Women's Writing and Historiography in the GDR

Women's Writing and Historiography in the GDR

Women's Writing and Historiography in the GDR

Women's Writing and Historiography in the GDR

Synopsis

This study adopts an interdisciplinary approach to explore how literature by GDR women became a forum for critical approaches to history which challenged the official state discourse. An introductory chapter offers broad theoretical reflections on the modes of literature and historiography,and considers the significance of feminism as a tabooed critical discourse in the GDR. The question of why GDR literature and histororiography developed so differently in the 1970s and 1980s is then pursued through a series of comparative readings of texts by both prominent writers, such as ChristaWolf, Irmtraud Morgner, and Helga Konigsdorf, and less established authors, such as Helga Schutz, Sigrid Damm, Renate Feyl, and Brigitte Struzyk. This is not only the first study to offer a detailed comparison of historical and literary discourses in the GDR, but also the first to illuminate relations between three topics popular in East German women's writing: the National Socialist past; the lives of historical women; and the use ofmythical themes and forms to voice critiques of history.

Excerpt

The collapse of the GDR has given rise to extensive reflection, amongst literary scholars as well as historians and journalists, on the question of how now to approach the history of the gdr and its literature. Three areas of the discussion are of particular relevance for the present study. Firstly, attention has been focused on the questions of what constitutes 'GDR literature', whether the term corresponds to a definable literary entity, and what value such a category might have for literary historiography. Whereas terms like 'English literature' or 'German literature' might be defined (although not unproblematically) either according to the use of a common language or in relation to an idea of nation based on cultural, if not always political, identity, 'GDR literature' is a category defined by a political entity with clear historical and geographical boundaries. These state boundaries had a special relevance for literature because of the unusual ideological constraints which governed cultural production, circulation, and reception within them. However, they proved permeable to literature in a number of ways, raising questions about how to delimit 'GDR literature'. Should the category include a text like Anna Seghers's Das siebte Kreuz, which played a prominent and influential role in the literary life of the early gdr, yet was first published seven years before its foundation? Are texts of the 1990s which deal with the experience of life in the gdr and are read primarily by citizens of the new Bundesländer still in some sense 'GDR literature'? Did the many writers who left the gdr in the late 1970s and 1980s continue to produce 'GDR literature' although they lived and wrote in the West? Debates about the various possible meanings of the term are nothing new, but in recent years critical reflection on its validity has been prompted by a widespread recognition of the primarily political motivations which determined its usages in East and West respectively up to 1989. Critics including Ursula

See Wolfgang Emmerich, Kleine Literaturgeschichte der ddr, rev. edn. (Leipzig:
Kiepenheuer, 1996), 21–2; Marc Silberman, 'Whose Story Is This? Rewriting the Literary
History of the gdr', in Contentious Memories: Looking Back at the gdr, ed. Jost Hermand and
Marc Silberman (New York: Lang, 1998), 25–57 (32).

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