Academic journal article German Quarterly

Putting Stones in Place: Anne Duden and German Acts of Memory1

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Putting Stones in Place: Anne Duden and German Acts of Memory1

Article excerpt

"If ever there were a Sisyphean image of hopelessly heaving weight upward, it is the German with his burden of history. Damned if you do; damned if you don't."

-Tom L. Freudenheim (146)

Germany's current memory boom, most notably the construction of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, attests to the continued labor of Vergangenheitsbewaltigung. Often enough, however, stones put in place to recall the past provoke familiar grousing about "German difficulties in 'getting it right'" (Fulbrook 41). History presumably recedes beneath inanimate abstractions in stone or, as Andreas Huyssen argues, takes the form of "radiating" waste in need of Entsorgung (193).2 Either way, the verdict is equally damning.

The metaphysics of stone and waste also figures prominently in the literary work of Anne Duden, particularly her short story "Ubergang" (1982), one of several short stories in a collection with the same title and perhaps Duden's best known work. Significantly, Duden's text recasts Sisyphus' work of "hopelessly heaving weight upward" (Freudenheim 146) as an act of abjection. When a nameless female protagonist's face is shattered in an accident, she vomits the effects of German history buried in her body. After her physical boundaries have been brutally resurrected by physicians, she imagines herself drowning in a Steinmeer (89). Despite its dystopian nature, this process nonetheless provides a powerful language for the purposes of Vergangenheitsbewaltigung. The act of abjection in which the protagonist's voice emerges reveals a complicated positionality. While vomiting re-establishes besieged boundaries and the semblance of a differentiated self, the protagonist also recognizes an inexplicable commingling of self and other in what she voids. Expelling the abject and having her face reconstructed, in turn, hide damning evidence of German history and metaphorically turn her to stone.

This process of abjection and turning into stone has particularly interesting ramifications if one considers Berlin's present frenzied construction, during which buried history has a way of periodically disgorging itself, like the Goebbels bunker unearthed beneath the site of the Holocaust Memorial. Another example is the "Topography of Terror" at the Prinz-Albrecht-Gelande, which, with its excavated, subterranean rooms where the Gestapo tortured and murdered, also gains suggestiveness given Duden's metaphorics. A dilapidated structure which a bulldozer could easily topple, these rooms stand as an open hole in the face of Berlin - a past neither buried nor carted away. Duden's text reminds us to position German identity alongside of German history in precisely those ambiguous, discomforting spaces which challenge easy distinctions and symbolic designations. It remains for each generation to keep the traces of German history exposed and to work towards its own symbolic renditions of perpetually troubled historical, geographic, and psychic boundaries. The short story "Ubergang" equates the alternatives - burying or removing history - with a symbolic form of disease and death respectively.

In the following I will offer a close reading of "Ubergang" which first examines the mechanics of a "vacuum mouth" - the means by which an abject history enters the protagonist's body. I will pay close attention to the positionality of the voice which ultimately rides out of the body on the back of abject emissions, if only to disappear in a ruinous landscape of rubble. Despite an all-out assault on the protagonist's boundaries and a response akin to a mechanical act of self-preservation, she nonetheless conjures up differentiated, mournful relations between Germans and Holocaust victims. Based on the film Berlin Babylon (Hubertus Siegert, 1996-2000), I will conclude with remarks on Berlin's present-day landscape, particularly the new Reichstag dome, Potsdamer Platz, the "Topography of Terror," and Peter Eisenman's Holocaust monument. Duden's text not only offers rich metaphorical implications for abject history and stone, bulldozers and glass, it also helps us to understand how German identity is currently positioning itself along architectural nodal points, at times transparent, messy or ossified, in relation to history. …

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