In September 2021, I will be presenting a ‘follow-on’ chapter to my book ‘Beyond Tomorrow’ at the Association of German Studies conference in Swansea and (as keynote) at the Gesellschaft für Fantastikforschung conference:

https://anglistik1.phil-fak.uni-koeln.de/abteilungen-lehrende/literaturwissenschaft/juniorprofessur-amerikanistik-prof-rauscher/events/gff-conference-speculative-fiction-and-ethics-sept-23-25-2021

German SF in the 21st century tends to see the dystopian form as the ideal vehicle to explore the social and psychological consequences of scientific and technological progress. There is no point in denying that the ‘dystopian turn’ reflects the mood of our time, and that the first two decades of the new millennium have given rise to fears and misgivings about increasingly porous boundaries, conceptual paradigm shifts, and persistent global challenges that make our scientific and technological advances feel hollow. At the same time, one may wonder whether the endless depiction of depressing futures in recent SF may not in fact yield diminishing returns in terms of the intended warning function and instead convince its audiences to give up hope altogether. In my talk I will look at recent German SF novels (Thomas von Steinaecker’s Die Verteidigung des Paradieses and Sibylle Berg’s GRM: Brainfuck), to analyze how they establish their dystopian world­view. But I will also be looking at the green shoots of positive visions (Tom Hillenbrand’s Qube, Andreas Brandhorst’s Die Eskalation, Judith and Christian Vogt’s Wasteland, and Andreas Eschbach’s Eines Menschen Flügel). These give us glimpses of “concrete utopias” even as they contemplate the destructive impact of human activity on our planet. I argue that these latter works demonstrate a radical rethinking of the purpose of writing SF in the 21st century, offering a “progressive fantastic”, and a new hope.

1968. A ten-year-old boy picks up a ‘Hobby Buch’ in his local library, expecting a ‘Boys Own’ treat of exciting snippets of information about rocketry, technology, geography, plants and animals, as well as games, puzzles and sundry tips to while away an afternoon on a rainy day in a small town in Northern Germany. Instead, he is confronted with a massive dose of Zukunftsoptimismus (optimism in the future): Signale vom Jupitermond, written by Robert Brenner (1931-). The book features a garish cover with robots and a spaceship, with a narrative purporting to extrapolate social and technological developments and presenting them in a state of happy conclusion.

The scene is set with a world cup quarter-final held in an arena in Rome, only it isn’t a human football team but robots from different universities around the globe who compete for a prize. The audience in the stadium, and the billions of viewers around the world, are entertained by the robots’ ability to manage physical and abstract tasks, with much teasing by the presenter when they get it wrong. The representatives of the participating universities, including Vic Curtis and his wife from Melbourne, gather for a post-match discussion with a global TV star and munch the latest food fad, the synthetically produced No. 412 that has just been introduced worldwide.

In a separate narrative strand, we get to know more people of the future: Urs Meyer is a primary school teacher in Zurich who looks after a group of twelve 5-year-olds in direct and remote sessions, making use of video conferencing and recorded lessons tailored to his pupils’ individual needs. One night, he has a chance video-chat with Ping-kai-hui, a research student at Bejing University. Ping has discovered strange signals coming from one of the Jupiter moons, Ganymed, and wants to share her discovery with someone.

Next day Urs goes shopping for a mate for his trained monkey, and bumps into Vic Curtis at the Frankfurt Ape centre (the Curtis’ are also shopping for a new pet whilst in Europe), and he tells them about Ping’s discovery. They pay with a ‘card’, and the narrator helpfully explains that all citizens’ data, their finances, health records, education, etc is centrally held in computer clusters (think Dave Eggers The Circle).

Image result for signale vom jupitermond robert brenner

As the story unfolds, we learn more about this world of tomorrow: people do not use private cars any more, except on holiday for fun, and they fly around the planet going where their work and inclination takes them. There is a world government in New Dehli, and most day-to-day administration is performed by computers in a form of an enlightened, planned economy that looks after human needs from cradle to grave. Resources are directed to where they are needed: old houses are cleanly demolished by giant machines and replaced by new ones in a matter of days, and people move with minimal luggage as everything they need in terms of clothing, food etc is available in every home at the press of a button.

To continue with the storyline: it transpires that the signals found by Ping come from aliens who must have established a foothold on that moon. Following a discussion between the world computer ELIAS and the wise world President Mbuku, a vast sum is allocated by ELIAS and Ping is put in charge of a team to plan a mission to find out more. In a matter of weeks, scientists and engineers from all over the world converge at the space port of New Dehli to work on the project. They fly to a rotating orbital station reminiscent of Kubrick’s classic film 2001: Space Odyssey, then to the human colony on Mars (a sort of a New Frontier town) and finally to Ganymede, where the encounter with the aliens makes for a dramatic finale.

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If all this isn’t mind-blowing enough for the ten-year-old reader, the book also contains three interviews with people who are supposed to know about the future: there is Werner von Braun, the rocket pioneer, who is introduced as the ‘guiding light’ of Peenemünde (the production and launch site of the V2-rockets) and the current director of the American rocket research facility. There is the ‘founder’ of the new science of the future, a bona fide futurologist by the name of Ossip K. Flechtheim. And there is the philosopher and scientist Robert Jungk, who has a slightly gloomy view, not about science and technology, but about the growing global population.

