Requiem for Communism (MIT Press)
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.
death certiﬁcate of sorts. At its weakest points, Calle’s project disengages with the traditions of conceptual art and veers oΩ into the venues of journalism. The Detachment neither matches the intensity of the bygone material world it CHAPTER ONE • THE COLLECTIVE 42 traces, nor contributes anything new to the already massive proliferation of critical writing on the socialist crisis. What the work does oΩer, nonetheless, is a composite portrait of collective memory. As Halbwachs argues, it is
Marble. This staging does not simply resolve the two ﬁlms in two symmetrical conclusions: more than this, it moves the characters, and the viewer, beyond mourning. To go beyond mourning, in Wajda’s ﬁlms, is not to confront real grief, but rather to detour into sentimentality. The quick steps of Agnieszka and Maciek as they quit Birkut’s little shrine suggest that the couple has overcome some hindrance that blocked their way to a bright future. But while they have CHAPTER TWO • SOLIDARIT Y .
precipitated the race to curate the GDR past with Wirtschaftswerte (Economic Values)—an assemblage that combines products from the “people’s own industries,” or Volkseigene Betriebe, with a small sculpture he had made around 1970. Read together, these works chart out three modes of memory across the temporal divide of the Wende: mourning, melancholia, and nostalgia. The lost objects of the GDR aΩord us a perspective on each of these mnemonic moments. The melancholic, the mourner, and the
a large extent European uniﬁcation depends upon such dislocation.2 Leaders like Eichel express their satisfaction with the latest statistics, but the dismantling of the collective workplace poses a complex 158 challenge to socialist politics. As factories and plants are shut down, the site of culture becomes an important meeting ground for the collective. Indeed, the end of the Industrial Revolution reveals truths that the left has yet to fully acknowledge: culture’s potential for social
capitalist democracy institutes the ultimate organization of civil society. There are no longer any substantial ideological wars to be waged, so the thinking goes, only isolated moments of local resistance that are condemned to eventual failure. Another, more postmodern and pessimistic version of this notion refers to the assumption that today, with the global impact of the mediatized and digitalized “society of spectacle,” individuals are losing the proper sense of historical memory as well as