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Kuhn, Anna K.
"Rewriting GDR History: The Christa Wolf Controversy,"
1. In reviewing my attitudes toward the GDR, it became clear that I uncritically adopted the term "socialism" (albeit in its pragmaticallY: circumscribed form of "real existing socialism") to describe the German government from 1949-89. In the future, I propose that differentiate between" socialism," as a utopian project an "communism," as the failed attempt to implement Marxism-Leninism' .. Eastern Europe. Thus, in the context of the GDR, "communism" would replace the misleading term "real existing socialism." GDR scholars may well have shunned the term "communism" to circumvent the Cold War rhetoric which so decisively shaped the reception of GDR literature.
2. Introduction to the 5OOth edition of Merkur, Okt./Nov. 1990: 807.
3. A definition of revolution grounded solely in a state model appears outdated in light of significant transnational revolutionary movementsor the late twentieth century, such as feminism, the Red Army Faction, and .. numerous national liberation movements and the cross-cultural terrorist groups associated with them.
4. We in the West are still not sufficiently informed about conditions in the GDR before the Wende. One of our chief sources was established writers like Christa Wolf, Volker Braun, and Heiner Muller, writers who were critical of the system, but who sought to reform it rather than overthrow it. The question remains what role the utopian component of these authors' writings, by pointing to what was lacking in the GDR, may have played in creating expectations and fostering a process of self-assertion.
5. No doubt, the former East-bloc nations were politically and economically intertwined. However, the differences between individual countries are sufficiently pronounced and manifold that it would be meaningless to try to treat them as a homogeneous whole. I take exception to (the surprisingly many) accounts that indiscriminately speak of "the revolutions in Eastern Europe." Such a designation is tantamount to grouping countries under the rubric "Third World" countries, as though this constituted an identifiable entity.
6. The term "Gegenwartsbewaltigung" was taken from the title of a conference held at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor on 25-27 Oct., 1990. The conference, organized by Marilyn Sibley Fries, dealt specifically with issues related to the former GDR.
7. Such accounts, especially those based on models of communist selfcriticism, may prove embarrassing to audiences in the West. They are, however, in my view, vital for the psychological and political health of former GDR citizens. 1 therefore disagree with Bohrer ("Kulturschutzgebiet DDR?," Merkur. Okt./Nov. 1990: 1015) that the work of mourning (Trauerarbeit) involved in such accounts constitutes a repression of the actual problem.
8. Originally published in German as Die Unfähigkeit zu trauern: Grundlagen kollektiven Verhaltens (Munich: Piper, 1967); English translation by Beverly R. Placzek, The Inability to Mourn: Principles of Collective Behavior (New York: Grove Press, 1975). Although written twenty four years ago, this study still has resonance today and can perhaps serve as a theoretical framework for examining Gegenwartsbewdltigung.
9. This view is based on a recognition of the superiority of the Soviets' more rigorous denazification program. In what subsequently became the GDR, Nazis were systematically removed from positions of power and replaced with "antifascists," either old communists or others who had resisted the Nazis. The situation in what became the Federal Republic was considerably different: since the Western Allies failed to systematically remove former Nazis from positions of power, many moved into high ranking positions in the new government.
10. Christa Wolf, 1m Dialog: Aktue/le Texte (Frankfurt/Main: Luchterhand, 1990).
11. Christa Wolf, AnRepa.fJt oder miindig? Briefe an Christa Wolf im Herbst 1989 (Frankfurt/Main: Luchterhand, 1990).
12. "Das haben wir nicht gelernt" was first published in Wochenpost. Nr.43/1989. It was reprinted in Angepaj3t oder mundig"; pp. 12-16. "Es rut weh zu wissen" was first published in Wochenpost, Nr.47/1989 and reprinted in Angepaj3toder mundig"; pp. 12-16.
13. Christa Wolf, Was bleibt (Frankfurt/Main: Luchterhand, 1990).
14. These allegations are defamatory. Wolfis an unlikely candidate for the position of state poet. A far more appropriate candidate is Hermann Kant, former president of the DDR-Schriftstellerverband and SED functionary, who often was the mouthpiece of the GDR government. Interestingly enough, his name has not surfaced in any meaningful way in the recent "literary debates" about GDR literature. Aside from an interview with Kant conducted by Spiegel. "Ich war ein Aktivist der DDR" (Spiegel, 6 August 1990: 156-60), in which he admitted that he had deluded himself about a lot of things but also reiterated his ideological commitment to communism and defended his political behavior in the GDR, there has been no media coverage of Kant. In contrast to Kant, Wolf (with the exception of her earliest texts "Moscow Novella" and Divided Heaven-from which she has distanced herself) became increasingly more critical of theGDR regime. As a result, she often encountered obstacles from official sources. Ironically, her writings were more appreciated by critics in the Westthan by those in the East. Her texts did, however, spark great debates in theGDR and her critical stance made her a popular figure at home. Once she attained an international reputation, she became a jewel in the GDR's government's crown. While she hardly aspired to this position, it did afford her a certain protection from official reprisal. It seems particularly ironic and offensive to accuse Wolf of dishonesty since her writing, which she regards as a vehicle for gaining self-knowledge, is characterized by relentless self-scrutiny.
