An Emotional State

The Politics of Emotion in Postwar West German Culture
Anna Parkinson


This literary-historical study seeks to dismantle the prevailing notion that Germany, in the period following the Second World War, exhibited an “inability to mourn,” arguing that in fact this period experienced a surge of affect. Anna Parkinson examines the emotions explicitly manifested or addressed in a variety of German cultural artifacts, while also identifying previously unacknowledged (and undertheorized) affective structures implicitly at work during the country’s national crisis. Much of the scholarship in the expanding field of affect theory distrusts Freudian psychoanalysis, which does not differentiate between emotion and affect.
One of the book’s major contributions is that it offers an analytical distinction between emotion and affect, finding a compelling way to talk about affect and emotion that is informed by affect theory but that integrates psychoanalysis. The study draws on the psychoanalytic writings of Freud, Margarete and Alexander Mitscherlich, and André Green, while engaging with interdisciplinary theorists of affect including Barbara Rosenwein, Lauren Berlant, Ann Cvetkovich, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick among many others. 

“As a literary-historical study of postwar Germany, this book makes a substantial contribution to German Studies, offering a much-needed critique of ‘melancholic scholarship’ in favour of work that wrestles with the often complex emotionality of the postwar era.”
German History

An Emotional State thus innovatively presents highly productive building blocks toward a
complexified historical study of emotion …”
The Germanic Review

“Offers a truly original, even pathbreaking, contribution to the study of postwar West German culture, while making a very important intervention in the theoretical debate on the study of emotions. Its potential audience includes not only historians and literary critics but the rapidly growing, strongly interdisciplinary community of ‘emotion scholars’.”
— Frank Biess, University of California, San Diego

“Beautifully written, the book conveys its insights in clear prose and through carefully argued, illuminating readings. . . . Parkinson attends not only to textual logic but also to perlocutionary effects—nuances of meaning, reception, and emotional tone that would otherwise remain inaudible.”
—Joahnnes von Moltke, University of Michigan

Anna M. Parkinson is Associate Professor in the Department of German, Northwestern University.

Praise / Awards

  • "Provides an excellent analysis of postwar West German society...a study that breaks new ground in understanding this period of German history...Highly Recommended."
  • "Offers fascinating insights into the emotional landscape of postwar Germany."
    --German Studies Review
  • "An Emotional State will join the list of essential reading for those who wish to understand the cultural politics of West Germany after Auschwitz. It also provides a compelling case for psychoanalysis’ invaluable role in affect and emotion studies."
    --Society Space
  • "An Emotional State is an inspired and inspiring work of interdisciplinary scholarship that suggests new ways of reading a range of different texts and that will enjoy significant resonance beyond the field of German Studies."
    --Modern Language Review
  • "Invites a serious rethinking of the Mitscherlich thesis and a much more careful use of their findings than has been the practice, especially among historians."
    --Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association
  • "[Historians] and emotion scholars, will benefit greatly from Parkinson’s highly readable and often enlightening book."
    --The English Historical Review

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Product Details

  • 264 pages.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2015
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12148-9

  • PDF: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

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  • psychoanalysis, emotion, affect, West Germany, inability to mourn, post-WWII, resentment, intellectual history, politics of emotion, critical theory