Requiem for Communism (MIT Press)
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In Requiem for Communism Charity Scribner examines the politics of memory in postindustrial literature and art. Writers and artists from Europe's second world have responded to the last socialist crisis with works that range from sober description to melancholic fixation. This book is the first survey of this cultural field.Today, as the cultures of Eastern and Western Europe merge into the Infobahn of late capitalism, the second world is being left behind. The European Union has pronounced obsolete the structures that once defined and linked industrial cities from Manchester to Karl-Marx-Stadt--the decaying factories and working collectives, the wasted ideals of state socialism and the welfare state. Marxist exponents of global empire see this historical turn as an occasion to eulogize "the lightness and joy of being communist." But for many writers and artists on the left, the fallout of the last century's socialist crisis calls for an elegy. This regret has prompted a proliferation of literary texts and artworks, as well as a boom in museum exhibitions that race to curate the wreckage of socialism and its industrial remnants. The best of these works do not take us back to the factory. Rather they look for something to take out of it: the intractable moments of solidarity among men and women that did not square with the market or the plan.Requiem for Communism explores a selection of signal works. They include John Berger?s narrative trilogy Into Their Labors; Documenta, the German platform for contemporary art and ideas; Krzysztof Kieslowski's cinema of mourning and Andrzej Wajda's filmed chronicles of the Solidarity movement; the art of Joseph Beuys and Rachel Whiteread; the novels of Christa Wolf; and Leslie Kaplan's antinostalgic memoir of women's material labor in France. Sorting among the ruins of the second world, the critical minds of contemporary Europe aim to salvage both the remains of socialist ideals and the latent feminist potential that attended them.
time it is not a sexual convulsion that goes through them (as was the case in the work of Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst), but rather the distant frisson of revolutionary hope. As the “people’s own industries” of Eastern Europe cease to function, and as Easterners replace their old belongings with new, Western-made goods, the material culture of the GDR is vanishing. For those who have experienced the new Germany less as a uniﬁcation and more as an annexation, this disappearance is a cause of
students: the sophomores in Contemporary Civilization at Columbia, the reserve o≈cers who took my ﬁrst German course at the Bronx’s 353rd Civil AΩairs Command, and—especially—the members of my seminar Avant-Garde and Culture Industry at MIT. Working with them, I have seen how much reading and writing matter. Cambridge, March 2003 xii REQUIEM FOR COMMUNISM INTRODUCTION The Second World Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor. John 4.38 In 1996 an obituary for the ideals
self-eΩacement approaches self-irony—something that would add an element of psychological texture to the ﬁlm—but ultimately falls short of this. In recounting her memories, she acknowledges her transformation and explains that her altered comportment is not a concession to state incarceration, but rather the desired result of a spiritual reform that she herself put into eΩect earlier on. Through Agnieszka’s monologue, the viewer learns that she had given up on her ﬁlm and tried to forget the
Krzysztof Kies´ lowski, 1993. 163 uniﬁcation comes a series of challenges to women working in all sectors of the economy—the ﬁeld of “high culture,” the market proper, and the gray zone that ﬂourishes between them. Some critics claim that Europe’s passage from an industrial into a postindustrial, media society can also serve as a path away from the hierarchies of masculinist hegemony and into a more humanist, or even feminist, cultural network.13 Yet this prophecy rests on the assumption that
the political lesson of the works analyzed in this book is that the opposition between the brave new (media) world and the extremists’ reaction to it is of little matter. What threatens to disappear from the new Europe is the concrete site of collective labor and, not least, the sense of solidarity that materialized there. This loss can no more be recompensed by any virtual community than it can be requited by a return to traditional values or submission to leftist melancholia. The cultural