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Jule Thiemann: Digitale Fluchtnarrative und Postmigrantische Perspektiven

Copyright Bild: Adnan Samman; Website: Weiter Schreiben – Ein Portal für Literatur aus Kriegs- und Krisengebieten; einsehbar unter weiterschreiben.jetzt

The latest installment in our Mission Possible series of reflections on the future of German Studies comes courtesy of Dr. Jule Thiemann of the University of Hamburg’s Institut für Germanistik, who argues that the field must turn towards expanding the field of canonical literature to include postmigrant engagement with small forms, digital modes of writing ranging from social media posts to the online curation of poetry and prose by refugees. She writes that centering cultural production from marginalized and precarious voices requires challenging predominant categories of transnational and refugee literature currently delimited by institutions of publication, distribution, and criticism.

Digitale Fluchtnarrative und Postmigrantische Perspektiven: 

Marginalisierte Stimmen – Marginalisierte Formen?

Literarisches Schreiben von nach Deutschland geflüchteten Autor*innen erfährt zwar seit der sogenannten ›Flüchtlingskrise‹ im Jahr 2015 seitens der deutschen Mehrheitsgesellschaft und des Literaturbetriebs verstärkt Interesse und wird von Kulturinstitutionen und staatlichen Initiativen gefördert, verbleibt jedoch noch allzu häufig jenseits der Grenze des Sichtbaren: Die Texte, teilweise in autofiktivem Schreibgestus verfasst, um Themen wie Flucht und Vertreibung, Ankunft und Neubeginn changierend, erscheinen oftmals als kurze Prosastücke – z.B. Essays, Briefe, Blogbeiträge, Feuilletons, Graphic Novels, Comics (vgl. z.B. die Comic-Reportagen Alphabet des Ankommens, unter: https://alphabetdesankommens.de) – auf digitalen Plattformen, deren Agenda es ist, der Literatur Geflüchteter eine Bühne zu geben (vgl. z.B. das Projekt Weiter Schreiben zur Förderung von Autor*innen mit Fluchterfahrung unter: https://weiterschreiben.jetzt),  oder aber in den sozialen Medien, z.B. auf twitter oder facebook

Der Sprung in einen etablierten Verlag gelingt jedoch (bisher) nur wenigen Autor*innen: Etablierte Autoren sind u.a. Abbas Khider, Saša Stanišić und Senthuran Varatharajah. Jüngst ausgezeichnet wurde außerdem das lyrische Werk der aus Syrien geflüchteten Dichterin Lina Atfah. Ist dieser ›Sprung‹ erst einmal geschafft, so verändert die Sichtbarkeit, die ein Buchvertrag mit sich bringt, nicht nur die Position der Schreibenden, sondern auch deren Texte: Bis zur Publikation durchlaufen diese mehrere Lektorat- und Korrekturschleifen, teilweise werden sie aus der Erstsprache der Autor*innen ins Deutsche übersetzt. Nach der Übersetzung, dem Lektorat und Korrektorat, erscheinen dann die mit Labels wie ›Transnationale Literatur‹; ›Interkulturelle Literatur‹ oder ›Fluchtliteratur‹ versehenen Texte als auf dem deutschen Buchmarkt sichtbare Prosa. Mit der Aufnahme in ein Verlagsprogramm greift ein Mechanismus der Etablierung und vor allem der Aufwertung von Texten durch eine Autorität.

Digital veröffentlichte Fluchtnarrative (Tweets, Blogposts, Briefe etc.) hingegen lassen sich oftmals formal einem etablierten literarischen Genre zuordnen: der ›Kleinen Form‹. Die literaturwissenschaftliche und literaturtheoretische Verhandlung Kleiner Formen hat derzeit Konjunktur (vgl. z.B. das DFG-Graduiertenkolleg Literatur- und Wissensgeschichte kleiner Formen, unter: http://www.kleine-formen.de) und kann als theoretische Rahmung für die Untersuchung dieser digitalen Kurztexte verstanden werden. In diesem Sinne soll gefragt werden, ob sich mit den Fluchtnarrativen in Kleinform nicht gar neue Schreibverfahren sowie Praktiken der (Selbst-)Veröffentlichung etablieren, die eine postmigrantische, flüchtige Realität abbilden. 

So muss sich die Germanistik auch der Frage stellen, ob das Fach es derzeit nicht versäumt, digital publizierte Kurztexte als neue Formen postmigrantischen Schreibens zu untersuchen: Denn sind online publizierte, nicht-lektorierte Texte, denen (wenn überhaupt!) noch ein langer Weg bis zur Rezeption durch ein größeres Publikum oder gar ein Platz in den Bestsellerlisten bevorsteht, nicht eben aufgrund der Unmittelbarkeit ihrer Publikationswege ein wichtiges literarisches Zeugnis der Gegenwart, dem wissenschaftliche Betrachtung gebührt? Welche Reichweite haben diese digitalen Prosastücke, und können sie nicht gerade ob ihrer Positionierung im Internet eine viel größere Sichtbarkeit erreichen, aufgrund ihrer digitalen, uneingeschränkten Distribution? Und was passiert mit solchen Texten, die anfangs ausschließlich digital publiziert werden, bald jedoch im Feuilleton gedruckt oder in Anthologien veröffentlicht werden? Diese Fragen werden Forschende der Germanistik in den nächsten Jahrzehnten beschäftigen. 

Dabei könnte beispielsweise ein Fokus der zukünftigen literatur- und kulturwissenschaftlichen Analysen auf der Auseinandersetzung mit dem Selbstverständnis der Schreibenden als geflüchtete Autor*innen (autofiktive und metapoetologische Kommentierungen, Ablehnung und Reclaiming von Fremdzuschreibungen und Labels als produktive Verfahren, etc.) liegen. Die Texte können als Versuchsanordnungen und künstlerische Selbstbefragungen gelesen werden, im Rahmen derer die Autor*innen in einem neuen Land, einer neuen Stadt und nicht zuletzt in einer neuen Literaturlandschaft Fuß fassen.  

Why German Studies today? Weil wir als Germanist*innen eine Verantwortung dafür tragen, neue literarische Formen und Verfahren der Gegenwart, auch abseits etablierter Publikationswege, zu erforschen. Nur wenn sich die germanistische Forschung für postmigrantische und digitale Schreibweisen öffnet, kann sie den neuartigen künstlerischen Dynamiken und der Schnelllebigkeit von Literatur zu Beginn des 21. Jahrhunderts gerecht werden.

Literatur 

Alphabet des Ankommens, Webauftritt, online abrufbar unter: https://alphabetdesankommens.de (zuletzt eingesehen am 21.02.2021)

DFG-Graduiertenkolleg Literatur- und Wissensgeschichte kleiner Formen, Webauftritt, online abrufbar unter: http://www.kleine-formen.de (zuletzt eingesehen am 21.02.2021)

Weiter Schreiben, Webauftritt, online abrufbar unter: https://weiterschreiben.jetzt (zuletzt eingesehen am 21.02.2021)

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Jule Thiemann: Postmigrant Perspectives and Digital Narratives of Flight

Copyright Image: Adnan Samman; Website: Weiter Schreiben – Ein Portal für Literatur aus Kriegs- und Krisengebieten; accessible at weiterschreiben.jetzt

The latest installment in our Mission Possible series of reflections on the future of German Studies comes courtesy of Dr. Jule Thiemann of the University of Hamburg’s Institut für Germanistik, who argues that the field must turn towards expanding the field of canonical literature to include postmigrant engagement with small forms, digital modes of writing ranging from social media posts to the online curation of poetry and prose by refugees. She writes that centering cultural production from marginalized and precarious voices requires challenging predominant categories of transnational and refugee literature currently delimited by institutions of publication, distribution, and criticism.

