German Bodies: Race and Representation After Hitler by Uli Linke

By Uli Linke

First released in 1999. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa corporation.

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The “naturalized identity between people and place” (Malkki 1996:437) was thus not solely based on an innocent botanical metaphor. Taken together, the complex of images (arboreal in form and sanguine in content) was suggestive of origins, ancestries, bloodlines. In German history, these images were to become structurally embedded in a racial aesthetic, unifying the symbolics of blood, stock, and heredity with natural iconographies. The genealogical tree (a prominent symbol of modern German statehood) evoked both continuity of essence and territorial rootedness.

I explore the German aesthetics of whiteness and race by a focus on body practices: public nudity and body exposure. By tracing this cult of the white body across 1945, I suggest that social memory can be transported through corporal iconographies and images. Postwar German representations of national identity are patterned by essentialist tropes, that is, white skin and nakedness, revealing a cultural obsession with return to the natural and authentic in an apparent search for social anchorage.

Such a recognition of womanhood was also sustained in symbolic terms. The tree appeared to grow from specific female substances: blood and soil. As Bouquet (1996) observed: “If the containers at the base of the tree contain earth…this represents a kind of generalized female material” (52). In the northern European tree motif, blood is connected to soil, female matter, mother earth: Earth becomes blood, which becomes sap, which nourishes the life of plants, including the tree. Blood wells up from the ground as an ancestral substance.

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