German Cinema - Terror and Trauma: Cultural Memory since 1945

Thomas Elsaesser, German Cinema - Terror And Trauma: Cultural Memory Since 1945 (Routledge, 2013) 352 pp.

book coverIn German Cinema – Terror and Trauma: Cultural Memory Since 1945 Thomas Elsaesser re-evaluates the meaning of the Holocaust for postwar German films and culture, while offering a reconsideration of trauma theory today. Elsaesser argues that Germany's attempts at "mastering the past" can be seen as both a failure and an achievement, making it appropriate to speak of an ongoing 'guilt management' that includes not only Germany, but Europe as a whole.

In a series of case studies, which consider the work of Konrad Wolf, Alexander Kluge, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Herbert Achternbusch and Harun Farocki, as well as films made in the new century, Elsaesser tracks the different ways the Holocaust is present in German cinema from the 1950s onwards, even when it is absent, or referenced in oblique and hyperbolic ways.

Its most emphatically "absent presence" might turn out to be the compulsive afterlife of the Red Army Faction, whose acts of terror in the 1970s were a response to—as well as a reminder of—Nazism’s hold on the national imaginary.

Since the end of the Cold War and 9/11, the terms of the debate around terror and trauma have shifted also in Germany, where generational memory now distributes the roles of historical agency and accountability differently. Against the background of universalized victimhood, a cinema of commemoration has, if anything, confirmed the violence that the past continues to exert on the present, in the form of missed encounters, retroactive causal chains, unintended slippages and uncanny parallels, which Elsaesser—reviving the full meaning of Freud’s Fehlleistung—calls the parapractic performativity of cultural memory.

German Cinema - Terror and Trauma 

Table of Contents

Introduction: Terror and Trauma 1 (Look Inside and here )

Terror, Trauma, Parapraxis  31
1 Terror and Trauma: Siamese Twins of the Political Discourse  33
2 Memory Frames and Witnessing: Burdens of Representation
and Holocaust Films   54
3 The Politics and Poetics of Parapraxis: On Some Problems
of Representation in the New German Cinema   94
4 Generational Memory: The RAF Afterlife in the New
Century  115

Parapractic Poetics in German Films and Cinema  153
5 Rescued in Vain: Parapraxis and Deferred Action in Konrad
Wolf 's Stars  155
6 The Persistent Resistance of Alexander Kluge 173
7 Retroactive Causality and the Present: Fassbinder's The
Third Generation  189
8 Mourning as Mimicry and Masquerade: Herbert
Achternbusch's The Last Hole  215
9 Rewind after Replay and Postponement in Harun Farocki's
Respite  245

Trauma Theory Reconsidered  261
10 From Mastering the Past to Managing Guilt: Holocaust
Memory in the New Century 263
11 Postscript to Trauma Theory: A Parapractic Supplement 306

Bibliography 324
Index  344

See additional chapters of relevance to the topic on Trauma Theory in the Humanities, Representations of the Holocaust (Shoah, Schindler's List), parapraxis in Holocaust documentary and in Ingmar Bergman's The Serpent's Egg, on H.J.Syberberg's Our Hitler and the Red Army Faction in film, politics, popular culture and on television.


Thomas Elsaesser • Reguliersgracht 20 • 1017 LR Amsterdam, The Netherlands • Email:
Copyright © 2013, Thomas Elsaesser