2018. A 60-year-old University professor teaches a seminar on German Utopian Thought in Fiction and Film to a group of British students in the fourth and final year of their undergraduate programme. They are idealistic and sincere, but they hold very little hope for the future. They live in a world where pretty much everything that was depicted and predicted in Signale vom Jupitermond has become a reality: manual labour has been broadly delegated to machines, food is plentiful, entertainments are shared globally, and the world is their oyster. While we do not yet have a World Government, we are on a trajectory to a global society, with vast multicultural cities, instant global news networks, global tech firms that rival nations in terms of resources and influence, an intricately woven net of trade and transport routes, and a slowly growing collective awareness of each other’s motivations, needs and values.

The students have access to technology (Skype, facetime, whatsapp, Instagram, twitter, facebook) that enables them to communicate with every human being on the planet for free, and to research every question or problem they might take an interest in. They are well travelled and almost guaranteed to get a job, yet they are pessimistic about their prospects and do not expect to reach or surpass the living standard of their parents. In contrast to a small minority who believe social change is possible on the fringes of mainstream society, they do not believe in any utopian project. As they see it, while Brunner’s depiction of the future has become a reality on the technological side, the dream of a united humanity has run into the buffer of experience, causing widespread pessimism and disillusionment. Some of the reasons are obvious: worries about repaying their student loans, Brexit, migration, terrorism, fear of another financial crash, concern about the environment (fracking, climate change, plastic in the ocean), in short: an acute awareness of the fragility and complexity of life on Earth for 7.5 billion people has been with them all of their short adult lives. They simply cannot imagine that their future will be bright.

To these students, the most memorable message they picked up during their year abroad in Germany is a song by rappers K.I.Z., titled Hurra, die Welt geht unter (Hurray, the world is going down the drains, 2015).[1] The video accompanying the song shows three young men on a raft in the ocean, subsisting on meage rations of canned food and fish while looking for survivors following a nuclear holocaust. Their world view is cynical, cursing their elders for knowingly letting the world go to ruins. But these survivors see some positives: they do not have to live by the rules of the discredited older generation, they have no use for money, relationships are entered into, and ended, by mutual agreement, with offspring cared for by the collective. Each verse of the song is sung by a different rapper, and in between we hear the refrain from an operative in a nuclear bunker: “Und wir singen im Atomschutzbunker, hurra, die Welt geht unter.”

At the end of the video clip, the young men on the raft sight land: the island with the nuclear bunker where the few surviving operators open the doors to greet the newcomers. Obviously, the song and video borrow heavily from a global tradition of apocalyptic, post-catastrophe and end-of-days imaginaries ranging from Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove to Kevin Costner’s Waterworld and J.J. Abram’s TV series Lost. In a German context, any number of dystopian yarns (from Marlen Haushofer’s Die Wand and Carl Amery’s Der Untergang der Stadt Passau to Wolfgang Jeschke’s Das Cusanus Spiel and Tim Fehlbaum’s film Hell) have contributed to the message that the future will be bleak.

Somewhere over the last 50 years, we seem to have lost the belief in our ability to create a better world, a better future. For every idealistic imagination of a positive future, we can find a hundred depictions of our world going to pieces around us. What happened? Are we incapable of imagining a utopian outcome, that we can be the masters of our own destiny? Why are we so addicted to the masochistic pleasure of seeing our homes go up in flames? And why are we so afraid of the future if, to any objective observer and compared to fifty years ago, we now live in a much safer world, a world where more people die of obesity than hunger, where the threat of mutually assured destruction through nuclear war has receded, and in which we have almost promethean powers to manipulate and alter the world around us and ourselves. Who benefits from such a gloomy world-view and why are writers and film directors so easily complicit in creating catastrophic visions of the future?

The 60-year-old academic seeks answers. Having written a book about the construction of ‘1968’ as a utopian moment and how the feeling of a missed opportunity to create a better world has never really left Germans over the subsequent five decades, he now wants to find out whether erstwhile student leader Rudi Dutschke’s assertion that ‘Geschichte is machbar’ (we can make history) cannot also mean ‘Zukunft ist machbar’, that we can shape our own future.

To find out, we need to go back, to a moment in time when the future still seemed bright, and identify the key moments that changed the grand narrative of the future. As the future we imagine becomes the present and eventually a future of the past, what can these texts and films tell us? Can they still inspire us, and perhaps even help us prepare for that ‘undiscovered country’, or have they lost their purpose and are now only exhibits in a museum, to be taken out of storage to remind ourselves of our childish/naïve/innocent (or, if you lean to a different view, dangerous/subversive/utopian) dreams? Will they, like so many texts that once held great social relevance, become children’s stories?

