ISBN-13: 978-0-520-20663-2
Writer: Karl Toepfer
Title: Empire of Ecstasy
Subtitle: Nudity and Movement in German Body Culture, 1910-1935
Series: Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism, 13
Language: English
Place of Publication: Berkeley, Los Angeles, London
Publisher: University of California Press
Year of Publication: 1997
Format: 159x240mm
Pages: xvii+422 printed on alkaline paper
Illustrations: 86 black and white plates and pictures
Jacket Design: Nola Burger
Jacket Illustration: Dancer at the Elisabeth Estas School, Cologne, 1927. Photographer unknown.
Binding: Red cloth spine and boards in colour dust jacket
Original Price: N/A
Weight: 1,037gr.


Empire of Ecstasy offers a novel interpretation of the explosion of German body culture between the two wars: nudism and nude dancing, gymnastics and dance training, dance photography and criticism, and diverse genres of performance from solo dancing to mass movement choirs. Karl Toepfer presents this dynamic subject as a vital and historically unique construction of “modern identity,” which stimulated often contradictory impulses, desires, and ambitions in participants and enthusiasts.

Radiating modernity, freedom, and power, the body appeared to Weimar artists and intelligentsia to be the source of a transgressive energy that resisted containment within particular fields of study of cultural doctrines. Most provocative about the body culture of the Weimar Republic was its insistent belief in the human body as a sign and manifestation of powerful, mysterious “inner” conditions. Indeed, modernity of being depended less upon the rationalization of life than upon the appearance of the “modern” body.

Toefper suggests that this view of the modern body sought to extend the aesthetic experience beyond the boundaries imposed by rationalized life and to transcend these limits in search of ecstasy. Through the presentation and analysis of unpublished archival material (including many little-known photographs) and the reclamation of forgotten discourses of fashion, gymnastics, nudism, and the visual arts, he investigates the process of constructing an “empire” of appropriative impulses toward ecstasy. Toepfer presents the work of well-known figures such as Rudolf Laban, Mary Wigman, and Oskar Schlemmer, as well as many obscure but equally fascinating practitioners of German body culture. His book is to become required reading for historians of dance, body culture, and modernism.

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