The cunning of art. Patrick Eiden-Offe: The Poetry of the Class

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The fact that here in the Grand Hotel Abgrund Marx is once again the theme and thus critically connected with Critical Theory is likely to be familiar to the readers who have been here longer in the Salon. And as a correspondence to the 200th birthday of Marx, this year, the reading of Patrick Eiden-Offe’s The Poetry of the Class is a good idea. Eiden-Offe continues and analyzes some of the themes discussed at Marx: they are about the class situation and the class question, namely the proletariat that emerged in the nineteenth century and what it looked like before Apparently homogenous working masses were, but the industrial revolution in Germany slowly formed and released a completely new social structure – the effects that can be attributed to the so-called saddle time. And then later, the central moment that crystallized in the organization of the political as a class struggle: the only way to fight against the capitals, united against owners of factories and not isolated as workers and riot. A factory only stands still when everyone is at work. In French La lutte des classes, which sounded a lot more erotic-poetic than a class struggle – for some leftists there is even a poetry of violence, think Surrealism and the SI – and thus the French phrase also appeals to the aesthetic theoretician, who purely sensual effects as theory into the theory or the essay brings. But that is another topic – although the history of the labor movement is also an aesthetic project. Eiden-Offe’s book tries to beat some of the tracks.

Anyone who hears the word “working class” usually thinks of a homogeneous entity that is subject to a certain statics. But that is, historically speaking, and if you let the gaze wander into the early and mid-19th century, not quite right, as this book shows. Eiden-Offe, who teaches at the Center for Literary and Cultural Research in Berlin (ZfL), undertakes a relaxation exercise with regard to the class concept. The historical study, according to Eiden-Offe, is intended to show that “the category of class has always been contradictory from the start.” Class and proletariat did not call for a seamless identity of workers.

A cultural and literary-scientific approach, peppered with social history, is intended to help the class concept to become abundant, lost under abstraction. In this regard, one must note to Eiden-Offe that Marx’s concept of class in the context of his time and in the condensation, as he did programmatically in the manifesto of the Communist Party together with Engels, made perfect sense in bundling heterogeneous forces for joint action , Different interests and particulars, that is, what one can describe philosophically and sociologically as a multiplicity, are much more difficult to organize into a class struggle than a politically unified entity. This is what the concept of the proletariat stands for, which is not meant by Marx as an undialectical, static unity. Nevertheless, it is good to look at the various positions as well – that is, what historically preceded that homogeneous entity of the class. Eiden-Offe uses the social protests of the Vormärz, ie the period between 1830 and 1848, as a foil to his history as a reference to show a plural and multifaceted social movement. Precisely this Vormärz was a time shaken by crises and an epoch of upheaval.

“If, as in the pre-March era, proletarianization does not require a clearly defined and ‘visible’ identity-without worker class identity-then it will be necessary to note in retrospect that the reality of class relations need not necessarily be tied to a clearly defined class identity.”

Eiden-Offe critically questions the notion of identity, although it must be pointed out to him at this juncture that the formation of multiplicity presupposes identity at the same time – and whether it is the internal identities that constitute themselves in the various milieus: the beggar, all the pauperised and released, the craftsman and the early factory worker, the journeyman journeyman and the journeyman movement in general, with their rituals and songs that are still present today, show such mechanisms: to form an identity and even a closed circle like that of the journeymen, to which not everyone has access. And so we are with this historical recourse at the same time in very recent political events, which also touches on Eiden-Offe and for him partly the unspoken background of his study: namely the question of political protest of groups no longer homogeneous, for the so also the term of the class is only conditionally suitable. (More on that later.) Crucial for Eiden-Offe is that in this time of the Vormärz the course will be set for what we today call the “modern age”.

Why this recourse, well before the phase in which a uniformly structured class appeared or was conceived by the Marxian theory as a unit and what is Eiden-Offe in his work now? (Even though one can already argue here, whether this was really so conceived in Marx and that he did not see the multiplicity in unity just as much.) Dialectics does not stand still – especially not with Marx.)

“The poetry of the class to recover from the spills of history and for the first time to put them up for debate again, that is the aim of the following study.”

That sounds nice, even poetic, and one hopes for a socio-historical study on diversity. And since it says in the subtitle “Romantic anti-capitalism and the invention of the proletariat,” one hopes even for an excursion into the (literary) romanticism – of course, there are only limited, about the prose of Ludwick Tieck, but otherwise it is conceivable non-romantic: no novalis, no flail, no fragment, and blue flowers are rarely found in the misery of social situations. But those who are interested in the development of discourses, and that in a differential-theoretical way, are in the right place, and the terms discourse and difference already point out that oath-offe is not obstructed in the orthodox Marxist reading, but also in the field opens on French Theory. This is clearly shown in the way Eiden-Offe tackles the matter in terms of historical concepts – here, in turn, has been completely trained on Reinhart Koselleck. One must think along with this theorieback reason, because after all it concerns a Habilitationsschrift, just as well one can read the book as layman. In this respect, fear of contact is superfluous.

