Configurations of Myth, Memory, and Mourning in Grete Weil's Meine Schwester Antigone

by Susanne Baackmann
Configurations of Myth, Memory, and Mourning in Grete Weil's Meine Schwester Antigone
Susanne Baackmann
The German Quarterly
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BAACKMANN The University of New Mexico

Configurations of Myth, Memory, andMourning in Grete Weil's Meine Schwester Antigone

In October 1990, at the first parliamen- tary session of unified Germany, Chancel- lor Helmut Kohl called for a moment of si- lence in memory of all the victims of Ger- many's most recent past, and he went on to name them: the victims of Nazism, Com- munism, and the Berlin Wall. While this moment of silence was certainly meant to acknowledge the country's violent history, it recalled the past by canceling Germany's specific role in recent history, i.e., by blend- ing the particular violence of the Holocaust with a general history of brutality and re- pression.' AsJames Young has pointed out, "by uniting the memory of its own martyrs with those it once victimized [...I Germany also attempted a return to [...I what has been called 'normalization"' (25).

Among other things, the politics of nor- malization are driven by a self-serving col- lective forgetfulness, as Benjamin Korn reminds us in a recent article in Die Zeit, entitled "Der Mensch, die Maschine des Vergessens."2 He polemically remembers 1995, the official year of commemoration of the end of the Second World War, as an ex- ample of a memory that was celebrated, polished, exhibited,and packaged until it came dangerously close to reverting to yet another transmutation of collective amnesia.3 Kern astutely &serves that Christo's wrapping of the Reichstag con- tained all those international, national, communal, and personal efforts of com- memoration:

Verhullen, welch ein Fest! Ungeschehen machen, wiirde der Psychoanalytiker diagnostizieren und hinzufugen, d& dem menschlichen Geist nichts so penibel sei wie das Erinnern und nichts so natiirlich wie das Vergessen, das Verdrangen, Ver- leugnen, Verzerren und Verkehren ins Gegenteil [...I. Alle Nationen sind voll von falsch uberlieferten und auf den Kopf gestellten Erinnerungen, dem Vergessen von Verbrechen, dem Verleugnen von Niederlagen.

Korn's polemic comments remind us that remembering and commemoration are ef- forts inevitably characterized by a forget- fulness that appropriates history by select- ing, manipulating, distorting, and denying elements of the past. Moreover, Korn's ref- erence to psychoanalytical theories of mem- ory is a poignant reminder that remember- ing and forgetting intersect in complicated, even celebratory ways, and that we certain- ly never remember "wie es eigentlich gewe- sen [istl." As Sigrid Weigel has noted, Freud characterized memory as a complex and dia- lectical exchange between perceptions and lasting memory traces:

Das Gedachtnis ist [...I nicht etwas, wo- riiber das Subjekt verfugt, sondern es ist in einen Pmzefi eingebunden, in dem die Wahrnehmungen mit den im UnbewuTJten gebildetenD~~~~~~~~~~in einem di- alektischen Austausch stehen. In dieser Gedachtnistheorie wird eine Differenz zwischen der Erinnerungsspur und dem Erlebten vorausgesetzt, das Gedachtnis ist darin weder Abbild noch Abdruck der Realitat. (271)

The German Quarterly 73.3 (Summer 2000) 269

Grete Weil's text Meine Schwester Anti- gone (1980) conveys an acute sense of this dialectical exchange between perceptions and traces of memory. The narrator, a woman who barely escaped the Holocaust, lives alone with her memories and, per- haps more importantly, a lack of knowl- edge about certain details of the past. Although she remembers vividly how her first husband was deported, she has no knowledge of what actually happened to him. Not knowing how he died becomes her "wound" (9,24,32,36,85, log), epito- mizing her desperate engagement with the past. This past coalesces into a narra- tive, or rather brings together many nar- rative fragments, under the shadow and sign of the legend of Antigone.

My Sister Antigone is part of an evolv- ing literature by women authors concerned with finding new narrative strate- gies to represent women's experiences of history. What comes to light in these texts are female memories often ignored or si- lenced because they lie beyond politically remastered projections of the past as ex- pressed, for instance, in Kohl's blanket statement about all victims of war. Recent literary representations of history do not regard the past as resolved, but rather turn to the present as deeply informed by traces of history. Like many authors currently re-examining the Nazi legacy, Weil chal- lenges the ubiquitous notion of thepostwar period by illustrating to what degree the ef- fects of this war still shape our emotional and psychological reality. Even though for- mer West Germany sought a radical depar- ture from the horrors of World War 11, fas- cism, and the Holocaust,4 the ongoing and heated debates about how to commemo- rate the past (especially for a unified na- tion) illustrate that war is continuing as battles over memory and memories.

Although Weil's insightful and complex work is very compelling in light of the cur- rent re-evaluation of notions of memory, history, and nati~nhood,~

she has received little critical attention in the U.S. This is particularly surprising because her engagement with mythical tropes in both col- lective and personal memories reveals im- portant insights on the intersection of memory and gender. Weil turns to the work of mourning as adifficult task traditionally reserved for women. She rewrites Anti- gone's story as a cultural document that highlights the difference between men and women vis-A-vis history. The fatal and de- structive battle for power between men that provokes a female act of opposition is a common premise in mythological narra- tives. But in contrast to other myths, Antigone is denied what is traditionally a female task, namely to mourn and properly tend to the dead. In fact, in this case mourning the dead becomes an act of fe- male defiance. Weil's focus on a mythologi- cal heroine preoccupied with her dead brother and consumed with the desire to mark his grave for posterity comments on the suppression of "mourning" in postwar Germany. Moreover, Weil's appropriation of a legend that focuses on the forceful pre- vention of female mourning pays particu- lar attention to women's voices and those of the victims of fascism, Weil calls atten- tion to politics of memory that often fail to acknowledge their perspectives in Ger- many's ongoing reconstruction work.6

As I shall show, Weil's complex rewrit- ing of the Antigone myth has two levels. As a paradigm of the rebellious and uncom- promising woman, Antigone is the narra- tor's counterpart, who rather dies than yields to barbarism. On this level Weil's ap- propriation of the myth serves as a narra- tive device that (re-)collects memory frag- ments and reconfigures those contradic- tory moments into a coherent narrative about the past. However, on another level, the text questions the very notion of narra- tive coherence. Sophocles's dramatization of Antigone, which Holderlin's idiosyncratic translation made popular in Ger- many, is centered on humanistic ideals of resistance and agency that effectively col- lapsed after Auschwitz. The narrator en

counters htigone as part and parcel of "eine[r] sogenannte[n] guten Erziehung" (6);her "humanistisch gebildeter Vater" (9)may have first introduced her to this mythical figure. The reference to the narra- tor's upper-middle-class education evokes the trope of Germany as Kulturnation. This imagination is centered on Germany's "sophisticated" cultural tradition which at various points in history served to compensate for the lack of national cohe- sion and political autonomy. The reference to her "humanistisch gebildeter Vater" also reveals to what extent privileged ele- ments of German culture are firmly in- scribed into the familial and personal memory of the protagonist. The intensely personal preoccupation with Antigone de- scribed in Weil's text gains a different sig- nificance when the narrator is confronted with fascist murder and persecution. "Erst als ich aus meinem Prinzessinnendasein herausgerissen, mit Mord und Vernich- tung konfrontiert war, wandelte sich ihre Gestalt, wurde grooer, gewichtiger, schil- lernder" (10).At a time when bourgeois no- tions of high culture and historical reality clash, the Jewish woman enters into acom- plex dialogue with Antigone about com- plicity, resistance, uncompromising ideals, individual powerlessness, and the use of violencein short, about the possibilities and limits of human agency. In the course of this dialogue, the ideological parameters that frame htigone in the German imagi- nation are questioned from the perspective of the "other" of German culture. By rewrit- ing Antigone's story from her perspective, Weil challenges collective memory figura- tions in light of traumatic experiences tainted by what Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub have called a "crisis of witnessing" caused by the Holocaust. The figure of Antigone was an intimate part of Weil's childhood and upbringing.7 Yet as a heroine of classical humanism who embodies the possibility of meaningful human agency and resistance she ultimately hasno language for the conflicts of a Holocaust survivor.

