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  • Revolutionary Subjects: German Literatures and the Limits of Aesthetic Solidarity with Latin America by Jamie H. Trnka
  • Jennifer Ruth Hosek
Jamie H. Trnka. Revolutionary Subjects: German Literatures and the Limits of Aesthetic Solidarity with Latin America. Munich: De Gruyter, 2015. 318 pp. US$154.00 (Cloth). ISBN 978-3-11-037622-7.

With her monograph Revolutionary Subjects, Jamie H. Trnka expresses a “need to intervene into cosmopolitan rights discourses that often bypass the international en route to the transnational and the global, discourses that attend inadequately to modes of thinking intersubjectivity that are solidary but not necessarily rooted in the kind of sympathetic imagination that is built on identification with an Other” (61–62). For Trnka, Martha Nussbaum’s work exemplifies the limits of such identification in part because it maintains the Northern subject at the centre. Trnka’s concept of “geocultural intersubjectivity” aims nevertheless to complement such rights-oriented and identificatory approaches. In so doing, her analysis deploys a variety of concepts, notably Verdichtung, “a property at the heart of aesthetic solidarity” that “signifies both the increasing density of cross-border relationships over time and the aesthetic strategy of casting those relationships in poetic terms” (2–3). The East and West German literary works about Latin America that Trnka examines express and define aesthetic solidarity and in this way may contribute to emancipatory global change, particularly if, as Trnka, quoting Jacques Rancière, suggests, “the real must be fictionalized in order to be thought” (1).

Aesthetic solidarity is variously woven by and into each of the texts that Trnka explores. She analyzes Hans Magnus Enzensberger’sliterary journal Kursbuch to parse his documentary theatre piece The Havana Inquiry. Here, aesthetic solidarity involves translation: of the Spanish-language transcripts of the Bay of Pigs trial, Latin American testimonio,and – via “aesthetic generalization” – the specificity of Cuba to the general global capitalist structures. While Trnka focuses on Enzensberger’s Berlin Commonplaces essays to unpack his play, I wonder how the Latin American texts that he translated and also published in Kursbuch speak with it. Trnka shows how Volker Braun’s Guevara or the Sun State [End Page 96] critiques both the Soviet and the East German New Man through the Latin American hombre nuevo who has spurned productivist logics and incorporated subjectivism and emotion into socialism. This Southern New Man may be voluntarist and not universalizable. However, his existence activates a critical dialectic perhaps synthesized in Braun’s figure of Tania La Guerillera, for, Trnka finds, “[t]he New Man is a woman” (164). Braun’s poetics engage socialism dialectically as well. Guevara’s Expressionist prose rebuffs East German social realist aesthetics, while the backward passage of diegetic time suggests an attainable socialist future, perhaps despite real-existing East German state socialism. Heiner Müller’ssolidarity in The Task involves exploring Latin American revolution in relation to revolutions in the First, Second, and Third Worlds. Trnka’s primary contribution here is teasing out The Task’s critique of Russia’s White Revolutionaries and, by extension, Stalinism. The play’s postmodern aesthetics focus on the body and particularity over ideas and universality, and work to situate Southern revolution within a larger narrative of resistance, this time through philosophy. Adenauerplatz by F. C. Delius demonstrates aesthetic solidarity through thematic and generic emphasis on the inequality that inheres in solidarity and the resultant duty to at least be conscious of this injustice while continuing to act. The novel treats Chile’s and Germany’s violent histories, which interweave through migration, development aid, and activism, against the ubiquitous and inherently inequitable logic of the commodity fetish.

This study contributes directly to recent scholarship by primarily mid-career Germanists that engages with (the limits of) solidarity across lines of privilege, perhaps most recently the 2015 anthology Comrades of Color: East Germany in the Cold War World. Such work challenges the admonitions of more established Northern academics and activists who have dismissed as self-serving and ineffective the 1960s and 1970s solidarity theories and practices in which they themselves may have been involved. Perhaps because these younger thinkers have always known the Cold War and been skeptical of state socialism, yet have desired global change, they...


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