A causerie on spontaneity, consumption, and film

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Ferdinand Nyberg, who published his last article, on the drug culture surrounding Berlin’s Görlitzer Bahnhof, last month. Enjoy!

In his essay ‘The Dehumanization of Art’ (and elsewhere), José Ortega y Gasset opines that it is to the domains of art and science that one should turn if one wishes to decipher the direction of change in a society. Artists’ methods and practices, in this reading, presage that which will (or at least what might) happen in wider society. The many objections to which this avant-gardist view of culture might be subjected do not interest me here. Instead, I should like to colligate this notion with the idea that an artwork’s ‘identity’ can be found in its minor details, as put forth by art critic Giovanni Morelli. An artist’s style, claims Morelli, and – if you will – an artwork’s ‘truth,’ isn’t found in the ‘big picture’; rather, it is located in its subsidiary features. If an artwork depicts a human, focus not on the body as a whole but on the hands, ears, or other body parts. (Many historians will be familiar with Morelli via Carlo Ginzburg’s essay ‘Morelli, Freud and Sherlock Holmes.’) What happens when we juxtapose these two ideas? I claim that reading art might indeed provide indicators of social change but that these often lie not in the ‘broad strokes’ or deliberate techniques of the artists (or here, auteurs) – instead, changes are best found in their apparently incidental gestures.[1] Below, I identify one such gesture (or gesticulation).

Artificial acting techniques abound, of course. Some of these are immanently tied to generic requirements or traditions. Thus the exaggerated facial expressions, overdone makeup, and high-decibel speaking of a theatre actor is totally acceptable and left unquestioned by viewers. It’s simply how theatre is done; and if actors were to stray from this tradition, the back audience would likely demand a refund. Other artifices, however, aren’t meant to be noticed – these proliferate in film.

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Where is drug policy? On Görlitzer Bahnhof and the levels of reading policy

Editor’s Note: Today we’re happy to bring you an article by Ferdinand Nyberg, a Finnish citizen currently getting his Ph.D. at the University of Tübingen in Germany, where he works at a collaborative research center which investigates ‘threatened orders.’ His focus is in American Studies and his research will specifically center on the intersections of nineteenth-century temperance efforts, abolitionism, race, and gender. He’ll be contributing several articles to Points and we look forward to reading his work!

Görlitzer Bahnhof

Görlitzer Bahnhof

Few visitors to Berlin aged around 16 to 30 will be unfamiliar with Görlitzer Bahnhof; or, rather, they’ll be familiar with the park frequently referred to by that name (often shortened as ‘Görlitzer’ or ‘Görli’). As the name suggests, it was once a Bahnhof, a railway station; and one, it happens, with a fascinating history.

Built in 1866, it was to function as a major artery for trade and travel eastwards (notably to Görlitz). The impressive neo-renaissance station, commissioned by Prussian ‘railway king’ Bethel Strousberg, simultaneously advanced and symbolised Prussia’s rapid industrialisation and economic growth. But – as has so often happened in Berlin’s history – time and space had another say in the matter, and the station’s symbolic significance would take many turns.

In 1961, the Soviets erected the Berlin Wall (officially, the ‘Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart’) and Görlitzer Bahnhof, now located in closed-off West Berlin, lost its purpose. Within a year it was demolished, and its former location became nothing but empty space and rubble (in the 1990s, the area – already used for frolicking – was turned into the park we have today). Suddenly, Kreuzberg – the district in which Görlitzer Bahnhof stood, and one bordering the wall – had become a liminal and undesirable ‘Wild West’ in the already-liminal exclave that was West Berlin. Pretty quickly, locals moved out; either to West Germany proper or to newly-built government-subsidised housing projects (realising that the Berlin Wall might cause an exodus out of West Berlin, the government swiftly got to work, building spacious and affordable housing in the traditionally swanky parts of town). For a time, then, Kreuzberg was a destitute neighbourhood, myriad apartments standing empty. Some revitalisation would come through the German government inviting ‘guest workers’ from southern Europe and the Middle East to help instigate the Wirtschaftswunder. Thousands settled in Kreuzberg, which still forms the heart of Berlin’s Turkish and Arab community. Second, West Berlin became a sanctuary for ‘alternative types,’ defined broadly.[i] Students, artists, draft dodgers, and activists interested in ‘experimental living’ were attracted to Kreuzberg’s ‘different’ feel and eagerly took advantage of its low rents and ample squatting opportunities. Soon enough, liminal Kreuzberg had developed its own hybrid culture, a compound of left-leaning counterculture and ‘Middle Eastern’ elements. (A cultural admixture which, in retrospect, loudly forebodes the gentrification now taking place.) Görlitzer was, quite literally, central to these changes.

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