You can read this post in the original German here.

Digital Narratives of Flight and Postmigrant Perspectives: 

Marginalized Voices – Marginalized Forms?

Literary writing by authors who have fled to Germany since the so-called “refugee crisis” in 2015 has received increased interest from German society and the literary establishment, and has been promoted by cultural institutions and state initiatives – but all too often remains beyond the boundaries of the visible: The texts, some of which are written in an autofictional style, oscillating around themes such as flight and expulsion, arrival and new beginnings, often appear as short prose pieces, e.g. essays, letters, blog posts, feuilletons, graphic novels, comics (e.g. Alphabet des Ankommens at: https://alphabetdesankommens.de) on digital platforms whose agenda is to present the literature of refugees (e.g. the project Weiter Schreiben at: https://weiterschreiben.jetzt) or in social media, e.g. on Twitter or Facebook. 

However, only a few authors have (so far) managed to take the leap into an established publishing house: Established authors include Abbas Khider, Saša Stanišić, and Senthuran Varatharajah. The lyrical work of Lina Atfah, a poet who fled Syria, was also recently recognized. Once this “leap” has been taken, the visibility that a book contract brings changes not only the position of the writers, but also their texts: Before they are published, they go through several rounds of editing and proofreading, and are often translated from the author’s first language into German. After translation, editing and proofreading, the texts appear on the German book market with labels such as “transnational literature,” “intercultural literature” or “refugee literature.” Through their inclusion in a publishing program, a mechanism of establishing and, above all, valorizing texts by an authority takes hold.

Digitally published escape narratives (Tweets, blog posts, letters, etc.), on the other hand, can often be formally assigned to an established literary genre: the “small form.” The negotiation of small forms in literary studies and literary theory is currently experiencing a renaissance (e.g. the DFG Research Training Group Kleine Formen at: http://www.kleine-formen.de) and can be understood as a theoretical framing for the investigation of these digital short texts. In this sense, it should be asked whether those narratives do not only establish new modes of writing, but also new approaches to (self-)publication, and with that depict a postmigrant, ephemeral reality. 

Thus, German studies must also face the question of whether their curriculum is currently failing to examine digitally published short texts as new forms of postmigrant writing: For are online-published, non-edited texts, which (if at all) still have a long way to go before they are received by a larger audience (and only a few will make it onto the bestseller lists), not an important literary testimony OF the present that deserves scholarly consideration? What is the reach of these digital prose pieces, and can they not achieve much greater visibility precisely because of their positioning on the Internet, due to their digital, unrestricted distribution? And what happens to such texts that are initially published exclusively digitally, but are soon printed in the feuilleton or published in anthologies? These questions will occupy researchers in German Studies in the coming decades. 

In this context, a focus of future literary and cultural studies analyses could be the examination of the self-image of the writers referred to as ‘refugee authors’ by publishers and the feuilleton, e.g. autofictive and metapoetological commentaries, rejection and reclaiming of attributions and labels as productive procedures, etc. The texts can be read as experimental arrangements and artistic self-questioning, in the context of which the authors establish themselves in a new country, a new city, and not least in a new literary landscape.  

Why German Studies today? Because we as scholars have a responsibility to explore new literary forms and processes of the present, even beyond established publication channels. Only if German Studies opens up to postmigrant, digital modes of writing can it do justice to the new artistic dynamics and the fast pace of literature at the beginning of the 21st century.

References

Alphabet des Ankommens https://alphabetdesankommens.de (21.02.2021)

DFG-Graduiertenkolleg Literatur- und Wissensgeschichte kleiner Formen http://www.kleine-formen.de (21.02.2021)

Weiter Schreiben https://weiterschreiben.jetzt (21.02.2021)

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Frau Kutzer und andere Bewohner der Naunystraße (Frau Kutzer and Other Residents of Naunyn Street)

With Tunçel Kurtiz, Güner Yüreklik, Krikor Melikyan and Aras Ören.

Aras Ören’s book-length poem Was will Niyazi in der Naunynstraße? finds its visual complement in this 1973 adaptation by director Friedrich W. Zimmermann, which features the war-widow Frau Kutzer, the philosopher-guest worker Niyazi, as well as other characters passing through the street. The street itself bears silent witness to the deferred good life of the laborer. If Germany is “a little America,” as the narrator tells us, could there have been a “German Dream” for the migrant worker? Or is Berlin-Kreuzberg rather the site of an ongoing nightmare filled with the specters of Germany’s past?

Genre(s): Documentary, Experimental

Links: filmportal.de

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Tödlicher Hass: Der Mordfall Walter Lübcke

The German broadcaster ARD’s documentary about the 2019 murder of Walter Lübcke, a local politician with the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) who actively promoted Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy in the state of Hesse, was released amid a flurry of media attention to the trial of his neo-Nazi killers in the summer of 2020. The film deftly interweaves its reconstruction of the primary defendant Stephan Ernst’s history of far-right violence and the order of events leading up to the assassination with a number of contextualizing narratives, including the role of his accomplice Markus H., the neo-Nazi movement and other right-wing spaces in the city of Kassel, the rise of ethnic nationalism nationally in the agenda of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), well as the failure of the authorities to monitor a convicted violent vigilante and investigate other threads like possible connections to the National Socialist Underground (NSU).

Genre(s): Documentary, True Crime

Links: IMDB, ARD Mediathek, YouTube

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The Murder of Halit Yozgat

Commissioned by the People’s Tribunal ‘Unraveling the NSU Complex’, this documentary report by the research agency Forensic Architecture casts severe doubt on the official narrative around the neo-Nazi murder of Halit Yozgat, who was shot to death at his parents’ Kassel internet cafe apparently in the presence of Andreas Temme, an agent of the Verfassungsschutz secret service.

According to Temme’s reenactment, he was not a witness to the murder, and he was the only person to report no strange noises to the police during the time during which the shooting took place. Forensic Architecture onstructed a digital model of the internet cafe which they then built and used to investigate, in sober, painstaking detail, and independently verify the plausibility of Temme’s claims and the veracity of his testimony. Finding Temme’s version of events not just unlikely but impossible, the results of these coordinated experiments and comparative analysis of timelines point damningly in the direction of Temme’s collusion with the murderer. The evidence was presented to the parliamentary inquiry into the NSU in Hessen despite the efforts of the governing Christian Democrats.

Genre(s): Documentary, True Crime

Links: Forensic Architecture

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Spuren – Die Opfer des NSU (Traces – The NSU Victims)

Aysun Bademsoy’s documentary focuses on the families of the victims of the serial murders of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) between 2000 and 2007, which German police and media originally ascribed to “foreign” criminal enterprises with explicitly racist imagery like the neologism Dönermorde, coined to mock the killings before the culprits were identified in 2011. The film captures not only the grief and alienation of these families, but also their second violation by German society in the relatively light sentencing of and minimal investigation into the broader context and institutional enablers of the neo-Nazi terrorists responsible.

Genre(s): Documentary, True Crime

Links: IMDB, Vimeo (Trailer)

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Christine Korte: The Volksbühne as Archive

As a new year brings a new presidential administration to the helm of government in the political tinderbox of the United States, the Multicultural Germany Project is delighted to feature the latest entry in our Mission Possible commentary series on the purpose of German Studies from Christine Korte, one of our international collaborators at York University in Toronto, Canada. Korte writes that the tenure of Berliner Volksbühne director Frank Castorf, known in Germany as something of a contrarian iconoclast, offers a sterling example of the potential of creative spaces like the theater to instigate productive, culturally oppositional tensions that give voice to the contradictions of our present moment on both sides of the Atlantic.

My answer to the question “Why German Studies today?” revolves around German theatre, which has long held the status as Germany’s foremost cultural institution for Kritik. By virtue of its history, the German theatre is uniquely equipped to investigate our current social and political impasses resulting from the return of nationalism and illiberalism.

