Gegenwartsbewältigung

Berlin-based political scientist Max Czollek received his doctorate from the Centre for Research on Antisemitism (Zentrum für Antisemitismusforschung). He now works at the intersection of art and politics as a curator of events, editor of the journal Yalta – Positionen zur jüdischen Gegenwart, poet and writer. In 2018, Czollek published his first polemic, Disintegriert euch! (De-integrate yourselves!), in which he argued for radical diversity rather than integration. In his second book Gegenwartsbewältigung[1] (roughly, Coming to Terms with the Present), he shows that not everything has been said about radical diversity, and does so in a striking and eloquent way.

Czollek’s book starts out from the premise that some things are going fundamentally wrong in the German present – and this is not primarily a result of Corona. An extremist right-wing party holds seats in the Bundestag. Racist murders happen repeatedly. Instead of fighting against right-wing radicalism, there is unhelpful talk of classifying right and left as somehow equally bad. According to Czollek, coping with the present means making this kind of thinking impossible.

As such, the first aim of the book is to question established assumptions about German society. Czollek pursues the question of which constructs and concepts go into the making and delimiting of the German “we”. Historical and political background helps him to explain current thinking and feeling in Germany – especially as it pivots on exclusion. The appropriate keywords at this point are Heimat (homeland), Volk (the people) und Leitkultur (leading culture). These terms are deeply embedded in a particular German discourse about national identity and serve nationalists to argue for sustaining white supremacy. Czollek explains that established ways of thinking are no longer able to come to terms with the present. He is interested in alternatives.

The alternatives that Czollek presents can be found, on the one hand, in contemporary scholarly-artistic work that he calls ‘post-migrant’. In his chapter on resistance poetry, he even formulates a motto that summarizes the core of this practice: “Write in such a way that the Nazis would ban you!” He continues to plea for radical diversity, which stems from the social justice and diversity training approach of Gudrun Perko and Leah-Carola Czollek. In order to live with and for radical diversity, one needs an understanding of complex intersectionality: Whoever understands that privilege and discrimination are united in one person, widens the scope of possible action for the individual. Czollek cites being an ally as a desirable option.

Czollek’s book wins me over first and foremost simply because I like the concepts of “radical diversity” and “resistance poetry” very much – they sound hopeful. In his argumentation, he focuses on certain dimensions of discrimination – most clearly, discussions about religion, East and West Germany, and race emerge. But an awareness for complex intersectionality runs through the whole book, so it is also sensitive to questions of class, gender and sexuality.  The book is characterized by its quick-wittedness, and its drive toward finding solutions. He sees room to manoeuvre and opportunities for fostering change on cultural and individual levels, which hopefully can have an impact on institutional levels. Gegenwartsbewältigung is an invitation to participate in shaping a society that is less discriminatory and violent than the present one.


[1] The German term Gegenwartsbewaeltigung is a play on Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung. As much as Germans are invested in coming to terms with particular moments in history, Czollek suggests with his newly coined term that they also have to come to terms with the present.