Cultural Studies | Special Topics in Cultural Studies: Vicissitudes of "We":
C701 | 6257 | Claudia Breger
Notions of community – and, sometimes less emphatically, collectivity
– doubtlessly point to the center of twentieth-century German
histories in the larger context of transnational modernities. While in
the beginning of the century, the verve of national and ethnic
identifications in the “belated” (imperialist) nation faced the
proletarian international, the latter turned into official – national
– state doctrine in the East after World War Two, whereas the end of
the “Volksgemeinschaft” momentarily cast doubt on all collective
identifications in the West. The second half of the century, however,
brought not only a revival of different concepts of national and
transnational (European, Western, etc.) identifications (increasingly
so after 1989), but also the collectives of the radical student
movement, the new women’s movement and the formation of “new
ethnicities” (Stuart Hall) in the – reluctant – society of immigration.
Comparing and contrasting these different historical and discursive
contexts, the class provides a graduate-level introduction to the
twentieth century arts – literature, film, theatre – through a closer
look at how the different collective identifications work. We will
read some theory (German conceptualizations of community and
collectivity throughout the twentieth century as well as recent
Anglo-American texts), but focus on close readings of – well, as the
class title puts it, the vicissitudes of “we” in different aesthetic
texts. Admittedly, I couldn’t resist the temptation of a catchy title
notion, but “vicissitudes,” or the German Wechselfälle, actually quite
nicely captures some of the instability of the use of “we” we will
look at: the play of pronouns in the texts to be discussed, the
sometimes surprising relative absence or presence of plural
identifications in texts from specific contexts, the intricacies of
their use on different levels of the text (e.g. as the object of
discourse vs. subject of speech) and in different media (which takes
us from pronoun-narratologies to the chorus in theater). While
attentive to these details, our investigations won’t pursue them
primarily for the sake of deconstructive or other close reading games,
but as a way of getting us into the analysis of complex, competing,
instable but nonetheless often effective imaginations and imaginative
critiques of community (as well as, in the process, individuality).
The list of texts, films and productions to be discussed is still
emerging, but will likely include items like: Toller, Masse-Mensch;
Kracauer, Ornament der Masse (selections); some Riefenstahl or an NS
Revue-film; Jünger, Auf den Marmorklippen, Apitz, Nackt unter Wölfen;
Christa Wolf, Nachdenken über Christa T.; Wohmann, “Fahrplan;”
Handke, Publikumsbeschimpfung, Peter Weiss, Ästhetik des Widerstands
(selections); Sander, Der subjektive Faktor; Reitz, Heimat (parts
thereof); Zaimoglu, Kanak Sprak, Popoola, “This is not about sadness;”
Delius, Die Birnen von Ribbeck, Hensel, Zonenkinder (compared with
selections from Illies’ Generation Golf and/or Tristesse Royale),
Marthaler, Murx den Europäer!; Jelinek/Schlingensief, Bambiland.
The course is jointlisted with Cultural Studies. Most of the materials
are available in English or with English subtitles; however, some
reading knowledge (and listening comprehension) of German will be
needed. Students of Germanic Studies are asked to read all primary
texts in German. The scheduled film showing will take place as needed
(roughly every other or third week).
The majority of reading materials for this class will be available on
e-reserve. However, please order a copy of the following books.
English titles will be available through the bookstore, German items
are best ordered from IBIS (please allow enough time for them to ship
the materials – may take up to 4 weeks).
1. Ernst Toller: Masse Mensch: Ein Stück aus der sozialen Revolution
des 20. Jahrhunderts. Reclam 1979. ISBN-10: 3150099447. ISBN-13:
978-3150099445 ) (English translation will be on e-reserve).
2. Christa Wolf: Nachdenken über Christa T. Suhrkamp 2007. ISBN-10:
3518459139. ISBN-13: 978-3518459133. English edition: Christa Wolf and
Christopher Middleton: The Quest for Christa T. Farrar, Straus and
Giroux 1979. ISBN-10: 0374515344.
3. Peter Weiss: Ästhetik des Widerstands. Suhrkamp 2005. ISBN-10:
3518456881 ISBN-13: 978-3518456880. English edition: The Aesthetics of
Resistance, Volume 1: A Novel. Duke UP 2005, ISBN-10: 0822335468.
4. Delius, Friedrich Christian: Die Birnen von Ribbeck. Rowohlt 1993.
ISBN-10: 3499132516. ISBN-13: 978-3499132513 (available in German
only, thus, this is the edition for everyone.)
5. Hensel, Jana. Zonenkinder (paperback). Rowohlt 2003. ISBN-10:
3499235323 ISBN-13: 978-3499235320. English edition: After the Wall:
Confessions from an East German Childhood and the Life that Came Next,
by Jana Hensel (Paperback). PublicAffairs 2008 ISBN-10: 1586485598.