The opening of the Berlin Wall reopened a host of political, cultural, and historical concerns. The German past, which seemed frozen beneath the divisions of the Cold War, has reemerged, eliciting both enthusiasm and apprehension. Russell A. Berman argues that, for the Germans, national unity will mean either encompassing democracy or exclusionary politics--a dilemna that is far from new in German history.
With his characteristic wit and originality, Berman probes the ambiguities of German nationhood. Taking the theoretical perspective of Cultural Studies, he looks at literature, painting, and film from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to consider how nationhood is constituted and how it can be represented, what holds a citizenry together and what separates it from other populations, and how the legacy of a past history frames the definition of identities and institutions in the present.
Berman offers a thoughtful discussion of the methods of the emerging school of Cultural Studies and of the Frankfurt School of critical theory, showing how they diverge in their treatment of cultural issues. He then applies the framework of Cultural Studies to representations of the German nation. He offers definitions of Germany in the nineteenth century: in the poetry of Heinrich Heine (contrasted with Walt Whitman), in a visual representation of Jewish emancipation, and through a contrast with Italian unification. Berman explores nationhood and modernism through discussions of cinema, expressionist painting, and the politics of deconstruction. The final chapters of Marking Time span post-war literature from Heinrich B ll to Peter Handke and conclude with a discussion of the post-unification debate on the Gulf War. Throughout, Berman demonstrates how Cultural Studies can uncover the cultural assumptions in politics as well as the political agenda of culture.