Anders already deployed similar editorial strategies long before going into exile. In 1927/8, for instance, Anders compiled notes for a “Louvre Diary” whilst in Paris. In the surviving typescript, Anders presents himself as the editor of a diary held by someone else (a “V. Gr.”), and the diary notes are subsequently presented as a selection of amended and reworked material prepared following the death of the diary’s (fictitious) author. Anders’s published diaries thus link up with extensive experimentation with the diary form. The experience the Louvre Diary records itself seems to feed into the portrayal of the Hollywood Custom Palace in “Washing the Corpses.” See also Kerstin Putz, “Wider die Skizzenliebe: Günther Anders’ Notizen zum ‘Louvretagebuch,’” Yearbook for European Jewish Literature Studies 6, no. 1 (2019): 170–181.

[19] Henri Paucker, “Günther Anders,” in Deutsche Exilliteratur seit 1933, ed. John M. Spalek and Joseph Strelka (Bern: A. Francke 1976), 1:223–233, 224.

[20] Anders’s later work includes frequent reflections on how the condition of exile shaped his writing. A 1979 interview provides the following account: “During the fourteen years of emigration [in the United States] I continued to only ever write in German. Each evening when I arrived at home after a day spent in English, I would, so to speak, put on my clean German shirt and write in my mother tongue. This seemed all the more justified because I believed to be writing for the Germany after Hitler. The resulting texts—the didactic-political ones, the political poems, the explanations of fascism, the interpretations of the defeat of the left, the advice on how to resist a return to fascism—all these texts were not being written for France or America, but for the ‘day after tomorrow.’ For us émigrés the phrase ‘the day after tomorrow’ assumed an almost magical power. No, we did not write for the drawer, but rather, we believed, for the suitcase soon to be opened in Germany” (“‘Wenn ich verzweifelt bin, was geht’s mich an?’ Gespräch mit Günther Anders,” in Die Zerstörung einer Zukunft: Gespräche mit emigrierten Sozialwissenschaftlern, ed. Mathias Greffrath [Reinbeck: Rowohlt, 1979], 19–57, 36–37. See also Anders, “The Émigré,” especially the sections “Ignominy” and “Stammering along,” 181–86.

[21] For a discussion of Anders’s collected diaries and his “Uncanny Return” to Europe see Katja Garloff, Words from Abroad: Trauma and Displacement in Postwar German Jewish Writers (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2005), especially 41–47. Garlach portrays Anders’s attitude toward European culture as “diametrically opposed to nostalgia”: “The returning exile,” as Garlach expands in response to a passage from Anders’s diaries, “experiences the absence of change as a recurrence—continuity as horror rather than comfort—since for him the Second World War and the Holocaust have destroyed the prewar European world so thoroughly that the continued presence of any of its objects and symbols seem absurd. The encounter with real objects from prewar Europe consequently makes these objects appear as revenants, markers of a shadowy world that uncannily undoes the reality of history” (Words from Abroad, 43).

[22] Günther Anders, Hiroshima ist überall (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1995), 62, emphasis in original. For a detailed discussion of “the destruction of destruction” see Günther Anders’s diary “der Mann auf der Brücke,” which records a 1958 visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in Hiroshima ist überall, 1–191, 62f. The following anecdote, recorded in Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen 2, can serve to spell out the wider stakes of “the destruction of destruction” Anders’s work frequently addresses: “I cannot forget how a burlesque theatre in New York tried to lure passers-by into a show just a week after the annihilation of Hiroshima with the words: ‘Sensational An-atomic Bombs! Step Inside!’ Just days after the city was destroyed, these five words also eradicated the fact that the city had been destroyed” (Die Antiquiertheit 2, 309). This theme is part of Anders’s wider engagements with the soft or “gentle totalitarianism” of consumerism (see, for instance, Günther Anders, “The Obsolescence of Privacy,” 38) and the totalitarian logic of nuclear weapons (see Günther Anders, “Theses for the Atomic Age,” The Massachusetts Review 3, no. 3 [1962]: 493–505, 494–95).

