Writers and Politics in Germany, 1945-2008

By Good, Jennifer L | German Quarterly, April 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Writers and Politics in Germany, 1945-2008


Good, Jennifer L, German Quarterly


Parkes, Stuart. Writers and Politics in Germany, 1945-2008. Rochester: Camden House, 2009. 239 pp. $65.00 hardback.

Stuart Parkes explores politics as it is interwoven with writers, their work, and intellectual debates in Writers and Politics in Germany 1945-2008. The book represents a new appraisal of the period in two ways: first, it draws comparisons between and among writers and ideas in both fiction and non-fiction from the GermanDemocratic Republic (GDR) and the Federal Republic (FRG) and second, it traces the question of a united Germany in intellectual discussion through Germany's division and unification. Parkes's Part 2, with its focus on the intense political and literary activity beginning in 1989/90, reveals the remarkable and continuing evolution of Germany's identity through the shaping of the unity discourse, Vergangenheitsbewältigung, legacies of division, generational change, and the essence of writing as a political act.

For each decade under discussion, Parkes provides a literary and political framework; he then analyzes the public sphere of intellectual debate and the texts that inform it. Since a public forum did not always exist, as in the more restrictive East, Parkes extends his scope to include literary fiction from both West and East to explore dissent and conviction wherever authorial debates occurred, building substantially on the work of his 1986 Writers and Politics in West Germany.

From his interest in the first flurry of intellectual activity after 1945, Parkes shows his keenness to interrogate the relationship between the two countries through their authors' engagement on the topics of Nazi past, German guilt and a unity discourse at odds with Cold War tensions. Yet, writers nonetheless addressed the politics of rearmament/militarization and economics, during what Parkes cites as the core of political development in the 1950s: "dissemination of modernist ideas in the West and the adoption at an official level of Marxism-Leninism and Socialist Realism in the East" (32). Chapters Three and Four take on the 1960s, with the latter focused on the student movement; this period represents a politicization of literature in the West, with authorial identification with the FRG at its strongest level. The chronicling of the GDR during the 1960s is mostly descriptive, allowing the freezes and thaws to dictate the discussion: the building of the Berlin Wall, the Eleventh Plenary in 1965 that attacked cultural products for antisocialist tendencies and offenses "against standards of ethics, morality, and decency" (64), and the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. …

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