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTPGpBBwt1w 

It is 50 years ago that one of the leading figures of the German Student Movement was shot in West Berlin. He survived, but had to retire from the limelight and died 11 years later from the long-term effects of the attack. It is a moot point whether the movement and the country as a whole would have taken a different direction had the assassin missed his target. He didn’t, and the New Left had both a martyr and an excuse for its ultimate failure. 20 years ago, I contributed a chapter to Gerard de Groot’s book ‘Student Protest. The Sixties and After’ (London / New York 1998). In it I quote Rudi’s simple message:

Our life is more than money. Our life is thinking and living. It’s about us, and what we could do in this world … It is about how we could use technology and all the other things which at the moment are used against the human being.… My question in life is always how we can destroy things that are against the human being, and how we can find a way of life in which the human being is independent of a world of trouble, a world of anxiety, a world of destruction.

and so it begins: I have been given leave in 2018/19 to write this book for Camden House.

Beyond Tomorrow. German Science Fiction and Utopian Thought in the 20th and 21st Century will make a major intervention in German Studies and a significant contribution to debates in Futures Studies and Comparative Literature/Film Studies.

In German literature and film, as well as in German Studies more generally, the key focus and main emphasis since the end of World War II has rightly been Vergangenheitsbewältigung [coming to terms with the past]. The argument put forward by scholars, writers and critics is that only by understanding, and working through, the consequences of National Socialism, the Holocaust, the death of millions, the uprooting of entire populations and the destruction of entire cities can we avoid making the same mistakes again. However, there is a risk that such a singular focus on the past bypasses the rapid developments in science and technology (eg AI; genetic engineering) that require a thorough understanding of, and critical engagement with, our new capabilities so that we can make the right choices for their direction and control.

The book demonstrates how writing about possible futures has helped, and continues to help, society to understand, anticipate and cope with the consequences of scientific and technological advances. It combines a discussion of German utopian thought with a survey of the German utopian/dystopian literary and cinematic tradition. Through a close reading of selected examples from around 1900 to the present day that represent key milestones and major artistic achievements, it explores how German writers and film makers respond to the question of how humanity can match its technological advances with a commensurate social, ethical, and moral progress. It examines their visionary responses to global challenges and plots the trajectory of this ongoing inquiry. Whether in utopian anticipation or beneath a dystopian guise, I argue that these works have global relevance and contain valuable strategies for Zukunftsbewältigung [coming to terms with the future]: by imagining inspiring or disturbing futures, they enable us to shape the future.

German Science Fiction is rarely translated into English, nor acknowledged in the Anglophone research literature on utopian and dystopian writing (cp. Gregory Claeys, Dystopia. A Natural History, 2017). Nor is it analysed within its overall context: the last major study in English, William Fischer’s The Empire Strikes Out: Kurd Lasswitz, Hans Dominik and the Development of German Science Fiction was published in 1984 and had a narrow focus on texts from the first half of the 20th century. German Science Fiction tends to reflect specifically ‘German’ concerns stemming from the country’s historical experience which in turn has given rise to specific fears and sensitivities about totalitarian control, the fragility of civil society, and the environment. Precisely because of this sensitivity, German writers’ awareness of the potential consequences of our promethean capabilities means they are particularly able to influence the moral and ethical debates about the direction and implementation of scientific and technological advances. I argue that their works offer vital cognitive and affective strategies that need to be more widely shared to contribute to the transnational debate about the choices we are facing today (cp. Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus, 2016).

The project is timely, given the recent flurry of dystopian novels in Germany, no longer just by established SF authors but also ‘mainstream’ authors such as Christian Kracht, Karen Duwe, Thomas von Steinaecker, Juli Zeh and Uwe Timm, the recent contributions to Futures Studies by German academics such as Harald Welzer, Lars Schmeink or Hans Esselborn, and the growing research focus in the UK on the challenges of the future (cp. the RCUK Big Ideas for the Future report).

Speculative Lunch at the Leeds Humanities Research Institute on 7 February 2018
This event brought together a wide range of participants from Leeds and York. Following an introduction by the organisers and brief presentations of their own research projects on Science Fiction, Fantasy and Utopian Texts, colleagues outlined their research interests, ranging from Tagore and political resistance, fairy tales, female mysticism, supernatural and disruptive elements in music, the posthuman, the decolonisisation of the future, to the fantastic in mainstream writing.
The discussion identified common ground in that, in the words of Ursula Le Guin, “by making realism the standard of quality, by limiting literature to it, we are leaving too much serious writing out of consideration.” In fact, ‘the fantastic is always there’, and has existed in mainstream cultural productions, eg magical realism or folk tales. This acknowledges the spiritual dimensions of our experience, including our conceptions of time, and provides us with a critical lens on (consensus?) reality.
Looking forward, there was a keen desire to explore ways to establish a research group on the transcultural fantastic, to explore our ‘utopian horizon’ through a series of Sadler Seminars in 2018/19 that would bring in experts and practitioners , explore the local history of Leeds as an epicentre of the fantastic, engage with the resources in our Special Collections in the Brotherton Library, and link with the Centre for World Literatures/Centre for World Cinemas and Digital Cultures.
Ingo Cornils (LCS/German) / Sarah Dodd (LCS/EAST) / Liz Stainforth (FAHAC)

I had forgotten how much fun it can be to simply ATTEND a conference, to network, listen and shamelessly go idea-mining. While my brain is fuzzing with possible opportunities I see how important a corrective to the anglo-centric discourse will be. Still, many thanks to the brilliant organisers of http://unsettlingscientificstories.co.uk/imagined-futures ! If you are interested in the action, follow #ImaginedFutures

Professor Zygmunt Bauman asked a significant question in his lecture ‘Europe’s adventure: still unfinished?‘ at the University of Leeds yesterday. Has the Vision of the Future lost its attraction?Should we retreat, just because the enormity of the task scares us, and because our cosmopolitan world is not yet matched by a cosmopolitan awareness? My new research project: Beyond Tomorrow. German Science Fiction and Utopian Thought in the 20th and 21st Century explores what German writers and thinkers can contribute to the debate, and in particular whether they can help us come to terms with the future: Zukunftsbewältigung.