Instead of retelling the story ofhtigone from a contemporary point of view-a strategy Christa Wolf employed in differ- ent ways in both Kassandra (1985) and Medea (1996)-Meine Schwester Antigone

reveals why, how, and when we resort to myths, what role they play in the personal and the collective imagination, and why they are problematic asa narrative tool after the trauma of World War 11.The novel affirms Benjamin Korn's observation that our memory necessarily distorts and di- lutes the urgency of painful or difficult ex- periences, turning them into legends that make our lives bearable. The narrator states matter-of-factly: "Die Erinnerung an mein eigenes Hungern ist vage. Nichts ist davon geblieben als die Legende, zu der sich schliefilich alles Erlebte formt, von dem man immer wieder erziihlt" (46).At the same time, the text works through the formation of those legends, thus revealing the blind spots in the shifting narratives of memory-in this case the need for identifi- cation with a mythical figure-that inform any kind of reassuring recollection of the past on both the individual and the collec- tive level.

Meine Schwester Antigone is part of a larger trend within women's literature to assess history critically by appropriating myths from a female point of view. In many contemporary representations of history the difference of gender comes into play. Yet, as the brief comparison between Meine Schwester Antigone and Christa Wolfs texts Kassandra and Medea at the end of this essay demonstrates, the author's spe- cific position in history is equally signifi- cant. Although all three texts shed a simi- larly critical light on traditional transcrip- tions of the past, their different narrative styles reflect fundamental differences of perspective. As a Jewish woman perse- cuted by the Nazis, Weil's war experiences differ significantly from the experiences of Wolf, whose war recollection is part of a critical confrontation with GDR politics and philosophy.

In order to understand the significance of recent literary appropriations of myths by women authors, it is helpful to review conceptions of memory, memorization, and mourning in ancient Greek culture. Both Weil and Wolf trace, perhaps unknowingly, the story of Mnemosyne, the Greek muse of memory. As the Platonic art of philosophy emerges in the fifth century B.C. Mnemo- syne's role and importance changed dra- matically. At this point, conceptions of memory began to shift frompoetic synthe- sis to philosophical analysis. In his phe- nomenological study Remembering, Ed- ward S.Casey points out that originally the memorization process attributed to Mne- mosyne aimed at poetically retrieving and preserving the past for the present. Be- cause the transmission of history she in- spired was deemed a superior art, Mnemosyne was called the "mother of the muses." Under her guidance, poets transported the reader into the past, providinginsights and truths about history that far exceeded fac- tual description. According to Hesiod, this muse had knowledge of the past, present, and future, which points to an omniscient stance embedded in this poetic discourse about the past.8 Due to Mnemosyne's pro- phetical inspiration the poet was able to re- lay and preserve the past. Yet as Casey points out, this synthetic approach to his- tory eventually gave way to an analytic ap- proach:

[Tlhe deification of Mnemosyne, and with her an entire mythical past, could not sur- vive the emergence of philosophy in its specifically Platonic form in the fifth cen- tury B.C. For Plato, recollection (anamnesis)is less of any particular past-personal or mythical-than of eidetic knowledge previously acquired. The highly personi- fied figure of Mnemosyne disappears; not named in the few myths which are allowed to survive in Platonic dialogues. (13)

With Plato a paradigm shift occurred from a poetic notion of memory (embodied by Mnemosyne) to a notion of truth to be ex- cavated from within by analytic inquiry. Now creative wisdom about the past and history, which was originally deemed fe- male and provided "the equivalent of the archives of society without writing" (Ver- nant in Casey 111, is abandoned in favor of an intellectual inquiry that retrieved ideas already within the male inquirer. In other words, "female" ways of accessing knowl- edge about the past are appropriated within a "male" conception of abstract ideas. "Mnemosyne, supernatural power, has been interiorized so as to become in man the very faculty of knowing" (Ver- nant in Casey 14).

Yet despite this conceptual shift in the notion of memory, women remained close- ly tied to remembrance and mourning. In antiquity, both memory and mourning are deeply connected with women and the fe- male body. As the French anthropologist and historian Nicole Loraux observes in her book Die Trauer der Miitter, women were "die Hiiterinnen des Gedachtnisses" (34)in both ancient Greece and Rome. Ex- amining the writings of Thucydides, Plato, and Herodotus, in the Greek context, and Plutarch, Livius and Seneca, in the Roman context, Loraux examines how women's TrauerlGediichtnis was regulated in both its expressions and its duration. As important political statements and tools--espe- cially when fallen soldiers were concerned -female rituals of mourning were tightly controlled in civic life. Political leaders were afraid that without such strict regula- tions, women's expressions of mourning could change too easily into excessive dis- plays of pain and loss and thus be darnag- ing to the military goals of the state.

Given Mnemosyne's fate and the an- cient economy of mourning, women's tra- ditional role in history seems to be that of the silent observer of violence. They are forced to preserve the pain provoked by vi- olent acts while holding in its physical ex- pression. In different ways women authors have recently begun to trace the effects of a cultural tradition that, on the one hand, needs to suppress female knowledge about history while, on the other, relegates the task of mourning to women. Both Grete Weil and Christa Wolf address silences within cultural history by reworking ges- tures and tropes of well-known myths. More specificdy, both authors critically examine and revise the imagination of a he- roic subject whose suffering or dead body guards the coherence and truth of our cul- tural and collective memories.

Since the notion of memory is central for my reading of Meine Schwester Antigone, I shall begin the textual analysis by examining the allegedly "autobiograph- ical" quality ofWeil's work. Asked whether she loved Germany, the author points to (her) history as the reason for her ambiva- lence toward the country she was born in. She describes the most important facts of her life as follows:

Judin, 1906 am Tegernsee geboren, in Munchen aufgewachsen als Rechtsan- waltstochter. Verwohnt, behutet in einem Elternhaus mit grofibiirgerlichem Zu- schnitt [...I Verspatetes externes Abitur, Studium der Germanistik in Berlin, Frankfurt und Munchen. 1932Heirat mit Edgar Weil [...I, der Anfangerdramaturg an den Miinchener Kammerspielen war. Im Marz wurde er gleichzeitig mit der ganzen Direktion verhaftet [...I, die ande- ren kamen frei, er nicht, weil er Jude war. Mein jahes Begreifen des Faschismus [...I Da wufiten wir, daR wir emigrieren ma- ten, Holland war Zufall, zu nah an Deutschland, was wir hatten erkennen konnen, doch nicht erkennen wollten, wir fiihlten uns geborgen. Edgar mit seiner kleinen pharmazeutischen Firma, ich in meinem Fotoatelier. [...] Dann kamen die Deutschen [...I Im Juni 1941,ein Jahr be- vor die Deportation aller Juden anfing, [...] wurde Edgar auf der StraRe festge- nommen, ins KZ Mauthausen gebracht und dort ermordet [...I. Mir gelang es un- terzutauchen. 1947 ging ich nach Deutschland zuruck." ("Vielleicht irgendwie.. ."54-55)

In more or less direct ways, all of Weil's texts address these most dificult parts of her life. To different degrees, her texts have autobiographical elements--elements which make them both compelling and urgent testimonies of a Holocaust sur- vivor. Time and again, her work raises questions about victimization by, resis- tance to, and complicity with, the Nazi regime.g Yet we should be careful not to collapse narrating voice and author, bio- graphical facts and textual fiction. Histori- cal facts are skillfully manipulated and ne- gotiated by a writer and witness grappling with traumatic memories. In the introduc- tion to their study of Holocaust testimo- nies, Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub em- phasize that any representation of the his- toric trauma of the Second World War is inevitably characterized by complex con- figurations of "history" and "text."

