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Politics of the Self

Politics of the Self: Feminism and the Postmodern in West German Literature and Film

Richard W. McCormick
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 274
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    Politics of the Self
    Book Description:

    Richard McCormick examines the concepts of postmodernity and postmodernism as they apply to West Germany, discussing them against the background of cultural and political upheaval in that country since the 1960s, rather than exclusively in the more familiar setting of intellectual history. Considering six literary and cinematic texts that are marked by a preoccupation with the self and subjectivity, he underscores the crucial influence of feminism on writers and filmmakers--and on the "postmodern." In a broad international context he describes the conflicting forces that affected the West German student movementthe rationalistic tradition of the Weimar Left and more "irrational" influences such as French existentialism and surrealism (as well as the American "Beat" movement and rock & roll)--and shows how these forces played themselves out so that dogmatic Marxist Leninism was repudiated in favor of a "New Subjectivity.".

    At the center of the discussion are the novelsLenzby Peter Schneider,Class Love (Klassenliebe)by Karin Struck, andDevotionby Botho Strauss, and the filmsWrong Movewritten by Peter Handke and directed by Wim Wenders, Germany,Pale Motherby Helma Sanders-Brahms, andThe Subjective Factorby Helke Sander. The author shows how ongoing attempts to attack the separation of emotion from reason, life from art, the private from the public, and the personal from the political brought about changes in outlook, from the 1960s to the early 1980s, that are related to the rise of new political movements--ecology, nuclear disarmament, and feminism.

    Originally published in 1991.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6164-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Richard W. McCormick
  4. Acronyms
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction. West German Literature and Film Since 1968—Modern, Antimodern, Postmodern?
    (pp. 3-18)

    Because of the debate in the early 1980s between Jean-François Lyotard and Jurgen Habermas, the international discussion of postmodernism has at times been characterized as a battle between Paris and Frankfurt.³ When attempts are made to place the German side of this debate into some kind of historical context, they usually involve a discussion of the history of European, and specifically German, philosophical thinking. For example, in a 1986 article by Peter U. Hohendahl, there is a focus on such historical conflicts as that between the project of the Enlightenment as seen by the Left Hegelians and Nietzsche’s critique of...

  6. CHAPTER ONE “All Power to the Imagination!” From the 1960s to the 1970s
    (pp. 19-68)

    The attitudinal distance between the late 1960s and the mid-1970s in West Germany is underscored by the above juxtaposition of Martin Walser’s praise for the Bottrop Transcripts with Erika Runge’s questioning of her own motivation for compiling the Transcripts. Eight years after the book’s publication, Runge questions the very quality Walser praises: that it does not deal with her own “bourgeois” experiences, that through it the working class speaks, or at least workers do—but she herself does not (at least openly). Her comments in 1976 testify to the validation of authorial subjectivity so much in vogue then, to the...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Body, the Self
    (pp. 69-118)

    During the Tendenzwende, the period following the demise of the student movement and the restoration of a more conservative climate in West Germany, one notes among the generation that came of age in the late 1960s a backlash against the dogmatic style of politics that had characterized the fading years of the student movement. Subjectivity had been a repressed category for those who had devoted themselves to the study of “scientific socialism”; personal experience had long been at odds with the neatly wrapped perceptions of the world belonging to the faithful in the various political sects. Now the personal became...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Writing and the “Erotic Gaze”
    (pp. 119-174)

    The optimism about the therapeutic potential of language and writing for the expression of subjectivity implied the hope that literature could be a medium for collective Verstandigung, a communal understanding of personal experiences shared by many. Such sentiments are evident in texts like Schneider’s Lenz and Struck’s Class Love, and they are related ultimately to the attitude formulated in the title of a 1975 issue of the journal Literaturmagazin (no. 3): “Literature as Utopia.” With the failure of politics to bring on the millennium, various activists turned to literature, placing their hopes in it. This recourse to literature can be...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR The Politics of Memory
    (pp. 175-228)

    Walter Benjamin made his remarks on the angel of history in reference to a painting by Klee. In the 1980s they were quoted in concert by Laurie Anderson, a contemporary composer of electronic music and a performance artist, a citation that illustrates a historical “constellation” that contains both Benjamin and the contemporary postmodern disposition toward “progress.” (It is a pessimism that obviously does not—in Anderson’s case certainly—renounce all technology.) Benjamin’s attitude toward history is described by Habermas as “posthistoricist”: “The modern, avant-garde spirit has sought to use the past in a different way; it disposes those pasts which...

  10. Conclusion. Selves and Others
    (pp. 229-238)

    In his book on Wim Wenders, Peter Buchka asserts that all Wenders’s protagonists suffer from their inadequate perception of the world around them. They cannot really hear and see. They have lost their ability to perceive external reality, for they have lost their sense of self. Connected to these problems is the difficulty these characters have with language and self-expression.⁴ If one looks at the Anglo-American popular culture of the late 1960s that was so influential upon Wenders, it is interesting to note a fictional character who could almost serve as an allegorical embodiment of what in Buchka’s thesis is...

  11. Works Consulted
    (pp. 239-256)
  12. Index
    (pp. 257-262)