Centre for Contemporary German Culture

The Economic Turn

Politics and the Contemporary Novel in Britain and Germany
Seminar Programme 2010/11

Wednesday 4-6, Keir Hardie 216
 
Each paper in this series examines one particular novel published over the last decade which engages with the politics of the Blair/Brown years in Britain (1997-2010) or the SPD coalitions in Germany (1998-2009).
(The novels are on sale in the campus bookshop.)
 
 
10 November
 
Julian Preece (Swansea University)

‘Diagnosing the Problem in Ulrich Peltzer’s Teil der Lösung (Part of the Solution, 2007).

The two participants in this love story set over the hot summer of 2003 among contemporary Berlin’s prekariat, the jobbing bohemians who power the city’s creative economy, are intent on authenticity and the avoidance of cliché. Literature student Nele protests ever more violently against the homogenisation of the corporately owned city. Journalist Christian is investigating the French government’s decision to extradite former Red Brigade activists to Berlusconi’s Italy but only feels alive when he is writing his novel. Part re-write of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Peltzer’s Part of the Solution searches for unsurveyed spaces as sites of human freedom. Like a numerous other works of fiction and film it makes a series of links between the present day and the high period of protest during the ‘years of lead’ in the 1970s.
 
Novel: Ulrich Peltzer, Teil der Lösung (2007)
 

1 December
 
Joanne Leal (Birkbeck, University of London)

‘The personal is (not) political: locating the contemporary subject in Katharina Hacker’s Die Habenichtse’

Set in the period after 9/11 in a London facing up to the possibility of terror attacks as the country joins the war against Iraq, this novel follows the fate of a couple in their late-30s who move to the city from Berlin. It reveals their persistent refusal or inability to engage meaningfully with the world around them, even in the face of extreme provocation, and the consequences of this for their construction of a coherent sense of selfhood and for their understanding of their place within a community. This paper will explore the way in which the novel confronts its fluid, incoherent and often empty protagonists with a social environment constructed along rigid and debilitating binary lines - male-female, young-old, rich-poor, advantaged-disadvantage, us-them – and it will examine what the novel presents as the political consequences of this failure to respond adequately – ethically, humanely, personally – to the glaring but unacknowledged inequalities that structure this world.
 
Novel: Katharina Hacker, Die Habenichtse (2006)
 

2 February
 
David Clarke (University of Bath)

Ghosts in the Machine: Kathrin Röggla wir schlafen nicht (we don’t sleep)

The work of Austrian-born novelist and essayist Kathrin Röggla characterises the Zeitgeist of contemporary Europe primarily in terms of uncertainty: the threats of terrorism, environmental catastrophe, the dismantling of the welfare state, and the dog-eat-dog world of the workplace are central to her writing and her analysis of 21st century subjectivities. In the context of this themed volume, her novel wir schlafen nicht (2004) is of particular significance, given that it engages directly with the lives of those who have become emblematic of the workings of contemporary capitalism: IT managers, management consultatns and PR professionals. The novel™fs setting is the stall of an unnamed company at a trade fair, and the text is constructed of responses to questions posed by the author (whose voice we nevertheless only hear at the end of the novel) to six (allegedly real) people.
At the level of form, the text appears to draw on the montage interview techniques developed by German novelist and ethnologist Hubert Fichte in the 1970s, in works such as Wolli Indienfahrer or Das Haus der Mina in São Luiz de Maranhão. Röggla has, indeed, stated her admiration for Fichte and commented on his work. However, while sharing some of the ethnographic intentions which characterize Fichte™fs approach to the use of interview material, Röggla™fs montage of the words of her figures tends towards a presentation of the world of business as what sociologist Niklas Luhmann would describe as a system of communication. Business is presented here as a largely discursive, virtual activity, which can only exist in the enclosed world of the trade show venue. Indeed, towards the end of the text, the very existence of the figures and the reality of the world they inhabit, beyond its discursive manifestations, is called into question. Here Röggla™fs text not only introduces the theme of spectrality, recalling Derrida™fs ™ehauntology™f, but demonstrates intriguing points of contact with Christian Petzold™fs Yella (2007), a film which is also preoccupied with the language of the world of business and with the ghostliness of its subjects.
 
