In a recent interview with Matthias Kolb of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the historian, Timothy Snyder, suggested that the world is at risk of forgetting the political lessons of the 1930s. Snyder was particularly focussed on the United States, where, he argued, the degraded mass media culture actually puts the country at greater risk of disintegration into violence than European countries of the 1930s. Nevertheless, Snyder also noted that Europe was also selectively forgetting its recent history. Watching the rise of various extreme right movements from Poland to the UK seize the attention of the increasingly broken European media, one must conclude that his warning is at the very least timely. “Forgetting,” Ernest Renan wrote in his essay “What is a Nation”, “is an essential factor in the creation of a nation.” Strategic forgetting, therefore, also an important tactic for the advance of nationalisms as well. Writing from Berlin in 2017, where the prevention of forgetting has been one of the defining features of the post-War nation known as Germany, the revival of national forgetting is a particularly fraught possibility. Thus, it is a particularly opportune moment to reexamine the work of the German novelist, Irmgard Keun. Keun was a novelist of modernity—if not exactly Modernism per se—who wrote about the Germany of the Weimar Republic with a ruthless commitment to examining her contemporary moment and an acidic wit that impressed more familiar names from the period including Kurt Tucholsky. Keun’s novel, After Midnight, serves as the basis of Loretta Fahrenholz’s film Two A.M., the centerpiece of her exhibition at Galerie Buchholz.
Fahrenholz film transposes Keun’s narrative into the present day, moving from the grounds of a rural compound—the site of the protagonist, Sanna’s, cult-like upbringing—to the bars, flats and afterparties of 21st century Berlin. The film is a dizzying mix of narratives and images, following Sanna as she makes a life for herself in the fashionably dilapidated company of Berlin artists and musicians. Fahrenholz film is sleek and deeply conversant with the trash-flash culture of the Berlin, and the social currents of visibility that underwrite the city’s creative life. To be visible is to be credible but it is also to become a target. As Sanna’s family pursues her into the city, this dynamic means that the claustrophobia and paranoia of her previous life follow as well, and the only hope is another modality of escape, an escape that the world may not permit. The film’s climatic party scene dramatises how quickly seemingly trivial stakes can rise to levels that require payment in blood. If no other lesson of Keun’s work need be applied to the present moment, this one makes both her writing and Fahrenholz film necessary viewing. Forgetting is not an option.
Image courtesy of the gallery and the artist.