No Conceivable Hope: The Symbolic Function of Medusa, Clio, and the "Fee" in Günter Kunert's Work

by Kerry Dunne
No Conceivable Hope: The Symbolic Function of Medusa, Clio, and the "Fee" in Günter Kunert's Work
Kerry Dunne
The German Quarterly
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University of New England-Armidale

No Conceivable Hope: The Symbolic Function of Medusa, Clio, and the "Fee" in Giinter Kunert's Work

The role of women and heterosexual themes in Kunert's work has received scant critical attention. Klaus Werner refers brief- ly to the love poems in Kunert's early collec- tion Daskreuzbrave Liederbuch (1961), but does not mention sexuality (66). Horst Haase commends Kunert for depicting (het- ero)sexual love and sensuality in Unschuld der Natur (1966) in a way that reflects so- cialist experience (12791, and Marieluise de Waijer-Wilke mentions that Kunert has written on the topic of (hetero)sexual love in Fremd duheim (1990) but does not elaborate fixther (890).

The dearth of critical responses to Ku- nert's poems-and prose worbn sexual- ity may result from a tendency to perceive Kunert and other writers critical of socialism primarily in terms of their dissident status, and to focus on those themes that reflect this political position. However, this may merely accommodate the literary critics' (especially in socialist societies) reticence to discuss ex- plicit sexual themes (cf. Kunert, "Sozialisti- sche Gesellschaft"). If so, this reticence is misplaced when dealing with an author who writes about physical love and published erotic poems in Penthouse. Though Rudolf Dm does discuss some aspects of Kunert's depiction of women, his main interest is in the fantastic dimension of Kunert's writing and he merely provides a descriptive account of the female protagonists in the short sto- ries "Olympia Zwo" and 'Adam und Evam" ([I9841Auf Abwegen 208-17; 282-93). He does not address any of the other works featuring similarly grotesque images of w0men.l

While Clio and the "Fee" have yet to be- come the focus of critical literature, the theme of the Medusa is briefly addressed by Walter Schonau and Bernhard Greiner in their respective analyses of texts that con- tain a transition from one state of existence to another, from animate to inanimate and vice versa. Both of their cursory discussions are restricted to the poem "Medusa" (1974) (Schonau 138; Greiner 36-37). Schonau is interested in the motif of rigidity and argues that the recurrent fantasy of undergoing varying forms of metamorphosis indicates that the origin of the motif is in the uncon- scious. Schijnau proposes a psychoanalytical explanation for the fantasies of turning to stone (or of melting) as manifestations of early narcissistic disturbances in the devel- opment of the self (141). Greiner also inter- prets "Medusa" in psychoanalytical terms as a product of the instability of the primary narcissistic phase (36). He reads the poem as reflecting the sudden progression of love from intoxication to a destructive force and explains this change as a consequence of viewing the mother as both nurturing and consuming. But Greiner does not restrict the si@cance of the various metamorphoses, and hence also the Medusa's si@cance, to the psychological-he extends it to include the dimension of social commentary. If the Medusa may be seen to represent Western instrumental society, then its members are attracted to her, and fascinated, but she also has the power to destroy them.

Kunert's Medusa poems are in part a de- velopment of his treatment of sexuality. His writing frequently celebrates sexual inter-

The German Quarterly 76.2 (Spring 2003) 155

course, presentingamale heterosexual expe- rience while at the same time exhibiting a certain degree of ambivalence towards fe- male sexualityThe poem "Die Spinne" (1965) employs the metaphor of the spider that de- vours her mate to convey the fear of being consumed by the female and the perception of female libido as threatening:

Zu spat erkennt von Liebe und von

Schrecken uberschauert

er zwischen ihren vielen Beinen das was

ihn verschlang.

Sie hat ihn sehr geliebt. Er hat zu kurz

gedauert. (Unschuld 52)

Similar images of female sexuality assume a metaphorical dimension in "Wie das Leben anfangt "(1969). When a couple dies while making illicit love in a cellar, the cel- lar is described as the "Schofl der Zersto- rung" (Tagtraume 159). Female genitalia figure as "die stets bereite Falle" in "Topo- graphie" ([I9831 "Von hinten").2 The am- bivalence becomes stronger over time and finds its most pronounced expression in the figure of the Medusa.

