Deconstructing East Germany: Christoph Hein's Literature of Dissent

By Fox, Thomas C | German Quarterly, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Deconstructing East Germany: Christoph Hein's Literature of Dissent


Fox, Thomas C, German Quarterly


Robinson, David W. Deconstructing East Germany: Christoph Hein's Literature of Dissent. Rochester: Camden House, 1999. 327 pp. $55.00 hardcover.

David W. Robinson's study of Christoph Hein is intelligent, informed, and quite well written. Concentrating primarily on Hein's prose writing, Robinson focuses on a number of key thematic concerns, including the role of political ideology in social and private behavior, the mirroring of political oppression and violence in intimate relations, the impact of history on individual lives, the human costs of modernity, and the nature of social responsibility. Robinson understands the role ideology played in East Germany, and the fashion in which the government marshaled it to instill a certain loyalty among its citizens. His book successfully traces the ways in which Hein's literary work "deconstructs" that ideological project of the East German government.

Robinson wishes to do more than this, however, as his statement of purpose suggests:

Against the continuing tendency, particularly in western Germany, to read everything eastern as politically corrupted, culturally backward, and morally deficient, my critical gesture is to treat Hein's works as worthy of close reading and interpretation in their own right, not merely as keys to a Cold War political landscape, or as veiled protests against a now-defunct state. (xiii)

Robinson does include in most of his readings certain indications of how Hein's East German work can be read not merely as a criticism of East German society, but as the subtitle of his book indicates, political or socio-historical readings are in general his primary concern, and that agenda remains throughout in some tension with the objective outlined in the quote above. …

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