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In Light of Others: Mythical Norms and Multidirectional Poetics in U.S. and German Film, 1970s to Today (2021-)

Till Kadritzke, Research Area 4: "Literary Currencies"
Postdoctoral Research Project

When German pundits took pains to discuss questions of race and structural racism in the summer of 2020––provoked, tellingly, by protests after the murder of George Floyd in the U.S. more than by the racist terrorist attack in Hanau only a few months before––, two distinct phenomena were frequently commented on: the willful ignorance and helpless illiteracy expressed by many white Germans when it comes to questions of race; and the difficulties and complexities involved when adopting theories of race from an American academic context to Germany. At the same time, attempts to counter the German integration paradigm and its racial grammar of Germanness become increasingly visible, and they often rely on narrative frames and discursive strategies borrowed from other contexts. Max Czollek's concept of 'disintegration', for instance, actualises the polemical question articulated by James Baldwin in the early 1960s: "Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?"

Starting from Michael Rothberg's call for a "new comparatism" driven by a "multidirectional" approach, the project creates a transnational and transtemporal framework to interrogate non-white and postmigrant film archives in the U.S. and Germany, focusing on visual and narrative strategies of marking and countering the "mythical norm" (Audre Lorde) embedded in the racialized cultural imaginations of American whiteness and German Leitkultur, respectively. Mobilizing the threefold meaning of the concept postmigrant as 'after', 'behind' and 'beyond' migration, the project combines historical, sociological and aesthetic analysis with literary models of thinking that forego both a reductive universalism and a celebration of cultural difference and intercultural exchange as such––models such as W.E.B. Du Bois's notion of "double consciousness", Edouard Glissant's "poetics of relation" and Max Czollek's politics of "disintegration". It seeks to develop an understanding of film as itself a multidirectional space, capable of invoking connections between contexts and "building new worlds out of the materials of older ones" (Rothberg).

Searching for a politics of radical diversity and a "poetics of relation" (Edouard Glissant) rather than a representation of culture and community, the project addresses the distribution of cultural value in a context where normative biases and default positions are increasingly challenged. In more general terms, it seeks to contribute to an emergent debate about the translatability of theories and concepts of race from one geographical context to another.