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German Life Writing in the Twentieth Century

German Life Writing in the Twentieth Century

Birgit Dahlke
Dennis Tate
Roger Woods
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 222
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    German Life Writing in the Twentieth Century
    Book Description:

    "Life writing," a genre classification increasingly accepted among scholars of literature and other disciplines, encompasses not just autobiography and biography, but also memoirs, diaries, letters, and interviews. Whether produced as events unfolded or long after the event, all forms of life writing are attempts by individuals to make sense of their experiences. In many such texts, the authors reassess their lives against the background of a broader public debate about the past. This book of essays examines German life writing after major turning points in twentieth-century German history: the First World War, the Nazi era, the postwar division of Germany, and the collapse of socialism and German unification. The volume is distinctive because it combines an overview of academic approaches to the study of life writing with a set of German-language case studies. In this respect it goes further than existing studies, which often present life-writing material without indicating how it might fit into our broader understanding of a particular culture or historical period. Contributors: Rebecca Braun, Magnus Brechtken, Holger Brohm, Birgit Dahlke, Pauline Eyre, Mary Fulbrook, Ute Hirsekorn, Sara Jones, J. J. Long, Anne Peiter, Joanne Sayner, Dennis Tate, Roger Woods. Birgit Dahlke is Professor of German Literature at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany; Dennis Tate is Emeritus Professor of German Studies at the University of Bath, UK; Roger Woods is Professor of German and a Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nottingham, UK.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-725-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction: The Purposes and Problems of German Life Writing in the Twentieth Century
    (pp. 1-24)
    Roger Woods

    This volume of essays examines life writing after major turning points in Germany’s history in the twentieth century: the First World War, the Nazi era and beyond, the collapse of the GDR, and German unification. German life writing in the twentieth century in the form of autobiography has often attracted considerable public attention, perhaps because a personal account captures the mood or a mood of the time. Erich Maria Remarque’s semi-autobiographical account of a soldier’s experiences in the First World War,Im Westen nichts Neues(All Quiet on the Western Front, 1929), sold 1.2 million copies by 1933.¹ Autobiography may...

  4. 1: Life Writing and Writing Lives: Ego Documents in Historical Perspective
    (pp. 25-38)
    Mary Fulbrook

    In 1988, Ruth Klüger, at that time a visiting professor at Göttingen, was crossing the road when she was hit by a young cyclist speeding around the corner.¹ The consequences of what could have been a quite minor accident were major: Klüger spent months in hospital, with a combination of amnesia, brain damage, and physical impairment to mobility. During her recovery, Klüger, a survivor of Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, had a flashback to the accident, and realized why she had smashed her skull so badly. Instead of putting her arms down to soften the impact of the fall, as one might...

  5. 2: From Erlebnis to Erinnerung: Rereading Soldiers’ Letters and Photographs from the First World War
    (pp. 39-53)
    Holger Brohm

    The death of the last veterans of the First World War¹ brings with it the disappearance of the few remaining eyewitnesses able to tell us of their experiences of the “great seminal catastrophe of this century.”² If these memories are not audio recorded, subsequent generations will have to rely on other media viewed as capable of storing this historic experience authentically. Documents left by veterans fall into this category, such as diaries, letters, or photographs, which either lie unsorted in drawers and cardboard boxes, or have been carefully collated, dated, labeled, and placed into albums. Disturbed from the slumber into...

  6. 3: From Das Antlitz des Weltkrieges to Der gefährliche Augenblick: Ernst Jünger, Photography, Autobiography, and Modernity
    (pp. 54-70)
    J. J. Long

    Ernst Jünger was one of the preeminent autobiographers of twentiethcentury Germany. He published in an astounding variety of genres in the course of a long literary career, but his output is dominated quantitatively by life writing, understood as a broad category that includes forms of self-representation that have conventionally been marginal to mainstream literary and publishing culture. Differentiating Jünger’s autobiographical works from his nonautobiographical works is ultimately both tricky and pointless: hybrid texts such asDas abenteuerliche Herz(The Adventurous Heart) andSubtile Jadgen(Subtle Pursuit) defy categorization, while Jünger mined his own life experiences as a source for fictions...

  7. 4: Persuasive Illusions of the Self: Albert Speer’s Life Writing and Public Discourse about Germany’s Nazi Past
    (pp. 71-91)
    Magnus Brechtken

    In the public sphere of the Federal Republic of Germany no Nazi played a more prominent role than Albert Speer. A number of his fellow war criminals, like Hitler’s successor Karl Dönitz or Hitler Youth leader and Vienna Gauleiter Baldur von Schirach, had been released from Spandau Prison, like Speer, and found their way into postwar German society. Like many other former pillars of the NS regime, they wrote their memoirs,¹ but these had little impact. In contrast, Speer grew into a representative icon of a collective German memory culture in dealing with the Nazi past. The principal reason for...

  8. 5: The Shoah before the Shoah: The Literary Technique of Allusion in Elias Canetti’s Autobiography
    (pp. 92-104)
    Anne Peiter

    Elias Canetti’s work is today part of the literary canon. The award of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981 and the positive reception of his autobiography by critics and readers alike give the impression of a resounding success-story, yet this general recognition came very late in the day. Like the works of many Jewish emigrants, Canetti’s texts remained in obscurity for a long time: the memory politics of both German states and of Austria were not conducive to their rediscovery until well into the 1960s at least. The fact that it was Canetti’s autobiography that allowed him to break...

