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The Ambivalence of Resistance: West German Antiauthoritarian Performance after the Age of Affluence

  • Author(s): Boyle, Michael Shane
  • Advisor(s): Jackson, Shannon
  • et al.
Abstract

While much humanities scholarship focuses on the consequence of late capitalism's cultural logic for artistic production and cultural consumption, this dissertation asks us to consider how the restructuring of capital accumulation in the postwar period similarly shaped activist practices in West Germany. From within the fields of theater and performance studies, "The Ambivalence of Resistance: West German Antiauthoritarian Performance after the Age of Affluence" approaches this question historically. It surveys the types of performance that decolonization and New Left movements in 1960s West Germany used to engage reconfigurations in the global labor process and the emergence of anti-imperialist struggles internationally, from documentary drama and happenings to direct action tactics like street blockades and building occupations. The critical lens of performance allows me to examine what I call the antiauthoritarian structure of feeling: the felt sentiment of German New Left activists who prized the experience of political struggle for its potential to undo the authoritarian personality they believed themselves to have internalized as a result of growing up in Nazi and postwar West Germany. My study looks to the antiauthoritarian structure of feeling for what it can reveal about the world historical shift to late capitalism, by asking us to interrogate the dually defiant yet symptomatic character of activist practices in the postwar period. This requires examining the antiauthoritarian structure of feeling as not just critically resistant to historical conditions of the time, but also conditioned through them. How might we analyze German New Left critiques of high modernist culture and existing forms of worker organization as legitimating the postmodern and neoliberal restructuring of culture and labor? What does this suggest about the New Left's role in the reconfiguration of the labor process during the 1960s and 1970s? And in what ways did the antiauthoritarian structure of feeling anticipate the psychic habitus of late capitalism? Among the artists and activist groups studied include: Gruppe SPUR, Subversive Aktion, Kommune 1, Viva Maria!, Hans Werner Henze, Peter Weiss, Peter Stein, the SDS, and the Kultur und Revolution.

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