[23] In a diary responding to the release of the 1978 American miniseries Holocaust (dir. Marvin Chomsky), which first introduced the term “Holocaust” into wide usage in the German language, Anders contemplates the “destruction of destruction” with the aid of Benjamin’s “Theses on the Concept of History”: “Germans have only now entered the post-Hitler era. They weren’t shocked in 1945, nobody felt like they were treading on thin ice. It was neither with sadness, remorse, nor criticism that they responded to the twelve years that had just passed. 1978 is in fact 1945. The shock that should have been felt in 1945 is only now beginning to affect Germans. From the vantage point of the philosophy of history it is hard to articulate what has happened in the 35 years since the end of the war. Klee’s angel in the painting Angelus Novus, which Walter Benjamin describes as looking back, whilst the storm of history is carrying it into the future, does not apply here. Leaving aside the fact that no angel was visible anywhere in 1945, Germany did not look back on the twelve-year millennium that had just passed and that was being treated as if it had not happened. But Germany did not get carried away in a storm toward the future either . . . Instead, the utterly defeated Germans, who had heard enough of pasts and futures . . . turned to the present: to flats, food, TV, travelling, sex—in brief: they turned to consumption. As these desires without history were fast being fulfilled, faster than at any other point in time, they did not look back and did not look into the future” (“Nach ‘Holocaust’ 1979 [After ‘Holocaust’ 1979],” Besuch im Hades (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1979), 179–216, 181.

[24] These figures are cited by Wolfgang Beck, who oversaw many of Anders’s book projects as the CEO of the German publishing house C. H. Beck. See Urlaub vom Nichts: Dokumentation des gleichnamigen Symposiums zum 100. Geburtstag von Günter Anders im Juni 2002 in Wien, ed. Raimund Bahr (St. Wolfgang: Edition Art & Science, 2004), 10.

[25] “Ihre Argumentation zeugt von einer wahren Besessenheit mit dem Gedanken an den Leser” (Theodor Adorno to Günther Anders, October 31, 1963), quoted in Konrad Paul Liessmann, “Hot Potatoes: Zum Briefwechsel zwischen Günther Anders und Theodor W. Adorno,” Sans Phrase, 10 (2017): 121–127, 125, my translation. For engagements with Anders of various lengths that are specifically focused on aspects of the Anthropocene, posthumanism or the critique of modernity, see for instance Zygmunt Bauman, Consuming Life (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2007) and Collateral Damage: Social Inequalities in a Global Age (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2011); Ulrich Beck, World at Risk, trans. Ciaran Cronin (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2009); Jean-Pierre Dupuy, The Mark of the Sacred, trans. M. B. Debevoise (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013); Umberto Eco, Apocalypse Postponed (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000); Michael Hauskeller, Sex and the Posthuman Condition (Houndmills, UK: Palgrave 2014); Bruno Latour, Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime, trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2017); Jean-Luc Nancy, After Fukushima: The Equivalence of Catastrophes, trans. Charlotte Mandell (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015); Christopher J. Müller, Prometheanism: Technology, Digital Culture and Human Obsolescence (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016); and Bernard Stiegler, The Age of Disruption: Technology and Madness in Computational Capitalism, trans. Daniel Ross (Polity, UK: Cambridge, 2019). This list could be significantly extended with individual journal articles (see note 10 above).

[26] Günther (Stern) Anders, “The Pathology of Freedom: An Essay on Non-Identification,” trans. Katharine Wolfe, Deleuze Studies 3, no. 2 (2009): 278–310, emphasis in original; Max Horkheimer, “Diskussionen aus einem Seminar über die Theorie der Bedürfnisse,” in Max Horkheimer: Gesammelte Schriften (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1985), 12:579–86, 579. In the 1930s, Anders published two essays on philosophical anthropology in French translation in Recherches Philosophiques. The first, “Une Interpretation de l’aposteriori” (1934) was translated into French by Emmanuel Levinas; the second, “La Pathologie de la liberté” (1937) went on to influence Jean-Paul Sartre, Franz Fanon, and Gilles Deleuze and it exists in an English translation (cited here) by Katharine Wolfe. Anders had at this time already abandoned plans to turn these essays into an outline of a new philosophical system. The material Anders amassed toward this and continued to produce during the years of exile has recently been published in the substantial posthumous volume Die Weltfremdheit des Menschen: Schriften zur philosophischen Anthropologie, ed. Christian Dries (Munich: C.H. Beck, 2018).

