Alexander R. Phillips

Comparative Literature &
German Studies

Alexander Phillips became interested in the field of literature from the German Democratic Republic (GDR) through reading various works, many of them unknown in the English speaking world. He was also interested in the reception of the works of German classicism, especially Goethe, in the GDR. Professor Biendarra pointed him to a few materials, and he found himself reading about this debate in the Academy of Arts. Although investigating this topic showed him how ideology impacted literature in the GDR, Alexander’s research led him to realize that issues of ideology and literature are universal. Alexander is spending a year studying in Berlin through a grant from the German Academic Exchange Service. triangle.gif (504 bytes)




The ideological project of “antifascist-democratic renewal” undertaken by Marxists in East Germany after 1945 included a need to understand German history in a way that would legitimize the new socialist state. When the socialist composer Hanns Eisler published his libretto Johann Faustus, it was perceived by Socialist Unity Party leadership as being antithetical to the party’s efforts to redefine history. In spite of his use of themes friendly to Marxist ideology, Eisler was attacked for failing to uphold the party’s platform, implying that he was undermining efforts to ideologically reshape Germany after Nazi terror. By examining the libretto as well as the proceedings of the subsequent debate and situating them in their historical and cultural contexts, it becomes evident that Eisler’s use of the German literary tradition coupled with his portrayal of history seriously problematized the official interpretation of history touted by the East German communist party in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The ensuing debate, in which the libretto was demonized to the point that Eisler could not bring himself to complete the opera, reveals much about the ideological problems facing East Germany in those early years, as well as the party’s anxiety about its own grip on power. triangle.gif (504 bytes)

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Faculty Mentor                                                                                                                

Anke Biendarra

School of Humanities

Alexander Phillips' paper grew out of an independent study on the literature of East Germany’s Democratic Republic. After background reading of literary histories, Alex narrowed his interest to Johann Faustus, a libretto written in the 1950s by the well-known composer Hanns Eisler. Over the course of the quarter, Alex researched the text further by reading material that I suggested and drew up an ambitious and interesting research proposal. In his paper, Alex developed a nuanced understanding of the critical connections between the realm of art and cultural politics in a state governed by surveillance and censorship, which is a topic that has implications for other historical moments and national literatures as well. I am pleased to see Alex go on to graduate school in the German program at Cornell University and wish him the best of luck! triangle.gif (504 bytes)

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