David Jackson

I t is tempting to imagine the writer-taboos relationship as one where a critical dissident is confronted by a state and/or society determined to outlaw certain topics. Having assessed risks and responses, he/she opts for the most appropriate artistic strategies. However, the situation is obviously much more complex than that. In this paper I shall first look at categories and beliefs which after 1848 acquired the status of inviolable articles of faith for certain Poetic-Realist writers. Then I will examine new taboos which emerged once the official opinion-makers of the North German Confederation and then the Second German Empire either dismissed these norms or perverted them to their own purposes. Having considered the predicament of dissenting writers, I will discuss their intellectual turmoil and intense heart-searching when reality refused to conform to their earlier expectations. Hopefully a picture will emerge of how they were torn between inhibitions about jettisoning hallowed categories and a compulsion to explore these and other taboo topics even at the risk of falling foul of relatives, friends, editors, and readers. I shall argue that because of their social position writers' attitudes were often shot through with ambivalences. They were both critics and upholders of taboos. Self-censorship and the observation of specific artistic parameters thus often reflected, not just a response to external pressures, but also a refusal to push questions to the point where the conclusion was inescapable, namely that the Poetic-Realist credo was bankrupt.

The context in which Poetic Realism came into its own after 1848 helps explain why key premisses and principles came to enjoy taboo status.1 In the dispiriting aftermath of revolution what was needed to sustain confidence in the course of German


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Taboos in German Literature


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