Detectives, Dystopias, and Poplit: Studies in Modern Genre Fiction

By Süselbeck, Jan | German Quarterly, Summer 2016 | Go to article overview

Detectives, Dystopias, and Poplit: Studies in Modern Genre Fiction


Süselbeck, Jan, German Quarterly


Campbell, Bruce B., Alison Guenther-Pal, and Vibeke Rützou Petersen, eds. Detectives, Dystopias, and Poplit: studies in Modern Genre Fiction. rochester, Ny: Camden House, 2014. 300 pp. $90.00 (hardcover).

It's true. there are still some people in German studies that wrinkle their nose when a colleague shows up holding a paper about pop literature. However, academic job announcements from German universities tell another story. for many years now, publications and research on contemporary literature has been required for these jobs. at the same time the works of authors like Benjamin von stuckrad-Barre or Christian kracht, who already can be counted as canonized writers since their debuts in the 1990s, are being analyzed in critical literature.

Other types of genre fiction, such as science fiction or detective literature, have been closely studied by German researchers too. thus this collection of articles about Detectives, Dystopias, and Poplit does not appear as a substantial innovation at first sight. Nevertheless, its goal to bring together in one volume research on all of these genres is surely welcome. in their introduction, the editors show that they are well informed about the history of German research of the last decades: it was in the 1960s and in the wake of the student movement, that academics started to question the labels of "high" and "low" culture, in order to "analyze the social and political functions of Trivialliteratur in reinforcing capitalist ideology and the position of existing elites" (3).

In the case of detective fiction, famous German thinkers and writers, namely Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, and siegfried kracauer were interested in this literary phenomenon much earlier, in the years of the Weimar repubic (14). additionally, a genre such as science fiction did not have to be popular in the first place. When contributor evan torner writes about alfred Döblin's science fiction novel Berge Meere und Giganten (1924), we are not at all in the realm of Trivialliteratur, but at the peak of 20th-century modern writing.

Not every essay in this book benefits the described program. the articles by sonja fritzsche (about eco-criticism in the science fiction novels by andreas eschbach), by kerry Dunne (on current German crime fiction), or Maureen o. Gallagher's introduction into the Kränzchen diary for young girls in the first decades of the 20th century, may meet the editor's goals to deal with popular genres. However, they disappoint the reader, because they do little more than describing and summarizing the presented texts and their historical background without going deeper into the critical interpretation of the material.

If German studies researchers in North america wanted to distinguish themselves from their German colleagues, they should perhaps use their distinct perspective, from which they may see things native speakers may not realize, and provoke european readers with polemics.

For example, when Vibeke rützou Petersen writes about the connection between German post-war science fiction and the Holocaust, knowing that every future scenario can only depict horrors and dystopias that we already know, she closes with rather cautious sounding questions that indeed would have been worth addressing in more detail: "are German science fiction authors merely referencing the recognized genocide and projecting it onto dystopias in an imagined universe? are they addressing the categorial differences between the experiences of the victims and the perpetrators or are they muddying the waters? are they trying to keep the Holocaust alive in our memories by reviving its terrors in popular literature?" (44-45).

Well, do they? though her essay may be one of the most important pieces in this volume, one may be astonished that ernst Jünger's novel heliopolis (1949) is mentioned in this context, assuming that its fascist writer wanted to criticize the murder of the european Jews at least after the decline of the "third reich. …

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