Women and National Socialism in Postwar German Literature: Gender, Memory, and Subjectivity

By Baackmann, Susanne | German Quarterly, Summer 2018 | Go to article overview

Women and National Socialism in Postwar German Literature: Gender, Memory, and Subjectivity


Baackmann, Susanne, German Quarterly


Stone, Katherine. Women and National Socialism in Postwar German Literature: Gender, Memory, and Subjectivity. Camden House, 2017. 232 pp. $85 (hardcover).

Katherine Stone's timely study on Women and National Socialism in Postwar German Literature: Gender, Memory, and Subjectivity examines how gender myths constitute, produce, and support common threads of postwar memory. Based on the observation that women's investment in Nazi ideology and support of genocidai politics has escaped critical scrutiny until recently, this book contributes to what Stone calls a "form of mnemohistory that examines the symbolic forms assumed by memories of the Third Reich" (17). Her study is premised on late modernity's understanding of memory as more than a mere reflection or a transparent record of the past but rather as actively produced, in constant flux, and shaped by pervasive struggles and disputes. Among other factors, these disputes are anchored, Stone argues, in "heteronormative feminine ideals [that] guard the border between the Nazi past and the present" (6). Building on the central premises of classical memory theory, Women and National Socialism in Postwar German Literature provides a significant and important contribution to more recent attempts to think through the effects and function of gender in cultural memory in general and German postwar memory in particular. The interplay of gender and recent memory texts by women authors comes into view as a pivotal hinge for unresolved historical conflicts whose fragile value may reside in the capacity to mark, rather than to collapse exculpatory equivocations. Gender and memory are foundationally connected. They are acts of performance that are at once based on and reflect differential power relations that are inevitably inscribed into cultural memory. Thus, Stone maintains, gender "fundamentally shapes the landscape of cultural memory. Ideas about masculinity and femininity determine whose stories are deemed significant, which narratives circulate as part of cultural memory, and how they are interpreted in relation to wider history as well as the socio-political imperatives of the present" (3). Her astute and wide-ranging analysis of texts written by women authors ranging from the early 1970s to 2006, is premised on the understanding that literature serves an invaluable function of modulating redemptive projections of femininity. As part of a critical effort to understand persistent conjectures that prop up national identity and cultural memory, literature comes into view as a medium that does not necessarily repeat and perpetuate dominant tropes of history and society. Rather, literature has the capacity to address the very blind spots within the discourses that express individual and national identity; and it thus potentially invites critical assessment of common assumptions about national guilt, German war time suffering, and women's responsibility for Nazi crimes.

Women and National Socialism in Postwar German Literature provides succinct and foundational reflections on the complex interdependence of cultural memory, gender and memory, and literature and memory. Addressing a considerable blank space within memory studies, this study underscores how and to what extent "memory practices, the gender norms enshrined in cultural memory, and gendered identity are reciprocally related" (20). Taking her cue from recent studies on memory, history, and nation, Stone turns to literature as both potentially affirming ossified versions of the past and as capable of deconstructing the symbolic forms which transport them. The analysis of six literary texts aims to untangle "historical, literary, and symbolic traditions in diachronic attempts to make sense of the past" (17). The readings are guided by the general question of "how particular ways of constructing the past help to construct and sustain social identities," particularly "which aspects of women's experiences have been taken up in German memory cultures at different moments since 1945 [. …

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