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Writers and Politics in Germany, 1945-2008

Writers and Politics in Germany, 1945-2008

Stuart Parkes
Volume: 32
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Writers and Politics in Germany, 1945-2008
    Book Description:

    George Orwell said that all writing is political; but the writers of some nations and some periods are more political than others. German writers after 1945 have exemplified such heightened politicization, and this book considers their contribution to the democratic development of Germany by looking principally at their directly political, non-fictional writings. It pays particular attention to writers and the student movement of the 1960s and '70s, when some proclaimed the death of literature and called for a turn to direct political action. Yet writers in both parts of Germany gradually came to identify with their respective states, even if the idea of one Germany never entirely disappeared. The unification of 1989-1990, in which this idea astonishingly became reality, posed a major (and some would say unmet) challenge to writers in both East and West. After looking at this period of intense political activities, the book considers the continuing East/West division and changing attitudes to the Nazi past, asking whether the intellectual climate has swung to the right. It also asks to what extent political involvement has been a generational project for the immediate postwar generation and is less important for younger writers who see the Federal Republic as a "normal" democratic state. Stuart Parkes is Emeritus Professor of German from the University of Sunderland (UK).

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-754-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-ix)
    S. P.
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    A 2004 collection of essays, published under the auspices of the London Institute of Germanic Studies with the title Politics in Literature, has as its subtitle “Studies on a German Preoccupation.”¹ This formulation undoubtedly implies that German writers have always been concerned, or even overconcerned, with matters political. In fact, given the course of German history, it might seem surprising if such a concern had not been evident. Nevertheless, any suggestion that writers’ preoccupation with politics is uniquely German has to be questioned, for example by reference to France. The concept of committed literature (littérature engagée) was invented in France...

  6. Part 1: The Years of Division

    • 1: The Aftermath of War and the New Beginning
      (pp. 9-26)

      That this account of writers and politics in Germany should commence at 1945 should not be regarded unthinkingly as a matter of course. Especially in the 1950s and 1960s, much public discourse in the Federal Republic of Germany referred to 1945 as Stunde Null (year zero), conveniently implying that everything started anew at that time and that, by implication, what had gone before had lost much, if not all, of its relevance. In the forty years existence of the German Democratic Republic, too, overlooking inconvenient facts of history was a frequent practice at an official level. Identification with the Soviet ...

    • 2: The 1950s: The Deepening Division
      (pp. 27-42)

      In the Federal Republic, the 1950s form the core of what is frequently referred to as the Adenauer Era. Having become Federal Chancellor at the age of 73, Konrad Adenauer remained in office for fourteen years, a record only surpassed in the 1980s and 1990s by his self–styled protégé Helmut Kohl. It was a time of unsurpassed electoral success for Adenauer’s party, the CDU, and its Bavarian sister party the CSU, most especially in the federal elections of 1957, when for the only time in the history of the Federal Republic, a party (or, to be exact, two allied...

    • 3: The 1960s: Taking Sides
      (pp. 43-69)

      In the Federal Republic at least, the 1960s were a time of major change in both the political and cultural fields. In the world of politics, the Adenauer government still held sway at the beginning of the decade, whereas at its end, power lay for the first time in the hands of an SPD–led government under Willy Brandt. Although it could have been foreseen in 1960 that the Adenauer era was approaching its close (the patriarch attained the age of eighty–four in that year), it was not just a matter of the inevitable passing of time leading to...

    • 4: A West German Interlude: Writers and Politics at the Time of the Student Movement
      (pp. 70-87)

      The main outlines of political and literary developments in the Federal Republic in the 1960s were sketched at the beginning of the previous chapter. This chapter will deal with events (and writers’ reactions to them) that can be linked to the student movement, a phenomenon that ran parallel to mainstream political developments, although of course the two worlds did influence one another. Specifically, large parts of the student movement sought to change the nature of the Federal Republic and set up a different kind of society that would be based on socialism, albeit not that of the GDR. In this...

