Graffiti of a character with a large orange and red head in a green long-sleeved shirt with headphones on their ears against a yellow background.

Affective Realism. Contemporary Eastern European Literatures

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 investigated 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 applied 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, it aimed 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


See also

World Fiction Post/Socialist. Eastern European Literatures and Cultures (Matthias Schwartz, project since 2021)


Matthias Schwartz, Nina Weller, Heike Winkel (ed./eds.)

After Memory
World War II in Contemporary Eastern European Literatures

Media and Cultural Memory / Medien und kulturelle Erinnerung vol. 29
de Gruyter, Berlin 2021, 479 pages
ISBN 978-3-1107-1373-2 (Print); 978-3-1107-1383-1 (E-Book)
Roman Dubasevych, Matthias Schwartz (ed./eds.)

Sirenen des Krieges
Diskursive und affektive Dimensionen des Ukraine-Konflikts

LiteraturForschung vol. 38
Kulturverlag Kadmos, Berlin 2020, 373 pages
ISBN 978-3-86599-356-4

Matthias Schwartz


Panel Discussion and Book Presentation
12 Dec 2019 · 6.30 pm

Kultur und Alltag im Ukraine-Konflikt

Zentrum für Osteuropa- und Internationale Studien Berlin, Mohrenstr. 60, 10117 Berlin

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10 Dec 2019 – 12 Dec 2019

History goes Pop? On the Popularization of the Past in Eastern European Cultures

European University Viadrina, Europaplatz 1, 15230 Frankfurt (Oder), Gräfin-Dönhoff-Gebäude, R. 05

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26 Nov 2019 · 8.00 am

Matthias Schwartz: Documentary Devices in Soviet Literature of the Thaw Period and Beyond

San Francisco Marriott Marquis, 780 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94103 (USA), 4, Pacific H

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13 Nov 2019 · 4.00 pm

Matthias Schwartz: »Diener des Volkes«. Kulturgeschichtliche Perspektiven auf postsozialistische Nationalismen und Populismen

Freie Universität Berlin, Osteuropa-Institut, Garystr. 55, 14195 Berlin, Hörsaal 55A

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Lecture series
07 Nov 2019 · 6.00 pm

Matthias Schwartz: Eine Welt ist nicht genug. Zum Verhältnis von Wissenschaft und Fiktion

Universität Potsdam, Campus Griebnitzsee, 14482 Potsdam

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04 Nov 2019 · 5.00 pm

Matthias Schwartz: Demons and Saints of the Past. On the Popularity of History in Contemporary Literatures

University of Amsterdam, PC Hoofthuis, Spuistraat 134, 1012 VB Amsterdam (NL), Room 104

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25 Sep 2019 · 3.55 pm

Matthias Schwartz: Die Orientalisierung des Blicks. Zu den frühen Reportagen von Ryszard Kapuściński und Hanna Krall

Universität Trier, Universitätsring 15D, 54296 Trier

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Panel 219 at the Memory Studies Association Conference 2019
28 Jun 2019 · 3.15 pm

De/Fictionalising the Past. The Role of Literature and Film in Postsocialist Memory Cultures. Part 2: Case Studies

Complutense University Madrid, Moncloa Campus (Spain)

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Panel 191 at the Memory Studies Association Conference 2019
28 Jun 2019 · 12.45 pm

De/Fictionalising the Past. The Role of Literature and Film in Postsocialist Memory Cultures. Part 1: Theoretical reflections

Complutense University Madrid, Moncloa Campus (Spain)

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23 Jun 2019 · 12.00 pm

Matthias Schwartz: Télescopage im Populären. Zum Verhältnis von Trauma und Fiktion am Beispiel osteuropäischer Gegenwartsliteratur

Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, Steintor-Campus, Adam-Kuckhoff-Straße 34, 06108 Halle (Saale)

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05 Jun 2019 · 7.00 pm

Matthias Schwartz: Mare Desiderii. Sowjetische Mondfantasien und Erkundungsmissionen

Museum für Kommunikation Nürnberg, Lessingstraße 6, 90443 Nürnberg, Konferenzraum 2, 2.Etage

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17 May 2019 · 2.30 pm

Matthias Schwartz: Making a New Literature. Towards a Cultural History of Soviet Scientific Fictions

Universität St. Petersburg, Universitätsufer (Университетская наб.) 7/9, 199034 St. Petersburg (Russland)

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08 May 2019

Matthias Schwartz: Das Land der Schurken. Historisierung und Aktualisierung von Oktoberrevolution und Bürgerkrieg in russischer Gegenwartskultur

Universität Passau, Innstraße 41, 94032 Passau

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15 Apr 2019 · 5.00 pm

Matthias Schwartz: »History next door«. On the Topicality of the Historical Novel Today

Universität Amsterdam, Spuistraat 134, 1012 VB Amsterdam, PC Hoofthuis, Raum 105

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17 Jan 2019 · 3.45 pm

Matthias Schwartz: Kontaktzonen der Moderne. Zu sowjetischen Konzeptualisierungen anti-kolonialer Abenteuerliteratur

Literaturhaus München, Salvatorplatz 1, 80333 München

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27 Jun 2018 · 1.45 pm

Matthias Schwartz: Subverting the Human. Late Socialist Dystopian Cinema (Sokurov, Szulkin, Tarkovskii, Żuławski)

University of Amsterdam (UvA), City Center Campus, Oudemanhuispoort 4-6, 1012 CN Amsterdam

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11 May 2018 · 3.30 pm

Matthias Schwartz: Affektiver Realismus. Gegenwartsliteratur aus Osteuropa

Universität Tübingen, Geschwister-Scholl-Platz, 72074 Tübingen

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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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Media Response

18 Feb 2023
Roman Dubasevych: “Es ist ein Krieg inszenierter Traumata”

Feature by Dietrich Brants, in: SWR2, program Zeitgenossen

22 Apr 2020
History Goes Pop? On the Popularization of the Past in Eastern European Cultures

Conference review by Tom Koltermann / Nikolai Okunew, in: H-Soz-Kult, 22 Apr 2020