  9. 6: “Ich schäme mich meiner Augen”: Photography and Autobiographical Identities in Grete Weil’s Leb ich denn, wenn andere leben
    (pp. 105-120)
    Joanne Sayner

    Grete Weil’s autobiography,Leb ich denn, wenn andere leben(Can I Live If Others Live?), was published in 1998 and contained many episodes already known to readers of her fictional work.¹ She justified her decision to return to these events within the framework of a more explicitly autobiographical text on two grounds: first, on the basis of her position as a witness who also had the ability to write (L 7) and, second, because she felt that she had maybe not said certain things clearly enough in her previous work.² However, while it seems in many ways legitimate to view...

  10. 7: “Mich in Variationen erzählen”: Günter Grass and the Ethics of Autobiography
    (pp. 121-136)
    Rebecca Braun

    When, in August 2006, it became public knowledge that Günter Grass had served for a short time in the Waffen-SS at the end of the Second World War and had finally admitted to this in his new autobiography,Beim Häuten der Zwiebel(Peeling the Onion), the story unfolded not just in the German but also in the world media. Not only were the basic facts echoed in short press releases across the globe, consideration of the way Grass had related to this incriminating aspect of his biography throughout the course of his subsequent career ensured that the story continued to...

  11. 8: Voyeurism? Autobiographies by Children of the Perpetrators: Niklas Frank’s Der Vater: Eine Abrechnung (1987) and Meine deutsche Mutter (2005)
    (pp. 137-150)
    Birgit Dahlke

    In 2007 a young German woman made her debut as a writer with a work that deployed the marketing strategy referred to in the film industry as “Naziploitation.” Ariane von Schirach, the grand-daughter of the Hitler Youth leader Baldur von Schirach, plays inDer Tanz um die Lust(Dancing around Desire) with the voyeuristic expectations of a reading public that seems to have succumbed, sixty years after the Second World War, to fascination with a kind of magic reappearance of the perpetrators. The public response to works as different as Margret Nissen’sSind Sie die Tochter Speer?(Are You Speer’s...

  12. 9: Dismembering the Past, Remembering the Self: An Interrogation of Disability Narratives by Luise Habel and Christa Reinig
    (pp. 151-163)
    Pauline Eyre

    This dismissal of one of the most turbulent periods in recent German history occurs near the beginning of the East German author Christa Reinig’s autobiography,Die himmlische und die irdische Geometrie(Heavenly and Earthly Geometry), and appears to obstruct the possibility of reading Reinig’s narrative as a commentary on the time between her birth in 1926 and the text’s publication in 1975. This seems a lost opportunity, for Reinig had survived the National Socialist regime and the Second World War, witnessed the deployment of Russian troops against East German protesters in 1953, and had her freedom curtailed by the partition...

  13. 10: “Schicht um Schicht” — The Evolution of Fred Wander’s Life Writing Project in the GDR Era and Beyond
    (pp. 164-178)
    Dennis Tate

    Fred Wander (1917–2006) is an author whose distinctive contribution to twentieth-century life writing in German is only just beginning to be recognized. He attracted some initial attention in the GDR — as an Austrian exile living there on a long-term visa — when his largely autobiographical cycle of Holocaust stories,Der siebente Brunnen(The Seventh Well), was published in East Berlin in 1971.¹ A West German paperback edition followed, but not until 1985, enjoying a more muted measure of esteem than might have been expected in the decade when the Holocaust finally became a major focus of cultural activity there.² A...

  14. 11: Thought Patterns and Explanatory Strategies in the Life Writing of High-Ranking GDR Party Officials after the Wende
    (pp. 179-195)
    Ute Hirsekorn

    Candice lang wrote in 1982: “Autobiography is indeed everywhere one cares to find it. [. . .] If the writer is always, in the broadest sense, implicated in the work, any writing may be judged to be autobiographical, depending on how one reads it.”¹ It is in this broad sense that the concept of autobiography will be used for all the texts that will be examined here, because they all contain reflections on the writer’s own past in narrative form.

    At key turning points in history, the need to record memoirs is particularly great. Personal reflections in the public arena...

  15. 12: “Ein reines Phantasieprodukt” or “Hostile Biography”? Günter de Bruyn’s Vierzig Jahre and the Stasi files
    (pp. 196-208)
    Sara Jones

    Writing against the criticisms of autobiography as a genre put forward by the deconstructionists and following the theoretical reflections of Philip Lejeune and John Sturrock, Reinhard Andress argues that the writing and reading of an autobiography must necessarily be bound with an “Erkenntnisgewinn [. . .] sonst würden sich Autoren und Leser nicht immer wieder dieser Form zuwenden” (a gain in insight [. . .] otherwise authors and readers would not repeatedly turn to this form).¹ Andress argues that the critical East German writer Günter de Bruyn (1926–) achieves this “(Selbst-)erkenntnis” (self-insight) in his two-volume autobiography,Zwischenbilanz(Interim Report,...

  16. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 209-212)
  17. Index
    (pp. 213-216)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 217-217)