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Title:Memory on the move: transnational travel in post-1989 German literature
Author(s):Hansen, Lauren Michelle
Director of Research:Pinkert, Anke
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Pinkert, Anke
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Yildiz, Yasemin; Rothberg, Michael; Murav, Harriet; Gasyna, George
Department / Program:Germanic Languages & Lit
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):family memory
German literature
Abstract:Contemporary German literature after 1989 has become increasingly transnational and transcultural, given its numerous portrayals of travel, particularly in exploring traumatic family pasts. The transitional years of 1989/90, known as the Wende, have arguably resulted in greater mobility and Germans' turn to the future as a unified country. However, authors of the second generation, or those born at the end of or just after WWII, are going back in historical time, as they revisit the war and post-war periods via modes of travel in their post-1989 literary works. The sweeping changes across Germany and Europe after 1989, the public debates about how to remember WWII and the more recent divided German past, and the gradual passing away of the first generation who survived WWII explain the surfeit of memory literature and novels that examine family memory. Using Marianne Hirsch's notion of postmemory, I argue in this dissertation that second-generation authors employ modes of travel in their post-1989 works in order to negotiate critical empathy to parents' traumatic pasts and revisit intergenerational conflicts of the Cold War period. Critical empathy here means emotional proximity and an attempt to understand parents' traumatic wartime experiences while maintaining critical distance in order to avoid over-identification or an overly emotionalized investigation of the family past. Critical empathy is negotiated through the authors' depictions of geographical proximity and distance to places pertinent to the family past. I trace how critical empathy unfolds across and beyond German borders in Barbara Honigmann’s Eine Liebe aus Nichts (1991), Monika Maron’s Pawels Briefe (1999), Hans-Ulrich Treichel’s Anatolin (2008), and Eugen Ruge’s In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts (2011). Given the over forty-year division between East and West Germany, two differing trajectories for dealing with atrocities of the Second World War had to be reconciled. The initial euphoria of reunification and its renewed engagements with the past ultimately delegitimized the GDR, folding it into a Western historical narrative of triumph in which capitalism defeated communism. In the meantime, however, many scholars have countered this hegemonic view with more nuance that takes into account the antifascist state's problems, yet exposes its complexity and texture as a legitimate cultural and political project. Moreover, the celebratory narrative and tone of reunification at large is countered with what scholars see as a profound loss, disappointment, and disorientation in works of art after the GDR disappeared. That is, rather than necessarily longing for its return, artists and writers have invited reflection on the effects of a vanished framework for interpreting history and the world. The authors explored in this dissertation each negotiate in their own ways and to varying degrees the role that the formerly divided Germany plays in their respective portrayals of family pasts that are constituted by multiple spatial displacements. The larger stakes of this dissertation therefore lie in the new possibilities for GDR memory and postmemory that emerge in the process of negotiating critical empathy through travel in contemporary German literature. Itinerant engagements with the GDR past in these texts published around the turn of the twenty-first century enable attunements to present vulnerabilities that transcend Germany and German culture alone. Furthermore, protagonists in transit negotiate non-traumatic ties to traumatic family pasts. I therefore show how the open-ended, itinerant literary works investigated here allow reflection on the (GDR, war, or family) past beyond modes of trauma and loss to perhaps move contemporary German culture out of the post-1989 era and open it up to complex transnational and transcultural constellations of the twenty-first century.
Issue Date:2016-06-10
Rights Information:Copyright 2016 Lauren Hansen
Date Available in IDEALS:2016-11-10
Date Deposited:2016-08

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