Novel: Kathrin Röggla,  wir schlafen nicht [we don’t sleep] (2004)

16 February
 
Daniel Lea (Oxford Brookes University)

The Missing and the Lost: The Empty Space of Politics in Gordon Burn's Born Yesterday

In an age of the new media's instantaneous communication networks we risk, as Baudrillard has warned, reaching an escape velocity where the cultural product is no longer acted upon by the gravity of real world reference. The capture and observation of the elusive contemporary moment has never seemed so ungraspable and the role of fiction more problematic. Gordon Burn's writing between the lines of fiction and non-fiction offers one answer to the unpresentable present and in Born Yesterday he dispenses with the convention of timelessness and universality to pinpoint a moment in contemporary British social and political life that questions the relationship between writing and the realness of the world it addresses. Focusing on the Tony Blair/Gordon Brown wranglings of the late New Labour ascendancy and the drama surrounding the disappearance in Portugal of the British child, Madeline McCann, Burn constructs a concerted investigation of the empty spaces of contemporary life and politics. Accepting the novel's ephemerality, he creates out of the swirl of twenty-four hours news media a formal hybrid that combines the insight of the novel with the immediacy of journalism and concludes that for all the fervid pace of the contemporary world, something fundamental is missing.
 
Novel: Gordon Burn, Born Yesterday (2008)

 
2 March

Martyn Colebrook (University of Hull)

‘The fact that there are conspiracy theories does not mean that conspiratorial politics do not also exist': Eoin McNamee, 12:23 - Paris, 31st August 1997 and the politicization of the contemporary British Novel.

 
This paper will consider Eoin McNamee’s controversial and compelling meditation on the death of Diana Spencer in that infamous car crash in Paris, August 1997. An author who hates the term ‘controversial novelist’, McNamee’s oeuvre is characterised by fiction depicting Northern Ireland and the Troubles and this work marked a departure into territory that had attracted coverage that all too easily transgressed the permeable boundaries between fact and fiction.
 
Novel: Eoin McNamee, 12:23 - Paris, 31st August 1997 (2007)
 
 
16 March

Sarah Colvin (University of Birmingham)

The mythos of winter? The post-capitalist landscape and post-terrorist nonviolence in Lukas Hammerstein's Wo wirst du sein (2010).

Lukas Hammerstein replays the abduction of Hanns Martin Schleyer in a Ballardian near-future society -- but this time the abductee is a woman, who has acquired the nickname 'Mrs Bad' by speculating successfully during the collapse of capitalism, and her abductors are post-terrorists, turned off by the 'humourlessness' of Baader-Meinhof and Al-Quaida but unable to get a tv slot for their kidnap story, which is deemed insufficiently feelgood and therefore uninteresting for contemporary viewers.
My paper analyses Hammerstein's representation of post-capitalism, and his depiction of a world so fragmented that it can only be grasped ironically.
 
Novel: Lukas Hammerstein, Wo wirst du sein (2010).

 
(After Easter – Date TBD)
Katy Shaw (University of Brighton)

Violence as Politics, Politics as Violence in David Peace’s GB84

From fiction and drama to poetry and autobiography, the literary history of the 1984-5 miners’ strike is one of contestation, claim and counter-claim. Yet within this extensive range of published material, a factional account by a professional author with little direct experience of either the mining industry or the 1984-5 coal dispute has triumphed. This paper will suggest that in his fifth novel GB84 (published in 2004 to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the strike) David Peace re-visits the conflict in an attempt to offer a speculative history. Fabricating a ‘factional’ effect in which novelistic dialogue appears to be polyphonic and multi-sourced, the novel re-animates forms and voices from the strike period by manipulating literary and linguistic systems. The paper will consider how Peace mobilises international parallels to understand the conflict and why he turns to the novel form to propose alternative accounts of the most significant post-war industrial dispute in British history. 
 
Novel: David Peace, GB84 (2004)
 
 
For further information, please contact Julian Preece - J.E.Preece@swansea.ac.uk