Woman's Heterosexual experience in Christa Wolf's Kassandra: a critique of GDR feminism.
While Kassandra has long been read in tandem with the Frankfurt poetic lectures as an experiment in feminist poetics (or anti-poetics), as a kind of ecriture feminine that might challenge patriarchy, and thus as a work with an unmistakable feminist bent, some of the more concrete aspects of its feminist critique have gone unnoticed. (7) In the novel, women are victims of a variety of sexual abuses, ranging from ritual deflowering to rape and necrophilia. Secondary literature to date has invoked one or more of these as symptoms or reflections of the increasing political oppression of women in Troy. In general, critics postulate a significant discontinuity between the status of women in pre-war Troy and their status in warring Troy. (8) Jenkinson, for instance, speaks of pre-war Troy in utopian terms, as a place where women "have no need to fear sexual harassment from men" (245). (9) To emphasize the discontinuity between pre-war and warring Troy, between Greek and Trojan males, ignores, however, a marked instance of continuity vis-a-vis woman's position before and during the war, namely a continuity of sexual oppression that, in pre-war Troy, is veiled by woman's relative political freedom. Wolf's critique of the sexual oppression of women in this novel extends beyond the spatial and temporal limitations of warring Troy to "utopian" pre-war Troy, as well as to Wolf's then-contemporary GDR. (10)
To be sure, the early parts of Kassandra's retrospective narration involve clear binary distinctions that suggest the accuracy of readings strongly distinguishing between past and present Troy. She narrates happy memories of the palace and recalls that her own and Hekabe's words of advice were taken seriously by Priamos. She acknowledges that women were not as completely excluded from decision-making in pre-war Troy as they later became and grants that the women in her family had achieved a degree of political influence, faring, in this respect, better than their Greek counterparts. Yet her description of "normal" sexuality and sexual encounters before the war betrays an awareness of woman's subordination that she successfully suppressed in her youth and that she, on one occasion, even attempted to deny. When she helps deliver Briseis to the Greek camp after Troilos's death, she is offended by the manner in which men look at women, claiming that Trojans do not look at women in that way (K, 95; C, 81). But on the contrary, her description only fifteen pages earlier of the Trojans' reaction to Helena, suggests that her invocation of binary moral categorizations is simply a result of her internalized Trojan rhetoric and cannot be taken at face value:
Von den StraBen her drang ein Ton in den Palast, den wir vorher nie gehort batten, vergleichbar dem bedrohlichen Summen eines Bienenstocks, dessen Volk sich zum Abflug sammelt. Die Vorstellung, im Palast ihres Kenigs weile die schone Helena, verdrehte den Leuten die Kopfe. (79)
[A sound from the streets penetrated the palace; it was like nothing we had ever heard before, it was like the threatening hum from a beehive when the bees are about to swarm. People's heads were turned by the thought that the beautiful Helen was inside the palace of their king.] (67)
When she later draws a knife on her countrymen, upset by a forced search of her person on her return from the Greek camp, she relies on the same "them/us" binary rhetoric to express her disgust at her own compatriots: "Dort [im Griechenlager], sagte ich bitter, dort hab ich es [das Messer] nicht gebraucht" (98), ("I didn't need it [the knife] over there [in the Greek camp] I said bitterly" ). These incidents do not constitute naive contradictions on Wolf's part, but are an index of Kassandra's repressed awareness of Troy's discrimination against women.
If Kassandra initially ignores the continuity of sexual oppression then, it is not because Wolf represents pre-war Troy as a feminist utopia, but because she represents in Kassandra the psychological complexities of someone who, even when faced with the imminent death that can be seen as a direct result of what she has gradually come to criticize about her nation, is still emotionally bound to it. Kassandra's sense of national and familial identity has, after all, been built on a series of binary oppositions: Greeks/Trojans, them/us, female oppression/female freedom, and any undermining of these categories inevitably threatens her fundamental understanding of herself. She has often drawn on binarism in comparisons of Trojan and Greek modes of behavior, valorizing Trojan over Greek culture, but must now face the fact that the subordination of women was always an element of Trojan society and, as such, always pointed to what she could not see or refused to see: that the patriarchal culture she associated with Greece transcends national and situational boundaries. (11) Kassandra proves unable to abandon these binary oppositions entirely, but it becomes more and more difficult for her to speak in terms of a positive "we" that signals her identification with Trojans as her life progresses and, in the end, rather than face the potential emergence of a similarly self-destructive and oppressive culture under even the benevolent Aineias, she chooses death rather than life with him in a time that demands heroes and thereby objectifies women and men alike (K, 160; C,138). (12)
Although sexual abuses and their effect on women are by and large understood in the critical literature to be the consequences of war and of the Trojans' spiraling likeness to the "ruthless" Greeks, and while Kassandra talks about what she perceives as a worsening of conditions for women in Troy as the war progresses, a comparison of sexual encounters before and during the war reveals that the narrator no longer in fact understands the objectification and sexual exploitation of women in Troy to be coterminous with the onset of the war. It is not so much the case then that woman's status in Troy worsens with the coming of war but that Kassandra's awareness of problematic aspects of woman's status intensifies. Throughout Kassandra Wolf underscores the oppression inherent in the "normal" heterosexual practices of Trojan society. Apart from her relationship with Aineias, Kassandra either dislikes or is ambivalent toward sex and does essentially what is expected of her. (13) The "utopian" Troy of her youth, a Troy that she believed differed substantially from Greece, proves to have been but an illusion. Adapting other critics' reading of Troy as a cipher for the GDR to this context implies then that Wolf criticizes the GDR's tendency to see itself as a utopia of sorts, as a country that had achieved its goals, both feminist and socialist. This is not to say, however, that Kassandra amounts to a condemnation of the GDR's feminist and socialist policies, rather that it, like Was Bleibt and Sommerstuck, suggests Wolf's ambivalent and complicated stance toward the society in which she lived, one in which, she, like her protagonist, recognized and tackled shortcomings despite strong emotional and ideological ties.
