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Lateness and Modern European Literature$
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Ben Hutchinson

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198767695

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198767695.001.0001

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Lateness as ‘Decline’: Oswald Spengler, Nicholas Berdyaev, Helmuth Plessner, Arnold Gehlen

Lateness as ‘Decline’: Oswald Spengler, Nicholas Berdyaev, Helmuth Plessner, Arnold Gehlen

Chapter:
(p.250) 13 Lateness as ‘Decline’: Oswald Spengler, Nicholas Berdyaev, Helmuth Plessner, Arnold Gehlen
Source:
Lateness and Modern European Literature
Author(s):

Ben Hutchinson

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198767695.003.0014

This chapter understands lateness as a mode of ‘decline’. Tracing the category through the cultural criticism of Oswald Spengler, Nicholas Berdyaev, Hellmuth Plessner, and Arnold Gehlen, it explores the extent to which Western modernity of the 1920s is ‘at the end of the Late period’. Playing on the German distinction between Kultur and Zivilisation, Spengler argues that what he terms ‘Faustian’ modernity must be understood as a late, senescent civilization, rather than as an early, vigorous culture. Berdyaev, meanwhile, sees Europe as entering ‘a period of senility and decay’—in his view an exclusively Western European phenomenon, predicated on the after-effects of the Renaissance. Plessner famously defines modern Germany as the ‘belated nation’, while Gehlen analyses modernity as a Spätkultur moving towards the ‘end of history’. In their differing ways, all these thinkers suggest the enduring currency of historiographical theories of lateness across the first half of the twentieth century.

Keywords:   lateness, modernism, decline/Untergang, Verspätete Nation, Oswald Spengler, Nicholas Berdyaev, Helmuth Plessner, Arnold Gehlen

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