Glossen 29

The (Socialist) Ideology of the Aesthetic: Visual Artists in the GDR’s Industrial Literature
David Clarke

In his dissertation of 1922 on Der deutsche Künstlerroman, Herbert Marcuse identifies the artist novel as a form that longs for its own overcoming. Only in a society, Marcuse claims, in which the fulfilment of the creative personality stands in opposition to the integration of that personality into the bourgeois world can the Künstlerroman exist as such, portraying as it does the longing for the ideal which, in a philistine society, is the artist’s alone. When, however, this chasm between the creative personality and the world is closed, the Künstlerroman becomes a Bildungsroman, a narrative of integration and fulfilment rather than one of alienation. In his Hegelian-Lukcásian terms, Marcuse sees the transformation of society into a harmonious Gemeinschaft based on common values as the prerequisite for such a transformation of the artist’s fate:

Das epische Grunderlebnis von der Harmonie und Schönheit der Welt, von der Notwendigkeit und Angemessenheit aller, auch der geringsten Erscheinungen, von dem überindividuellen Zusammenhang aller Wesenheiten, die liebende Bejahung und Umfassung des Seins: es ist ein ewiges Urerlebnis, über alle zeitliche und räumliche Bedingtheit hinaus, an keine bestimmten Lebensformen gebunden, als Möglichkeit allen und jedem begeben. Aber die lebendige und künstlerische Auswirkung dieses Erlebnisses, die epische Lebens- und Kunstgestaltung, erfordert immer und überall die Voraussetzung, das Vorhandensein organischer und sinnhaltiger Lebensformen, einheitlich gebundener und getragener Seins-Werke, – eine “Gemeinschaft” im letzten und tiefsten Sinne.[1]

Marcuse’s thesis, unpublished until 1978, is not presented here as a founding document of socialist realism, but his idealist analysis of the representation of the artist and his or her place in society does point us towards two issues that need to be borne in mind for the texts that I am going to discuss below, all of which represent the artist in the context of the industrial world in the GDR in the 1950s and 1960s. Firstly, following Marcuse’s analysis, the genre of the Künstlerroman might be called inherently oppositional. It highlights, as Marcuse argues, the failure of a society to provide that common set of values which could integrate the artist. As such, it is perhaps no great surprise to find that this is a genre underrepresented in regime-affirmative GDR fiction: the examples that can be found, particularly in the 1970s, such as Strittmatter’s Der Wundertäter (1957-1980), Jurek Becker’s Irreführung der Behörden (1973), Stefan Heym’s Collin (1979), Werner Heiduczek’s Tod am Meer (1977), or Christa Wolf’s Kein Ort. Nirgends (1979), are distinctly in the critical tradition of the Künstlerroman. Secondly, Marcuse’s utopian vision of a harmonious “Volksgemeinschaft” as the precondition of a new affirmative kind of Künstlerroman raises the question of the role that the artist is then supposed to play, this happy condition having been achieved. Marcuse’s answer is that the artist becomes useful to society. He or she becomes a craftsman or craftswoman, whose work celebrates and reinforces that Gemeinschaft and its values. This is, of course, quite close to the function of the artist defined in orthodox socialist realism in the GDR.

The question that will occupy me in the rest of this paper, which addresses some novels of the 1950s and 1960s, all of which are basically supportive of GDR socialism, is how exactly that new, positive role of the artist is represented and what function is assigned to his or her art in the newly achieved Gemeinschaft. It is no accident that these texts locate the activity of the artist firmly in the industrial sphere, which, during this period of economic reconstruction and expansion, was supposed to be the forge of the new, collective, socialist identity of GDR citizens. In line with the theme of this special issue, the figures I will look at in detail are visual artists, which in itself raises another interesting question. Namely, is there anything peculiar to the representation of visual artists in these texts that could not have been achieved by ascribing them the role of, say, a poet or a musician?


To further set the scene, I want to look briefly at a poem by Uwe Gressmann published in his first collection, Der Vogel Frühling (1966), which, although it appears slightly later than my key texts, nevertheless provides a useful starting point for thinking about the particular role of the visual artist in a socialist society organised around the experience of the industrial world.