Linda Schelbitzki Pickle and Heidi Gilpin read Kassandra as the search for a female voice, which amounts to, in Pickle's words, "scratching away the male tradition" (32). (14) Kassandra's emphasis on the importance of her own story reflects the desire to find this female voice and to ensure its survival as an alternative to celebratory heroic narratives that emphasize male experience and offer a supposedly sober rendering of events:
... ich fleh dich [Klytaimnestra] an: Schick mir einen Schreiber, oder besser noch, eine junge Sklavin mit scharfem Gedachtnis und kraftvoller Stimme. Verfuge, dab sie, was sie von mir hort, ihrer Tochter weitersagen darf. Die wieder ihrer Tochter, und so fort. So dab neben dem Strom der Heldenlieder dies winzge Rinnsal, muhsam, jene fernen, vielleicht glucklicheren Menschen, die einst leben werden, auch erreichte. (95-96)
[... I implore you [Clytemnestra]: Send me a scribe, or better a young slave woman with a keen memory and a powerful voice Ordain that she may repeat to her daughter what she hears from me. That the daughter in turn may pass it on to her daughter, and so on. So that alongside the river of heroic songs this tiny rivulet, too, may reach those faraway, perhaps happier people who will live in times to come. (81)]
Her quest for a female voice transcends national and class boundaries, as her wish to narrate to a Greek slave girl indicates, and intimates a female experience of oppression, shared by Greek, Trojan, slave, and aristocratic women alike. It does not, however, reduce women's oppression to the single factor of their gender and/or undermine notions of class or racial oppression. (15) Indeed, Kassandra's comment on the manner in which the palace used slave girls and girls from lower classes to satisfy male sexual urges emphasizes her emerging awareness that what she perceived as genuine gender equity was but official Trojan doctrine with little basis in reality, least of all for women beyond the ruling class:
Auch dab der arme Bruder so viele Madchen brauchte. Klar. Alle meine Bruder nahmen sich die Madchen, die ihnen gefielen, wohlwollend kommentierte in glucklichen Zeiten der Palast die Liebesgeschichten der Konigssohne, und die Madchen, meist aus den unteren Schichten, auch Sklavinnen, fuhlten sich weder beleidigt noch besonders erhoben durch das Verlangen meiner Bruder. (68, my emphasis)
[And then there was the way my poor brother needed so many girls. Obviously, all my brothers took the girls they found attractive. In happy times the palace used to run a benevolent commentary on the love affairs of the royal sons; and the girls, generally from the lower classes and slaves to boot, felt neither insulted nor particularly elevated by my brothers' desire for them. (57, my emphasis)]
Her sympathies here lie with the girls who have been reduced to sexual indifference. Her use of the adjective "arme" ("poor") and the exclamatory "klar" ("obviously") that follows implies, in fact, their opposites. In contrast to the palace, Kassandra shows concern for the feelings of the girls, rather than for the sexual needs of the males. In her voice "poor" and "obviously" are ironic, and implicitly undermine the ideology of the palace with regard to male and female sexuality. In this context, other passing references to Trojan sexual customs and women's roles take on similarly critical implications.
The most misogynist incident in the novel is arguably Achill's rape of Penthesilea's dead body. (16) Kassandra suggests that Achill's behavior in this instance constitutes an attempt to reassert his questioned male authority and interprets his actions as extending beyond "perverted" sexual desire and beyond Penthesilea. Her corpse becomes merely the vehicle for an aggressive act of male assertion. But Achill is not the only one to see Penthesilea as an object. His compatriots, feeling that he has gone too far, use her body subsequently to punish him (K, 140; C, 120). Kassandra sees the treatment of Penthesilea's body as the reification of woman in the interest of masculine relations: "Die Frau schinden, um den Mann zu treffen" (140), ("Flay the woman in order to strike at the man" ). Her reading of this sequence of events prompts the reader to understand the, to use Sedgwick's critical model, "homosocial" dynamics of those events. (17)
The memory of the Greeks' murder and abuse of Penthesilea gives way to the memory of the palace's plot to murder Achill, a plot in which the Trojans use one of their own women as a weapon wielded by one man against another: Polyxena, a willing participant in the plot, is to lure Achill barefoot into the temple so that Paris can kill him. Kassandra accuses her father and his men of using Polyxena as a vehicle for masculine relations and refuses to keep their intentions secret, not because she objects to Achill's murder per se, commenting in fact: "Achill als Leiche, ach! wer lechzte nicht nach diesem Anblick" (146), ("Achilles as a corpse, oh! who would not yearn to see that sight!" ). Her refusal to cooperate is linked instead to the role these men expect Polyxena to play and to their laughable insensitivity to how they are using her sister. When she reproaches them for exploiting Polyxena, Eumelos's intended defense is, ironically, the affirmation of her accusation: "Aber du bist nicht imstande zu begreifen! Um sie geht es gar nicht. Es geht uns um Achill" (147), ("But aren't you capable of getting the point? It's not she we're concerned with. We're concerned with Achilles" ). Realizing that her father's demand that she be a loyal Trojan requires her tacit complicity in the objectification of women, Kassandra defies him:
DaB das Recht--Polyxenas Recht, mein Recht--gar nicht zur Sprache stand, weil eine Pflicht, die, unsern schlimmsten Feind zu toten, das Recht verschlang. Und Polyxena? Sieging zugrund, daran war nicht zu zweifeln. Sie war schon aufgegeben. (147)
[(I) Considered the possibility that the question of rights--Polyxena's right, my right--did not even arise because a duty, the duty to kill our worst enemy, ate up the right. And Polyxena? She was headed for ruin, no doubt about that. She was already a hopeless case. (127)]
Her identification with her gender proves stronger here than any national or patriotic identification and leads to her imprisonment until the assassination is over. While she too wants to see Achill dead--he represents for her the worst in human beings--female subordination and objectification are conditions she is loath to accept. (18) The objectification of women (and men) is a price that Kassandra is, however, forced to pay. She is imprisoned until Achill has been killed; Polyxena loses her sanity due to her involvement in the conspiracy; and, raped by Small Aias and taken as concubine by Agamemnon, Kassandra is subjected to the traditional and ritualistic acts of a conqueror, becoming, like Penthesilea and Polyxena, the vehicle for the expression and enactment of male hostility.
