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Totalitarianism on Screen

The Art and Politics of The Lives of Others

edited by Carl Eric Scott and F. Flagg Taylor IV

Publication Year: 2014

From its creation in 1950, to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the German Democratic Republic's Ministry for State Security closely monitored its nation's citizens. Known as the Staatssicherheit or Stasi, this organization was regarded as one of the most repressive intelligence agencies in the world. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's 2006 film The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) has received international acclaim -- including an Academy Award, an Independent Spirit Award, and multiple German Film Awards -- for its moving portrayal of East German life under the pervasive surveillance of the Stasi.

In Totalitarianism on Screen, political theorists Carl Eric Scott and F. Flagg Taylor IV assemble top scholars to analyze the film from philosophical and political perspectives. Their essays confront the nature and legacy of East Germany's totalitarian government and outline the reasons why such regimes endure.

Other than magazine and newspaper reviews, little has been written about The Lives of Others. This volume brings German scholarship on the topic to an English-speaking audience for the first time and explores the issue of government surveillance at a time when the subject is often front-page news. Featuring contributions from German president Joachim Gauck, prominent singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann, journalists Paul Hockenos and Lauren Weiner, and noted scholars Paul Cantor and James Pontuso, Totalitarianism on Screen contributes to the growing scholarship on totalitarianism and will interest historians, political theorists, philosophers, and fans of the film.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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Carl Eric Scott and F. Flagg Taylor IV

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pp. 1-18

“Don’t I need this whole system? What about you? Then you don’t need it either. Or need it even less. But you get into bed with them too. Why do you do it? Because they can destroy you too, despite your talent and your faith. Because they decide what we play, who is to act, who can direct.”...

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1. Post-Totalitarianism in The Lives of Others

F. Flagg Taylor IV

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pp. 19-34

In this essay I will argue that Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others provides viewers with a striking and deep portrait of a “posttotalitarian” regime. Its depiction of totalitarian tyranny succeeds in particular at revealing the nature and function of ideology and the manner in...

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2. What Is a Dissident?: The Travails of the Intellectuals in The Lives of Others

Lauren Weiner

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pp. 35-56

During the Soviet era, intellectuals behind the Iron Curtain walked a fine line. We in the West admired those who, like Anna Akhmatova and Vasily Grossman, snatched a measure of liberty by writing “for the desk drawer” (not for publication)1 or by seeing their work passed from hand to hand in...

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3. Communist Moral Corruption and the Redemptive Power of Art

Carl Eric Scott

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pp. 57-82

The Lives of Others, written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, is a masterpiece of filmmaking that shows how pervasively the German Democratic Republic, through its secret police the Stasi, spied upon its own citizens. The film tells the story of the partial moral redemption of...

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4. Long Day’s Journey into Brecht: The Ambivalent Politics of The Lives of Others

Paul A. Cantor

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pp. 83-110

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s 2006 film Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) was widely, and justifiably, praised as a cinematic masterpiece almost from its first release. The movie was especially celebrated as a political statement, as a scathing indictment of communist tyranny, specifically...

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5. The Tragic Ambiguity, or Ambiguous Tragedy, of Christa-Maria Sieland

Dirk R. Johnson

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pp. 111-136

To the question of what The Lives of Others is about, one might answer it is about the oppressiveness of totalitarian societies that monitor and control their citizens’ lives and careers. In fact, while The Lives seems to be about the machinery of surveillance in one totalitarian society in particular—that...

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6. The Lives of Others, Good Bye Lenin! and the Power of Everydayness

James F. Pontuso

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pp. 137-154

At first viewing, The Lives of Others and Good Bye Lenin! could not be more different. Good Bye Lenin! is a fanciful, lighthearted, and sometimes poignant journey into a world lost forever as the result of the collapse of communism. The Lives of Others is a realistic and chilling account of the lengths to which...

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7. On the Impossibility of Withdrawal: Life in the Gray Zone

Marketa Goetz-Stankiewicz

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pp. 155-170

Among the Polish writer Sławomir Mrożek’s delightful fables there is one entitled “The Lion.” The scene is a Roman amphitheater where the Roman citizens as well as the emperor are watching an entertainment. I retell it here in abbreviated form...

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8. Fiction or Lived History?: On the Question of the Credibility of The Lives of Others

Manfred Wilke

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pp. 171-182

The attempt to show the mechanisms of communist dictatorship from the perspective of a Stasi officer went against the standard victim-perpetrator debates held in Germany after 1990 on the question of membership in the Ministry for State Security (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, or MfS). East...

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9. The Ghosts Are Leaving the Shadows

Wolf Biermann

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pp. 183-188

There are increasing numbers of West people in Germany who dilettantishly play the role of the noble procrastinator. In an argument about the involvement of East people in the crimes of the GDR regime, they prefer to opt out for the worldly-wise option of holding their tongues. This sort of...

10. Against Forgetting

Paul Hockenos

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pp. 189-202

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11. E ast German Totalitarianism: A Warning from History

Peter Grieder

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pp. 203-230

The Lives of Others is not a documentary but a movie. The purpose of a movie is to entertain rather than to inform. So why debate its historical accuracy? Because its screenwriter and director, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, claims that the film is fundamentally authentic.1 His “close...

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12. The Stasi: An Overview

Jens Gieseke

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pp. 231-256

The inner security apparatus in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was divided into two ministries: the Ministry of the Interior (MdI), with the German People’s Police (Deutsche Volkspolizei—DVP) as the regular, “public” police force, and the Ministry for State Security (MfS) as the...


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pp. 257-258


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pp. 259-262


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pp. 263-268

E-ISBN-13: 9780813144993
E-ISBN-10: 081314499X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813144986

Page Count: 276
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 881417048
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