Aber sieh mal hoch, Maler,
Wie der Arbeiter, der Hände
Auf dem Schippenstiel stützt,
Sich zu verpusten.
Und male dir so das Leben aus
Deinem (Blei-)
Stift, dem Kleinen,
Und auf der Liste deiner Blätter hast du es;
Auch wenn dein Modell, die Arbeit,
Dich anschreit, weil du sie verzeichnet hast
Und nochmal sitzen läßt
Auf dem Stuhl.
Doch ist die Kunst dabei, mit Tusche
Auch die kleinen Freuden zu beleben,
Zitternde Blumen und Feiern im Alltag,
Die ein Kind dem Alter hochreicht;
Und es lächelt und ist ihm geneigt
Mit der Schulter
Das Gebeugte.
Doch um nicht das frohe Fest zu versäumen,
Das trotz der saueren Woche um dich her stattfindet,
Mußt du auch einmal hoch sehen,
Maler, von der Arbeit,
Damit du das abmalen kannst,
Noch ehe der Sonntag da ist.[2]

The ambiguities of Gressmann’s syntax would clearly reward a more extensive analysis, but here I would like to briefly highlight a couple of issues that point to certain concerns about the function of the visual artist in socialism that are not simply Gressmann’s personal concerns, but which chime in with official cultural policy. Firstly, there is the concern that the painter might remain self-servingly detached from life in socialist society, a concern contained in the punning title itself: is the painter a “Lebenskünstler” in the sense of being a charlatan or layabout, using art as an easy means of earning a living, perhaps; or is he someone whose art truly reflects life? Secondly, there is the concern that art might be reduced to mere technique or form, the painter never looking up from his work to compare it to life, eventually distorting rather than recording (as in the word play on “verzeichnet”). Thirdly, there is the concern that the painter (posited here implicitly as an outsider looking in on the world of the worker) will only expect to see moments of joy on high days and holidays, not in the “kleinen Freuden” of the everyday, and that he will be blinded to this joy by the more monotone aspects of everyday existence. The first two elements of this critique will be familiar to anyone with even a basic knowledge of the cultural history of the GDR: what Gressmann implicitly rejects here is the officially denigrated model of the bourgeois artist, who, as for instance Pierre Bourdieu has demonstrated, places himself outside of class loyalties and insists upon the autonomy of art and the artist who creates it.[3]

What concerns me in this paper particularly, however, is the issue of feeling or emotion and the relationship of visual art to such feeling and emotion. Gressmann states that the artist should not just record or represent emotion, but rather “die kleinen Freuden [...] beleben,” in other words give life to or to enliven that emotion, presumably for the viewer of the work. This Gressmann does himself in his image of youth and age inclined towards each other sharing in a moment of connection. But what is the function of such feeling and what place does it find in the socialist work of art, particularly in the context of the industrial world depicted? As I will show, it is this question of feeling that links the texts I will discuss here in detail.


The texts I am going to analyze here are not artist novels strictly speaking, but rather novels with artists in them. I begin with Eduard Claudius’ Menschen an unserer Seite of 1951, the prototypical GDR Aktivistenroman, which tells in fictional form the story of real-life bricklayer Hans Garbe, here given the punning name Hans Aehre, and his fight to find a new way to rebuild a furnace without having to extinguish it and close down his factory’s production. Significant for my discussion is the inclusion of the figure of Andreas Andrytzki, a working-class painter who has come to work in East Berlin from the Ruhr, but who gives up his artistic ambitions some time after coming to the GDR. He now works as a technician in the same factory as Aehre, and the importance of this second figure is clearly marked in the structure of the text. After the reader’s introduction to Aehre and his wife Katrin in the first few pages of Chapter 1, the reasons for Andrytzki’s decision to abandon art are explained. Andryzki’s chief problem is one that was of general concern to the cultural officials of the SED in the early years of the Republic, who worried that committed socialist artists who had proven themselves in the fight against fascism and capitalism might not find the appropriate forms to represent the supposedly new reality. Although Andreas has already gained something of a reputation for his images of Germans under National Socialism and capitalism, produced in the immediate post-war period, he now finds his talents unequal to the new challenge of representing the Germans who are building socialism in the GDR:

Dem, was in den zwölf Jahren gewesen war, habe ich Ausdruck geben können, dem stumpfen Dahinvegetieren, dem Gedrücktsein und der Ergebung in Ohnmacht, aber hier, hier habe ich versagt! Warum nur?[4]

A little later we learn more about this experience of failure, which relates to one particular picture, an image of a female tractor driver:

Zeichnete er, blieben die Linien ohne Kraft und Konzentration; seine Kompositionen waren ohne Schwung und Größe. Es regnete, und er sah in der grauen diesigen Dämmerung des Werkzeugschuppens, wo er seine Staffelei aufgestellt hatte, das gleichmäßig wohlgebildete Gesicht des Mädchens; klare feste Linien, eine etwas breite Nase, einen vollen Mund und Augen, die feucht und warm schimmerten. Das Wasser tropfte von den Dächern, und wie Wasser zerfloß auch seine Farbe auf der Leinwand. (14)

The reaction of the tractor driver herself confirms his failure: “Und das soll ich sein? Seh ich so elend aus?” (45). The model herself suggests a reason for this failure – “Du siehst nur in dich hinein” (47) –, which presages the concern expressed in Gressmann’s poem that the artist should engage with the reality before him, not simply with his own artistic subjectivity. However, this is not the line of explanation that the text itself ultimately foregrounds.

It is not coincidental that this recollection of the failed painting of the tractor driver is situated in that scene where Andreas sits watching his new love, Suse Richter, as she lays sleeping next to him after their first night together. What is striking here is the parallel drawn between sleeping with a woman and successfully producing a picture of her, which chimes with the advice Andreas has been given by a former teacher. This notion is confirmed even as it is roundly rejected by the tractor driver and by Suse herself, the fact of Andreas’ success when drawing the latter woman seemingly supporting this dubious hypothesis. However, it is also made clear that this is evidence of the development of a romance between Andreas and Suse, and that it is love that makes the difference here. Is the text suggesting that Andreas has to love everyone he paints? Yes and no. Obviously not in the literal sense that he loves Suse, but the implication is that only through emotion can mere appearance be transcended. The text is vague about whether Andreas’ picture of the tractor driver is actually inaccurate in recording a visual impression of her, but the greyness of her surroundings and the work she is engaged in would seem to suggest that the dismal impression his picture conveys may be as much a product of the reality as of Andreas’ personal point of view. What Andreas apparently fails to do with the tractor driver is to engage with her emotionally, to know her in a way that goes beyond the rational or concretely observable in some way that the text only hints at.

On one level, Andreas’ role in the novel is fairly minimal. After a misunderstanding, he leaves the GDR and returns to the Ruhr. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is Suse who convinces him to return, and just as he is introduced to the reader at the very start of the text, so his return to the factory and also to his work as an artist mark the novel’s conclusion. At the very end of the book, Aehre and his colleagues see themselves and the factory depicted in an exhibition of Andreas’ pictures. Andreas’ transformation from failed artist to successful socialist realist is dealt with in the most perfunctory of ways. His return to the GDR and his commitment to Suse, which is concomitant with that return, are presented as justification enough for this change:

Und überall hing Suse; hier eine Porträtzeichnung und dort in einer Gruppe Kohlenmänner, und da wieder… Suse die neben Aehre herging, dachte: Aber nicht, weil wir zusammen leben, nicht darum hat er mich gemalt und gezeichnet, nicht darum. Sie sagte verlegen zu Aehre: “Als wenn ich eine Primadonna wäre, so oft hat er mich gemalt.” “Bist auch eine,” sagte Andrytzki. Aehre sah den warmen Glanz seiner Liebe in den störrischen Augen […]. (312)

Here Andreas’ love for Suse and his ability to capture the beauty of life under socialism are closely interrelated: he doesn’t just paint her because he loves her, the text implies, but because she represents the achievements socialism; yet still, it is because of her love that he has become able to give representation to those achievements in his art.

Having established Andreas’ progress by the end of the novel, the question is also briefly raised as to the utility of his images to socialist society. The panorama of his works culminates in a large oil painting of Aehre in conversation with his colleagues in the factory. Here, as in the picture of the tractor driver, there is a moment of non-recognition: “So… das bin ich?”, Aehre asks uncertainly. But here this non-recognition is the product not of a failed representation, but of a representation which transcends the individual perspective of Aehre and shows him his place in the collective. By making an emotional connection to his subject, then, whether it be Suse or the socialism she represents, Andreas opens up the possibility of creating works of art that, in their turn, enhances the sense of connection that the individual workers feel to the Gemeinschaft.


A similar role is assigned to the figure of Nikolaus in Brigitte Reimann’s Ankunft im Alltag (1961), that text which came to represent that development of the Produktionsroman referred to as Ankunftsliteratur. Nikolaus is one of the three central characters, three teenagers completing a year “in der Produktion” before going on to university. Nikolaus in particular is hoping to go on to art school after spending a year at the “Schwarze Pumpe” combine in Hoyerswerda. In the course of the narrative he is encouraged by his new worker friends to show them the pictures he has drawn and painted of their workplace. Nikolaus has, up until this point, been something of a figure of fun. However, this changes when they see his art:

Er war nicht mehr belächelnswert in einem Augenblick, da sie in seinen Bildern ihre Welt wiederfanden, die Hallen und die Schornsteine und Kühltürme und die Spreetalbrücke, und sie stießen sich an und riefen einander zu, halblaute, abgerissene Sätze; [...] Schach hielt lange ein Blatt mit den flach gewölbten Brückenbogen unter hohen fliegenden Wolken, er sagte stolz und erstaunt: “Zum Teufel, ich hab’ gar nicht gewußt, wie schön das bei uns ist.”[5]

The confrontation with the images is clearly an emotional, but also a communal experience. Language fails or becomes superfluous, but this is not a break-down in communication, but a more important, although essentially non-rational, form of communication; a sense of self-recognition and mutual recognition in the images, but also an experience of something that would not be possible without the images, namely the beauty of a world they can identify and stake a claim to as their own. One of the worker’s offers an explanation for their having failed to see this beauty before – ‘“Jeden Tag rennt man vorbei”’ (112) –, which, as in Menschen an unserer Seite, points towards the artist’s role in revealing their true situation to a group of workers who would otherwise remained trapped in their subjective positions.

In this scene, the workers go on to tell Nikolaus about another artist who has visited the combine:

“Wir hatten mal so ‘nen Hungerkünstler im Kombinat, er soll sogar auf der Akademie gewesen sein. Aber wenn du so was malst wie der, hauen wir dich zum Tempel raus... Wenn du seine Bilder gesehen hast, hat es dir den Magen umgedreht: Kerle wie unbehauene Klötze, Gesichter grau, Hände wie Tatzen – [...] Hab’ ich Tatzen? Sehen wir aus wie Klötze?” (114)

The question remains rhetorical, yet the clear inference is that the negative, depressing, dehumanized vision of the industrial worker is no longer appropriate to the working class of the GDR. Yet we might be tempted to ask in return whether industrial workers in the GDR in the early 1960s would have been somehow clearly distinguishable, at least visually, from the alienated workers of industrial capitalism. The fact that the artist in question has studied painting in an academic context but not, like Nikolaus, lived amongst the workers suggests that his crime is not or not primarily his failure to accurately record the physical details of their appearance (although this is also clearly stated), but that he sees them entirely from outside as an autonomous artist who has not shared their experience. He lacks the emotional connection to the workplace, which Nicolas is shown to develop over the course of the narrative and which, as with Andreas Andrytzki, finds a parallel in his nascent relationship with Recka, the main female figure in the novel. It is this growing emotional connection that allows him to create images, which, in their turn, and in a fashion comparable to that we find in Menschen an unserer Seite, allow the workers to see their place in the world of work with new eyes and reinforce their own emotional connection to it.