These episodes all occur during the war and thus underscore the stance taken by critics that Trojan women suffer at the hands of the Greeks and of their own people during the war. Problematic, however, is the position, adopted by Jenkinson, that women are oppressed only in these contexts, for these acts of aggression do not represent the first time that Trojan women find themselves, in Eysel's words, "degraded into commodities for men's perverted desires" (166). Sedgwick's discussion of homosocial triangles offers a solid basis for the comparative analysis of the treatment of women during and before the war in Wolf's Troy. The workings of Sedgwick's homosocial triangle, a structure in which the bond of rivalry between two men competing for the same woman overrides any potential love bonds involving the woman, can be traced throughout Wolf's Kassandra and constitute not only a feature of Greek culture or of a deteriorating Trojan culture, but of pre-war Troy as well. This unchanging structure serves as an index of the continuity in woman's status across national, situational, and temporal boundaries.
The two events that lead directly to the enmity between Troy and Sparta involve homosocial triangles: the Spartan Telamon takes away Priamos's sister without consulting Priamos, and Paris later steals Menelaos's wife, Helena. While both configurations include a woman in some physical sense, for the king whose authority has been threatened by an act of theft, that woman is no more than an enabler for an act performed by one man on another. Priamos, Paris, and Menelaos--we do not know enough about Telamon to be sure of his motives--see the women in question predominantly as instruments of insult. Priamos's sister is only nominally relevant. Her well-being, or lack thereof, is never an issue for him, as becomes clear when Hekabe suggests that the Trojans forget about her because she seems happy and well taken care of in Sparta as Telamon's wife and queen. The council's interest lies only in the reassertion of Priamos's authority, and its response to Hekabe's suggestion indicates that it is not simply this individual council that overlooks the desires or wishes of the woman in question but that the dismissal of a woman's wishes in such a context is conventional and culturally legitimized: "Ein Konig, der seine entfuhrte Schwester nicht zuruckzugewinnen suche, verliere sein Gesicht" (43), ("A king who does not try to win back his sister when she is abducted loses face" ). In the case of Helena, Wolf exposes the underlying dynamics of patriarchal culture as relations between men in an even more concrete manner. (19) Menelaos and the Greeks go to war with the supposed goal of retrieving Helena but it turns out, to Kassandra's great dismay, that Greeks and Trojans alike know that Helena is not and never has been in Troy. The war continues because, in Priamos's words: "Es geht um die Ehre unsres Hauses" (83), ("The honor of our house is at stake" ). Wolf's decision to make Helena physically absent emphasizes the already always-absent female subject of these interactions.
