Scribner Seminar Program
Projecting History: Redefining national identity in post-Wall German cinema
Instructor(s): Mary Beth O'Brien, Foreign Languages and Literatures
Description: With the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, the Cold War officially ended on German soil. The demise of the German Democratic Republic has paved the way for a redefinition of Germany as a modern state. But how can a divided country whose common jingoist, genocidal past has rendered nationalism deeply suspect begin to conceive of itself as a viable and future-oriented unified nation? This seminar looks at recent German cinema to explore how idealism and political dissent have shaped post-World War II German history and the construction of national identity after reunification in 1990. Students examine films that present the GDR as a fortified prison state and others that promote a stubborn nostalgia for the East and the missed opportunities of communism. We will also analyze films about the Red Army Fraction and terrorism, which illustrate the crushing effect of National Socialism on the ‘68 generation as well as their rebellion against the excesses of the capitalist consumer paradise. Finally, we will study films about the emergence of “creative chaos” as a strategy to protest against the loss of utopian dreams. At the root of our endeavor is to investigate how post-wall German cinema assembles history into a coherent story and to challenge the master narrative that sees the period 1989-1990 as the inevitable triumph of capitalism over communism.