Charity Scribner, Requiem for Communism

By Martin, William | The Comparatist, May 2006 | Go to article overview

Charity Scribner, Requiem for Communism


Martin, William, The Comparatist


Charity Scribner, Requiem for Communism Cambridge, MA: MIT Press: 2003, 320 pp.

In this ambitious project, Charity Scribner examines a variety of aesthetic artifacts from Germany, Britain, France, and Poland that deal with the loss of that collective utopian vision associated with the erstwhile "second world." Less historically focused than Susan Buck-Morss's comparable study, Dreamworld and Catastrophe, Scribner's book advances by means of theoretical positions and may be understood productively as a kind of manifesto, the substance of which is articulated in her excellent introduction.

Scribner's objects range from the "Open Depot" in Eisenhuttenstadt (a permanent exhibit displaying artifacts from East German daily life) and the French artist Sophie Calle's installation The Detachment (conceived as a guidebook to the vanishing German Democratic Republic) to a comparison of disturbed object relations in the German writer and director Judith Kuckart's play Melancholia I and the West German artist Joseph Beuys's installation Economic Values. She considers the British writer John Berger's Into Their Labors trilogy and the French poet Leslie Kaplan's long poem "Factory Excess," and she reads a range of the East German writer Christa Wolf 's works through considerations of the fetish and the "totalitarian gaze."

Implicit in the book is an aesthetic theory of loss. As a way to understand the attrition of socialist culture and its memorial significance, Scribner reads Maurice Halbwachs's The Collective Memory in terms of the importance for memory of the transformation of materiality. Her interpretations are otherwise based largely on Freud's concepts of mourning, melancholy, and disavowal, and on the concept of nostalgia. These keywords double as evaluative categories but are applied rather incoherently. Berger, for example, is condemned as nostalgic for interring socialism's ideals in preindustrial history, while Kaplan's poem, despite also being deemed nostalgic, is praised. …

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