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Reviewed by:
  • Case Histories, and: Public Sphere and Experience
  • Loren Kruger
Case Histories. Alexander Kluge. Translated by Leila Vennewitz. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1991. Pp. xix + 213. $19.95 (cloth); $10.95 (paper)
Public Sphere and Experience. Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge. Translated by Peter Labanyi, Jamie Owen Daniel, and Assenka Oksiloff. Foreword by Miriam Hansen. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993. Pp. xlix + 303. $44.95.

Most of the stories in this American translation of Case Histories first appeared in Kluge’s original collection of Lebensläufe (case histories/curricula vitae) in 1962. Also in 1962, Kluge and other young German filmmakers and critics signed the Oberhausen manifesto, which criticized the sentimental patriotism and historical amnesia of “Papa’s Cinema,” while proposing instead a cinema that would bring into public view the elements of the German past and present repressed by the older generation: the Holocaust, the implications of defeat and occupation after World War II, and the impact of the Cold War on life in both Germanies. At the [End Page 240] same time, preparations were underway for the Auschwitz Trial, which would take place in Frankfurt from 1963 to 1965 and would prosecute guards, doctors, and other personnel of the Nazi death camp. As a lawyer with a strong interest in history as well as an associate of Theodor Adorno, then director of the Institute for Social Research (the “Frankfurt School”), Kluge was doubtless aware of these events. The Case Histories, like Kluge’s first short film, Brutality in Stone (1960), a meditation on Nazi architecture, thus mark the early stages of what might be called a counter-public-sphere in West Germany, the creation or refunctioning of institutions, informal associations, discourses that might better come to terms with repressed past and present. If Public Sphere and Experience, as Miriam Hansen suggests in her foreword, provided a theoretical umbrella for the new social movements of the 1970s, then Case Histories can perhaps be seen as the thin end of the wedge prying open the critical social space for that generation.

The narratives in this volume are not simply “stories”; the German Geschichten also means “histories” or perhaps “analytic stories.” Drawing on documents of the period, a sense of historical irony, and an unerring nose for the quirky but telling fait divers or random incident, Kluge traces elements in the lives of individuals caught up in one way or another in the Third Reich and its legacy in postwar West Germany. Narratives from the original 1962 edition include profiles of Nazis, such as the officer who prosecuted “Jewish Bolshevists” during the war but declares himself “marxist” in a postwar interview with L’Humanité, the organ of the French Communist Party (“Lieutenant Boulanger”), as well as accounts of anonymous individuals, such as the young woman from East Germany, on the run from the law in the West (“Anita G”—the basis of Kluge’s first feature film, Yesterday Girl [1966]).

The translation includes some narratives from the later (1974) German edition, among them the account of Serjeant Major Hans Peikert, executed for blackmarketeering near the end of the war but rehabilitated as a war hero in 1962. There are nonetheless significant omissions: several brief paragraphs on random incidents, such as “Kooperatives Verhalten” (Cooperative behavior), in which a suggestion is made that several women claiming a man killed in a bomb shelter share the remains, and one of the longest narratives, “Volksdiener” (Servant of the people; also known as “Korti”), which juxtaposes the story of a corrupt magistrate with a series of reports on other judges of post-Nazi West Germany and a capsule history of the fundamental flaws in the German legal system since feudalism. This selection produces a homogeneity of style and theme in the American edition foreign to both German editions. The absence of “Korti” is particularly unfortunate, since it deconstructs the teleological thrust of the usual German Lebenslauf, the autobiographical account of past deeds designed to shore up present self-representation, and thus implicitly challenges the curricula vitae of a generation of (post-) Nazi bureaucrats still employed in 1960s West Germany.

Despite this simplification, this volume bears witness to Kluge’s preoccupations with the eddies...

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