Tag Archives: Erich Gutkind

Special Collections Symposium: Dimitrije Mitrinović and his Network (Part 2)

This week’s blog follows on from my last update, which discussed the morning lectures at our recent Special Collections Symposium held to launch the catalogue of the Mitrinović Archive, due to go online in November.

In the afternoon it was the turn of the collection to take centre stage. I spoke about the history of the Archive and Library, outlining how they came together, their care and growth under the management of Dimitrije Mitrinović’s circle, and the role of the New Atlantis Foundation (now Mitrinović Foundation) in ensuring the survival of the records and books with a real regard for the value of provenance.  The NAF was also instrumental in securing homes for the Mitrinović’s collection firstly at Belgrade, and later at Bradford, using their connections with Andrew Rigby, then of the Peace Studies department. The Foundation continues to support the collection, such as by funding this current cataloguing project.

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Emma Burgham, Project Archivist

I tried to convey the research potential of the collection, listing some of the significant contacts the group Mitrinović had and a few of the numerous subject areas the collection covers from intentional communities to the history of psychology, Modernist art to Social Credit, and embracing such diverse figures as Nobel prize-winning chemist Frederick Soddy, Edith Sitwell and S.G. Hobson. Artists, politicians, writers, philosophers, political theorists, etc. all came into contact with Mitrinović, often with interesting results. I wanted to convey the complexity, and therefore the richness, of the collection. A multi-lingual collection where much of the archive cross-refers to, or results from the study of, other parts and connects to Mitrinović’s library make cataloguing challenging, but result from and create the breadth and depth that have become fully apparent in the course of this project.

We were fortunate to have Dr Tom Steele with us to bring in the local, Yorkshire side of Mitrinović’s story. Dr Steele discussed A.R. Orage and the Leeds Arts Club, showing the pioneering role the Club played in bringing Nietzscheism and the avant garde to a wider audience. Dr Steele showed how Leeds became a centre for modernism across the arts through such figures as Orage, Michael Sadler and Bradford’s Tom Heron. I had always been curious about the fact that Mitrinović’s first public lecture in Britain was delivered at the University of Leeds in 1915. Dr Steele’s portrait of the city made it clear that Leeds was an obvious location for Mitrinović’s talk on the sculptor Ivan Meštrović. It emerged that the intellectual currents that had seized hold of Orage were the same as those driving Mitrinović. No wonder Orage hired Mitrinović as a columnist for his radical journal, The New Age,  giving Mitrinović a platform for his ideas.

Martin Levy speaking

Martin Levy, independent researcher, author and Special Collections Assistant

Special Collections Assistant and author Martin Levy tackled a complex aspect of Mitrinović’s life when he chose to look at his relationship with the German philosopher Erich Gutkind. Levy described how the two met in 1914 after Mitrinović read and was utterly blown away by Gutkind’s Sidereal Birth. He would later state that if Gutkind hadn’t written the book, he himself would have had to, so central was it to his own philosophy. Together with Kandinsky they conceived a project to form an intellectual and artistic elite, the Blutbund, which would lead a change in the world. They planned to produce a yearbook as a follow-up to the Blaue Reiter Almanac. The First World War intervened, stirring up nationalist feelings and placing individuals in jeopardy. Mitrinović, for one, fled to England, taking Gutkind’s ideas with him. They would be core reading for anyone wishing to study with him for the rest of his life. Levy spoke about the hardship Gutkind faced when in 1933 and with Storm Troopers at his door, he and his wife Lucie fled to America. He struggled financially and his ideas never really took hold as he might have hoped. This lack of popularity led to an interesting discussion about the complexity of his and Mitrinović’s writing, its roots in poetic Russian philosophy and the possible purposes behind it.

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Margaret Shillan, Mitrinovic Foundation trustee

Feedback I’ve received after the Symposium suggests that the final speakers of the day were the most intriguing. John MacDermot and Margaret Shillan are trustees of the Mitrinović Foundation who grew up in the community he and his circle established at Richmond. John’s talk looked at Mitrinović and the group as collectors of art, discussing their patronage of such well-known figures as Miro, Picasso, Magritte and Roy de Maistre. I found it interesting to hear how artworks were shared amongst the group. Never bought as an investment, but always chosen for their beauty and meaning, paintings, sculptures, antiquities and craft pieces were given as gifts. For example, John shared his memory of being given a walking stick by Mitrinović himself, who collected them.