In the late 18th century, the German national theatre was conceived as an Ersatz for the democratic revolution underway in France. For Lessing and Schiller, the theatre was to become the designated public space for fueling democratic ideals and for an “aesthetic education” in bourgeois morality. This historic role underwrites today’s amply funded German Staatstheater. It provides rebellious artistic spirits with an institutional tradition to both invoke and challenge, as well as a state-funded space for exploring dissenting politics and ideas. As with German historiography, it is surely possible to talk about a Sonderweg in German theatre.

The Berliner Volksbühne is an example of the German theatre’s critical social function. Located at Rosa Luxemburg-Platz in the former East, the neoclassical building stands imposingly over its vicinity close to the Alexanderplatz. The Volksbühne (People’s Stage) originated as part of the socialist-leaning historic workers’ theatre movement of the late 19th century, granting Berlin’s industrial workers access to affordable high-quality theatre. The historic Volksbühne had its most shining period in the mid-1920s under the left-wing avant-garde director Erwin Piscator. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and under artistic director Frank Castorf (1992-2017), the Volksbühne was an example of the way the German theatre played a unique and unparalleled role in post-Wende society.

In the early 1990s, Castorf repurposed the theatre institution to fuel a cynical response to German unification: to the West’s ideological and economic “colonization” of the former East and to the euphoric proclamations of liberal capitalism’s victory over socialism. While most theatres in the former GDR used the bourgeois canon to promote the official unification narrative, the Volksbühne constituted a radical exception by refusing the “end of history”. The theatre established a counter-public around its OST identity and scathingly critiqued a smug West German society impervious to its own contradictions.

Castorf saw it as his duty as artistic director of a state-funded theatre to address the discontents wrought by the Wende: the rise of the far right in the former East, unemployment, and disenfranchisement. He provoked journalists and audiences alike with gestures that foregrounded the contradictory impulses at play in postsocialist society: a large Stalin picture hanging in his office; the Volksbühne’s Russian orientation and flagrant anti-Americanism; hosting lectures by Žižek and Badiou, as well as the “Idea of Communism” conference; and Castorf’s transgressive exploration of far-right intellectuals including Jünger and Schmitt.

Photo: Burkhard Lange, Neues Deutschland. A young Gregor Gysi and other hunger strikers with the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) in the lobby of the Volksbühne on Dec. 2, 1994.

At various points during Castorf’s tenure, the Volksbühne housed a hunger strike for the far-left PDS political party, a homeless theatre troupe, and had skinheads in the audience. During his tenure, Castorf also provided a space for other provocateurs such as the late director Christoph Schlingensief, whose approach to social issues such as the refugee and migrant crises is sorely missing today. 

As a striking example of the return of history, the Querdenker Bewegung—a cross-section of anti-liberal stances towards the German government’s COVID containment measures—used the Volksbühne’s front lawn to stage its protests. The image recalls Castorf’s reception of the historic Volksbühne as archive and his frequent mining of its site-specific history towards the end of the Weimar Republic when all manner of illiberal extremes tried to utilize the theatre’s environs for their purposes. With consciousness of this history, Castorf felt compelled to make the tensions between liberal democracy and illiberalism visible.

Adorno once asserted that liberal democracy was the only political system in which the avant-garde could flourish. By extension, it is the only system in which a figure such as Castorf can exist. Moreover, Castorf’s uncompromising approach to the German stage was, ultimately, a defence of the spirit of liberal democracy. Because of its own Sonderweg, German Studies should draw on the example of the Castorf-era Volksbühne and fully assert its own critical, diagnostic, and prognosticating power at this crucial moment in history.

While we wait for theatres to reopen, Germanists can use their online teaching forums to ignite the archive, invigorate historical consciousness, and draw inspiration from the enduring and reliably complex and even problematic Berlin avant-gardes in these pandemic times. 

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Mitten in Deutschland: NSU (NSU German History X)

With Anna Maria Mühe, Albrecht Schuch, and Sebastian Urzendowsky.

A dramatized account of the serial murders of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) between 2000 and 2007 comes to life in this German-language, in-house production from Netflix. The three-part miniseries introduces the three core members of the NSU, Beate Zschäpe, Uwe Mundlos, and Uwe Böhnhardt (Mühe, Schuch, and Urzendowsky, respectively) before focusing on their victims and police investigations in the subsequent episodes.

Genre(s): Drama

Links: IMDB, Netflix

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Aus dem Nichts (In the Fade)

With actors Diane Kruger and Numan Acar.

Loosely based on the 2004 bombing of a Turkish neighborhood in Cologne, Fatih Akin’s drama won international accolades for its German-American star Diane Kruger and the prize for Best Foreign Film at the 2018 Golden Globes. The film follows Katja Şekerci (Kruger) as her Kurdish-German husband (Numan Acar) and young son are killed in a neo-Nazi terrorist atack, leaving her to plunge into the depths of grief only to find a second, tenuous lease on life when the suspected killers are apprehended and the case goes to trial.

Genre(s): Drama

Links: IMDB, YouTube (Trailer)

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Ausländer raus! Schlingensiefs Container (Foreigners Out! Schlingensief’s Container)

With Christoph Schlingensief.

German artist and agent provocateur Christoph Schlingensief’s controversial 2000 project “Bitte liebt Österreich“, a commentary on the presence of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) into Austria’s governing coalition, is documented in this account of the weeklong installation. Schlingensief farcically applies the reality TV model of Big Brother-style competitive cohabitation to a group of immigrants he confines to a “container,” a mock detention camp in the middle of Vienna, broadcast live on Austrian TV where viewers vote to determine who will be eliminated and deported from the country.

Links: IMDB, YouTube (Trailer)

Genre(s): Documentary

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Panel: German Cinema in the Netflix era

The Berlin & Beyond Film Festival, this year in its first online incarnation, marked the April release of the second edition of The German Cinema Book with a panel discussion featuring three of the book’s editors: Erica Carter, Professor of German and Film Studies at King’s College, London; film historian and filmmaker Claudia Sandberg, currently Senior Research and Teaching Fellow at the University of Melbourne; and our own Deniz Göktürk, Professor of German Studies at UC Berkeley and Coordinator of the Multicultural Germany Project. In conversation with moderator Jaimey Fisher (UC Davis) and their respondent J. Hoberman, longtime film critic for the now defunct Village Voice, the panelists take stock of the paradoxical status of national cinema in the age of transnational, intermedial cultural production and consumption.

The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly accelerated virtually every dominant social and economic trend already observable as the consolidation of global capitalism continues apace, hurtling seemingly inexorably towards a climate catastrophe that will dwarf the destruction of the coronavirus. In the United States, where the number of COVID deaths recently hit the grim benchmark of 300,000, the pandemic has already led to massive movie theater closures, with many smaller, independent theaters shuttering permanently and global multiplex chains like Regal and Cineworld closing down all of their locations across the US and UK in October.

Meanwhile, streaming platforms in the mould of Netflix are booming: Disney, in particular, sees almost limitless potential for expanding their monopoly on lucrative blockbuster franchises like Star Wars and the Marvel Comics films decried by Martin Scorsese and others as the death of cinema. As Hoberman notes in his remarks, while France’s Cannes Film Festival banned Netflix productions from competition in 2018, the festival itself may be forced to take place virtually in 2021. At the same time, Netflix has introduced global audiences, including the US market, to a burgeoning German-language television industry premised on international consumption in the mode of streaming platforms, with all episodes released simultaneously to enable the “binge-watching” of series like transatlantic pioneer Babylon Berlin and the nostalgic sci-fi hit Dark.

