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Dedans dehors

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Karolina Katsika

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The Janus-face of visibility: windows, transparency, and surveillance in contemporary German literature

Gianna Zocco

Texte intégral

  • 1 Gérard Wajcman, Fenêtre. Chroniques du regard et de l’intime, Lagrasse, Verdier, 2004, p. 35.
  • 2 Ibid., p. 35.

1The use of windows in literature constitutes a long, multifaceted, and still growing literary tradition. As Gérard Wajcman points out, this can only partly be explained by the window’s primary function in our everyday life, its role as « fenêtre du besoin »1 which provides our house with a controllable amount of fresh air and light while preserving our need for security and warmness. More important for writers and artists of various genres has been the window’s function as « fenêtre du désir »2, which does not relate so much to our physical needs as bodily beings, but to our existence as individuals confronted with contradictory longings for social interaction and inner retreat, with the ambiguous experience of being constituted by both a subjective world of emotions and desires, and by our relations to other people and exterior objects.

  • 3 A more detailed analysis on the motif of the window in Hoffmann’s and Tieck’s works can be found in (...)
  • 4 Leon Hempel, « Surveillance Studies. Vom kybernetischen Diskurs zur Praxis », in Stephan Moebius (e (...)

2Regarding literary history, movements such as German Romanticism have been particularly aware of our complex and ambiguous relations to windows. Already in the early nineteenth century, authors such as E.T.A. Hoffmann and Ludwig Tieck introduced protagonists behaving as fanatic window-watchers. These characters show an interest in observing the exterior world that is haunted by mysterious inner desires and a passion for reaching the invisible, and they express a longing for other people’s lives beyond the window-pane that easily crumbles into an obsession with the inanimateness of a painting and the lifelessness of an automaton3. Stories such as Hoffmann’s Der Sandmann (1816) and Das öde Haus (1817) even anticipate an aspect that seems crucial when considering the relations between the literary motif of the window and contemporary developments. Life in the twenty-first century is shaped by the experience of living in a « Maximum Surveillance Society »4, in which new technologies and media constantly improve and replace our capacities of visual perception, and in which our needs for intimacy, protection, recognition, and transparency are changing in the course of various post-9/11 developments. While Hoffmann’s protagonists try to sharpen their views with relatively simple optical instruments – in one case a pocket telescope, in the other a small mirror –, it is the outcome of these attempts which seems strikingly contemporary. Instead of achieving the intended visual improvement in terms of objectiveness and clarity, the characters’ use of technological devices leads to the exact opposite and increases the subjective, fantastic, dream-like nature of their perceptions. Thus, these texts from the early nineteenth century already confront the reader with the fragile character of the borders that separate « objective reality » from subjective imagination, and desired intention from not so desirable actual effect.

3With these remarks on the use of windows in German Romanticism in mind, this paper will risk a mighty leap in time: It will focus on four recently published, contemporary German novels, in which the literary topos of the window functions as central motif relevant for plot and character development, and in which twenty-first-century surveillance technologies and discourses play a major role. Similar to many of Hoffmann’s stories, all four novels are set in major German cities (in three cases Berlin, in one Munich), and, inspired by the discrepancy between intended and actual effect of technologically equipped visual perception in Hoffmann, particular attention will be paid to tracing similar moments of crumbling, reversion and fragility as they are central to the experiences of watching and being watched in all four works.

Thommie Bayer, Das Aquarium

  • 5 As the other three contemporary novels investigated, Bayer’s book has hitherto not been translated (...)

4My first example, Thommie Bayer’s novel Das Aquarium (2002)5 – opens with a scene familiar from yet another of Hoffmann’s stories, Des Vetters Eckfenster (1822), and even more from Hitchcock’s famous thriller Rear Window (1954) and its literary model, Cornell Woolrich’s story It Had to Be Murder (1942). Similar to the main characters of its canonical predecessors, Bayer introduces a male protagonist named Barry, who finds himself in a situation of temporary physical disability after an almost fatal motorcycle accident. Longing for a fundamental change in his life, Barry moves into a new apartment which unexpectedly turns out as designed in a way similar to Jeremy Bentham’s famous Panopticon: through the windows, Barry is able to observe his neighbors, while the architectural construction guarantees that he remains invisible to them.

  • 6 Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology, trans. by Hazel E. (...)

5After days of randomly observing different families and speculating about their lives, Barry becomes particularly fascinated with the inhabitant of the top-floor apartment, a young and beautiful woman constrained to a seemingly lonely life in a wheelchair. Immediately, Barry’s begins to imagine the story that has led to her life in the « aquarium » next door. However, his attempt of using visual perceptions to deduce the invisible – the, in all likelihood, sad and touching story of the woman’s fate and her sufferings – easily crumbles into an act of projection and possession. Rather than conceiving the woman’s story as necessarily different and independent from his own experiences, he transforms her into what Sartre called « a definite object of my universe »6, thus attributing his own feelings of sadness, isolation, and loss of orientation onto her. In this way, the woman at the window stimulates a process of recognition and consolation. She begins to serve as an external object that allows the protagonist to get in touch with his inner longings and to express compassion for himself by hiding his own need for consolation behind the image of himself as pitying another:

  • 7 « Die Frau tat mir leid. Sie steckte mit ihren toten Gliedern in einem Leben, in dem auch ich hätte (...)

