Axel Goodbody, Pol O Dochartaigh, Dennis Tate, eds. Dislocation and Reorientation: Exile, Division and the End of Communism in German Culture and Politics. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009. 344 pp. $105.40 (cloth), ISBN 978-90-420-2554-7.
Reviewed by Donna Harsch (Carnegie Mellon University)
Published on H-German (November, 2010)
Commissioned by Benita Blessing (Oregon State University)
Dislocation and German Literature
This edited volume is a tribute to Ian Wallace, a scholar of German literature who founded the GDR Monitor in 1979 and established the field of GDR studies in Great Britain. Wallace is known as well for his work on exile studies. It is, thus, appropriate that contributions to this Festschrift revolve around the experience and meaning of exile and dislocation in recent German history. Its twenty-five essays focus on the massive dislocations associated with the turning points of 1933, 1945, and 1990. The subjects of the majority of chapters are either (former) East Germans or German writers who lived at least part of their life in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The book addresses the continuing attention of scholars and the lay public to "what remains" of the GDR. Contributions to the volume will also interest students of Jewish and communist exile from Nazi Germany. More generally, the book speaks to interest in the interactions between loss, cultural memory, and the identities of people displaced by war, politics, or economic change.
In their brief introduction, the editors note that authors define "dislocation" broadly in the volume. Contributors employ several methodologies to analyze dislocation from multiple perspectives. Dislocation, here, encompasses both physical and psychic displacement. Some contributors focus on the consequences of physical exile or migration as experienced by émigrés in the 1930s, refugees from Eastern Europe at the end of the war, and Germans who left the GDR for the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) after 1949, while others consider the social, economic, cultural, ideological, or psychological shocks associated with, in particular, the sudden transition to capitalism in eastern Germany after 1990. The various authors examine dislocation as both an individual and a social phenomenon. Some contributions concentrate on the travails of prominent exiled intellectuals, while others analyze the impact of dislocation on a social or institutional group. The meanings of dislocation are (de-)constructed with the tools of literary analysis of fiction and autobiography, on the one hand, and social-historical examination of ordinary lives and societal trends, on the other. Two unifying themes of the volume, the editors explain, are the connection between ideological dislocation and "life in late capitalist society" and "the close relationship between cultural displacement and the (re-)construction of cultural identity" (p. x).
Although the book is multidisciplinary in approach, the majority of contributors are literary scholars, as one would expect from a book dedicated to a Germanist. Most chapters look at dislocation and, especially, exile from an individual and/or literary perspective. Also included is a partial text about dislocation in eastern Germany: an excerpt from a longer work by the politically committed poet, dramatist, and essayist Volker Braun (on whose poetry Ian Wallace did "pioneering work" [p. 33]). Seventeen of the essays focus on a well-known writer or artist or his or her work, including four contributions that interpret Volker Braun's poetry. Also featured are the artist Kurt Schwitters and the writers Wolf Biermann, Ernst Bloch, Stefan Heym, Kurt Drawert, Franz Kafka, Alfred Kantorowicz, Ernst Lewy, Thomas Mann, Ingo Schulze, Anna Seghers, Martin Walser, and Fred Wander. The range of approaches found in the contributions is wide. Some scholars illuminate exile and displacement in a writer's life or publications from a theoretical and aesthetic viewpoint. Others, including the chapters on Biermann, Lewy, Schulze, Walser, and Wander, offer (for the historian!) straightforward interpretations which emphasize the social or political context and wider cultural implications of his life or work. The latter contributions give insight into everyday experiences of dislocation as refracted through a writer's eye. Also bridging the divide between a literary and social-historical perspective are Daniel Azuélos's contribution on the reaction of the German-language exile press to the assassination attempt of 20 July 1944, Dieter Segert's piece on reform communists in 1989-90, and Roger Woods's essay on three East German autobiographies written after 1990. The explicitly social-historical chapters cover diverse topics: German expellees/refugees in the GDR; Sorbians in the GDR and since; East German football fans before and after 1990; East Germans who moved to the FRG in 1989-90. The volume includes some essays in German and some in English.