[27] Besides Die Antiquiertheit 1 and 2, key texts include (titles are my own translations): The Man on the Bridge: Visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1959); We, The Sons of Eichmann (1964); Visit Beautiful Vietnam (1968); The View from the Moon: Reflections on Space Travel (1970); End-time and the End of Time (1972), republished as The Nuclear Menace (1981); Visiting Hades: Auschwitz and Breslau, 1966 (1979); Hiroshima is Everywhere (1982); Being in Love, Yesterday: Notes toward a History of Feeling (1982). For a discussion of the perspectives onto the present opened in Anders’s later work see Anna-Verena Nosthoff and Felix Maschewski, “The obsolescence of politics: Rereading Günther Anders’s critique of cybernetic governance and integral power in the digital age,” Thesis Eleven 153 no. 1 (2019): 75–93; Elke Schwarz, “Günther Anders in Silicon Valley: Artificial Intelligence and moral atrophy,” Thesis Eleven 153, no. 1 (2019): 94–112; Christian Fuchs, “Günther Anders’s Undiscovered Critical Theory of Technology in the Age of Big Data Capitalism,” tripleC 15, no. 2 (2017): 582–611; Müller, Prometheanism, especially 111–165; and Alberto Toscano, “The Promethean Gap: Modernism, Machines, and the Obsolescence of Man,” Modernism/modernity 23, no. 3 (2016): 593–609.

[28] Günther Anders, “Dichten heute: Aus Tagebüchern,” Die Wandlung: Eine Monatsschrift, ed. Dolf Sternberger, Karl Jaspers, Marie Luise Kaschnitz, and Alfred Weber 4, no. 1 (1949): 40–55, 52. This motif is developed further in Die Antiquiertheit 1 where Anders presents music as an example of a technological device that is utilized to enhance the human capacity to feel (313).

[29] Günther Anders to Heinrich Mann, April 17, 1946, Heinrich Mann Papers, Feuchtwanger Memorial Library, Special Collections, University of Southern California, quoted in Jason Dawsey, “Fragile Apprehension: Günther Anders and the Poetics of Destruction,” in The Life and Work of Günther Anders, 21–34, 25.

[30] Günther Stern (Anders), “Spuk und Radio,” Anbruch: Monatsschrift für moderne Musik 12, no. 2 (1930): 65–66, 66.

[31] Pollmann cites a 1965 letter in which Anders refers to “Washing the Corpses” as a “text on the philosophy of history” that he is especially fond of “because the surrealism that exudes from every pore is fully justified, because it is not a product of stylistic innovation, but emanates from the reality that was transcribed every day” (“Verdinglichung und Zerstörung,” 121, my translation).

[32] See “Pathology of Freedom,” 279 and 281–84.

[33] Günther Anders, “Schwermut und Gerechtigkeit (Bemerkungen zu Viertels neuen Gedichten),” Austro American Tribune. Anti-Nazi Monthly 4, no. 9 (1946): 9–10, 10, quoted in Kerstin Putz, “Activist poetry versus lyrical action: Günther Anders on poetry and politics,” trans. Patrick S. Weber, Thesis Eleven 153, no. 1 (2019): 24–38, 28.

[34] In a reference letter dated March 11, 1941 (a date that also appears in “Washing the Corpses”), Lion Feuchtwanger commends Günther Stern (Anders) as “a productive writer with original ideas” whose “collaboration will be useful for every Motion Picture Company” (Lion Feuchtwanger to Günther Anders, March 11, 1941, Box C1-a, Folder 1, Lion Feuchtwanger papers, Collection no. 0204, Feuchtwanger Memorial Library, Special Collections, University of Southern California. The Anders-Feuchtwanger correspondence underlines that Anders actively sought to pursue a career as a script writer.

[35] Jean-Michel Rabaté, Kafka L.O.L.: Notes on Promethean Laughter (Macerata: Quodlibet, 2018), 7.

[36] Günther Anders, Suggestions for New Types of Pictures (unpublished typescript), LIT 237/W30, Nachlass Günther Anders, Literary Archives of the Austrian National Library, Vienna.

[37] The link between shame and laughter is a persistent theme in Rabaté’s discussion of Anders in Kafka L.O.L, see for instance 82–83; 91–97.

[38] Günther Anders, “On Promethean Shame,” trans. Christopher J. Müller, Prometheanism, 25–95, 55.

