2017 Sylvia Naish Lecture Competition Winner Announced

Friday 17 February 2017

The 2017 Sylvia Naish Lecture is to be given by Stephan Ehrig, who will be speaking on Adolf Dresen's Kleist-Projekt at the Deutsches Theater, Berlin. Ehrig studied at the Universities of Leipzig and Provence and is currently completing his PhD at the University of Bristol. 

Heinrich von Kleist enjoyed a mixed reception in the GDR, from cultural exclusion due to his nationalist reception under the Nazi regime to absolute identification and admiration from authors who saw their various crises paralleled in Kleist. Particularly in the 1970s, with Wolf Biermann’s expatriation coinciding with the Kleist bicentenary celebrations, a large group of authors and theatre directors used Kleist as a means to reposition and communicate their concept of authorship and artistic production within socialist society.Heinrich von Kleist

In this context, Ehrig’s lecture takes a closer look at Adolf Dresen’s Kleist-Projekt which included productions of Kleist’s plays and performances based on his biography, and which took place at the Deutsches Theater in East Berlin between 1975 and 1977. Making use of the theatre’s revolving stage and a Marxist/Hegelian/Benjaminian concept of history and historicity, the ‘chained laurel’ stands for a cyclical recurrence of traumas of the past (Prussian militarism) that haunt the present and prevent society from progressing towards the utopian state of communism.

As Dresen suggests, it is only when the individual is able to overcome the conflicted relationship between the boundless quest for individual emancipation, and the wrongful state oppression of these individuals in its own quest for an equal society, that utopia may eventually become reality when the two laurels meet like the two ends of the world in Kleist’s Marionettentheater. Ultimately, the symbol of the chained laurel can be seen as a representation of the position of the artist in 1970s GDR, facing increased observation and censorship, and attempting to constructively criticise GDR cultural policies out of sincere concern that communism might remain a utopian concept if the rift between state and individual/artist cannot be overcome.

Endowed by the Sylvia Naish Bequest, the annual competition is open to students registered for higher degrees at universities in the UK. The lecture is published in abridged form in the magazine of the Friends of Germanic Studies

Stephan Ehrig's lecture will be given on Friday, 7 April 2017, at 5.50 pm in Room 243, Senate House. All are welcome to attend. Further details / advance registration: http://www.sas.ac.uk/events/event/7900

Image: Heinrich von Kleist (illustration, 1801, Sammlung Otto Krug)