I felt sorry for the woman. With her dead limbs, she had to face a life that I too might have had to face, and she seemed courageous to accept it. As I, hopefully, would have been. And she had chosen an apartment with an eagle’s view, on the top floor without elevator. She didn’t even want to get out. Like me7.

  • 8 Leon Hempel, Surveillance Studies. Vom kybernetischen Diskurs zur Praxis, op.cit., p. 174.

6While the developments described so far may seem only barely original, the course of the plot becomes more extraordinary when the two get to know each other, begin an intense communication via email and chat, and – after several other events including the beginning of an erotic relationship and the revelation that June, the suffering beauty, is not actually paraplegic – eventually separate, as she sees herself obligated to move into another apartment with a former lover of hers. Although June asks Barry explicitly not to search for her new address and to leave her alone, the protagonist, who knows about the violence of June’s now seemingly paraplegic ex-lover, has no intention to respect her decision. In a manner that perfectly illustrates what Leon Hempel (referring to sociologist David Lyon) describes as the « Janus face of surveillance »8, Barry expresses the need to look after and protect June, and he uses these good and socially acceptable intentions to justify other, less altruistic desires like his own loneliness and his wish to « possess » June sexually:

I would find June. […] And eventually she would understand that she belonged to me. And then I would be there.

  • 9 « Ich würde June finden. […] Und irgendwann würde sie kapieren, daß sie zu mir gehörte. Und dann wä (...)

I did not think logically. June could come to me anytime if she wanted to, why should I secretly keep observing her. In fact, I wanted to be close to her. Bodily close. Not only in writing. I couldn’t have it differently anymore. For two months we had been living in this kind of symbiosis, I simply couldn’t stop. Besides, this Kalim was a swine, he would also be one on wheels, maybe I had to protect her from him. I already saw myself running into an unknown apartment and beating up a cripple9.

7Thus, Barry follows June and – with the help of two detectives and a computer specialist – manages to secretly rent a room in the opposite building of her new apartment, where he installs several webcams directly behind the window, which are then connected to a wireless network sending the videotapes to the computer in his apartment. Hence, Barry creates an environment in which technologies are used to maintain the panoptic constellation of his former neighborly life with June and in which the monitor of his computer has come to replace his original view of June in her « aquarium ».

  • 10 Eric Töpfer, « Videoüberwachung – Eine Risikotechnologie zwischen Sicherheitsversprechen und Kontro (...)
  • 11 Hille Koskela, « “You shouldn’t wear that body”. The Problematic of Surveillance and Gender », in D (...)

8Unlike the results of recent academic evaluations and discussions, where surveillance cameras have been found almost useless in cases of grave violence (but sometimes helpful against pickpocketing)10 and where the gendered dynamics of mostly male camera operators and female charges has been criticized as « a new form of mediated chaperoning »11, the plot of the novel eventually supports Barry’s justification of his behavior. Janus-faced surveillance loses its negative side when his fantasies of protecting June from her violent ex-lover are confirmed by the final course of events, with the ex-lover brutally attacking June, and Barry being able to intervene immediately thanks to his act of permanent surveillance. Thus, the plot of this novel eventually prevents any further evolving of the dynamics of crumbling and reversion that is hauntingly present in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s stories. Although Das Aquarium depicts Barry’s actions as guided by both altruistic motives and less-altruistic, voyeuristic and selfish desires, the course of events at the end of the novel eliminates these traces of ambivalence and creates a conciliatory atmosphere of unambiguousness by depicting Barry as generic hero who wins the beautiful princess by defeating his evil antagonist. This raises the question of how the literary function of referring to surveillance technologies and the motif of the window can be described in this novel. Windows and surveillance are directly linked to one another, and both contribute to the erotic atmosphere and the creation of suspense on the level of the plot. Moreover, the fictional use of surveillance technologies supports a description of the book as « up-to-date » or « contemporary », but the inconsequent handling of the elements of crumbling and reversion embedded in the Janus-faced structure of surveillance clearly undermines a critical perspective on this topic. In this sense, the novel seems to suggest that an appropriate attitude towards surveillance would be similar to June’s, who, at the end of the novel, expresses silent approval of Barry’s disrespectful, but ultimately protective behavior:

  • 12 « Sie studierte den Blick, den ich auf sie gehabt hatte. Dann, irgendwann, sagte sie: “Hoffentlich (...)

She studied the view that I had had on her. Then, after a while, she said:
« Hopefully I will be able to forgive you, because you were spying on me. That
was infinitely mean ».
« No, it wasn’t » .
She kept silent and looked at me.
« You need my eyes », I said12.

Friedrich Ani, “Hinter blinden Fenstern

  • 13 According to the Index Translationum, this novel has never been translated into any other language. (...)
  • 14 « The principles of the art of watching » (my translation). E. T. A. Hoffmann, Des Vetters Eckfenst (...)

9While the elements related to crumbling and reversion in Bayer’s novel mainly concern the contrast between observation as a form of caring and protecting, and observation as an act of controlling, projecting, and voyeurism, Friedrich Ani’s detective fiction Hinter blinden Fenstern (Behind Blind Windows, 2007)13 uses the motif of the window and its relation to contemporary practices of surveillance for the depiction of two opposed modes of seeing. On the one hand – and similar to the protagonist’s thoughts on the « Primizien der Kunst zu schauen »14 in Hoffmann’s Des Vetters Eckfenster –, seeing is described as a complex skill only based on the act of visual perception, but additionally requiring the observer’s intellect and empathy in order to be able to look at something precisely and perceptively, trying to understand the not directly visible links and inner motives guiding the observable activities. This way of seeing is opposed to our handling of big data: In order to evaluate the huge amount of material from a surveillance camera (or another database), it becomes necessary to develop techniques like « profiling » and « social sorting », which rely on social, economic, ethnic, or racial categories and use superficial appearances and similarities to calculate an individual’s criminal risk or belonging to an economic target market.

