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Narratives of femininity in Judith Hermann's Summerhouse, Later.

Reading Judith Hermann's Summerhouse, Later through the lens of New Feminism reveals, hidden underneath the stories' apolitical surface, a provocative analysis of heterosexual relationships in the Berlin Republic. The stories propose that patriarchal structures continue to determine women's lives, and suggest that the formation of feminine subjectivity requires women to take control of and create their own narratives of femininity. Hermann's stories reflect New Feminists' focus on the private sphere and their demand for women's freedom to choose any image of femininity, including traditional roles. Following today's feminists, these texts show the paralyzing effect of prescribed narratives, and consequently do not put forth alternative images that could become equally confining. Instead, they advocate a cultural-historical perspective for contemporary feminist efforts, emphasizing that feminism, even while seeking women's autonomy, is a process within history that requires women to acknowledge the continuing relevance of past narratives of femininity. (EKB)

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Compared to authors who openly challenge contemporary notions of masculinity and femininity and sexual politics, such as Karen Duve, Inka Parei, Julia Franck, or Charlotte Roche, Judith Hermann creates characters who appear to follow much more closely traditional gender roles and views of appropriate sexual behavior. As a result, her stories seem to lack the obvious feminist concerns these other authors' works convey. However, a reading of her 1998 short story collection Summerhouse, Later (Sommerhaus, spater) through the lens of so-called "New Feminism" reveals that underneath the private, apolitical surface of her stories Hermann shows how despite the achievements of Second Wave feminism, women's lives in post-unification Germany continue to be oriented by traditional bourgeois social roles. Often considered the author of only a small oeuvre--three volumes of short stories to date--whose major talent is her ability to catch her generation's mood, Hermann nevertheless has a perceptive eye for the gender dynamics of her time, and she skillfully challenges her readers' views. Compared to other feminist writers, her strategies are, however, more subtle, and rely less on open provocation.

In recent years, so-called "new," "third wave," or "Neo-Feminism" has begun to counter antifeminist tendencies and the widespread yet false perception that gender equality has been achieved to a large extent--a view that has developed since the 1990s and that has been fostered by the decreased public visibility of feminist efforts. During the last decade of the twentieth century, feminism in Germany presented itself as less ideological and often more pragmatic, as women tried increasingly to work with and within patriarchal structures (Holland-Cunz 161-73; "Jana Hensel"). Most practical feminist work of this period was done through equal opportunity offices, while the theoretical debate moved into academia, leading, in turn, to the depoliticization of the movement. (1)

Especially to the women who grew up during those years, the second wave feminism that began in the 1970s appeared "dusty," its representatives unattractive and bitter. Benefiting from the very achievements of those "old" feminists from the 1970s, many belonging to this younger generation saw no need to continue the fight for gender equality. Growing individuation and a new pluralism furthered a general unwillingness to organize. However, once in their twenties and thirties, these young women began to see a sharp discrepancy between the legally guaranteed rights and opportunities their predecessors had won for women and their individual experiences in the workplace and their relationships. (2) These "New Feminists" refuse, however, to see themselves as victims of patriarchal structures, an idea that had guided feminism from its very beginnings. Recognizing that their apolitical stance has harmed their careers, they take responsibility for developing new images of masculinity and femininity, and they expect men to collaborate with them on these efforts. Ultimately, they do not strive to define prescriptive social roles, but instead want all possible roles to be equally acceptable. Considering the private a political sphere and recognizing that "today the private is as political as never before," (3) they see their personal relationships with men as the first feminist "frontier" (Bruns; Haaf et al.; Hensel and Raether; Holland-Cunz; Hornung; "Jana Hensel"). (4)

In her acceptance speech for the Bremer Literaturpreis/Forderpreis (Literature Prize/Most Promising Award of the City of Bremen) in 1999, Hermann pinpoints how narratives or stories inform subjectivity, as she speaks of "writing to be able to step out of and to leave myself, writing to destroy one's own story. Things end when one names them. They start, but they also end." (5) This article explores which role narratives of femininity that transgress stereotypical gender roles play in the formation of subjectivity in Hermann's Summerhouse, Later. I propose that the author highlights the importance of cultural-historical awareness for the formation of female subjectivity at the expense of offering genuinely new images of femininity. But this allows her to emphasize that feminism, even while seeking autonomy, is a process within history and that feminists have to acknowledge the continuing relevance of past narratives for this process to more forward. Such a claim contests the idea that authentic subjectivity presupposes a wholesale rejection of past structures. Instead, Hermann's stories illustrate how awareness of oppressive paradigms as well as of the battles against them can help women discover similar structures today and can enable them to continue (as opposed to re-invent) the feminist project. At the same time, her stories reflect the demands made by New Feminists for a more differentiated view of women's needs and for greater acceptance of all images of femininity.

My inquiry into the ways in which Summerhouse, Later reflects key ideas of contemporary feminism starts with an analysis of the opening story "The Red Coral Bracelet" ("Rote Korallen"). As its female first-person narrator tells stories hoping to find a narrative that provides sense and coherence for her life, "The Red Coral Bracelet" explores contemporary gender dynamics within their historical contexts, showing that female images continue to be determined by patriarchal structures. The story promotes the idea that women, while aware of their historical context, have to reclaim control of images of femininity by creating their own narratives, yet does not itself develop those new narratives. In an interview, Hermann said this story had almost "the function of a motto for the book" (Geiger 49). Following her comment, the second part of my analysis explores the degree to which the "program" laid out in the first story is developed further in the rest of Summerhouse, Later and what the absence of genuinely new images of femininity that characterizes the entire volume means for a feminist project.

