Academic journal article Chicago Review

Introduction

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Introduction

Article excerpt

Attending a literary reading in Germany today is like going to a rock concert. Not only are tickets often sold, but they're often sold out; and in the bookstores, Literaturhauser, smoky pubs, and convention halls, on television, radio, and the pages of newspapers, writers and literature itself are once again subject to a phenomenal celebrity.

How much different matters were only a decade ago. While the country had, to be sure, more pressing things on its mind-walls coming down, socio-economic effects of reunification, the reevaluation of East German society and history, a rise in neo-fascist attacks on foreigners, etc.-German publishers lamented the irreconcilable divide between authors isolated in the valley of the shadows of the literary "boom" of the 1960s and a frustrated and dwindling readership. The public attention that writers received was fixed on political controversies like Christa Wolf's unofficial collaboration with the GDR secret service, Hans Magnus Enzensberger's comparison of Saddam Hussein to Hitler, or Peter Handke's public defense of the Serbs in Bosnia. Fast-forward a few years, though, and we find literature and the publishing industry in the midst of a massive surge in productivity. An unprecedented number of first novels appeared in the last years of the 1990s; poetry slams and performances propelled a wave of enthusiasm amongst a new generation; new awards and festivals were established; and an old guard of literary critics was joined by younger voices, many of whom brought fresh perspectives from the art world and the music scene.

So how did this "happy end" come about? Certainly there was a kind of collective realization that a new era had dawned on Germany-marked most explicitly by the end of the Cold War occupation, the arrival in 1996 of a Red-Green coalition in Parliament, and the reemergence of Berlin as both capital and cultural hotspot. Austria's joining the European Union in 1995 and Switzerland's new constitution in 1999 mark the political conditions for changing cultural realities in those countries as well. More to the point for literature, the globalization of publishing courtesy of German megacorporations Bertelsmann and Holtzbrinck, and the establishment of literary agencies for the first time have accelerated the pace of production to breakneck speeds. One wonders, however, whether these circumstances alone can account for the diversity, quality, and volume of the writing itself.

New Writing in German is an attempt to present the extraordinary plurality of contemporary German-language poetry and prose. Our points of departure were quite simple. We wanted to include as many interesting poets as we could find from the last fifteen years or so, along with several older, significant, and under-recognized big guns. For prose fiction, a considerably broader and denser field, our approach has been investigative and diagnostic: to see who right now and in the past decade may be considered heirs of the `grand seigneurs' of postwar German literature. Given the diversity and newness of the material, any curatorial sequence would be as arbitrary as any other; hence the alphabetical arrangement of these contents. It may nevertheless be useful to identify a few affinities amongst authors and to give an account of their critical reception.

Although the first literary sensation of the 1990s was a poet, the more recent furor has focused on prose. One way this sort of enthusiasm has manifested itself is in the proliferation of labels that, while vague, do capture something of what's going on. At least four such terms have come to dominate recent discourse on prose fiction: "PopLiteratur," "Das neue Erzahlen," "Das Frauleinwunder," and "multikulturelle Literatur." As terms they need little unpacking, which may explain their prevalence. Further, they're neither reliable nor mutually exclusive. Nonetheless, they do provide potential itineraries for navigating the literary terrain; we trust that readers will also find plenty of occasions to depart from them. …

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