Ten contributions explore the theme of exile or return from exile. Peter Hutchinson argues that the poetry written by Stefan Heym in the 1930s in France, Great Britain, the United States, and elsewhere created the foundation for his postwar fiction. Dennis Tate contends that Fred Wander's revised autobiography of 2006 celebrates the extreme dislocations of his life by weaving the experience of terror and suffering into a personal stance that is not only cheerful but increasingly serene. Deborah Vietor-Englaender and Gisela Holfter discuss the return from exile to (East) Germany of, respectively, Alfred Kantorowicz and Ernst Lewy. Both scholars argue that the writers ran into difficulties establishing their careers in the GDR of the High Stalinst era with its anti-Semitic undercurrents and politicized attacks on formalism. Geoffrey V. David analyzes the narrative significance of fictional German Jewish exiles who are protagonists in novels by the postcolonial Anglophone writers Anita Desai, Christopher Hope, and Vikram Seth. In each case, David argues, the novel relates the struggle against Nazism to anticolonial conflicts and the struggle against apartheid.
As noted above, five contributions are dedicated to the work of Volker Braun. The excerpt from Braun's 2008 Machwerk oder Das Schichtbuch des Flick von Lauchhammer portrays workers' dislocation in an open-cast mining district of the former GDR. The piece highlights local distress over the post-communist dismantling of mining industries but it also criticizes the GDR's preceding demolition of villages in order to create vast lignite minefields in the Niederlausitz and slyly hints at the gendered and ethnic biases of the protesting workers. In just a few pages, Braun simultaneously reinforces and undermines the significance of a capitalist displacement by showing that it occurred in the wake of a socialist dislocation and alongside cultural barrier-building. My understanding of this excerpt was enhanced by the interpretations of Braun's poetry offered by Anna Chiarloni, Axel Goodbody, Karen Leeder, and Gerd Labroisse. In particular, I was impressed by Goodbody's perceptive reading of Braun's difficult poem, "Bodenloser Satz" (written in 1988, published in late 1989). Goodbody's interpretation emphasizes Braun's disillusionment with (socialist) industrial modernity and his conviction that East Germans lost their "Heimat" in the process of industrializing it.
The excerpt from Machwerk relates directly to the social-historical essay "Dislocation and reorientation in the Sorbian community (1945-2008)." Its author, Peter Barker, returns to the villages in the Lausitz destroyed during the expansion of open-cast mining. Their inhabitants were Sorbs, that is, the remaining representatives of Slavonic tribes that moved west of the Oder 1,500 years ago. Many former villagers moved to cities and to jobs in new industries, even as they continued to cultivate a separate linguistic and religious identity. Barker discusses this and others ways in which Sorbian cultural autonomy was officially protected but socially undermined in the GDR. Especially interesting are his remarks on tensions in the 1950s between Sorbs, who suffered so many dislocations over the centuries, and German refugees from Silesia and the Sudetenland, who were in the process of adapting to a major dislocation of their own. Also informative is Mike Dennis's succinct overview of the fraught organizational and political history of football clubs and their fans in East Germany and, especially, Berlin from the postwar era through today. On the issue of hooliganism, Dennis's analysis underlines continuity in the culture of football spectatorship more than dislocation.
Of the essays that bridge literary and social analysis, I recommend especially Christine Cosentino's chapter on Ingo Schulze's book of short stories, Handy: Dreizehn Geschichten in alter Manier (2007). Cosentino argues that Schulze's tales can be read as ironic explorations of the ambivalences and ambiguities of eastern German identity formation provoked by the process of negotiating the new world of capitalism. Her evocative interpretation of his stories inspired me to read them (a strong endorsement of a literary analysis in my view). Also intriguing is Stuart Parkes's claim that the theme of social and economic dislocation runs through many of Martin Walser's novels, countering Walser's reputation as a Heimat-centered writer.
Although he presents a convincing argument, Parkes's essay stretches the concept of dislocation in a direction far from the wrenching exile and extreme displacement associated with the caesuras of 1933, 1945, and 1990. And, of course, these massive dislocations differed in obvious and subtle ways from each other. While all three turning points caused serious suffering to millions of Germans (and non-Germans!), the dislocations forced by Nazism and the Second World War were all-encompassing, not to speak of life-threatening and, indeed, murderous, in contrast to the difficult but not catastrophic consequences of the end of communism in East Germany. I wish the editors had provided a longer introduction or an epilogue that drew the volume's many and disparate essays into conversation with each other toward the aim of understanding the significance of individual and social, physical and psychic dislocation in comparative historical context.
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Donna Harsch. Review of Goodbody, Axel; Dochartaigh, Pol O; Tate, Dennis, eds., Dislocation and Reorientation: Exile, Division and the End of Communism in German Culture and Politics..
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