One of three Gorgons, the Medusa, once beautiful, was transformed by the gods as punishment for a sexual transgression, into a honifying figure with snake-locks for hair and a gaze that petrified everyone it met. While the Medusa's ability to petrify has been subjected to varying interpretations, it is the coupling of her devastating gaze with her sexual attraction that is of interest in Kunert's work.3 The "Fee," derived from the French fbe and the Latin F6ta meaning god- dess of fate, was a female being from Euro- pean Marchen and folklore possessing magi- cal powers. Clio, the goddess and muse of his- toriography was, like the other muses, known for her contempt of mortals and her readiness to destroy those who daredto trespass in her realm. These figures are not of themselves necessarily redolent of the Me- dusa complex, so that the reason for connect- ing them with the Medusa must remain to some extent speculative. However, Kunert attributes the "Fee"and Clio with character- istics that link them with the Medusa. The Gorgons were the grim ones in Greek myth (Graves1:129,392), and Kunert's "Fee" and Clio reveal an equally grim and monstrous side. The similarity is to be found predomi- nantly in their ability to petrify. It is also sig- nificant that all are female as they replace such male figures as Prometheus who had previously been employed by Kunert to symbolize instrumental society The Medusa topos provides a thread linking apparently disparate figures and allows a concern about the gendered nature of instrumental society to be traced through much of Kunert's cre- ative life, even though it is not explicitly ad- dressed.

The Gorgon Medusa fist appears in the poem "Medusa" ([I9741 Unruhiger Schlaf 211). Unlike Perseus, the Ich does not seek out the Medusa. Rather, she comes to him and his vulnerability is emphasized when the lyrical voice repeatedly states that he failed to recognize her. It is only when her hair is described as coiling that the identity of the woman is confiied for the reader as the Medusa of the title. The reader is thus in a privileged position compared to the Ich who is still unaware of the danger facing him. Two interruptions in the poem's rhythm heighten the tension about the fate of the Ich, until in the last two lines he com- ments that many visitors now find himpetrified as a result of the encounter.

The Medusa is described as attractive. Her hair is a "Lockenpracht," suggesting luxuriant curls, and her smile is that of someone deeply in love with the Ich. The danger she poses is thus concealed by her at- tractiveness and the guise of love that are also features of the poems "Aus dem Eroti- con" and "Miirchenhafter Augenblick." Her physical attractiveness may well have a sex- ual component since hair, especially long hair in women, has a long history as a gender sign and sex symbol in Western society, but this is not developed here as it is in some later poems (Synnott 103).

The fact that many visitors find the Ich petrified or frozen implies that an initial openness to experience has been destroyed by the encounter (cf. Greiner 36-37). The de- sire for what Medusa represents has been ex- tinguished. There is no clear indication of what the Medusa is meant to sim, but I shall argue that she represents instrumental society, a hture possibility that the Ich seeks to embrace only to discover that it is neither what it purports to be, nor able to deliver what he had hoped to find in it.

The Medusa next appears in '%us dem Eroticon" (1980). The poem opens with a tone of puzzled questioning as the Ich seeks to understand the nature of human beings characterized initially by the fact that they are "Untiere" and consequently actuated by sensual appetites. The word "Untier" has multiple layers of meaning: it means "mon- ster," while its form simultaneously calls to mind humans' animal origins, yet it states that humans are not animals. A condemnatory attitude is thus expressed towards hu- man beings for being monsters, when they are capable of more than animal behavior de- spite being tied to an animal existence. The following lines make clear that a specific group ofhuman beings, heterosexual men, is the focus of the Ich's concerns; a group which is at home in a shifting sequence of fantasies about rape and worshiping female genitalia. The sequence of images linksmale sexuality to domination as well as sensuality. Men's devotion is explained by the description of the genitalia as a symbol of returning, both individually and eternally, because of the as- sociation of genitalia with birth. They are thus symbolic of the perpetuation of the indi- vidual and of the species as a whole. No rea- sons are given for the rape fantasies, yet they too appear linked to the female role in repro- duction. For Kunert, the dualistic response of domination and dependence is symptom- atic of Western civilization with its attempts to dominate and subjugate nature while be- ing a part of it. With the identification of women with nature, the rape fantasies are a peculiarly heterosexual male response to the Judeo-Christian mandate to subjugate all creation:

Gottes Wort: Macht euch die Erde unter- tan, impliziert eindeutig diesen Tausch- handel [die Kompensation des Paradies- verlustes durch Machtgewinn]. Sich die Erde untertan zu machen, bedeutet aber auch, Konkurrenten dabei auszuschal- ten. Und die Frau, ohnehin ein Symbol der Erde, ist ja im UnbewuSten mit dieser Erde in starkem Mal3e identi~ch.~

The second stanza opens with an apos- trophe to a membranous Medusa. This is an elaboration on "das meist versteckte Symbol" that had been the focus of male fanta- sies, and when linked with the word "Eroti- con" from the title it is clear that both denote female genitalia:

[...I das meist versteckte Symbol 
ihres eigenen Wiederkommens 
ihrer ewigen Wiederkehr 

Oh schleimhautige Meduse 
vor der Wissende wie Unwissende 
sich beugen 
mit unstillbarer Neugier noch 
und noch (''Aus dem Eroticon") 

Kunert's choice of the word "Medusen- rather than "Medusa" which he uses in other poems-evokes two images. "Meduse" derives from the Greek mdousa meaning a "female monster" and si@ies both the Gorgon Medusa and a jellyfish. The descrip- tion of the vulva as the "Meduse" thus pro- vides a graphic, albeit disquieting mental picture of the external genitalia.5 The link between the jellyfish and the awful vision that is the Gorgon Medusa is established on a visual level by the tentacles and the Medu- sa's snake locks. On another level it is estab- lished by the element of threat and danger associated with both.