[Ilssues of biography and history are neit- her simply represented nor simply reflec- ted, but are reinscribed, translated, radi- cally rethought and fundamentally wor- ked over by the text. (xiv)

Since Weil's texts often have a casual and conversational quality, their radical re-inscription ofthe past is often overlooked.

Weil's turn to the Antigone figure marks memory as an ambivalent, though ultimately critical, faculty that, instead of retelling, interrogates history in search of a story that negotiates subjective experi- ence and objective facts in a meaningful way. The multiple narrative shiftsperform the dynamics of memory work as described by Freud in his 1914 paper "Erinnern, wiederholen, durcharbeiten." Freud attributed significant therapeutic value to "working through" the past and character- ized its aim as "deskriptiv: die Ausfiillung der Lucken der Erinnerung, dynamisch: die herwindung der Verdriingungswider- stiinde" (110). Stressing the performative and difficult nature of memory work, Freud notes that the patient "erinner[t] uberhaupt nichts von dem Vergessenen und Verdriingten, sondern er agierrtl es. Er reproduziert es nicht als Erinnerung, sondern als Tat, er wiederholt [...I" (112). In contrast to a detached intellectual exer- cise aiming to retrieve the past, this kind of repetition is a precarious confrontation and engagement with the past which chal- lenges the patient "ein Stuckchen realen Lebens heraufIzu]beschwijren" (371). This precarious engagement with the past informs both form and content of Weil's narrative. In often unexpected ways, the reader is confronted with traumatic per- sonal experiences that keep perforating the narrative present. While the text mim- ics the formal coherence of the classical drama by depictingone single day, the loose organization of narrative segments effec- tively undercuts this coherence. Various intersections of both collective and private myths frame and articulate present and past experiences of the narrator, illustrat- ing how memory registers and transforms the texture of events.

Rather than slippinginto the mytholog- ical past, Weil's text negotiates three time levels: the mythological time of Antigone, the Nazi period, and the present, the 1970s in Germany, a time characterized by left-wing terrorism. Instead of keeping the reader in the mythological time of Creon's rule, the text shifts constantly back and forth, seeking footholds in the mythologi- cal, historical, and personal past while be- ing challenged by the present. Framed as imaginary dialogues with Antigone, de- scriptions of the events of one day in the life of the aging narrator are constantly inter- rupted by her reflections on former experi- ences. These continuous narrative shifts mark the strain to articulate the narrator's identity. More precisely, they trace the for- mation of identity, as suspended between personal recollections, unanswered ques- tions, the intensity and bias of personal and collective myths, and historical evi- dence.As Michaela Grobbel has suggested, recent texts by women authors represent- ing the past often have a performative quality. As "repetitions with a difference" they "allow for the possibility to transform meanings of the past in the present or future" (27).1° It is this difference, I argue, that establishes the particular urgency and significance of Weil's narrative as a memory text.

In this context it is important to exam- ine how and why Weil appropriates my- thology as a way to perform and stabilize evasive traces of memory. Instead of "up- dating" a classical narrative for the 1980s (as Wolf has done), Weil dramatizes and stages the process of writing (about) Antigone as a way to confront the past and simultaneously address painful and con- tradictory experiences. The writing pro- cess is described as difficult and torment- ing: "Ich will nicht an den Schreibtisch zuriick, nicht zu dem Heft, das mich fordert und qudt" (50). Yet this difficult struggle with a figure of her childhood is ultimately therapeutic. The engagement with the Antigone legend turns out to be what Klaus Heinrich has called aBefreiungsunternehmen. On the one hand, by confronting the reader with continuous juxtapositions of mythical and personal memory fragments, the text locates what has to remain repressed and is relegated to the realm of mythology. On the other hand, the text addresses traumatic experiences of irretrievable loss and persecution by questioning the function of humanism as inscribed into Germany's cultural tradi- tion.

The myth of Antigone locates repres- sion on two levels, the emotional-psycho- logical, and the socio-political. On both lev- els gender configurations play a significant role.As a morally superior being, Antigone needs to repress her fears, doubts, and anxieties as much as possible. She claims to know what is right and what is wrong be- yond any doubt. What privileges and at the same time kills her is her moral absolutism coupled with uncompromising resistance to the idiosyncrasy of power. Antigone's combative and militant stance vis-a-vis au- thority casts her as "male," especially in contrast to her meek and compliant sister. On the socio-political level her fate demon- strates that the power of the king4.e. the (male) law-is an unjust force and can be maintained only by suppressing the auton- omy of an opposing (female) will. These processes of repression and suppression propel mythological narrative, illustrating that, as Heinrich has put it, "in den Mythen wird nicht verdrhgt, sondern werden uns die Verdriingungsprozesse selbst vorgefuhrt" (336). By using Anti- gone's story as a frame for relating experi- ences of a Holocaust survivor, Weil's text il- lustrates to what extent repression and projection inform our stories about the past. Antigone's (dead) body poignantly registers the repression of remembrance and the right to mourn, thus alerting us to the gaps, breaks, and fissures of memory work.

But what exactly is the relationship be- tween myth and history? Myths access his- tory in avery specific way; they are another form of Geschichtserinnerung as Weigel has pointed out:

In den Mythen einer Kultur findet sich das Repertoire ihrer Bilder und Geschich- ten, in denen ihre Geschichte dargestellt ist, und zwar gerade jene Momente der Geschichte, die nicht in Sprache und ra- tionale Erklikung Eingang gefunden ha- ben, weil die Ereignisse, als deren Ge- dachtnis sie funktionieren, sprachlos ma- chen. (269)

Perhaps most relevant to Meine Schwester Antigone is Weigel's observation that mythical narratives describe experiences that render us speechless, that myths re- cord a memory beyond words, or maybe more accurately beyond (rational) compre- hension. Weil's text is less a recasting of an old myth than a description of how mem- ory surfaces when it contains experiences that resist or even defy verbal expression. A linear narrative firmly grounded in the reassuring paradigms of cause and effect inevitably fails to represent the multiple intersections between past and present, personal and collective memories, remem- bering and forgetting. Thus, narrative constellations and textual juxtapositions record contradictory and incompatible ex- periences-memories of traumatic moments difficult to integrate. The most striking of these textual juxtapositions is the insertion of aneyewitness report ofthe liquidation of the Polish ghetto in Petri- kau. At this point, the somewhat removed perspective of the reflecting narrator is sharply perforated by unmediated record- ings of Nazi brutality as witnessed by Friedrich Hellmund, a friend of the author (115-36).