  • 15 Dieter Kammerer, Bilder der Überwachung, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 2008, p. 79; Tobias Singelnst (...)

10Set in a police department in Munich, Ani’s novel tells the story of a complicated police investigation regarding several cases of murder and violence in the borough Milbertshofen. Using multiperspective storytelling, it depicts the various characters’ modes of seeing as well as their individual opinions on the use of surveillance technologies. As regards the latter, the police officers’ controversial discussion about the helpfulness of surveillance cameras for their work confronts the readers with an aspect that has also been noted in various studies on the use of surveillance technologies: Rather than actually improving security, they mainly increase a person’s subjecttive feeling of security15. In accordance to this, it is shown that surveillance cameras do not fundamentally change the department’s work, but require to be combined with other forms of police investigation. Eventually, they prove helpful in only one of the investigated crimes, when they allow the police officers to prove a suspect’s presence at the crime scene.

11While surveillance technologies are depicted as a useful tool in this one case, it is emphasized that the most important skill for police officers is something else: a way of seeing close to understanding, the ability to look as accurately and objectively as possible, and to be able to distinguish between observed facts and mere appearances or uncertain interpretations. This skill is repeatedly described in a metaphoric way – using the motif of the window as key metaphor:

  • 16 « In der Gegenwart von Zeugen, Verdächtigen oder Tätern achtete er besonders auf deren Hände, sie e (...)

In the presence of witnesses, suspects or culprits, he [the leader of the police department, G.Z.] paid particular attention to their hands, which told stories that the persons did not control or even notice. When he compared their gestures to their glances during an interrogation, he often observed – or imagined – how the other consisted of a changing number of contradictions. Each of these could open a new window on the truth, as long as he did not misperceive something16.

12Similar to the members of the police department, the inhabitants of Milbertshofen hold different opinions on the use of surveillance cameras in their quarter. Interestingly, the two strongest supporters of surveillance technologies both practice voyeuristic and obsessive modes of seeing, and eventually turn out as culprits of several crimes. Thus, the course of the plot emphasizes the negative side of the Janus-faced structure of surveillance by showing how these characters’ concerns with protection and security serve as Trojan horses hiding their less-acceptable, selfish, and even dangerous motives. As a consequence, the relation between surveillance and security is reversed. The improvement of public security is no longer seen as an argument supporting the use of surveillance cameras, but as a task that may be impeded by potential criminals taking advantage of the data provided by them, and by the general effect of increased surveillance on the social practice of seeing and judging.

13This last aspect is further illustrated with another inhabitant of Milbertshofen, who suffers from depression and – as a result – does not leave his apartment and keeps the curtains of his windows closed for several weeks in a row. While their supportive attitude towards surveillance contributes to the actual criminals profiting from their neighbors’ trust, several inhabitants of Milbertshofen begin to consider this harmless, depressive man a possible suspect:

Since the day when the newspapers had published the first articles about the girl, the man disappeared from the quarter between Anhalter- and Riesenfeldstraße. He hid himself in his apartment. At nights, one could see a dim light from behind, in the daytime each window remained closed.

  • 17 « Von dem Tag an, als in den Zeitungen die ersten Berichte über das Mädchen erschienen waren, tauch (...)

The photos on Soltersbusch’s living room table showed the man […] at the time before January 9th, the day when the girl was seen for the last time. The photos documented the habits of an unpredictable man who was hiding something17.

14This example illustrates a way of seeing led by superficial appearances. Although he has neither talked to the man nor considered other means of understanding his situation, his neighbor Soltersbusch feels entitled to judge on the basis of appearance, on the fact that he considers living behind closed curtains and not leaving the apartment abnormal and suspicious. Judgment here is based on superficial deviance rather than on actual guilt – an idea central to Michel Foucault’s famous analysis of Bentham’s Panopticon in Discipline and Punish, which has become even more relevant in the context of surveillance technology: The huge amount of material collected by a surveillance camera or another database can only be evaluated by techniques such as « profiling », which are based on classifying cases into categories and filtering out deviances. As this scene shows, the increasing use of practices of social, economic, and ethnic sorting leads to a general increase of this way of seeing and judging, and hence to people neglecting the empathic and accurate way of seeing which might have enabled the inhabitants of Milbertshofen to become aware of the actual criminals in their quarter earlier.

Lukas Hammerstein, Die 120 Tage von Berlin

  • 18 Henriette Steiner and Kirstin Veel, « Living Behind Glass Facades: Surveillance Culture and New Arc (...)
  • 19 Ibid.
  • 20 « Hüter des Scheins ». Lukas Hammerstein, Die 120 Tage von Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 200 (...)

