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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: August 2018

7 - Corporate Discourse in Friedrich Christian Delius's Unsere Siemens-Welt, 1972


Ingenuity for life

—Siemens advertising slogan used in 2017

Introduction: Business and Bureaucracy

THIS CHAPTER EXAMINES Friedrich Christian Delius's representation of corporate rhetoric and bureaucracy in his pioneering work of post-1968 documentary fiction. Whereas Hermann Kant writes from within the GDR establishment, Delius (b. 1943) was, until 1971, a doctoral student and an activist associated with the Außerparlamentarische Opposition (Extra-Parliamentary Opposition) in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). While Kant writes in a realist mode, Delius's early work belongs to the genre of Dokumentarliteratur (documentary literature) developed in the 1960s and 1970s by East and West German authors, including Rolf Hochhuth, Maxie Wander, Peter Weiss, Heinar Kipphardt, Günter Wallraff, Irina Liebmann, and Erika Runge. Practitioners of the genre called for the politicization of literature and for writers to engage with the facts of the modern industrial world. Although Kant and Delius are writing from opposite sides of the Cold War divide and using different literary forms, to a certain extent they have a shared preoccupation: the inevitably bureaucratic nature of modern life. For some West German writers in the 1970s, the growth of the capitalist corporation was a major concern. This preoccupation was reflected in Wallraff's polemics against industry and big business; in Mathias Scheben's science-fiction novel Konzern 2003 (1977; Corporation 2003) most of Western Europe is ruled in 2003 by the giant Zannen Corporation. Seen from this perspective, there seemed to be a number of parallels between the bureaucracy of the Soviet states and what President Dwight D. Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex” of the US in his farewell address of January 17, 1961.

Unsere Siemens-Welt (Our Siemens World) seems to invite such parallels. For example, considering Siemens in the late nineteenth century, the narrator notes approvingly that “das Betriebsklima entsprach dem einer staatlichen Behörde, es herrschten alle Vorzüge eines ‘kalten militärischen Tons’” (the atmosphere of the firm was equivalent to that of a government agency; it had all the advantages of a “cold military tone”). Even the notorious Stasi has a counterpart in Delius's corporate world, in which there is a confidential personnel file on every employee. At one point the narrator regrets that the new employment law allows employees to apply to view their files, but he adds that the corporation will find ways to ensure that certain data remain confidential.