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.
number” and “funeral dirge” sung by women from the Oceanus Fish Factory become audible as they accompany Prometheus’s procession (Harrison 34, 36). Harrison ﬁnds in memory work a division of labor, by which women assume the responsibility of mourning. But their grief keeps them apart from the male collective. In several key scenes Harrison replaces the Oceanus workers with papier-mâché puppets and thereby hypostatizes their lack of agency. Harrison deserves credit, however, for broaching one of
sustained. House opened the ground for an inquiry into the upstairs-downstairs, inside-outside politics of the social being. Who labors to build and maintain the spaces in which we live? Who takes these buildings apart? Who masters and possesses these houses and who is cast out? In the public response to House, the work of mourning appeared not as resignation to loss but rather as ﬁdelity to an ideal. The vision of a working collective that loomed up in the wake of the cast’s destruction may be
than employment guarantees or the threat of environmental ruin. What was the other Europe?, Documenta IX asked. To this we might counter, why might some Westerners have grown dependent on the notion that there exists some “elsewhere” beyond liberal democracy? Although Beuys enjoyed a reputation as a defender of social justice and an insider of left-oriented political movements such as the Green Party and several other socialist initiatives, he spent little time in the Eastern Bloc. For Economic
the events of August 1961. More than forty years after the building of the Wall and more than a decade after its dismantling, it would be easy to cite Wolf ’s blindspot in order to dismiss her work. Yet to do this would obliterate Wolf ’s unique perspective on the politics of memory that have, to a great extent, come to deﬁne current German thought. For contained within the politics of memory are the ciphers of disavowal. Indeed, few authors can oΩer a closer reading of these codes than Christa
conclusion of Empire. They write, “[I]n postmodernity we ﬁnd ourselves [ . . . ] posing against the misery of power the joy of being. This is a revolution that no power will control—because biopower and communism, cooperation and revolution remain together, in love, simplicity, and also innocence.” Hardt and Negri, Empire, 413. 33. Horkheimer and Adorno, 295; Negt and Kluge, Public Sphere and Experience, 246. As Fredric Jameson notes, Negt and Kluge cite this passage from Dialectic of