Initial reactions to Summerhouse, Later were dominated by the author's persona and by descriptions of her tone as the "sound of a new generation" (6) and an expression of a general "Tristesse globale" (Radisch). (7) In contrast, several recent analyses read Hermann's stories within the context of literary traditions and cultural phenomena such as globalization (Biendarra, "Globalization"), Neoromanticism (Borgstedt), a postmodern "poetics of undecidedness" (Blamberger, "Poetik"), or the figure of the flaneur (Ganeva). They succeed in showing that Hermann's works offer more than a mere reflection of the mood of Germans in their twenties and thirties around the turn of the millennium. This view is confirmed by several publications contesting the idea of contemporary German literature, including Hermann's prose, as apolitical, which had been a commonplace since the mid-1990s ("Der Anfang"; Dreier 31; Fitzgerald; Ganeva 265-66; Stuhr 38; Taberner 15; Ujma). Several of these studies focus on the role of gender politics. They maintain that contemporary female writers no longer present women as victims of a patriarchal society, as did their predecessors in the 1970s and 1980s, but instead discuss problems that cross gender lines (Nagelschmidt; Mingels). Similarly, Stuart Taberner locates a "New Feminism" as part of a general struggle to achieve authentic subjectivity in a global consumer culture, and Lynn Marven describes techniques young female authors use to distance themselves from traditional women's literature. Anke Biendarra sees relationships in Hermann's stories as following the stereotypes of weak women and strong men, yet concurrently as questioning traditional gender roles by revealing them "as linguistically prefigured societal and cultural constructs" ("Gen(d)eration" 228-29), and Inge Stephan maintains that "The Red Coral Bracelet" undermines the literary convention of linking femininity, water, eros, and death in the image of the water woman ("Undine" 547-52). Brigitte Weingart highlights the importance of the motif of "woman as image" ("Frau als Bild" 157) and of female stereotypes in Hermann's works, analyzing the ways in which the author employs and modifies such cliches in her texts to test societal boundaries without crossing them. This article continues these recent explorations into images of femininity and questions of gender in Hermann's work.

In "The Red Coral Bracelet," Hermann evokes three narratives of femininity central to Western cultures in order to lay out a historical- mythological context--the figures of the mermaid, the "mad" or "sick" woman, and the dichotomy of the housewife and mother as opposed to the femme fatale that was a pillar of the turn-of-the-century bourgeois gender matrix. All these narratives come together in the character of the narrator's great-grandmother, whose life story, and with it these images of femininity, the narrator has adopted. In the course of "The Red Coral Bracelet," the young woman comes to understand the restrictive effect these narratives have on her life and eventually frees herself from their oppression. This process is reflected in her telling three stories: that of her great-grandmother's life, that of her relationship with her lover, and that of her visit to a therapist--each marking important steps in her becoming the author of her own story. (8)

The first part of "The Red Coral Bracelet" relates the story of the narrator's great-grandparents, who move to St. Petersburg at the beginning of the twentieth century. While the great-grandfather travels Russia on business, his wife has various affairs. When one of her lovers gives her a red coral bracelet, her husband challenges him to a duel in which the greatograndfather is killed. (9) Soon after, his widow gives birth to her lover's daughter and returns to Germany on the last train to leave Russia before the October Revolution. These great-grandparents are turn-of-the- century figures, and their lives are organized along the gender dichotomies that determined bourgeois existence at the time, "My greatgrandmother was beautiful. [...] [M]y great-grandfather was building furnaces [...] for the Russian people" (1). (10) Initially, the greatgrandmother appears to be a model woman and wife of this period. She marries, follows her husband abroad, and although very unhappy there, awaits his return from his travels. Caught in a marriage that leaves her feeling neglected and alienated from her husband, and confined to the space of their apartment, this figure brings to mind some of the great nineteenth-century literary heroines, especially Anna Karenina, who also lives in St. Petersburg, as well as Effi Briest and Emma Bovary. (11)

The great-grandmother reacts to the traumatic experience of losing her familiar environment and being alone in a foreign country with extramarital affairs and with behavior that suggests mental illness, most likely severe depression. Her speech reflects her inability to accept her loss and her need to identify with the lost object, and is reminiscent of Julia Kristeva's description of the speech of depressed persons: "A repetitive rhythm, a monotonous melody emerge and dominate the broken logical sequences, changing them into recurring, obsessive litanies" (33). Thus the great-grandmother repeats the name of a place where she and her husband had felt connected "like a children's song, like a lullaby," desperately trying to preserve a positive memory of the lost past--"Blome Wildnis, Blome Wildnis" (3). (12)

During her time, the great-grandmother's behavior would have been diagnosed as a nervous disorder or hysteria, so-called "women's diseases" that were closely related to the sharp distinction between male and female social roles. Seen as "inherently sick" (Ehrenreich and English 12) and fragile, nineteenth-century women were limited to the narrowly defined roles of wives, mothers, and daughters. Any deviation from this restricted existence was considered "sick" or "hysterical." Initially explained as a treatable disorder of the reproductive system (Ehrenreich and English 3038), hysteria was redefined by Sigmund Freud as a mental disease that could be "cured" by bringing the patient to accept her female role through talking. Thus women's attempts to communicate their discontent in a language other than that of the dominant male discourse were doomed to fail because male scientists successfully mastered these "abnormal acts," subsuming them under the male/female dualism as expressions of the "sick other" (Chesler 140-41; Braun, "Frauenkrankheiten"). (13) The greatgrandmother in Hermann's story does not confront doctors or psychoanalysts trying to "cure her back" into patriarchal structures. However, the reaction of the Russian intellectuals and artists who visit her seems motivated by a similar need to integrate her deviating behavior into the existing order. Her admirers embrace the great-grandmother's depressed mood as part of their own "Russian" mentality, and as a result, these men do not have to acknowledge her "disease" or recognize it as an attempt to question or escape the gendered social structures that organize their society and make possible their affairs.