The “poetry of the class” semantically opposes the “prose of relations” – a phrase coined by Hegel in his lectures on aesthetics , with which Hegel called the new socio-economic reality. It can be summarized under the heading of alienation and division, which for Hegel form the sign of both social and aesthetic modernity. A thinking which found its expression first with the Enlightenment, which stated the rift that went through the world, then with the storm and urge and the literary romanticism that sought to close that wound with counter-images and aesthetic mediation. Romanticism, in particular, sought strategies and possibilities to reconstruct these fractions into a structure, or to make this fraction visible as a fraction in literature, without, however, covering it up. It was not the spear that struck the wound that was supposed to heal it, but a concept of poetics, poetry, and reflection, a “qualitative potentiation,” as Novalis describes it in his famous dictum on romanticizing. But of all these philosophical movements, we are far away. Rather, we are in the “prose of circumstances” with Hegel. But where does this trope come from the poetry of the class?

Of course, “poetry of the class” is a cynical term taken from its origin. Eduard Gans, a lawyer at the University of Berlin and a friend of Heinrich Heine, coined him in 1830 in his confrontation with the utopian-socialist Saint-Simonists who set the “order and hierarchy” against the competition of bourgeois society and their free play of the forces. Goose appeared to be organizing and hiding as a terrible utopia. Who wants to abolish the competition, create “another Sklaverey of supervision,” so quoted Eiden-Offen the lawyer. To deprive people of their decisions and to remove the success or failure of a person’s decision would be to “deprive her today of the only poetry she is capable of,” according to Gans.

The misery of the time under the rivalry, the goose as a welcome pluralization, if not democratization understood, but strengthened because among the social and economic, and thus under the industrial changes at the beginning of the 19th century, a large number of people from their classical activities was released , (The analysis of these processes gives Eiden-Offe an afterthought, if this is enough, social historians will be better able to judge than the reviewer here.) Prussia dissolved the old guild order, led with the Stein-Hardenberg reforms that resulted from the defeat Napoleon resulted in the freedom of trade and the right to free choice of profession. This meant significant transformations for society and a high release of people who were previously in tradition and in bondage. Workers now had to sell their labor in other ways – namely on the “free” market. The industrialization and the introduction of powerful machines did the rest to release people. In England, the Luddites came on the scene, so-called mechanical striker. Romantic and anti-capitalist in that they “voted” that they wanted an old order back – and sometimes to create another order first.

“La class de plus pauvre”, the poorest of the classes, often appears in the Vormärz in the form of absolute impoverishment. Pauperism will not let go of the political-theoretical imagination until the 1850s; Remedy against the impoverishment of ever more circles of the population becomes the field of probation of every social policy. “

The situation is class struggle, the poetry of life is grounded in the precarious relationship of release. There, according to Eiden-Offe, it developed its own language, the “poetry of the class”, which was reflected in literature, but also in the rituals and songs of the organized journeying and working-class movement.

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In this sphere of the social is to be looked with Eiden-Offes book and the language of this class to be traced. Eiden-Offe takes up the social context of these years between 1830 and 1848 and examines it from a socio-historical and literary-scientific point of view. Methodically, this double perspective between social and literary studies for Eiden-Offe means that he treats both theory and literature as theory. Engels Letter Descriptions of the Social Situation in Wuppertal or Marx’s Against Proudhon-directed Scripture He reads the misery of philosophy as a piece of social literature, Ludwig Tieck’s novel The Young Master Carpenter or the fairy tale novella The Scarecrow as a theory in which the spirit of that time condensed in poetic language. He calls this an undisciplined reading attitude, which in this sense should cling to the complex, unstructured and heterogeneous class. Oh well. (Otherwise, however, the book remains pleasantly sober.) If Eiden-Offe speaks of the concept of class identity being both imaginary and “the proletariat as class-conscious an invention,” the influence of French text theory as well as of cultural studies becomes apparent. But this is at the same time solved by a very material moment, which provides the reason for the work:

“The proletarian identity is as precarious as the mode of existence expressed in it; as precarious as their political and economic conditions. Proletarian class identity has, from the outset, a transitory character: it is suitable for self-abolition. All drafts of proletarian identity in the Vormarz aim in the final analysis to make this identity disappear again: be it ‘social-political’ by a bourgeoisification and ‘enclosure’ of the proletariat, or ‘communistic’ in the classless society. “

In order for such a revolutionary self-abolition to occur, however, identity first has to be generated from the disparate. One of the central authors of these movements and the presentation of social shifts is for Eiden-Offe Ludwig Tieck. In his literature, the processes of the time manifest themselves, without, however, that Tieck wrote socially engaged literature, such as Georg Weerth:

“Tieck shows us a society that no longer consists of integral parts and therefore can not develop integrity, wholeness or more in its totality; Tieck gives us an outline of a collapsed society, a society that is already made up of decay products. Every assertion of integrity, be it of the whole, or of the parts, has thus become ideology; aesthetically: kitsch. “

