Professor Zygmunt Bauman asked a significant question in his lecture ‘Europe’s adventure: still unfinished?‘ at the University of Leeds yesterday. Has the Vision of the Future lost its attraction?Should we retreat, just because the enormity of the task scares us, and because our cosmopolitan world is not yet matched by a cosmopolitan awareness? My new research project: Beyond Tomorrow. German Science Fiction and Utopian Thought in the 20th and 21st Century explores what German writers and thinkers can contribute to the debate, and in particular whether they can help us come to terms with the future: Zukunftsbewältigung.


My new monograph Writing the Revolution. The Construction of ‘1968’ in Germany is coming out this month.

Given that in the course of this book I criticise a number of academics for not laying their cards on their table, declare their agenda, or, as Jürgen Habermas would put it, formulate their ‘erkenntnisleitende Interessen’, I would like to outline my own.

Born in 1958, I was too young to understand what was going on around 1968, but I had a general awareness that a revolt was taking place. The Vietnam War was shown live on television and my older brother started to grow his hair and play records by the Rolling Stones. In school, the older students started to rebel against ‘authoritarian’ regulations and published a student newspaper that lampooned our teachers (some of whom, as everyone knew in my town, had been enthusiastic Nazis). Later, a teacher asked us to look at a flyer produced by the Socialist German Student League which included the (to me) pythonesque line ‘In der Institution liegt die Gefahr der Institutionalisierung’ (the institution contains the risk of institutionalisation). I became interested in politics, and enthusiastically supported Willy Brandt in his 1972 re-election campaign (the ‘Reiten für Deutschland’ election poster portrayed Willy Brandt and his foreign minister Walter Scheel riding an Easy Rider style motorbike while their conservative rival Franz Joseph Strauß was loading his gun). Returning from an exchange year in the USA, I successfully ran for president of the student council (Schülermitverwaltung). On leaving school, I became a conscientious objector (which required facing a hearing and making your case) and delivered meals on wheels instead of learning how to salute.

My introductory seminar on German literature at the University of Hamburg in 1978 was conducted by Klaus Bartels, a 68er turned academic, with a selection of contemporary novels. It did not even occur to us first year students that this was a far cry from what our predecessors would have had to grapple with – the old syllabus of middle high German and Goethe having become optional. As a counterpoint to any romantic notions about the glorious 60s, my other academic guide was Dietrich Schwanitz (of Der Campus fame) who kept us grounded with his sarcasm.

While there was no sign of the 68ers in the Audimax where they had displayed the Unter den Talaren, Muff von tausend Jahren banner ten years before, there was still something of their anarchic spirit in the air – there were regular semester-long strikes, a variety of communist student groups (MSB Spartakus, Marxistische Gruppe) tried to get our attention, and the arts and humanities applied a very relaxed assessment practice: there were no marks on one’s ‘Scheine’ (certificates of achievement, which merely stated that one had taken part), nor was there a ‘Zwischenprüfung’ (an exam after the first four semesters) to determine whether one could progress to intermediate and advanced seminars. Indeed, students from all years, first semesters and veterans of 20 semesters attended any seminar of their choice, and smoking was absolutely required unless one was into knitting.

Outside campus, an alternative lifestyle had established itself in the Abaton Kino, Wohngemeinschaften, the Hafenstraße squats, vegetarian restaurants, and the countercultural Auenland, a venue for live bands with a notorious drug scene. The late 1970s were an odd mixture of second-hand experiences – the protest against the building of a nuclear power plant in Brokdorf near Hamburg, the Rasterfahndung against Red Army Faction terrorists, even the odd demonstration in front of the American consulate with helicopters flying low above us felt like someone else’s battles.

So why am I writing a book about the afterlives of 1968? The disclosure above already hints at a certain sympathy for the liberating and iconoclastic elements of the German Student Movement, a fairly typical attitude among Germans of my generation and recently immortalised in Gerhard Henschel’s Bildungsroman (2014). Nevertheless, for many years the 60s were completely off my radar while I completed a PhD with a thesis on English Romanticism and English Science Fiction, and then switched to teaching German language and current affairs in the UK. Yet what began to intrigue me, and has kept me intrigued over the last twenty years, is the on-going and accelerating production of texts, films, music, art and research that engages with this brief period in German history. With my research interests focused on the intersection of utopian, political and romantic thought, the German Student Movement is a fascinating manifestation of this nexus, its distinct blend of epiphany and subsequent loss so similar to the romantic period.

My own role in the construction of ‘1968’ may complicate matters – as an academic teacher, author of articles and book chapters, conference organiser and volume editor, I have contributed to the literature that I propose to analyse. At the same time, my familiarity with this vast body of works and their authors will, I hope, become useful in guiding the reader through the maze of publications.

