Internationale Konferenz
16.01.2020 – 18.01.2020

›Firsthand Time‹. Documentary Aesthetics in the Long 1960s

Ort: ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, Aufgang B, 3. Etage, Seminarraum
Organisiert von Clemens Günther (Freie Universität Berlin), Matthias Schwartz (ZfL)
Kontakt: Clemens Günther ( and Matthias Schwartz (

Referring to documents in ›postfactual‹ times seems anachronistic. Those who seek to expose the evidence of a fact with recourse to documents are today confronted with allegations of forgery or counter-documentation that undermine the supposed plausibility of historical, testimonial or statistical documentation. In order to understand what is currently at stake, our conference turns to the period in which the documentary emerged as an aesthetic, epistemological, affective, and political benchmark. The period to which we refer is the European post-war period in general and the »documentary fashion« (Nikolaus Miller) of the long 1960s in particular. It was during this time that engaged writers, filmmakers, and artists, inspired by a reassessment of the documentary boom of the interwar period, hoped, by the authority of their personal voice, by the immediacy of oral histories, and the forcefulness of authentic source materials to obtain a better understanding of everyday life in past and present. Documentary forms promised to achieve first-hand access to a more sincere understanding of social and political reality. Up until the 1970s, documentarism derived its momentum from the tension between this desire for first-hand accounts and the constant reflection about the (im)possibility of this claim.

While Western manifestations of this documentary heyday (Peter Weiss, Alexander Kluge, and others) have been relatively well researched, the Eastern European trajectory of this boom remains poorly examined. Regarding the current state of scholarship, there are individual studies on nonconformist and dissident voices (e.g. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Moscow conceptualism) or on documentarism as a testimonial strategy dealing with the Gulag, war and the Holocaust. However, as an aesthetic phenomenon that addresses the diversity of faction prose, the exploration of the documentary remains a research desideratum. Our proposal for the temporalization of the ›long 1960s‹ evades the still prevailing distinction between ›thaw‹ and ›stagnation‹ and instead emphasizes the shared experience of a crisis of representation to which the debates on documentary art forms at the time sought to find an answer.

Starting from the specific case of late socialist cultural history, our conference aims to make a systematic contribution to the interdisciplinary exploration of documentary forms in a diachronic and comparative perspective. The focus here will be on the poetics of the documentary, complementing already existing political and ethical contextualizations and historiographies. Contributions dealing with the barely canonized voices as well as with influences and encounters crossing state borders and power blocs were selected for opening up new comparative perspectives beyond national literary contexts.

Admission is free of charge, there is no need to register in advance.


Donnerstag, 16.01.2020


Opening by the Organizers, Clemens Günther (FU Berlin), Matthias Schwartz (ZfL)

Panel I: Origins and Constellations of the Documentary


  • Tatjana Petzer (ZfL): Prolegomena on Documentarism in Yugoslavian Literature and Art
  • Ilya Kukulin (HSE, Moscow): After the 'Literature of Fact.' The Birth of Unofficial Documentary Poetry. Mikhail Sokovnin

Panel II: Poetics of the Everyday


  • Elena Nekrasova (State Institute of Performing Arts, St. Petersburg): Documentary and Poetics Interwoven. Mikhail Kaliks’ Cinema
  • Christian Zehnder (University Fribourg): The Memory of Montage. Jonas Mekas and the Metaphysics of Documentarism

Freitag, 17.01.2020

Panel III: Diaristic Writing Practices


  • Anatoly Pinsky (European University, St. Petersburg): Keeping a Diary at Work. How to Snoop on Your Colleagues after Stalin, and What It Meant for Soviet Socialism
  • Maru Mushtrieva (FU Berlin): Pavel Ulitin. Conspirator’s Diary or Staging the Factual

Panel IV: Modes of Witnessing


  • Natasha Gordinsky (University of Haifa): Documenting the 'Doctors' Plot.' Alexandra Brustein's Political Allegory
  • Rebecca Reich (Cambridge University): Documenting Empty Words. Frida Vigdorova’s Transcriptive Mode

Panel V: Adjusting Socialist Realist Aesthetics


  • Benjamin Sutcliffe (Miami University): Sincerity, Dokumental’nost’, and Paradox in Iurii Trifonov’s Turkmenistan
  • Frank Zöllner (Leipzig University): The Use of Documentary Photography in the Painting of Socialist Realism

Panel VI: Aesthetic Politics of New Wave Cinema


  • Eva Kowollik (University of Halle): The Representation of Yugoslavian Film History in Documentary Film. Innocence Unprotected (1968) and Cinema Komunisto (2011)
  • Malynne M. Sternstein (University Chicago): The Velvet Hammer. French Leftist Critique of Czech Cinema of the 1960s

Samstag, 18.01.2020

Panel VII: Performative Devices of Sincerity


  • Anna Hodel (University of Basel): 'Do You Listen, Moscow?' Questioning the Documentary Theatre of the Socialist 1960s
  • Davor Beganovic (Konstanz University): Documentary vs. Fictional. An Uneasy Relation in the Yugoslav Cinema of the 1960s

Panel VIII: Conceptual Interventions


  • Daniel Weidner (ZfL): Anti-Fiction and the Critique of Realism. Documentary and Anecdotal Writing in Alexander Kluge
  • Renate Wöhrer (UDK, Berlin): 'Discourses of Sobriety.' Documentary Aesthetics in Conceptual Art in the US

Panel IX: Experimental Poetics


  • Sarah Ann Campbell (Virginia National Guard Museum): Printed Countercultures. Formally Contextualizing Seth Siegelaub’s 1968 Xerox Book in a Legacy of Experimental Art Documentation
  • Georg Witte (HSE, St. Petersburg): 'Instead of Approximate Precision – Precise Approximation.' Jan Satunovsky’s Poor Poetry




Clemens Günther, Matthias Schwartz (Hg.)

Documentary Aesthetics in the Long 1960s in Eastern Europe and Beyond

Studies in Slavic Literature and Poetics Bd. 67
Brill, Leiden 2024, 349 Seiten
ISBN 978-90-04-53309-7 (Print); 978-90-04-68642-7 (PDF)