Thalidomide as Spectacle and Capital

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Thalidomide and its physical effects have rarely been out of the public gaze. The medicine itself, the revelation of its side-effects in the early 1960s, the protracted actions against its manufacturers in Germany and abroad, and the lives of those affected by it, have been reported and analyzed in books, articles, films for both large and small screen and performances; these range in approach from scientific analysis through political polemic to personal histories and, especially in recent years, autobiographical reflection. Following an introductory survey of recent representations of thalidomide and its history, focusing on the controversial television feature film Contergan (Thalidomide, Adolf Winkelmann, 2007) and the documentary NoBody’s Perfect (Niko von Glasow, 2008), this study concentrates on the representation of children in two remarkable early experiments in subverting conventional views of the thalidomide body: Werner Herzog's documentary Behinderte Zukunft (Disabled Future, 1970) and Joseph Beuys’s 1966 performance Infiltration Homogen für Konzertflügel, der größte Komponist der Gegenwart ist das Contergankind (Homogeneous Infiltration for Grand Piano, the Greatest Contemporary Composer is the Thalidomide Child) and. Both works not only question how disability, and by implication otherness more generally, is viewed and represented (in implicit opposition to normative modes of spectatorship), but also present impairment as positive creative and imaginative capital.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEdinburgh German Yearbook 4
Subtitle of host publicationDisability in German Literature, Film, and Theater
PublisherCamden House
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)978-1571134288
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Publication series

NameEdinburgh German Yearbook


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