I should stress that this book is not about the events of that bygone era – Anglophone readers interested in the events may wish to turn to Hans Kundnani’s Utopia or Auschwitz. Germany’s 1968 Generation and the Holocaust, (2009), or Timothy Scott Brown’s West Germany and the Global Sixties. The Antiauthoritarian Revolt, 1962-1978, (2013); those able to read German are spoilt for choice –, but rather about the edifice that has been constructed on top of these events by the media, writers and academics.

Why is this construction so important? While the generation of 68ers is leaving the stage, their erstwhile disruption, their belief in fundamental change, is endlessly re-examined, amplified, mythologised and instrumentalised. The ‘unity of thought, feeling and action’, the clarity of purpose associated with the cypher ‘1968’ has become a holy grail, an obsession for a cultural elite of intellectuals, writers, journalists, and opinion makers. The resultant myth of ‘1968’ has invaded the imagination of many through the writings of the few. This process cannot go on indefinitely – decisions have to be made whether a unified Germany can ‘move on’ from ‘1968’, by either accepting the tenets of the movement as a moral touchstone or by rejecting them as romantic relapse. This is not just important for insider debates in the German media, academia or literature, but for Germany’s political elites. The construction of ‘1968’ into something both unassailable and unattainable has dominated debates for almost five decades and arguably stymied the country’s ability to play its part on the global stage. My research will enable readers to see this process more clearly.

The latest edition of the academic journal ‘literatur für leser’ is out now. ‘Forever Young? Unschuld und Erfahrung im Werk Hermann Hesses’ (Innocence and Experience in the Works of Hermann Hesse) features five essays in German and English by international scholars from the UK, Germany, Italy and Japan.

From the editorial:

Erfahrung, so der englische Dichter William Blake (1757-1827), kostet den Menschen alles was er hat. Für den deutsch-schweizerischen Schriftsteller Hermann Hesse (1877-1962), der dem englischen Mystiker in seiner Unbedingtheit auf vielfältige Weise ähnelt, trifft diese Maxime sicherlich im besonderen Maße zu. Aufgewachsen in einer pietistisch frommen Familie, wurde sein ‚Eigensinn‘ von frühester Jugend an systematisch herausgefordert. Eltern und Lehrer versuchten mit allen Mitteln, seinen Willen zu brechen: eine brutale Form der Erziehung, die der junge Hesse mit Eskapaden, Flucht und einem Selbstmordversuch beantwortete. Gleichzeitig wurden die religiösen Eckpfeiler, das Bewusstsein von Gut und Böse, von Schuld und Verdammnis, von Himmel und Hölle, tief in seine Psyche eingepflanzt. Das Problem einer dualistisch konstruierten Welt sollte ihn sein Leben lang beschäftigen und zu einem Gegenentwurf herausfordern, der die Vielfältigkeit der erfahrbaren Welt schätzt und gleichzeitig die Einheit hinter den Gegensätzen betont.

Wie manifestiert sich nun Hesses Versuch einer Synthese von Unschuld und Erfahrung? Dieser in der Forschung bisher wenig beachteten Frage gehen die Beiträger in diesem Themenheft nach. Sie zeichnen eine Entwicklungslinie von Peter Camenzind (Maike Rettmann) über Demian und Siddhartha (Jon Hughes), Hermann Hesses Faszination mit Schmetterlingen (Neale Cunningham) bis zu Hesses Glasperlenspiel (Sikander Singh) auf und stellen sie in einen ideengeschichtlichen, psychologischen und philosophischen Zusammenhang (Mauro Ponzi).

Ingo Cornils (ed.), Forever Young? Unschuld und Erfahrung im Werk Hermann Hesses, special edition of literatur für leser, 38. Jahrgang, Nr.1/15, Frankfurt/M.: Peter Lang 2016, ISSN 0343-1657


Sometimes a day at the Hay Festival is like mainlining Ernst Bloch’s Principle of Hope. Already in a receptive mood by listening to a radio interview with Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia. Yuval Noah Harari inspired his audience with visions that used to be found in the sf books of Olaf Stapledon and Dan Simmons. Mick Ebeling restores one’s faith in humanity with his notimpossible projects. Karen Armstrong challenged widespread assumptions about religion and war. A utopian space or a jolly for the middle class – can’t it be both?

Hermann Hesse’s pivotal role in helping to set up one of Germany’s most renowned publishing houses, the Suhrkamp Verlag, has long been recognised. However, little attention has been given to the programmatic and philosophical influence he had on Peter Suhrkamp and his successor Siegfried Unseld. This article analyses Hesse’s lasting impact on his publishers’ views, especially their commitment to European and World literature. It charts the development of Hesse’s thinking on Europe, explores Hesse’s relationship with Peter Suhrkamp and Siegfried Unseld, and demonstrates how Hermann Hesse’s books, political writings, correspondence and more than three thousand book reviews contributed to the ‘Suhrkamp Culture’.

