Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

When The Disinherited Mind was published in 1952, the German-speaking countries in Central Europe had just witnessed the total collapse of their culture. This collapse was all the more crucial because, for the most part, it had been initiated by these countries themselves. It was a crisis created by the counterrevolutionary intellectuals and politicians of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) and of the first Austrian republic (1919-1934) in their defense against Socialism and democracy. The rise and rule of Fascism in Central Europe has to a large degree been ascribed to the German mind. The total collapse of culture, as demonstrated by the German extermination camps, has been considered a catastrophe of civilization, designed and executed by a particularly German mentality.

While intellectual historians after 1945 were eager to identify the figures whose lifework anticipated the German catastrophe (Martin Luther and Frederick II of Prussia were often cited), Erich Heller turned to German literature and philosophy. Heller identified a countertradition that clearly warned of the impending catastrophe. He helped establish a consciousness of the intellectual and moral crisis of the twentieth century that was not limited to the German mind but was a distinctive symptom of modern literature and thought in general.

The Disinherited Mind consists of nine loosely connected essays of literary criticism, organized chronologically. There...

(The entire section is 533 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Barrett, William. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LVIII (October 11, 1953), p. 16.

Hermanson, Rudolf. Review in Library Journal. LXXXII (September 15, 1957), p. 2128.

Hill, Claude. Review in Saturday Review. XL (December 14, 1957), p. 15.

Rose, Ernst. A History of German Literature, 1960.

Simons, J. W. Review in Commonweal. LVIII (May 1, 1953), p. 106.