My new monograph Writing the Revolution. The Construction of ‘1968’ in Germany is coming out this month.

Given that in the course of this book I criticise a number of academics for not laying their cards on their table, declare their agenda, or, as Jürgen Habermas would put it, formulate their ‘erkenntnisleitende Interessen’, I would like to outline my own.

Born in 1958, I was too young to understand what was going on around 1968, but I had a general awareness that a revolt was taking place. The Vietnam War was shown live on television and my older brother started to grow his hair and play records by the Rolling Stones. In school, the older students started to rebel against ‘authoritarian’ regulations and published a student newspaper that lampooned our teachers (some of whom, as everyone knew in my town, had been enthusiastic Nazis). Later, a teacher asked us to look at a flyer produced by the Socialist German Student League which included the (to me) pythonesque line ‘In der Institution liegt die Gefahr der Institutionalisierung’ (the institution contains the risk of institutionalisation). I became interested in politics, and enthusiastically supported Willy Brandt in his 1972 re-election campaign (the ‘Reiten für Deutschland’ election poster portrayed Willy Brandt and his foreign minister Walter Scheel riding an Easy Rider style motorbike while their conservative rival Franz Joseph Strauß was loading his gun). Returning from an exchange year in the USA, I successfully ran for president of the student council (Schülermitverwaltung). On leaving school, I became a conscientious objector (which required facing a hearing and making your case) and delivered meals on wheels instead of learning how to salute.

My introductory seminar on German literature at the University of Hamburg in 1978 was conducted by Klaus Bartels, a 68er turned academic, with a selection of contemporary novels. It did not even occur to us first year students that this was a far cry from what our predecessors would have had to grapple with – the old syllabus of middle high German and Goethe having become optional. As a counterpoint to any romantic notions about the glorious 60s, my other academic guide was Dietrich Schwanitz (of Der Campus fame) who kept us grounded with his sarcasm.

While there was no sign of the 68ers in the Audimax where they had displayed the Unter den Talaren, Muff von tausend Jahren banner ten years before, there was still something of their anarchic spirit in the air – there were regular semester-long strikes, a variety of communist student groups (MSB Spartakus, Marxistische Gruppe) tried to get our attention, and the arts and humanities applied a very relaxed assessment practice: there were no marks on one’s ‘Scheine’ (certificates of achievement, which merely stated that one had taken part), nor was there a ‘Zwischenprüfung’ (an exam after the first four semesters) to determine whether one could progress to intermediate and advanced seminars. Indeed, students from all years, first semesters and veterans of 20 semesters attended any seminar of their choice, and smoking was absolutely required unless one was into knitting.

Outside campus, an alternative lifestyle had established itself in the Abaton Kino, Wohngemeinschaften, the Hafenstraße squats, vegetarian restaurants, and the countercultural Auenland, a venue for live bands with a notorious drug scene. The late 1970s were an odd mixture of second-hand experiences – the protest against the building of a nuclear power plant in Brokdorf near Hamburg, the Rasterfahndung against Red Army Faction terrorists, even the odd demonstration in front of the American consulate with helicopters flying low above us felt like someone else’s battles.

So why am I writing a book about the afterlives of 1968? The disclosure above already hints at a certain sympathy for the liberating and iconoclastic elements of the German Student Movement, a fairly typical attitude among Germans of my generation and recently immortalised in Gerhard Henschel’s Bildungsroman (2014). Nevertheless, for many years the 60s were completely off my radar while I completed a PhD with a thesis on English Romanticism and English Science Fiction, and then switched to teaching German language and current affairs in the UK. Yet what began to intrigue me, and has kept me intrigued over the last twenty years, is the on-going and accelerating production of texts, films, music, art and research that engages with this brief period in German history. With my research interests focused on the intersection of utopian, political and romantic thought, the German Student Movement is a fascinating manifestation of this nexus, its distinct blend of epiphany and subsequent loss so similar to the romantic period.

My own role in the construction of ‘1968’ may complicate matters – as an academic teacher, author of articles and book chapters, conference organiser and volume editor, I have contributed to the literature that I propose to analyse. At the same time, my familiarity with this vast body of works and their authors will, I hope, become useful in guiding the reader through the maze of publications.

I should stress that this book is not about the events of that bygone era – Anglophone readers interested in the events may wish to turn to Hans Kundnani’s Utopia or Auschwitz. Germany’s 1968 Generation and the Holocaust, (2009), or Timothy Scott Brown’s West Germany and the Global Sixties. The Antiauthoritarian Revolt, 1962-1978, (2013); those able to read German are spoilt for choice –, but rather about the edifice that has been constructed on top of these events by the media, writers and academics.

