Frankfurt am Main, February 1932. Professor Tillich throws a costume party and everyone dresses up. Adorno comes as Napoleon, Dolf Sternberger dons a toga and laurel wreath, and Kurt Riezler arrives wearing a SA brown shirt. Everything is still innocent, a big game of pretend. Even the terminology is in costume, takes on a different shade and distances itself from the semantics of the seminar. According to the invitation, which included a lesser-known reference to a famous quote by Hegel, the guests were asked to “Be dialectic”. But in the professor’s back rooms, the guests were not so much speculating on Weltgeist as they were on an erotic adventure. In this issue, Friedrich Wilhelm Graf describes the party of a famous colleague of theology – and doesn’t hesitate to point out the elephant in the room. A year later, the party is over and those who had once innocently danced together and shared the same bed, were now – after the Nazis seized power – often scattered across different continents.
Not every party is a dance at the brink of an historic abyss. Free of philosophical insinuations, the parties of the 20th century marked a new form of recreation in a casual society which sought to break with the rigid protocols of middle-class dinner festivities. Although the “fundamental concepts of Western leisure society” were not yet formulated as such, the “party” would soon be assigned an important distinction – as the combat zone of the work force and the deployment area of the night. The “re-education” measures in post-war Germany also included introduction to small talk and experience with the correct practices and rites between the kitchen and the dancefloor. Those who could shine in quick-witted party conversation were recognised as Westerners. Yet this focus on such German exercises in casualness obscures the fact that the history of ideas has had a long-standing affair with the party. Wasn’t the original scene of philosophical debate the party-like “Symposium”? Nowadays, the sciences have sobered up and rarely take their cue from Dionysus; the philosophers of antiquity, however, knew that drinking, celebrating and philosophising flowed seamlessly into one another.
That, which is presented as separate camps and arguments on the main stage of ideas, often merges into one image on the real-dialectic back stage of a party. This is where one finds socio-theoretical antipodes sitting together on a sofa, resulting in some of the most ludicrous and unfathomable constellations. As Paul Tillich put it, “This is the place of unpredictability in history.” This issue presents an array of wild party scenes without sacrificing them to a systematisation completely inappropriate to such a frivolous theme. Like in a good, associative conversation at a party, the pieces zip wildly in and out: We find ourselves with Blixa Bargeld in the West Berlin club “Dschungel” in the early 1980s, when suddenly Diogenes shows up as an uninvited guest. In the next scene, we witness the hour of the Maenads. Reinhart Koselleck experiences a memorable reception in the “autumn of terror” in Munich in 1989, and Niklas Luhmann observes everything and exploits Californian bar-talk for his communication theory. And there are always paths leading away from the party and back to serious academics. At the cusp of its tenth anniversary, the ZIG examines the “dark rooms” of the history of ideas.
This text is the editorial of the current issue of the “Zeitschrift für Ideengeschichte”.
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