While mental illness can be a retreat from social expectations into a world of one's own, adultery presents an open rejection of the female role of wife and mother and thus constitutes a more direct attack on the patriarchal order. (14) The adulteress, whose sexuality escapes social regulation, is closely related to the femme fatale, another female figure with a deviant sexuality. At first glance, adultery seems incompatible with the standard bourgeois repertoire of female social roles and may thus appear as a rebellious act. Yet in reality, the figure of the adulteress is so deeply inscribed in male fantasy (and part of the "silent" organization of a society that condones a double moral standard) that her subversive potential has been diffused through her appropriation by men. Not surprisingly, Emma Bovary, Anna Karenina, and Effi Briest are all creations of male fantasy. The adulteress merely adopts a different female role that is as deeply rooted in "Victorian" structures as are those of mother or wife and that is considered just another expression of female "sickness."

The same holds true for the figure of the mermaid, who belongs to a long tradition of images of deviating, sexualized female "Others" who threaten the existing order. She, too, is a creation of male fantasy, and Hermann's depiction of the great-grandmother as a mermaid figure underlines further the futility of her attempts to escape her social role. Though the notion of water as a female element goes as far back as ancient Greek and Roman mythology, it is Romantic water women who serve as the main intertextual reference for Hermann's story, especially Undine, Melusine, Loreley, and the Little Mermaid. Usually centered around the encounter between a water woman and a human male, these works negotiate gender roles and relations. The water woman's split body, half human and half fish, represents perfectly the two opposing images of femininity dominating the nineteenth century, femme fatale and desexualized saint. It reflects men's fears that underneath--or below--the saint, the deadly monster's fish tail may lurk (Stuby 68-69). The mermaid embodied men's ambivalent attitudes towards untamed female sexuality: on the one hand their desire for eroticism untainted by rational thought (Stephan, "Weiblichkeit" 239), and on the other hand their fear of losing themselves in this experience. (15)

The great-grandmother is depicted as the quietly suffering "good" woman who tunas into the adulterous femme fatale, thus representing the two images that are joined in the figure of the water woman. Hermann's text leaves no doubt that her Russian lovers stylize her as a mermaid figure, "the beautiful pale one with the fair hair who was said to live up on Maly Prospekt, almost always by herself and in rooms as dark, soft, and cool as the sea" (4). The visiting "artists and scholars sat down on the deep, soft sofas and chairs, sinking into the heavy, dark materials" as if they were drowning (4). (16) Corals are the jewelry of mermaids and nymphs, and it is a lover who gives the title's red coral bracelet to the great-grandmother, underlining this role and the attraction it has for him. The night her husband returns home, the great-grandmother is shown with a mirror, comb, and jewelry, evoking Heine's famous "Loreley"--poem. The equanimity with which she puts on the red coral bracelet recalls the image of the cold, manipulative, and destructive Loreley figure.

As the classical love token known from nineteenth-century romances, the bracelet is part of the bourgeois "code" and thus unequivocally communicates the great-grandmother's adultery to her husband. However, hidden underneath the surface of this seemingly successful non-verbal exchange between the great-grandparents is a failed attempt to communicate. Whereas for the great-grandmother the bracelet is a means to "voice" her pain and anger, her husband, instead of perceiving the bracelet as an expression of her feelings and desires, only understands it as proof of her adultery and hence as a symbol of an attack on his honor. Shoshana Felman describes this male perception of women, as she writes, "'Woman' [...] is the exact metaphorical measure of the narcissism of man" (34); she exists only as she fills a role within his system. The greatgrandmother's attempt to use the bracelet, a well established symbol within the bourgeois, male-dominated order, to undermine this very order, is bound to fail. The coral bracelet of the mermaid myth and the image of femininity it symbolizes have been appropriated by bourgeois patriarchal thought, and the only rebellion it can represent is one within this system. The story's setting supports this reading: the great-grandmother's watery realm and all of her rebellions are placed within the apartment her husband rents for her.

The narrator identifies with her great-grandmother, and, wearing the coral bracelet, the young woman imagines partaking in what she falsely considers her forebear's successful revolt. In reality, the bracelet symbolizes the two women's "confinement" in structures drawn by (male) others, which the younger inherited with her great-grandmother's story. In the second part of "The Red Coral Bracelet," Hermann places the narrator in an environment where male and female roles and other dichotomies often perceived as gendered are no longer organized along lines as clear-cut as in the Russian part. At the same time, her lover questions the validity of the narrator's inherited story, disappointing her hope that this great-grandson of a friend of the great-grandmother from Russia would tell the St. Petersburg stories with her and thus keep her "inherited" story alive. Deprived of her great-grandmother's story and placed in a gender-transgressive environment that does not offer sufficient guidance regarding distinct social roles, the young woman has to face her lack of a story and the threat this lack poses to her self-understanding. This experience causes an existential crisis that eventually allows her to free herself from the old, male-dominated (hi)story.

This second part of the narrative is set in the lover's apartment. Depicted as a water world under male rule, the lover's realm breaks with the tradition of depicting water as a female element. Paradoxically, in Hermann's redescription, this new water realm is devoid of any erotic dimension and instead appears desiccated. The lover himself is compared to a dying, grey, cold, mute fish. (17) Similar to the great-grandmother, he seems to suffer from the "women's disease" of depression, (18) and his sphere's closeness to death--the apartment also overlooks the cemetery-and his extremely passive stance and "madness" are seen traditionally as feminine qualities (Chesler 100; Braun, "Frauenkrankheiten" 110). As an argument with the narrator shows, he also fights "like a girl": pulling hair, biting, and scratching are considered typically female techniques of physical defense. In addition, the lover's sphere breaks with gender conventions when elements from fairy-tales or myths appear in this male world that more ordinarily would be informed by rational categories. Thus the number "seven," which is considered a perfect or magical number in many cultures and religions and in astrology, and plays a central role in biblical stories, fairy-tales, and folk superstition, rules the lover's genealogy, (19) his environment mirrors his moods, and the long-dead great-grandmother appears at his door. At the end of the story, the surreal image of the dead lover, "drifting [...] on his watery bed, his pale belly turned to the ceiling, [...] dust balls [...] caught in his hair, trembling softly" (21), (20) reads like a parody of Romantic depictions of Ophelia floating "mermaid-like" on the water on a bed of flowers (Shakespeare 1064). (21) The lover's scientific, demystifying view of the coral beads as skeleton pieces rather than jewelry or love tokens, is, however, in accordance with the conventional male role, and, furthermore, with his sphere's proximity to standstill and death.

