Daheim im Nirgendwo: Ein europäischer Lebensweg (German Edition)
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He attempts to overcome a perceived colonisation of the East German past by the west, which these writers feel allows only a limited reading of GDR history, one that focuses on the oppressive institutions of the state and that ignores the everyday experience of the population. In the discussion of globalisation in all three sections we see the east German population portrayed as either needing, or being forced, to catch up with developments in the west. Yet some commentators claim that this could not be further from the truth.
The political scientist Lawrence McFalls, for example, argues that 'the shock therapy of unification' and concomitant rapid implementation of capitalism in an area largely unprotected by the entrenched social welfare provision of the old FRG mean that the population of the new states are actually 'ahead of Westerners on their common path to a neo-liberal global society'.
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McFalls continues that, structurally at least, the eastern states are paradoxically more 'Western', that is more like the US, than west Germany. As Stephen Brockmann notes, prior to the vast majority of West Germans 'took for granted the utter lack of importance of the GDR'. This centrality was illustrated most obviously in the Literaturstreit, the 'literature debate', of which began with an examination of GDR writing, but ended up questioning the validity of postwar German culture on both sides of the Wall.
West Germany suddenly lost its ideological Other, the specific location of its Utopian hopes and its dystopian fears. Whilst the east has undergone a rapid and fundamental metamorphosis, in the west there has been a more gradual realisation that the old FRG's special status within the global community is no longer tenable.
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The left-liberal consensus that had dominated West German society since the student movement of the late s has been increasingly eroded, as Germany becomes involved in international military operations and the social market economy is slowly dismantled. In novels such as Norbert Zahringer's So or Karen Duve's Regenroman , one finds a response to such economic and cultural change through the reconstruction of the east as 'Other' to the west. As a result, we find here a curious form of what Andrew Plowman, in his chapter in this book, calls 'Westalgie', or nostalgia for the old FRG that paradoxically can only find expression through an eastern setting.
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In Regenroman the east becomes a symbolically charged 'Other' through which Duve attacks rampant neo-liberal globalisation, as 30 PAUL COOKE well as the patriarchal society that ostensibly produces it, from the standpoint of a pre-unification, West German feminist value system. Echoing the work of West German, post-student-movement feminist writers from the s such as Karin Struck and Verena Stefan, the novel can be seen as a reassertion of the validity of the mores of this generation of writers, mores that are no longer in vogue in contemporary society.
The novel tells the story of Martina, a young woman from a well-off West German family who has spent her whole life under the influence of domineering men, first her father and then her gruff, macho husband, Leon. Leon is a writer who lands a lucrative contract to produce the biography of the underworld thug and pimp, Benno Pfitzner R, Following this, Leon and his wife decide to leave their hometown of Hamburg and buy a house in the east German countryside.
Here they hope to live a domestic life of bourgeois bliss. However, as in Struck's Klassenliebe , many of the class pretensions of the novel's characters are undermined. The longer they stay in this grotesque 'Other7, the more obviously futile their aspirations become. This is shown symbolically by the incremental invasion of their domestic idyll by what is represented as a disgusting, abject east German environment in the shape of rain and, more disturbingly, a plague of snails that they cannot keep out of their house R, Nevertheless, as their bourgeois affectations are stripped away, both characters come to a better self-understanding.
Firstly, it becomes clear that Leon's wish to live the life of an affluent writer, served by his dutiful wife, is an empty dream since it is based on his dependence on Pfitzner. Pfitzner is the ultimate free-marketeer, the end product of a laissez-faire capitalist system where everything, including women and creativity, are nothing more than commodities. The brutality of the world inhabited by Leon's patron is graphically revealed at the end of the novel.
Unable to write the book Pfitzner demands, Leon is visited by this gangster who exacts terrible revenge when he has his lackey violently rape Martina, an act which highlights Leon's total impotence R, More important, however, is the effect of the rape on Martina. In the final moments of the attack, Martina and Leon's house is stormed by their two powerful female neighbours R, These two east German women kill both Pfitzner and his lackey, freeing Martina, whom they take away with them to their house.
In this female space Martina at last gains the strength to free herself emotionally from the influence of her husband. She never returns to Leon, who we eventually see commit suicide, unable to recover from the crushing of his machismo by Pfitzner R, In the novel's denouement the violence of naked, unchecked neo-liberalism, embodied in the figure of Pfitzner, is made clear.
Martina is brought to a better self-understanding and is consequently liberated from the shackles of patriarchy, a system that is symbolically destroyed in the text through the death of all the main male protagonists. Martina is left to exist in a matriarchal space, a space that can only find expression in the home of her east German neighbours. The fact that Duve is revisiting the themes of an earlier decade is also suggested in the book's poetic use of language, which stylistically recalls the writing of Struck and Stefan, and differs markedly from much contemporary literature. This is a point made by several reviewers, who praised the fact that the text escapes the Americanised 'pop' sensibility which has dominated recent German fiction.
As Jorg Albrecht points out in Die Zeti: 1 am also grateful to see that it is dearly possible to write a contemporary novel without having to describe the complete musical works of Oasis or the spring collection of Tommy Hilfiger'. But ironically, Duve owes at least some of her success to the marketing machine that is driving the pop phenomenon. She, like Hermann, has been marketed as part of the Frauleinwunder phenomenon discussed in Beth Linklater's chapter in this volume , the German variant of the global genre of 'chick-lit'. This is also a key impulse in many texts by contemporary east German authors.
In the work of some older writers such as Christa Wolf who, although critical of the GDR, never lost faith in the value of its socialist project, one sees a continued belief in socialism as a global power of good, which can protect the individual and help improve society. He now appears to hold up aspects of its socialist project as a useful corrective to Western consumer culture, a development that Hilbig himself has noted.