There is thus a parallel between the Ich in the earlier poem "Medusa" and those bowing before the locus of female sexuality: in both poems the individual, distracted, is apparently unaware of the threat. What is desired has an Inherently threatening di- mension as well so that the question of what is the true reality is posed implicitly. It is striking, however, that the female is attrib- uted dangerous qualities although the male is described as the monster: the male gaze that sees the female as demonic is thus con- trasted with an authorial perspective that sees the viewer as an "Untier."

In the stanza following the reference to the "Meduse," female genitalia are apostro- phized as a warped and clouded mirror no longer able to reflect clearly Rather the per- son gazing into it finds a self other than his usual one:

Oh faltiger und blinder Spiegel worinnen jedermann ein anderes Ich als das gewohnte findet auf der Suche nach rein gar nichts. ("Aus dem Eroticon")

The mirror connects sexual and social themes. Although the mirror is indeed in ap- position to the "Meduse," and thus provides a further image for the vulva, it has an addi- tional si&icance that can only be eluci- dated with an awareness of the role played by shields in the mythic material about the Medusa. Perseus's shield, a present from Athena, enabled him to overcome the Gor- gon Medusa because he did not look at her directly but used hls shield as a mirror and saw only her reflection in its highly polished sur- face. In "Aus dem Eroticon" the mirror is warped and clouded. Such a mirror would be unable to reflect clearly, if at all, and thus could not have assisted Perseus in locating the Medusa to cut off her head. Rather, the male stands before the Medusa without an effective tool for locating her without being destroyed by her. Perseus's strategy to defeat the Medusa is invoked by the "Spiegel" only to be negated, leaving a vulnerable male. Ths then raises the question of why female (heterolsexuality might be seen in a negative light.

The element of threat associated with women and sexuality is present in some of Kunert's earlier work, and it is intriguing to consider why there is a change in the order of magnitude of ths threat by invoking the Medusa. An expression of his critical com- mentary on Western instrumental society, the Medusa image enables a disturbing vision of the hture to be expressed, based on the impossibility of any (hetero)sexual union and hence of the impossibility of procreation. Interpreted as a societal metaphor, the Me- dusa's attractiveness represents the prom- ises of a possible future society, while her threatening nature implies the individual wdl not find what he seeks because the soci- ety is informed by instrumental reason. To provide support for reading the Medusa as a symbol of Western instrumental society and its future, it is necessary to discuss some of Kunert's poems in which sexual intercourse and specifically the female are unequivocally equated with the future.

Society and cities have long been seen as female in Kunert's work. Berlin is for exam- ple addressed as Berolina from at least the early seventies onward ("Berolina" [I9731 Schreie 66; "Berolina" [I9891 Berlin 31). In other texts, the female is identified with the future. The poem "Blick auf einen Strand" (19611, which contrasts a utilitarian society and the distortions it wreaks with an idyllic picture of heterosexual relations, contains the lines:

[...I In fliichtiger


sich fremd und nah zugleich.

Ungeziihlte Kinder zeugte dieses Paar: Ihr


das unsichtbare, heil3t Zukunft.

(Unruhiger Schlaf 33) ti

Similarly in "Landschaft" (1966), where the female body is described as if it were a physical landscape with topographical fea- tures and climatic zones, the vulva is de- scribed in the second stanza as pregnant with the future:

Bewuchs uber den wichtigsten Stellen:

iiber den Gedanken

dieser fortwhend wallenden Lava


uber dem Einstieg zur Welt durch den

jeder herkommt ungefragt

handgrol3es Fegefeuer eines Wiener Pro-


Hohle undelphischer Orakel trachtig von


Menschenfabrik schuldig der

Ijberproduktion.(Unschuld 54)

Again the act of childbirth links female genitalia with future, but by 1966 the fu- ture had already begun to turn sour. The genitalia are described as a factory guilty of overproduction, thus expressing Ku- nert's concern about overpopulation.

