The Voice(s) of the People?

The Voice(s) of the People?
Literature and Film between Democracy and Populism

Workshop at UC Berkeley, October 12–13 2017


Speaking for others is a central element of democracy. The authority of a democratic government derives from its speaking and acting in the name of the people or the majority of voters. In speaking for others, however, a democratically elected government does not only represent an already established identity of the people. Through political action, it also participates in the formation of the identity of a nation or a community.

Recently, an increasing number of nationalist movements have sprung up across Europe and the US that claim not only to represent but to embody the people. Historians, political scientists, and journalists are trying to address this development in a large number of recent studies and projects on populism. What is populism? Are there good and bad versions of populism? How can we recognize populism and defend ourselves against it? Among the characteristic aspects of populism identified by researchers are: the construction of otherness in the service of a demarcation of one’s own identity as a nation, people, or culture; a skeptical stance toward the established organs of the press and media; the appeal to the “common man” as one who has supposedly been forgotten by the elitist, political establishment.

Literature and film participate in their own ways in the constitution and critique of national and cultural identities. The range of possible examples in literature alone extends from popular songs and fairy tales to the revolutionary dramas, from novels of self-formation to adventure stories, from poetry about nature to workers’ songs. They even include popular and semi-fictional accounts from the natural sciences, such as chemistry, biology or physics. In the area of film, there are diverse examples such as communist and national-socialist propaganda movies, sentimental films with a regional setting, blockbusters appealing to the audience’s patriotic feelings, documentaries, or recent television series. The reflection on forms of community and the social order can take on many different shapes. On the one hand, literary and filmic narratives may participate in the constitution of a community; on the other hand, these narratives are thwarted or even deconstructed when the “uncounted” (Rancière) come up and strive to be inscribed into the existing order as legitimate participants. The comparatively new medium of film has been criticized as a popular, “debased” form of entertainment and as part of the consumer culture serving the distraction of the masses in the industrial society. But apart from nationalist narratives and a populist aesthetics, cinema also possesses critical potential, which can be traced back to the earliest examples of silent movies from the Weimar era.

The workshop “The Voice(s) of the People? Literature and Film between Democracy and Populism” will offer a space for talks, close readings, and discussions of contemporary and canonical texts addressing the role of literature and film in their relationship to democracy and populism. This includes literary forms and filmic strategies, questions on the social status and position of cultural agents, and reflections on the specific media practices of democratic, political, and activist literature and films.

Whom do literature and movies speak for? Where do texts and authors situate themselves in the conflicting space between democracy and populism? Whom does literature represent, and how does it contribute to or contest the formation of social, national or cultural identities? Which specific groups are included or excluded when somebody claims to speak with the voice of the people? What makes literature and film an instrument of social critique and how can it be (mis-)used for agitative purposes?


Schedule

THURSDAY, 10/12/17
UC BERKELEY, DWINELLE HALL, ROOM 370

10.00

Chenxi Tang (Berkeley): Reading: Hölderlin, Stimme des Volks

11.30
Coffee break

11.45
Jonas Teupert (UC Berkeley): „Atemzug der deutschen Freiheit.”
Germania’s Voices in Kleist’s Nationalist Newspaper Projects

12.30
Lunch Break

14.00
Saein Park (UC Santa Cruz): Bilder des Volkes:
Heinrich Heine’s Literary Critique of the Ideas of Volk and Volksgeschichte

14.45
Marius Reisener (HU Berlin): In the Name of the Brother:
Rhetorics of Masculinity and Fraternity in the 2016 US Election

15.30
Coffee break

16.00
Deniz Göktürk (UC Berkeley): Reading: Kafka, Beim Bau der Chinesischen Mauer and Tadhg O’Sullivan The Great Wall

17.30
Break

19.15 Poetry Reading with Geoffrey O’Brien und Rusty Morrison, University Press Books (2430 Bancroft Way)

 

FRIDAY, 10/13/17
UC BERKELEY, DWINELLE HALL, ROOM 370

10.00
Niklaus Largier (UC Berkeley): Reading: Siegfried Kracauer, Die Angestellten. Aus dem neusten Deutschland

11.30
Coffee break

11.45
Aurelia Cojocaru (UC Berkeley): Poetry and the Crises of Ideology in the 1970s

12.30
Lunch Break

14.00
Sören Brandes (Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin): The State, the Market, the People. Neoliberal Populism in the TV Series Free to Choose and Yes Minister

14.45
Kumars Salehi (UC Berkeley): Montage as protest and pedagogy in Kluge’s The Patriot

15.30
Coffee break

16.00
!! DWINELLE HALL, ROOM 282 !!
Anatol Heller (HU Berlin):„Contract with the people“: on a peculiar populist strategy

16.45
Burkhardt Wolf (HU Berlin): The common sense of populism

Venue:

 

University of California, Berkeley