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Inconceivable Effects

Ethics through Twentieth-Century German Literature, Thought, and Film

by Martin Blumenthal-Barby

Publication Year: 2013

In Inconceivable Effects, Martin Blumenthal-Barby reads theoretical, literary and cinematic works that appear noteworthy for the ethical questions they raise. Via critical analysis of writers and filmmakers whose projects have changed our ways of viewing the modern world-including Hannah Arendt, Franz Kafka, Walter Benjamin, the directors of Germany in Autumn, and Heiner Mueller-these essays furnish a cultural base for contemporary discussions of totalitarian domination, lying and politics, the relation between law and body, the relation between law and justice, the question of violence, and our ways of conceptualizing "the human."

A consideration of ethics is central to the book, but ethics in a general, philosophical sense is not the primary subject here; instead, Blumenthal-Barby suggests that whatever understanding of the ethical one has is always contingent upon a particular mode of presentation (Darstellung), on particular aesthetic qualities and features of media. Whatever there is to be said about ethics, it is always bound to certain forms of saying, certain ways of telling, certain modes of narration. That modes of presentation differ across genres and media goes without saying; that such differences are intimately linked with the question of the ethical emerges with heightened urgency in this book.

Published by: Cornell University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. 6-7

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pp. vii-viii

The writing of this book was possible thanks to the support of three institutions: Yale University, where the project originated; Rice University, where the manuscript gradually turned into a book; and Stanford University, where an External Faculty Fellowship at the Humanities Center in 2011–12 allowed for its completion. ...

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Prologue. Ethics and Poetics: An Uneasy Affair

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pp. ix-xxxi

A book including the word “ethics” on its cover invokes, for better or for worse, a certain professional affi liation with the fi eld of philosophy and, more specifi cally, the philosophical branch of ethics. This book, however, is neither written by a philosopher, nor is it, strictly speaking, written for philosophers. As a matter of fact, philosophers, especially those who professionally concern themselves with questions of ethics, will likely ...

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pp. 1-15

A monograph that encompasses such different genres as political theory (Arendt), fiction (Kafka), cultural criticism (Benjamin), film (Germany in Autumn), and drama (Müller) raises questions: Why these thinkers, writers, and filmmakers? What could a configuration of Arendt, Kafka, Benjamin, German film, and Heiner Müller possibly show that cannot be shown within the confines of existing disciplines? ...

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1. “The Odium of Doubtfulness”: Or the Vicissitudes of Arendt’s Metaphorical Thinking

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pp. 16-39

Pondering the question of “style” in historiographical narration, Hannah Arendt notes: “The question of style is bound up with the problem of understanding which has plagued the historical sciences almost from their beginnings.”1 What is the “style” of Arendt’s monumental Origins of Totalitarianism, the text we are primarily concerned with here? And how does its efficacy relate to the problem of understanding totalitarianism? ...

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2. Why Does Hannah Arendt Lie? Or the Vicissitudes of Imagination

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pp. 40-55

When explaining what she was doing, Hannah Arendt typically provided the term “storytelling.”1 The storyteller, Arendt writes in the essay “Truth and Politics,” confronts the seeming arbitrariness of the facts presented, constructing certain configurations of “brutally elementary data” that eventually transcend the “meaning” of the chaos of sheer events; the task is to “tell . . . a story.”2 The writer and the historian ...

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3. “A Peculiar Apparatus”: Kafka’s Thanatopoetics

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pp. 56-80

“It’s a remarkable [eigentümlicher] piece of apparatus,” reads the fi rst prophetic sentence of Kafka’s 1914 story “In the Penal Colony” (161, 140).1 It is the officer who speaks this first sentence to the explorer, and in a way, Willa and Edwin Muir’s mistranslation in the Schocken edition is “remarkable” in itself in that, ...

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4. A Strike of Rhetoric: Benjamin’s Paradox of Justice

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pp. 81-100

Before beginning, a few prefatory remarks appear necessary to maintain at least the hope for what Benjamin would have condemned: communication. Call it an act of violence, an act of communicative violence, if you will. But is not all language, that is, “impure” language, all language after the Fall, as Benjamin would say, violent? And does he himself not battle and ultimately fail in the face of language: fail either ...

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5. Pernicious Bastardizations: Benjamin’s Ethics of Pure Violence

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pp. 101-121

The pronounced inauguration of “the task of a . . . presentation” (Aufgabe einer . . . Darstellung) in “Toward a Critique of Violence” (179) positions Walter Benjamin as an author engaged in the scholarly tradition of the philosophical treatise. While “presentation,” on the one hand, generates the transience of the present rather than re-presenting the pre-existing and pre-dictable, on the other hand, it carries the ...

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6. The Return of the Human: Germany in Autumn

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pp. 122-150

Terrorism in postwar West Germany culminated in a series of traumatic events during seven weeks in the autumn of 1977.1 On September 5, Hanns-Martin Schleyer, chairman of the Daimler-Benz Company and president of the Federation of German Industries (Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie) was kidnapped by members of the Red Army Faction (RAF) in a gun battle on the streets of Cologne.2 ...

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7. A Politics of Enmity: Müller’s Germania Death in Berlin

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pp. 151-179

Germania Death in Berlin (1956/1971), together with The Battle (1951/1974), Life of Gundling Lessing’s Sleep Dream Cry (1977), and Germania 3 Ghosts at the Dead Man (1995), testifies to Heiner Müller’s intense occupation with German history, particularly the history of violence. The play, which consists of thirteen miscellaneously interrelated scenes, generates a certain politics of enmity—a politics whose poetic itinerary has neither an evident beginning nor an end. ...


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pp. 181-188

E-ISBN-13: 9780801467394
E-ISBN-10: 080146739X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801478123
Print-ISBN-10: 080147812X

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1