    • 5: The 1970s: Writers on the Defensive
      (pp. 88-110)

      Although it ended with the same SPD/FDP coalition with which it began, and the two parties had their positions confirmed in the 1980 federal election, the decade of the 1970s was a time of massive changes in political mood in the Federal Republic. While the Christian Democrats licked their wounds following the events of 1969, the new government under Chancellor Willy Brandt proposed changes on both the domestic and foreign political fronts. At home, Brandt spoke of reforms and of daring to be more democratic. In foreign affairs, he turned his attention to negotiations with the Federal Republic’s eastern neighbors,...

    • 6: The 1980s: On the Threshold
      (pp. 111-131)

      The result of the 1980 election, which saw the governing parties increase their share of the vote, can, as noted earlier, be regarded less as an endorsement of Helmut’s Schmidt’s government than as a rejection by the electorate of Franz Josef Strauß as a potential chancellor. Given that he was particularly unpopular in the north German states, the election emphasized the traditional German divide between Protestant north and Catholic south, which had been overshadowed by the postwar East–West division. Nor was the continuation of the SPD–FDP coalition the cause of any widespread enthusiasm. Without Strauß it might have...

    • Intermezzo: Writers and the Unification Process
      (pp. 132-142)

      When Mikhail Gorbachev took over the reins of power in the Soviet Union in 1985, it gradually became evident that it was not just a change of generations, but also a change of direction, as exemplified by his use of the terms glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) to underline his priorities. Gorbachev also spoke of greater democracy, something that implied that the Soviet Union’s allies would enjoy greater freedom and, specifically, that it would not intervene militarily if one of these countries deviated from the Soviet model. It was in keeping with this new spirit that in May 1989 Hungary...

  7. Part 2: Writers and Politics After Unification

    • Segue: Political and Literary Developments Since Unification
      (pp. 145-149)

      Since unification in october 1990, the new Federal Republic has established a political life comparable in many respects to that of most Western democracies. Following the election in 1998, there took place for the first time the kind of change of government that is normal in such democratic societies when the electorate, grown weary with Helmut Kohl, made possible a new coalition between the SPD and the Greens, a decision confirmed by a hair’s breadth in 2002. Unlike previous occasions, there was in 1998 a complete break, with no element of continuity in the shape of the FDP, as when...

    • 7: East and West
      (pp. 150-163)

      The events of 1989/90 offered writers the opportunity not just to comment on the unfolding unification process, but also to review the previous structures that had lasted since 1949 and, only slightly previously, had seemed set in stone. The result was something that became known as the Deutsch–deutscher Literaturstreit (the Intra–German literature quarrel),even though the argument was not principally about literature, but rather politics, and the two sides were not simply East and West Germans. At least the bone of contention was clear: attitudes to the GDR, as adopted by writers and intellectuals in both German states.


    • 8: New Views on the Past
      (pp. 164-179)

      Attitudes to Germany’s Nazi past have been a recurring theme throughout this volume, with reference being made, for example, to the immediate postwar debates around the comments by Thomas Mann about German literature written during the Third Reich, to concerns about “restoration” in the early years of the Federal Republic, and to the worries about democracy at the time of the Grand Coalition when for the first time a former member of the Nazi party became federal chancellor. The overall consensus, at least among writers and intellectuals, was that during the first decades of the existence of the Federal Republic...

    • 9: A Swing to the Right?
      (pp. 180-194)

      Criticisms of the Federal Republic’s leftist intellectuals, who are alleged to have had a detrimental stranglehold on the discourse of the public sphere, have been referred to frequently in the course of this volume — in particular, those criticisms made in the 1970s against the background of Red Army Faction terrorism. A similarly intensive period of criticism has followed unification. This time, however, the emphasis has been less on the dangers to democracy posed by strident political ideology than on the problems caused by a failure to face up to the real political issues of the day — specifically, those...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 195-202)

    During all the discussion in the previous chapters on the political activities of writers, the question of how to judge their efforts has remained largely unresolved. One obvious reason for this is that it is difficult to provide a simple answer. Any attempt to determine whether they were right or wrong is likely to carry a subjective element, even if some issues — the need to fight any resurgence of Nazi ideology and the obligation to oppose terrorist violence, for example — do seem clear cut. Equally, any judgment based on success seems simplistic in that it runs the risk...

  9. Works Cited
    (pp. 203-228)
  10. Index
    (pp. 229-239)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 240-240)