However, Eiden-Offe’s study does not remain an end in itself for the Germanist who travels in the past. When he writes about the manifold manifestations of the workers at the time of the Vormärz and how social misery appears in the literature of those years, he also aims at the present: The crises of capitalism since the 1970s solved the old ones homogeneous structures. “Legitimation Problems in Late Capitalism”. The old working class, which in the meantime has been politically hushed up by the social democratic model of participation, is once again adapting to plural structures after labor market reforms. “The steady erosion of the ‘normal working conditions’ produces class configurations that are increasingly similar to those of Vormärz.” This is also acute with regard to current identity politics – think of Didier Eribon’s return to Reims , where the demolished French working class is shown The Front National, on the other hand, chooses a culturalist left that embraces diversity and minority rights, but does not know how to do much with the old workers. Social shifts also here. And sometimes a kind of receding behind your own time and looking into history can help you better understand the present. This – unspoken – consideration also carries the study of Eiden-Offe.

Above all, the book invites you to read Marx again. Not only because of the class question, but also because Eiden-Offe uses the arguments of Marx to show us that supposedly natural needs and human nature, such as eating and drinking, celebrating and living, or even social coexistence, are socially produced. What seems objective and settled to us is a thing that has been shaped socially. We often forget that.

The dissolution of class diversity, however, is less related to an idealist construct, or is the invention of Marx in favor of the unity of theory and practice, but this tendency is grounded in the very real social conditions. Or as Marx writes: the “mass of people resulting from the dissolution of the middle class forms the proletariat.”

But how to give misery a form in representation? For the prose of literary realism, on the one hand, it is an answer that seems to be simple to deliver, but still has some implications and restrictions on aesthetic form when moralizing literature. Art is still suffering from this and is not progressing well – perhaps because one interchanges the form of presentation, medium of reflection and morality. This results in aesthetic aporia, into which one of course maneuvered himself, if one considers it from the present point of view and in the sense of an aesthetics of autonomy.

“The poetic question of how social misery can be portrayed without its depiction of misery and humiliating the poor in depiction itself, is a widely discussed question in the Vormärz. What is always negotiated in these debates is the possibility of a political-theoretical critique of social misery. Who can avoid miserabilism – the mere continuation of misery in its poetic or theoretical presentation. “

But why, despite all the misery, despite the misery, the rebellion of the impoverished did not start much more often, why only often eruptive? This is one of the interesting questions Eiden-Offe asks. Although there were many local rebellions in England in particular, which stirred up entire regions, this was not enough to bring about any appreciable improvement nationwide and collectively. Tide Story Tide Novelty The scarecrow is recognizable: A scenario of poverty in London, people are so hungry that they slaughter each other for a bite of bread, but the shop window that separates the exhibited jewel from the passers-by, do not touch it. A small thing to smash the glass, concludes the narrator in Tieck’s scarecrow : “What is the invisible ghost wall, which protects these jewels?” Something inhibits the people, it stops. Echte-Offen interprets and reads Tieck’s literature as a theory:

“In the scenario of the shop window, Tieck makes it clear that the ‘subordination’ to the fully implemented commodity form as a general mode of transport and thinking that causes ‘miracles’ is that people prefer to starve rather than the ‘sacred laws of property’ hurt.”

The glass remains intact. She will not be smashed despite hunger. Whether it is of course only the commodity form is to blame, is an open question. The situation is different in terms of revolt with the people in the Foot Riots of 1811/1812 in Midlands and Northern England. Not only were the planes stormed, but also looted, so that the military had to be called on to quell the ever-rising uprisings.

All these are finely compiled finds: the fetish property, Marx’s confrontation with his opponents from his own camp, remarks on Wilhelm Weitling, or a brief excursus on journeyman songs and the journeyman movement of the early 19th century: from the League of Outlaws to the League of the Just the tailor journeyman and socialist Weitling, later a bitter opponent of Marx, to the Communist League, so renamed in 1847 under the influence of Marx and Engels; the possibilities of literature to show the misery on the example of Engels social reportage The situation of the working class in England , in addition a look at literature, which today only specialists should be well-known, from the canon of the general knowledge however meanwhile disappeared. But what exactly the poetry of the class is supposed to consist of remains a mystery and strangely indefinite at the end of the book, and a formulation like this at the end of the book unfortunately remains wooden:

“The poetry of an object is to be developed individually out of its function, but no longer by individual artists, but from the work-sharing combination of design specialist and executive workers.”

In this sense, the title does not quite hold what it promises – at least it has not become clear to me. And last but not least, it is about the beautiful literature where poetry is based, it is about autonomous art, which is rarely imaginable in the collective, certainly not in prose, and less so for a poetry of the class or even the class struggle , This is where the aporia is founded to this day. Even if Eiden-Offe again and again takes theory and social history as literature and in turn feeds them with descriptions of Engels on the situation in Wuppertal and England and wants to distil something like a class poetry from the tales of Ludwig Tieck. The social can only be read conditionally as literature. The factum brutum remains an indissoluble remainder. In the end it appears as the cool prose of the circumstances. List of Reason, List of History, or the Cunning of Art.