Both of the artists I have addressed thus far therefore conform to Marcuse’s utopian ideal of the fully integrated artist with a recognized social function, whose work contributes to the maintenance of that Gemeinschaft in which he finds the non-alienating context for his creative work. Yet, this emphasis on emotion, rather than autonomy and distance, perhaps has another root.


Whilst the GDR did succeed in transferring the ownership of the means of production into the hands of the state, it left essential aspects of industrial capitalism intact: the division of waged labour, a consumer economy (although one characterized by permanent shortage), an ideology of progress focused on the maximization of growth through the application of technology. Equally, the institutions of bourgeois capitalist society that maintained its social order, such as police, army, judiciary, government, legislature, bureaucracy and so on were preserved, albeit in decidedly less democratic forms, given that all power now rested with a relatively stagnant bureaucratic elite. In short, there was no concrete reason to feel any less like an alienated subject under state socialism than under capitalism: the situation of the workers had not changed in actual terms, but their situation was to be interpreted differently, according to the SED, at least. To take a metaphor from the two texts discussed so far, whilst the workers might still appear to the external observer to be “unbehauene Klötze,” they must not be represented as such. As Peter Zimmermann argues in his useful study of the GDR’s industrial literature, this was the key dilemma of the GDR’s Aufbauliteratur and one which is also clearly relevant to Menschen an unserer Seite and Ankunft im Alltag:

Das Dilemma der Aufbauliteratur […] war vorprogrammiert: Sie sollte die ökonomischen und politischen Defizite – von der mangelhaften Versorgungslage bis hin zum Mangel an sozialistischer Demokratie – durch ideelle Mobilisierung wettmachen und ein politisches Bewusstsein erzeugen, für das es keine hinreichende materielle Basis gab.[6]

In the texts I have discussed so far, it is the artist in his emotional connection to socialist reality who is able to transform that reality in such a way that the workers, conceived of as the primary audience, are also able to experience that reality in emotional terms, transcending the concrete and often alienating actuality in order to recognize an ideal totality.


This pattern is continued in Reimann’s Die Geschwister (1962), which takes up many of the themes relating to art from Ankunft im Alltag, but which is much more explicit in terms of its identification of the causes of alienation which art’s emotional force will overcome. Here, the narrator Elisabeth or Betsy, an artist also employed in an industrial combine, comes into conflict with an established communist artist working in the same context and living very well from commissions to produce paintings that turn out to be highly unpopular with the workers. As with the “Hungerkünstler” in Ankunft im Alltag, it is again distance from the workers that is the source of the problem: Ohm Heiners, the figure in question, may have been persecuted by the National Socialists, but he now spends his days being driven around in the combine Director’s car, not living with a workers’ Brigade like the narrator. The picture that he produces for the canteen is similar to those of the academic artist described in Ankunft im Alltag:

Eines Tages hing im Speisesaal ein Bild von Heiners, das in grauen und bräunlichen Tönen gehaltene Porträt eines Aktivisten, der, ungefüge Fäuste auf den Knien geballt, aus engen Augen von der Wand herabstierte.[7]

Although the reader is not party to the process by which Heiners created this image, his criticism of Elisabeth’s own work signals his rejection of feeling as a defining moment of her artistic endeavour:

“[...]Verrückte Farben. Nicht realistisch. Da kann ein Arbeiter doch bloß lachen, wenn er deinen Lichtbogen sieht. [...] Aber du empfindest ihn so, nicht wahr?” sagte Heiners mit der Miene eines Untersuchungsrichters, der einen Verdächtigen endlich überführt hat. “Eine gebräuchliche Ausrede der Formalisten... Das endet bei Kandinsky und Dufy, das endet in einer wirklichkeitsfremden Kunst...” (172)

Elisabeth’s defence against this charge is a defence of feeling itself and its function in art:

