Einstein, Carl

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EINSTEIN, CARL (1885–1940), German writer, art theoretician. Einstein drew philosophical inspiration from Nietzsche's apotheosis of aesthetics as well as from the reviews of causality of Schopenhauer and Mach. Intellectually challenged by the lectures of Georg Simmel during his studies at Berlin's Friedrich-Wilhelm-University, he composed his first novel, Bebuquin oder die Dilettanten des Wunders (1906–12), as a kaleidoscope of a world in which everything "exists only in its destruction." With its reflections on God and its somewhat preachy tone, Einstein's novel may also be regarded as a first step on the syncretistic-religious path he would follow in the years to come. Emphasizing a world of myth it also relates to the art of the primitive. The result was Negerplastik (1915), which was internationally acclaimed for its incorporation of a formerly ethnological field of study into the "world history of art" and constituted his theoretical contribution to Cubism.

His radical socialism brought Einstein into close contact with the "Malik" circle that grew up around George Grosz, Walter *Mehring, and John Heartfield. The product of these encounters was Berlin Dadaism, which Einstein abandoned only a year later. In 1922 he was prosecuted for the "blasphemous" representation of Jesus in his drama Die schlimme Botschaft. His most ambitious work, Die Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts (1925), a vast compendium, proved him not only a profound connoisseur of contemporary art but also a serious theoretician and made his name widely known throughout Europe.

In 1927, Einstein settled in Paris, where he coedited the journal DocumentsDoctrines, Archéologie, Beaux Arts, Ethnographie and came into contact with French surrealism. He called for a takeover of modernity by the "romantic generation," a term he used to characterize the messianic categories of the artistic revolutions of the 1920s. The failure of modernity in its capitulation to Fascism is the subject of Die Fabrikation der Fiktionen, written between 1930 and 1934.

During the Spanish Civil War, Einstein joined an anarchist militia in Aragon, fleeing after Franco's victory in 1939. Back in Paris, he was arrested by order of the French government (applying to all Germans living in France) and deported to a camp in Gurs. Released in June 1940, he attempted to escape the impending German invasion across the Pyrenees. He committed suicide near the Spanish border.


S. Penkert, Carl Einstein (1969); H. Oehm, Die Kunsttheorie Carl Einsteins (1976); K.H. Kiefer, Diskurswandel im Werk Carl Einsteins (1994); L. Meffre, Carl Einstein 1885940 (2002); K.H. Kiefer (ed.), Die visuelle Wende der Moderne (2003).

[Philipp Theisohn (2nd ed.)]