15While the novels analyzed so far refer directly to new surveillance technologies and the changes in perception influenced by them, the following two literary examples consider more generally the recent discourses on big brother culture, transparency, visibility, and privacy, which – although closely related to the increase of public surveillance – touch various aspects of living as they « take part in much wider current cultural processes of cultural re-orientation»18. Lukas Hammerstein’s Die 120 Tage von Berlin (2003, The 120 Days of Berlin, also untranslated) relates to the recent trend of using large windows and glass facades in architecture, something that has already been labeled an « aesthetic paradigm of perceived visibility »19 by Henriette Steiner and Kristin Veel. The novel describes a group of people living in a newly built glasshouse at Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz. This glasshouse, which the inhabitants also call their « new paradise », is supposed to serve as an office building in the future, but it is temporarily inhabited by a group of so-called « pseudo-tenants », who are allowed to live there without charge as long as they act as « guardians of illusion »20 and simulate a normal office life in order to attract any « real » tenants.

  • 21 Dieter Kammerer, Bilder der Überwachung, op.cit., p. 261.
  • 22 Jürgen Straub, « Identität », in Friedrich Jaeger and Burkhard Liebsch (eds.), Handbuch der Kulturw (...)

16As analyzed by Steiner and Veel, the disciplinary and normalizing effect typically connected to a panoptic architectural constellation is no longer effective for the inhabitants of this glasshouse. Instead of experiencing the de-individualizing power of permanent observation, they think of their exposure to the views of others as something connected to positive values such as openness, freedom, and sociality, and they feel that their exceptional circumstances of living even increase their sense of identity by allowing them to see themselves as part of a progressive, vanguard group. However, it is also shown that this positive, identity-stabilizing effect of the « glamour of surveillance »21 differs from what is traditionally understood as having a sense of identity. Here, this notion has lost any relation to the essentialist view of identity as constituted by a certain number of particular traits and an individual « core »; and neither does it correspond to any more recent, (mildly) constructivist views of the term, which still emphasize the individual’s active role in the act of building its own narrative out of a « synthesis of heterogeneous elements »22. Instead, the inhabitants of the glasshouse view identity as related to the idea of « radical openness », to the ability of renouncing from any fixation in terms of individual traits or narrative construction, thus defining themselves by their capacity to play any available role and to serve as projection screen to any observer. A young and attractive woman named Maria is seen as having the most developed sense of this radical concept of identity:

  • 23 « Sie ist groß und klein, ist weich und hart, so verletzlich wie verletzend. Ein Blick aus ihren Au (...)

She is tall and small, soft and hard, as vulnerable as hurtful. A look in her eyes makes you freeze. Maria is sitting in the shop-window as if it were a throne […]. When she’s there, she is sitting behind the big window, drinking tea, almost always lighting up one of her terrible incense sticks. She does not see the pedestrians, who look at her window seldom enough. She is sitting there as if she were a soul lost in the world of commerce, living from avaricious gazes as a vampire living from blood after midnight. She feeds on her rage, soaks her hatred, sits there and does not look back. She is leading a public life as if it does not belong to her but in a broader context, in a shop able to afford some art23.

17Maria’s attractiveness is rooted in the particular relation she has to herself: She manages to renounce from any attempts of developing an individual identity; she is perfectly disposed to use her physical and personal features as instruments and costumes for any kind of role-play and experiment. While this radical openness constitutes Maria’s absolute freedom and self-sufficiency in the eyes of the other tenants, her lack of any ‘real’ traits and attitudes runs the risk of crumbling into complete blankness, of replacing any remainder of ‘reality’ by ‘hyperreality’. In the words of Jean Baudrillard:

  • 24 Jean Baudrillard, « Symbolic Exchange and Death », in Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan (eds.), Literar (...)

The hyperreal represents a much more advanced phase insofar as it effaces the contradiction of the real and the imaginary. Irreality no longer belongs to the dream or the phantasm, to a beyond or a hidden interiority, but to the hallucinatory resemblance of the real to itself24.

18This is exactly true for Maria: Her experiments with different roles have led to the dissolution of any difference between fictional and « true » self, between reality and simulation of reality. Hence, the protagonist admits that his love for Maria cannot be described in terms of loving another person, but only in terms of loving nothingness:

  • 25 « Wer sich in sie verliebt, ich meine, ernsthaft verliebt, ist verloren, er tut es besser nicht, de (...)

Whoever falls in love with her, I mean, who truly does, is lost, he’d better not do it, because he wouldn’t find an object. I only want to possess her, again and again, only for a moment, I need to be with her for a second, a minute maybe, not more. I hug her and I ask if she feels something. No. That’s good, because I don’t feel anything either. […] I will continue approaching her, but only in order to feel nothing. I want to embrace the Nothingness, to fall into this emptiness, to dive into the cold25.

  • 26 « Das Kochbuch für Unsterbliche », Ibid., p. 217.

19The transformation of life into a « pseudo-life » as « pseudo-tenant » in a « pseudo office building » eventually leads to a drastic, apocalyptic ending of Die 120 Tage von Berlin, in which the title’s allusion to Marquis de Sade’s Les Cent Vingt Journées de Sodome (and to Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma) unfolds its full meaning: The inhabitants of the glasshouse meet to celebrate an enormous feast, where they enjoy a cannibalistic recipe found in the « cookbook for immortals »26. Hence, the « psychological » dissolution of identity into « pseudo-identities » is shown as leading to the real, physical destruction of individuals, with the hyperreal gaining complete domination over reality and the inhabitants consenting to their own extinction by accepting it at as an act of final liberation from their bodily existence, the last resort of material reality.

Anke Stelling, Bodentiefe Fenster

  • 27 Kinderladen has been the name given to various forms of self-governed kindergarten mostly run by pa (...)
  • 28 « genau die richtige Mischung aus Nähe und Distanz », in Anke Stelling, Bodentiefe Fenster, Berlin, (...)

