NEW REALISMS: CAPITALIST CRISIS AND RADICAL POLITICAL IMAGINATION IN GERMAN LITERATURE AND CINEMA AFTER 1989
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More than a decade after the global Financial Crisis of 2008, a lingering economic crisis continues to shape our present. Ongoing debt restructuring policies and austerity measures, underemployment and growing precarity, and new political protest movements indicate a deep structural crisis of modernity’s predominant form of social life, capitalism. With the exception of Joseph Vogl’s Das Gespenst des Kapitals (2010), scholars in German Studies have addressed this crisis indirectly via critical concepts such as globalization, financialization, and neoliberalism; structural links between these seemingly disparate phenomena have remained largely unexplored. This dissertation seeks to connect existing strands of scholarship. Taking its cue from Marx via Lukács, it investigates economic crises as epistemological key moments for understanding capital as one systemic whole: “The underlying unity, the totality, all of whose parts are objectively interrelated, manifests itself most strikingly in the fact of crisis.” (Lukács, “Realism in the Balance”) Rereading Lukács’s 1930s essays on realism in light of crisis rather than class, I approach economic crises as opportunities for realism. Reading against Lukács’s anti-modernism, however, this dissertation demonstrates that German realisms since 1989 call for a more capacious conceptualization of realist form than was envisioned by Lukács. These new realisms incorporate elements of montage and surrealism and draw on a range of genres including horror to represent postindustrial global capital. The individual chapters perform readings of exemplary cultural works produced in periods of crisis in post-1989 German-language literature and cinema: Ingo Schulze’s Simple Storys (1998), Yoko Tawada’s Das nackte Auge (2004), and Christian Petzold’s Yella (2007). The artworks under analysis link the rise and fall of valueless, purely fictitious finance capital to the ruins of industrial production in both East and West, as well as to the structural underemployment that initiated the crisis in value production in the early 1970s. In critical engagement with the tradition reaching from Brecht, Adorno, and in particular Lukács to Fredric Jameson, Roberto Schwarz, and contemporary value-form theorists, this dissertation seeks to integrate economic, social, and aesthetic questions within a transdisciplinary methodology. The reading method employed analyzes aesthetic form as the mediating principle between the artwork and socio-economic reality, itself understood as objective historical form. Evaluating each artwork in medium-specific terms, my readings at the same time think artistic form across media and across disciplinary boundaries between literature and cinema studies. This dissertation has four main goals: first, to uncover and analyze new realisms that have emerged in German literature and cinema since 1989. Second, I intervene in the current debates concerning a return to realism in the arts from the standpoint of economic crisis. Third, I hope to further that theoretical work in literary studies which foregrounds the value-form in order to analyze contemporary capital, its crisis, as well as its co-articulations with race, gender, and other forms of domination. Finally, this dissertation seeks a critical dialogue with Wissenspoetik by reclaiming Marxism’s concept of aesthetic form as a culture-specific account of how artworks sense, think, or know reality.
Film studies; German literature; Christian Petzold; Germany; Ingo Schulze; realism; Yoko Tawada; crisis
Adelson, Leslie Allen
Waite, Geoffrey Carter W; Siegel, Elke; Fleming, Paul A.
Ph.D., Germanic Studies
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis