The Germanic Mosaic: Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Society

By Carol Aisha Blackshire-Belay | Go to book overview


"History Presupposes Memory": The Diverse Discourses on Connectedness in the Ongoing Project of German Intellectual Life

INGO ROLAND STOEHR

Coming to terms with their Nazi past, Vergangenheitsbewältigung, is probably the single most important issue in postwar novels of the formerly two Germanys. Other major political influences on literature, such as the political shock of the late 1960s and now most likely the fall of the Wall in 1989 and unification in 1990, are still related to the German Nazi past. In this chapter I propose to view Vergangenheitsbewältigung as a somewhat more abstract and comprehensive endeavor in literature that can be well described in terms of connectedness. I borrow the concept from developmental psychology, where Jerome Kagan defines connectedness as "preservation of a structure across stages." 1 This concept allows us to understand the practices of literary remembrance with the latter's psychological and political implications as actually being one practice that attempts to creatively combine history and memory in order to generate connectedness, that is, self-awareness of personal and cultural identity over time.

The novels discussed here demonstrate that history and memory can be connected in such a way-just as they demonstrate that literary discourses on connectedness are diverse and even controversial. After all, connectedness primarily refers to the ongoing intellectual project of dealing with the Nazi legacy in German literature-an issue that is inherently controversial. Each in its own way, most of the major postwar German novels join forces in exactly this endeavor: to sustain memory so that history becomes accessible. In this sense, the literary project of connectedness attempts to execute what Alexander Mitscherlich notes in his landmark study Auf dem Weg zur vaterlosen Gesellschaft ( 1963): "History presupposes memory."

What history exactly is depends on who writes it. Literature often voices minority views, which are almost automatically from below, subverting official

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