20Although told in a more realistic manner, Anke Stelling’s most recent novel Bodentiefe Fenster (2015, Surface Low Windows, untranslated) resembles Hammerstein’s Die 120 Tage von Berlin in that it describes a similar transformation from a vanguard, utopian social living project to a dystopian experience, which is also based on contemporary ideas of transparency, openness, freedom, and sociality. Set in Berlin’s popular and (formerly) bohemian district Prenzlauer Berg, Bodentiefe Fenster is told as the internal monologue of Sandra, a freelance journalist and married mother of two children, who has grown up in the alternative Kinderladen27 milieu, and who is one of the founders of a community living in an autonomously built housing project conceived as an « ideal mixture of closeness and distance »28 and seeking to provide an alternative to both neighborly control in the village and the anonymity of living in a metropolis. Sandra admits that, on the surface, her situation corresponds to her long-held aims and needs. The idea of building and administering her home with others satisfies her wish of belonging to a community; and she recounts several situations in which visitors unanimously appreciate the beautiful features of the house – its large balconies full of flowers, the shared garden and community room, and, most of all, the surface low windows in every apartment, an architectural decision never questioned by any of the community members:

  • 29 « Sie sind dreifach verglast und entsprechen unseren hohen, ökologischen Standards; für die automat (...)

They are triple glazed and correspond to our high, ecological standards; they are equipped with fans for automatic ventilation; but tonight it is so hot that Hendrik has just opened them. It surely looks beautiful from outside, to see the curtains waiving. Actually, from outside the house appears exactly the way you want it today. But, honestly, the surface low windows make it difficult to furnish the apartment29.

21The difficulty of transforming the outward appearance of coziness into an actually cozy, well-furnished apartment is only one indicator that something in Sandra’s life is going wrong. She suffers deeply from the feeling that her utopian ideas and dreams have turned into their opposite, on account of her actually taking them seriously and basing fundamental life decisions on them. She no longer sees the other inhabitants as equally liberal, motivated people, but as narrow-minded villagers, who know everything about each other and still try to keep up false images of themselves. In a number of accurately observed and closely analyzed everyday scenes, she describes how her open-minded neighbors have developed points-based systems of comparing each other’s children, how their fears of insulting someone prevent any honest conversation, and how they watch each other begrudgingly through their surface low windows.

22These windows, initially symbols of the vanguard ideology of openness and transparency, deteriorate into signs of the narrowness and hypocrisy that Sandra feels is governing her life, into expressions not of an actually good and satisfying way of living, but of the mere pretense of doing so. Ironically, this change in the symbolic meaning of the eponymous « surface low windows » is accompanied by the use of another, more old-fashioned type of windows as positive symbol of the longed for experience of peace and security. Towards the end of the novel, Sandra admits that there is still one place in which she can find some retreat: her office in the less-fashionable quarter Moabit (famous for its Central Criminal Court and detention center), which is situated in an old and unpretentious building guaranteeing anonymity and invisibility:

  • 30 « Wenn niemand außer mir im Büro ist, liege ich da oft. Tagsüber kann ich besser schlafen als nacht (...)

When no one except me is in the office, I lie down very often. During the days, I can sleep better as during the nights, and the house is an old building, the window in the rest area small and barred. It faces the courtyard, which is only crossed by people living in the rear building, none of whom I know and neither need to know30.

23Interestingly, Sandra’s pessimistic and increasingly depressive perspective on her everyday life is bound to a philosophy of watching that is similar to the positive conception of looking at something closely and empathically already encountered in Ani’s Hinter blinden Fenstern and Hoffmann’s Des Vetters Eckfenster. From her childhood in an alternative, left-wing environment, Sandra has been taught the necessity of looking very carefully and perceptively at things and people:

  • 31 « Ich war schließlich nicht hellsichtig, sondern höchstens mit ein bisschen zu viel Einfühlungsverm (...)

After all I wasn’t clairvoyant, I was only equipped with a little too much empathy because my mother and Elvira in the 1970s exaggerated with their ideas of cultivating my sensitiveness for the immoralities of this world and the socially disadvantaged. […]
I had learned that it was good to know. To look at things31.

  • 32 Ibid., p. 213 and p. 247.

24Unfortunately, it is the dark side of this ability of perceiving and understanding the relations behind mere appearances and illusions that begins to dominate Sandra’s life. The more she sees what is actually going on behind false pretenses and beautiful appearances, the more she turns into a twenty-first-century Kassandra32, suffering from the increasing unpopularity and lack of understanding caused by her dark, but often truthful predictions, and running the risk of experiencing a serious breakdown as eventually happens at the end of the novel. Thus, even this accurate, empathetic, relatively objective way of looking turns out to have a negative side: Apart from providing, as in Hoffmann’s Des Vetters Eckfenster, a fundamental basis for any creative activity, and apart from functioning, as in Ani’s Hinter blinden Fenstern, as the key ability of good police officers, it has the disadvantage of possibly leading to the deterioration of a person’s psychic state and the worsening of the social climate in a community.

