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Books and protest: 1968 in West Berlin

Bowie, Laura 2016. Books and protest: 1968 in West Berlin. Presented at: Books and the City Symposium, Maastricht University and Van Eyck Academie, Maastricht, Netherlands, 22-24 June 2016.

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In 1968, the personal became the political and thus every aspect of life became a means of political expression; this was particularly true in the arts. At West Berlin’s Technische Universität, a group of architecture students formed Aktion 507 and curated an exhibition, ‘Diagnosis on Building in West Berlin’, intended to display a ‘critical analysis of current construction activities’. The movement had a strong literary culture associated with it, with the accompanying two hundred page manifesto declaring the students condemnation of society with contemporary scholars and theorists used to articulate and strengthen their criticism. Significantly, due to the censorship and interruption of the war, key texts such as those of Walter Benjamin were not published until the 1950s and thus added to the raw nature of the protest. Students also set up various newspapers, most notably Berliner Extra Blatt and Agit 883, who saw their work as a ‘practical contribution to a counter-public sphere’. This then developed into the political action of ‘Book Theft’, which became ‘the national sport of the Left’ where activists would ‘expropriate’ volumes of Marx’s Das Kapital from a ‘bourgeois’ bookshop. These books were then handed out at demonstrations to then be discussed at subsequent teach-ins. This not only highlights the importance of literature to the movement but also the combination of intellectual engagement with physical action. The theories found in the literature and philosophy the students read were then mapped onto the urban environment of West Berlin. This paper intends to analyse the relationship between theory and protest, between book and action in order to ascertain how the political literature of the day was used as a means to articulate issues and comprehend the politically charged atmosphere of walled West Berlin, but also how the book became a means of protest in itself.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Architecture
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D839 Post-war History, 1945 on
D History General and Old World > DD Germany
N Fine Arts > NE Print media
Last Modified: 16 Jul 2020 09:45

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