If the female is representative of society and the future, the lyrical persona in the Medusa poems steps to greet and embrace them, only to find that they are not what he believed them to be -they have a petnfylng impact on him. For the Medusa to represent the future and society isto convey metaphor- ically that there is no future. Women are no longer seen as si&ng hope for the future; rather their image is demonized to express the subversion of the way things should be. Though they are female, they lack the fecun- dity to ensure the future, and since the mirror is cloudy in the poem "Aus dem Eroti- con," no success in the fight against the threat posed by the Medusa is envisaged by the Ich. The male cannot move forward, so that the only option is to remain frozen.

Two further poems, "Spaziergang" (1989) and "Bekennerbrief" (1991), evoke the Me- dusa. They initially appear to take the theme in a new direction since they make appar- ently clear references to a specific place and time, appear to allude to all three Gorgons rather than merely the Medusa, and the Gor- gon figures seem less threatening. The petri- fied forms that resulted from Medusa's gaze and the importance of remembering a world that has ceased to exist provide an explana- tion for their diminished threat as well as some of the linksbetween these two poems and the others relating to the Medusa tops in Kunert's work. "Spaziergang" from the collectionBerlin beizeiten connects the Gor- gon's head and the tangible shape of society (Berlin 26). During a walk through Berlin, the lyrical persona contemplates the traces left by the 20th century on the cityscape. The objects singled out for attention aresurprising in view of Berlin's violent history and Ku- nert's experience of it as a child of mixed racial origin under National Socialist law. Although other poems from the collection allude to this violent past, the lyrical voice focuses on harm- less, everyday aspects of life- gardens, cars and flowers-that the reader expects to be living, yet which are lifeless and sterile. The flowers are synthetic, while the cars, presum- ably taxis,are described as "wachsbleich," a color associated more with the dead.

A Gorgon is present at every window, and their gaze parallels the Ich's, yet is at the same time set against it. The Gorgons are "zutraulich," an attribute that does not con- vey menace but a sense of benevolence-a paradoxical quality to be associated with the Gorgons. The reader has to consider that they are responsible for the lifeless scene confronting the Ich, and the fact that the Ich is the only living thing mentioned, subtly suggests that there may be an element of po- tential danger despite their tame and trust- ing appearance. The danger is heightened by the fad that the lyrical persona is lost in con- templation, seemingly oblivious to the pres- ence of the Gorgons' heads.

It is, however, the Medusa who is intend- ed by the "Haupt einer Gorgone," and not the other two Gorgons, as Medusa's severed head retained its power to petnf'y and was depicted on masks and Athena's aegis to warn intruders to stay away from divine myster- ies. The reference to the Gorgon's head and the petrified products of her gaze in the city- scape reflects a number of Kunert's views on cities in general and Berlin in particular. Berlin was to Kunert a dying city in the late 1980s prior to reunification. At the same time it preserved in its architecture, its painted signs and other produds of early in- dustrial society, a multitude of the aspects of what Berlin had been in the late lgth and early 20th century. Since Kunert has written about the importance of remembering the past and about the truth with which objects reveal the past, the Gorgons could almost be seen as benevolent figures because of their role in ensuring a concrete legacy in the face of an ephemeral human existence, even though the very ossification of the city means the death of the life Kunert had known there.

The key to the link between the two di- mensions of the Gorgons in this poem, the inherent threat they symbolize and the sup- port to be gleaned from the tangible traces of their gaze,isprovided in two articles written in the early 1990s. Contrasting the older- style city with the cities of the present and the future, Kunert interprets the traces of the past still found in older cities as solidified memories of the community in general and of individual lives in particular. He believes that these remnants of the past strengthen our sense of self, our very humanity ("Lal3t uns jeden Ziegel," "Angst") by conveying the dignity of past communities; communities that for Kunert were characterized by a pre- industrial sense of time and were still free of the full impact of the technology that found its most abhorrent expression in the Holo- caust and the atomic bomb (Bahro 23). The city of the present and future, on the other hand, in which functional necessity is the sole criterion for size and shape, does not provide emotional support or refuge for its inhabitants. To convey the enormity of the destructive impact of the modern Fordist city on urban populations, Kunert likens the city to a Gorgon ("Angst"). Thus the presence of a Gorgon in every window can be read on a number of levels. It alludes to the death of Berlin, but also to the comfort provided by a Berlin where traces of the past are still pres- ent and, finds: her presence conveys a sense of the potential threat from an increasingly utilitarian society whose inhabitants are es- tranged from nature.