Hermann Hesses zentrale Rolle bei der Gründung des renommierten Suhrkamp Verlags in Frankfurt ist allgemein bekannt. Wenig erforscht dagegen ist der programmatische und philosophische Einfluß, den er auf Peter Suhrkamp und seinen Nachfolger Siegfried Unseld ausübte. Der vorliegende Artikel analysiert Hesses nachhaltige Wirkung auf das Denken seiner Verleger, besonders ihr Engagement für europäische und Weltliteratur. Er zeichnet die Entwicklung des Hesse’schen Denkens in Bezug auf Europa nach, untersucht dessen Beziehung zu Peter Suhrkamp und Siegfried Unseld, und zeigt, wie Hermann Hesses Bücher, politische Schriften, Korrespondenz, sowie seine mehr als dreitausend Buchrezensionen zur ‘Suhrkamp Kultur’ beigetragen haben.

in: German Life and Letters, Volume 68Issue 1pages 54–65January 2015

Between Bauhaus and Bügeleisen: The Iconic Style of Raumpatrouille (1966) The German television SF series Raumpatrouille (Space Patrol) has long gained cult status, in German-speaking countries it enjoys a similar popularity as the original Star Trek series which was first broadcast in the same year. Much has been made of Raumpatrouille’s alleged militaristic and xenophobic ideology by critics who saw in it an awkward melange of undigested Prussian and Nazi jingoism and Cold War paranoia. What hasn’t been widely understood (or acknowledged) was that the series sought to subvert authoritarian traditions by means of humour and a positive outlook. In Raumpatrouille’s alternative world in the year 3000, people are still recognisably human. Individualism and conformism continue to be at odds. While nation states have been abolished, strict hierarchies remain in (world) government and the military. Here, individualism is suppressed, even though, and this has been ignored by critics and researchers so far, insubordination saves the day in each episode. Indeed, the series communicated very different messages: a vision of a world where mankind has overcome barriers between genders and between nation states. This concrete Utopia is evoked in the introductory voiceover in each episode, but finds its main expression in the series’ distinctive visual style. This style is futuristic and functional, reflecting a desire amongst the younger generation and the cultural elites to escape the sense of claustrophobia pervading the post-war era and the ‘no experiments’ attitude of the West German government. The use of modern materials in the sets suggests a deliberate break with tradition, and a conscious homage to Bauhaus clarity and transparency. Technology is the means by which unheard-of things are done in this imagined future, be it the ability to live at the bottom of the sea, or the routine task of travelling amongst the stars. Of particular interest in this essay are the innovative solutions the series’ set designers came up with to translate the technological revolution of the 1960s, which in turn heralded a much broader change in mentality, into a future setting. The incorporation of the latest industrial design and technology into an imagined alternative world, just months before the cultural and political revolutions of 1967/68 transformed the world for real, indicates a rare moment of confidence. in: Ricarda Vidal / Ingo Cornils (eds.), Alternative Worlds. Blue-Sky Thinking since 1900, Oxford: Peter Lang 2015, pp.283-302

In an attempt to counteract the doom and gloom of the economic crisis and the politicians’ overused dictum that ‘there is no alternative’, this interdisciplinary collection presents a number of alternative worlds which were thought up over the course of the last century. While change at macro-level was the focus of most of the ideological struggles in the 20th century, the real impetus for change came from the blue-sky thinking of scientists, engineers, architects, sociologists, planners, and above all, writers, who imagined alternatives to the status quo. Following a roughly chronological order from the turn of the 19th century to the present, the book  explores  the dreams, plans and hopes, but also the nightmares and fears reflected in utopian thinking in the Western hemisphere. The alternative worlds at the focus of the individual essays can each be seen as crucial to the history of the past one hundred years. While each reflects its particular moment in time, they also inform historical developments in a wider sense and continue to resonate in present culture. Instead of presenting mere mind games, building and the concrete realisation of the dream are crucial to all of them – whether that means the restructuring of the earth itself, the construction of the perfect city, the creation of an alternative society on Earth or on Mars, or the physical preservation of youth. The tension of dream and reality, of fact and fiction, which characterises all of these utopias is also represented in the interdisciplinarity of the volume which brings together contributions from the sciences and the arts.

Ricarda Vidal / Ingo Cornils (eds.) Alternative Worlds. Blue-Sky Thinking since 1900, Oxford: Peter Lang, 2014