A figure of ambivalent retreat: The case of Gisela Elsner | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 25, Issue 50
  • ISSN: 0845-4450
  • E-ISSN: 2048-6928



Retreat communicates power through refusal. By turning away or separating from, the subject in retreat engages in an act of negativity that demands a break with dominant modes of thinking and a redirecting of energies towards the messy, diffuse, or unpopular. In the post-1945 German context, such associations carry specific historical and cultural weight, as negation always also denotes a retreat from the legacies of fascism. This article examines the German author Gisela Elsner (1937-1992) as a case study of just such a retreat. As a figure, she enacted retreat through costuming, make-up, and her fierce commitment to the DKP, the German Communist Party, despite her location in West Germany. Her writing also retreats - from representation, from pleasure, from emotion and from interpretation. The article explores Elsner as a figure of retreat that complicates the positive coding of the term's identity-political possibilities.


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