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Speaking the Unspeakable in Postwar Germany

Speaking the Unspeakable in Postwar Germany: Toward a Public Discourse on the Holocaust

Sonja Boos
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
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  • Book Info
    Speaking the Unspeakable in Postwar Germany
    Book Description:

    Speaking the Unspeakable in Postwar Germanyis an interdisciplinary study of a diverse set of public speeches given by major literary and cultural figures in the 1950s and 1960s. Through close readings of canonical speeches by Hannah Arendt, Theodor W. Adorno, Ingeborg Bachmann, Martin Buber, Paul Celan, Uwe Johnson, Peter Szondi, and Peter Weiss, Sonja Boos demonstrates that these speakers both facilitated and subverted the construction of a public discourse about the Holocaust in postwar West Germany. The author's analysis of original audio recordings of the speech events (several of which will be available on a companion website) improves our understanding of the spoken, performative dimension of public speeches.

    While emphasizing the social constructedness of discourse, experience, and identity, Boos does not neglect the pragmatic conditions of aesthetic and intellectual production-most notably, the felt need to respond to the breach in tradition caused by the Holocaust. The book thereby illuminates the process by which a set of writers and intellectuals, instead of trying to mend what they perceived as a radical break in historical continuity or corroborating the myth of a "new beginning," searched for ways to make this historical rupture rhetorically and semantically discernible and literally audible.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7195-7
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: An Archimedean Podium
    (pp. 1-22)

    In the short autobiographical prose pieceEin sehr junges Mädchen trifft Nelly Sachs(A Very Young Girl Meets Nelly Sachs), Esther Discherheit reimagines her first encounter with a German-Jewish poet, Nelly Sachs, which took place in 1965.¹ Discherheit remembers that she had been deeply impressed by this “meeting,” which, albeit mediated through television, nevertheless had the effect of momentarily breaking her and her mother’s isolation and loneliness by way of triangulating them with a person with whom they had something in common: like her mother, Sachs had been brought up as an assimilated Jew in the cultivated milieu of Berlin’s...

  6. Part I. In the Event of Speech:: Performing Dialogue

    • 1 Martin Buber
      (pp. 25-51)

      On September 13, 1960, Martin Buber and Paul Celan, two central—if fundamentally dissimilar—intellectual figures of the German-speaking Jewish diaspora, had a brief, dissonant encounter (this was the only time they met).¹ Their dispute revolved around the possibility and legitimacy of engaging in a dialogue with Germans.² Having accompanied Celan to the meeting, which took place in the lobby of a Paris hotel, Jean Bollack recalls how deeply disappointed his friend was by the much-revered scholar-philosopher Buber, whose viewpoints struck Celan as injudicious, even naive: “Did Buber grasp the tragic nature of the stories he was divulging in Germany?...

    • 2 Paul Celan
      (pp. 52-69)

      Paul Celan’s Büchner Prize address is saturated with the terminology of Martin Buber’sI and Thou, a work Celan had extensively studied and reread around the time of his meeting with Buber. This is evident in Celan’s use of terms such asAtemwende(turn of breath) andAtempause(pause for breath), which strongly resonate with Buber’s notion ofAtemholen(drawing a deep breath) andAtemanhalten(holding one’s breath) (ME,7, 8;IT65, 168). Also, where Buber writes, “Whoever says You . . . stands in relation,” Celan responds, “ The poem . . . stand[s] in the encounter” (IT,...

    • 3 Ingeborg Bachmann
      (pp. 70-84)

      Where Paul Celan points to the technological dimension of public speaking, most notably through his mystification at the loudspeakers’ “censorship” of his Büchner address, Ingeborg Bachmann reacted to the obligatory use of electro-acoustic and radio-transmission technology in public speeches with a much more ambivalent attitude. The Austrian poet once offered a forceful critique of modern mass media, which she believed to be responsible for the condition of contingency that defines modernity: “I would agree with Benjamin, because it is this shrinkage of experience, that arises more and more, through the development of the mass media, through the second-hand life.”¹ Yet...

  7. Part II. “Who One Is”:: Self-Revelation and Its Discontents

    • 4 Hannah Arendt
      (pp. 87-113)

      Gesine Cresspahl, the protagonist of Uwe Johnson’s novelAnniversaries, is an unusual female antihero. Johnson paints the picture of a woman who seems both strangely receptive to the ramifications of (violent) past events and aloof to the unfolding implications of current affairs. Yet Johnson partially redeems his character from the charge of political compliance and immaturity by granting her access to a genuine public intellectual through her personal acquaintance with the philosopher Hannah Arendt. Arendt, with whom Johnson became acquainted when he lived in New York in 1966–68 (working as a textbook editor and subsequently doing research forAnniversaries),...

    • 5 Uwe Johnson
      (pp. 114-134)

      Whenever Uwe Johnson appears as a character à clef in his novelAnniversaries, there is an intensely ironic but also urgent political impetus. In the diary entry of November 3, 1967, Johnson parodies himself as a maladroit intellectual who falls into the kind of apologetic, reconciliatory discourse that he himself criticizes. By restaging a public speech that he had given in reality, a speech that according to his account was interrupted and heckled by a deeply unsympathetic Jewish audience, Johnson weaves an alarming political narrative that indirectly interrogates the value systems governing any communicative exchange between Germans and Jews in...

  8. Part III. Speaking by Proxy:: The Citation as Testimony

    • 6 Peter Szondi
      (pp. 137-158)

      In 1936, Walter Benjamin published an anthology titledDeutsche Menschen: Eine Folge von Briefen(German Men and Women: A Sequence of Letters). It contained twenty-five letters sent or received by German poets and thinkers between 1783 and 1883.¹ These included, for instance, a letter from Georg Büchner to his publisher, Karl Gutzkow, another from Johann Heinrich Kant to his brother, Immanuel, and a third by Franz Overbeck for Friedrich Nietzsche. Conjuring the bygone era of Germany’s high bourgeois culture, Benjamin’s anthology charts the rise and the climax of theKulturnationwhile at the same time foreshadowing its dramatic culmination in...

    • 7 Peter Weiss
      (pp. 159-194)

      Like Szondi’s inaugural address,Die Ermittlung(The Investigation), Peter Weiss’s theatrical representation of the Frankfurt or Auschwitz trial, solicits and draws its momentum from the simultaneity of collective reception. When the play was first staged on October 19, 1965, its premiere took place in sixteen theaters simultaneously, including four theaters in West Germany (West Berlin, Essen, Cologne, and Munich), eleven theaters in East Germany (Altenburg, East Berlin, Cottbus, Dresden, Erfurt, Gera, Halle, Leipzig, Neustrelitz, Potsdam, and Rostock), and one, under the direction of Peter Brook, in London.¹ Weiss’s script was able to absorb a wide range of directorial approaches. While...

  9. Conclusion: Speaking of the Noose in the Country of the Hangman
    (pp. 195-210)
    Theodor W. Adorno

    This book would not be complete without a consideration of Theodor W. Adorno’s role in the formation of a public discourse on the Holocaust in postwar Germany. There are multiple reasons for this. Adorno’s presence loomed large in the new republic’s sociopolitical and intellectual landscape. During the 1950s and 1960s he gave over three hundred public speeches and delivered about as many radio lectures, prompting some to speak of a veritable Adorno-inflation.¹ Adorno could be heard—and was indeed listened to—on an almost weekly basis.² Evidently this aural and performative aspect of his public engagement was important to Adorno,...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-224)
  11. Index
    (pp. 225-229)