“Our lives revolve around screens these days,” Göktürk begins her remarks, observing that while modernist new wave cinema and other quirks have fallen by the wayside in recent decades, the distinctiveness of experience that informs the specificity of national cinema can be seen reborn in the work of Turkish-German filmmakers like Fatih Akin, albeit in reference to a less homogeneous national imaginary. Sandberg discusses the renewed interest in East German cinema, highlighting the continued centrality of DEFA archives and film festivals in the process of integrating this alternate German cinema into a more polyphonic conception of national cinema as such.

In her comments, Carter pays tribute to the legacy of Lotte Eisner and Siegfried Kracauer, whose Haunted Screen and From Caligari to Hitler, respectively, remain foundational texts of German film history. Carter situates the German Cinema Book in terms of the project of reframing national cinema away from the conservative insularity and essentialism of its inheritance, but sees in this contemporary effort a sort of return to German cinema studies’ roots in Eisner and Kracauer and the vibrant, journalistic accessibility once universally acknowledged as their signature.

All three featured editors of the German Cinema Book, while touching on different moments in their staggeringly comprehensive volume, point towards the continued urgency of film history. Perhaps now more than ever, festivals and archives perform an essential function of contextualizing and narrativizing media that is not, contra the Zeitgeist, at the fingertips of most consumers of digital media, due in part to massively asymmetrical funding and distribution structures as well as to the specificity of expertise required for reception.

Noting the irony that an era of unprecedented transnational connectivity has seen the pointed exacerbation of nationalist antagonisms once thought rendered increasingly obsolete by the cross-cultural identification of global citizens, Hoberman observes in his response that the “Netflixization of festivals is a greater loss than movie theaters for a film journalist.” Original, independent filmmaking remains as inaccessible as ever, a problem compounded by the difficulty of navigating various streaming platforms and the oversaturation of audiences with an endless redundancy of content.

It was only in the culturally and geographically specific reception of his work through the confluence of the indie outfit New Yorker Films, the New York Film Festival, and the pages of the New York Times, Hoberman recalls, that “Fassbinder became Fassbinder” as we know him canonically today. The difficulty of writing about art cinema for a larger audience mirrors the paradoxical challenge of an accessible modernism, or more contemporarily, a radically polyphonic articulation of the national imaginary filtered through global platforms that flatten their specificity without the historical context of the stories only German cinema curation and scholarship can tell.

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Lambert: Troubling the Surface of Germanistik

In a new age of modesty in literary and cultural criticism, Germanistik’s rich archive of  theory offers exactly what we need to revive our critical engagements with the unrelenting information flows of the Internet age. The UC Berkeley German Department’s own PhD candidate Sean Lambert encourages us to not merely take it all in, but to “creatively disrupt.”

No one would say that critique is essentially German, nor that one must study German in order to learn critical theory. But there is a rich history of critique in German thought. In a contemporary academic world where scholarship must be interdisciplinary, multicultural and international in order to respond to a highly networked present, studying German opens up a rich archive of texts within the tradition of Germanistik that have always been at the intersection of philosophical, literary, cultural, historical, medical and theological studies (among others). German Studies is thus an excellent place to practice, not the Eurocentric, nation-bound critique of the past, but the critical theory called for today, which opens itself up to the world.

In our era of fake news, where simulated and “real” life have become practically indistinguishable, critique is more important than ever for examining the materiality of our virtual lives. However, in the past few years, critique — particularly of the dialectical kind — has come under fire within literary studies. Thinkers have favored methods such as surface reading or distant reading in contrast to Marxist or psychoanalytic methods, claiming that they better suit a world where violence, ideology, and the unrestrained use of power – some historical targets of dialectical critique – are all plainly on the surface. In one of my classes, students ask, in almost every meeting, if dialectical critique has “run out of steam,” or if we must “move beyond” it. Despite the fact that critical theory has always welcomed self-critique, and that “moving beyond the dialectic” seems, to me, a goal that requires dialectical thinking, recent scholarship and its echoes in this class have all contributed to what Jeffrey Williams calls, “The New Modesty in Literary Criticism,” in which critics, in a reversal of Marx’s famous aphorism, increasingly seek to describe the world, rather than change it.

German Studies has engaged productively with new modes of reading that forego suspicion (Eve Sedgwick’s turn away from a “hermeneutics of suspicion” comes just a few years after what David Wellbery called the “Post-Hermeneutic Turn” in German Studies), but studying German also gives us the tools to “rescue” dialectics in a moment where it seems in danger of being discarded. The Frankfurt School itself serves as an excellent example of the necessary endurance of critique. Whether writing about the naked violence of the Third Reich or the disguised, sublimated violence of the “fully administered world,” the thinkers of the Frankfurt School never took the legibility of the world’s surface for granted. A new Berkeley professor of Film and Media Studies, Rizvana Bradley, writes of a “resurfacing” that takes place in contemporary performance art about blackness. “Resurfacing” involves something of a paradox, both a quasi-suspicious reappearance of the suppressed humanity of raceless flesh beneath black skin, as well as the creative (though violent) re-making of black skin as a new surface for the body. German Studies today offers the opportunity, not to simply abandon dialectical criticism or reject “surface reading” outright, but rather to participate in a project of “resurfacing” that brings both to bear. This global, multicultural approach to critical theory by way of German Studies can creatively disrupt the surface of the world even as it attempts to describe it.

German Studies is not (by far) the only discipline where scholars can still train in critical theory or dialectical critique. But the rich archive of German texts that foreground critique makes it a vital site to keep critical theory alive and fresh. If we are to respond to the various catastrophes through which we are living, we must not content ourselves merely with considering the world’s surface, but rather participate in a project of resurfacing it. I take inspiration from Adorno: “thought is happiness, even where it defines unhappiness: by enunciating it. By this alone, thought reaches into the universal unhappiness. Whoever does not let it atrophy has not resigned.”

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Teupert: From Pretzels to Baklava

The Top Five German Stereotypes | The Wandering Ex-Housewife

How might we reanimate interest in German Studies without the lure of stale cultural clichés like pretzels and beer? Our own Jonas Teupert, PhD Candidate in German Studies here at UC Berkeley and coordinator of a new student blog focusing on pop culture called Aufmerksamkeitsdefizit, suggests baklava.

At the Zoom roundtable “New Directions in German Studies” on November 6, MGP Coordinator Deniz Göktürk (UC Berkeley), Johannes von Moltke (U Michigan), Rüdiger Campe (Yale), and moderator Johannes Türk (Indiana U) discussed possible futures of a discipline facing waning job prospects for graduate students and neoliberal divestment on an institutional level. In the conversation, two seemingly opposite ideas emerged: First, there was a consensus that German Studies should be practiced in relation to other disciplines, nations, and languages, rather than holding up a monumental notion of German culture. At the same time, however, the panelists conceded that German departments needed to present themselves in their specificity to attract undergraduate students and to maintain their standing within the university.

In a humorous remark, Johannes von Moltke warned of such endeavors that promoted German culture with events like “Wandertag” (hiking day) or by bringing pretzels to class. It appeared that these well-meaning attempts to raise interest in German Studies were at odds with the ideal of a discipline that overcomes attachments to such outdated notions as the mother tongue, as Deniz Göktürk remarked, Heimat, or even the nation itself. Should we not rather focus on transnational phenomena that constitute the objects of our studies as, for example, the mediation of the Kafka-reception through the United States, which Rüdiger Campe pointed out? 

At this juncture, the two main concerns of the roundtable seem irreconcilable indeed. What, however, if we brought baklava to our German classes rather than pretzels, not least since the Middle Eastern pastry outdoes the popularity of pretzels, at least in Berlin? This choice of snack is no trifle matter as it concerns the self-understanding of the discipline in a most central way. While the German culture that our departments represent as some sort of cultural embassies abroad may very well exist in differentiation from, say, French or Polish culture, this German culture is not merely made up of things exclusively German. The word “German” at this very point in time rather signifies an intersection between various cultures taking a specific shape that can be distinguished from others.