Kunert's insistence on the importance of a collective memory is motivated by the de- sire to ensure that past catastrophes are not repeated, especially the destruction of Ger- man Jewry and its culture in the Nazi geno- cide. He urges the necessity of a cultural memory connected to sites such as concen- tration camps (Ziellose Umtriebe 25-26). The extent to which traces of the past have disap- peared leads him to include houses such as Mannheimer Stral3e 37, the address where Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were arrested (Ziellose Umtriebe 154-57), as sites of memory and to endow concrete objects like tin toys and bricks with the ability to re- member. In doing so he conceives of memory in a manner analogous, albeit even more broad- ly interpreted, to Aldo Rods urban artifacts as loci of memory (Rossi 122-23). Just as Nora writes of history accelerating, of "a general perception that anything and every- thing may disappear" (7), and of "our society [having been1 torn from its memory by the scale of its transformations" (18), so Kunert is concerned about the impact of a technol- ogy that negates individual difference. To ensure that this difference is recalled, he seeks a more permanent memory in the traces left by the past on concrete objects.

In the final poem relevant to the Medusa topos "Bekennerbrief" (1991), the Gorgons are blind and walk falteringly through poets' empty houses.7 Even though the head of the Medusa could still pet* so that the blind Gorgons might be thought to be menacing, there is no one there to look at them or to be looked at, so they are stripped of their power. It is not clear why the houses are empty, al- though the unlocked doors and the police suggest the occupants have been released from imprisonment. That they are in poets' houses, together with the statement that the policemen have left their posts because their presence is no longer justified by the poets' words and the date of the poem's publica- tion, suggests a specific socio-political level of meaning referring to the censorship and sur- veillance of writers in the former GDR. Be- fore going blind, the Gorgons would have been able to petrify the poets and render any creativity impossible. If the Gorgons here represent not simply Western society, but specifically socialist society, then it is per- haps not surprising that this is the last poem in which the Gorgons appear as the GDR no longer existed.

The poem is a "Bekennerbrief," a letter or epistle stating convictions and beliefs. These convictions, found in the last four lines, attest to a conflict that is perhaps not surprising in light of Kunert's personal reac- tion to reunification and the end of the GDR. He welcomed the end of the state that had found him an uncomfortable critic and had rejected him, yet he was distressed by the confirmation that friends and fellow writers had, as he had suspected, been informing on him and by the lack of accountability for these actions ("Meine Nachbarn," "Hilfrei- che Dienerin"). The disclosures after the fall of the GDR did irreparable damage to the standing of poetry and art, leaving an empty house or a void, rather than giving rise to something new. Consequently, the final lines build on the many references to flight, to emptiness and absence by stating that it would be time to depart this life, to die, and thereby they evoke a feeling of lassitude and of closure:

Es wk jetzt an der Zeit

das Zeitliche zu segnen wenn

man es nicht

verfluchen soll.

("Durch die leeren Hauser" 1

However, the continuation of the lines makes it clear that the expression "das Zeitliche zu segnen" is intended to be read in more than one way: in addition to its being a euphemistic expression for dying, the literal meanings of the individual words are also in- tended and played with. The "Ich", the voice of a poet, says transitoriness ("das Zeitli- che") might be blessed were it not supposed to be cursed, revealing that feelings of anger also accompany the changed situation. The use of the indicative mood for cursing and the subjunctive mood for the reaction of blessing emphasizes the intensity of the de- sireto curse the changes. Such a mixed reac- tion is due to the vanished memories, men- tioned in the preceding lines:

Kein Wort lohnt mehr 
die Bewachung: Blo13 gleich 

einer Spinne harrt noch

Einsamkeit aus: Nichts

aber fhgt mehr ihr Netz:

Die Erinnerungen all

sind lingst verflogen unbeachtet

vom Artenschutz.

("Durch die leeren Hauser" 149)

The memories have flown, and the use of the word "verflogen" brings birds to mind. For Kunert, progress towards utopia-or lack of it-was expressed in terms of birds flying ("Unterwegs nach Utopia I," "Un- terwegs nach Utopia 11" [I9771 Warnung 154-55), so that the memories may be of the ideals and hopes associated with so- cialism and the establishment of the GDR. However, a second reading is also possible in which the memories have gone because with the disappearance of the state, what they once recalled, the state and the abuses perpetrated in its name, have lost their currency and there is no accountabil- ity. In terms of a discourse of remem- brance, such memories, be they of ideals or the real shape they took, should have been protected.