The reification of women in Trojan culture goes beyond what can be illustrated by Sedgwick's homosocial triangle. Their further objectification is evident in Kassandra's interpretation of Polyxena's wish to become a priestess as the means for her to avoid, among other things, an excess of lovers:
Warum du Priesterin werden wolltest, war ich nicht imstande zu fragen. DaB du womoglich ganz etwas anderes mit dem Amt anstrebtest als ich. Nicht Wurde, Abstand, und Ersatz fur Freuden, die mir versagt waren; sondern: Schutz vor dir selbst; vor der Uberzahl der Liebhaber. ... (31)
[I was not in a position to wonder why you (Polyxena) wanted to be priestess. To wonder whether you might not possibly want something quite different from the office than I did. Not dignity, distance, and a substitute for pleasures that were denied me, but rather, protection from yourself, from the multitude of your lovers. ... (25)]
Kassandra's own wish to become a priestess is similarly linked, at least initially, to an avoidance of sex, suggesting that the sexual role they would otherwise be expected to play was a less-thanpleasant prospect. (20) Her decision to become a priestess is sealed after her ordeal with the ritual deflowering ceremony and in reaction to a double sense of shame: she is forced, along with other young virgins, to come to the temple, where they are put on display and chosen by a male. This ritual amounts to the commodification of the female body and, given that the ritual is mandatory, ultimately to institutionalized rape. While Trojan culture construes this ritual in different terms--socially it is not invested with the same criminal and transgressive connotations as rape--Kassandra's reaction to it reveals what the ritual is designed to conceal:
Hatte ich denn nicht im Jahr zuvor, kaum dab ich zum erstenmal geblutet hatte, mit den anderen Madchen im Tempelbezirk der Athene gesessen--sitzen mussen! ... die Manner hatten uns auszusuchen und zu entjungfern. Ich horte lange ehe ich einschlief, das Fingerschnipsen und, in wieviel verschiedene Betonungen, das eine Wort: Komm. ... Ich erfuhr zwei Arten von Scham: die gewahlt zu werden, und die, sitzenzubleiben.Ja ich wurde Priesterin werden, um jeden Preis. (20-21, my emphasis)
[Had I not sat one year before with the other girls in the temple grounds of Athena just after I bled for the first time--hadn't I been forced to sit there? ... it was up to the men to select and deflower us. For a long time before I went to sleep, I heard the snapping of fingers and the single phrase uttered with so many different intonations: "Come on." ... I experienced two kinds of shame: that of being elect and that of being left on the shelf. Yes, I would become a priestess at any cost. (16-17, my emphasis)]
She underscores the forced nature of this patriarchal ritual that degrades women into objects denied of agency. A mainstay of Trojan sexual custom, ensuring the availability and submission of women to men as soon as they are fertile, the ritual deflowering initiates young girls into the basic female societal role in Troy--provider of sex and children.
The extent to which the objectification of women pervades Trojan culture becomes most apparent in the figure of Anchises, one of the two men who emerge in a primarily positive light from Kassandra's account of Troy. Despite his favored status, even he is not above the sexual discourse that defines and treats women as sexual objects. In an attempt to account for Eumelos's ruthlessness, he casts women purely as the objects of male desire and is oblivious to the possibility of their desires, suggesting that their rejection of Eumelos may be the cause of his brutality:
Der ist doch, wie wir alle, nur darauf aus, dahin zuruckzukehren, wo es ihm einmal gut gegangen ist: unter eure Rocke. Das verwehrt ihr ihm. Da racht er sich, so einfach ist es. Etwas Entgegenkommen euerseits, under ist geheilt, wer weiB. (107)
[After all, he's after the same thing as the rest of us, he only wants to get back to where he had it good once: under your skirts. You won't let him in. So he takes revenge, it's as simple as that. A bit of responsiveness from your lot and who knows, he might be cured. (91)]
The women of the Mount Ida collective criticize Anchises for suggesting that they shoulder the responsibility for Eumelos's shortcomings. Although Anchises then admits that sex would no longer be a solution for Eumelos, he does not retract the premise on which his argument was based, namely that all men see women in purely sexual terms. Anchises's ideological model and the fact that Kassandra and Polyxena should think of a vocation as a means of resistance to traditional sexual demands suggest that there was little real acknowledgement in Troy of woman's desire and complete indifference to her lack of desire in certain contexts. (21) Hekabe indicates as much to Kassandra when she berates her for having acted inappropriately by running in horror to her mother after her first sexual encounter, a dream in which she refuses to have sex with the God Apollon:
... denn mehr noch als des Sonnengottes Wolfsgestalt, beunruhigte sie [Hekabe] meine Angst, reich mit ihm zu vereinigen. Wenn sich ein Gott zu ihr legen wollte: War das nicht ehrenvoll fur eine Sterbliche. (20)
[... for she (Hecuba) was less troubled by the wolf shape of the sun god than by my fear to unite with him. It was an honor for a mortal woman if a god wanted to lie with her, was it not? Yes it was. (16)]
The dream reveals Kassandra's "fear of being sexually overpowered," a fear that Hekabe, indoctrinated as she is in Trojan culture, seeks to quash (Guthrie, 189). (22) Kassandra regrets telling Hekabe about the dream and associates her reaction to it with her attempts of the previous year to force Aineias to deflower her. By linking the dream of Apollon to her memory of the ritual defloration, Kassandra lays bare her aversion to the heterosexual norms of Troy. (23) Significantly, the man she comes to love is the one who is unwilling to "teach" her her role as woman and sex object, the man who cannot bring himself to overpower her sexually, simply because he has the opportunity to do so. Aineias, by failing to deflower her at the arranged time, deviates from Trojan custom and from Trojan heterosexual norms. (24) Their subsequent sexual relationship is one of mutual consent and one in which she takes pleasure. Her coerced sexual relationships to all other men, on the other hand, are only tolerable if she imagines the lover to be Aineias.
Panthoos, the Greek priest, is finally the one to deflower Kassandra, and he becomes a regular nightly visitor. While she never refers to what happens between herself and Panthoos as rape, she does insist that it is not lovemaking: "In seinen Liebesakten--aber so sollte ich, was er an mir ausubte, nicht nennen, mit Liebe hatte es nichts zu tun ... " (77), ["I detected in his lovemaking (but I ought not to use that name for the acts he performed on me, they had nothing to do with love) ... " (65)]. Her descriptions of their encounters disclose both her distance from the sexual act that he performs on her and the element of coercion that becomes clearest on the one occasion that she does refuse to have sex with him--Panthoos tries to rape her. Kassandra sometimes hates Panthoos and always struggles to overcome the disgust she feels at having sex with him. Yet for a long time, she accepts his nightly visits and misses them, though not him, when he suddenly stops coming.
