Schiller's Children: Ulrike Meinhof and the Terrorist Performative

Article excerpt

A seemingly reluctant male actor in a mini-skirt and high heels is forced before the curtain of the Thalia Theatre in Hamburg, and a wig, a pale trench coat and a text are subsequently pushed through the curtain. The actor puts on the wig and coat - both references to Red Army Faction (RAF) terrorist Ulrike Meinhof - and begins to read: an actor playing an actor playing a role which looks like Ulrike Meinhof. It is the 2006 premiere of Nicolas Stemann's production of feminist playwright and Nobel Prize laureate Elfriede Jelinek's text Ulrike Maria Stuart. The production is a complex integration of a nineteenth century German interpretation of a sixteenth century English story (Schiller's Maria Stuart) and the historical construction of a twentieth century RAF terrorist (Ulrike Marie Meinhof). This paper argues that the Stemann and Jelinek's work of theatre is a useful tool for redressing the history of Ulrike Meinhof, for what is dramatised is not the historical figure of Meinhof, nor a historical reality but history itself. There are two conceptions of Meinhof running through the work. The first is the contemporary historical understanding of Meinhof that is consistent with a long tradition of representing the violent feminine and female terrorist. The second suggests a way of moving beyond the first: the terrorist performative. The implications of this are significant for the history of Ulrike Meinhof because it offers an alternate to the traditional discourse of unnaturalness, the search for a female terrorist causality and the related distinction between pre-terrorism-Meinhof and post-terrorism-Meinhof.

Ulrike Marie Meinhof: Myth, Mother, Lover

Born in the early years of the Third Reich, Ulrike Marie Meinhof began public life in the late 1950s as a prominent student activist. She went on to become a journalist of substantial fame during the 1960s, due to her print, television and radio work on activism and particularly the student revolt of 1968. On 14 May 1970 she was involved in successful liberation of Andreas Baader from prison. This has traditionally marked the birth of the Baader-Meinhof Gang as the group was dubbed by the popular media, or, as the group's members would later refer to themselves, the Red Army Faction. (1) Meinhof enjoyed a great degree of infamy in the underground before her arrest in 1972 and this infamy only increased during her four years in prison. She took her own life on Mothers' Day 1976, a date which coincided with the anniversary of V-Day. Terrorist acts of violence in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) peaked, in 1977, but the RAF survived its founding members and only officially disbanded in 1998. (2)

What remains of Meinhof today is largely rooted in the tradition of the representation of the violent female: Meinhof is understood in terms of an impressionistic femininity that is broken and flawed, hyper and exaggerated, or a surprisingly seamless conflation of the two. This paradoxical construction of the violent femme is motivated by the assumption that femininity and violent behaviour are mutually exclusive. (3) Such a focus on 'unnaturalness' has a long tradition; be it nineteenth century criminology (4) or recent medial constructions of female suicide bombers, (5) the understanding of the violent or criminal female typically draws on mythical stereotypes. These include the 'terrible mother', (6) the overly emotional or hysterical, (7) even diseased (8) woman whose motivations are assumed to be domestic, familial or sexual, rather than ideological. (9) The discourse of 'unnaturalness' around the female terrorist in turn reinforces the notion of 'natural' sexual difference.

It is these contemporary myths and present-day images of Meinhof which Jelinek and Stemann dramatise in Ulrike Maria Stuart. (10) The play has no real plot in the traditional sense. It presents vague, chronological references to events in Meinhof's life, from her entrance into the underground in 1970 until her suicide in 1976. …