In this constellation, what is German is always already outside of itself and subject to dynamic change. What we present to our students as worthy of their time at the university is thus not a prepackaged set of German export goods, from pretzels to Goethe, but a specific force field that teaches them about issues of increasing relevance today. For example, how does German society grapple with new cultural influences and the sense of loss that is at the center of so many contemporary crises of national identity? This question focuses on German texts, institutions, and media, yet generates answers that do not merely pertain to Germany (or other German-speaking countries) and that lead our attention elsewhere.

At present, Germany is known in the world as a country that addresses global issues in a specific way, sometimes with varying degrees of success (we can think of Angela Merkel’s declaration that “Multikulti ist gescheitert” and how we position ourselves to it). This engagement with questions of a global concern has to be situated in the context of German history, for which our discipline provides expertise. What we then convey to our students is a transnational Germany or German culture and pretzels do not have to come with it any longer.

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Jara Schmidt on Postmigrant Literature and German Studies

Reyhan Şahin: Yalla Feminismus!

On the day of the 2020 presidential election in the United States, the MGP is honored to publish the second guest commentary in our Mission Possible series of hot takes on the purpose of German Studies. Dr. Jara Schmidt, research collaborator at the University of Hamburg’s Institut für Germanistik, captures the essence of recent shifts in German politics and culture that have made a refocusing of our discipline towards transnational, antiracist perspectives not only analytically fruitful, but increasingly unavoidable.

You can find this post in the original German here.

Postmigrant literature: angry, resisting, defending

Desintegriert Euch! [Disintegrate!] is the title of Max Czollek’s polemic published in 2018, in which the Berlin poet and essayist proposes a model of society that explicitly opposes a German “Leitkultur” [leading culture] and neo-racial ideas. In his new essay “Gegenwartsbewältigung [Dealing With the Present; an allusion to the term “Vergangenheitsbewältigung” which refers to National Socialism] (2020), he further pursues the idea of radical diversity and a new allyship which does justice to our postmigrant society and serves as a resistant procedure against the increasing political and social shift to the right. 

The term ›postmigrant‹, according to the theatre artist Shermin Langhoff, stands in our globalized, primarily urban life for the entire common space of diversity beyond origin. According to the educationalist and sociologist Erol Yildiz, the postmigrant perspective is also a political state of mind, “which includes subversive, ironic practices and, in its reversal, has a provocative effect on hegemonic relations.” (Yildiz, 23)

Speaking as a literary scholar, it is therefore not a matter of establishing a new literary genre with the label “postmigrant,” which follows genres such as the so-called “literature of consternation”,
“guest worker literature”, “migration literature” or “intercultural literature,” only to be able to better categorize the texts. There are certainly texts by authors of the postmigrant generation in which classic themes of migration literature are found, so that such a genre continuance stands to reason. But many of the authors would surely reject such a categorization, because it would bind them to something that has to do with their personal backgrounds and not primarily with their texts. And then there are other writers, especially those who are also activists, who very consciously use the self-designation “postmigrant” and deal with various forms of discrimination in their works. 

In anthologies as well as essayistic prose of recent times, attention is increasingly drawn to intersectional discrimination in Germany, as in: Fatma Aydemir / Hengameh Yaghoobifarah (eds.): Eure Heimat ist unser Albtraum [Your Home is Our Nightmare] (2019); Kübra Gümüşay: Sprache und Sein [Language and Being] (2020); Reyhan Şahin: Yalla, Feminismus! [Yalla, Feminism!] (2019). What is repeatedly expressed in these social criticisms is a frustration about having to explain or even justify one’s own existence, for example, regarding one’s heritage or religion. This state of having to explain oneself and the discrimination that goes along with it leads to an almost collective feeling: anger. However, discriminated people in particular are usually denied the expression of this basic emotion. While angry women in general are seen as unattractive, selfish, irrational or even hysterical, women of color, especially Black¹ women, are often degraded with the racist stereotype of the “Angry Black Woman” (Chemaly, xvii).

And while angry Black men are usually associated with menace and criminality, the anger of white² men is usually positively associated with passion and commitment (ibid., xiv). This collective rage should, however, be understood as a political issue as well as a motor and creative outlet, which is why the question must be investigated as to what energies and discourses it initiates – e.g. as in Fatma Aydemir’s debut novel Ellbogen [Elbow] (2017), in which the protagonist is no longer able to control her accumulated rage due to social discrimination and gender-specific restrictions and commits manslaughter; or in Karen Köhler’s novel Miroloi (2019), in which the protagonist finally resists patriarchal oppression in the masquerade of the “Angstfrauor “fear woman” (Köhler, 449).

Why German Studies today? Because we must (continue to) adopt a perspective that focuses on the realities of intersectional discrimination and practices of resistance – and thus set an example for a just society that must be understood and protected in its radically diverse condition.

 

¹ Since “Black” means neither an adjective nor a skin color, but a politically chosen self-designation in rejection of colonial-racist terms, it is capitalized.

² To emphasize the construction of the term “white,” it is set in italics. It does not refer to the skin color, but to the privileges that are associated with it.

References

Aydemir, Fatma: Ellbogen, Munich 2017.

Aydemir, Fatma / Hengameh Yaghoobifarah (eds.): Eure Heimat ist unser Albtraum, Berlin 2019.

Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung: »Die Herkunft spielt keine Rolle – ›Postmigrantisches‹ Theater im Ballhaus Naunynstraße. Interview mit Shermin Langhoff«, in: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung – Dossier für kulturelle Bildung from 10 March 2011, https://www.bpb.de/gesellschaft/bildung/kulturelle-bildung/60135/interview-mit-shermin-langhoff, accessed on 22 October 2020.

Chemaly, Soraya: Rage Becomes Her. The Power of Women’s Anger, New York et al. 2019.

Czollek, Max: Desintegriert Euch!, Munich 2018.

Czollek, Max: Gegenwartsbewältigung, Munich 2020.

Gümüşay, Kübra: Sprache und Sein, Munich 2020. 

Kastner, Heidi: Wut. Plädoyer für ein verpöntes Gefühl, Vienna 2014. 

Kim, Sue J.: On Anger. Race, Cognition, Narrative, Austin 2013.

Köhler, Karen: Miroloi, Munich 2019.

Şahin, Reyhan: Yalla, Feminismus!, Stuttgart 2019.

Yildiz, Erol: »Postmigrantische Perspektiven. Aufbruch in eine neue Geschichtlichkeit«, in: Marc Hill / Erol Yildiz (eds.): Nach der Migration. Postmigrantische Perspektiven jenseits der Parallelgesellschaft, Bielefeld 2015, pp. 19-36.

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Jara Schmidt: Postmigrantische Literatur und Germanistik

Reyhan Şahin: Yalla Feminismus!

On the day of the 2020 election in the United States, the MGP is delighted to publish the second guest commentary in our Mission Possible series of hot takes on the purpose of German Studies. Dr. Jara Schmidt, research collaborator at the University of Hamburg’s Institut für Germanistik, captures the essence of recent shifts in German politics and culture that have made a refocusing of our discipline towards transnational, antiracist perspectives not only analytically fruitful, but increasingly unavoidable.

You can find this post in its English translation here.

Postmigrantische Literatur: wütend, widerständig, wehrhaft

Desintegriert Euch! lautet der Titel von Max Czolleks 2018 publizierter Streitschrift, in welcher der Berliner Lyriker und Essayist ein Gesellschaftsmodell vorschlägt, das sich explizit gegen eine deutsche ›Leitkultur‹ und neovölkische Vorstellungen wendet. In seinem neuen Essay Gegenwartsbewältigung (2020) verfolgt er zudem die Idee der radikalen Diversität und eines neuen Verbündet-Seins, das unserer postmigrantischen Gesellschaft gerecht werden und als widerständiges Verfahren gegen den zunehmenden Rechtsruck dienen soll. 