Ich bin kein Photoapparat, ich bin ein Mensch mit Empfindungen und mit einem bestimmten Verhältnis zu dem Menschen, den ich male, und der gemalte Mensch hat auch seine Empfindungen und seine eigene Einstellung zum Leben, zu seiner Arbeit, zu seiner Familie, und das alles muss man festhalten (172-3)

In this respect, Reimann’s text is reflecting contemporary debates relating to the visual representation of workers in the GDR. As Martin Damus notes, towards the end of the 1950s it was increasingly possible to observe a “vereinfachende Typisierung von Arbeitern” that distanced itself from the “illustrative Detaillismus” of Socialist Realist painting earlier in the decade; yet this turn to the schematic was soon itself criticized for failing to individualize its subjects as “konkrete Menschen und Vertreter der Klasse.”[8] However, as becomes clear later in the text, when the Director of the combine is invited to view Elisabeth’s pictures, her capturing of feeling in her art does not just point towards a more satisfactory form of realism, one that goes beyond the reproduction of surfaces that, by implication, characterizes Heiners’ own work. The work of art inspired by feeling produces in the viewer an aesthetic experience that is also a moment of agreement and the recognition of a common cause: Elisabeth no longer needs to argue her case to the Director, who has until this point supported and defended Heiners in his campaign of defamation against Elisabeth. On the face of it, it is hard to see how the Director’s experience of viewing Elisabeth’s pictures can simply disprove the charges made by Heiners, i.e. that she is promiscuous and in the process of creating a “bürgerliche Plattform” in the group of amateur painters she mentors. Yet the recognition of the beauty in the paintings is enough to create consensus without need for further discussion: “Aber wir sind uns doch einig” (207), Elisabeth insists when the Director seeks to elaborate on the issues at hand.

Elisabeth’s experience as an artist in the industrial workplace is related in retrospect as one of two main thematic strands in this text. The second relates to her brother’s decision to leave the GDR in frustration over the barriers to his career, despite his technical ability, since his having been rejected for Party membership. The frame for the action is the morning on which Ulrich, Elisabeth’s brother, will be persuaded to stay in the GDR or will finally decide go to the West. Unable to counter Ulrich’s rational arguments, Elisabeth has called upon her boyfriend Jochen, a factory director and, like Ulrich, a man identified with technology and reason.

Apart from assigning the role of the painter in this text to a woman, in Die Geschwister Reimann undertakes a systematic gendering of the function of art and emotion. Elisabeth is repeatedly identified as having “Gemüt,” perhaps even “zu viel Gefühl” (222) from the point of view of the men, and expresses her own frustration at her inability to get to grips with such modern wonders as atomic energy and cybernetics. Yet, she possesses an ability that the men, portrayed as creatures of reason, do not have, namely the capacity to experience the social totality aesthetically, through feeling, as a kind of organic unity. For example, in this scene in the factory:

Ich hockte auf der Stufe und horchte auf die Nachtlaute des Werks, und es war nicht mehr nur vernünftig geordnete Anhäufung von toter Materie: es erschien mir wieder als ein starkes, lebendiges Geschöpf, dessen Atem im Schlaf gemessener ging und dessen Herz im dumpfen, regelmäßigen Tacken der Brikettpressen pocht, und ich begriff, erschüttert, wie verflochten ich mit ihm war. (202)

The central concern of this text is that the socialist state is becoming a technocracy, which, by its very nature, will fail to inspire an emotional identification on the part of its citizens. Ulrich, for example, has decided to leave the GDR because he cannot understand the decisions that have been made to his disadvantage by a “riesigen Apparat” (119), as he calls it. Yet Ulrich is part of the problem: he has abandoned his own youthful passion for the socialist project and now believes only in the power of instrumental reason: “Ich glaube an gar nichts. Ich bin Mathematiker,” he says (120). Although the text allows Elisabeth to be critical of some of the decisions that have affected Ulrich, ultimately the power of feeling relativizes these concerns. When Jochen fails to convince him to stay, she finally bursts into the room where the two of them are bent over a book on cybernetics to insist upon the power of “Gemüt.” Although Elisabeth does not propose any arguments in this final scene which we have not heard before, it is her passion, her unrestrained expression of emotion which carries this victory for her: her emotion forces Ulrich to stay in the GDR and, by implication, to work on regaining his commitment to the socialist project.


