Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Born under Auschwitz

Born under Auschwitz: Melancholy Traditions in Postwar German Literature

Mary Cosgrove
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 244
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Born under Auschwitz
    Book Description:

    In German Studies the literary phenomenon of melancholy, which has a longstanding and diverse history in European letters, has typically been associated with the Early Modern and Baroque periods, Romanticism, and the crisis of modernity. This association, alongside the dominant psychoanalytical view of melancholy in German memory discourses since the 1960s, has led to its neglect as an important literary mode in postwar German literature, a situation the present book seeks to redress by identifying and analyzing epochal postwar works that use melancholy traditions to comment on German history in the aftermath of the Holocaust. It focuses on five writers - Günter Grass, Wolfgang Hildesheimer, Peter Weiss, W. G. Sebald, and Iris Hanika - who reflect on the legacy of Auschwitz as intellectuals trying to negotiate a relationship to the past based on the stigma of belonging to a perpetrator collective (Grass, Sebald, Hanika) or, broadly speaking, to the victim collective (Weiss, Hildesheimer), in order to develop a melancholy ethics of memory for the Holocaust and the Nazi past. It will appeal to scholars and students of German Studies, Comparative Literature, Cultural Studies, Cultural Memory, and Holocaust Studies. Mary Cosgrove is Reader in German at the University of Edinburgh.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-889-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: In Defense of Melancholy
    (pp. 1-34)

    In 1963 Walter Jens published a short work,Herr Meister: Dialog über einen Roman(Mr. Meister: Dialogue about a Novel), that, in the form of an exchange of letters between a novelist (called A) and a literary critic (called B), considered the usefulness of melancholy traditions for the contemporary novel concerned with the memory of the Holocaust.¹ The letters are not fictional but showcase an intellectual exchange that took place between Jens and the German-Jewish writer Wolfgang Hildesheimer in the years 1961 and 1962 (HM, 11).² Hildesheimer, correspondent A, was interested in melancholy discourses at this time, as his fascination...

  5. 1: The Diseased Imagination: Perpetrator Melancholy in Günter Grass’s Aus dem Tagebuch einer Schnecke and Beim Häuten der Zwiebel
    (pp. 35-75)

    Midway through his autobiography,Beim Häuten der Zwiebel, Günter Grass hosts an imaginary gathering. Two of his dinner guests hail from the sixteenth century: the French Renaissance thinker, Michel de Montaigne, and the French Huguenot monarch, Henri IV. To complete the circle the more recent Heinrich Mann, who wrote a two-volume biography of Henri IV in the 1930s when he was in exile from Germany, is also called forth from beyond the grave. The topics of conversation are surprising at first glance. They range from the discussion of bodily ailments—gallstones, kidney stones, and excrement—to the plight of the...

  6. 2: The Disenchanted Mind: Victim Melancholy in Wolfgang Hildesheimer’s Tynset and Masante
    (pp. 76-109)

    Toward the end of Wolfgang Hildesheimer’s novelTynset(1965), the insomniac first-person narrator ponders the contents of his kitchen cupboard as he teeters between wakefulness and fitful bursts of sleep.¹ Mentally listing different combinations of mixed dried herbs, he concludes that a specific assortment containing rosemary would never sell in Germany. A herb that Shakespeare’s Ophelia links to the power of memory, rosemary is simply not a German affair.² Nor is garlic, the narrator muses, for “deutsche Esser” (German eaters) prefer to have pure breath. From an unidentified place of self-elected exile he remembers the German man who imparted this...

  7. 3: The Feminine Holocaust: Gender, Melancholy, and Memory in Peter Weiss’s Die Ästhetik des Widerstands
    (pp. 110-144)

    The third and final installment of Peter Weiss’s voluminous work on anti-fascist resistance during the Second World War,Die Ästhetik des Widerstands, begins with the evocation of a melancholy condition.¹ On her knees in a snowy, sandy landscape that through the imagery of coldness and dryness conveys a world in the grip of a withering melancholy paralysis, the narrator’s mother, alongside several other beleaguered individuals, digs into the earth with her bare hands (3:7).² We only later realize that these people are Jews and are digging their own graves. The shifting narrative perspective of these initial pages subtly makes clear...

  8. 4: From the Weltschmerz of the Postwar Penitent to Capitalism and the “Racial Century”: Melancholy Diversity in W. G. Sebald’s Work
    (pp. 145-184)

    Melancholy in Sebald’s work is one of the most debated subjects. His engagement with Walter Benjamin’s philosophy of history, with the melancholy writings of the seventeenth-century English thinker Thomas Browne, his play with space and perspective, and his melancholy representation of time feature prominently in this body of scholarship.¹ And yet the fundamental ambivalence of Sebald’s melancholy has not been sufficiently recognized. The following chapter illuminates the complexity of melancholy in his work. Indeed, it is more accurate to speak of “melancholies” in Sebald because he, like Günter Grass, Wolfgang Hildesheimer, and Peter Weiss, adapts and combines several discursive traditions....

  9. Epilogue: Death of the Male Melancholy Genius: From Vergangenheitsbewältigung to Vergangenheitsbewirtschaftung in Iris Hanika’s Das Eigentliche
    (pp. 185-200)

    Iris Hanika’s satirical novelDas Eigentliche(Authenticity, 2010) announces the decline of the project ofVergangenheitsbewältigungand the demise of the melancholy genius of ethical memory.¹ An employee of the “Zentrum für Vergangenheitsbewirtschaftung” (Center for the Management of the Past), the main protagonist, Hans Frambach, has fallen prey to the affliction ofacedia, the hermit’s melancholy of early Christian monasticism that in the Middle Ages became one of the Seven Cardinal Sins. Reviled by the extent to which the once noble project ofVergangenheitsbewältigunghas been degraded in the Berlin Republic to “Shoah business,” Frambach tells his only friend, the...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 201-222)
  11. Index
    (pp. 223-234)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-235)