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"Thomas Brussig's Satire of Contemporary History,"
1. At a press conference on 9 November, Günter Schabowski announced the opening of the German-German border. Originally this was meant as a regulation to channel the continuing flow of East Germans seeking to exit the GDR permanently. By mistake, he declared the new regulation effective immediately instead of on the following day. The events of the political upheaval in the fall of 1989 have been well documented in numerous publications. For a profound and insightful analysis of the complex circumstances of the GDR's demise, see Charles S. Maier, Dissolution: The Crisis of Communism and the End of East Germany (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1997).
2. Thomas Brussig, Helden wie wir (Berlin: Volk und Welt, 1995). English edition: Thomas Brussig, Heroes Like Us, trans. John Brownjohn (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Harcourt Brace Jovanovic, 1997); in paperback also: (London: Harvill Press, 1998). References are to the German edition and subsequently will be indicated in parentheses within the text.
3. Its phenomenal success was a crucial factor contributing to the survival of the novel's East German publisher, Volk und Welt, in the revamped publishing market of unified Germany.
4. For a discussion about the film adaptation, see Thomas Brussig, "Zwischen Elfenbeinturm und Sunset Boulevard," GrauZone 9/10 (1997): 48-51.
5. Christoph Dieckmann, "Klaus und wie er die Welt sah: Der junge Ostberliner Autor Thomas Brussig hat den heißersehnten Wenderoman geschrieben," Die Zeit 8 September 1995: 37.
6. Empirical sociological research conducted by the former East German Central Institute for Youth Research in Leipzig (Leipziger Zentralinstitut für Jugendforschung), whose results where kept secret and did not become accessible until after the Wende, gives evidence of a rapid turning away of young East Germans from the propagated values of the East German socialist state since the mid-eighties. See Peter Förster, "Weltanschaulich-politisches Bewußtsein," Jugend und Jugendforschung in der DDR, eds. Walter Friedrich and Hartmut Griese (Opladen: Leske and Budrich, 1991) 135- 150; Walter Friedrich, "Mentalitätswandlungen der Jugend in der DDR," Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 16-17 (1990): 25-37.
7. The use of popular jargon, "jeans language," was one of the major points of criticisms East German critics held against Plenzdorf s novel. See for a discussion Alexander Flaker, Modelle der Jeans-Prosa: Zur literarischen Opposition bei Plenzdorf und im östlichen Romankontext (Kronberg: Scriptor, 1975).
8. Thomas Brussig, Wasserfarben (Munich: dtv, 1994); originally: Cordt Berneburger, Wasserfarben (Berlin: Aufbau, 1991).
9. Sigmund Freud, Jokes and their Relations to the Unconscious, trans. James Strachey (New York: Norton & Company, 1963) 195.
10. Bergson's influential publication on laughter, which stands at the threshold to modernity, originally appeared in 1900. See Henri Bergson, Le Rire (Paris: Presse Universitaires de France, 1940).
11. Mikhail M. Bakhtin, Rabelais and his World, trans. Helene Iswolsky (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984).
12. This is diametrically opposed to the Freudian theory of laughter, which conceives the ability to balance and merge the manifold tendencies of the drives as part of the underlying mechanism of the adult's psychic economy. According to Freud, the pleasure of the comic, of humor, and the joke essentially rests on their ability to reduce or save the psychic expenditure that is usually required for inhibitions, constraints, and repressions that civilization imposes on the individual. In discharging the surplus energy, he claims, laughter generates relief, while laying bare buried sources of infantile pleasure.
13. Among the contemporary German writers, Edgar Hilsenrath's satirical fiction puts a similar emphasis on sexuality and the obscene. There are, however, some crucial differences between Hilsenrath's and Brussig's works and the role of sexuality therein: 1) Whereas Brussig's subject is the GDR, Hilsenrath writes about the Holocaust and National Socialism, and I do not mean to suggest an equation between the two. 2) Hilsenrath juxtaposes sexuality as a vital response to the inhumanity of the National Socialist regime, the only remainder of human nature in the post-Holocaust universe. Brussig, by contrast, focuses on the repression of sexuality to characterize East Germany as a taboo-ridden society. Sexuality, the more obscene and grotesquely perverse it is depicted, is used to expose the monstrous and obscene sides of the regime itself and its surveillance apparatus.
