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.
tend toward kitsch, but it nonetheless marks time. Herman’s miners in Brassed OΩ also share this deeper knowledge: when the ﬁnal sirens signal the colliery’s closure, music is all that remains of the collective. If Hegel’s master and slave have continued to trade places, from Homer’s prehistoric seafaring, to the Frankfurt School’s midcentury electrotechnics of radios and phonographs, to today’s postindustrial culture, then the question of who can make claims on the musical canon—the elites or
does so not only through Harrison’s design but also through the ﬁlm’s uneven politics of gender and memory. Like Into Their Labors, Prometheus takes women out of the working circle and makes them into muses of memory and mourning. Set at odds to industry, Berger’s and Herman’s women engender the “biopower” that some imagine to be an unadulturated force of revolution.32 This ignorance vis-à-vis women’s role in contemporary labor CHAPTER THREE • NOSTALGIA 3.7 Brass band, Brassed Off, dir. Mark
chaise longue in Paris, the revolution is an Event, a Sensation, a splendid aesthetic feeling that arouses you. Aragon, play along! Whence comes the appeal of revolutionary action? Triolet knows: the revolution is a lover whose absence makes the heart grow fonder.19 Beuys’s gaze eastward takes on a more morbid cast. A study of loss, Economic Values remains a sullen warehouse, bereft of any compelling historical CHAPTER FIVE • MELANCHOLIA 5.9 Elsa, Lili, and Mayakovsky, Melancholie I, oder Die
catalogue essays about it written by playwright Heiner Müller. Both Beuys and Müller consider the material remains of Eastern Europe to possess subversive energies. Following their logic, the very existence of a Trabant automobile or some other such leftover, in and of itself, counters capitalist commodiﬁcation. The matter of how an artist would mobilize such a “readymade” does not concern them. Beuys’s and Müller’s nostalgic accord contrasts with the drama Melancholie I, oder Die zwei Schwestern
politics of post-1989 Europe.27 The funeral they organized was meant to lay to rest the three feminine graces of socialism: Labor, Guaranteed Education, and Hope for the Future. One of the ﬁrst concrete changes to attend the collapse of state socialism has been the disproportionate unemployment of women and their withdrawal from the public sphere. A number of the authors and artists discussed in the following chapters inscribe the second sex into Europe’s second world, as if to reanimate the