What emerges in Reimann’s Die Geschwister, and indeed in the other texts discussed here, is something like a socialist modification of what Terry Eagleton has called the “ideology of the aesthetic.” Eagleton identifies the rise of thinking about the aesthetic in the 18th and 19th centuries as a parallel phenomenon to the rise of the middle class. Imagining their liberation from feudal power, Eagleton argues, and entering the age of commodification, liberal capitalism, individual liberty, technology, reason and so on, the European middle classes nurtured a “dream of reconciliation,” a “vision of individuals woven into an intimate unity with no detriment to their specificity, of an abstract totality suffused with all the flesh-and-blood reality of the individual being.”[9]

Although Eagleton argues that the work of art provides a kind of metaphor for this reconciliation, he does not necessarily mean to say that works of art produce that reconciliation in themselves. Rather, it is the aesthetic realm of sentiment and affect that is projected as the binding element of a bourgeois society whose cohesion is threatened by instrumentalizing reason and the reification of human relations associated with the rise of capitalism. Such sentiment or feeling both governs individual behaviour and provides a sense of integration into the social whole. In the context of GDR socialism in Reimann’s Die Geschwister, this dream of reconciliation is represented by an art which, in its appeal to emotion, is presented as a kind of “feminine analogue of reason,” in Eagleton’s phrase,[10] but a necessary one in as far as instrumental reason of the kind employed by the engineer Ulrich tends to turn even socialist society, like the factory which represents it, into a mere “vernünftig geordnete Anhäufung von toter Materie” (202), a functionalist technocracy in which individuals are increasingly alienated from the forces that subject them. The answer to the problem is feeling, conveyed by the artist through her work, which creates a spontaneous experience of the whole and of an emotional consensus that transcends the potential dissatisfaction with the immediately experienced conditions of one’s own existence.

This emphasis on feeling perhaps helps to explain the choice of the visual artist as the catalyst for this experience in the texts discussed here. For instance, although Reimann’s figure of Ohm Heiners is actually based on a writer, the novelist Heinrich Siegrist with whom Reimann had a similar conflict in the “Schwarze Pumpe” combine in the late summer and autumn of 1960,[11] the transposition of the story into context of painting rather than writing allows Reimann to foreground the work of art as the source of an instantaneous emotional connection beyond rational discourse, a function perhaps less suited to the literary form of the novel. In this way, the visual artist achieves a privileged position, not as an outsider, but as the necessary midwife of a community of socialist feeling.



1 Herbert Marcuse, Der deutsche Künstlerroman / Frühe Schriften (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1978) 329.

2 Uwe Greßmann, Lebenskünstler. Gedichte. Faust. Lebenszeugnisse. Erinnerungen an Greßmann. Ed. Richard Pietraß (Leipzig: Reclam, 1982) 12-13.

3 Cf. Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production (Cambridge: Polity, 1993).

4 Eduard Claudius, Menschen an unserer Seite (Leipzig: Reclam, 1971) 14. Further page numbers in paratheses.

5 Brigitte Reimann, Ankunft im Alltag (Berlin: Aufbau Taschenbuch, 1999) 111-12. Further page numbers in parentheses.

6 Peter Zimmermann, Industrieliteratur der DDR: Vom Helden der Arbeit zum Planer und Leiter (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1984) 53.

7 Brigitte Reimann, Die Geschwister (Halle: Mittlerdeutscher Verlag, 1962), 158. Further page numbers in parentheses.

8 Martin Damus, Malerei in der DDR: Funktionen der bildenden Kunst im Realen Sozialismus (Reinbek bei Haumburg: Rowohlt, 1991) 154-8.

9 Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990) 25.

10 Ibid., 16.

11 Brigitte Reimann, Ich bedaure nichts. Tagebücher 1955-1963 (Berlin: Aufbau Taschenbuch, 2000) 146-7 and 152-3. 11