The Form Of Learning Is The Learning Of Forms: Models Of Socialist Aesthetic Education In Gorky, Hacks, And MüLler
Most readers of politically committed literature dismiss it either because they disagree with the content presented in it or because its ostensibly crass instrumentalization of art in the service of a socialist program negates its aesthetic value. In the 20th century, these views were more often than not borne of a prejudice against Socialist Realism, the official method for producing art in the Eastern Bloc, which relied on a didactic relationship between art and its message in order to communicate with and educate its audience. The socialist literary and theoretical works by Maxim Gorky (Russia/USSR), Peter Hacks (East Germany), and Heiner Müller (East Germany) stand in stark contrast to this didacticism of Socialist Realism, as they are underpinned by philosophical and aesthetic commitments drawn from romanticism, classicism, and avant-gardism, respectively. In the works I examine, artistic form is embraced as the quality that makes art a vehicle uniquely suited to the political education of its audience. The authors' depiction (Gorky), description (Hacks), and staging (Müller) of the aesthetic theories upon which their pedagogical artworks depend do not aim to reduce those literary works to the communication of a specific socialist message; rather, the audience arrives at a more general and truthful way of thinking principally by engaging with the form of the artwork. As in Socialist Realism, the radical education promoted by Gorky, Hacks, and Müller has political consequences, but for them, this education takes place both as readers and audiences assimilate the tendentious content of the texts and as they engage with the artworks' formal structures. For these authors, art has the capacity to inspire spiritual (Gorky), ontological (Hacks), and behavioral (Müller) exercises that in turn enable readers (Gorky), viewers (Hacks), and participants (Müller) to participate in and create new forms of thinking. In the process, they become agents, creative producers of thought who have received a more sustainable and liberating education than the didacticism of Socialist Realism could ever provide. What these works share is a commitment to teaching how to think over learning what to think.
East Germany; Soviet Union; Socialist Realism
Culler, Jonathan Dwight
Banerjee, Anindita; Bathrick, David; McBride, Patrizia C.
Ph. D., Comparative Literature
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis