Academic journal article German Quarterly

On Fools and Clowns: Farewell to the GDR in Two Final DEFA Films: Egon Günther's Stein and Jörg Foth's Letztes aus der DaDaeR

Academic journal article German Quarterly

On Fools and Clowns: Farewell to the GDR in Two Final DEFA Films: Egon Günther's Stein and Jörg Foth's Letztes aus der DaDaeR

Article excerpt

A decade after the epochal political changes in East Germany, a number of important recent publications in German Studies have centered on the question of intellectuals and their relationship to political power. East German intellectuals and writers in particular had played a very public role in the protests leading to the fall of the wall and the chaotic developments afterwards. However, following the rapidly executed unification, the public indifferently dismissed these writers' dire warnings against the evils of capitalism. The former role models of dissent had now become dethroned-a process hastened by revelations about collaborations with the Stasi by several of the most prominent writers such as Christa Wolf, Heiner Muller, and Sascha Anderson. The early 1990s were characterized by several highly publicized debates about the "true" nature of literary dissent in the East, the uncomfortable proximity of Geist andMacht, and even the literary quality of the thus far esteemed canon of GDR writings (Gesinnungsästhetik). These debates, largely carried out in the feuilleton sections of Germany's important newspapers, broadened in the mid-1990s to include scrutiny of the public role of West German intellectuals, but have returned recently to investigations into the question of political influence and engagement of East German intellectuals, and their continued loyalty to some form of socialism as a realistic goal. Wolfgang Emmerich has summarized possible motives for this position:

Vielen Angehörigen der literarischen Intelligenz [...] gelang - oder geschah - im Lauf der späten 60er und 70er Jahre etwas ganz Erstaunliches: Auch als ihre Einstellung gegenuber dem "real existierenden Sozialismus" als dem falschen, mißungenen kritischer und kritischer wurde, hielten sie - nachweislich ungebrochen auf der Basis eines emphatischen Bekenntnisses zum "Antifaschismus" - an der vertrauten Zuschreibung fest, einer Elite mit aufklärerisch-erzieherischem Auftrag anzugehören. ("Die Risiken des Dafürseins" 280)

Other scholars, too, have repeatedly emphasized the importance of the antifascist founding myth of the GDR, which became the long lasting ideological superstructure for legitimizing the socialist experiment, and produced what Annette Simon has called a "Loyalitatsfalle"(qtd. in Emmerich, "German Writers" 50) for its intellectuals-a litmus test for the right political conviction.1 As David Bathrick has shown, East German writers were not only aware of this problem but articulated it as well in their literary works. Reading Christa Wolf's infamous 1990 story Was bleibt with an eye towards the writer's "struggle to situate herself [...] in relation to a system within which she is both willing participant and an obj ect of ostracism, " Bathrick concludes that the text "seeks instead to confront the already internalized discursive 'system' as a functioning and invasive presence in the mental processes of this intellectual's everyday life" (151).

While much attention has been devoted to the role of literary intellectuals, less has been written about East German filmmakers in this context. Two late DEFA films have explored the relationship of Geist and Macht even before the literary controversy broke lose by casting the central oppositional artist as fool and clown, respectively. This article discusses Egon Günther's film Stein (1991) and Jörg Foth's Letztes aus der DaDaeR (1990), both of which were among the approximately thirty last features bearing the DEFA label. By choosing the fool's or clown's outsider perspective to comment on the lost Utopian project of socialism both films exhibit little faith in the effectiveness of art's pedagogical mission as Emmerich had described it for literary intellectuals. Günther and Foth both demonstrate in their films a commitment to film as social critique even as they depict how this ambition was in effect thwarted early on in the GDR, leaving the artist the choice between playing the mad fool or the irreverent but ultimately harmless clown. …

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