Der Begriff des ›Postmigrantischen‹ wird hier gemäß der Theaterschaffenden Shermin Langhoff »in unserem globalisierten, vor allem urbanen Leben für den gesamten gemeinsamen Raum der Diversität jenseits von Herkunft« verstanden. Dem Erziehungswissenschaftler und Soziologen Erol Yildiz zufolge ist die postmigrantische Perspektive zudem eine politische Geisteshaltung, »die auch subversive, ironische Praktiken einschließt und in ihrer Umkehrung provokant auf hegemoniale Verhältnisse wirkt.« (Yildiz, 23)

Als Literaturwissenschaftlerin gesprochen, geht es folglich nicht darum, mit dem Label ›postmigrantisch‹ ein neues literarisches Genre zu etablieren, dass sich einreiht in Genres, wie die sogenannte ›Literatur der Betroffenheit‹, ›Gastarbeiter*innenliteratur‹, ›Migrationsliteratur‹ oder ›Interkulturelle Literatur‹, nur um die Texte besser kategorisieren zu können. Es gibt sicherlich Texte von Autor*innen der postmigrantischen Generation, in denen sich klassische Themen der Migrationsliteratur finden, sodass eine solche Genrefortschreibung naheliegend scheint. Viele der Autor*innen würden eine solche Kategorisierung aber gewiss ablehnen, weil es sie wieder auf etwas festschreibt, das mit ihren persönlichen Hintergründen zu tun hat und nicht in erster Linie mit ihren Texten. Und dann gibt es wieder andere Schriftsteller*innen, vor allem solche, die auch aktivistisch tätig sind, die ganz bewusst zur Selbstbezeichnung ›postmigrantisch‹ greifen und sich in ihren Werken mit verschiedensten Diskriminierungsformen auseinandersetzen. 

In Sammelbänden sowie essayistischer Prosa jüngster Zeit wird zunehmend auf eine intersektionale Diskriminierungen in Deutschland aufmerksam gemacht, wie etwa in: Fatma Aydemir / Hengameh Yaghoobifarah (Hg.): Eure Heimat ist unser Albtraum (2019); Kübra Gümüşay: Sprache und Sein (2020); Reyhan Şahin: Yalla, Feminismus! (2019). Was in diesen Gesellschaftskritiken wiederholt zum Tragen kommt, ist eine Frustration darüber, immerzu das eigene Dasein erklären oder sogar rechtfertigen zu müssen, beispielsweise die Herkunft bzw. Abstammung oder die Religion betreffend. Dieser Zustand des Sich-Erklären-Müssens und die Diskriminierungen, die mit ihm einhergehen, münden in ein geradezu kollektives Gefühl: Wut. Diese Basisemotion nach außen zu tragen, wird jedoch insbesondere diskriminierten Personen in der Regel abgesprochen: Während wütende Frauen als unattraktiv, selbstsüchtig, irrational oder sogar hysterisch gelten und Women of Colour, vor allem Schwarze¹ Frauen, oftmals mit dem rassistischen Stereotyp der ›Angry Black Woman‹ degradiert werden (Chemaly, xvii), werden wütende Schwarze Männern meist mit Bedrohlichkeit und Kriminalität assoziiert – wohingegen die Wut weißer² Männer in der Regel mit Leidenschaft und Engagement positiv besetzt wird (ebd., xiv). Diese kollektive Wut sollte jedoch als ein Politikum sowie als Motor und kreatives Ventil aufgefasst werden, weshalb der Frage nachgegangen werden muss, welche Energien und Diskurse sie initiiert – wie etwa in Fatma Aydemirs Debütroman Ellbogen (2017), in dem die Protagonistin ihre aufgrund von gesellschaftlicher Diskriminierung und genderspezifischen Restriktionen angestaute Wut nicht mehr kontrollieren kann und im Affekt einen Totschlag begeht, oder in Karen Köhlers Roman Miroloi (2019), in dem die Protagonistin sich schließlich in der Maskerade der »Angstfrau« (Köhler, 449) einer patriarchalen Unterdrückung widersetzt. 

Why German Studies today? Weil wir (weiterhin) eine Perspektive einnehmen müssen, die intersektionale Diskriminierungsrealitäten und Widerstandspraxen in den Fokus rückt – um so ein Zeichen zu setzen für eine gerechte Gesellschaft, die radikal divers gefasst und geschützt werden muss.

 

¹ Da ›Schwarz‹ nicht als Adjektiv oder Hautfarbe gemeint ist, sondern als politisch gewählte Selbstbezeichnung, in Ablehnung kolonialrassistischer Bezeichnungen, wird es großgeschrieben.

² Um die Konstruktion des Begriffes ›weiß‹ hervorzuheben, wird er kursiv gesetzt. Gemeint ist keine Hautfarbe, gemeint sind die Privilegien, die mit der Hauptfarbe einhergehen.

Literatur

Aydemir, Fatma: Ellbogen, München 2017.

Aydemir, Fatma / Hengameh Yaghoobifarah (Hg.): Eure Heimat ist unser Albtraum, Berlin 2019.

Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung: »Die Herkunft spielt keine Rolle – ›Postmigrantisches‹ Theater im Ballhaus Naunynstraße. Interview mit Shermin Langhoff«, in: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung – Dossier für kulturelle Bildung vom 10.03.2011, online abrufbar unter: https://www.bpb.de/gesellschaft/bildung/kulturelle-bildung/60135/interview-mit-shermin-langhoff, zuletzt eingesehen am 22.10.2020.

Chemaly, Soraya: Rage Becomes Her. The Power of Women’s Anger, New York u. a. 2019.

Czollek, Max: Desintegriert Euch!, München 2018.

Czollek, Max: Gegenwartsbewältigung, München 2020.

Gümüşay, Kübra: Sprache und Sein, München 2020. 

Kastner, Heidi: Wut. Plädoyer für ein verpöntes Gefühl, Wien 2014. 

Kim, Sue J.: On Anger. Race, Cognition, Narrative, Austin 2013.

Köhler, Karen: Miroloi, München 2019.

Şahin, Reyhan: Yalla, Feminismus!, Stuttgart 2019.

Yildiz, Erol: »Postmigrantische Perspektiven. Aufbruch in eine neue Geschichtlichkeit«, in: Marc Hill / ders. (Hg.): Nach der Migration. Postmigrantische Perspektiven jenseits der Parallelgesellschaft, Bielefeld 2015, S. 19-36.

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Albrecht Classen: Why German Studies Today?

The first guest commentary in our Mission Possible series of hot takes on the purpose of German Studies comes courtesy of Dr. Albrecht Classen, Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of German Studies at the University of Arizona. His response to the question, “Why study German today?”, is an elegant reflection on the canonical legacy of German cultural history and its ongoing utility in the present moment. 

This is the ultimate question relevant in our field, and very difficult to answer though we can certainly point to many general aspects: economy, politics, literature, philosophy, environmental protection, movies, sports, etc. They all matter critically in justifying the study of German today, but we should also not forget very personal approaches, such as the love for this language, love for Germany/Austria/Switzerland, or friendship and family relations, and passion for German literature. It would certainly be wrong to paint a rosy picture of any of the German-speaking lands and peoples, but we encounter in the German-language culture an enormously rich plethora of experiences, good and bad, profound ideas, concepts, and values, expressed in a huge treasure trove of poetry and prose from the Middle Ages until today.

