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Reden vom Ende: Studien zur kulturellen Selbstbeschreibung in der deutschen Gegenwartsliteratur.

Reden vom Ende: Studien zur kulturellen Selbstbeschreibung in der deutschen Gegenwartsliteratur. By EDGAR PLATEN. Munich: iudicium. 2006. 196 pp. 20 [euro]. ISBN 978-3-89129-925-8.

Edgar Platen is an expert on all things liminal, as well as being responsible for a four-volume series entitled 'Darstellung von Zeitgeschichte in deutschsprachiger Gegenwartsliteratur' (Munich: iudicium, 2000-07). In Reden vom Ende he turns his attention to a particular kind of, and quality in, boundaries. And the examples he adduces are by Reinhard Lettau, Gunter Grass, Katja Lange-Muller, and Gerhard Knopf.

In his invaluable 'Vorbemerkung' he brings his own wise transnational perspective to bear on the terminal rhetoric so beloved of commentators on contemporary German literature. He is able to show that the rhyme of 'Ende' and 'Wende' is a merely local phenomenon, and one moreover that is not restricted to the events of 1989 and following. The much-vaunted 'end of history' is seen in all its historical contingency and reimagined for the German context as a leave-taking from the generation of the eyewitnesses; a jostling for control over discourse; a disaffection with periodization and with standard assumptions about the relationship between politics and culture; and a gradual transition of a relatively familiar (and decidedly anti-apocalyptic) kind. In a similar vein, the plethora of aftermaths so often evoked in our fortuitously millenarian context is effectively reduced to two figures whose long pedigrees are properly stressed: the simulacrum and the hybrid.

The texts singled out for special study have been carefully chosen to exemplify and amplify the points made in the introduction. Lettau's Zur Frage der Himmelsrichtungen, dating significantly from 1988, demonstrates the absurdity of any rhetoric predicated on a distinction between East and West, and with it the Cold War, the Wende, and that version of history of which Francis Fukuyama posited the putative end. The later work of Gunter Grass is seen as valetudinarian not only in a way appropriate to the generation of fathers and grandfathers, but also in a broader political and aesthetic sense. Zunge zeigen and Totes Holz are shown to be programmatically hybrid, enacting a silence which is compounded of the ineffable and the unspeakable. With Grass, moreover, Platen introduces a form of finality oddly not theorized in his introduction: the gradual or threatened destruction by humanity of its habitat and its future through pollution or nuclear fallout. Lange-Muller's Die Letzten, set in an East German printworks, articulates both Norbert Bolz's 'Ende der Gutenberg-Galaxis' and an Abschied von der DDR', but also a loss of fixed identities under globalization and the contingency of text itself. And finally Knopfs Piranesis Traum fittingly etches out for us the end of endings in a world of imagined simulacra.

Platen, though, never reduces these texts to the status of mere examples. Instead he analyses them on their own terms, even at the risk of occasionally seeming to lose sight of his narrower end. Hence this book can be recommended not only to those intrigued by its culture-historical theme, but also to those with a particular interest in any or all of the authors discussed.



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