Losing her inherited life narrative, the narrator starts to think about her own story, yet only to realize that there is nothing she can refer to: "But where was my story without my great-grandmother? I didn't know" (14). (22) Her body perception reflects this experience of loss: "I felt slender and skinny, even though I wasn't" (12). (23) The use of the German word "mager" points to anorexia, often considered the modern expression of women's ill-adjustment to gender constraints, as a subtext to her crisis. (24) The anorexic woman strives to escape the images that define the female body and femininity and to gain autonomy as a "form of self-definition" (Braun, "Das Kloster" 228). Both female protagonists' diseases indicate their desire to escape restrictive "man-made" narratives of femininity, yet in the narrator's case this requires overcoming the idealized image of her great-grandmother because that image is conditioned by patriarchal structures. Hermann visualizes this struggle in an image reminiscent of fairy-tales or dreams: repeatedly, the great-grandmother appears at the apartment door to take her great-granddaughter home, but the latter refuses to come, thus taking the first step to live her life and create her story. (25) This is confirmed when for the last time she asks her lover to let her tell the old stories, "I want to tell them to you so I can leave them all behind and move on" (16)--articulating the same desire that drives Judith Hermann's own writing. (26)

Psychoanalysis has played a key role in "curing" both hysteria and anorexia, these diseases of female protest (Braun, "Frauenkrankheiten" 121). Yet many feminist scholars have criticized analysts for their phallocentric approaches to female patients and their technique's significant role in consolidating the patriarchal order. The therapist's practice in "The Red Coral Bracelet" reflects these power structures: "The room really was very large, almost empty except for that desk, the therapist behind it, and a little chair in front of it" (17). (27) The analyst's tapping his desk with a pencil, the classic phallic symbol, highlights further the gender dynamics at play. The floor of the therapist's office is covered with a "soft, sea-blue, deep-blue carpet" (17), (28) indicating that he has "domesticated" the female water world into a commodity he "walks on." In view of these gendered power structures, it seems only consistent that the narrator's liberation from the constraints of traditional role expectations would result in her therapist's symbolic death.

Unable to communicate with the therapist verbally, the narrator follows her great-grandmother's example and uses the coral bracelet to express herself, "I tugged at the silken thread of the red coral bracelet and the silk thread broke and the six hundred seventy-five red-as-rage little coral beads burst in glittering splendor from my thin, slender wrist" (18). (29) The coral beads represent all the narratives of femininity that were passed down for generations, and by ripping the bracelet the narrator liberates herself from the constraints these male-dominated stories imposed on women. Once the aquatic coral beads are no longer tied into the shape of the bracelet, i.e., into a form that represents women's oppression, they come alive: "I poured the red coral beads from my left hand into my right. They made a lovely, tender sound, almost like small, gentle laughter" (20). (30) This gesture must be read as a symbolic act of liberation, an effect reinforced when one considers that the sentence ends with "laughter"--in Irigaray's words "the first form of liberation from a secular oppression" (163), and, as such, a way for women to express their desires in a mode undammed by the dominant, male-oriented discourse. (31)

Hurling the coral beads at the therapist, the narrator throws the old stories and their female oppression at him, and at the same time releases a flood of water that washes away the existing order, represented by the therapist and his practice. The story leaves it open what will happen in the future. The therapist's fate and the narrator's deep breath, which marks the ripping of the bracelet as the "birth" of a self-determined subject or perhaps the author's preparedness to get down to work, suggest, however, that the narrator--and other women--will be able to write their own stories and create a society with room for female subjectivity. Inge Stephan reads the scene at the therapist's practice as the water woman's overcoming of her watery existence and as her step out of the water onto dry land: "She conquered a new element all by herself and suspended the old dichotomies between land and water and the gender images associated with them" ("Undine" 552). (32) While the hurling of the beads supports Stephan's conclusion that gender images are suspended, Hermann's story does not tell whether the narrator will indeed use her freedom "to conquer a new element" or rather take control of her own. After all, the final scenes all take place in the water, and there may never be dry land again.

"The Red Coral Bracelet" offers a critical view of contemporary gender roles and relations within their historical context from a feminine perspective. It presents the act of narrating stories as performative, i.e., as constituting identity, and proposes that the success of women's emancipation is intricately linked to their ability to take control of and create new narratives of femininity. In accordance with current trends in third-wave feminism, Hermann's story focuses on the private sphere of heterosexual romantic relationships, revealing the narrator's ensnarement in traditional role expectations. As the heroine breaks free from this restraining "corset," the story's open ending together with Hermann's claim that "The Red Coral Bracelet" is "a bit programmatic" (Lenz and Putz 231), raise the reader's expectation that the other stories in Summerhouse, Later develop new images of femininity.

Yet instead of presenting stories that show how feminine images conceived by women differ from those created by men, the following pieces offer merely additional analyses of the status quo of contemporary gender relations in the private sphere as dominated by men. Although diseases such as hysteria or anorexia are not evoked as directly as in "The Red Coral Bracelet," Hermann's unhappy, reactive female figures stand in the tradition of hysteria as the illness of women caught in male-oriented structures. At the same time, these stories show women enacting male desires, i.e., performing for men in order to be desired--a pattern that is most obvious in "Sonja," "Bali Woman" ("Bali-Frau"), and "Camera Obscura." Desiring the Other's desire, these figures can be understood as hysterics in the Lacanian sense, as Weingart suggests for the character of Sonja (149). The foliowing analysis will show that these paradigms of hysterical behavior underlie, in fact, most of the relationships in Summerhouse, Later, as these female characters' main concern is how men might perceive them and how they may manipulate male perception. Thus Hermann's story collection suggests that despite the significant achievements of the women's movement, women's lives and self-perception continue to be shaped by men.