Why is this construction so important? While the generation of 68ers is leaving the stage, their erstwhile disruption, their belief in fundamental change, is endlessly re-examined, amplified, mythologised and instrumentalised. The ‘unity of thought, feeling and action’, the clarity of purpose associated with the cypher ‘1968’ has become a holy grail, an obsession for a cultural elite of intellectuals, writers, journalists, and opinion makers. The resultant myth of ‘1968’ has invaded the imagination of many through the writings of the few. This process cannot go on indefinitely – decisions have to be made whether a unified Germany can ‘move on’ from ‘1968’, by either accepting the tenets of the movement as a moral touchstone or by rejecting them as romantic relapse. This is not just important for insider debates in the German media, academia or literature, but for Germany’s political elites. The construction of ‘1968’ into something both unassailable and unattainable has dominated debates for almost five decades and arguably stymied the country’s ability to play its part on the global stage. My research will enable readers to see this process more clearly.

The latest edition of the academic journal ‘literatur für leser’ is out now. ‘Forever Young? Unschuld und Erfahrung im Werk Hermann Hesses’ (Innocence and Experience in the Works of Hermann Hesse) features five essays in German and English by international scholars from the UK, Germany, Italy and Japan.

From the editorial:

Erfahrung, so der englische Dichter William Blake (1757-1827), kostet den Menschen alles was er hat. Für den deutsch-schweizerischen Schriftsteller Hermann Hesse (1877-1962), der dem englischen Mystiker in seiner Unbedingtheit auf vielfältige Weise ähnelt, trifft diese Maxime sicherlich im besonderen Maße zu. Aufgewachsen in einer pietistisch frommen Familie, wurde sein ‚Eigensinn‘ von frühester Jugend an systematisch herausgefordert. Eltern und Lehrer versuchten mit allen Mitteln, seinen Willen zu brechen: eine brutale Form der Erziehung, die der junge Hesse mit Eskapaden, Flucht und einem Selbstmordversuch beantwortete. Gleichzeitig wurden die religiösen Eckpfeiler, das Bewusstsein von Gut und Böse, von Schuld und Verdammnis, von Himmel und Hölle, tief in seine Psyche eingepflanzt. Das Problem einer dualistisch konstruierten Welt sollte ihn sein Leben lang beschäftigen und zu einem Gegenentwurf herausfordern, der die Vielfältigkeit der erfahrbaren Welt schätzt und gleichzeitig die Einheit hinter den Gegensätzen betont.

Wie manifestiert sich nun Hesses Versuch einer Synthese von Unschuld und Erfahrung? Dieser in der Forschung bisher wenig beachteten Frage gehen die Beiträger in diesem Themenheft nach. Sie zeichnen eine Entwicklungslinie von Peter Camenzind (Maike Rettmann) über Demian und Siddhartha (Jon Hughes), Hermann Hesses Faszination mit Schmetterlingen (Neale Cunningham) bis zu Hesses Glasperlenspiel (Sikander Singh) auf und stellen sie in einen ideengeschichtlichen, psychologischen und philosophischen Zusammenhang (Mauro Ponzi).

Ingo Cornils (ed.), Forever Young? Unschuld und Erfahrung im Werk Hermann Hesses, special edition of literatur für leser, 38. Jahrgang, Nr.1/15, Frankfurt/M.: Peter Lang 2016, ISSN 0343-1657

 

Sometimes a day at the Hay Festival is like mainlining Ernst Bloch’s Principle of Hope. Already in a receptive mood by listening to a radio interview with Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia. Yuval Noah Harari inspired his audience with visions that used to be found in the sf books of Olaf Stapledon and Dan Simmons. Mick Ebeling restores one’s faith in humanity with his notimpossible projects. Karen Armstrong challenged widespread assumptions about religion and war. A utopian space or a jolly for the middle class – can’t it be both?

Hermann Hesse’s pivotal role in helping to set up one of Germany’s most renowned publishing houses, the Suhrkamp Verlag, has long been recognised. However, little attention has been given to the programmatic and philosophical influence he had on Peter Suhrkamp and his successor Siegfried Unseld. This article analyses Hesse’s lasting impact on his publishers’ views, especially their commitment to European and World literature. It charts the development of Hesse’s thinking on Europe, explores Hesse’s relationship with Peter Suhrkamp and Siegfried Unseld, and demonstrates how Hermann Hesse’s books, political writings, correspondence and more than three thousand book reviews contributed to the ‘Suhrkamp Culture’.

