The Skin of the System: On Germany's Socialist Modernity

The Skin of the System: On Germany's Socialist Modernity

The Skin of the System: On Germany's Socialist Modernity

The Skin of the System: On Germany's Socialist Modernity


The Skin of the System objects to the idea that there is only one modernity- that of liberal capitalism. Starting from the simple conviction that whatever else East German socialism was, it was real, this book focuses on what made historical socialism different from social systems in the West. In this way, the study elicits the general question: what must we think in order to think an other system at all?

To approach this question, Robinson turns to the remarkable writer Franz Fühmann, the East German who most single-mindedly dedicated himself to understanding what it means to transform from fascism to socialism. Fühmann's own serial loyalties to Hitler and Stalin inform his existential meditations on change and difference. By placing Fühmann's politically alert and intensely personal literary inventions in the context of an inquiry into radical social rupture, The Skin of the System wrests the brutal materiality of twentieth-century socialism from attempts to provincialize both its desires and its failures as antimodern ideological follies.


Enjoyment becomes the object of manipulation,
until, ultimately, it is entirely extinguished in fixed
entertainments. The process has developed from the
primitive festival to the modern vacation

—Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno

The ultimate vacation, the denial of reciprocal econ
omy, is itself obtained only by means of an economy.

—Roland Barthes


Let's go on vacation! Let's leave the drudgery of work behind. Let's recreate, enjoy, pursue happiness, liberty, and life. It is harder than we might think. Culture, entertainment, erotics—they all seem to lead back to freemarket economics. We can pick up almost any volume of cultural criticism today and find the circulation and accumulation of capital written back into our leisure, into the very heart of our escape. A common logic, not ponderous causality, is the formal bond linking the most disparate modes of living in the most disparate times and places. Contemporary historicism, for example, draws together texts from the most obscure corners of experience on the basis of shared figures whose genealogies can be traced to an overarching Zeitgeist (episteme), while poststructuralist philosophies separate the order of causes from the order of effects so that, whatever one might say about causality, the effects are all available in a single empire of signs. Even where such homology is criticized as totalizing, it is first stipulated as omnipresent, so that gestures of paradox and subversion may assume rebellious dignity. Despite the diversity of appearances in modernity, and their critical liberation from positivist causality, the name of the game remains interconnection, and its common form is circulation, exchange, traffic. The substantial boundaries of territoriality and temporality have . . .

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