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Schweizer Literaturgeschichte: Die deutschsprachige Literatur im 20. Jahrhundert.

Schweizer Literaturgeschichte: Die deutschsprachige Literatur im 20. Jahrhundert. Ed. by. KLAUS PEZOLD Leipzig: Militzke. 2007. 528 pp. 44 [pounds sterling]. ISBN 978-3-86189-734-7.

The 'Wende' of November 1989 in Germany and the deaths in Switzerland very shortly afterwards of both Durrenmatt and Frisch might well have jeopardized the reader's perception of Geschichte der deutschsprachigen Schweizer Literatur im 20. Jahrhundert: published in 1991 (Berlin: Volk und Wissen) but its text prepared before the Wende' mainly by East German scholars working 'von einem bestimmten, in der marxistischen Tradition stehenden Literaturverstdndnis' (p. 9) under the leadership of Klaus Pezold in Leipzig, the book was to some extent overtaken by events. But its strengths--its meticulous scholarship, its clear depiction of the social background against which the literature discussed was written, and its recognition in the 'Periodisierung' employed of the particular course of Swiss history in the twentieth century--minimized the possibility of any such undervaluing. Geschichte provided an excellent, very welcome overview of German-Swiss writing from 1890 up to the end of the 1980s.

It is therefore good that a second edition under a slightly different title, Schweizer Literaturgeschichte: Die deutschsprachige Literatur im 20. Jahrhundert, has now appeared, 'durchgesehen und erweitert'. In terms of revision, the original 'Vorbemerkung' now appears adapted as a 'Vorwort' and corrections and adjustments of emphasis have taken place throughout the text, notably in the long essay on Durrenmatt; in terms of expansion, there is a new, substantially extended assessment of Thomas Hurlimann and a new closing summary essay. As before, the volume contains, in addition to the essays by German scholars and one Russian Germanist, contributions from three Swiss Germanists on 'Mundartliteratur', on the relationship of writers to 'Schriftdeutsch', and on links to other literatures of Switzerland.

The 'Periodisierung' in the first edition divided the years covered into three phases: the 189os to the end of the 1920s, the 1930s to the end of the 1950s (1945, a point of radical change elsewhere, was presented as being in Switzerland more akin to a point in a continuum), and the 1960s to the end of the 1980s. There was thus a unified structure to the book which the subsequent deaths of the two major figures in German-Swiss writing in a sense completed, so that the 'Vorwort' to the second edition, while dismissing the hysterically proclaimed 'Ende der deutschsprachigen Schweizer Literatur', can none the less describe their departure as having 'eine ahnlich zeichenhafte Bedeutung' (p. 12) as the death of Keller a hundred years previously. Wisely, in my opinion, there has been no attempt to add a compressed catalogue of literature published during the last decade of the twentieth century. Instead, in a manner not possible in the first edition, the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s are discussed in the summarizing essay, 'Literatur und Gesellschaft am "Ende einer Epoche"', as years which also set in train changes and innovations within a wider continuity. A legacy of Durrenmatt, for example--in addition to his work--was the creation at his instigation of the Schweizerisches Literaturarchiv along the lines of the German archive in Marbach. The essay draws a carefully differentiated picture of the positions adopted by writers to the 'Kulturboykott' of 1991 and sets this in the context of a gradual reconciliation between the two politically opposed writers' unions created in the 1970s which later, with the advent of the younger generation of writers, was to result in their formal coming together early in the new century. The public trauma in the 1990s caused by the deconstruction of a comforting picture of Switzerland's posture and actions in the Second World War was accompanied by the realization that much literature of previous years had treated this topic with the result 'dass die Leistung der Literatur nachtrdglich in einem besonders hellen Licht erscheinen musste' (p. 417). The pointers to changes in the literary landscape are well sketched.

Schweizer Literaturgeschichte emphasizes and completes the unity of the original volume and embeds the hundred years covered in the continuities and alterations of German-Swiss literature. The volume, with its comprehensiveness, clear guidance, and precise orientation, will continue for the foreseeable future to be an indispensable tool for scholars and students alike, and Klaus Pezold is to be congratulated in overcoming difficulties to publish it.


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