In fact, many of the critical issues of great relevance in the modern world, promising or troublesome, have already been discussed throughout time by German-language philosophers, poets, theologians, and others. The discourse on love had set in already in the twelfth century, and missing out on Walther von der Vogelweide’s minnesongs (ca. 1190-1220) would be a serious loss. When reflecting on the meaning of death, i.e., the loss of a loved-one, it would behoove us to keep in mind what Johann von Tepl had to say in his famous Ackermann (ca. 1400). Reading through the famous Narrenschiff by Sebastian Brant (1494) still makes us laugh and realize the foolishness of most people, which quickly sobers us as to our self-perception today.

Some of the greatest revolutions or paradigm shifts took place on German soil, such as the invention of the printing press by Johann Gutenberg in ca. 1450, or the emergence of the Protestant Reformation, launched by Martin Luther’s 99 theses published in 1517. As the epigrams by Angelus Silesius (1624-1677) indicate, many of the ultimate questions relevant in all of human life were already addressed at that time, and found, to some extent, some mysterious answers by this Silesian poet. Human suffering in war, such as the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), led, surprisingly, to the creation of some of the best poems, the sonnets by Andreas Gryphius (1616-1664), while his contemporary Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg (1633-1694) formulated most intriguing poems about love, God, and death. Inquiring about the notion of tolerance already in earlier time, we only would have to turn to Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s Nathan der Weise (1779), where the protagonist is a living proof of this ideal.

The list of many other significant writers and poets, male and female, continues, and we would not need to pursue this argument further, though here I have used primarily a historical perspective. German Studies provides a critically important platform within the Humanities to examine essential aspects of human life, as expressed in many different media. Intriguingly, the current discourse on racism, anti-Semitism, colonialism, and imperialism can be traced back to many medieval and modern narratives, and then also movies. The contributions by German philosophers, such as Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) or Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), are universally acknowledged today as fundamental for contemporary theoretical issues, but our students must be able to read their works in German so they can learn the full meaning of their words, and understand the nuances and subtle messages. The entire field of modern theology is greatly influenced by the ideas and writings of German scholars, such as Karl Barth (1886-1968), but the same applies to the fields of sciences, medicine, astronomy, or optics.

Studying German does not mean that students would exclusively learn the German language. That is the basis, upon which then many forays into the deeper dimensions of academia and professional life become possible. Students with a B.A. in German Studies are ultimately highly qualified to partake effectively in the critical discourses of today, pertaining to the humanities and the sciences, and this from a historical and a modern perspective.

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Acts of Border Crossing in G. W. Pabst’s Comradeship (Kameradschaft, 1931)

On October 8, 2020, Yiddishkayt, an organization dedicated to the presentation and broadcasting of the legacy of Jewish culture, held a panel discussion on German film director Georg Wilhelm Pabst’s 1931 classic, Comradeship (Kameradschaft), as part of the organization’s LAYKA Lens film discussion series. Boris Dralyuk (Executive Editor, Los Angeles Review of Books) moderated the conversation between guest speakers Deniz Göktürk (Professor of German, UC Berkeley), Rob Adler Peckerar (Executive Director, Yiddishkayt), and Jim Hoberman (Critic and Author, New York Times, Village Voice).

Produced in the early sound era, Comradeship features fascinating linguistic experiments. Early talkies were often released as various versions shot in different languages, with some variations. They are usually adaptations of the same script, filmed on the same set with the same crew, addressing different (national) audiences. The German version of Comradeship, Kameradschaft, premiered on November 17, 1931 at Berlin Capitol, and the French version, La tragédie de la mine, was released on January 29, 1932 in France. Set on the French-German border in the years following the First World War, Comradeship tells the story of a mine disaster in France and the nearby German miners’ voluntary efforts to rescue their trapped colleagues. Pabst’s film is a celebration of community and solidarity in times of great calamities, in terms of both the narrative diegesis and the political and economic upheavals during the last years of the Weimar Republic—themes that strongly resonate with the contemporary world we live in.

Göktürk’s introduction draws our attention to the enactment of various borders in the film: the national border between France and Germany, as represented by the customs officers and their regulation of human flow in both directions; the border between work and leisure, as symbolized by the prominent factory gates; the imaginary border in people’s minds, expressed by the characters’ initial reluctance to cooperate with or come to the rescue of the other; and the border underground, which demarcates the French mine from the German mine. These borders are all literally broken down or symbolically transcended throughout the course of the film, as workers who were previously skeptical of the other side overcome their own parochialism and gradually understand the humanity of their French/German comrades.

At the same time, the vision of transnational solidarity is also manifested by the act of linguistic border-crossing. In the penultimate scene, the French and German workers celebrate the courageous rescue mission. Despite the fact that they cannot understand each other’s words, the spirit of international cooperation resonates among the cheering crowds. Nevertheless, this triumphal mood is severely undercut by the ensuing scene, in which the French and German authorities officially restore the underground border previously demolished by the alternative rescue team (at least in the French version; the ending of the German version did not survive). Put within the historical context in which the film was produced, this abrupt cut-away from the jubilant workers’ gathering comes to foreshadow the short life of the socialist movement in Germany, as it was truncated by the ascendancy of the Nazi regime.

In addition, this rather ironic ending prompts the viewers to reconsider their understanding of the cultural dynamics at play in the film. As Nataša Ďurovičová argues in her article “Vector, Flow, Zone: Towards a History of Cinematic Translatio,” every decision in the translation process in a multilingual film, including which language to translate, how to execute it, and under what rules, is a matter of specific transnational power relationships subject to explicitly political negotiations (95). Each set of translation practices “articulates multivalent relationships between a ‘stronger’ and ‘weaker’ film culture, and thus creates various force fields in the interchange between films’ production and reception” (Ďurovičová 96). In the case of Comradeship, several German characters demonstrate their ability to understand at least some French (or even speak French so well as to be an interpreter), whereas the French characters are largely ignorant of the German language. The linguistic proficiency of the German characters corresponds to their physical mobility, technological advancement, and humanistic generosity relative to their French counterparts. Whereas the German characters repeatedly succeed in traversing the national border, none of the French characters is able to do so; in fact, a group of unemployed French miners are explicitly barred access to Germany in one of the earliest scenes of the film. While the French mine is destroyed due to mishandling of mining explosives, the German mine is better-organized, featuring cleaner work environment and cozy showers. Although prior to the accident, a triad of German workers had an unpleasant encounter at a French bar due to a misunderstanding, they demonstrate remarkable heroism by risking their lives to rescue the French miners in an unauthorized mission.

A closer examination of the French and German versions of Comradeship based on extensive archival research will undoubtedly yield more in-depth interpretations of the linguistic politics in the film. At the same time, G.W. Pabst’s long and controversial career in Hollywood, Weimar Germany, and Nazi Germany will continue to make multilingual cinema an engaging subject of inquiry for film scholars.

The panel discussion on Comradeship is available for streaming on YouTube and Facebook.

 

Work Cited: Ďurovičová, Nataša. “Vector, Flow, Zone: Towards a History of Cinematic Translatio.” World Cinemas, Transnational Perspectives, edited by Nataša Ďurovičová and Kathleen Newman, Routledge, 2010, pp. 90-120.

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Mission Possible: Why German Studies Today?

Building on existing synergies in the Department of German at the University of California, Berkeley discussed at a recent workshop, the Multicultural Germany Project (MGP) invites you to submit brief takes responding to the question “Mission Possible: Why German Studies Today?” 

These short and spiffy takes on your stakes in the field of approx. 600 words length can be posted as a comment to the Forum page of the Multicultural Germany Project website (mgp.berkeley.edu) or emailed to mcgermany@berkeley.edu and ultimately published on our main Blog.

We would also like to invite you to join us in our critical news digest efforts toward the MGP Chronology, posting links to important news and op-ed articles with source information and a very brief commentary to mgp.berkeley.edu/forum.

