Ethics through Twentieth-Century German Literature, Thought, and Film
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
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Title Page, Copyright Page
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The writing of this book was possible thanks to the support of three institutions: Yale University, where the project originated; Rice University, where the manu-script gradually turned into a book; and Stanford University, where an External Faculty Fellowship at the Humanities Center in 2011–12 allowed for its completion.I am grateful to Carol Jacobs, Rainer Nägele, and Henry Sussman; their inspira-...
Prologue. Ethics and Poetics: An Uneasy Affair
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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 phi-losopher, nor is it, strictly speaking, written for philosophers. As a matter of fact, philosophers, especially those who professionally concern themselves with ques-...
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It goes without saying that ethics cannot be put into words. . . . (Ethics and aesthetics A monograph that encompasses such different genres as political theory (Ar-endt), fi ction (Kafka), cultural criticism (Benjamin), fi lm (Germany in Autumn), and drama (Müller) raises questions: Why these thinkers, writers, and fi lmmak-ers? What could a confi guration of Arendt, Kafka, Benjamin, German fi lm, and ...
1. “The Odium of Doubtfulness”: Or the Vicissitudes of Arendt’s Metaphorical Thinking
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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 primar-ily concerned with here? And how does its effi cacy relate to the problem of under-...
2. Why Does Hannah Arendt Lie? Or the Vicissitudes of Imagination
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And therefore Mountaigny saith prettily, when he inquired the reason, why the word of the lie should be such a disgrace, and such an odious charge? Saith he, “If it be well weighed, to say that a man lieth, is as much to say as, that he is brave towards God, and a coward towards men.” For a lie faces God, and shrinks from man.When explaining what she was doing, Hannah Arendt typically provided the term ...
3. “A Peculiar Apparatus”: Kafka’s Thanatopoetics
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Kafka’s technique could best be compared to the construction of models. Just as a man who wants to build a house or evaluate its stability would draw up a blueprint of the building, Kafka practically devises the blueprints of the existing world . . . , which sometimes in a page, or even in a single phrase, expose the naked structure of events.“It’s a remarkable [eigentümlicher] piece of apparatus,” reads the fi rst prophetic ...
4. A Strike of Rhetoric: Benjamin’s Paradox of Justice
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Nothing is understood about this man until it has been perceived that of necessity and without exception, everything—language and fact—falls for him within the sphere of justice. . . . For him, too, justice and language remain founded in each other.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 ...
5. Pernicious Bastardizations: Benjamin’s Ethics of Pure Violence
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Kraus accuses the law in its substance, not in its effect. His charge: high treason of the law against justice. . . . He has seen through law as have few others. If he nevertheless invokes it, he does so precisely because his own demon is drawn so powerfully by the The pronounced inauguration of “the task of a . . . presentation” (Aufgabe einer . . . Darstellung) in “Toward a Critique of Violence” (179) positions Walter Benjamin ...
6. The Return of the Human: Germany in Autumn
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Murder, it is true, is a banal fact: one can kill the Other; the ethical exigency is not an ontological necessity. . . . It also appears in the Scriptures, to which the humanity of man is exposed inasmuch as it is engaged in the world. But to speak truly, the appearance in being of these “ethical peculiarities”—the humanity of man—is a rupture of being. It is signifi cant, even if being resumes and recovers itself....
7. A Politics of Enmity: Müller’s Germania Death in Berlin
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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), testifi es to Heiner Müller’s intense occupation with German history, partic-ularly the history of violence. The play, which consists of thirteen miscellaneously interrelated scenes, generates a certain politics of enmity—a politics whose poetic ...
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Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2013
Series Title: Signale : modern German letters, cultures, and thought
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth