Tag Archives: Thomas Elsaesser

The book is here!

25 Nov

As many of you now know, the book that I began as blog entries on this site, and where I have posted numerous updates as I did the writing (https://esauboeck.wordpress.com/2018/03/14/book-proposal-accepted/), has now arrived! I am glad that I continued to search for the cover image until I found the one that looks right. I’m really pleased with how zappy it looks. The contents look better than I had expected, and now I wish I had included more images than I have.

What can I say? This book was a real labor of love, about women I knew, who lived through the most turbulent times in Central Europe, and managed to persevere and survive. This is my most personal work, not at all like the academic books and articles I’ve written in the past: a bit memoir, a bit women’s studies, a bit German history, it’s very hard to decide where it fits in book publishing categories. I do think it is important in recovering from obscurity the lives of intelligent, professionally active women who made contributions to their culture. Personally, I’m proudest of my translation (after transcribing, with the help of Adobe, from German Fraktur) of the marvelously evocative “Autobiografie einer jungen Frau” that Irmgard Kern wrote in 1934 (Appendix I). This series, presented over several weeks in the renowned Frankfurter Zeitung, was perhaps Kern’s finest writing, and presents such a vivid picture of the life of a privileged Catholic girl growing up in early 20th-century Berlin. I’m grateful as well that Maria Steinberg’s family allowed me to include some of the writings of Maria’s brother Jan, describing in fascinating detail their life on a farm estate outside of Berlin (Appendix II). A world now completely gone.

As happens with small publishing houses now, the book price is outrageously high, in my opinion, but it can’t be helped. While it is now available on Amazon.com, I have found that it is cheaper and faster to order directly from the British publishers, at this site: https://www.cambridgescholars.com/products/978-1-5275-5697-3

For the moment, I think you can still get a 25% discount using this code PROMO25. I have also been assured that in six months, they will publish a paperback and e-Book at a lower price. My other suggestion for those who would like to read it but don’t want to buy it is that you request that your library purchase a copy! Most libraries, if they have any funding at all, are pretty amenable to patrons’ requests.

I would be most grateful to anyone who could suggest possible publications that might review such a book. There are tales here of those who had to flee the Nazis, stories about a woman who worked with The Monuments Men to save European art treasures, and rediscoveries of forgotten writers who got lost in the aftermath of World War II. The book is dedicated to the late film historian Thomas Elsaesser, whose own discoveries about his family’s history overlapped with the biography of one of “my” women. He was immensely helpful and enthusiastic about this project. I hope I have done justice to these women, who were such inspirations for this American.

Image-making

21 Apr

Bear with me as I try to make a point about the media’s construction of “Image” and its manipulation of the visual record–whether aesthetic or historical or both. Theory has never been my strong suit as a thinker or teacher, so I may be reinventing the hermeneutic wheel here in a flat-footed way; and it could be that my comparisons here are stretched beyond persuasiveness, but current events have contrived to bring these ideas together for me right now.

This is the article that began this rumination:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/04/17/mary-beard-cut-us-version-civilisations-fearing-slightly-creaky/

 

If she is to be believed, the eminent scholar Mary Beard, pictured above, was largely deleted from the American presentation of the ambitious new “Civilizations” series, because, according to her, PBS Boston thought her appearance wouldn’t appeal to an American audience. She tweeted: “Can’t help think that there is something about a creaky 63 year old grey haired lady that doesn’t quite fit the bill. But I am probably smelling a rat where there isn’t one!” Beard also indicated that the American edits veered the narration of the series much more directly toward Christian views, and turned the episodes into an “anodyne” version that critics have noted in a rebuke of the productions’ “value free” approach to the subject.

While Beard may indeed be placing blame for the cuts on the wrong culprit, that such edits were made at all is a dismaying indictment of U.S. media’s interpretation of what American audiences want or should be exposed to–as if we can’t deal with another culture’s approach to history and art. Such micromanagement of what the American public sees smacks of the most egregious kind of censorship:  insulting an entire culture’s intelligence. Personally, as a “creaky old lady” myself, I tend to believe that Mary Beard is right:  her physical appearance doesn’t fit the mold of female talking head in America.  As if anyone watching a series with as lofty a goal as explaining “civilization” would be put off by a female presence not as attractive as the weather girls on local television stations!

The second image (which I don’t seem to be able to edit into place, so will have to place it  at the bottom of this discourse) is a screen shot from the scholar Thomas Elsaesser’s film about his family, “Sonneninsel”, “Sun Island” in English.

http://www.3sat.de/mediathek/?mode=play&obj=72067

As I have written before (https://esauboeck.wordpress.com/2018/01/16/a-book-proposal/), Elsaesser serendipitously discovered my blog about Irmgard Rexroth-Kern, one of my “Three German Women”, and contacted me because Kern and her husband H.G. Rexroth figure in his film! (An indication of what a godsend Google can be for researchers!) He quite graciously sent me photos of Fr. Kern, as she appeared in the 1940s, and we have been sharing information ever since.  I was thrilled that he brought his film to USC this week, where we were able to see it yesterday and to meet the man himself.  “Sun Island” is a fascinating documentary based on home movies that tells a complex story of family, but brings up many other intellectual strands, having to do with architecture, the birth of the Green movement, memory, and revelations about everyday German life before, during, and after World War II.

After the film’s presentation and insightful discussion by extremely clued-in film students (they are, after all, at one of the most renowned film schools in the world), one of the faculty members wanted Elsaesser to address the “dilemma” raised by the film showing images of family members in Nazi uniform. The argument seemed to center on the fact that American audiences would not be able to read these images as anything but meaning that Elsaesser’s family were indeed Nazis, and that while Elsaesser does mention the appearance of people in uniforms, he doesn’t explain clearly enough what these depictions “mean”.  There was much back and forth about whether such images should be deleted for an American audience that wouldn’t understand.

Such concerns, to my mind, are exactly why such images of Germans in the 1930s and 1940s should be shown–to give a realistic presentation of what living in Germany at this tumultuous time meant.  Everyday life went on, people continued to make gardens, have friends over for tea, went for strolls in the gardens or swims in the lake.  Just like today, most Germans were, if not apolitical, neither Nazis nor leftists. As the war proceeded, men were drafted and sent off to the front. There wasn’t much they could do about it no matter how they felt about the military forces in charge of the country, unless they were immensely courageous and refused to go. Americans should also try to remember that Germans were not receiving the same kind of news that the Allies received; as far as most Germans knew, they were winning victories, they were fighting for the Fatherland, and life went on.  By the mid-40s, having a family member in uniform was as normal as seeing an American in uniform during the Vietnam war, and the feelings about their presence were as complex and emotional as were ours during that time.

But for the media,  what IMAGE is presented and how it will be interpreted is of utmost importance.  The awareness by professional documentarians and filmmakers of the inevitable self-censorship that happens with any film-making must always, I think,  be informed by film’s educational possibilities, even when dealing with “the market”, as the film-watching public is considered to be. Too often, however, those market forces seem to take precedence over the opportunity to educate.  That Elsaesser has such access to this amazing vernacular footage provides a brilliant opportunity to expand the interpretation of German life, to broaden the expected image of GERMAN that the world has created. As the people in this film reveal, they embraced neither one ideology nor the other; their visualized story presents a much more mundane picture of human beings going about the living of their lives, unaware that they were experiencing what has now become history.  Elsaesser’s desire to eradicate some stereotypes and misinterpretations of this past is the main reason I’m writing my book, too:  each of my German Women had to deal with the exigencies of this miserable history as it was happening, and none of them fit neatly into any of these black-and-white models of politics or ideology.  The concern about “accepted” presentation–whether of the supposedly desired female image for TV or the assumed meaning of a Nazi uniform–is not what is important to me or, I would hope, to most intelligent viewers or readers.  This “creaky old lady” just wants these stories to be told as factually yet evocatively as possible.

 

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A screen shot from Thomas Elsaesser’s “Sun Island,” showing a family member sitting in German uniform at a family gathering during WWII.