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The Cinema of Disintegration: Countering the White Gaze in Black and (Post-)Migrant Film in the U.S. and Germany, 1970 to the Present (2021-)

Till Kadritzke, Research Area 4: "Literary Currencies"

Research-Track Postdoctoral 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?"

In this project, Till Kadritzke starts from cross-temporal and cross-geographical echoes such as these to investigate equivalences, affinities and differences between two distinct cultural and racial imaginaries, focusing primarily on archives of film. From the L.A. Rebellion era to contemporary New Black Cinema in the U.S., from early migrant films such as Gölge (1980) to the confidently postmigrant cinema exemplified by Berlin Alexanderplatz, Exil and Futur Drei (all 2019) in Germany, Black and (Post-)Migrant films were forced in one way or another to relate to a "mythical norm" (Audre Lorde)––of white America or a German Leitkultur––and its visual archive. Hence, I focus specifically on aesthetic and narrative strategies that destabilise these norms, "averting the critical gaze from the racial object to the racial subject" (Toni Morrison).

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.