Hermann Hesses zentrale Rolle bei der Gründung des renommierten Suhrkamp Verlags in Frankfurt ist allgemein bekannt. Wenig erforscht dagegen ist der programmatische und philosophische Einfluß, den er auf Peter Suhrkamp und seinen Nachfolger Siegfried Unseld ausübte. Der vorliegende Artikel analysiert Hesses nachhaltige Wirkung auf das Denken seiner Verleger, besonders ihr Engagement für europäische und Weltliteratur. Er zeichnet die Entwicklung des Hesse’schen Denkens in Bezug auf Europa nach, untersucht dessen Beziehung zu Peter Suhrkamp und Siegfried Unseld, und zeigt, wie Hermann Hesses Bücher, politische Schriften, Korrespondenz, sowie seine mehr als dreitausend Buchrezensionen zur ‘Suhrkamp Kultur’ beigetragen haben.

in: German Life and Letters, Volume 68Issue 1pages 54–65January 2015

Between Bauhaus and Bügeleisen: The Iconic Style of Raumpatrouille (1966) The German television SF series Raumpatrouille (Space Patrol) has long gained cult status, in German-speaking countries it enjoys a similar popularity as the original Star Trek series which was first broadcast in the same year. Much has been made of Raumpatrouille’s alleged militaristic and xenophobic ideology by critics who saw in it an awkward melange of undigested Prussian and Nazi jingoism and Cold War paranoia. What hasn’t been widely understood (or acknowledged) was that the series sought to subvert authoritarian traditions by means of humour and a positive outlook. In Raumpatrouille’s alternative world in the year 3000, people are still recognisably human. Individualism and conformism continue to be at odds. While nation states have been abolished, strict hierarchies remain in (world) government and the military. Here, individualism is suppressed, even though, and this has been ignored by critics and researchers so far, insubordination saves the day in each episode. Indeed, the series communicated very different messages: a vision of a world where mankind has overcome barriers between genders and between nation states. This concrete Utopia is evoked in the introductory voiceover in each episode, but finds its main expression in the series’ distinctive visual style. This style is futuristic and functional, reflecting a desire amongst the younger generation and the cultural elites to escape the sense of claustrophobia pervading the post-war era and the ‘no experiments’ attitude of the West German government. The use of modern materials in the sets suggests a deliberate break with tradition, and a conscious homage to Bauhaus clarity and transparency. Technology is the means by which unheard-of things are done in this imagined future, be it the ability to live at the bottom of the sea, or the routine task of travelling amongst the stars. Of particular interest in this essay are the innovative solutions the series’ set designers came up with to translate the technological revolution of the 1960s, which in turn heralded a much broader change in mentality, into a future setting. The incorporation of the latest industrial design and technology into an imagined alternative world, just months before the cultural and political revolutions of 1967/68 transformed the world for real, indicates a rare moment of confidence. in: Ricarda Vidal / Ingo Cornils (eds.), Alternative Worlds. Blue-Sky Thinking since 1900, Oxford: Peter Lang 2015, pp.283-302

In an attempt to counteract the doom and gloom of the economic crisis and the politicians’ overused dictum that ‘there is no alternative’, this interdisciplinary collection presents a number of alternative worlds which were thought up over the course of the last century. While change at macro-level was the focus of most of the ideological struggles in the 20th century, the real impetus for change came from the blue-sky thinking of scientists, engineers, architects, sociologists, planners, and above all, writers, who imagined alternatives to the status quo. Following a roughly chronological order from the turn of the 19th century to the present, the book  explores  the dreams, plans and hopes, but also the nightmares and fears reflected in utopian thinking in the Western hemisphere. The alternative worlds at the focus of the individual essays can each be seen as crucial to the history of the past one hundred years. While each reflects its particular moment in time, they also inform historical developments in a wider sense and continue to resonate in present culture. Instead of presenting mere mind games, building and the concrete realisation of the dream are crucial to all of them – whether that means the restructuring of the earth itself, the construction of the perfect city, the creation of an alternative society on Earth or on Mars, or the physical preservation of youth. The tension of dream and reality, of fact and fiction, which characterises all of these utopias is also represented in the interdisciplinarity of the volume which brings together contributions from the sciences and the arts.

Ricarda Vidal / Ingo Cornils (eds.) Alternative Worlds. Blue-Sky Thinking since 1900, Oxford: Peter Lang, 2014

Rainer Werner Fassbinders Welt am Draht ist ein außerordentlich vielschichtiger Film, der zu Unrecht von Kritik und Wissenschaft bislang vernachlässigt wurde. Welt am Draht ist eine visuelle Adaption des Romans Simulacron-3 von Daniel F. Galouye (erschienen 1964), die Fassbinder 1973 für den Westdeutschen Rundfunk als zweiteiligen Fernsehfilm realisierte. 2010 wurde die digital restaurierte Fassung auf der 60. Berlinale in Berlin und im Museum of Modern Art in New York einem breiteren Publikum vorgestellt. Die nach fast vier Jahrzehnten Obskurität endlich gegebene breite Verfügbarkeit sowie ein Cluster von neuen, durch Welt am Draht beeinflussten Filmen laden dazu ein, dessen künstlerische Originalität und langfristige Wirkung zu untersuchen. Hierbei sollen zwei Aspekte beleuchtet werden: Welt am Draht als wichtiges Bindeglied in der Geschichte der Science Fiction und des phantastischen Films, und als zentraler deutscher Beitrag zur Ikonographie apokalyptischen Denkens.

in: Veronika Wieser et. al. (eds), Abendländische Apokalyptik. Kompendium zur Genealogie der Endzeit, Berlin: Akademie Verlag 2013, pp.285-298, ISBN 978-3-05-005797-2 

Listening to Patrick Ness at the Hay Festival I asked myself whether utopian thinking is only for the ‘young adult’ market. True, a modicum of innocence helps if one is considering what kind of world we want to live in, but it takes courage to still insist on the possibility of change when one does so from the vantage point of experience. William Blake knew it, Hermann Hesse explored it in the Glass Bead Game, and now Patrick Ness has taken up the challenge. Impressive!

