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Xan Holt (Iowa State University of Science and Technology)

Xan Holt

Xan Holt
Image Credit: Susan McNicholl

Fellow in Research Area 4: "Literary Currencies"

May – August 2021

Recycled Waste: Literary Revaluation in Contemporary Germany and Poland

Focusing on contemporary works of literature, this study takes as its historical starting point the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc and the subsequent devaluation of states, cultural and commercial products and ways of life in the face of an aggressively expanding global market. It will address this transformation, its generic and aesthetic consequences within German and Polish literature, and the corresponding upheaval in the collective understanding of literary value. With respect to the latter, the study will analyse the shift from ideological to monetary considerations of value that accompanied the transitions of the East German and Polish publishing industries from socialism to capitalism. Regarding the impact of this transformation on literary form, this project will trace the aesthetic effects of this economic transformation in the literature of the nineties onward—not only in works of pop literature but also in texts written in opposition to these developments, such as Alexander Kluge’s Lebensläufe and Tadeusz Różewicz’s Recycling. Central to both of these texts is the concept of ‘recycling’, which is interpreted here as a revaluation of objects, individuals and modes of thought that have been devaluated in the process of consolidating a new community and a new canon.

Alongside literary strategies of revaluation, this study will also engage with new conceptions of authorship that align with (or attempt to counteract) new labour regimes. As a result of the movement away from Fordism and planned economies to a hyper-flexible post-Fordist system of economic production, the understanding of the author as a ‘producer’ allied with the working class—a notion widely promulgated in the Eastern Bloc—has given way to conceptions of the writer as freelancer or freeloader. This study will therefore also address contemporary depictions of the ‘work’ of the author and its relation to other forms of labour that fall under the post-Fordist paradigm.

Xan Holt is a Lecturer of German at the Department of World Languages and Cultures at Iowa State University. He is also the reviews editor for The Germanic Review. He earned his PhD from Columbia University in 2020, where he successfully defended his dissertation “Cold War Crossings: Border Poetics in Postwar German and Polish Literature”. He works on literature of the German- and Polish-language borderlands, migration and displacement, labour studies and film and new media. He has published articles in the Johnson-Jahrbuch and the Jahrbuch der Gesellschaft der Arno-Schmidt-Leser.