The dilemma facing Kassandra with regard to sex with Panthoos--she feels both "Hass und Dankbarkeit" ("hatred and gratitude") toward him--is reminiscent of the conflicting emotions she experiences during ritual defloration: the double shame of being picked and of not being picked (K, 33; C, 27). These contradictory forces within her in the specific domain of sexuality anticipate and reflect the more general contradiction she perceives in her role in the world: "Ich wollte die Welt nicht, wie sie war, aber hingebungsvoll wollte ich den Gottern dienen, die sie beherrschten" (48), ["I did not want the world the way it was, but I wanted to serve devotedly the gods who ruled it" (40)]. Just as she has been socialized as a "woman" by her mother and Panthoos and through ritual defloration, she has been socialized as a Trojan "durch die Erzahlungen in den Innenhofen" (40), ["by the stories told in the inner courts" (33)]. By virtue of the fact that she is a prophetess whom nobody believes, however, Kassandra also has an alternative perspective on Trojan society. She is thus within and feels a sense of duty and loyalty toward a culture which she is simultaneously outside of and critical of.
The contradictions and paradoxes that emerge in the later stages of the interior monologue are visible then from the very beginning in her ambivalent reactions to sex and sexuality and point toward yet another possible rendering of the variously interpreted Sappho quote that serves as an epigraph for this novel: "Schon wieder schuttelt mich der gliederlosende Eros, bittersuss, unbezahmbar, ein dunkles Tier" (5), ["Once again limb-loosing love shakes me, bitter-sweet, untamable, a dusky animal" (5)]. The epigraph presents the reader with a powerful directive, indicating at once the sort of contradictions and paradoxes (bittersweet) that constitute the social fabric of Troy, as well as the sphere in which they are most palpable for Kassandra, that of Eros. (25) The preponderance of sexual incidents and the manner in which they expose the more pervasive subjugation of women suggest that Wolf is just as interested in the possibility of equity in woman's private heterosexual experience as she is in the potential for woman's constructive influence in political matters. In fact, in Kassandra, she implies that the latter is a mere specter if the former does not exist. Kassandra's reactions to the heterosexual role of women in Troy imply that Troy has never been anything other than her own temporary illusion of a utopian society, fed and sustained by the palace's propaganda. While the Trojan state granted some women some political influence, women remained primarily the objects of male sexual desire and the enablers of male-male relations.
Reading Kassandra as a roman a clef Eysel and Jenkinson convincingly argue for the parallels between Troy and the GDR in terms of national identification and identity formation, underscoring the novel's treatment of more general problems that affect all human beings, male and female alike. A temporal distinction Jenkinson makes with regard to the genesis of the novel suggests that reading it as a roman a clef is incompatible with reading it as a novel about the oppression of women:
... it began in its author's mind as a novel about the experience of women in a male-dominated world.... Later the novel increasingly took on the quality of a roman a clef, with the contrast and conflict between Troy and Greece coming to stand as a cipher for the present-day East-West confrontation. (235, my emphasis)
These two aspects of the novel do not, however, inhibit or contradict each other at all. On the contrary, it seems that the experience of women and, in particular, their sexual experience in a male-dominated world point to an element of this roman a clef that has thus far been neglected in the critical literature, namely a critique on Wolf's part of GDR and Marxist feminism. (26)
GDR socialist feminism had a curious profile. In "Women in the GDR," dated only a couple of years before the appearance of Kassandra, Christel Sudau discusses how and why GDR officials were "particularly proud of their behavior in relation to women" (69). (27) Many citizens believed that the women's question had been solved and that "equality had been realized both under the law and in practice" (Sudau, 69). Officially then, there was no need for a feminist movement in the Western sense. Examining some of the more private aspects of woman's experience in the GDR, Sudau concludes that there was little truth behind the facade. More recent articles also emphasize the anti-feminist currents underlying GDR socialism. (28) Rights extended to women under GDR law were very much related to woman's reproductive ability, to women's identity as mothers rather than as women per se. Ankum refers to the Socialist Unity Party of Germany's (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands) political attitude toward women as "Geschenkpolitik" (a politics of gift-giving) quoting Grotewohl, who told East German women: " ... das Gesetz soll den Frauen zeigen, was die Regierung alles fur sie tut, wenn sie helfen, das Land aufzubauen" (129), (" ... the law should show women all the things the government will do for them if they help to rebuild the country," my translation). Women were defined in functional terms, directly acknowledged by the state only insofar as they were of use in reproductive strategies, and their rights were seen as contingent on their participation in the same. While the state attempted to legislate equal rights and granted women a political voice, its policies continued to oppress women sexually. Woman's heterosexual experience and her sanctioned reproductive role were naturalized by law, not only in Grotewohl's "Geschenkpolitik," but also by means of the distribution of living space: "Living space is scarce and is distributed by the authorities. Undesirable living arrangements like women's communes have no chance at all ... homosexuality is frowned upon in the GDR, female homosexuality in particular" (Sudau, 77-78). The state, in other words, attempted to dictate the terms of female sexuality.