You are only young once, they say, but doesn’t it go on for a long time? More years that you can bear. (Hilary Mantel)

It is 45 years ago to the day that one of the leading figures of the German Student Movement was shot in West Berlin. He survived, but had to retire from the limelight and died 11 years later from the long-term effects of the attack. It is a moot point whether the movement and the country as a whole would have taken a different direction had the assassin missed his target. He didn’t, and the New Left had both a martyr and an excuse for its ultimate failure. 15 years ago, I contributed a chapter to Gerard de Groot’s book ‘Student Protest. The Sixties and After’ (London / New York 1998). In it I quote Rudi’s simple message:

Our life is more than money. Our life is thinking and living. It’s about us, and what we could do in this world … It is about how we could use technology and all the other things which at the moment are used against the human being.… My question in life is always how we can destroy things that are against the human being, and how we can find a way of life in which the human being is independent of a world of trouble, a world of anxiety, a world of destruction.

 

I am currently writing a review of Alan Corkhill’s impressive new book Spaces for Happiness in the Twentieth Century German Novel. This reminded me that in Uwe Timm’s novel Rot (2001), the protagonist comes across a Marcuse quote that has lost none of its relevance:

Der Gedanke, daß Glück eine objektive Bedingung ist, die mehr als subjektive Gefühle verlangt, wurde wirksam verdunkelt; seine Gültigkeit hängt von der wirklichen Solidarität der Gattung ‚Mensch’ ab, die eine in antagonistische Klassen und Nationen aufgespaltete Gesellschaft nicht erzielen kann. Solange die Geschichte der Menschheit derart beschaffen ist, wird der ‚Naturzustand’, wie geläutert auch immer, vorherrschen: ein zivilisierter bellum omnium contra omnes, in dem das Glück der einen mit dem Leid der anderen zusammen bestehen muß.

It’s been twenty years since I completed my PhD thesis on the changes in mood and perception from English Romanticism to English Science Fiction. In the second half of my thesis, I analysed the works of the British Science Fiction writer Richard Cowper (John Middleton Murry jr, 1926-2002). I am surprised that there haven’t been any other studies exploring RC’s rich, intricate and beautifully written novels and short stories. RC was kind enough to congratulate me at the time, writing:

“Seers and Sayers” is a truly handsome production and I feel honoured to have featured in it. […] I especially relished the title which – if memory serves me correctly – was the one I thought up way back in the 60’s and gave to Jimmy Haverill’s book on the Romantics which led to his getting the assistant lectureship at Hampton. Thus, as the phrase has it, does the wheel come full circle…

Sadly, this monumental achievement (written by David Mitchell,  transferred to the silver screen by Lana and Andy Wachowski / Tom Tykwer, and beautifully created by Babelsberg Film Studios) has come and gone without leaving a major impression on the British film-going public. I took the students from  my ‘German Utopian Thought in Fiction and Film’ seminar and they were very taken with the way utopian ideas and imagery were employed in this production. I believe that both book and film will stand the test of time, and, like Ridley Scott’s much maligned ‘Prometheus’, give people food for thought for many years to come. Everything is connected!

I wonder how many people are out there agree with me that it is high time to connect the dots between Friedrich Hölderlin, John Keats, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Richard Cowper, and of course Dan Simmon. Anyone familiar with Dan Simmon’s Hyperion Cantos will know that the titanic struggle between the Core AIs and their creators (us) reverberates across space and time, and thus it is no surprise that the Romantics got caught up in it. Having written my PhD thesis on the works of Richard Cowper (who relies heavily on William Blake and John Keats), I am keen to explore all possible avenues from classics to cyberspace. On he flared…

When students in my German Student Movement seminar started experimenting with Prezi instead of the usual Powerpoint, I felt inspired to explore what I could do with a less linear, more dynamic and intuitive presentation software. I have done a dry-run a few weeks ago in my School and everything worked fine – the audience certainly seemed interested. Now for the real test – using a Prezi to help me talk to a paper at our annual Association for German Studies Conference in Cardiff: http://prezi.com/hvxmvd-2uu_9/not-dark-yet/

The material is drawn from Chapter 12 of my monograph-in-progress on the construction of ‘1968’ in Germany.