14. Freud, Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious 182ff.
15. Thomas Heise, in his controversial documentary film about Neo-Nazis and Skinheads in the East German town of Halle, Stau—-jetzt geht's los (1992), explores the repercussions of the vanishing East German regime, its values, and its social infrastructure on the formation of right wing youth in present-day East Germany. Although the film does not hold the parents responsible for the political disorientation of their children, it points out the generational conflict as one dimension underlying the multiple causes for the right-wing orientation of these young people and shows the prosocialist parents' helplessness in dissuading their children from their ideological convictions.
16. Another example of Brussig's narrative that brings into view incidents of political absurdity is the story about a high school physics teacher who loses his job for political reasons. The cause of his dismissal was supposedly the fact that he ran war films backward through the projector (10, 78), which the school authorities and the Stasi parents considered to be politically intolerable because it might create "pacifist illusions." Yet although a case like this may never have occurred in the GDR, it brings to mind all the absurdities that, while equally implausible, did in fact happen.
17. Freud, Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious 200.
18. ibid. 202.
19. ibid. 222.
20. Wolf Biermann, "'Wenig Wahrheiten und viel Witz'" Der Spiegel (29 January 1996): 187.
21. In associating the lack of political morality and sexual perversion, Brussig draws upon a model that has been recurrently employed as an analytical model for National Socialism, which accordingly is theorized in terms of sexual perversion. A prominent example of this approach to National Socialism is the psychoanalytical theory of fascism that Wilhelm Reich developed in the 1920s and 1930s. See Wilhelm Reich, Mass Psychology of Fascism (London: Souvenir, 1992).
22. The fantastic physical omnipotence that Brussig's protagonist miraculously attains in the end corresponds with Günter Grass's Blechtrommel: Oskar Matzerath, although a midget, has a fantastic physical ability in that his voice has the power of making glass shatter.
23. See Wolfgang Emmerich, Kleine Literaturgeschichte der DDR. Erweiterte Ausgabe (Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1996) 501.
24. See for a discussion about the retrospective imaginary emergence of the GDR: Michael Rutschky, "Wie erst jetzt die DDR entsteht," Merkur 9/10(1995): 851-864.
25. This controversy was sparked by the publication of Christa Wolf's narrative about an East Berlin writer suffering from an identity crisis as she becomes the target of Stasi surveillance, Was bleibt in June of 1990. (Christa Wolf, Was bleibt [Berlin: Aufbau, 1990]. English edition: What Remains and Other Stories, trans. Heike Schwarzbauer and Rick Takvorian [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995]). It prompted West German critics to criticize her for allegedly construing herself retroactively as a victim of a system she herself supported and for clinging to the idea of socialism beyond the demise of the East German state without offering more substantial criticism of the regime. This controversy, which quickly extended into a controversy about the significance of East German literature and the evaluation of postwar literature in East and West as a whole, has been well documented and analyzed. See, for instance, Der deutsch-deutsche Literaturstreit oder "Freunde, es spricht sich schlecht mit gebundener Zunge" Analyse und Materialien, eds. Karl Deiritz and Hannes Krauss (Hamburg: Luchterhand, 1991); "Es geht nicht um Christa Wolf" ed. Thomas Anz (Munich: Spangenberg, 1991); Andreas Huyssen, "After the Wall: The Failure of German Intellectuals," New German Critique 52 (1991): 109-143 doi:10.2307/488192; Bernd Wittek, Der Literaturstreit im sich vereinigenden Deutschland: Eine Analyse des Streits um Christa Wolf und die deutsch-deutsche Gegenwartsliteratur in Zeitungen und Zeitschriften (Marburg: Tectum, 1997).
26. See for a psychoanalytically informed discussion of this dimension of Christa Wolf's writing Julia Hell, Postfascist Fantasies: Psychoanalysis, History, and the Literature of East Germany (Durham: Duke UP, 1997) 135-250.
27. Anna Kuhn discusses this dimension of the so-called German-German literary controversy: Anna Kuhn, '"Eine Königin köpfen ist effektiver als einen König köpfen': The Gender Politics of the Christa Wolf Controversy" in Women and the Wende: Social Effects and Cultural Reflections of the German Unification Process, eds. Elizabeth Boa and Janet Wharton (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1994) 200-215.