25As the course of Sandra’s inner monologue makes clear, this precise and empathic way of looking at things and questioning positive impressions can be seen as Janus-faced in yet another way: Practiced as a deeply ingrained habit, it runs the risk of losing its claim to objectiveness and easily crumbles into its opposite. Although readers initially experience many of Sandra’s detailed observations and well-founded reflections as strikingly convincing and realistic, the reliability of her perceptions begins to crumble near the end of the novel, when events like her crying at the nursery and shouting at a neighbor indicate the worsening of her psychic state. These instances awaken a suspicion that eventually links Bodentiefe Fenster not only to Die 120 Tage von Berlin and Hinter blinden Fenstern, but also to Bayer’s Das Aquarium: Could Sandra’s pessimistic perceptions of her everyday reality be just another case of projection structurally related to Barry’s? Does she, like Barry, eventually conceive the lives of others around her not as elements of an exterior world independent from her inner life, but as ‘objects of her universe’, as exterior articulations of her dissatisfied, sickened, and depressive inner state of being?

Concluding Remarks

  • 33 Apart from the four chosen literary examples, it would have been easy to find others, among them Fr (...)

26It was the aim of this article to investigate how recently published novels combine their use of the traditional literary topos of the window with a consideration of highly contemporary, post-9/11-developments such as surveillance technologies. While surveillance and related changes in visibility have become a major topic of cultural products in various genres and languages33, it seemed particularly rewarding to concentrate on four works sharing the literary genre, the cultural language and origin, and the setting in a major German city. Whereas the selected novels clearly differ in their ideological agenda and literary quality, as well as in the specificity of their reference to social, political, or technological aspects, they share two main features: On the one hand, they all seek to increase their timeliness and social relevance by creating a clear connection to a particular, often well-known real-world setting (such as the Prenzlauer Berg or the Potsdamer Platz), and by referring to controversial, much discussed contemporary topics (such as surveillance technologies or the trend of ‘perceived visibility’ in architecture). On the other hand, they show relatively little interest in discussing technological, legal, or architectural questions in detail, and pay much more attention to the social and psychological consequences caused by them. In this regard, they can be related to E.T.A. Hoffmann’s stories written in the early nineteenth century: It seems that their varying ‘Hoffmannian’ sensitivity to the moments of fragility, reversion, and ambivalence embedded in the technologically advanced, Janus-faced experiences of watching and being watched might still be a key feature to determine their lasting literary value, as well as the importance of their contribution to topical questions.

Bibliographie

Bibliography

Ani Friedrich, Hinter blinden Fenstern, Wien, Zsolnay, 2007.

Baudrillard Jean, « Symbolic Exchange and Death », in Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan (eds.), Literary Theory, an Anthology, Malden, MA Blackwell, 1998, p. 488-508.

Bayer Thommie, Das Aquarium, Frankfurt am Main, Eichborn, 2002.

Brüggemann Heinz, Das andere Fenster: Einblicke in Häuser und Menschen. Zur Literaturgeschichte einer urbanen Wahrnehmungsform, Frankfurt am Main, Fischer, 1989.

Foucault Michel, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. by. Alan Sheridan, New York, Vintage, 1995.

Hammerstein Lukas, Die 120 Tage von Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 2003.

Hempel Leon, « Surveillance Studies. Vom kybernetischen Diskurs zur Praxis », in Stephan Moebius (ed.), Kultur. Von den Cultural Studies bis zu den Visual Studies: eine Einführung, Bielefeld, Transcript, 2012, p. 151-175.

Hoffmann E. T. A., Nachtstücke, Stuttgart, Reclam, 1990.

Hoffmann E. T. A., Des Vetters Eckfenster, Stuttgart, Reclam, 1980.

Kammerer Dieter, Bilder der Überwachung, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 2008.

Koskela Hille, « ” You shouldn’t wear that body”. The Problematic of Surveillance and Gender », in David Lyon, Kevin D. Haggerty, Kristie Ball (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Surveillance Studies, Abingdon, Oxon and New York, Routledge, 2012, p. 49-56.

Sartre Jean-Paul, Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology, trans. by Hazel E. Barnes, New York, Philosophical Library, 1956.

Singelnstein Tobias and Stolle Peer, « Von der sozialen Integration zur Sicherheit durch Kontrolle und Ausschluss. Zum Wandel sozialer Kontrolle und seinen gesellschaftlichen Grundlagen », in Nils Zurawski (ed.), Surveillance Studies. Perspektiven eines Forschungsfeldes, Opladen, Budrich, 2007, p. 47-66.

Steiner Henriette and Veel Kirstin, « Living Behind Glass Facades: Surveillance Culture and New Architecture », in Surveillance & Society 9, 1/2, 2009, p. 215- 232.

Stelling Anke, Bodentiefe Fenster, Berlin, Verbrecher, 2015.

Straub Jürgen, « Identität », in Friedrich Jaeger and Burkhard Liebsch (eds.), Handbuch der Kulturwissenschaften: Grundlagen und Schlüsselbegriffe, Stuttgart, Metzler, 2004, p. 277-303.

Töpfer Eric, « Videoüberwachung – Eine Risikotechnologie zwischen Sicherheitsversprechen und Kontrolldystopien », in Nils Zurawski (ed.), Surveillance Studies. Perspektiven eines Forschungsfeldes, Opladen, Budrich, 2007, p. 33-46.

Trojanow Ilija and Zeh Juli, Angriff auf die Freiheit. Sicherheitswahn, Überwachungsstaat und der Abbau bürgerlicher Rechte, München, Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, 2010.

Wajcman Gérard, Fenêtre. Chroniques du regard et de l’intime, Lagrasse, Verdier, 2004.

Notes

1 Gérard Wajcman, Fenêtre. Chroniques du regard et de l’intime, Lagrasse, Verdier, 2004, p. 35.

2 Ibid., p. 35.

3 A more detailed analysis on the motif of the window in Hoffmann’s and Tieck’s works can be found in Heinz Brüggemann, Das andere Fenster: Einblicke in Häuser und Menschen. Zur Literaturgeschichte einer urbanen Wahrnehmungsform, Frankfurt am Main, Fischer, 1989.

4 Leon Hempel, « Surveillance Studies. Vom kybernetischen Diskurs zur Praxis », in Stephan Moebius (ed.), Kultur. Von den Cultural Studies bis zu den Visual Studies: eine Einführung, Bielefeld, Transcript, 2012, p. 166.

5 As the other three contemporary novels investigated, Bayer’s book has hitherto not been translated into English or French. However, translations into Latvian (as Akvārijs 2006) and Russian (as Akvarium 2006) are available. The quotes from all four books have been translated by myself into English.

6 Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology, trans. by Hazel E. Barnes, New York, Philosophical Library, 1956, p. 292.

7 « Die Frau tat mir leid. Sie steckte mit ihren toten Gliedern in einem Leben, in dem auch ich hätte stecken können, und schien sich mutig damit abfinden zu wollen. So wie ich es hoffentlich auch versucht hätte. Und sie hatte eine Wohnung mit Adlerblick hoch oben ohne Fahrstuhl gewählt. Sie wollte gar nicht raus. Wie ich » in Thommie Bayer, Das Aquarium, Frankfurt am Main, Eichborn, 2002, p. 45.

8 Leon Hempel, Surveillance Studies. Vom kybernetischen Diskurs zur Praxis, op.cit., p. 174.

9 « Ich würde June finden. […] Und irgendwann würde sie kapieren, daß sie zu mir gehörte. Und dann wäre ich da. Ich dachte nicht ganz logisch. June konnte jederzeit zu mir kommen, wenn sie das wollte, wozu sollte ich sie dann heimlich im Auge behalten. In Wirklichkeit wollte ich ihr nahe sein. Körperlich nahe. Nicht nur schriftlich. Es ging nicht mehr anders. Wir hatten länger als zwei Monate in dieser Art Symbiose verbracht, ich konnte nicht einfach aufhören. Außerdem war dieser Kalim ein Schwein, er würde auch eins auf Rädern sein, vielleicht mußte ich sie ja vor ihm beschützen. Ich sah mich schon in eine fremde Wohnung stürmen und einen Krüppel zusammenschlagen », Thommie Bayer, Das Aquarium, op.cit., p. 278.

10 Eric Töpfer, « Videoüberwachung – Eine Risikotechnologie zwischen Sicherheitsversprechen und Kontrolldystopien », in Nils Zurawski (ed.), Surveillance Studies. Perspektiven eines Forschungsfeldes, Opladen, Budrich, 2007, p. 36-42.

11 Hille Koskela, « “You shouldn’t wear that body”. The Problematic of Surveillance and Gender », in David Lyon, Kevin D. Haggerty, Kristie Ball (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Surveillance Studies, Abingdon, Oxon and New York, Routledge, 2012, p. 52.

12 « Sie studierte den Blick, den ich auf sie gehabt hatte. Dann, irgendwann, sagte sie: “Hoffentlich schaff ich’s, dir zu verzeihen, daß du mir nachgeschnüffelt hast. Das war unendlich gemein”. “Nein, war es nicht”. Sie schwieg und sah mich an. “Du brauchst meine Augen”, sagte ich ». Thommie Bayer, Das Aquarium, op.cit., p. 332.

13 According to the Index Translationum, this novel has never been translated into any other language. However, it has been adapted into a TV movie by the German television broadcaster ZDF in 2010 (directed by Matti Geschonneck).

14 « The principles of the art of watching » (my translation). E. T. A. Hoffmann, Des Vetters Eckfenster, Stuttgart, Reclam, 1980, p. 7.

15 Dieter Kammerer, Bilder der Überwachung, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 2008, p. 79; Tobias Singelnstein and Peer Stolle, « Von der sozialen Integration zur Sicherheit durch Kontrolle und Ausschluss. Zum Wandel sozialer Kontrolle und seinen gesellschaftlichen Grundlagen », in Nils Zurawski (ed.), Surveillance Studies. Perspektiven eines Forschungsfeldes, op.cit., p. 56; Ilija Trojanow and Juli Zeh, Angriff auf die Freiheit. Sicherheitswahn, Überwachungsstaat und der Abbau bürgerlicher Rechte, München, Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, 2010, p. 47-48.

16 « In der Gegenwart von Zeugen, Verdächtigen oder Tätern achtete er besonders auf deren Hände, sie erzählten Geschichten, die den Personen oft entglitten oder die sie nicht einmal bemerkten. Wenn er während einer Befragung die Gesten mit den Blicken verglich, stellte er häufig fest – oder bildete es sich ein –, daß sein Gegenüber aus einer sich verändernden Zahl von Widersprüchen bestand, von denen jede ein neues Fenster zur Wahrheit hin öffnen könnte, sofern er sich nicht verschaute », in Friedrich Ani, Hinter blinden Fenstern, Wien, Zsolnay, 2007, p. 168.

17 « Von dem Tag an, als in den Zeitungen die ersten Berichte über das Mädchen erschienen waren, tauchte der Mann nicht mehr im Viertel um die Anhalter und Riesenfeldstraße auf. Er verbarrikadierte sich in seiner Wohnung. Nachts sah man lediglich eine Funzel im hinteren Teil brennen, tagsüber blieb jedes Fenster geschlossen.
Die Fotos auf Soltersbuschs Wohnzimmertisch zeigten den Mann […] in der Zeit vor dem neunten Januar, dem Tag, an dem laut Polizei die Schülerin zum letztenmal gesehen worden war. Die Fotos dokumentierten die Gewohnheiten eines Mannes, der etwas zu verbergen hatte und den eine Aura von Unberechenbarkeit umgab », Ibid., p. 132-133.

18 Henriette Steiner and Kirstin Veel, « Living Behind Glass Facades: Surveillance Culture and New Architecture », in Surveillance & Society 9, 1/2, 2009, p. 216.

19 Ibid.

20 « Hüter des Scheins ». Lukas Hammerstein, Die 120 Tage von Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 2003, p. 26.

21 Dieter Kammerer, Bilder der Überwachung, op.cit., p. 261.

22 Jürgen Straub, « Identität », in Friedrich Jaeger and Burkhard Liebsch (eds.), Handbuch der Kulturwissenschaften: Grundlagen und Schlüsselbegriffe, Stuttgart, Metzler, 2004, p. 281.

23 « Sie ist groß und klein, ist weich und hart, so verletzlich wie verletzend. Ein Blick aus ihren Augen läßt etwas in dir schockgefrieren. Maria thront im Schaufenster […]. Sitzt, wenn sie da ist, hinter der großen Scheibe, trinkt Tee, zündet fast immer eines ihrer fürchterlichen Räucherstäbchen an. Passanten, die selten genug vor ihrem Fenster stehen, sieht sie nicht. Sie sitzt da wie eine in der Warenwelt verlorengegangene Seele, die von gierigen Blicken lebt wie ein Vampir vom Blut nach Mitternacht. Sie speist ihre Wut, tränkt ihren Haß, sitzt da und gibt keinen Blick zurück. Sie führt ein öffentliches Leben, als gehörte es nicht ihr, sondern in einen größeren Zusammenhang, zu einem Geschäft, das sich etwas Kunst geleistet hat », in Lukas Hammerstein, Die 120 Tage von Berlin, op.cit., p. 90.

24 Jean Baudrillard, « Symbolic Exchange and Death », in Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan (eds.), Literary Theory, an Anthology, Malden, MA, Blackwell, 1998, p. 497.

25 « Wer sich in sie verliebt, ich meine, ernsthaft verliebt, ist verloren, er tut es besser nicht, denn er würde keinen Gegenstand finden. Ich will sie nur besitzen, immer wieder, nur für einen Augenblick, muß ganz kurz bei ihr sein, eine Minute vielleicht, mehr nicht. Ich drücke mich an sie und frage, ob sie etwas fühlt. Nein. Das ist gut, denn ich spüre auch nichts. […] Ich werde weiter zu ihr vordringen, doch nur, um nichts zu fühlen. Ich will das Nichts umarmen, in diese Leere stürzen, in die Kälte tauchen » in Lukas Hammerstein, Die 120 Tage von Berlin, op.cit., p. 167.

26 « Das Kochbuch für Unsterbliche », Ibid., p. 217.

27 Kinderladen has been the name given to various forms of self-governed kindergarten mostly run by parents’ initiatives ideologically close to the students’ movement of 1968 and other left-wing groups. The first Kinderladen was founded in 1967 in Frankfurt am Main. The Kinderläden were famous for the practice of non-authoritarian education ( « antiautoritäre Erziehung »).

28 « genau die richtige Mischung aus Nähe und Distanz », in Anke Stelling, Bodentiefe Fenster, Berlin, Verbrecher, 2015, p. 53.

29 « Sie sind dreifach verglast und entsprechen unseren hohen, ökologischen Standards; für die automatische Belüftung sind sie mit Ventilatoren ausgestattet, aber heute Nacht ist es so warm, dass Hendrik sie einfach aufgerissen hat. Sieht sicher schön aus von außen, wie die Vorhänge winken. Überhaupt sieht das Haus von außen genau so aus, wie man’s heutzutage haben will. Aber die bodentiefen Fenster erschweren, ehrlich gesagt, das Einrichten », Ibid., p. 52.

30 « Wenn niemand außer mir im Büro ist, liege ich da oft. Tagsüber kann ich besser schlafen als nachts, und das Haus ist ein Altbau, das Fenster hier im Pausenraum ist schmal und vergittert. Es zeigt auf einen Hof, den nur Leute durchqueren, die im Hinterhaus wohnen, die ich allesamt nicht kenne und auch nicht kennen muss », Ibid., p. 199.

31 « Ich war schließlich nicht hellsichtig, sondern höchstens mit ein bisschen zu viel Einfühlungsvermögen ausgestattet, weil meine Mutter und Elvira es in den Siebzigerjahren übertrieben hatten mit meiner Sensibilisierung für das Unrecht dieser Welt und die Angehörigen benachteiligter Schichten. […] Ich hatte gelernt, dass es gut sei zu wissen. Hinzusehen », Ibid., p. 212.

32 Ibid., p. 213 and p. 247.

33 Apart from the four chosen literary examples, it would have been easy to find others, among them Friedrich von Borries’ novel 1WTC (2011) and Tom Hillenbrand’s Drohnenland (2014) or – for a more international/intergeneric focus of research – Jonathan Raban’s Surveillance (2006) and the American TV series Homeland (since 2011).

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