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Title:Negotiating the past in Weimar culture: Neue Sachlichkeit and Irmgard Keun's Das kunstseidene Mädchen
Author(s):Maxey, Karin A.
Advisor(s):Yildiz, Yasemin
Department / Program:Germanic Languages & Lit
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Irmgard Keun
Weimar Republic
Das kunstseidene Mädchen
memory studies
negotiation of the past
German literature
Weimar literature
20th-century German literature
Karin Maxey
Abstract:Irmgard Keun’s 1932 novel Das kunstseidene Mädchen (The Artificial Silk Girl) exposes many of the social and cultural issues existing in the Weimar Republic, such as unemployment, the metropolis and mass culture, modernity, and the Neue Frau (New Woman). During this time, Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) was one of the dominant literary and artistic movements, encouraging rational, unsentimental reporting of the facts, free of ornamentation or embellishments. A reaction to the illusions that lured Germany into World War I, New Objectivity focused primarily on the present, a problem for a country that needed to reconcile the effects of a destructive war. The past rarely arises as a topic of interest in New Objectivity literature, in contrast to the period after World War II when the past and memory were important topics in German literature, such as Holocaust studies. My thesis seeks to answer the question of how New Objectivity negotiates the past by examining examples of historical and personal memory within Keun’s novel and analyzing the different ways in which characters relate to their past. The protagonist and first-person narrator of the novel, Doris, for example, records her present in a diary that also functions as a means of reconciling generational differences with her parents. Ignoring her lack of education and working-class origins, Doris’s primary goal is directed at the future as she aspires to become a Glanz, a shining brilliance. During the course of the novel, however, she also encounters individuals who nostalgically long for the Wilhelmine Empire, a world apart from the rapidly modernizing Weimar Republic. While Keun does not issue a verdict on how to cope with the past, she does in fact acknowledge its importance in Germany’s current definition of itself by incorporating it into the themes of Das kunstseidene Mädchen.
Issue Date:2010-05-19
Rights Information:Copyright 2010 Karin A. Maxey
Date Available in IDEALS:2010-05-19
Date Deposited:May 2010

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