Academic journal article German Quarterly

No conceivable hope: The symbolic function of Medusa, Clio, and the "Fee" in Gunter Kunert's work

Academic journal article German Quarterly

No conceivable hope: The symbolic function of Medusa, Clio, and the "Fee" in Gunter Kunert's work

Article excerpt

The role of women and heterosexual themes in Kunert's work has received scant critical attention. Klaus Werner refers briefly to the love poems in Kunert's early collection Das kreuzbrave Liederbuch (1961), but does not mention sexuality (66). Horst Haase commends Kunert for depicting (hetero)sexual love and sensuality in Unschuld der Natur (1966) in a way that reflects socialist experience (1279), and Marieluise de Waijer-Wilke mentions that Kunert has written on the topic of (hetero)sexual love in Fremd daheim (1990) but does not elaborate further (890).

The dearth of critical responses to Kunert's poems-and prose works-on sexuality may result from a tendency to perceive Kunert and other writers critical of socialism primarily in terms of their dissident status, and to focus on those themes that reflect this political position. However, this may merely accommodate the literary critics' (especially in socialist societies) reticence to discuss explicit sexual themes (cf. Kunert, "Sozialistische Gesellschaft"). If so, this reticence is misplaced when dealing with an author who writes about physical love and published erotic poems in Penthouse. Though Rudolf Drux does discuss some aspects of Kunert's depiction of women, his main interest is in the fantastic dimension of Kunert's writing and he merely provides a descriptive account of the female protagonists in the short stories "Olympia Zwo" and "Adam und Evam" ([1984] Auf Abwegen 208-17; 282-93). He does not address any of the other works featuring similarly grotesque images of women.1

While Clio and the "Fee" have yet to become the focus of critical literature, the theme of the Medusa is briefly addressed by Walter Schonau and Bernhard Greiner in their respective analyses of texts that contain a transition from one state of existence to another, from animate to inanimate and vice versa. Both of their cursory discussions are restricted to the poem "Medusa" (1974) (Schonau 138; Greiner 36-37). Schonau is interested in the motif of rigidity and argues that the recurrent fantasy of undergoing varying forms of metamorphosis indicates that the origin of the motif is in the unconscious. Schonau proposes a psychoanalytical explanation for the fantasies of turning to stone (or of melting) as manifestations of early narcissistic disturbances in the development of the self (141). Greiner also interprets "Medusa" in psychoanalytical terms as a product of the instability of the primary narcissistic phase (36). He reads the poem as reflecting the sudden progression of love from intoxication to a destructive force and explains this change as a consequence of viewing the mother as both nurturing and consuming. But Greiner does not restrict the significance of the various metamorphoses, and hence also the Medusa's significance, to the psychological-he extends it to include the dimension of social commentary. If the Medusa may be seen to represent Western instrumental society, then its members are attracted to her, and fascinated, but she also has the power to destroy them.

Kunert's Medusa poems are in part a development of his treatment of sexuality. His writing frequently celebrates sexual intercourse, presenting a male heterosexual experience while at the same time exhibiting a certain degree of ambivalence towards female sexuality. The poem "Die Spinne" (1965) employs the metaphor of the spider that devours her mate to convey the fear of being consumed by the female and the perception of female libido as threatening:

Zu spat erkennt von Liebe und von Schrecken uberschauert

er zwischen ihren vielen Beinen das was ihn verschlang.

Sie hat ihn sehr geliebt. Er hat zu kurz gedauert. (Unschuld 52)

Similar images of female sexuality assume a metaphorical dimension in "Wie das Leben anfangt" (1969). When a couple dies while making illicit love in a cellar, the cellar is described as the "Schoss der Zerstorung" (Tagtraume 159). Female genitalia figure as "die stets bereite Falle" in "Topographie" ([1983] "Von hinten"). …

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