Affective Realism. Contemporary Eastern European Literatures

Project description

Since the turn of the millennium, within the field of Eastern European literatures there is talk about a turn towards a reality that strongly rejects the postmodern or constructivist aesthetics of previous decades. Taking this observation as its starting point, this research project investigates the imagined worlds and poetic processes within contemporary Eastern European literatures. »New sincerity« and »new realism«, authenticity and documentation – these are the slogans used by artists of the younger generation to mark the status of their writings. This kind of realism is less focused on giving adequate artistic form to the underlying laws and implicit rules of the external world. It is more interested in finding subjective forms of expression that lead to instantaneous »performative« evidence, produce a physical presence, and enable »immersive« access to one’s own surroundings. The aim is not to achieve a cognitive understanding of the world, but to attain a sensual experience or affect of that world. According to Fredric Jameson, within the context of mainstream culture, this realism of affect is a turn away from coherent explanations of the world and towards a preconscious corporeality that is seized by »global waves of generalised sensory impressions«.

The literary critic Przemysław Czapliński sees an »affective realism« at work specifically within contemporary Polish literature. Czapliński argues that this realism no longer produces »literary texts«, but »cultural rubbish – incoherent languages, fragmented symbols, deeply socially embedded feelings of hate and frustration, forms of contempt, unsatisfiable needs and insatiable desires.« This research project applies a comparative approach to analyse the specific configurations of this »cultural rubbish« consisting of frustration and insatiable desires within Polish literature and beyond. Using a systematic approach and a historical lens, its aim is to assess to what extent the categories of the realistic and the affective are capable of shaping a redetermination of aesthetic practice. From this perspective, the »incoherent languages« and »fragmented symbols« of contemporary lyricism, drama and prose works are regarded not as failure, but as symptomatic attempts to develop innovative means of depicting the often drastic consequences of political turmoil, economic deregulation, and transnational migration.

Digital media and globalised pop cultures have produced cultural practices and imaginary belongings that are fundamentally changing traditional national and religious models of order. This can be read as a new configuration of the relationship between the individual and the collective, the past and the present, the familiar and the foreign, the private and the public, which is more clearly taking symbolic shape in the imagined worlds arising out of artistic works in Eastern Europe than in other regions of the continent.

Program funding through the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) 2017–2019
Head researcher(s): Matthias Schwartz


Panel at the Memory Studies Association Conference 2017
14 Dec 2017 · 3.00 pm

Inventing a national trauma. Fictional and cinematic memory discourses as allegories of a contested present

Bella Center, Center Blvd. 5, 2300 København S (DK)

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ASEEES Convention Panel
09 Nov 2017 – 12 Nov 2017

After Memory. Rethinking Representations of World War II in Contemporary Eastern European Literatures

Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile Hotel, 540 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611 (USA)

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Lecture series
29 Jun 2017

Affective Memories. Ukrainian Culture after Euromaidan

University of Amsterdam, Spui 21, 1012 WX Amsterdam (NL)

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Conference at the Haus für Poesie Berlin
23 Jun 2017 – 24 Jun 2017

Poesis – Polis – Praxis. Positioning lyrical contemporaneity

Haus für Poesie, Kulturbrauerei, Knaackstraße 97, 10435 Berlin

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