Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

Incorporations: Styling Women's Identity and Political Oppression in the Novels of Herta Müller

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

Incorporations: Styling Women's Identity and Political Oppression in the Novels of Herta Müller

Article excerpt

Before receiving the 2010 Nobel Prize in literature, Herta Müller, an ethnic German bom in Communist Romania, was the recipient of numerous literary awards. The title of her acceptance speech for the Kleist Prize in 1994, "About the fragile nature of this world," expresses one of the dominant feelings conveyed in her fiction. One may add to this sentiment Müller's intense focus on the feminine self in all her novels, from the early Nadirs to The Passport, The Appointment, and The Land of Green Plums} Such works narrate the experiences of a young woman from an unnamed land (clearly identifiable as Romania) in the years before Müller emigrated to West Germany.2 Conceived fictionally as a sort of rewrite of Romania's history in the 1980s, these books also examine ethnic and socio-political aspects of Ceausescu's Romania through the tropes of trauma and the grotesque. The figures of trauma, hysteria and the grotesque connect and operate at different levels. Trauma is the pivotal concept deriving from the latent violence and corruption in the home and becoming symbolic for the conditions of the country. Hysteria is a reaction to it all and the grotesque a form of resistance to the effects of trauma. By portraying the effects of trauma, directly or as refracted in hysteria and the grotesque, Müller's fiction testifies to the lasting effects of the experience of the Eastern Bloc and of the othering of the German minority within. More importantly, her writings that bring together a series of apparently unrelated pictures, dramatically and lyrically presented, give an impression of an intensely modem literary consciousness which awards cultural legitimacy and prominence to a forgotten region in the context of Communist Romania and to the panopticon-like surveillance of all citizens by the feared Secret Police known as "Securitate."

Exposed to Romania's fragmented cultural specificity, Müller grew up near the town of Timisoara, in the German enclave of Nitzkydorf, a sort of real-life Brigadoon that followed German customs, mostly unchanged from the days when the Austro-Hungarian Empire had brought the Swabs to the southwestern Romanian province of Banat. They were late arrivals to this space and distinguishable from the other German community of southern Transylvania known as Saxons (Saçi), who had settled here in the 13th century. Since the Swabs took their cultural dictates from Vienna rather than Bucharest, Romania's capital, they were particularly at odds with the obligatory homages to Ceauçescu, the Romanian "Conducätor," and far removed from the country's communist dictates and slogans. In all her novels, Müller chronicles this time of well-known political oppression, especially for the ethnic German minority, at the height of Ceauçescu's dictatorship in the 1980s. Specifically, Müller engages contemporary politics and history while miraculously incorporating narrative techniques as inventive strategies to circumvent the censorship imposed by Ceau§escu's draconic politics and by the Communist Party-mandated Socialist Realism.

Further, by metaphorically eliding her experiences within the Swab community, Müller succeeded in annoying her own ethnic group. In 1984, an "uncensored," though abridged, version of Nadirs, which was republished in West Berlin, focuses on the story of a young girl in a Romanian-German village and describes the provincial ways of the villagers in a grotesque way. Seen from the perspectives of the child, this is a haunting world that combines reality and fantasy to illustrate a frightening outside. In an interview with Brigid Haines and Margaret Littler, Herta Müller herself admits that "The first dictatorship which I knew was the Banat Swabian village."3 After the West Berlin release of Nadirs, Herta Müller was declared "one of the most important workers of the propaganda division in Bucharest." Perceived as the writer of "horror fairy-tale from Nitzkydorf," Müller was accused of bad faith and empty posturing who "would have been hanged if she had written similarly about her Romanian neighbors. …

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