Following the nineteenth-century tradition, Hermann's stories juxtapose "modernized" versions of bourgeois female images: a sexualized variation of the traditionai housewife and mother, and a disillusioned, vulnerable kind of femme fatale who smokes, drinks, and uses drugs, has casual sexual relationships, and seems unwilling to commit. Critics have claimed that the femme fatale type captures the non-conformist attitude of today's twenty- and thirty-somethings. Yet as Ina Hartwig has pointed out, such deliberately non-bourgeois behavior no longer appears rebellious, but has instead entered mainstream ideology as the lifestyle of the modern woman. Hermann shows women torn between these two images or pits them against each other in potentially adulterous constellations. Male and female characters' ambivalent attitudes toward the femme fatale-type emphasize the continued power the images of mother and wife have on the (self-)perception of women.

Hermann's modern femmes fatales are torn between the desire to protect their alleged independence and a genuine longing for motherhood and the security of monogamous marriage--they dream of the conventional role their lifestyle defies. Thus the futures Nora and Christine imagine for each other in "Hurricane (Something Farewell)" ("Hurrikan (Something farewell)") revolve around husbands, children, and small houses in the Caribbean, i.e., away from their Berlin home where they feel the pressure of leading modern lives. In "Bali Woman," at the moment she sees his wife taking care of their children, Christiane knows that she can no longer pursue her plan of seducing a famous director. Hermann's female characters consider marriage and motherhood inviolable institutions guaranteeing happiness, and the male figures seem to agree as they eventually all choose the security and comfort of a bourgeois existence. Accordingly, the wives and fiancees in Hermann's stories appear more confident and generally happier than their single female counterparts. The discrepancy between the image of the nontraditional woman that the female characters emulate and men appear to covet, and the male and female figures' true desires, becomes most obvious in the title story. The taxi driver Stein is attracted to the female narrator and her bohemian lifestyle yet dreams of living with her in his country house. When she refuses to give up her non-committed lifestyle that attracted him in the first place, Stein sets the house on tire and disappears. Her final thought, "Later" (205), suggesting that she was not prepared to give up one image of femininity for the other, captures perfectly Hermann's characters' dilemma.

Yet Hermann's subversion of the non-bourgeois female image goes even further, when she reveals it as an expression of women enacting male fantasies and hence as male-determined. Female characters repeatedly act as agents of male objectification, often role-playing to attract male interest. The male narrator of "Sonja" describes these dynamics, explaining that the heroine "fit into any projection I imposed on her" (51). (33) Weingart shows that Sonja comes to stand for a whole range of well-established images of femininity, "muse, stranger, beauty, girl, [...] child woman, [...] Madonna, and femme fatale. Sonja has many facets, indeed--and this quality, in tuna, lets her mutate into the metafigure of the enigmatic Sphinx" (157). (34) Sonja "stages" herself for the narrator as an independent woman, well-versed in the calculating games of heterosexual relationships, yet in reality she serves merely as a "screen" (Blamberger, "Rede" 8) for his desires. When the narrator learns that Sonja has, in fact, genuine desires, namely marriage and children, and that these may eventually interfere with her role as screen of his desires, he rushes to propose to his girlfriend Verena. He stylizes Verena as the sexualized nurturing mother type and marrying her is in accordance with this image. Marrying Sonja, on the other hand, would require the narrator to correct his image of her and to adjust his desires--a scenario he avoids by taking the radical step of proposing to one woman in order to retain his idealized image of the other. In "Bali Woman," the description of Christiane trying to seduce a theater director with her dance, begins with the announcement, "Christiane appeared" (103), emphasizing that Christiane's dance is less self-expression than a performance intended to meet the director's expectations. Christiane stages herself as the object of a male gaze.

"Camera Obscura" is structured entirely around this notion of the desiring male gaze and provides a striking image of its dynamics, as Hermann's perceptive play with gender cliches reveals the traditional power structures organizing the relationship between a modem day femme fatale and a video artist. Thriving on male admiration, attractive, self- confident Marie is offended when a video artist, whom she desires for his fame, does not show sexual interest in her. Attempting to retaliate, Marie humiliates him by mentioning his physical shortcomings. As she makes him the object of her gaze, she violates the traditional gendered visual economy that defines the female body as object of the male gaze. Seeking to reestablish the dominance of his gaze, the artist arranges for them to have intercourse in front of the "eye" of his camera, which displays the image on a computer screen in "real time." Forcing Marie to see herself with his gaze, the artist takes complete visual control of their encounter. Marie's confusion about the discrepancy between what she sees on the screen and the manner in which she had imagined herself to appear reveals the alienating effect of women's orienting their images toward male expectations exclusively. (35) Stories like "Sonja," "Bali Woman," and "Camera Obscura" reveal that the allegedly independent modern lifestyle embraced by many women is as male-determined as the traditional roles of housewife and mother or of the turn-of-the-century femme fatale.