Margaret Shillan looked at the elegant house of Norfolk Lodge, Richmond, which the group acquired in the 1940s and where Mitrinović lived out his days amongst his close friends. After his death, various members of the New Atlantis Foundation group continued to live in the house until it was eventually sold. Margaret described how each of the public rooms functioned, which neatly set the art collection in context and illustrated the sorts of activities the Foundation was engaged in. In both of their presentations and the subsequent discussion, Margaret and John gave us a sense of the community that formed around Mitrinović, bound to each other through what they termed a “Personal Alliance”. Both shared memories of Mitrinović and Norfolk Lodge that brought them to life. These were uniquely personal contributions, not often seen at an academic event and fascinating for those who were there.

Apple Cake

Delicious Serbian Lazy Apple Cake, one of the day’s highlights!

We were fortunate to find a range of speakers for our symposium, exemplifying some of the major subject areas represented in the collection. One of the exciting things about organising the event was the huge range of possibilities I had for subject matter. I felt that our programme succeeded in reflecting something of the breadth of Mitrinović’s life and interests, but it was a pleasant surprise on the day to find how well the various talks connected to each other. Themes emerged across the day: the influence of Nietzsche, Mitrinović’s skill as an operator – building networks and somehow obtaining funding for his ventures, the tensions between personal development and public action for societal change, federalism and devolution, all appeared in various lectures. The diversity of Mitrinović’s interests and activities means that there is a great deal to research in the Archive and Library, and indeed several speakers are already planning return visits. Together with the Mitrinović Foundation, we are considering how we might organise future events based around the collection after the current project finishes. Watch this space!

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The Eve of the First World War, Letter from Erich Gutkind

In late July 1914, Dimitrije Mitrinović (like so many others) could no longer ignore what was happening in Europe. He knew that when war broke out, he was at risk of being drafted into an army whose government he had always struggled against – that of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Alternatively, and more likely given the fate of so many Serbs who were treated as enemy aliens in their own country, he would have been imprisoned. His well-known beliefs and political activities put him in an especially vulnerable position, particularly whilst he was carrying a Serbian passport. He risked being arrested as a spy.

Faced with these grim prospects, Mitrinović thought of escape, but wrote first to his friend and mentor Erich Gutkind, apparently seeking advice and looking for reassurance that his flight wouldn’t be seen as a betrayal of the Blutbund movement that the two men were working so hard to create. Mitrinović’s letter to Gutkind sadly does not seem to survive, but we do have what now seems like an astonishing reply.

Letter from Erich Gutkind, 'Calm', copy, p.1

Writing on 30th of July (the day before Germany declared war on Russia), Gutkind urged Mitrinović not to be hasty and act, but to wait for a “metaphysical electrical flash of lightning”, which would initiate the change in the world they wished to see. He wrote that it was quite possible that it might all come to nothing, simply settling down again. He warned Mitrinović not to involve the “plebs”, as he believed action for a better world had to come top down, starting from the elite group of artists, writers and intellectuals who made up the Blutbund brotherhood. Gutkind finished by instructing Mitrinović to maintain the most “severe Buddhist calm” in the face of current events. Personally, I am reminded of Mrs. Jellyby in Dickens’ Bleak House, whose great preoccupation with her charitable work in Africa blinds her to plight of those in her own city (and even her own home).

Letter from Erich Gutkind, 'Calm', copy, p.4

Fortunately, the letter seems not to have dissuaded Mitrinović entirely. He travelled to Berlin, borrowing money from Gutkind’s mother to come to England. Travelling on one of the last boats out of mainland Europe, he later recalled realizing as the English coastline came into view that he would need money to prove to the British authorities that he could support himself. A fellow passenger lent him £5, and he was able to remain in the UK.