Marxist feminism in general--a feminism that is not necessarily identical to GDR feminism but shares some of its tenets--has been criticized for its failure to "help in unpacking the historical meanings of women's experience of heterosexuality" (Sedgwick, 12). It stresses class rather than gender difference as the most significant basis of oppression. In her essay "What the Women Owe to Karl Marx," for example, Clara Zetkin praises Marx for undermining the notion of a "sisterhood," of a shared female experience that connected bourgeois and proletarian women (241). (29) Zetkin, like Marx, believed that woman's emancipation was something that would automatically accompany the success of the socialist labor movement and so paid little or no attention to woman's private experience. In a similar vein several decades later, Girnus reprimands Wolf for what he sees as her overemphasis on the repression of women and reminds her: "Der Klassenkampf ist das Primare. ... Der Klassenriss geht mitten durch beide Geschlechter" (1102), ("Class struggle is first and foremost. ... Class divisions affect both sexes," my translation). (30) The political treatment of women in the GDR, as well as Girnus's response to Kassandra, indicate that the GDR continued to uphold the turn-of-the-century Marxist/socialist perspective on women's emancipation. Girnus failed to recognize that gender discrimination was a fundamental component of GDR political structures that defined woman's value primarily in terms of her biological productivity.
While a direct comparison cannot be drawn between the role of women in the former GDR and that of the Trojan women represented in Kassandra, certain similarities are apparent. In both states, women's bodies are seen in terms of their utilitarian value to the state. Wolf's Troy, like the GDR, attempts to regulate and limit female sexuality. Despite the appearance of equality in Trojan society, Troy, like the GDR, is built on traditional sexist understandings of woman and her role in society. Wolf exposes these shortcomings in Kassandra by drawing attention to woman's heterosexual experience and emphasizes the need to think of "utopia" as an unremitting process, rather than as a set of conditions that, once achieved, demand no further examination or modification. (31) She thereby implicitly undermines the GDR's official line on women's issues, namely that there was nothing left to be accomplished.
Wolf openly expresses her skepticism toward the notion that equality had already been achieved in the GDR in an interview with Hans Kaufmann as early as 1973, admitting that she has to struggle to control her anger in the face of such assertions:
Jetzt werde ich mich zugeln mussen, denn wir kommen auf eines der Themen, bei denen mir leicht die Galle uberlauft, eben well der radikale Ansatz, von dem wit ausgegangen sind ("Befreiung der Frau"), steckenzubleiben droht in der Selbstzufriedenheit uber eine Vorstufe, die wir erklommen haben.... (93)
[Now I'll have to restrain myself because we're broaching one of the topics that can easily make me livid because our radical initial demand ("the liberation of women") is being threatened with stagnation by a sense of complacency about what is our achievement of a merely preliminary stage.... (my translation)] (32)
In a later essay, "Beruhrung" ("Touching," 1977), an appreciation of Maxi Wander's Guten Morgen, Du Schone (Good Morning, Goodlooking), Wolf praises the book for not undertaking to prove "wie emanzipiert wir doch sind" (211), ("how very emancipated we are," my translation). (33) She analyses, in fact, how Wander's collected protocols reveal the persistent oppression of women in their private, heterosexual relationships. Concerned with woman's experience of sexuality, Wolf comments that it is only now that women are beginning to recognize that it is not always their fault if they are sexually dissatisfied, and she blames male immaturity and socialization for the continued oppression of women in private and sexual spheres. She argues explicitly that legislation alone is not enough to guarantee woman's emancipation:
Frauen, durch Auseinandersetzungen mit realen und belangvollen Erfahrungen gereift, signalisieren einen radikalen Anspruch: als ganzer Mensch zu leben ... mit Frauenforderungsplanen, mit Krippenplatzen und Kindergeld allein kann sie [Sozietat] ihm nicht mehr begegnen. (219)
[Women, seasoned by their struggles with real and relevant experiences, are signaling their radical demand to be allowed to live as complete human beings ... society can no longer respond to such demands with plans for the advancement of women, with childcare, and with child benefits alone. (my translation)]
She adds that GDR society must stop raising female children in accordance with a preconceived image of femininity and must begin to recognize women as individuals rather than as "menschliches Wesen, weibliches Geschlecht" (216), ("human beings of the female sex," my translation).
In Kassandra, Wolf continues to be concerned with the interplay between the public/political recognition of woman's perspective and socialization processes. For her, the oppression of women cannot be amended simply by accepting a female perspective on political issues (Priamos), or by legislating women's right to vote, work, and have their children cared for (the GDR). Naturally she sees both class struggle and the political acknowledgement of women as important but she insists too that women's emancipation does not begin and end there, suggesting that at the core of female oppression lies the widely accepted and practiced socialization of men and women for heterosexual, child-bearing relationships. Wolf implies in Kassandra what she states explicitly in her essay "Beruhrung": as long as the oppression of women in their private and personal lives continues, a female perspective on larger-scale social and world issues, despite appearances and doctrine, cannot but be oppressed.
University of West Georgia
(1) Chrism Wolf, Was Bleibt (Frankfurt am Main: Luchterhand, 1990).
(2) See Der Deutsch-deutsche Literaturstreit oder "Freunde es spricht sich schlecht mit gebundener Zunge," ed. Karl Deiritz and Hannes Krauss (Hamburg: Luchterhand, 1991), for an overview of the Wolf controversy.
(3) Gall Finney, "The Christa Wolf Controversy: Wolf's Sommerstuck as Chekhovian Commentary," The Germanic Review 67, no. 3 (1992): 106-10.