As Hermann's stories trace traditional structures in contemporary gender relations, they pinpoint concurrently a significant shift in the part sexuality plays in female role expectations. Christine, Christiane, and Sonja each play the role of the "other woman" in potentially adulterous constellations. With these narratives of adultery Hermann draws on a long tradition that was particularly fruitful in the nineteenth century. Reflecting the notion of an allegedly stronger male sex drive, those earlier literary depictions of adulterous men show these affairs as driven by passionate love as opposed to the dispassionate, everyday monotony of married lives. Hermann, however, alters this pattern in a significant fashion: in her stories, the legitimate partners offer the male protagonists sexual relationships, whereas the "intruders'" physical contacts are very limited. The sexualization and corporealization of the wives and girlfriends is explicitly established, as, for instance, when Christiane's carefully staged dance performance is completely overshadowed by the exotic, uninhibited, very sensual dance of the director's wife from Bali. (36) Equally obvious is the role reversal in "Sonja," where the narrator's beautiful, sexy girlfriend Verena is always ready to have sex with him, whereas "not at all beautiful" Sonja wants to engage in sex merely for procreation (52). Hermann sexualizes the legitimate and desexualizes the adulterous relationship. On the one hand, this shift reflects the social development since the nineteenth century toward love matches over marriages of convenience. In the contemporary version, however, the male characters are as torn between different roles as are their female counterparts, seeking to escape any limitation to one role. Thus two of the stories in Summerhouse, Later are told from the perspective of men in committed relationships, "This Side of the Oder" ("Diesseits der Oder") and "Sonja," and in both cases the male protagonists experience marriage with a "feeling of capitulation" (172; "Kapitulationsgefuhl"; 178). Their fear that they might have foregone opportunities to find happiness in exchange for comfort and security provokes a "sense of irritation" (84; "Gefuhl der Irritation"; 84). These male figures seem to struggle with role expectations just as much as their female counterparts.

However, reactions to such attempts to escape one's role differ significantly for male and female figures. Despite the shifts and modifications female gender roles have undergone, notions of deviation and mental illness continue to characterize the perception of female role (non)conformity. Thus the narrator in "Sonja" believes that "something wasn't quite right" (52) (37) with the heroine and that she is "out of (her) mind" (76) because she wants to marry and have children, i.e., because she longs for a role other than the one he has "assigned" her. At the same time, the stories offer no analogous notion of male nonconformity or deviation that could categorize the male characters' behavior as sick. Even Stein's arson and Cat's depressed mood ("Hurricane") are perceived as typical reactions to women's refusal to meet men's expectations. (38)

Besides "The Red Coral Bracelet," "Sonja" is the only other story in Summerhouse, Later that ends with a revolt against male dominance as the heroine throws out the narrator and disappears for good. Although more subtle than in the opening piece, the image of the water woman appears in "Sonja," too. Here, the water world is represented by the heroine's best friend, a mermaid figure in a "seaweed-green dress" (62), who in the narrator's imagination stands for the sphere where Sonja originates. The fact that the two stories displaying such a historical- mythological dimension are the only ones that depict women who revolt highlights the importance of women's historical awareness in their struggle for genuine feminine images. The significance of such a historical perspective is illustrated, for instance, by the role of laughter, which throughout (male-dominated) literary history has been associated with water women and has attracted men and, as they cannot control it, has frightened them as well. Thus the old male fantasies of water women themselves point to a genuinely feminine mode of expression and hence to a way for women to escape these very narratives. The continuous presence of the water and mermaid imagery throughout "The Red Coral Bracelet" and "Sonja" suggests that the "old" images will inform the heroines' new stories. Yet at the same time, the narrator's ripping of the bracelet and Sonja's complete withdrawal without a trace symbolize the notion that the past must not dominate their present. Thus Hermann's stories suggest that women have to liberate themselves from the old restrictive narratives without losing their history as an important resource in their struggle.

It is such consciousness of the historicity of images of femininity that allows us to see that the modern, seemingly independent women in Hermann's stories represent the achievements of the first and second waves of the women's movement yet are still bound by patriarchal structures. Thus at a time when many New Feminists tend to disregard older female images and want to focus on their present situation exclusively, Hermann's texts promote a much wider perspective for the current feminist project that would allow young feminists to understand better the structures that bind women and to build on their predecessors' work. Alice Schwarzer, one of the most eminent representatives of second wave feminism in Germany, reflected on this very subject in her acceptance speech for the Ludwig Borne-Preis (Ludwig Borne-Prize) in 2008 explaining, "[W]e women have not only our own immediate experiences. In us, our mothers' and grandmothers' experiences are handed down, too [...]." (39) At the same time, Hermann's stories reflect New Feminists' focus on the private sphere as well as their demand for a new openness regarding "acceptable" images of femininity. The author shows marriage and motherhood as valuable female life choices that can ensure happiness and that many young women find attractive. This positive perception of the traditional female role is in accordance with the view of many contemporary feminists who reject the idea that women have to give up this (or any other) role in order to liberate themselves from patriarchal dominance, as was promoted often by second wave feminism. Today's feminists defend women's right to choose their roles but avoid developing exemplary female images in order to give every woman as much freedom as possible, including the choice of traditional female roles. Hermann's stories reflect these goals as they show the paralyzing effect of prescribed narratives yet do not put forth alternative images and stories that could become equally confining. "The Red Coral Bracelet" depicts the writing of one's own feminine narrative as an ongoing emancipatory process that requires constant alertness to the structures that might bind women against their will--the narrator warns at the end of the story that "coral turns black when it lies too long at the bottom of the sea" (21) (40)--and Hermann's perceptive "stock-taking" of the current state of relationships in the Berlin Republic in Summerhouse, Later draws her readers' attention to such "hysterical" structures in contemporary heterosexual relationships.

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Notes

I thank Evelyne Ender, Marc Lucht, Sabine Modersheim, and the two anonymous readers of the Women in German Yearbook for their time and thought-provoking comments. With the exception of translations from Judith Hermann's Summerhouse, Later, which follow Margot Bettauer Dembo, all translations are my own.

(1) Many of the women active in the 1970s and 1980s feminist movements gave up, disappointed by what, in their eyes, were only moderate successes and by their inability to win the next generation for active feminist engagement (Holland-Cunz 157-73; Bruns 671). This is not to say that feminism was completely "suspended," but merely that its achievements no longer attracted the kind of media and public attention feminists provoked in the 1970s and 1980s. Topics such as the reunification, right-wing radicalism, racism, and a reunited Germany's role in the global arena dominated German politics and the public sphere during this period. At the same time, feminists were quite successful on the international stage. Immediately after the fall of the Wall, East German feminists were very engaged in the restructuring of the former GDR, but their efforts soon declined. In popular culture, attempts to contest the role and treatment of women often found themselves commercialized, as did the Riot Grrrl movement that turned into the Girly Girl fashion, or they were disarmed, being reduced by a label, which happened, for example, to the so-called Frauleinwunder (Girl Wonder) authors of whom Hermann was considered an important representative. For a summary of developments in feminism during the 1990s, see Holland-Cunz 155-61.

