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Back to the Future

Tradition and Innovation in German Studies


Edited By Marc Silberman

In the course of the 1970s, interdisciplinary German studies emerged in North America, breaking with what many in the field saw as a suffocating and politically tainted tradition of canon-based philology by broadening both the corpus of texts and the framing concept of culture. In the meantime the innovative impulses that characterized this response to the legacy of Germanistik have themselves become traditions. The essays in this volume critically examine a selection of those past attempts at renewal to gauge where we are now and how we move into the future: exile and forced migration, race and identity, humanism and utopian thought, solidarity and global inequality. A younger generation of scholars demonstrates how reviving and refining the questions of yore leads to new insights into literary and theatrical texts, fundamental philosophical and political ideas, and the structure of memory in ethnographic performance and photography. Looking back into the future is a self-reflexive gesture that asks how tradition inspires innovation, and it displays compelling evidence for the importance of historically informed cultural research in the field of German studies.

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5 What Is Solidarity? Reading Hannah Arendt between Innovation and Tradition (David D. Kim)


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5 What Is Solidarity? Reading Hannah Arendt between Innovation and Tradition


This essay examines how Hannah Arendt, one of the most rigorous political thinkers in modern intellectual history, conceives of the philosophically troublesome concept of solidarity. Her controversial intervention in the 1957 Little Rock Crisis is a case study of solidarity across the color line and the Atlantic. At stake is how Arendt repeatedly returns to foundational philosophical concepts whose renovation in modern intellectual thought she believes is able to illuminate the political bankruptcy in the present and chart a more promising path of action for the future. But in treating solidarity as a matter of Western political philosophy, she fails to register the misery of African Americans as a valid source of action in the public sphere. I show how this disjunction is illustrative of the contemporary discourse on solidarity, which goes back and forth between affect and reason, individual action and collective organization, hegemonic power and revolutionary politics.

Innovating Tradition

Intrigued by the phrase “back to the future” in the title of the 50th Wisconsin Workshop, I began to think about writers whose names had long resonated with tradition. While combing through the rich archives in German Studies, though, I realized how necessary a “critical” perspective was for the renewal of scholarship. Instead of turning to iconic figures with “antiquarian” or “monumental” views of German cultural and literary histories in mind,...

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