Academic journal article German Monitor

Politicising Desire in Juli Zeh's Spieltrieb

Academic journal article German Monitor

Politicising Desire in Juli Zeh's Spieltrieb

Article excerpt

Novelist, playwright, essayist, and jurist Juli Zeh is, unlike many of her contemporaries, highly publically engaged and demands that literature be politically committed. Consequently, the political relevance of her own nonfictional writing also translates into her literary work, as contemporaneous public discourses are inscribed in the representation of interpersonal relationships. This chapter will begin by locating Zeh's writing within the larger debates in contemporary German literature. A close reading of her 2004 novel Spieltrieb will then illustrate how the political implications of the relationships at the core of the novel demonstrate how global-political discourses reverberate in local-intimate notions of power and desire.

Mehr als rechts und links, rot oder schwarz stützt mich der feste Glaube, dass der Literatur per se eine soziale und im weitesten Sinne politische Rolle zukommt.1

Juli Zeh (b. 1974) is arguably the most publically engaged of the younger contemporary authors in German literature today. In a 2004 essay entitled ?Auf den Barrikaden oder hinterm Berg?', Zeh expresses her understanding of the relation between politics and writing. She defines the role of literature in general, and her intentions as an author in particular, as conveying ideas that will prompt the reader to develop a distinct political view on the world beyond its literary or journalistic representation.2 She can therefore be seen as ?heir to the particularly strong postwar German habit of expecting cultural figures to address moral and political aspects of whatever controversies constitute the headlines of the moment'.3 Recognising this in her 2005 response to the debate surrounding the call for relevant realism, Zeh writes that nothing speaks against pushing those postwar authors most often associated with the literary-political establishment, such as Günter Grass and Martin Walser, off what she terms their ?Weltgewissen-Sockel'.4 Consequently, she criticises the popular trend of a literature disengaged from contemporary political reality, what she calls ?Larifiari-Pop-undBefindlichkeits-Literatur'.5 Zeh thus positions herself and her work within existing parameters of the German literary market since unification, but in a manner that is also self-consciously aware of the direction of postwar literary-political discourse. It is of course\ noteworthy that such discourse has been dominated by male authors, whether they be representatives of politicised literature or their pop counterparts. Although Zeh emphatically separates herself from recent debates on neo-feminism in contemporary Germany, her exceptional role as a female public intellectual and her literary explorations of the intersections between the private and the public can be read in part as facilitated by the trajectory of feminist discourse since the late 1960s.6

It is this precise interplay between her public engagement and her narrative approach to politics and the private sphere that guides the following analysis. In her fiction, Zeh often inserts the social, public, and discursive world of the contemporary German context - a context with which she regularly grapples on journalist, essayistic, and legal planes - into her characterisation of the personal, private, and intimate world of her figures. This analysis will begin with a sketch of Zeh's work since 2001, highlighting in particular her understanding of the political as it interacts with the literary. It will then turn to the 2004 novel Spieltrieb to illustrate how kaleidoscopic power structures found in the realm of the public (in the form of contemporaneous political discourses recognisable to the reader) are inserted into the private: here the narrative fabric of intimacies between the main characters Ada, Alev, and Smutek. The intimacies are dependent on the figures' difference and otherness, which refutes the claim spoken at the outset of the novel: ?Zwischenmenschliche Be2Íehungen lebten nun einmal von ihrem normativen Charakter'. …

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