(4) Christa Wolf, Kassandra (Darmstadt: Luchterhand, 1983); and Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays, trans. Jan van Heurck (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984). Hereafter cited as K and C respectively
(5) Karen Jacobs, "Speaking 'Chrissandra': Christa Wolf, Bakhtin, and the Politics of the Polyvocal Text," Narrative 9 (2001): 283-304.
(6) The spellings of characters' names will adhere to the German text's spellings throughout.
(7) See Linda Schelbitzki Pickle, "Scratching Away the Male Tradition: Christa Wolf's Kassandra," Contemporary Literature 1 (1986): 32-47; Judith Ryan, "Poetik als Experiment: Christa Wolf, Voraussetzungen einer Erzahlung," Poetik der Autoren: Beitrage zur deutschspachigen Gegenwartsliteratur, ed. Paul Michael Lutzler (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1994), 80-94; and most recently Thomas O. Beebee and Beverly M. Weber, "A Literature of Theory: Christa Wolf's Kassandra Lectures as Feminist Anti-Poetics," The German Quarterly 74, no. 3 (2001): 259-79.
(8) See for example Karin Eysel, "Christa Wolf's Kassandra: Refashioning National Imagination Beyond the Nation," Women in German Yearbook 9 (1993): 163-81; David Jenkinson, "Loyalty and its Limits: Christa Wolf's Kassandra as a Schlusselerzahlung," Literature on the Threshold: The German Novel in the 1980s, ed. Arthur Williams, K. Stuart Parkes, and Roland Smith (New York: Berg, 1990), 235-52; and Schelbitzki Pickle (note 6). While the authors recognize that Troy, to use Jenkinson's words, "bears within itself from the beginning at least some of the seeds of that corruption," they stress primarily the positive aspects of pre-war Troy, a reading strategy that sees Kassandra's understanding of pre-war Troy as far less critical than my argument claims (245).
(9) See note 8.
(10) The argument that Wolf critiques her own country in Kassandra is certainly not an original one in and of itself. See Stephen Brockmann, "Preservation and Change in Christa Wolf's Was Bleibt," The German Quarterly 67, no. 1 (1994): 73-85; and Herbert Lehner, "Funktionalitat und autobiographische Motive: Zu Christa Wolfs Erzahlung Was Bleibt," Weimarer Beitrage 37 (1991): 423-44. Both also connect Kassandra to Was Bleibt and Lehner argues that the latter makes Wolf's affinity to the character of Kassandra with her alienation from her homeland, her class and her state, much clearer in retrospect.
(11) See Eysel (note 8) for an excellent discussion of how Wolf critiques national allegiances and imagines a transcendence of the same.
(12) For instance, Kassandra argues vehemently with Anchises when he claims that Eumelos is a product of Troy. She insists that he was "eine Fehlentwicklung, etwas wie ein Unfall" (107), ("an aberration ... a sort of accident" ). Anchises asks how she then accounts for her father Priamos who accepts Eumelos's advice and guidance. She is not yet willing to accept that Eumelos can be compared to Priamos and therefore avoids Anchises for weeks, just as she avoids her early inklings that her culture, like Greek culture, oppresses women. Once the order that Hekabe may no longer take part in council comes down from the palace, however, Kassandra's first instinct is to run to Anchises--an acknowledgement that he was right, that what he said has now been proven. Again, see Eysel for a more fleshed out account of the difficulty for Kassandra of saying "we Trojans" as the novel progresses.
(13) In her treatment of Achill, Wolf also implies that insistence on sexual "normalcy" is much more destructive than any of the "perversions" it seeks to avert: Achill's persistent abuse of women is linked to a sense of shame about his homosexual leanings and to his consequent attempt to prove his masculinity, to prove that he is just like the others: "Achill stellte namlich allen nach: Junglingen nach denen ihn wirklich verlangte, und Madchen als Beweis, dass er wie alle war" (97), ("For Achilles was after everyone in sight: young men, whom he genuinely desired, and girls, as a proof that he was like everybody else" ).
(14) Heidi Gilpin, "Cassandra: Creating a Female Voice," Responses to Christa Wolf, ed. Marilyn Sibley Fries (Wayne State U.Press, 1989), 349-66.
(15) See Kirsten Belgum, "Speaking of Death: the Revision of Women's Fate in Wolf, Sanders-Brahms, and Bachmann," Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies 16.1 (1995): 1-18. Her lengthier discussion of this quotation has a slightly different but not conflicting emphasis.
(16) The Trojans' punishment of Marpessa for telling Kassandra the truth about Kalchas's desertion is also viciously cruel. She was sent to the stalls, ostensibly to be a horsemaid, but the palace was well aware of the conditions in the stalls and knew that it would entail repeated gang rapes for Marpessa. After this ordeal, she never again allowed a man to touch her. Kassandra only discovers the details of the punishment after the war is over and they have been taken hostage by the Greeks.
(17) Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (Columbia U. Press, 1985).
(18) Kassandra is also critical of the palace's brutalization of men to achieve its wartime goals and constantly prods her father to abandon the war. It is not the case, in other words, that she is only upset by the palace's use and abuse of women. If this aspect is emphasized here, it is in order to establish Kassandra's sense of a continuity of women's subordination from pre-war to warring Troy.
(19) Sedgwick extends her triangular model to large-scale social structures by invoking Heide Hartmann's definition of patriarchy as "relations between men and men" (25). The homosocial triangle comes to represent a miniature of patriarchy.
