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Image Critique


Image Critique and the Fall of the Berlin Wall
Sunil Manghani
Intellect Books, 2008, ISBN 9781841501901
[Available in Kindle]

‘Required reading for all those in visual culture’ – Nicholas Mirzoeff, New York University

Taking the fall of the Berlin Wall as a key marker in recent history – a period in which increasingly we find ourselves watching ‘instant history’ unfold live on air – the book presents a new critical concept of image critique: a double procedure of both a critique of images and the use of images as a means to engage with our contemporary mediated culture for new critical purposes. The book, then, is not so much about the fall of the Berlin Wall in itself, but rather about the recent and lively theoretical debates about visual culture. How do you attend critically to visual culture and how do we appropriate visual culture for critical purposes?

Thus, whilst much has been written about Berlin and the Berlin Wall (mostly in the context of WWII or German reunification), the book focuses specifically on the media angle of the event, to use it as a case study to think more broadly about the development of politics and political rhetoric vis-a-vis media and visual culture. The book can also raise questions about how we might approach an analysis of other moments of what can be termed Instant History – events captured on film that range from the assassination of John F. Kennedy to the Nelson Mandela’s ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, from the Landing on the Moon to the Beijing Olympics, or from the Gulf War to September 11 and so forth. Whilst all of these events differ greatly from one another, and need their own differing treatments of analysis, we can understand them all as part of an ever more mediated culture, frequently based upon the dissemination and consumption of images.

 The final chapter of the book examines two films, Helden Wie Wir (1999) and Goodbye Lenin!(2002), which deal specifically with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Goodbye Lenin!  is relatively sucessful in re-scaling the images of the fall of the Wall, particularly as it manages to offer an emotional, as well as humorous re-visioning of the event. It also cleverly re-writes history through a serious of fake films that the main protagonist makes in order not to unsettle his ailing mother. In doing so the film nestles a series of viewpoints within the single narrative.

Further Reading

Barber, Stephen (1995) Fragments of the European City. London: Reaktion Books.

Barnard, Peter (1999) We Interrupt This Programme… 20 News Stories That Marked The Century. London: BBC.

Baudrillard, Jean
 (1995) The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. Indiana University Press.

Boorstin, Daniel J.
 (1992) The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. New York: Vintage Books.

Bordo, Susan
 (1997) Twilight Zones: The Hidden Life of Cultural Images from Plato to O.J.. California: University of California Press.

Borneman, John
 (1991) After the Wall: East meets West in the New Berlin. New York: Basic Books.

Brussig, Thomas (1997) Heroes Like Us, trans. by John Brownjohn. London: Harvill.

Buck-Morss, Susan (1994) ‘Fashion in Ruins: History after the Cold War’,Radical Philosophy, 68 (Autumn), pp.10-17.

Buck-Morss, Susan (2000) Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Buhl, Dieter (1990) Window To The West: How Television from the Federal Republic Influenced Events in East Germany. The Joan Shorenstein Barone Center, Discussion Paper D-5, pp.1-9.

Burgin, Victor (1996a) In/Different Spaces: Place And Memory In Visual Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Chomsky, Noam (1997) World Orders, Old and New. London: Pluto Press.

Cormack, Michael (1992) ‘Opening the Wall’ in Ideology, London: B.T. Batsford Ltd., pp.45-55.

Dayan, Daniel and Katz, Elihu (1992) Media Events: The Live Broadcasting of History. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Deluca, Kevin and Peeples, Jennifer (2002) ‘From Public Sphere to Public Screen: Democracy, Activism, and the “Violence” of Seattle’, Critical Studies in Media Communication, 19 (2), pp.125-151.

Derrida, Jacques (1993) ‘Back From Moscow, in the USSR’ in Mark Poster (ed.)Politics, Theory, and Contemporary Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, pp.197-235.

Fukuyama, Francis (1989) ‘The End of History?’, The National Interest, 16 (Summer), pp.3-18.

Fukuyama, Francis (1992) The End of History and the Last Man. London: Penguin.

Fukuyama, Francis (2002) ‘Has History Started Again?’, Policy, 18 (2), pp.3-7.

Fulbrook, Mary (2000) Interpretations of the Two Germanies, 1945-1990. London: Macmillan.

Grant, R.G. (1998 ) The Berlin Wall. Hove: Wayland.

Hilton, Christopher (2001) The Wall: The People’s Story. Stroud: Sutton Publishing.

Ladd, Brian (1997) The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Manghani, Sunil (2003) Picturing Berlin, Piecing Together a Public Sphere / ベルリンをイメージする、公共圏をデザインする (Bilingual English/ Japanese edition). [Originally published in Invisible Culture, Issue 6, 2003].

Mirzoeff, Nicholas (2005) Watching Babylon: The War in Iraq and Global Visual Culture. New York and London: Routledge.

Simons, Jon (2000) ‘Ideology, Imagology, and Critical Thought: the Impoverishment of Politics’, Journal of Political Ideologies, 5 (1), pp.81-103.

Whybrow, Nicolas (2001) Street Scenes: Brecht, Benjamin and Berlin. Bristol: Intellect Books.

Zelizer, Barbie (1992) ‘CNN, the Gulf War, and Journalistic Pratice’, Journal of Communication, 42 (1), pp.66-81.

Zelizer, Barbie (ed.) (2001) Visual Culture and the Holocaust. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

See Also

Writing With Images: An Art Symposium (with moderated discussion of ‘Image Critique and the Fall of the Berlin Wall’). University Galleries, Illinois State University (ISU Center for Visual Arts Building), 22 April 2011.

 Archive news stories & pages on The history of the Berlin Wall:
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