He suggests: 'Perhaps we will realise one day that becoming part of the Federal Republic has made us into the GDR citizens that we never were when under force'. Its authoritarian power having now been destroyed, all that remains are its ideals. Das Provisorium deals with the experience of C.
Having struggled in vain to gain recognition as a writer in the East, he is finally given a visa to travel to West Germany in the mids. Once there, he at last has the opportunity of living as a full-time artist, a life he has always craved. However, he finds it impossible to settle into Western society and instead begins to suffer from a profound crisis of identity.
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He descends into a haze of alcohol abuse and, most crucially of all, loses the ability to write. The price of the freedom that he longed for in East Germany has been high. Rather than finding the promised land in the Federal Republic, he finds a vapid consumer culture in which everything is for sale. The narrator visits a shopping mall towards the end of the novel, provocatively exclaiming in one of his numerous drunken rants, 'Shopping macht frei' 'through shopping to freedom' - an ironic reworking of the concentration camp slogan: 'through work to freedom' [emphasis in original] P, In so doing he re-invokes the official rhetoric of the GDR, which saw National Socialism as the final stage of late capitalism.
What is particularly lamentable for C.
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Although he has now gained public recognition as a writer, he fears that he has become nothing more than a cog in the Western literary media machine P, Also, the books he once prized in the GDR now simply pile up in his room, suggesting that he himself has been infected by this philistine Western world where literature is a commodity - and one which has little value P, The status of literature in a world dominated by global capitalism is also lamented in Steffen Mensching's Jakobs Letter.
This text describes the author's experience of living in New York in the s and similarly tries to recover aspects of the GDR's socialist project in the face of neoliberal globalisation. Whilst in the city Mensching stumbles across a German bookshop and its eccentric owner, Jakob. The author falls in love with Jakob's collection of books, which have come mainly from left-wing German Jews living in exile. When Jakob tells him that he wishes to sell off his collection, the narrator decides to find a way to buy it. It soon becomes clear, however, that it is not so much the contents of the books that fascinate the author, but rather how they came to be in Jakob's collection.
The story slowly mutates into a quasi-detective narrative, as the narrator pieces together the stories of some of the books' previous owners. Released in , her freedom was shortlived as she was shipped off almost immediately to a concentration camp, finally being saved by none other than Oskar Schindler J, We discover how Jacobi escaped from Germany to the US in the midnineteenth century.
Travelling via Britain, he meets up with Frederick Engels in London J, , before going on to a life as a left-wing activist in the US. In the New York of the s, nobody wants to read books anymore.
Through buying the collection, Mensching wishes to salvage the authenticity and individuality that it represents for him. Saving the books becomes a means of salvaging the individual histories of their owners. In turn, the narrator's attempt to safeguard literary culture in New York is seen as a means of protecting against a broader trend towards cultural homogeneity which is constructed in the text as a by-product of global capitalism.
Mensching refers to this, half jokingly, in 'Globalisierung', one of the many poems that punctuate the text: Im Shanghai-Garden in China Town, muhsam die letzten Reiskorner vom Teller pinzettierend, erkannte ich meinen durch und durch reaktionaren Standpunkt, als ich, ein rundum satter, gliicklicher Buddha in der Fremde, im Spiegel sah, wie Wirt, Koch und Kellnerin ihre Ente, suSsauer, mit Gabeln aus Plaste verzehrten, verzweifelt, ob dieses schnoden Verrats, zerbrach ich unter dem Tisch, iiber uns, meine Stabchen.
J, In the Shanghai Garden in China Town, laboriously tweezing the last grains of rice from my plate, I became aware of my thoroughly reactionary point of view as I, a completely bloated, happy Buddha abroad, looked in the mirror while the landlord, cook and waiter consumed their sweet-and-sour duck with plastic forks.
Confused by this contemptible betrayal, I broke my chopsticks under the table, over us. Ironically, we see the Chinese restaurateur and employees happily eating their sanitised version of Asian cuisine with plastic forks. It is the poet who uses chopsticks, this way of eating being reserved for those paying customers who wish to pretend to themselves that they are having an "authentic' experience.
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While the narrator fears a loss of authenticity, he does not suggest that globalisation need necessarily be seen as a destructive force. As he explores the provenance of the books in Jakob's collection a counterdiscourse to neo-liberal globalisation emerges, reminiscent of debates that raged between the 'first' and 'second' worlds during the Cold War.
The story of the communist Jacobi and his travels across the world shows how left-wing groups have always used global networks in their struggle against capitalism. Although capitalism would seem to be in the ascendance, the narrator clearly believes that international Marxism remains an important weapon to counter it J, Here we begin to hear echoes of Held's 'optimistic globalist' position, which highlights the potential benefits of worldwide communication.
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This optimistic position is also suggested in Mensching's attempts to place the individual stories of persecution that lay behind the history of the books into a global context. In this way he suggests points of correspondence in the plights of various left-wing and Jewish groups around the globe.
The comparison of Jewish and communist suffering is of course problematic, raising the question of whether the Holocaust should be seen as a unique historical event. In Mensching's text this is even more controversial because the stories of Jewish and communist suffering at the hands of the Germans are then juxtaposed with stories of suffering from the author's own, non-Jewish, family and from his life in the GDR.
These latter stories are themselves overshadowed by the difficulties his mother's family faced when his uncle was falsely imprisoned by the Soviets in the aftermath of the war J, The poem discussed above may show us the downside of globalisation, but Mensching also highlights the commonalities in the experience that disparate groups have had of the world as a 'global village'.
The most successful of these to date has been Ingo Schulze's Simple Storys. Ein Roman aus der ostdeutschen Provinz.