Tuesday, June 24, 2008

street life

At the same time that she is critical of this perspective, Julia Hell also must spend some time in the midst, and murky waters, of the Cold War logic that she claims "functioned like a mirror." Hell objects to the use of the term "totalitarian" (even as a critical concept, it seems) on the grounds that it remains bound to this "mirror logic," and insofar that it remains blind to "the specific forms of domination and resistance to that system." She also describes this Cold War "mirror logic" as one that creates dichotomies that need to be critically evaluated, such as between "Lukacsian realism" and "Western modernism." So in large part, her book, Post-Fascist Fantasies, is a thorough re-reading of those works in the tradition of "Lukacsian realism" in order to provoke and provide insight into the elements of non-realism (i.e. "fantasy") in these novels. As a project, this is productive and necessary to a reconsideration of East German literature. The wish to interrogate totalitarianism no further is, however, another thing. But it is an interesting "other thing," since it seems to me that the wish to dismiss "totalitarianism" is the backhand of a more moral endeavor--one that more self-consciously wants to discuss its past, future, and present--to deal with the repressed past (and implicit here, is "of the German nation"). Hell does not go at repression from the point of repression until the very end of her book, perhaps, in the epilogue, titled "History as Trauma." Instead, she uses the psychoanalytic notion of "fantasy" to designate an unconscious that functions alongside conscious political activity. In these versions of national repression, which pop up everywhere (I am becoming more convinced of this--not only because they "do," but also because people (?) also want to see them everywhere), the wall functions as a splitting mechanism, one that projects all of the bad elements to the other side. Hell uses the "Iron Curtain," but the logic of the wall (see Klaus Theweleit, for example) follows, "what was valued on one side of the Iron Curtain was devalorized on the other; what counted as a "good," "realist," affirmative text in the GDR became a "bad" text outside the GDR and vice versa" (11). This reading, of the wall as both a symbol and psychic fact of repression, fixes the projective fantasies of both the East and West Germans. With the fall of the wall, the continuation of this perspective was to claim that the "invisible" wall "within the head" was a sign of greater repression. So the "wall within the head," the unconscious "fantasy," becomes the conceptual and methodological turning point of post-totalitarian ideology. Similarly, the figure that Hell reads in this literature is the "sublime body" of the post-fascist father, which she takes from Zizek. What is it about this split, antagonistic subject--the transcendental/material, idealist/realist, communist/individual self--that is threatened by the very conceptualization of "totalitarianism"? It might perhaps be something similar to the threat that could be perceived by finding value in the Berlin Wall, by reading the Berlin Wall not as a symbol or thing of repression, but as something that reconfigures the mood of the people living around and after it. Arendt describes totalitarianism as an "experience"--of indeterminate quality--that becomes either foundational or pervasive. In "Ideology and Terror," she notes that this experience has a "general mood," which, "although it may be familiar in every other respect—never before has pervaded, and directed the handling of, public affairs" (461). This mood is an elusive, but nonetheless essential quality of the totalitarian state, and one which might prove useful for thinking about the wish to dismiss totalitarianism.

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