Let’s just hope they have a good internet connection…

With the integration of its core themes and narrative strategies into the mainstream, science fiction in its traditional sense appears to have lost its competitive edge and its innovative potential. At the same time, its critical elements have survived in the area of alternative history fictions, notably in German-language literature. This paper analyses three recent examples: Christian Kracht, Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten (2008), Wolfgang Jeschke, Das Cusanus Jahr (2005), and Rob Alef, Das magische Jahr (2008). The objective is to explore how a classical device of fantastic literature is employed to introduce utopian/dystopian elements and challenge the status quo. As a vehicle for subversive cultural criticism, German alternate history fictions prove to be both flexible and relevant.

in: Lars Schmeink / Astrid Böger (eds), Collision of Realities. Establishing Research on the Fantastic in Europe, pp.325-338, Berlin: de Gruyter 2012

The German television SF series Raumpatrouille (Space Patrol) has long gained cult status, in German-speaking countries it enjoys a similar popularity as the original Star Trek series which was first broadcast in the same year. Much has been made of Raumpatrouille’s alleged militaristic and xenophobic ideology by critics who saw in it an awkward melange of undigested Prussian and Nazi jingoism and Cold War paranoia. What hasn’t been widely understood (or acknowledged) was that the series sought to subvert authoritarian traditions by means of humour and a positive outlook.
In Raumpatrouille’s alternative world in the year 3000, people are still recognisably human. Individualism and conformism continue to be at odds. While nation states have been abolished, strict hierarchies remain in (world) government and the military. Here, individualism is suppressed, even though, and this has been ignored by critics and researchers so far, insubordination saves the day in each episode.
Indeed, the series communicated very different messages: a vision of a world where mankind has overcome barriers between genders and between nation states. This concrete Utopia is evoked in the introductory voiceover in each episode, but finds its main expression in the series’ distinctive visual style.
This style is futuristic and functional, reflecting a desire amongst the younger generation and the cultural elites to escape the sense of claustrophobia pervading the post-war era and the ‘no experiments’ attitude of the West German government. The use of modern materials in the sets suggests a deliberate break with tradition, and a conscious homage to Bauhaus clarity and transparency.
Technology is the means by which unheard-of things are done in this imagined future, be it the ability to live at the bottom of the sea, or the routine task of travelling amongst the stars. Of particular interest in this essay are the innovative solutions the series’ set designers came up with to translate the technological revolution of the 1960s, which in turn heralded a much broader change in mentality, into a future setting. The incorporation of the latest industrial design and technology into an imagined alternative world, just months before the cultural and political revolutions of 1967/68 transformed the world for real, indicates a rare moment of confidence.

forthcoming, in: Ricarda Vidal / Ingo Cornils (eds.), Alternative Worlds. Blue-Sky Thinking since 1900

This article examines the relationship between, and the importance of, myth and utopia in Hermann Hesse’s work, their development over several decades, and their significance for our understanding of the utopian. The question whether Hesse’s work tends more towards the mythological or the utopian has hitherto not been convincingly answered. I demonstrate that Hesse’s work initially oscillates between (Promethean) myth and utopia. This becomes very clear in Narziß und Goldmund, where the author engages with the problem of death. In Das Glasperlenspiel, however, Hesse uses myth to create a utopian moment. I argue that Hesse’s persistent search for the culmination point of human existence does not necessarily lead to transcendence, but rather makes possible a concrete utopia. According to Hesse, man is capable of reaching a new level of consciousness. His ‘theory of stages’ found itself on the sidelines in a time of collective ideologies but may become relevant in the context of a developing ‘global consciousness’ of autonomous individuals.

German Life and Letters, Vol.66, Issue 2, April 2013, pp.156-172

Following the global celebration of their 40th anniversary in 2008, the 68ers, especially in Germany, have increasingly been portrayed as a generation that has overstayed its welcome. With the portrayal of their increasing infirmity (of body if not of mind) comes a general disassociation with their former ideals and once radical political agenda. The revolution has not taken place, certainly not in the way they had imagined. What was once perceived as dangerous and strangely attractive to broad sections of German youth has become embarrassing, decidedly old-fashioned, and, in spite of occasional sympathetic portrayals in film or on TV, almost inexplicable to later generations.
Whilst their presence in the media has somewhat diminished, the 68ers have not yet disappeared from political and cultural debates: especially their literary production continues unabated, though, as will be argued, a new quality has entered their work. Their writing is deeply reflective, especially of their own increasing sense of being strangers in a strange land. The generation that hoped to die before they got old, that coined the phrase ‘Trau keinem über 30’ has left its ‘Prominenzphase’ during the Red-Green Coalition government from 1998 to 2005 and entered uncharted waters, a stage in life when one has one last chance to admit mistakes, forgive if not forget, and remember one’s defining moments in the light of a lifetime’s experience.
The texts I have chosen to illustrate my argument are Uwe Timm’s ‘Freitisch’, Friedrich Christian Delius’s ‘Als die Bücher noch geholfen haben’, Jochen Schimmang’s ‘Das Beste, was wir hatten’ and Bernd Cailloux’s ‘Gutgeschriebene Verluste’ (which made the longlist of the Deutscher Buchpreis 2012). Each of these writers has charted the history of their generation and its ever-changing ‘Befindlichkeit’ over decades, and their work continues to attract broad attention.
My paper argues that these chroniclers of their generation remain committed to the cause: the project of Germany’s ‘politische Alphabetisierung’ (H.M. Enzensberger), and an aesthetic programme that evolved out of the spirit of ’68. One last time they evoke the ‘Aufbruch einer Generation’, a movement that is unequalled in terms of its radical approach, but now with a wistful focus on its unfulfilled promise.

Paper for the AGS Conference in Cardiff, 3-5 April 2013