Requiem for Communism
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.
About the Author
Charity Scribner is the 1954 Career Development Professor of European Cultural Studies in the department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at MIT.
"A genuinely wide-ranging study of post-Wall Eastern and Western Europe, full of fresh juxtapositions and new insights. While centered on the former East Germany, Scribner's illuminating meditations on post-1989 art, literature, film, and museum practices elucidate both what is peculiar and what is paradigmatic about the GDR case."
—Katie Trumpener, Professor of Comparative Literature and English, Yale University
"Charity Scribner's Requiem for Communism is a beautifully written book. It is a meditation on transition, failed utopias, and the twentieth century, rendered from the comparative perspective of how literary texts and artistic works intervene to force disclosures on the ideological forces and political events that attended the dissolution of the socialist project in Western and Eastern Europe. What makes this book especially startling and invigorating is the subtlety of Scribner's reading and the lucidity of her writing; no words are wasted, and every observation is sharpened by the force of her analysis. This book should be read avidly—not as an epitaph for the 'second world' but as a timely contribution to the study of the role artists and writers play in bringing home transitions' multiple messages in this moment of uncertainty and doubt."
—Okwui Enwezor, Artistic Director, Documenta 11, Kassel, Germany, and Visiting Professor of the History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh
"A brilliant book—delicate comparative observation marks this study of how social transition undergoes diverse cultural interpretation. While 'requiem' literally means a mass for the dead, Charity Scribner associates it with sorrow for abused and broken ideals. She successfully balances sober judgment on communism's downfall with compassion, leaving room for inconsistent feelings within our collective memory. Her intercultural approach detects distinctions that any dogmatic one-sidedness would ignore: nostalgic, mournful justifications on the one hand, and rude dismissal on the other. Finally, it is an honest book. Only a serious confrontation with grief can make separations of this kind humanly bearable, where ideals are trampled upon and broken by reality."
—Oskar Negt, coauthor of Public Sphere and Experience