(2) Since "new" feminism has adopted many of the goals of those fighting in the 1970s and 1980s while rejecting their forms of political expression, it is often considered a continuation of the earlier wave as opposed to a distinctly new movement (Holland-Cunz; Schwarzer).

(3) "Heute ist das Private so politisch wie nie" (Jana Hensel in "Jana Hensel").

(4) Some second wave feminists, as is evidenced, for example, in Alice Schwarzer's acceptance speech for the Ludwig Borne-Preis in May 2008, distance themselves from the younger generation whose efforts they consider naive and egocentric, accusing them of ignoring or belittling the suffering of women beyond their own cultural and social sphere, of being interested only in their professional careers and men (see Hornung 69697 on this "generational conflict"). Schwarzer's speech came at a time when the idea of a "New Feminism" had again become the topic of public discussions beyond explicitly feminist or academic circles: two popular and widely discussed books entitled Neue deutsche Madchen (New German Girls) and Wir Alpha-Madchen: Warum Feminismus das Leben schoner macht (We Alpha-Girls: Why Feminism Makes Life More Beautiful) came out in spring 2008, Tagesschau, one of the most recognized German news programs, held an online chat with the authors of Neue deutsche Madchen in April of the same year, and the Suddeutsche Zeitung ran a series of articles under the heading "Der neue Feminismus" ("The New Feminism") from 7 May to 19 June 2008. Already in August 2006, Die Zeit had published fifteen interviews with women under the title "Wir brauchen einen neuen Feminismus" ("We Need a New Feminism).

(5) "Schreiben [...] um aus mir heraus und fortgehen zu konnen, Schreiben, um die eigene Geschichte zu vernichten. Die Dinge horen auf, wenn man sie benennt. Sie beginnen neu, aber sie horen auch auf."

(6) "[D]er Sound einer neuen Generation" (Hellmuth Karasek qtd. in Hermann, Sommerhaus: back cover).

(7) Many reviews and discussions adopted this view, for instance, Bottiger "Und immer" and "Nichts als Gespenster"; Brandt; Bucheli; Hartwig; Mensing and Messmer; Pollak; Prangel; and Stopka. Photos showing Hermann as a melancholic, shy femme fragile type and her willingness to compare herself and her environment to the figures in her texts played an important role in this approach (Bottiger, "Nichts als Gespenster"; Bucheli; Geiger 50-54; Hage, "Ganz schon abgedreht" 245; Mensing and Messmer; Prangel; Weingart 151-53; Voigt). In turn, this interest in the author herself led to a critical look at the dynamics ruling the German literary market; for instance, Peter Graves points to the need to overcome such catchy yet limiting categorizations as Frauleinwunder, Brigitte Weingart examines the impact of the author's photo on the reception of her first book, and Jorg Doring analyzes the entire paratext of Summerhouse, Later.

(8) The text marks this progression by the question, "Is this the story I want to tell?" (1; "Ist das die Geschichte, die ich erzahlen will?"; 11), which accompanies each of her three stories. In the last instance, the question lacks a question mark and has switched from present to past tense, suggesting that the narrator has come closer to her own story. Unfortunately, the English translation added a question mark.

(9) Although the great-grandmother's lover is the narrator's actual great-grandfather, I am following the narrator in calling her greatgrandmother's husband "great-grandfather."

(10) "Meine Urgrossmutter war schon. [...] Mein Urgrossvater [...] baute Ofen fur das russische Volk" (11-12). This role division is reminiscent of the opening sentence of Katia Mann's memoirs, "My father was a professor of mathematics at the University in Munich, and my mother was a very beautiful woman" ("Mein Vater war Professor der Mathematik an der Universitat in Munchen, und meine Mutter war eine sehr schone Frau"; 9).

(11) Margaret Littler calls the great-grandmother "an emancipated Effi Briest figure" (190). However, as this article shows, her emancipation is very limited.

(12) "wie ein Kinderlied, [...] wie ein Schlaflied" (13); "Blomesche Wildnis, Blomesche Wildnis" (13). Chesler writes, "Traditionally, depression has been conceived of as the response to--or expression of-loss, either of an ambivalently loved one, of the 'ideal' self, or of 'meaning' in one's life. [...] 'Depression' rather than 'aggression' is the female response to disappointment or loss" (102).

(13) Luce Irigaray, who formulates the need for a feminine language that goes beyond the current gender dualism, explains the dilemma of hysteric discourse as being caught between a "gestural system, that desire paralyzed and enclosed within its body, and a language that it [hysteric discourse] has learned in the family, in school, in society, which is in no way continuous with--nor certainly a metaphor for--the 'movements' of its desire. [...] [O]ne may raise the question whether psychoanalysis has not superimposed on the hysterical symptom a code, a system of interpretation(s) which fails to correspond to the desire fixed in somatization and in silence. In other words, does psychoanalysis offer any 'cure' to hysterics beyond a surfeit of suggestions intended to adapt them, if only a little better, to masculine society?" (137).

(14) The notion of the great-grandmother's leaving her position in society through depression and adultery is underlined by the fact that these "deviant" acts take place in Russia, in the East, which, in contrast to her native Germany, the West, the nineteenth century considered the realm of emotions, irrationality, and questionable morals--an image that has been epitomized in the figure of another turn-of-the-century adulteress, Clawdia Chauchat in Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain. At the same time, the great-grandmother's adulterous adventures also lead her out of her social sphere: while her husband pursues a very practical profession, she has affairs with artists and scholars, outsiders to bourgeois society, looking, ironically enough, for the warmth with which her furnace building husband cannot provide her (Stephan, "Undine" 549).