15. What Greiner conveniently overlooks is that Wolf was unable to publish Wasbleibt in the GDR before the demise of the communist regime. and obviously chose not to publish it in the West. Indeed, she never published any text in the Westthat could not also appear in the GDR. Todo so would have made her a dissident. Ultimately, therefore Greiner is faulting Wolffor not being a dissident.
16. The hostile, sarcastic, and accusatory tone of Greiner's piece leaves little room for any other designation. Greiner's subsequent defensive attempts to minimize the gravity of both his and Schirrmacher's review is unconvincing. See "Die deutsche Gesinnungslisthetik. Noch einmal Christa Wolf und der deutsche Literaturstreit," Die Zeit, 9 November 1990.
17. He does, however, at one point also fault Wolf for bad German in Was bleibt.
18. The original German term is "apokryphe Widerstandshandlung," an unusual turn of phrase.
19. This reproach may well have been garnered from Wolfs writings. In her introspective autobiographical novel Kindheitsmuster, she probed the roots of authoritarianism and has often faulted herself and other members of her generation with authoritarian tendencies.
20. Wolfs speech, "Fiir unser Land" (For our country) was first published in Neues Deutschland on 28 November 1989 and then reprinted in Frankfurter Rundschau on 30 November 1989. It is also reprinted in 1m Dialog, p. 170-71.
21. Wolfs appeal was issued too late. The ground swell movement for (re)unification with the Federal Republic, together with a widespread suspicion/rejection of socialism, rendered her call ineffectual and showed how out of touch she and other intellectuals were with changing populist demands.
22. See "Schreiben im Zeitbezug: Gesprach mit Aafke Steenhuis," in Christa Wolf, 1m Dialog, p. 149, for Wolf's description of the pain and sense of disillusionment she felt in 1968.
23. Wolf is the recipient of virtually every major West German literature award. These include: literature prize of the city of Bremen (1977); the Georg Buchner prize of the German Academy for Language and Literature, Darmstadt (1980); Friedrich Schiller Memorial Prize of BadenWürttenberg (1983). In addition, she was asked to hold the prestigious Lectures on Poetics at the University of Frankfurt (1982) and she holds honorary doctorates from the University of Hamburg (1985) and the University of Hildesheim (1990).
24. It is another question entirely whether Wolfshould have been awarded this prize. It is debatable whether Wolfs resistance to the communist regime can be compared to the overt resistance to the Nazis offered by the Scholls.
25. Once again Wolf has beat him to the draw in Kindheitsmuster. In a sense Schirrrnacher uses Wolf's insights against her, accusing her of precisely those attributes with which she faults herself and other members of her generation.
26. "Notige Kritik oder Hinrichtung?" Spiegel 29/1990: 138-143. Grass, whose position is very similiar to mine, defends Wolfon the basis of her biography and writings. He challenges the faulty premises of the attack, pointing out, among other things, that Wolf had never claimed to be a heroine; since heroism or expatriation would have been entailed in publishing Was bleibt before the collapse of the GDR, he considers the criticism levied to be unfair. Pointing out that the "reviews" of Wasbleibt did not address themselves to the text of Was bleibt, he reveals the strategies operable in Greiner's and Schirrmacher's reviews.
27. "Christa Wolfs trauriger Zettelkasten," Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung; 19 March 1977.
28. One of the questions posed in the survey was: "of which contemporary West or East German writer are you proud? Of which not proud at all?" While not everyone interviewed was asked this question, Reich-Ranicki was the only one among those asked to respond to the second half of the question. In singling out Wolf, he maintained that his judgment was predicated not on moral or political issues. but on the aesthetic inferiority of her last books.
29. I do not hold with a conspiracy theory per se, one that reads these attacks on Wolf as a scheme masterminded by Reich-Ranicki and executed by him and his henchmen. Greiner and Schirrmacher. However the concerted effort exerted by all three convinces me that there is more at stake here than they are willing to admit.
30. Greiner's article is entitled "Die deutsche Gesinnungsasthetik. Noch einmal: Christa Wolf und der deutsche Literaturstreit. "
31. The same cynicism is at work in academic circles in this country where, since the collapse of the GDR, many armchair Marxists have disavowed any connection to socialism.
32. Both Christa Wolf and GUnter Grass subscribe to this theory; both called for a federation between the Federal republic and the former GDR and tried to impede the headlong rush toward (re)unification on the West's terms.
33. The article is entitled "Germany Rewrites History: The Attack on Christa Wolf."
34. Ironically, of course, given the massive disenchantment with socialism, such a fear was probably misplaced. Neither Wolf nor other members of the GDR literary establishment, such as Christoph Hein, Volker Braun or Helga Konigsdorf were able to win the disenchanted GDR populace for their alternative socialist cause.
35. My translation. The original German reads: "eine Konigin kopfen ist einfacher als einen Konig kopfen." Konigsdorf made this statment at the 1990 Women in German Conference, held on 23-26 October in Minneapolis, Minnesota.