[39] The fire at the Library of Alexandria that is evoked in this passage, is also treated in “On Promethean Shame.” Although the image is one of survival rather than loss, it is worth reproducing this passage here as Anders here also meets horror with laughter as an act of defiance: “In contrast to the great fire which destroyed the Library of Alexandria, no page was actually burnt when thousands of pages were reduced to ashes in the course of Hitler’s book burnings in 1933, because every page had hundreds or thousands of identical siblings. As ignominious as the intentions of the arsonist were, and as ominous the gesture of his hand which betrayed the fact that it would soon commit more than paper to the flames—at this stage, his acts of annihilation were still totally farcical. In the midst of the jeering crowd dancing around the pyres of books, there also danced unseen a feather-light group of hecklers, which the flames could not touch. Even while being scattered to the winds, this group of the ‘book prototypes’ proclaimed: ‘Go ahead, burn our copies! Burn them! Us you cannot burn.’ And today these supposedly incinerated books live again and do so in thousands upon thousands of copies” (“On Promethean Shame,” 52).

[40] Günther Anders, Lieben gestern: Notizen zur Geschichte des Fühlens (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1997), 10.

[41] Christian Dries, Die Welt als Vernichtungslager: Eine kritische Theorie der Moderne im Anschluss an Günther Anders, Hannah Arendt und Hans Jonas (Bielefeld: transcript, 2012), 311.

[42] On this point, see Putz, “Wider die Skizzenliebe,” 170.

[43] See Guenther Stern (Anders), “Homeless Sculpture,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 5, no. 2 (1944): 293–307.

[44] See Die Antiquiertheit 1, 204–211.

[45] For a detailed account of the trajectory of Anders’s thought and the way it uses the generalizing term “the human” to trace the emergence of an increasingly “conditional world,” see Christopher J. Müller, “From Radioactivity to Data Mining: Günther Anders in the Anthropocene,” Thesis Eleven 153, no. 1 (2019): 9–23.

[46] Perhaps the most succinct definition and defense of exaggeration is offered in Philosophische Stenogramme and is worth citing in full: “Philosophers who refute exaggeration as unserious because they are used to working with their naked eyes—and most of them do so of course—are no less obsolete and ridiculous than a virologist refusing to use microscopes to conduct “virology with the naked eye.” . . . If one were to screen the devastating workings of viruses a million times amplified in a film, would this amplification of the format also co-exaggerate the danger? Or would the danger here become visible for the first time? It is in this sense that I exaggerate” (Günther Anders, Philosophische Stenogramme [Munich: C.H. Beck, 2002], 65). On this point also see note 49 below.

[47] Günther Anders, Burning Conscience: The case of the Hiroshima pilot, Claude Eatherly, told in letters to Gunther Anders, with a postscript for American readers by Anders (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1962), 1.

[48] Günther Anders, Mariechen: eine Gutenachtgeschichte für Liebende, Philosophen und Angehörige anderer Berufsgruppen (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1994), 83.

[49] Günther Anders, “Theses for the Atomic Age,” 497. Günther Anders, “Rückblendung 1944–1948,” Besuch im Hades, 37–49, 39, emphasis in original. It is worth quoting the cited passage from a diary entry dated August 17, 1944 at length. It powerfully illustrates one of the ways in which Anders justifies the need for the manipulation of perspective his work undertakes. “Our faculty of perception is too limited to enable us to comprehend the state of the world today. It is too short sighted to show us the enormous, or rather, the monstrous dimensions of our deeds, because it continually transforms abject monstrosity into something that is inconspicuously ordinary. As nonsensical as this may sound, our perception has become a variety of phantasy and imagination. Anyone who believes that the world is the way that he perceives it is a fantasist . . . The task of imagination required today departs from what imagination has meant up to now . . . it no longer means the act of imagining fictitious things or picturing imaginary creatures . . . Quite the opposite: the task consists in mobilizing our imagination as a way of approaching the truly fantastical reality of the world today, so we can grasp this reality in an appropriate manner. In brief: Imagination needs to become an empirical method, an organ of perception for that which is truly enormous . . . Imagination, like a telescope, does not make our organs of perception superfluous. It is only when we use it that we give our perception a proper chance to see and comprehend” (Besuch im Hades, 39–40, emphasis in original).