(15) For a more detailed discussion of the history of water women in literature, see Bessler; Schmeling; Schmitz-Emans; Stuby; and Stephan, "Weiblichkeit."

(16) "Es blieb nicht aus, dass diese von der Deutschen horten, der Schonen, Blassen mit dem hellen Haar, die dort oben im Malyj-Prospekt wohnen sollte, fast immer allein und in Zimmern, so dunkel, weich und kuhl wie das Meer" (13); "Licht wie auf dem Grunde des Meeres" (12); "Kunstler und Gelehrten nahmen Platz auf den tiefen, weichen Sofas und Sesseln, sie sanken ein in die schweren und dunklen Stoffe" (13).

(17) Borgstedt maintains that whereas the sphere of water was considered feminine during the Romantic period, in "The Red Coral Bracelet" it has become a realm that is no longer gender specific, as it can be inhabited by male and female characters (226). However, the story's ending that finds all male characters drowned undermines this claim.

(18) Inge Stephan suggests the Holocaust as a subtext to Hermann's story that enables a more nuanced understanding of this male figure. She argues that Hermann evokes the Holocaust when she presents the narrator's lover as the last survivor of Isaak Baruw's many descendants ("Undine" 553). Most likely, the lover's parents were Holocaust survivors, whose traumatic experiences overshadowed their own and their son's lives, which may explain his decision for an uninvolved life, i.e., an existence without emotional strain.

(19) "Isaak Baruw [...] fathered seven children [...], and these seven children blessed him with seven grandchildren, and one of these grandchildren presented him with his only great-grandson--my lover" (11; "Isaak Baruw [...] zeugte [...] sieben Kinder, und diese sieben Kinder schenkten ihm sieben Enkelkinder, und eines dieser Enkelkinder schenkte ihm einen einzigen Urenkel--meinen Geliebten"; 19). At the same time, numerology is a central element of the Jewish Kabbalah, whose study is limited to men.

(20) "Der trieb [...] mit dem bleichen Bauch nach oben auf dem was sernassen Bett [...] in seinem Haar hatten sich die Staubflocken verfangen, sie zitterten sachte" (29).

(21) For a discussion of the image of the dead woman in the water, see Berger and Stephan.

(22) "Aber wo war meine Geschichte ohne meine Urgrossmutter? Ich wusste es nicht" (22).

(23) "Ich hatte das Gefuhl, als sei ich dunn und mager, obgleich ich das nicht war" (20).

(24) Stuart Taberner reads the narrator's search for her own story as an attempt to escape the feelings of dislocation and emptiness experienced in modern global consumer culture, thus overcoming her initial response of becoming anorexic or bulimic (22-23).

(25) When the great-grandmother knocks on the door "with a bony hand" (14; "mit knochiger Hand"; 22), she is associated with death, i.e., the past that should no longer determine the present.

(26) "[I]ch will sie erzahlen, um aus ihnen hinaus, und fortgehen zu konnen" (24). See Hermann's comments about story telling made in her acceptance speech for the Bremer Literaturpreis/Forderpreis, as quoted earlier.

(27) "Das Zimmer war wirklich sehr gross, es war fast leer, bis auf die sen Schreibtisch, den Therapeuten dahinter und einen kleinen Stuhl davor" (25).

(28) "ein weicher, meerblauer, tiefblauer Teppich" (25)

(29) "[I]ch zog am Seidenfaden des roten Korallenarmbandes und der Seidenfaden riss und die sechshundertfunfundsiebzig wutroten kleinen Korallen platzten in einer funkelnden Pracht von meinem dunnen und mageren Handgelenk" (26).

(30) "Ich schuttete die roten Korallen von der linken in die rechte Hand, sie machten ein schones, zartliches Gerausch, fast wie ein kleines Gelachter" (28).

(31) This laughter links Hermann's text to Ingeborg Bachmann's "Un dine Goes" ("Undine geht"), which also employs the figure of the mermaid to critique patriarchal structures. Bachmann's story is about the suffocating effect of gender roles and the difficulties of developing a feminine subjectivity. It draws the vision of a society no longer oriented by the gender distinction, yet its circular structure suggests that eventually Undine cannot escape her role as man's and society's Other and define herself (Horsley 225).

(32) "Sie hat aus eigener Kraft ein neues Element erobert und die alten Dichotomien zwischen Land und Wasser und die damit zusammenhangenden Geschlechterbilder ausser Kraft gesetzt."

(33) "dass sie mir jede Projektion erlaubte" (55)

(34) "Muse, Unbekannte, Schonheit, Madchen, [...] Kindfrau, [...] Madonna und die Femme fatale. Sonja hat wirklich viele Facetten--und mutiert gerade in dieser Eigenschaft wiederum zur Metafigur der ratselhaften Sphinx."

(35) This scene builds on the idea that computers and technology in general belong to the male sphere (see Biendarra, "Gen(d)eration" 226).

(36) "Hurricane" and "Bali Woman" evoke cliches about the attraction of the supposedly uninhibited sexuality of "primitive" people for Europeans and, in turn, the attraction of the "white lady" for non-Western men (38, 43), thus raising the issues of colonialism, exoticism, and race as subtexts of these stories.

(37) "irgendetwas stimmte nicht mit ihr" (56)

(38) Exceptions are Koberling's midlife crisis in "The Other Side of the Oder" and the lover in "The Red Coral Bracelet." Yet even midlife crisis has been defined as a typical male problem, thus ensuring that this affliction is not considered a deviation from the male norm.

(39) "[I]n uns Frauen sind nicht nur unsere direkten eigenen Erfahrungen. Auch in uns ist die Erfahrung unserer Mutter und Grossmutter weitergegeben [...]."

(40) "dass die Korallen schwarz werden, wenn sie zu lange auf dem Meeresgrund liegen" (29)
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Author:Bauer, Esther K.
Publication:Women in German Yearbook
Date:Jan 1, 2009
Words:10148
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