(20) Kassandra's reasons for becoming a priestess change as her monologue progresses. Here she claims that she was guided by a need for honor, later she says she wanted power, and earlier in the novel she located the origins of her decision to be a priestess in a negative sexual experience, the deflowering ritual.
(21) One might object to this claim by quoting Kassandra's reaction to a secret affair that Polyxena indulges in with Andron: "Sie hat mit dem Andron heimlich ein Verhaltnis angefangen. Das gab es nicht. Nie hatte eine von uns Schwestern notig, ihre Neigung zu verbergen" (113), ("She began a relationship with Andron in secret. That was unheard-of. Never had any of us sisters had to conceal her amorous inclinations" ). However, there is a substantial difference between not having to conceal desire, on the one hand, and being able to refuse the demands made on you by someone else's desire on the other. It is the latter from which both Polyxena and Kassandra seek to escape when they consider becoming priestesses. While the Trojan society of the novel might not try to deny that there is female desire (at least among aristocratic women such as Kassandra and Polyxena), it does grant greater importance to male desire by allotting women the role of satisfying it. And while Polyxena and Kassandra might be able to fight off sexual approaches, as Kassandra fights off Panthoos on one occasion, young slave girls are essentially employed to provide the males in the palace with their sexual amusement and are not granted the privilege of denial.
(22) John Guthrie, "The Reconstructed Subject: Christa Wolf, Kassandra," in The German Novel in the Twentieth Century: Beyond Realism, ed. David R. Midgley (Edinburgh U. Press, 1993), 179-93.
(23) I cannot agree with Schelbitzki Pickle's reading of the Apollon dream "as an expression of the psychological make-up of an ambitious but introverted sexually immature girl" (38). Kassandra is not simply nervous and shy in this dream. She speaks of Apollon's eyes as "grausam" ("cruel") and of her own feelings of "grauenvollen Schrecken" ("awful terror") (K, 19; C, 15). Apollon does more than try to have sex with her; he attempts to take her forcefully, against her will. In the context of Kassandra's descriptions of, and reactions to, sexual encounters which follow, I read this as the first occasion on which she learns that in her world, religious and otherwise, her desire, or lack thereof, is secondary to that of a male god or mortal.
(24) I use the term "teach" because of Kassandra's response to the loss of her virginity. Panthoos comes to her one night and sleeps with her: Mein Griechisch habe ich ja bei ihm gelernt. Und die Kunst, einen Mann zu empfangen, auch (32), (" ... he was the one who taught me my Greek. And he taught me the art of receiving a man too" ). Kassandra places having sex with Panthoos on the same level as learning Greek from him. This represents a significant statement on the nature of sexuality and heterosexuality in particular. Wolf depicts sex as a discursive event rather than as a natural phenomenon, as something which one learns or is taught in social context. To this extent, her treatment of sex and sexuality recalls Foucault's discussion of the same in that it shifts the terms of investigation from the ontology of sexuality to the discourse on sexuality. He explicitly argues for what Wolf here implies, that even the physical act of sex cannot be located outside of the discourse on sex. See Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality. Vol 1: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1990).
(25) Schelbitzki Pickle also discusses the relevance of the Sappho quote. She argues that it sets the tone for "the three female voices of the novel's first page" who "give controlled, thoughtful, literary expression to subjective experience" (Scratching, 35). She relates Sappho's shudder to the "little death of orgasm and thereby to Kassandra's impending death. I follow Schelbitzki Pickle in suggesting that the quote introduces themes important to the novel, but put forward that it might also be taken literally, prodding the reader to focus on woman's subjective experience of Eros, love, and sex.
(26) It must be said, however that a critique on Wolf's part of GDR and Marxist feminism does not mean that she was completely anti-GDR or anti-Marxist feminism, merely that she recognized and elucidated certain problematic aspects of and contradictions within the two.
(27) Christel Sudau, "Women in the GDR," New German Critique 13 (1978): 69-81.
(28) See, for example, Katharina von Ankum, "Political Bodies: Women and Re/Production in the GDR," Women in German Yearbook 9 (1993): 127-44; and Katrin Sieg, "Equality Decreed: Dramatizing Gender in East Germany," Women in German Yearbook 9 (1993): 113-26.
(29) Clara Zetkin, "What the Women Owe to Karl Marx," German Essays on Socialism in the Nineteenth Century: Theory, History and Political Organization, 1844-1914, ed. Frank Mecklenburg and Manfred Stassen (New York: Continuum, 1990), 237-41.
(30) Wilhelm Girnus, "Kein Wenn und Aber und das poetische Licht Sapphos: Noch einmal zu Christa Wolf," Sinn und Form 35.5 (1983): 1096-1105.
(31) See Edith Waldstein, "Prophecy in Search of a Voice: Silence in Chrism Wolf's Kassandra," Germanic Review 62.4 (1987): 194-98, for a discussion of Wolf's utopia as a process, as a "continual reexamination and reevaluation," rather than as a "fixed system" (197).
(32) Christa Wolf, "Die Dimension des Autors. Gesprach mit Hans Kaufmann," Lesen und Schreiben: Neue Sammlung (Darmstadt: Luchterhand, 1980), 68-99.
(33) Christa Wolf, "Beruhrung," Lesen und Schreiben: Neue Sammlung (Darmstadt: Luchterhand, 1980), 209-21.
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