Academic journal article Antipodes

Specters of Berlin in A. L. McCann's Subtopia and Christos Tsiolkas's Dead Europe

Academic journal article Antipodes

Specters of Berlin in A. L. McCann's Subtopia and Christos Tsiolkas's Dead Europe

Article excerpt

ONE OF THE SPIRITS THAT ANIMATES JACQUES DERRIDA'S Specters of Marx is a desire to critique the neoevangelism of Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and The Last Man in its proposal that the Hegelian dialectical unraveling of history culminated with the apparent triumph of liberal democracy and capitalism with the collapse of governments across Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Derrida asks us to consider one of the flaws in Fukuyama's thinking as its reliance on a clearly "Christian vision", a vision based a kind of messianism. (59-60). Rather than buying into the essentialism of the end of history, Derrida locates the Christian-Democratic-Capitalist nexus as the historical player who has more or less just "advanced" from its 20th century struggle with Fascism and Marxism to the next round in the global game of hegemony, now within the triangle of the three religions of the Book for what he calls the "appropriation of Jerusalem" (58). History continues unabated.

In terms of its symbolic resonances, it is of interest that Derrida should choose a city, Jerusalem, rather than a nation, or other some other loot as the prize in this global conflict. Since Jericho's walls were blasted, since Troy's equine infiltration, the fall of Babylon in The Revelation, through to the annihilation of Hiroshima, the attacks on the twin towers and the defense of the Green Zone in Baghdad, the polis as the centre of power and industry, has been linked, symbolically and actually, with warfare. The embrace between the city and war is a deadlock; the end-of-times mindset that characterizes Fukuyama's thought is born of cities.

While Jerusalem, the ideal, heavenly and grounded city might be the new (or renewed) battleground for the continued competition between a reconfigured version of the messianic ideologies, it is Berlin that can most obviously be thought of as the city which resonates most potently as the literal and symbolic battleground of that earlier war. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the city has, more than any other, become thought of as the place where, in Fukuyaman terms, history actually ended. In this sense it is the eschatological city par excellence.

This air of the eschatological, the sense that Berlin is the locus for a radical break with its divided past is manifest in many of the iconic building projects that have emerged in the city over the past sixteen years. In Present Pasts, Andreas Huyssen, provides a critique of this appropriation and reinscription of urban spaces in both the critical reconstruction mode, which attempts to create a visual and topical continuity between an historically forgetful, and necessarily idealized past and the "post-Historical" present; and the "Berlin becomes image" imperative in which the future is idealized high-tech imagery before it exists, simultaneously erasing the presence of the present. (64, 71)

This attempt at effecting selective continuity and overdetermining the future is problematic. It betrays a kind of nervousness over the narrative voids, the uncertain spaces that Derrida might have called the revenants, the ghosts that remain in the city. Following the logic of the ghost these revenants, the inheritances of the past, are not singular. Berlin is particularly rich in palimpsestic inscription and reinscription. As Maria Tumarkin puts it in Traumascapes, the voids in Berlin "are not empty spaces; they are full of meaning and resonance. They are the city's essence" (226). This essence, this sprit of place, the ghostly presence of heterogeneous absences, is not always dealt with head on. The Stadt Schloss project, for example, aims to rebuild a version of the former Royal Palace, thereby utterly erasing the still-standing but condemned Palast der Republik built as the socialist parliament in the 1970s. This "time machine" approach to rebuilding is attractive in that allows uncomfortable periods of history to be glossed over, or commodifed. Time in the built and re-built environment of Berlin is often literally put out of joint, it ignores the apprehension of history signaled by Walter Benjamin's evocation of the Angel of History who is fixed on the entirety of the heterogeneous inheritance, the "wreckage upon wreckage" (249) of history. …

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