Gottfried Benn

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Gottfried Benn (2 May 1886 Putlitz, Brandenburg – 7 July 1956 West Berlin) was a German essayist, novelist, and expressionist poet. A doctor of medicine, he became an early admirer, and later a critic, of the National Socialist revolution. Benn had a literary influence on German verse immediately before and after Nazi Germany.[citation needed]



He was born the son of a Lutheran pastor in Mansfeld, now part of Putlitz in the district of Prignitz, Brandenburg. He was educated in Sellin in the Neumark and Frankfurt an der Oder before studying theology at the University of Marburg and military medicine at the Kaiser Wilhelm Academy in Berlin.

Benn started as an expressionist author before World War I when he published a small collection of poems (Morgue, 1912) concerned with the physical decay of the flesh.

His poetry offers an introverted nihilism: an existentialist philosophy which sees artistic expression as the only purposeful action. In his early poems Benn used his medical experience and terminology to portray a morbid conception of humanity as another species of disease-ridden animal. — John Collins (Bullock & Woodings, 1984, p.61)

Benn enlisted in 1914, spent a brief period on the Belgian front, and then served as a military doctor in Brussels. Benn attended the trial and execution of Nurse Edith Cavell. He worked as a physician in an army brothel. After the war, he returned to Berlin and practiced as a dermatology and venereal disease specialist.

Hostile to the Weimar Republic, and rejecting Marxism and Americanism, Benn, like many Germans, was upset with ongoing economic and political instability, and sympathized for a short period with the Nazis as a revolutionary force. He hoped that National Socialism would exalt his aesthetics, that Expressionism would become the official art of Germany, as Futurism had in Italy. Benn was elected to the poetry section of the Prussian Academy in 1932, and appointed head of that section in February 1933. In May he defended the new regime in a radio broadcast saying "the German workers are better off than ever before,"[citation needed] and later signed the Gelöbnis treuester Gefolgschaft, the "vow of most faithful allegiance" to Adolf Hitler.[1]

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