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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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6 Affective Labors of Socialist Construction in Early East German Literature (Hunter Bivens)


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6 Affective Labors of Socialist Construction in Early East German Literature


In the 1950s the GDR faced impasses owing to a “superstructural deficit” that derived from the restorative character of communist cultural politics and the understanding of industrialization and class politics underlying East German socialism. In the arts and in cultural debates this deficit led to an emphasis on the representation of public feeling grounded in the workplace. The subgenre of the production novel tends to depict the feeling of work under socialism largely as affective labor and depends on work capacities, such as communication and care, that are often attributed to reproductive or feminized labor. Based on three production novels, this essay argues that the public sphere, often seen as anchored in the iconography of male industrial workers, is unexpectedly a case study in the social organization of affective labor and holds interest for us today when labor is becoming increasingly feminized through mechanized and financialized forms of post-Fordist capitalist accumulation.

As David Harvey points out, borrowing a phrase from Karl Marx, “productive consumption of the commodity labor power in the labor process under the control of the capitalist requires […] the mobilization of ‘animal spirits’, sexual drives, affective feelings, and creative powers of labor to be given a purpose defined by capital.”1 I argue that this mobilization of “animal spirits” is the core thematic of the novels of socialist construction (Aufbau) written in the...

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