Cuban Corals in East Berlin’s Natural History Museum, 1967–74

Cuban Corals in East Berlin’s Natural History Museum, 1967–74

by Manuela Bauche

The essay begins:

On October 7, 1974, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) turned twenty-five. Among the events commemorating this anniversary was a temporary exhibition that opened within East Berlin’s Natural History Museum, the Museum für Naturkunde. The show, entitled Forschung im Museum (Research at the museum), aimed to give an overview of the diversity of research conducted at the GDR’s most important natural history museum during the first quarter-century of the republic’s existence. Included was an impressive exhibit: a coral-reef diorama. The exhibition occupied one room on the ground floor of the museum. Depending on which side visitors entered, the diorama would be either the first exhibit they encountered or, after a long row of glass cabinets bearing information and evidence of the museum’s research activities, the last. The diorama’s plain chipboard wall was three meters high and five meters wide. In its center, a glass window invited visitors to peek inside. Within could be seen a submarine landscape: a slope of sand-colored coral rock, which, while slightly rising up toward the surface of the water, disappeared into the depth; ball-like corals with delicately grooved yellowish and brownish surfaces strewn about the sea floor; in the foreground, a group of bright blue fish, all heading in the same direction, eyes seemingly fixed on an invisible goal; and a small black and yellow fish coming toward them. On the lower left, a gaping hole in the rock formation revealed a glimmering blue, foreshadowing deeper waters and allowing yet another fish entrance into the coralline world.

The new exhibit fascinated Berliners. The press praised it as a “gorgeously colorful, lifelike detail of a Cuban bank reef,” at times even omitting the fact that the diorama—made of dried and dead coral specimens, fish casts, plaster, steel, and glass—in fact was a waterless representation of a reef. Indeed, newspapers proudly announced that the Museum für Naturkunde now held “a coral reef with colorful flora and fauna” that showed a “confoundingly colorful life, diverse in terms of both forms and species, in the midst of bizarre coral formations.” But just as fascinating as the diorama itself was the process of its coming into being. Its construction had entailed experimentation with different types of dyes, inventiveness in the face of scarce resources, and, of course, the application of technical skill and patience.

In 1967, even before the construction of the diorama, a team of researchers from Berlin had conducted an ambitious expedition to Cuba to collect corals and make casts of the fish that would form the centerpiece of the exhibit. After an Atlantic crossing of more than nine weeks, two scientists, two preparators from the Museum für Naturkunde, a doctor, and a seaman from the GDR’s Society for Sports and Technology (Gesellschaft für Sport und Technik, GST) reached Havana. With them more than seventy boxes of equipment, several small boats, and a truck were unloaded. There they joined four divers from the GST who had arrived by plane and had already set up an expedition camp on the island’s north shore, seventy kilometers east of Havana, at a spot called Arroyo Bermejo.

The expedition’s aim was to collect enough corals and other specimens from the reef lining the shore to reconstruct a ten-meter-long section in the Museum für Naturkunde’s exhibition. Over the course of three weeks, the GST divers towed a raft to the reef that paralleled the shore at a distance of a few hundred meters, dived into the reef to break corals out of the chalk structure, lifted them to the raft, and delivered them to the expedition camp. The museum staff then scattered the corals on the beach to dry, clean, and gradually pack them into the boxes they had taken care to bring with them from Berlin. In the end, forty-one boxes of approximately six to ten tons of reef material were shipped to the GDR. Seven years later, instead of the envisaged ten-meter-long reconstruction, [a much smaller] diorama . . . was realized.

To understand the significance of the expedition, it must be seen in the context of the diplomatic ties established between Cuba and the GDR in the fields of science and education. In 1962, only three years after the Cuban Revolution, the University of Havana and East Berlin’s Humboldt University had agreed on a joint “Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation” that allowed for a regular and systematic exchange of students, lecturers, scientists, and publications. Beyond this, a number of other points of collaboration were established between scientific institutions in the two countries: in 1966, the “Tropenforschungsinstitut Alexander von Humboldt” (Alexander von Humboldt Tropical Research Institute) was founded as a joint institute of the Cuban and GDR academies of sciences; and, from 1974 on, botanists from the universities of Jena and Berlin and scientists from Havana’s National Botanical Garden worked, in bi-annual expeditions, toward a comprehensive register of Cuba’s flora. The Cuban side had been particularly interested in establishing these kinds of international collaborations, hoping that they would help to build the scientific capacities urgently needed in the newly founded republic. Among the socialist states with which Cuba maintained scientific relations, the GDR ranked second—after the Soviet Union and ahead of Bulgaria. From a GDR perspective, Cuba was an important partner for activities that needed a tropical environment, as it was one of the few tropical socialist countries and thus politically accessible to the East German state.

Looking at the exhibition—in which only a small portion of the material collected ultimately appeared (in the diorama), and then only several years after the trip to Cuba—it is striking that the museum did not feature the idea and practice of socialist friendship more prominently, especially since Cuban divers, too, had taken part in the endeavor. Indeed, the anniversary of the country’s founding might have provided a perfect opportunity to highlight the importance of this political framework. The only hint of the existence of the expedition itself was a map of Cuba, on which the place where the corals had been collected was marked. Apart from this, the exhibition focused solely on educating the public on the biology of corals and the formation of coral reefs, its descriptive panels detailing the museum’s “coral-reef research in Cuba,” in conformance with the exhibition’s overall agenda of presenting examples of the museum’s research. The special Cuban-GDR relation that had provided the foundation for the genesis of the diorama remained invisible.

Why did the Museum für Naturkunde opt to present Cuban corals in this particular manner? What happened to socialist internationalism along the (corals’) way? In their contributions to this Representations forum, Alice Goff and Mario Schulze show that international diplomacy was an important precondition for the transfer of objects across national boundaries, and that both the design and the planning of exhibitions were at times intimately linked to global political realities such as Cold War competition. In what follows, I examine the effect of global politics and diplomacy on both the coral-reef expedition of 1967 and the 1974 display of the diorama that resulted from it. I will show that although bilateral agreements were an important precondition for both projects, informal contacts between players beyond the political field were at least as crucial. I question the assumption that objects that crossed political and state borders during the Cold War for exhibition purposes were always and as a matter of principle intertwined with high-level diplomacy, that they would necessarily carry political meaning or act as “ambassadors” in international relations. Instead, I show that although the appropriation and transfer of objects could not have been accomplished without a diplomatic framework, it could just as easily come about as a result of contacts between players operating beyond the official political field, in this case divers from the GDR and Cuba.

In this way, my account of the history of the coral-reef diorama also departs from the popular depiction of political and cultural life within socialist countries, and of exchange between them, as generally being organized from the top down and rigidly controlled. Instead, I join with current research that argues for a more complex idea of what “socialist friendship” meant on the practical level and shows that transnational exchange between socialist countries at times occurred beyond high-level politics. Continue reading …

This essay reconstructs the history of a coral-reef diorama, the outcome of a German Democratic Republic expedition to Cuba, that was displayed in East Berlin’s Natural History Museum in 1967 on the occasion of the GDR’s twenty-fifth anniversary. The essay investigates how the practice of socialist internationalism influenced the diorama’s coming into being, arguing that while official diplomatic relations between Cuba and the GDR were a prerequisite for the expedition, nongovernmental contacts were central to both the initiation and execution of the project. It also demonstrates how the diorama’s display was informed more by national and institutional concerns than by the rhetoric and policies of internationalism.

MANUELA BAUCHE is a historian and postdoctoral researcher at Berlin’s Natural History Museum. Her research interests lie in the global history of life sciences and scientific expeditions in the twentieth century.

 

 

 

New Special Issue, Representations 140

NOW AVAILABLE

Number 139, Summer 2017 (read for free at UC Press)

Special Issue: FALLACIES

Where does the history of fallacies leave the contemporary critic?

It is hard not to see that we are living in in an especially fallacious age; fallacies are evidently psychologically compelling. They appeal to our fear, anger, or pity; to our respect for authority; or to our faith in the power of numbers. A president will be blamed for an economic downturn that precedes him or credited for job growth that is inconsequent to his acts. As mistakes of logic, fallacies are not lies and not exactly nonsense either. Fallacies, in other words, are things that, not being valid, “are susceptible of being mistaken” for valid.

In this collection of essays, eleven scholars of literature, logic, philosophy, film, and art history take up a variety of ways in which, in our disciplines and critical practices, truth appears. The essays, in explaining a few of the well-known fallacies and naming others, are all concerned with ways of reading that bring ideas and experiences to a subject that are not germane to the subject. They ask us to look, as I. A. Richards does, at “instances of irrelevance” in thinking, at what fits and doesn’t fit or is there by accident. They raise our awareness of those “inadequate” revelations that W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley, in their famous essay on the intentional fallacy, tried to arm us against and exclude from critical judgment “like lumps from pudding and ‘bugs’ from machinery.”

To return to the question of fallacies in the twenty-first century is to ask what is most material to our arguments if we want them to be practical and satisfying and if, in Beardsley’s words, “we wish to get out of them what is most worth getting.”

Introduction: The Issue with Fallacies
Elisa Tamarkin

“You Mean My Whole Fallacy Is Wrong”: On Technological Determinism
John Durham Peters

Fallacy: Close Reading and the Beginning of Philosophy
D. Vance Smith

How to Think a Figure; or, Hegel’s Circles
Andrew Cole

The Interdisciplinary Fallacy
Jonathan Kramnick

The Destruction of Hood’s Ordnance Train: A Love Story
Alexander Nemerov

Compositionism: Plants, Poetics, Possibilities; or, Two Cheers for Fallacies, Especially Pathetic Ones!
Maureen N. McLane

Materialist Vitalism or Pathetic Fallacy: The Case of the House of Usher
Branka Arsić

Reading for Mood
Jonathan Flatley

The Hitchcockian Nudge; or, An Aesthetics of Deception
Rey ChowMarkos Hadjioannou

The Fallacy of “Fallacy” and Its Implications for Contemporary Literary Theory
Charles Altieri

On Race in Art

Black Futures: On Race in Art, Curation, and Digital Engagement 
with Kimberly Drew in conversation with Stephen Best

Arts + Design Mondays @ BAMPFA
Monday, October 16, 6:30pm

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY ART MUSEUM & PACIFIC FILM ARCHIVE

2155 Center Street, Berkeley

Kimberly Drew has been dubbed an “international tastemaker in contemporary art” on account of her Tumblr blog Black Contemporary Art and her Instagram @museummammy. As social media manager at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she has been pivotal in moving that venerated institution in directions both democratic and dialogical. Drew will discuss curation, social media, race, and institutions with UC Berkeley professor Stephen Best.

Kimberly Drew is a writer and curator based in New York City. Drew received her BA from Smith College in art history and African-American studies, with a concentration in museum studies. She first experienced the art world as an intern in the director’s office of the Studio Museum in Harlem, where she was inspired her to start her blog and to pursue her interest in social media as it relates to the arts.

A member of the Representations editorial board, Stephen Best is an associate professor of English at UC Berkeley and the author of The Fugitive’s Properties: Law and the Poetics of Possession, a study of property, poetics, and legal hermeneutics in nineteenth-century American literary and legal culture. He co-convened a research group at the University of California’s Humanities Research Institute on “Redress in Law, Literature, and Social Thought” that led, in part, to the special issue “Redress” in 2005. He is also the co-editor of the 2009 special issue “The Way We Read Now” and the 2016 volume “Description Across Disciplines.”

Advance Look: Jeffrey Knapp on “Selma”

In recognition of the speed at which the world and its histories are changing, we’ve just posted an advance version of Selma and the Place of Fiction in Historical Films” by Jeffrey Knapp. The essay will appear in print and online in our Winter 2019 issue, but you can read it here right now.

In the essay, Knapp compares the place of historical fictionality in William Wyler’s 1940 film The Westerner and Ava DuVernay’s 2014 Selma.

“’This isn’t right,’” the essay begins, in the voice of Martin Luther King as depicted by David Oyelowo, in Selma. “Almost as soon as the man resembling Martin Luther King Jr. has begun to speak, he interrupts himself in frustration. ‘I accept this honor,’ he’d been saying, ‘for our lost ones, whose deaths pave our path, and for the twenty million Negro men and women motivated by dignity and a disdain for hopelessness.’ What does he think isn’t right? Is it the racial oppression he has been evoking? Or is it the felt inadequacy of his words to that injustice? As the man turns away from us, we find that he has been speaking into a mirror, and that he is frustrated in the immediate context by his efforts at getting dressed. ‘Corrie’ — it is King, we now understand, and he’s not alone; his wife Coretta is with him — ‘this ain’t right.’ ‘What’s that?’ she asks, entering from another room. ‘This necktie. It’s not right.’ ‘It’s not a necktie,’ she corrects him, ‘it’s an ascot.’ ‘Yeah, but generally, the same principles should apply, shouldn’t they? It’s not right.’” Read full article …

JEFFREY KNAPP is the Eggers Professor of English at UC Berkeley and author of An Empire Nowhere: England and America from Utopia to The Tempest (1992); Shakespeare’s Tribe: Church, Nation, and Theater in Renaissance England (2002); Shakespeare Only (2009); and Pleasing Everyone: Mass Entertainment in Renaissance London and Golden-Age Hollywood, published this year by Oxford University Press. He is also a contributing editor for Representations.

Talk About Pleasing Everyone

Berkeley Book Chats
at the Townsend Center for the Humanities
presents Jeffrey Knapp talking about his book

Pleasing Everyone: Mass Entertainment in Renaissance London and Golden-Age Hollywood

12:00 pm to 1:00 pm Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall, UC Berkeley, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017 | 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall, UC Berkeley

Shakespeare’s plays were immensely popular in their own day yet history refuses to think of them as mass entertainment. In Pleasing Everyone, Professor of English Jeffrey Knapp highlights the uncanny resemblance between Renaissance drama and the incontrovertibly mass medium of Golden-Age Hollywood cinema. Through explorations of such famous plays as HamletThe Roaring Girl, and The Alchemist, and such celebrated films as Citizen KaneThe Jazz Singer, and City Lights, Knapp challenges some of our most basic assumptions about the relationship between art and mass audiences and encourages us to resist the prejudice that mass entertainment necessarily simplifies and cheapens.

After an introduction, Knapp will speak briefly about his book and then open the floor for discussion.

JEFFREY KNAPP is the Eggers Professor of English at UC Berkeley and author of An Empire Nowhere: England and America from Utopia to The Tempest (1992); Shakespeare’s Tribe: Church, Nation, and Theater in Renaissance England (2002); Shakespeare Only (2009); and Pleasing Everyone: Mass Entertainment in Renaissance London and Golden-Age Hollywood, published this year by Oxford University Press. The chapter “Throw That Junk!” in Pleasing Everyone was first published in Representations 122 (Spring 2013). An advance version of his new essay “Selma and the Place of Fiction in Historical Films” will be posted here in early October.

Practices of Resistance

In her essay in our new issue, Debarati Sanyal analyzes practices of resistance as seen through film and photography set in the Calais’s “jungle” refugee encampments, which were razed last year by the French government. She discusses the interplay of humanitarian compassion and securitarian repression in the destruction of the camps, nuancing the view of borderscapes as sites of total biopolitical capture, and of refugees as “bare life.” Making a profound case for both art and resistance, “Calais’s ‘Jungle’: Refugees, Biopolitics, and the Arts of Resistance” is a compelling and visually stunning read.

Still from Qu’Ils reposent en révolte: Des figure de guerres I, by Sylvain George (2010)

DEBARATI SANYAL is Professor of French at the University of California, Berkeley. The author of The Violence of Modernity: Baudelaire, Irony, and the Politics of Form (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006) and Memory and Complicity: Migrations of Holocaust Remembrance (Fordham University Press, 2015), she is currently at work on a study of testimony, cultural form, and the refugee “crisis.”

Summer Travel Round-Up

Traversing the history of cartography, cross-cultural encounters and discoveries, travelers fortunate and unfortunate, and voyages to the depths of the sea, these travel-related essays make good transit companions for summer journeys.

 

Ricardo Padrón, “Mapping Plus Ultra: Cartography, Space, and Hispanic Modernity,” Representations 79 (Summer 2002): 28-60.

 

Sumathi Ramaswamy, “Catastrophic Cartographies: Mapping the Lost Continent of Lemuria,” Representations 67 (Summer 1999): 92-129.

 

Christopher L. Hill, “Crossed Geographies: Endō and Fanon in Lyon,” Representations 128 (Fall 2014): 93-123.

 

Michel de Certeau, “Travel Narratives of the French to Brazil: Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries,” Representations 33 (Winter 1991): 221-26.

 

H. G. Cocks, “The Discovery of Sodom, 1851,” Representations 112 (Fall 2010): 1-26.

 

Louis Montrose, “The Work of Gender in the Discourse of Discovery,” Representations 33 (Winter 1991): 1-41.

 

Jean-Pierre Vernant, “Odysseus in Person,” trans. James Ker, Representations 67 (Summer 1999): 1-26.

 

Robert Weimann, “Fabula and Historia: The Crisis of the “Universall Consideration” in The Unfortunate Traveller,” Representations 8 (Autumn 1984): 14-29.

 

Lorna Hutson, “Fortunate Travelers: Reading for the Plot in Sixteenth-Century England,” Representations 41 (Winter 1993): 83-103.

 

Margaret Cohen, “Denotation in Alien Environments: The Underwater Je Ne Sais Quoi,” Representations 125 (Winter 2014): 103-26.

New from Kent Puckett

War Pictures: Cinema, Violence, and Style in Britain, 1939-1945

In this original and engaging work, Kent Puckett looks at how British filmmakers imagined, saw, and sought to represent its war during wartime through film. The Second World War posed unique representational challenges to Britain’s filmmakers. Because of its logistical enormity, the unprecedented scope of its destruction, its conceptual status as total, and the way it affected everyday life through aerial bombing, blackouts, rationing, and the demands of total mobilization, World War II created new, critical opportunities for cinematic representation.

Beginning with a close and critical analysis of Britain’s cultural scene, War Pictures examines where the historiography of war, the philosophy of violence, and aesthetics come together. Focusing on three films made in Britain during the second half of the Second World War–Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), Lawrence Olivier’s Henry V (1944), and David Lean’s Brief Encounter (1945)–Puckett treats these movies as objects of considerable historical interest but also as works that exploit the full resources of cinematic technique to engage with the idea, experience, and political complexity of war. By examining how cinema functioned as propaganda, criticism, and a form of self-analysis, War Pictures reveals how British filmmakers, writers, critics, and politicians understood the nature and consequence of total war as it related to ideas about freedom and security, national character, and the daunting persistence of human violence. While Powell and Pressburger, Olivier, and Lean developed deeply self-conscious wartime films, their specific and strategic use of cinematic eccentricity was an aesthetic response to broader contradictions that characterized the homefront in Britain between 1939 and 1945. This stylistic eccentricity shaped British thinking about war, violence, and commitment provided both an answer to and an expression of a more general violence.

Although War Pictures focuses on a particularly intense moment in time, Puckett uses that particularity to make a larger argument about the pressure that war puts on aesthetic representation, past and present. Through cinema, Britain grappled with the paradoxical notion that, in order to preserve its character, it had not only to fight and to win but also to abandon exactly those old decencies, those “sporting-club rules,” that it sought also to protect.

Kent Puckett is Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of the Representations editorial board. Puckett’s previous publications include Bad Form: Social Mistakes and the Nineteenth-Century Novel (Oxford, 2008) and Narrative Theory: A Critical Introduction (Cambridge, 2016).

 

After the Parade

A little green from our archives …

images

Beckett’s Tattered Syntax
ANN BANFIELD

The Indigent Sublime: Specters of Irish Hunger
DAVID LLOYD

Bad Art, Quirky Modernism
Aoife Monks (with an appearance by Michael Flatley)

Ulysses by Numbers
Eric Bulson

Exhumation and Ethnic Conflict: From St. Erkenwald to Spenser in Ireland
PHILIP SCHWYZER

New Special Issue: Language-in-Use

LANGUAGE-IN-USE AND THE LITERARY ARTIFACT

edited by Michael Lucey, Tom McEnaney, and Tristram Wolff

Number 137, Winter 2017 (free for a limited time on Highwire)

1.cover-source

Now available

MICHAEL LUCEY and TOM MCENANEY
Introduction: Language-in-Use and Literary Fieldwork

MICHAEL SILVERSTEIN
The Fieldwork Encounter and the Colonized Voice of Indigeneity

TRISTRAM WOLFF
Talking with Texts: Hazlitt’s Ephemeral Style

JILLIAN R. CAVANAUGH
The Blacksmith’s Feet: Embodied Entextualization in
Northern Italian Vernacular Poetry

AARON BARTELS-SWINDELLS
The Metapragmatics ofthe “Minor Writer”: Zoë Wicomb,
Literary Value, and the Windham-Campbell Prize Festival

NICHOLAS HARKNESS
Transducing a Sermon, Inducing Conversion:
Billy Graham, Billy Kim, and the 1973 Crusade in Seoul

TOM MCENANEY
Real-to-Reel: Social Indexicality,Sonic Materiality,
and Literary Media Theory in Eduardo Costa’s Tape Works

TRISTRAM WOLFF
Afterword