Helmut Groschwitz

A Modern Myth for the Nation

Jacob Grimm‘s German Mythology (1835) and the Ethnicizing of the Germans

Shortlink: https://www.waxmann.com/artikelART102285

Buy article

Abstract

The German Mythology (1835) by Jacob Grimm is a book both influential and highly controversial. On the one hand, it stimulated numerous folkloristic (volkskundlich) thinking styles and initiatives. On the other hand, incorrect deductions led to problematic interpretations of the so-called “mythological school”. The critical and consequent questioning of the work in terms of its ideological bias after the Second World War resulted in a far-reaching abstinence of mythological approaches in Folklore Studies (Volkskunde). It is against the background of new myth theories, that the relevance and up-to-datedness of mythological narratives and practices in current everyday life become describable in an innovative way. The interest in myths, pop-cultural mythical worlds, and genesis narratives is less the expression of an anti-modernist view, but refers to the present and the need for syntheses and transcending narratives. The article therefore argues for a renewed preoccupation with Grimm’s mythological work, which goes beyond ideology critique and takes greater account of the integration in the history of science. It has to be asked how a German mythology is composed, and how the new format of knowledge created by Grimm, despite the theorems being questionable, was able to serve as a new myth for the German nation. At the same time, relying on the central categories of language, mythology, law, and custom, the German Mythology can be read as a driving force within the “ethnicizing“ of the Germans.

Keywords
Jacob Grimm, mythology, German Mythology (1835), history of science, imagined communities, formation of knowledge