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.)
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)
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)
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)