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  • What Next?Cornils' Writing the Revolution
  • Ivana Perica (bio)
Ingo Cornils, Writing the Revolution: The Construction of "1968" in Germany. Woodbridge and Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2016. xii + 315 pp. $90.00 (hbk), $29.99 (ebk). ISBN 9781571139542 (hbk), 9781782048299 (ebk)

In 2018, on the 50th anniversary of the 1968 rebellion, a series of workshops, conferences, and volumes will discuss the legacy of 1968 anew. The privilege [End Page 571] of hindsight half-a-century after the events of tumultuous 1968, at a time when most of its propagators are retiring from the limelight, allows a carefully considered, albeit not necessarily impartial assessment of the phenomenon '1968.' In Ingo Cornils' study, this impartiality is aimed, first and foremost, at adding critical perspectives to the two most influential interpretations of Germany's experience of 1968, namely, Wolfgang Kraushaar's "Ursprungsrevolte" (initial insurrection) and Gilcher-Holtey's "Wahrnehmungsrevolution" (revolution of perception) (57).1 According to Cornils (who is otherwise rather sympathetic of their scholarly work), both perspectives fall prey to "an unreflected or unacknowledged Übertragung, a transmission of the observer's relationship to the object of his or her investigation" (57). In view of this, the author poses the question "whether a new generation of scholars without personal experience of the revolt can avoid such pitfalls" (57). However, as it is understandable that the construers of 1968, in Germany and elsewhere, are prone to identify themselves with the object of their own study or, as Cornils also demonstrates, to follow ideologically driven shifts in the recuperation of this collective history, so it is nonetheless pleasing to find that—notwithstanding its declared ambition to objectively present "the construction of '1968' in Germany"—Writing the revolution implicitly, perhaps even inadvertently, proves that an impartial perspective is as good as impossible. Thus, the era of "memory wars" (69), mentioned at the beginning of the book, is by no means over.

Even Cornils, one of the scholarly latecomers, takes sides: the question for the historiography of 1968, it seems, is not so much what counts as the 'appropriate' or 'true' interpretation of the historical events as whether one is for or against utopia, for or against action. In this regard, Cornils endorses Stefan Bollinger's assertion that in times of the proverbial "TINA" (i.e., Margaret Thatcher's infamous motto "there is no alternative") only the adherence to the utopian legacy of 1968 can uphold the perseverance of counternarratives to the contemporary capitalist status quo (67).

Although manifold comparative studies have shown that the 1968 events were a transnational, global phenomenon,2 Cornils' study focuses on the construction of 1968 in Germany. Though he occasionally compares the occurrences in West Germany with those in France, The USA, GDR, or Czechoslovakia, etc., the study is focused on (West) Germany as one of the pertinent convergence points of the construction of 1968 and the discursive space where the reverberations of the postwar youths' political awakening proliferated. As for his historical point of departure, due to the fact that in the 1990s the German 1968 was relegated to history (even 'to the dustbin of history', according to some), Cornils cannot but speak from the times 'after history.' The orientation year for him is thus not the usual 1989, the year of German unification, but 2005, the year that not only brought the end of the red-green coalition (in which several former 1968ers took part) but also the "rehabilitation of the bourgeois," that is, "the self-interested citizen as opposed to the citoyen, the public-spirited citizen" (7).

Perusing the manifold discourses that developed around and ensued after 1968, Ingo Cornils partitions his book into chapters discussing the proponents of 1968 ("Heroes and Martyrs," "Women of the Revolution," "Not Dark Yet: The 68ers at Seventy"); its bystanders ("Zaungäste"); its historiographers ("Chroniclers and Interpreters"); its "Critics and Renegades;" and its "Tale Spinners and Poets." Two chapters are less focused on actors than on [End Page 572] the role of media ("'1968' and the Media," "'1968' and the Arts"). Finally, the last chapter considers what for this book is perhaps the central question: is the construction of 1968 a "Romantic Relapse or Modern Myth?"

To recount the antagonized positions...


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