Mitrinović remained a lifelong admirer of Gutkind’s work, and the two did stay in contact despite the disintegration of the Blutbund in the face of the First World War. Indeed Mitrinović once claimed in later life that if Gutkind had not written his book Siderische Geburt (Sidereal Birth),  he himself would have to have done so. Gutkind’s central ideas relating to the essential unity of all humanity, the need for change in contemporary society, and what  Mitrinović’s biographer Andrew Rigby has described as ‘…the higher order consciousness that was necessary in order to create the new world that was imminent’ all resonated profoundly with  Mitrinović and were central to his thinking throughout his life.

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Moving in Elite Circles: the Blutbund Letters

Mitrinovic's Notes, 'Optimizam' [cropped]

In 1913 -1914 Dimitrije Mitrinović was studying art history in Munich, then one of the centres of the art world. Inspired by Kandinsky’s work and writing, he formed a friendship with the artist and his partner, Gabriele Münter.

Kandinsky and Mitrinović were both convinced of the need for radical change in the world, and felt that this should be led and achieved by the best minds in Europe, and particularly by artists whom they saw as prophets capable of seeing an alternative order. In order to spread their ideas, they set out to publish a Yearbook with articles on cultural and political subjects, as a follow-up to Der Blaue Reiter Almanach (The Blue Rider Almanac) produced by Kandinsky in 1912.

Kandinsky and Mitrinović made contact with Frederik van Eeden (1860 -1932), a Dutch psychiatrist, writer and founder of an intentional community, Walden, and the German philosopher Erich Gutkind (1877 – 1965). Gutkind and van Eeden shared their belief in change being initiated by the intellectual elite, then spreading to wider society. They called for the creation of a “Blutbund” (Blood Band, or Union), bringing together leading figures to effect change. Mitrinović worked furiously to get both the Blutbund and Yearbook off the ground, rattling off letters to politicians, writers, philosophers, philosophers, writers, social critics, political thinkers and leaders across the arts from across Europe and further afield. Amongst those he approached were H.G. Wells, Walter Schücking, Édouard Schuré, Dr. Rudolf Eucken, Ezra Pound, Ivan Meštrović and Stanisław Przybyszewski.

Letter to Erich Gutkind from Mitrinovic 1914 [cropped]

This draft letter to Erich Gutkind is just one of many from this period that survive in the Mitrinović archive here at Bradford. Written in German, Serbo-Croat, French, Russian and English, fortunately some were also later translated by Mitrinović’s circle. To me, Mitrinović’s large, rapid scrawl seems to embody his enthusiasm, conviction and the tremendous energy that he put into the Blutbund and Yearbook project. Although Mitrinović himself was not well known, the fact that he was willing to contact such distinguished men, pitching his vision for the future of Europe and humanity, shows great confidence and perhaps also that sense of great importance and urgency that he attached to his work. This particular letter has a rather nice postscript in which Mitrinović apologies for his imperfect German, but hopes that Gutkind will appreciate what we might call any ‘happy accidents’ that might have crept in.

Letter to Erich Gutkind from Mitrinovic 1914, postscript [cropped]

Sadly for Mitrinović, the First World War put paid to the Blutbund. Nationalist feelings ran high, with the group splitting along broadly German/ non-German lines. A group founded on the idea of creating a fairer, more peaceful world was undone by war. The Yearbook was never produced, despite Mitrinović seeking out contributors again in 1916.

Letter to Kropotkin, London August 1914

Part of what I find fascinating about Dimitrije Mitrinović is his complete refusal to let any setback crush his optimism. Within days of arriving in England as a penniless refugee, he was writing one of his Blutbund letters, urging Peter Kropotkin, the prominent anarchist to support the movement. After the First World War, and doubtless in light of the collapse of the Blutbund, Mitrinović changed tack. Instead of the new world order starting with an elite working to influence the world around them, he would start with more ordinary people who were willing to develop themselves on intellectual and emotional levels. Many in the group he gathered around himself from the 1920s onwards were deeply influenced by his ideas and some would remain devoted to him for the rest of their lives.

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