In Kunert's later poems, the "Fee" and Clio supercede the Medusa. The figure that appears in "Miirchenhafter Augenblick (1990) is described as a "Fee," yet the Ich mistakes her for a woman, so that it is clear he sees only the delicate, graceful and friendly manifestation of the "Fee" and not her sinister side. Her two possible forms ac- count for his mistake and also prepare the way for conveying initial attraction and its change to repulsion. It is clear that the male Ich is taken unawares by the female figure before him, as was the case with the earlier Medusa poems. It is not merely this similar- ity with other poems-her attractivenessto the Ich, the threat hidden beneath the sur- face and the element of punishmentwhich suggests alink with the Medusa figures. Rather, the punishment itself suggests a connection:

Fiir diesen Irrtum

bestraft sie rnich indem sie ihren Rock hebt hoch und hoher aufschwebt wachsbleiches Gekrose vor mir entfaltet: Wie bald so oft iibelkeiterregend die verborgene Seite untenn Wunderbaren. (Fremd daheim 25)

The punishment is more than the imme- diate frustration of the man's expectation. The fact that the act of lifting her skirt re- veals not genitalia but mesentery-folds of flesh formed by the membrane lining the ab- dominal cavity-clearly indicates that this is a punishment striking deep into the texture of his desire. The image is repellent and the color of the exposed flesh-as pale as wax- suggests something unhealthy, even dead. The lyrical persona feels ill at the sight of them. The action that seemingly holds out a promise of a sexual encounter actually re- veals that there is no possibility for the satis- faction of desire. It is in this respect that a parallel exists between the vulval Medusa in "Aus dem Eroticon" and the "Fee." Whereas the Ich thinks himself to be in a situation that will open up and reveal new, pleasant and exciting possibilities, he finds himself confronted with a closing down of his expec- tations and hopes. The Ich recognizes that the action is a punishment exacted for hav- ing mistaken her for a woman-that is, for an object of his desire. The figure's vengeful reaction is a statement of agency, and an ex- pression of the grim and homfying side of the "Fee."

The poem's position in the collection Fremd duheim leads to the consideration that the "Fee" may symbolize a utopia gone sour. "Miirchenhafter Augenblick" is in the section "Herbstanbruch in Arkadien." Arca- dia, the mythical landscape associated with Pan and symbolizing a blissful, idyllic life on the land, is represented as a paradise in Greek and Roman bucolic poetry and in the literature of the Renaissance. Placing the poem in a section announcing the onset of autumn in Arcadia and thus the dying off of the growth season, invites the reader to see the "Fee" as indicative of this change. The frustration of the Ich's pleasure and his pun- ishment is thus paralleled to the onset of au- tumn, and the poem casts doubt on the uto- pian future. The same descriptor is used for the mesentery as for the cars in "Spazier- gang" so that the "Fee" is aligned with the classic example of mass production and hence with technology. Her awfid, forbid- ding character can be attributed to the un- known or unforeseeable dimensions of social change that followed the adoption of instru- mental reason and technology as guiding principles (6."Prometheus 11" [I9811 Verspatete Monologe 180-90).

"Die Fee," a second poem from Fred duheim, is included in the section entitled "Fluchtweg fiirPhonix" (Fred duheim 50) and is also reproduced on the back cover, a choice that suggests its importance for the collection as a whole. The past has surrounded the house so that nothing else re- mains visible. Assuming such forms as dark smoke or a deathly pale gathering cloud of fog, the past is likened to a dark and grim fairy,

She is grimbecause by lifting her hand, all light tuns gray and assumes her age, so that rather than a nostalgic view of the past its real nature is highlighted. Her revelation of the true age of things is disturbing, shown as it is by their turning gray, so that "Alter" suggests not a coming of age, but rather be- ing old and approaching death. Whereas the "Fee" in "Miirchenhafter Augenblick" re- vealed there was no hope in the future, in this poem the "Fee" points out that in the past too there is nothing to sustain us.

The sudden change in the appearance of the environs is a call to duty for those who can remember it. The duty isnot defined ex- cept that it is related to seeing things as they truly are and more specifically to seeing the past for what it is rather than reacting to a nostalgic image or to a superficial gloss that may pertain to it. Since the poem appears in the section "Fluchtweg f?ir Phonix," it may be that remembering and doing one's duty is one way of finding an escape route from the present morass; that by facing the unpleas- ant reality of the past, one canfind a way into the future which will avoid the cycle of re- birth and repetition inherent in the image of the phoenix.

In "Heimlicher Hinweis," a poem from the last section of Fremd daheim, Clio ap- pears in the form of a moss-covered stone. Not merely the muse of historiography, she is the "Sinnbild der Geschichte" (Fremd da- heim 91). The history she symbolizes is not consoling but devastating, so Clio assumes a deceptive disguise to conceal her true na- ture; a nature that would be petnfylng if seenunrnediated. She is compared to ancient creatures whose features were so powerful they had to be masked by wickerwork so that no one caught sight of them for to do so would have petrified the individual. Kunert stresses the difference between the realm Clio inhabits and the human one, between her knowledge of history and the past and what human beings can know, by using a double negative "weniger unkenntlich" to describe the dimculty in perceiving her for what she is.

"Heimlicher Hinweis" is included in the section 'aus dem Steinreich," whose title suggests a Mher connection with the Me- dusa and her ability to petnfy. It also draws the reader's attention to the description of Clio as a "steingewordene Offenbarung," and to consider what isbeing revealed in her form. The notion of messages of great impor- tance being contained in stones is reminis- cent of an earlier prose text, "Steine" ([I9811 Verspatete Monologe 187). In that text Ku- nert attributes his fascination with stones to the impression that they contain a secret or mystery of such undeniable power as the Schaddui, the consonant that represents the name of God. In the early eighties, stones represent a refuge, but by the nineties this optimism can no longer be sustained. The stone as Clio signifies the end of hope be- cause the revelation is itself petrified, while still retaining the power to petrify us.

The literal meaning of the components of "Sinnbild" asks the reader to look at the de- scription of Clio since this will indicate why no consolation is to be gleaned from history.

Clio is hiding behind a bin filled with garbage and her face has been rendered unrecog- nizable by "verdorbenen Regen" or perhaps acid rain. The waste of society is associated with Clio indicating that the hopelessness she communicates is a response to a view of the past revealed by its residue, the rubbish. This association of Clio with rubbish and pol- lutionisreminiscent of Kunert's text, "Ben- jamins Angelus Novus" in which Benjamin's angel of history is reinterpreted as strug- gling to stay aloR while being blown back- wards into the future because he is trans- fdby the rubble of the past ([I9811 Ver- spatete Monologe 194).

The lack of any sustaining meaning or purpose in the history of Western civilization is conveyed more powerfully in the poem "An Clio" (1996). Clio here could be the muse of historiography or history itself since she is attributed some degree of responsibility for the course of history. It is a history character- ized by brutality to others, and as the lyrical persona follows Clio's tracks back in time, history is revealed to be a record of rulers glorified by historians and of bloody wars supposedly fought to improve the lot of the people fighting them. History's caesurae, de- scribed as "Brandzeichen," evoke the dehu- manizing treatment of the vanquished en- emy as property but also refer to the brand- ingof prisoners in concentration camps with tattoos. This, plus the fact that the trace left by Clio and followed by the lyrical persona is that of victims and perpetrators, suggests that the history of the Western world is a senseless record of human cruelty to others. The link between the victims and the perpe- trators is reinforced by the visual similarity between the words "Z&urenV and "Cika- ren." That there is no inherent meaning to be gleaned from reviewing the past is con- firmed by the statement that Clio has soaked the earth with blood and fertilized it with corpses, harvesting only remembrance.

Having arrived at the beginning of his- tory, there is nothing behind the last door. The Ich's act of looking around in vain sug- gests the human desire for finding an ulti- mate cause that would make sense of the horror. However, rather than finding such a cause or originator, he finds only a small anxious animal. The animal appears to be a crea- ture of our dreams, of our hopes and fears, rather than having any independent exis- tence that would lend meaning to its actions. In this poem the petnfylng impact is not ex- plicitly mentioned, but Clio isassociated with a devastatingly bleak view of history. Memory, the remembrance harvested by Clio, links the poem to the others discussed above. A connection rather than a develop- ment between the two Clio poems-indeed between the "Fee" and Clio-is all that can be articulated because even though a rela- tionship exists between them, the poems un- der discussion were conceived as individual works.

The choice of a female figure--Medusa, Clio, or the grim fairy-rather than a male one to express a bleak view of the past and hture of Western society and civilization, is in- triguing for a number of reasons. Firstly, there are other figures in mythology that Kunert could have employed iftheir only sig- nificance were the ability to pet* the ob- server. The gaze of the mythical basilisks had a similar impact and Kunert uses them as a topos in the poems "Der Basilisk ([19661, Verkiindigung 24) and "Zum Start der 'Co- lumbia"' ([19831, Stilleben 55). The similar- ity between the basilisk motif and that of the Medusa leads Walter Schonau to relate "Der Basilisk" to the Medusa motif in Kunert's work (146). Secondly, in the early decades of his writing it is Prometheus's theft of fire from the Gods that represents the dynamic potential of society and made the develop- ment of Western society possible albeit at the cost of knowledge of the future. The theft made possible an industrial society which be- came an instrumental society blind to the consequences and implications of its actions.

Kunert's recourse to the Medusa, Clio, and the "Fee" indicates that gender is sign6 cant so that the gender politics implicit in his use of these figures must be considered. Be- cause of the potential abuse inherent in fear- some images of women, it ismost interesting to try and reconcile their use with Kunert's deserved reputation as a discerning and sen- sitive social commentator. In part the expla- nation may be found in the gendered si@i- cance of rigidity in Kunert's work. In the short prose piece "Traum des Sisyphos" ([19661, Tagtraume 21), Sisyphos gradually assumes the characteristics of the stone he is condemned to push daily while the stone's surface becomes softer and for a brief second displays Sisyphos's own features. These changes express the deadening effect of re- petitive work on the individual, the way that individuals are changed by the work they do, and the way that the product is molded by the producers until it reflects their nature and essence. This interpretation is not new, but what has not been commented on is the gendered nature of the society that produces this deformation of the individual. For Ku- nert instrumental society is a masculine cre- ation in which the female is repressed, so the rigid, stony form that Sisyphos assumes is thus a comment on the gendered nature of that society.