Blog posts can also be developed further into position papers to be considered for submission to the Interdisciplinary German Studies Conference on Traveling Forms and for publication in our electronic journal TRANSIT.

Posts by graduate students and early-career researchers are particularly welcome! If the field of German studies has a future, it will be yours!

We look forward to sharing multidirectional takes on our collective purpose! Let’s make it kraut-sourced!

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Workshop on Archival Resistance and the Purpose of German Studies

What might the purpose of German studies be in the face of global gloom and doom?

On September 26, 2020, the Multicultural Germany Project (MGP) addressed this question in a workshop organized by Kumars Salehi, Michael Sandberg, Jonas Teupert, and Deniz Göktürk in conversation with Annika Orich (Assistant Professor of German at Georgia Tech, alumna of the German Graduate Program at the University of California, Berkeley), based on her recently published article “Archival Resistance: Reading the New Right.” (German Politics & Society. Summer 2020, Vol. 38, Issue 2: 1-34.) In her article, Orich offers a reading of Th. W. Adorno’s 1967 lecture “Aspekte des neuen Rechtsradikalismus” in light of its uncanny resonances at our current conjuncture.

When our initial team started to collaboratively assemble an archive of “multicultural Germany” almost twenty years ago in the Department of German at the University of California, Berkeley, the United States were still known as the paradigmatic “nation of immigrants,” and Germany was only reluctantly edging toward official acknowledgement of having de facto become a country of immigration (Einwanderungsland). As our collection grew and was published, first in English as Germany in Transit then in German as Transit Deutschland, no one could foresee what was to come. “Multiculturalism,” all along a problematic concept, only tenable as “a project” rather than a reality of social interaction, has been discredited by the left and the right. Today, the United States have become a deportation nation, deeply divided on questions of immigration and race. On September 17, 2020, in a speech at the National Archives, marking the 233rd anniversary of the signing of the constitution, President Donald Trump called for restoration of “patriotic education,” pushing back against the teaching of critical race theory at schools in the United States. The vilification of migrants and minorities in the light of border security and national unity have become key topics of political agitation both in Europe and the United States in recent years. In Germany, the far-right political party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), founded in 2013, became the third largest parliamentary group in the Bundestag in the 2017 election with 12.6% of the vote. Populist anti-establishment resentment has been brewing on a broader scale and recently manifested itself in protests organized by the movement Querdenken against the German government’s so-called “Corona dictatorship.”

No doubt, the study of German history offers a wealth of insight into the rise of dictatorial regimes. The reloading of inward-looking right-wing nationalism on an international scale is of current concern. Does critical theory’s analysis of the authoritarian personality and Adorno’s astute analysis of “the specter of technological unemployment,” capitalism’s permanent “declassment” and rendering redundant of workers through automation (today we would say: digitization), still hold as an explanation for the wide-spread lure of fascist movements? How do we account for incessant circular replay in anti-migration rhetoric and structural racism? What kinds of agency is possible in the face of the right’s successful inversions of the language of identity and diversity? Can archives serve as safeguards of democracy?

The turn to official archives and counter-archives does indeed hold promise as a tactic of distanced reflection, memory work for the future, maybe even resistance against revisionist history and governance. Reading in constellations, tracing the circulation of rhetorical patterns regarding collective identifications based on Heimat in historical perspective, and taking up the challenge to analyze missives from the right on a transnational scale, are important skills to train with our students. Learning to read critically will keep comparisons situated in historic and linguistic context. In this spirit, Orich proposed that the compilation of Facebook posts of the group Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident) Glaube Liebe Hoffnung. Nachrichten aus dem christlichen Abendland, compiled by Gregor Weichbrodt and Hannes Bajohr in 2015, constitutes an act of archival resistance. Digital media have created their own “rogue archives,” to quote Abigail De Kosnik, which require new tools of analysis. The purpose of German studies might be to take up these challenges. We look forward to continuing the conversation.

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Das Comeback der Promis ist ganz Pop

The following post was adapted from schook, a blog by students in the Fall 2019 seminar “German Pop Culture” at UC Berkeley. In this piece, Lianette Alnaber analyzes the motif of the hip-hop comeback in the first video in three years by Afghan-German rapper SSIO.

SSIO, ein deutscher Rapper afghanischer Abstammung, hat am 26. September und nach drei Jahren des Schweigens ein Musikvideo für seinen neuen Song “HASH HASH” veröffentlicht. In diesen letzten vier Tagen hatte sein Musikvideo schon zweieinhalb Millionen Aufrufe auf YouTube. Er war vor seiner dreijährigen Pause sehr berühmt in der deutschsprachigen Welt und galt als eine Pop-Figur der deutschen Hip Hop- und Rap-Szene. Deswegen findet man SSIOs musikalisches Comeback als Hauptthema des Liedes und Musikvideos.

Das Video ist länger als das Lied weil es einen Sketch beinhaltet, der vor dem Lied beginnt. In dieser Eröffnungsszene treibt SSIOs Wiederkehr die Erzählung mit selbstgesteuertem Humor voran. Er macht aus seiner Situation nicht nur einen Witz, sondern auch eine Kritik an der Hip-Hop-Industrie. Zum Beispiel ist “schlage den Popsänger” eine Zeile des Textes. Seine Kritik richtet sich an sein eigenes Plattenlabel, Alles Oder Nix Records, und die Tendenz der Musikindustrie zu jüngeren Rappern. Zum Beispiel ist Mero, der neunzehnjährige Rapper des gleichen Labels, auf dem Deckblatt eines Popmagazins zu sehen.

Die Handlung beginnt mit SSIO als Nichtsnutz, der durch sein unrasiertes Haar und sein unordentliches Wohnwagenhaus charakterisiert wird. Als das Lied endlich beginnt, wacht SSIO in einer fremden Stadt auf. Damit kommen Elemente der Popkultur in das Video. Es gibt viele bunte Farben und Neonlichter von digitalen Werbeplakaten. Auf einem dieser Plakate ist SSIO selbst als Werbung zu sehen. Andere typische Stereotypen der populären Hip-Hop-Kultur sind schnelle Sportwagen, kaum bekleidete Frauen und Trainingsanzüge. Alle davon findet man hier. Die fremde Stadt ist wahrscheinlich Tokyo aber man kann es nicht genau wissen. Diese Kulturverallgemeinerung ist auf dem Asien-Fetischismus, der in westlichen Popmusikvideos häufig vorkommt, basiert. Dieser Aspekt des Musikvideos ist zweifellos problematisch.

Obwohl teilweise problematisch, zeigt dieses Musikvideo das klassische Pop-Figur Comeback. Dies ist eine häufige Strategie für Popsänger, die zu zusätzlichem Ruhm und Karriereschub führt. Die amerikanische Hip-Hop-Kultur hat eindeutig einen großen Einfluss auf die deutsche Hip-Hop-Szene. Man kann argumentieren, dass Hip-Hop-Kultur auch Popkultur ist, und viele Rapper verbinden sich direkt mit der Popkultur. Dieser Einfluss wird durch die Verwendung gängiger Pop-Symbole dargestellt, die in diesem Musikvideo zu finden sind. Als kleines Experiment bat ich meine nicht deutschsprachige Mitbewohnerin, sich dieses Musikvideo anzusehen und ihre Reaktion zu erzählen. Ich war neugierig, ob sie die Erzählung verstehen würde, ohne den Text zu verstehen. Sie konnte den Kontext des Songs anhand gängiger Hip-Hop-Themen wie Gesellschaftsschichten und die Bedeutung von Erfolg interpretieren. Diese Erfolgssymbole sind in der amerikanischen Popkultur gleich: Marken und äußeres Erscheinungsbild bilden das Gesamtbild der Pop-Figur.

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