- Red Hangover: Legacies of Twentieth-Century Communism by Kristen Ghodsee
Since the late 1970s, anthropologists like Paul Rabinow, Clifford Geertz, George Marcus, and the contributors to the influential collection of essays Writing Culture (1986) have started emphasizing the figure of the anthropologist as author. In subsequent years, attention in the discipline has increasingly shifted towards ethnographies as texts, and the focus has switched to articulation of the observer's personal experience. The advent of literary anthropology brought about engagement with experimental writing and an accent on personal narrative, which shattered the traditional conception of anthropological authority as embedded in fieldwork. Kristen Ghodsee's book Red Hangover (2017) is as much about legacies of 20th-century communism, as its subtitle states, as about the writing of anthropology, crossing genre boundaries, and reaching a wider audience.
The book features 14 chapters dedicated primarily to Bulgaria and Germany, but also stories referring to Belgrade and Olomouc. The chapters are comprised of essays, four short stories, science fiction, and a fable in the genre of political allegory. There is even a one-page chapter (chapter 11) containing three Bulgarian jokes, and another detailing a fictional interview with Ghodsee herself done in the year 2029 by an officer of the German Federal Ministry of Immigration and Resettlement, who finds her unsuitable for employment at a German university because she has not fought actively against the tyranny of "Drumphist" America. Ghodsee uses this plethora of genres to discuss topics as diverse as self-immolations in Bulgaria in 2013–14 to protest political corruption, the trafficking of Roma children out of the country, the clash between religious and political belonging among Bosnian Serbs, leftist demonstrations and historiographic debates in both united and divided Germany, socialist realism and the CIA's support for abstract art during the Cold War, the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and sex in East and West before 1989.
While the number of genres has expanded in comparison with Ghodsee's Lost in Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life after Communism (2011), two dimensions of her "authorial signature" have remained a constant—the centrality of her position as storyteller and the justification for literary anthropology. First, Ghodsee's narrative style places her own experience, rather than a more traditional long-term, long-distance fieldwork, at the book's foundation. Her storytelling in Red Hangover relies on reading the Bulgarian press or accidentally discovering communist-era archival folders dumped in a trash can [End Page 269] in a Sofia park. This, in turn, helps her tell a story of Bulgarian socialist agriculture reinvigorated by the import of cucumber seeds from the Netherlands. Her writing is inspired by conversations with her mother, in-laws, and students, and describes minutely her participation in events: photographing and blogging about the #Mauerfall25 in Berlin, or listing the slogans at the biggest political rally of the German Left in January 2016, marking the anniversary of the murders of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg at the end of World War I (the so-called L-L Demo). Ghodsee employs plenty of photos as well as dialogue that is interspersed throughout virtually the entire book, and breaks deliberately into her theoretical reflections. She also integrates her out-of-class academic pursuits into the narration, tracing some of her ideas back to discussions and lectures at the institutes for advanced study, such as those in Princeton and Jena, where she was a fellow. Chapter 8, "Gross Domestic Orgasms," is based entirely on her lecture at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies. It delineates the expectations and reactions of her co-fellows and other scholars, as perceived and anticipated by Ghodsee—their frowns and laughter, as well as her own answers to the questions asked by academics skeptical about her claim that sex in the East was more frequent and better than in the West.
Second, Ghodsee cites as rationale for her literary ethnography the book's legibility and accessibility, declaring overtly, though very briefly, that it is intended for students and...