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Bruckenschlage: DDR-Autoren vor und nach der Wiedervereinigung.

Bruckenschlage: DDR-Autoren vor und nach der Wiedervereinigung. By ASTRID KOHLER. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. 2007. 255 pp. 29.90 [euro]. ISBN 978-3-525-20853-3.

This is a study that has taken Wolfgang Emmerich's plea for the 'Wahrnehmung von DDR-Literatur als Literatur' (Kleine Literaturgeschichte der DDR (Leipzig: Kiepenheuer, 1996), p. 27) to heart. A volume exploring prose texts penned both before and after the Wende by seven of the GDR's more 'unbequem[]' (p. 10) authors, it rejects a politically situated reading of their work in favour of one premissed upon the autonomy of aesthetic endeavour. The result is a study that establishes literary continuities which Kohler claims bridge any socio-political changes that the reader may associate with the demise of the GDR. Be it the questions that her authors ask, or the narrative strategies they use, Bruckenschlage positions GDR writers as agents in an ongoing 'Gesamtwerk' (p. 17), both their own and that of GDR literature more broadly.

As the title of the volume indicates, the authors considered in this study (Christa Wolf, Klaus Schlesinger, Ulrich Plenzdorf, Irina Liebmann, Christoph Hein, Angela Krauss, and Kerstin Hensel) may have begun their publishing careers during the lifetime of the GDR, but they have, in addition, found success within unified Germany. The volume is struktured chronologically (according to age of author or date of first publication), with each chapter also offering 'Langsschnitte' (p. 16) through the work of each writer. Given the biographies of several of the study's authors, a number of the chapters have much ground to cover. In the case of Wolf, for example, almost thirty years of writing published during the GDR, together with twelve years of post-Wende work, are dealt with in fewer than thirty pages. Thus, although the volume's scope is impressive, some preparatory reading may be necessary for the reader less familiar with the texts or authors considered.

In summarizing the volume's findings, two key dynamics emerge: at a chapter level, Kohler identifies what she terms the 'wiederkehrend[e] Ablaufe und Grundstrukturen' (p. 213) that bind the pre- and post-Wende work of her authors. Texts are positioned as linked, for example, by recurring thematic preoccupations (e.g. Hein's 'Zivilisationskritik' (p. 214)); by characterization (e.g. Plenzdorf's 'Rebellenfiguren' (p. 214)); by location (e.g. the representation of Berlin in Liebmann's work); and by narrative form (e.g. Hensel's use of dialect). In the volume's conclusion, the second dynamic is explored, namely the relationships Kohler identifies between the authors surveyed. Isolating a common questioning of established modes of history writing (reflected, for example, in the recurrent problematization of the photograph as historical medium), a broad engagement with the complexities of the relationships between individual and society (seen in a preoccupation with questions of subjectivity), and a propensity to intertextuality (across the authors surveyed, but also beyond), Kohler positions her authors as constitutive of 'eine literarische Kultur [...], die nun nicht mehr staatlich und durch aussere Grenzen, sondern durch innerliterarische Verknupfung definiert ist' (p. 215).

To conclude: this is a volume which offers a vigorous defence of the aesthetic 'Haltbarkeit' (p. 229) of GDR literature. The opening up of what for many observers remains a politically and historically contingent chapter in German literary history to an aesthetic reappraisal is illuminating. The text's scope may be challenging; a broader introduction to the authors surveyed, as well as problematization of key terms (including the term 'GDR author' itself), would have been beneficial in this respect. However, for the reader seeking to engage in detail with the aesthetic strategies that have contributed to continued scholarly interest in writing by authors from the former GDR, this study will prove useful.


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Title Annotation:text in English
Author:McKay, Jenny
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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