Germanic Languages | Historical Study of German Literature IV
G577 | 13242 | C. Breger

Topic: Vicissitudes of "We": The Aesthetics of Community in 20th
Century Literature, Film and Theater

Course Description:
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,
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).

Reading Materials:
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:
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: