Public Memory Underground: Photographs of Protest in Uwe Johnson’s The Third Book About Achim (1967)

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This paper offers a preliminary investigation of the interrelation between literature, photography, and public memory under the conditions of authoritarian and neoliberal state control. Focusing on a fictionalized photograph of the 1953 workers’ uprising in East Germany in Uwe Johnson’s novel The Third Book about Achim (1967), I explore the performative capacity of photo-literary spaces to open up, and disrupt, institutionalized productions of public memory. Whereas official memorial technologies tend to close down alternative interpretations of history, this essay shows how small-scale, clandestine, or itinerant photographs embedded in literary archives animate historical impasses and possibilities, which persist to be responded to by future readers. More specifically, drawing on affect theory and political philosophy, I aim to rehabilitate photography’s indexicality as a performative register that enables human proximities across the boundaries of time and space.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)207-218
JournalCoSMo: Comparative Studies in Modernism
StatePublished - 2018


  • public memory
  • performativity
  • photo theory
  • affect
  • assembly

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