Interestingly, for this most direct con- frontation with the Holocaust, Weil quotes the report of a "perpetrator," a German soldier forced to witness the deportation of his Jewish wife and their children (92).Addressing the author of this report directly, the narrator points out that, although pushed to different sides, they were both caught in the same circle of victimization. Hellmund was

ein Intellektueller und Theatermann [...] und, wie wir alle damals, Pazifist und links. [...I Weder Sie noch ich waren auf Gehorsam gedrillt, doch hatte uns nie- mand beigebracht, den Schlagworten zu mil3trauen. So haben wir uns abschaffen lassen. Sie als deutscher Soldat, und ich als Verfolgte. (91-92)

Yet, except for the eyewitness report "Petrikau," the narrator chooses to ad- dress her experiences of the war in dia- logue with Antigone which leads to the question about the specific function of Antigone in this text. When and how does she occupy the mind of the narrator most urgently? The writing sets in with reflec- tions on her most recent loss, that of her loyal companion, her dog:

Hatte ich nur seine Leiche gefunden. WiiJ3te ich nur, dal3 er iiberfahren wurde. Unertraglich der Gedanke, dal3 einer schoB. Oder zuschlug. Oder ihm ein Stiick vergiftetes Fleisch zuwarf. Mein Mord- komplex. Die Wunde. (9)

This recent loss reopens the wound caused by the loss of her first husband. Not know- ing how her husband died is described as even more painful than the experience of loss itself. Her helpless uncertainty evokes the GedachtnisfigurAntigone, a character she calls "mein Lieblingsspielzeug seit urlanger Zeit" (9). Faced with what she feels is her failure to resist and fight the Nazi regime more effectively, the narrator resorts to her "sister" Antigone. Her lack of knowledge is bearable only when miss- ing memory pieces are connected to form a possible story; in other words, just like Antigone's dramatic deed of resistance, re- membering and mourning border on a "groBartige Inszenierung" (11).As Casey has noted, there is a deep connection be- tween remembering and mourning:

This is not entirely surprising, since [...I mourning, as a process of intrapsychic memorialization, is itself a form of com- memoration. "Commemoration" [...I originally meant anintensified remembering. One way to intensify is to give it a thicker consistency so as to help to last or remain more substantively. Such thicke- ning is surely the point of any memoriali- zation, whether it be ceremonial, sculptu- ral, scriptural, or psychical. (273)

Experiences of loss haunting the protago- nist of Weil's text are contained in memo- ries devoid of spatial (en-)closure. Writing and performing these memories thickens

their fragility-in this case with a mytho- logical narrative that helps define a com- memorative space and thus aposition from which to obtain a foothold in the present. As an imaginary witness, Antigone thick

ens and validates a traumatic event char- acterized by what Dori Laub has termed the "collapse of witnessing."

That what precisely made a Holocaust out of the event is the unique way in which, during its historical occurrence, the event produced no witnesses. Not only, in effect, did the Nazistry to exterminate the physical wit- ness of their crime; but the inherently incom- prehensible and deceptive psychological struc- ture of the event precluded its own witnessing, even by its very victims. (80)

Moreover, all attempts of bearing witness were deeply compromised by the "radical otherness to all frames of references." In other words, "[tlhe event could thusunim- pededly proceed as though there were no witnessing whatsoever, no witnessing that could decisively impact on it" (84). The di- alogue with Antigone choreographs what Laub describes as "the process by which the narrator (the survivor) reclaims his position as a witness [and thereby] recon- stitutes the internal "thou," and thus the possibility of a witness or a listener inside himself" (85). During the time of persecu- tion and hiding Antigone functions as an imagined addressee for the narrator; while later she is witness to tenuous mo- ments of restoration. Yet the dialogue with this imaginary figure breaks off when the narrator finds brief moments of happiness when accepting her ugly postwar environ- ment: "Ich spure die Halichkeit, bin die Hulichkeit, [...I akzeptiere sie, akzep- tiere mich, bin glucklich. Und morgen?"

(153) By releasing the reader with this question at the end of the narrative, Weil's text concludes that all work of memory is caught in a circle that keeps tracing the in- tersections between past and present in order to gain presence. In this respect, Weil's narrative resonates with Andreas Huyssen's claim that "the temporal status of any act of memory is always the present, and not, as some ndive epistemology might have it, the past itself, even though all memory in some eradicable sense is depen- dent on some past event or experience" (3).

In the course of the text, the complex re- lationship between the narrator and Anti- gone gradually changes from identification to critical distance. The unresolved aspects of this relationship are apparent in the unexpectant encounter between the narra- tor and Marlene, Antigone's modern equi- valent. Possibly a left-wing activist, a Sym- pathisantin, Marlene is a young and un- compromising woman who believes in the armed fight against political and social in- justice. By drawing analogies between other female figures of opposition-Anti- gone, Gudrun Ensslin, Sophie Scholl, and Joan of Arc-Weil questions any uncom- promising stance that self-righteously em- braces violence. "Menschen, die bis an die Grenze gehen. Die ihr Selbst voll aus- schopfen. Nicht nach dem Erfolg fragen, nur nach der eigenen Notwendigkeit" (112). The acts of these women evoke both admiration and feelings of guilt in the nar- rator. Recalling her work in the Resistance, she ponders her desire to fight the Nazis more violently than she was allowed to.

Da man Juden ungern in der vordersten Linie einsetzt, fdsche ich Ausweise und Stempel, aber wiire lieber mitgegangen, wenn Briicken gesprengt und Bomben ge- legt werden. Gleichgiiltig, daR Menschen dabei umkommen. Gewalt mu13 sein, weil der Staat zum Massenmorder geworden ist." (113)

Yet the encounter with Marlene also prompts her to reevaluate her desire for armed resistance. The chapter ends with an emphatic expression of doubts about the use of violence, implicitly questioning not only armed resistance but also the self-righteousness of heroic opposition.

Ich bin gegen Gewalt und gegen Sympa-

thisanten von Gewalt. Ich bin gegen eu- ren Glauben, daR es ein Paradies auf Er- den geben kann und noch vie1 mehr gegen euren hollischen Weg zu diesem Paradies. Ihr spielt Krieg, einen sinnlosen wider- wartigen Krieg. Und ich will Frieden.


Although she is now very clear about her refusal to use violence in any form, it is dif- ficult for the narrator to find an acceptable position within the contradictions of the past and the present. In fact, what consti- tutes the narrative core of Weil's text is the search for an acceptable truth vis-a-vis historical impasses. Her pacifist stance emerges as such an acceptable truth and in the end leads her to reevaluate the heroic agency that centers the legend of Anti- gone.

Weil's differentiated use of mythology as a foil for her writing is quite remarkable, especially when seen in the German liter- ary and cultural tradition. As part of the cultural tradition, myths have been rewrit- ten and appropriated in literature. In Ger- many, however, the rediscovery and revival of myths in the late 1970s provoked ambiv- alence. In his introduction to a 1987 inter- view with Klaus Heinrich, Horst Kurnitz- ky refers to a Mythenschwemme as a cul- tural phenomenon that is often connected with a decisive turning away from the ra- tional paradigms of the Enlightenment. He characterizes the turn to history in the 1980s as anuncritical appropriation of my- thology: "Eine Auseinandersetzung mit der Geschichte interessiert anscheinend nicht mehr, an ihre Stelle treten Geschich- te und Mythos als etwas, das rationale Erfassung und Diskussion anscheinend nicht mehr notig hat" (84). This remark evokes the standard and polemic opposi- tion between logos and mythos, a much dis- cussed trope in German intellectual his- tory.

An excellent indicator of how mythol- ogy was discussed at around the time Meine Schwester Antigone was published is the 1983 collection Mythos und Moderne. The very first sentence of the introduction is a warning that evokes the ambivalence associated with mythology in German cul- tural history, "Vorsicht, dies ist keine Ruckkehr zum Mythos" (7). According to the editor, the intention of the collection is to retrieve the significance of myths beyond their ideological exploitation in the 1930s. To different degrees the contributors ex- plore aspects of German culture that tie in or are connected with the attempted cre- ation of a new mythological tradition in the nineteenth century. When Bohrer cites Thomas Mann's remark, "man durfe den Nazis den Mythos nicht uberlassen" (lo), he makes very clear how overdetermined the topic remains.ll In their seminal analy- sis Die Dialektik der Aufilarung (1947), Theodor W Adorno and Max Horkheimer demonstrate how mythology supports rather than challenges the ideological pre- mises of rationalism. Recognizing the fa- tal exploitation of mythology by the Nazis as the ultimate effect of rationalism, Hork- heimer and Adorno trace the logos in seem- ingly irrational patterns of terror regimes. Not surprisingly, after the ideological ex- ploitation of myths by National Socialism, the mythological paradigm was thoroughly discredited. Still, some postwar writers sought, somewhat naively, to reappropri- ate classical mythology, hoping to locate in myths an ahistorical realm untainted by politics which could provide a "new" his- torical identity. The reform movements of the 1960s exposed such attempts as exam- ples of one of the many blind illusions of bourgeois and capitalist societies. When, a decade later, myths gained popularity again, especially after their reevaluation in France by Claude Lbvi-Strauss and Barthes, it was precisely their ideological trajectories that were foregrounded.

Given this history of the use and cri- tique of myths in Germany, we must ask what makes a Holocaust survivor like Grete Weil turn to thehtigone myth in or- der to portray her suffering during the Third Reich, a time when mythologies about race and destiny effectively manipu- lated millions of Germans. Why did Weil re- write the Antigone myth in the late 1970s, during another time of political violence, when Germany appeared to be under at- tack from the left? On the one hand, Weil's reason for turning to the Antigone myth is verypersonal. She creates a narrator who comes to terms with the past in dialogue with Antigone as both a Gedlichtnisfigur (Weigel) and a witness (Laub) who allows her to express experiences difficult to put into words. On the other hand, Weil appro- priates Antigone as part of a cultural heri- tage that needs to be examined critically from the perspective of a woman who was selected for elimination because she was Jewish. Ultimately, the mythological con- struction of heroic agency (a notion inher- ent in Hitler's notion of the Aryan race) is fundamentally questioned in the last en- counter between narrator and mythologi- cal heroine. Weil's narrative strategy effec- tively shows what function mythological narratives serve in times of social and po- litical crisis. In fact, Meine Schwester An- tigone is one of the first literary texts to characterize Germany's delayed postwar crisis of identity-a privileged topic in Ger- man literature of the 1980s, especially in the Vaterliteratur-as a crisis of memory. In other words, Weil compellingly testifies to what Felman and Laub called the "yet unresolved crisis of history, a crisis which in turn is translated into a crisis of literature insofar as literature becomes a wit- ness, and perhaps the only witness, to the crisis within history" (xviii).

The last part of my textual analysis fo- cuses on Weil's careful and complicated de- construction of Antigone, specifically on

how the narrator's personal engagement withhtigone tiesin with Weil's critical ex- amination of the legacy of classical human- ism. While the daily routine described in detail is dominated by the experience of growing old and being isolated from the rest of the world, constant flashbacks to the past convey the survivor's sense of guilt and failure. She finds herself in the middle of a historical and personal force field that challenges her individuality. Asa Jew she is a victim, yet the younger generation identi- fies her with the perpetrators, "der Nazi- generation. Der Generation der Sturm- bannfuhrer, Einsatzleiter, KZ-Bewacher. Aber ich bin doch Jiidin. Ein Opfer. Darauf schweigen die meisten" (6).Moreover, his- tory confirms her incapacity to resist the Nazis effectively, yet her conscience tells her she should have tried harder to save the life of her husband. Thus, tortured by sur- vivor guilt (like Antigone, we might specu- late) she calls upon Antigone in order to es- cape a vicious circle of self-incrimination. After all, this imaginary sister is not only the "witness from inside" who represents "the hope of being heard, of being recog- nized as a subject" (Felman and Laub 82), but also a celebrated and emblematic fig- ure of opposition against authority, icon of absolute loyalty and love. Initially, the rela- tionship to Antigone is characterized in terms of play. "Meine Prinzessin, die mein Lieblingsspielzeug ist seit urlanger Zeit"


Meine Prinzessin. Die schone Kunstfigur, die in vielen Stunden-nicht in allen--die Erwartung erfullt. Die wegschickbar und herbeirufbar ist. Die mir mein Alleinsein nicht zerstort, doch luzider macht. Meine Beziehung zu ihr-Eros des Alleinseins.


The psychological function of Antigone is clearly spelled out in the term "Eros des Alleinseins." As an imagined other, Anti- gone does not interfere with the facts of the evoked personal history but rather makes these experiences more "lucid." In other words, the textual engagement with Antigone is driven by both an analytical impetus, i.e., the desire to understand the past in all its contradictions, and the need for regeneration which necessitates disen- tanglement and distance from the past trauma. When the narrator recalls the time she spent hiding in a confined space behind a bookshelf, the recollecting hu- man voice, whose authenticity and pain centers the narrative, is dislocated and fuses with the perspective of Antigone awaiting her death in the cave. The identi- fication between narrator and mythical figure is emphasized by a narrative shift that obscures, if not suspends, the identity and locus of the speaking voice:

Ohne Licht hinter der Bucherwand in ei- nem Hohlraum, gerade breit genug, um liegen zu konnen, auf einer sich immer mehr zusammenklumpenden Kapokma- traze am Boden, unter mir ein klammes Leintuch, eingewickelt in eine Pferdede- cke, zitternd vor Wte bis zum Schlaf, der kommt und warmt. Auf des Messers Schneide. 0 Brautgemach. Von den Got- tern verlassen. Von allem verlassen. Den Tod erwarten. (47)

Moments the Jewish woman spent hidden behind a bookshelf-an intense time char- acterized by her resistance to death- evoke moments of Antigone's resistance to Creon. The secret hiding space behind books becomes a space evoked in books; personal experiences of persecution inter- sect with cultural choreographies of op- pression and resistance. This passage records memory as both informed and formed by cultural imaginations. Memory is spelled out as a fiction which fuses indi- vidual experiences with cultural narra- tives that inform our collective identity. Precisely when the individual memory about pain and suffering reaches a point of silence, a mythological figure embedded within the collective memory begins to speak. This passage poignantly expresses that, by undoing the silence surrounding

traumatic experiences, Antigone serves as a "witnesses from within," validating events difficult to integrate.

Klaus Heinrich's notion of Faszina- tionsgeschichte is a another insightful term to understand Weil's appropriation of Anti- gone. The reader is confronted with a mul- titude of memory fragments and contradic- tory statements held together by the fasci- nation with Antigone. In keeping with Roland Barthes, who emphatically rejects the idea of "eternal myths" and insists in- stead on the historical basis and nature of myths (85), Heinrich regards myths as a particular part of Realgeschichte. "In dem, was fasziniert durch die reale Geschichte hindurch, sind unerledigte Konflikte, nicht ausgetragene Spannungen, ist das nichtgeloste Problem jeweils priisent. Die Faszinationsgeschichte ist eine der Symp- tome [...I" (340). Heinrich's reference to history as a chain of symptoms indicates the sensitivity of myths to the social pa- thology. Myths acutely mirror social pro- cesses that, among other things, are founded on repressive cultural, historical, and gender hierarchies.12 Leaving behind the opposition between mythos and logos, Weil points to the interdependence of logos and mythos13 by challenging the ideological function of the heroic subject within the mythological iconography. Rather than re- casting Antigone from a contemporary point of view, Weil gradually spells out how myths are inscribed in the collective mem- ory, whose interest they serve and what psychological function they fulfill. I will il- lustrate this point by looking at the chore- ography of dialogue and rejection that in- creasingly changes Antigone's textual presence.

Recalling her forced and temporary collaboration with the Nazi regime-she worked for the Jewish Council as a photog- rapher-the narrator asks herself why she had not used this chance to sabotage the system more effectively. Why did she not help rescue more of the doomed children and adults? She answers these painful questions with the humble and humiliat- ing insight, "Ich bin nicht kriminell, nicht naiv, bin keine Heldin" (64) and proceeds to portray her implication in the Nazi crimes. The description of her work for the Jewish Council ends with a standard phrase of denial, "Man hat mich dazu beauftragt, niemand wird dadurch geschadigt aul3er ich selbst, also mache ich es. Die Menschen sind so. So bin ich" (65). Yet what drives this defiance is the survivor's feeling of not having done enough. Her feelings of guilt dismiss her courageous acts of resistance as insufficient. Almost in passing, we find out that she pleaded for her husband (34) and risked her own deportation when she comforted her husband's grandmother be- fore she was deported (67). While working for the Jewish Council she also helped get children out (66) and forged stamps and passports (113). Her declaredgoal is to sur- vive. "herleben als Ziel. Es gibt kein anderes. herleben als ~eligion. Als Sport. Als Politik" (47). Ironically, this most ex- pressive form of her opposition, her refusal to become a victim, sets her apart from Antigone.

Gradually, the text begins to chart dif- ferences between human survivor and mythical hero. Questions about Antigone's alleged moral integrity indirectly evoke the measured phrases of Holderlin's trans- lation.

"Antigone ist nicht so. Die Eigenwillige, die Rechthaberische. Doch hat sie recht? Schillernd alles, mal3vol1, mal3los. Recht und Unrecht tragisch verschleiert [...I. Wie hatte sie an meiner Stelle gehan- delt?" (65)

Such comparisons between mythical fig- ure and narrator draw lines between cul- tural glorification of resistance and hu- man limitations. The uncompromising ideals of loyalty, love, and resistance col- lide with the contradictions of social and historical reality that often compromise human agency, which prompts the narra- tor to ponder rewriting Holderlin's fa- mous script of classical humanism. "Nicht hassen, lieben; Antigones vieldeutigen Satz verfdschen, den Satz, der ihr den Tod brachte, zum Leben mil3brauchen" (86).At this point, the text begins to address the cultural void caused by Auschwitz by ques- tioning Holderlin's translation of emblem- atic humanism as inscribed into the notion of the heroic woman.

Weil's deconstruction of Antigone is similar to the dissolution of the iconic wit- ness after the traumatic event gradually recedes into the past. Laub describes the case of a Jewish boy who survived on his own by holding on to and praying to a pho- tograph of his mother. Seemingly, the imagined presence of his mother estab- lished the much-needed witness to experi- ences otherwise impossible to bear. Yet when this boy is miraculously reunited with his mother after the war, he feels deeply estranged from her. The real mother is too different from the internal witness the child had previously relied on. What may seem surprising at first makes sense when we understand that "the act of bearing witness at the same time makes andbreaks a promise" (91).While there is the promise of truth as the return of the sane and normal world, there is also a breach of this promise. The mother who co- mes back as a camp survivor bears no re- semblance to the mother in the photo; a healing reunion is ultimately impossible.

With respect to Weil's text we need to shift Laub's explanatory angle and focus on the break of the promise of witnessing. This break is manifest in the difference be- tween the iconic immobility of the photo, which provided a comforting and stable presence, and the living person, whose rav- aged body testifies to the enormity of loss. By questioning the iconic implications of Antigone and with it the possibility of resistance, Weil's text also describes a pro- found disillusionment based on the experi- ence of an irretrievable loss. The text perfo- rates the transhistorical realm of mytho- logical speech by challenging the iconic value of Antigone in light of the Holocaust. Rejecting Antigone as a witness means to face the rupture, if not loss, of a cultural identity based on the humanistic notion of the autonomous human subject. Meine Schwester Antigone illustrates that the events of the past cannot simply be left be- hind and forgotten, but neither can they be adequately remembered through the framework of a mythological narrative which idealizes the possibility of heroic re- sistance.

The break with Antigone is articulated in a final confrontation between the narra- tor and Antigone at the very end of the sin- gle day described in the text. Visions of death and destruction occupy the mind of the narrator when Antigone all of a sudden talks back. Emphatically claiming her "own" voice, she relates details about the last minutes before her death, evoking painful moments elided in the traditional narrative. At this point the mythological figure reclaims her death as her very own. She refuses to subscribe to any kind of aes- thetic transposition of her agony and thus to render cohesive the fatal consequence of her choice. For the first time addressing the narrator directly, she exclaims: "Du stiehlst mir meinen Tod, das gilt nicht, mein Tod gehort mir allein. Die Dichter, die soviel uber mein Leben zu sagen hatten, sparten ihn aus" (138). In contrast to Sophocles's heroine, Weil's Antigone in- sists that she was not following a grand plan when she resisted the king's orders but rather acted spontaneously and ac- cording to her feelings. Antigone's spectac- ular act of civil disobedience is thus shifted dramatically into the realm of individual idiosyncrasy, challenging historical models which are based on the notion of a centered and centering human agency. We hear Antigone say, "Ich hatte keinen Plan und kein Ziel, wollte Kreon nicht sturzen, noch seine Nachfolgerin werden. Ich wollteuber- haupt nichts werden, sondern einfach sein"(140). Finally, asserting that "Krieg ist die schlechteste Losung. Krieg darf nicht sein" (141), she leaves the scene only to re- appear in a confrontation with the Haupt- sturmbannfuhrer. While the narrator is sit- ting behind her desk as a member of the Jewish Council, Antigone confronts the Nazi official at the train station, answering the Sturmbannfuhrer's irritated questions with an inversion of Holderlin's transla- tion of Sophocles-"Nicht mitzulieben, mitzuhassen bin ich da" (151)-and then calmly proceeds to kill him. Reversing this famous condensation ofhtigone's charac- ter effectively questions the appropriation of Greek antiquity as part of the German cultural imagination.

This slight but effective manipulation of a famous phrase questions our tradi- tional notion ofhtigone and draws atten- tion to the violence underlying the ideolog- ical core of humanism. Allowing Antigone to revoke her grand mission reframes those parts of the collective identity that per- petuate the idea of Germany as a Kultur- nation, an imaginary nation created by grands rkcits which assert the moral im- peratives of humanism. Weil succinctly re- veals the limits of the humanistic legacy by making clear to what extent the heroism embodied by such courageous and compas- sionate figures as Antigone is grounded in and perpetuated by blind violence.14 By radically mobilizing the very perspective of difference and otherness history has as- signed to her, both as a Jew and as a woman, Weil at once revises core pieces of her cultural heritage and personal identity. Her appropriation of a mythological narra- tive acknowledges that after Auschwitz human agency has to be rethought. As Hayden White has noted, the "holocaustal events" of the twentieth century are in- compatible with narratives

in which human "agents" are conceived to be in some way fully conscious and moral- ly responsible for their actions and capa- ble of discriminating clearly between the causes of historical events and their ef- fects over the long as well as the short run in relatively commonsensical ways (21- 22).

This impasse becomes particularly evi- dent in the next dream scene. The narrator is waiting in the bitter cold in front of a prison when Antigone slips out and seeks comfort and warmth in her arms. But in- stead of leading her mythical sister to safety and warmth, she suddenly lets go of her and runs away, leaving Antigone abruptly behind. "Plotzlich lasse ich sie los, sie fdlt zu Boden, bleibt liegen wie sie gefallen ist. Ich laufe fort, laufe, laufe" (152). Whereas before she embraced Anti- gone assomeone who allowed herself to be killed for justice, she now refuses to em- brace Antigone as someone killing for jus- tice. By leaving these two images of Anti- gone behind, the text rejects the violence and murder perpetrated in the name of some allegedly higher goal. Even more fun- damentally, this deconstruction of a myth- ological narrative testifies to the effect of a trauma that voided all notions of fate, des- tiny, grace, fortune and redemption cen- tered on meaningful human agency. Just as the child survivor described by Laub eventually succeeds in shifting the point of address from an imaginary witness to the real person, the narrator abandons Anti- gone and resorts to a meticulous descrip- tion of her postwar environment:

Unter mir fahren Autos, eine nicht en- dende Lichterkette. Auf der gegeniiber- liegenden Strdenseite [...] liegt das ver- wahrloste ausgebaggerte Ruinengrund- stuck, in dem die Ratten hausen. Links davon steht eine Baracke, in der eine Kneipe ist. Ein Betrunkener kommt he- raus, torkelt umher, stolpert in das Baggerloch, fdlt hin [...]. Hinter ihm erhebt sich grol3 die weil3e Brandmauer des neu- gebauten Hauses. Das Kneipendach schneidet die Flache entzwei. Rechts ist das klassizistische Portal der zerbombten Stadtbibliothek, das man als Mahnmal hat stehenlassen. (153)

This phenomenological account of the present with which the text ends is deeply inscripted by the past. In Germany, we are reminded, history remains visible as both a void ("Ruinengrundstiick") and amemo- rial ("Mahnmal"). What at first sight seems to be the scene of reconstruction turns out to be little more than traces of previous destruction. Through the per- spective of the survivor the whole country comes into view as a memory landscape, a dense commemorative site that fails to hide the irretrievable rupture of history. Inconspicuous passages like these demon- strate very clearly how skillfully Weil ne- gotiates history as a constantly shifting force field of facts, perceptions, projec- tions, and, last but not least, memories.

