The horror of sameness

Holly Case in Aeon:

In August 1989, just a few weeks before the Berlin Wall came down, the East German writer Christa Wolf offered her view on the possibility of German reunification. Wolf had remained a communist party member until June that year, and even thereafter she espoused her Leftist convictions to the shrinking number of people who openly shared them. She firmly stated her opposition to the merger of the two Germanys. ‘[R]eunification – as the annexation of the smaller, poorer part of Germany to the larger, wealthier one – would render the self-critical treatment of our past much more difficult,’ she argued. The people of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) should instead try on their own terms to realise the dream of a truly ‘democratic socialism’ in a state where ‘contradiction’ can be not only ‘tolerated’ but even ‘made productive’. If the GDR were to simply disappear, the necessary opposite – Germany’s own ‘double meaning’ (a recurring theme in her literary work) – would disappear along with it, to catastrophic effect. Collapsing the two Germanys into one, in other words, would destroy it.

Just as Wolf decried the merger of the two Germanys, several decades earlier Herbert Marcuse mourned the merger of two dimensions in his book One-Dimensional Man (1964). Marcuse, a German philosopher of the Frankfurt School whose members devised a form of Western Marxist philosophy known as critical theory, offered an analysis of the homogenising effects of consumerism.

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