Weil's deconstruction of a powerful master narrative15 superimposed on our lo- cal stories reframes Antigone's story as a personal story beyond any "higher rea- son." This literary transformation of his- tory does not reproduce the past as a coher- ent and teleological sequence. Instead, it creates an idiosyncratic and shifting narra- tive of contradicting experiences and truths. As Weil's text suggests, overcoming the past may mean the critical engagement with heroic figures that serve to thicken and stabilize our memory. Working through our personal and collective myths can only be liberating when we do not rely on "borrowed identities" but rather con- front the intricate strategies and manipu- lations of both our individual memory and the ideological texture of Gedlichnisfiguren that will always populate our cul- tural tradition. Ultimately, we need to face the effects of historic loss and destruction engraved into the body of the seemingly transhistorical witness. In this respect Weil's literary account of history is related to what Dominick LaCapra has called a "practice of articulation that would resist redemptive reconstruction" (193). Instead of "becoming furated on or symptomati- cally reinforcing impasses" this approach to history "engage[sl in aprocess of mourn- ing that [...]attempt[sl, however self-ques- tioningly and haltingly, to specify its haunting objects and (even if only symboli- cally) to give them a 'proper' burial" (193). In complex ways, Weil's continual return to Antigone in her aeuvre testifies to "an active acknowledgment and to some extent an actingout of trauma" that indicates "its own implication in repetitive processes it cannot entirely transcend" (199).

As I have shown, Weil expresses her particular historical subject position by challenging a traditional narrative that in- vites identification with a heroic mythical figure. Conversely, in both Kassandra and Medea Christa Wolf relies on this very identification to express her subject-posi- tion within the historical texture. Wolf crit- ically examines the present by retelling the story of the past through the eyes and with the voices of Cassandra and Medea. Kassandra questions implications of his- tory and gender, notions of male domi- nance and female submission, reviving an old mythological story in order to illumi- nate the present. And while Cassandra is certainly not portrayed as super heroic-the text actually focuses much more on her doubts and fears than on her legend- ary power as amouthpiece of the gods-she nonetheless has supernatural powers. She sees the course of history without being able to change it. The intimate and omni- scient perspective of the mythological fig- ure (reminiscent of Mnemosyne's power and vision) carries the narrative. Weil's text, by contrast, provides a meta-mytho- logical perspective by choreographing a di- alogue and a confrontation between myth- ological figure and human narrator. Meine Schwester Antigone emphasizes critical differences and impasses between past and present, while the auctorial exposition of Wolfs Medea stresses the proximity be- tween then and now: "Wir sprechen einen Namen aus und treten, da die Wande durchlassig sind, in ihre Zeit eine Kinds- morderin? Zum ersten Mal dieser Zweifel"


Defying the core of the Medea myth- the mother who commits infanticide- Wolf s Medea does not kill her children but suffers equally since it is her task "die verschiittete Wahrheit aufzudecken, die unser Leben bestimmt" (175).Wolfs text challenges a cultural legacy that insists on the murdering mother as the ultimate cul- tural taboo by pointing to the ubiquity of crimes committed in the name of cultural advancement. Similar to Cassandra, Me- dea is cast as a figure of an alternative knowledge and truth. Regarded to be the other of society, "die wilde Frau," she ex- poses the lies and manipulations of a patri- archal system. Although various voices carry the narrative forward, Medea's dif- ferent point of view relentlessly keeps in- tersecting them in different ways. By uti- lizing a multiplicity of voices and perspec- tives, the text not only effectively mimics the multiplicity of stories circulating about a single event but also demonstrates how different ideological trajectories shape the (dis)course of history. Rather than criti- cally reexamining the use of mythological narratives (as Weil does so brilliantly), Wolf reappropriates the Medea myth in order to reveal the discursive interests that have in- formed the narrative logic of the tradi- tional version. By challenging myths that brought her into existence and kept her alive, this Medea also questions the pro- duction of political, economic, and ideologi- cal mythologies that perpetuate differences between West Germany (Corinth) and East Germany (Colchis).

In German cu1l;ural history, Antigone, Kassandra, and Medea are well-known mythological figures; to a certain extent their acts and voices remind us of unre- solved social conflicts. Acknowledging their cultural overdetermination, Weil and Wolf call their iconographic significance into question in light of recent historical events. While Weil's text challenges Anti- gone as an icon of classical humanism that presupposes meaningful human agency, Wolfs exposes Cassandra and Medea as figments of a very particular, very histori- cal, and very male imagination. While Weil addresses processes of identification and fascination that shape our reception of myths, Wolf argues from the point of iden- tification with mythological figures, yet of- fers feminist revisions of patriarchal ico- nographies. This kind of work on myths at- tempts to access and perform histories repressed by the officially sanctioned body of historiography, exposing the civilization process in its core of discontentment as a process of repression and sublimation. Re- writing mythical narrative as part of a cul- tural memory that uses an iconographic grammar at the intersection of speech and speechlessness, these authors challenge the ideological impact of iconic figures. Both Weil and Wolf are turning to history as a force field of open questions and unre- solved conflicts, thus challenging the co- herent master narrative to which history eventually coalesces. This seems especially important as long as the trauma of German fascism keeps propelling wars of memory about how to transmit and reconfigure Germany's difficult past for the unified na-



This essay is part of a book-length study ex- amining intersections of history, memory, and gender in texts by contemporary German women authors. A draft of this essay was deliv- ered in March 1997at the 5th Annual Interdis- ciplinary German Studies Conference at the University of California-Berkeley. I want to thank my colleagues Natasha Kolchevska, Lorraine Piroux, and Jack Zipes, as well as the anonymous readers of this manuscript for their insightful comments and many helpful suggestions.

'This is, of course, reminiscent of the Historikerstreit where some historians at- tempted to diffuse the "particularity" of the Holocaust by pointing to other extremely vio- lent historic incidents, thereby trying to re- lieve the nation of its "collective guilt."

2This title evokes modernity as the "ma- chine age" that produced a subject shaped along the contours of the industrious but mindless machine caught in endless repeti- tions, at once devoid of and over-saturated with memory.

3Since remembering and forgetting are in- terdependent, collective efforts to commemo- rate always tie in with forms of collective amne- sia. Not surprisingly, the current efforts in Germany to "design" a new post-wall identity continue to be marked by a resistance to and a repression of selected parts of the Nazi past. This tension between remembering and forget- ting resonates with Freud's description of pa- tients suffering from a severe childhood trauma. In his first introductory lecture, "On Psychoanalysis," delivered in 1909, he charac- terized the hysterical patient as someone who needs to suppress particularly painful elements of his childhood history, yet is simultaneously suffering from reminiscence. When asked to re- member their stories, hysteric patients encoun- ter barriers that prevent complete recollection, which led Freud to conclude that "there is no case history of neurosis without amnesia of some sort" (Krell, 106, 107). This connection has also been discussed by Alexander and Mar- garet Mitscherlich in their seminal work Die Unfahigkeit zu trauern (Munchen: Piper, 1967).

4The term die Stunde Null chosen to mark the postwar era reflects very clearly a collective desire to leave the past behind and start with a clean slate.

5Recent studies on memory, mourning, and nationhood include Nancy Wood, Vectors of Memory. Legacy of Trauma in Postwar Europe (Oxford: Berg, 19991, Mieke Bal, Jonathan Crewe, Leo Spitzer, eds. Acts of Memory (Han- over: UP of New England, 1999), Ernestine Schlant, The Language of Silence (New York: Routledge, 1999); Andreas Huyssen, Twilight of Memory, Marking Time in a Culture ofArn- nesia (New York: Routledge, 1995); John R. Gillis, ed., Commemorations. The Politics of National Identity (Princeton: Princeton UF: 1994); Eric Santner, Stranded Objects: Mourning, Memory and Film in Postwar Ger- many (Ithaca: Cornell UFJ 1990); Benedict An- derson, Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 1993); Saul Friedlander, Memory, His- tory, and the Extermination of the Jews of Eu- rope (Bloomington: Indiana UP 1993); Pierre Nora; "Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de me'moire," Representations 26 (Spring 1989): 7-25.

6For a more detailed discussion of the iconic significance of Antigone in western liter- ature in general and post-war Germany in par- ticular see George Steiner's study Antigones: How the Antigone Legend Has Endured in Western Literature, Art, and Thought (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984).

7Weil has often stressed how much her identity was formed or, more precisely, framed by German literature and culture. In her essay "Vielleicht irgendwie ..." she says: "Liebe ich die deutsche Kultur? Sie ist ein Zuhause, ich bin mit Goethe und Holderlin grol3 geworden, und selbst Shakespeare ist fur mich noch immer der von Schlegel und Tieck romantisch Verfdschte" (58).

SThere is a strong connection between Mnemosyne and the sirens. All are omniscient female figures whose knowledge is perceived as both threatening and alluring. What makes the songs of the sirens so dangerous to men passing by is the fact that they have access to the truth of the past, present, and future.

9For more information on Grete Weil's oeuvre see Uwe Meyer, "Neinsagen, die einzige unzerstorbare Freiheit." Dm Werk der Schrift- stellerin Grete Weil (Frankfurt a.M.: Peter Lang, 19961, and Lisbeth Exner, Land meiner Mordel: Land meiner Sprache. Die Schriftstellerin Grete Weil (Munchen: A-1 Verlag, 1998).

1°For further work on the performative quality of female memory texts, see also Grobbel's dissertation Performance of a Femi- nist Art of Memory in Texts by Ingeborg Bach- mann, Djuna Barnes, and Margerite Duras (University of Los Angeles, 1995).

llIn his contribution to Mythos und Mo- &me, Bernd Huppauf argues that in the mod- ern world mythological thinking has developed as a result of the failed experiment of bourgeois society and democracy. In the 19th century, espe- cially after the unsuccessful revolution of 1848, Germany's bourgeoisie felt politically and so- cially powerless. In fad, the readionq climate of the second half of the century produced an at- titude of defeatist indifference vis-a-vis the polit- ical future. At the turn of the century this changed to the perception that human fate was predetermined and caught in a downward move- ment. The much-discussed decadence of this pe- riod was Wher heled by the shocking experi- ence of the First World War. In light of this socio-psychological and historical backdrop, the fascination, even obsession, with myths is not surprising since mythological narratives effec- tively undermine the idea of a sovereign subject in control of his fate by portraying man as the blind toy of dark forces of nature.

12Particularly Christa Wolfs literary reappropriation of myths focuses on gender hierar- chies and imbalances as they inform the social and cultural texture.

l3This is also Horkheimer's and Adorno's project in Dialektik der Aufilarung, although their rigorous critique of rationalism does not focus on gender hierarchies.

141n her insightful essay "Grete Weil: A Jewish Antigone," Elke Liebs emphasizes how and to what extent Weil "unmasks the false heroism or arrogance that often accompanies martyrdom" (236).

l5In various ways, antiquity has always been an important reference point for German culture. Holderlin's 1804 translation of Sopho- cles's drama (406 B.C.) firmly anchored the Antigone story in the German imagination, eventually elevating it to a "master narrative" of humanism.

Works Cited

Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. Trans. Annette Lavers. New York: Hill and Wang, 1995.

Bohrer, Karl Heinz. Foreword. Mythos und Moderne. Begriff und Bild einer Rekon- struktion. Ed. Bohrer. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1983.7-11.

Casey, Edward S. Remembering. A Phenome- nological Study. Bloomington: Indiana UP 1987.

Felman, Shoshana, and Dori Laub. Testimony. Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psycho- analysis, and History. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Freud, Sigmund. "Erinnern, wiederholen, und durcharbeiten." Gesammelte Schriften. Vol. 6. Leipzig: Internationaler Psychologie Verlag, 1925. 109-19.

Grobbel, Michaela. "The Memory Theatres of Ingeborg Bachmann's Malina and Marie Luise Kaschnitz's Haus der Kindheit." Annual meeting of the German Studies Associa- tion. Washington, DC. September 27, 1997.

Heinrich, Klaus. "Das Floa der Medusa." Faszination des Myths. Ed. Renate Schlesier. Basel: Stromfeldl Roter Stern, 1985.335-67.

."Sag." Niemandsland. Zeitschrift zwischen den Kulturen. 1:3 (1987): 84-93.

Huppauf, Bernd. "Mythisches Denken und Krisen der deutschen Literatur und Gesell- schaft." Myths und Moderne. Ed. Karl Heinz Bohrer. Frankfurt a.M: Suhrkamp, 1983. 508-27.

Huyssen, Andreas. Twilight Memories. Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia. New York: Routledge, 1995.

Korn, Benjamin. "Der Mensch, die Maschine des Vergessens." Die Zeit 22 Nov. 1996: 13. Krell, David. OfMemory, Reminiscence and Writ- ing. Bloomington: Indiana UE: 1990.

LaCapra, Dominick. Representing the Holocaust. History, Theory, Trauma. Ithaca: Cornell UT: 1994.

Liebs, Elke. "Grete Weil: A Jewish Antigone." Facing Fascism and Confronting the Past. German Women Writers from Weimar to the Present. Ed. Elke F? Frederiksen and Martha Kaarsberg Wdach. New York: State U of New York E: 2000.235-43.

Loraux, Nicole. Die Trauer der Mutter: Weibliche Leidenschaft und die Gesetze der Politik.

Frankfurt a.M.: Campus, 1992. Meyer, Uwe. "'0Antigone .. . steh mir bei.' Zur Antigone Rezeption im Werk von Grete Weil."

Zeitschrift fur Literaturwissenschaft und Linguistik 26. Heft 104 (1996): 146-57.

Mitscherlich, Alexander and Margaret. Die Unfahigkeit zu trauern. Munchen: Piper, 1967.

Weigel, Sigrid. Die Stimmeder Medusa. Diilmen: Tende, 1987.

Weil, Grete. Meine Schwester Antigone. Frankhrt a.M.: Fischer, 1988. . "Vielleicht irgendwie.. . ." Lieben Sie Deutschland. Ed. Marielouise Janssen-Jurreit. Miinchen: Piper, 1985. 54-60.

White, Hayden. "The Modernist Event." The Persistence of History. Cinema, Television, and the Modern Event. Ed. Vivian Sobchack. New York: Routledge, 1996. 17-38.

Wolf, Christa. Kassandra. Darmstadt: Luchter- hand, 1985. .Medea. Stimmen. Darmstadt: Luchter- hand, 1996.

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