Women are not exempt from the process of being changed by society, rather society's deforming impact results in images of women informed by male desires and fears. Kunert discusses the commodification of women in the essay "Verraten und verkauft" (1983) in connection with the masculinized female body He hypothesizes that ths fe- male shape came about after WWI not only because women were playing more sport but also because the increasing power exercised by women made men anxious. Explicitly feminine body shapes and female heterosex- uality came then to be associated with the vamp and with media images of ideal women but not with real women (Die letzten Indianer 181-83) and even the most intimate spheres of human experience were conse- quently contaminated by a process of com- modification endemic to Western society:

Indem wir die lebenden Frauen dem Ma13 der symbolischen unterwarfen, ernied- rigten wir sowohl sie wie uns selber, da wir unsere Seligkeit unter die Fata Mor- gana, unter die im rein Fiktiven griinden- de Illusion stellten. Das scheint, als wiir- fen wir der Industrie nicht mehr und nicht weniger vor, als uns Manner liebes- unfahig gemacht zu haben durch Abrich- tung auf Imagines: [...I Dieser Vorwurf, obgleich nach Satire klingend, enthalt, wie zu furchten ist, eine gehorige Portion Wahrheit. Und eben diese Wahrheit spricht von einem einschneidenderen, de- formierenderen Eingriff, als es die Kauf- lichkeit der Papstwiirde [...I sein konnte --da er sich namlich unterhalb unserer Bewul3tseinskontrolle vollzieht. Denn wir konnen, selbst wenn wir die Plastik- schonheiten, die Retorten-Nymphen in ihren einladenden Posen als Ausgeburten ganz anderer Zwecke erkennen, doch nicht den Blick von ihnen wenden und ge- statten ihnen, diesen Vampiren, durch unser Blut eine scheinhafte Realitat zu erlangen. (182-83)

The same process that results in desire be- ing directed to idealized constructions of women has produced images of women as fearsome and threatening; images, which subvert the desirable and express male fear of the female. These images inform the figures of the Medusa and the grim fairy when they reveal their forbidding side. While sociological and historical ac- counts of changing ideals of beauty during this period are more complex than allowed for by Kunert, his essay provides a key to his use of menacing female figures in his work.8 Ten years after the publication of "Verraten und verkauft" Kunert remains concerned that we are increasingly living abstract lives in fictitious worlds divorced from the natural world:

Die Sexualitat ist insofern wichtig, als damit der Untergang der Welt rascher herbeigezaubert wird. Die Menschenher- stellungsverlockung ist aber naturlich, abseits dieser Ironie, glaube ich, die letz- te, oder eine der letzten Bindungen an die Sinnlichkeit der Welt. Wir haben ja in den letzten Jahrzehnten ein immer abstrak-

ter werdendes Leben erfahren und leben

ja schon in ganz merkwiirdigen, fiktiven

Welten. Und die letzten Residuen, wo wir

eben noch animalisch sind, sind eben Es-

sen, Trinken, Sexualitat.

("Gesprach" 184)

Kunert's views on the commodification of women, on the importance of sexuality and procreation as one of our last linkstothe natural world, and on our increasingly ab- stract lives suggest a direction for interpret- ing his critical intent in emphasizing the Medusa's sexuality and in linking sexuality with the "Fee." Humans are profoundly alienated from their senses and the increas- ing neglect of the senses in favor of abstrac- tion has implications for the way the female is conceived as the "other." A terrible female figure is best able to convey Kunert's pessi- mism about the direction and future ofWest- ern society, precisely because of the values traditionally associated with the female sex as the cradle of life and of future generations.

Figures such as theMedusa, Clio, and the grim fairy are examples of the deformation wrought by society and express Kunert's fear that Western civilization is bringing about its own end. The fear of the female in this society, the demonization of women as "other," is merged with the rigidity that for Kunert exemplifies Western instrumental society. They are lethal,femmes fatales in the truest sense. The female, once associated with the future and Me, comes to be associ- ated with threat and death. In the guise of the Medusa or the grim fairy, she puts an end to desire, to hope for a better future. Clio looks back to a brutal past and admonishes us to remember. There isvalue in perceiving and enduring the truth of the past and pres- ent and it parallels Kunert's vision of the poet. It is avision that sees him writing in the eye of the storm in "In fremder Heimat" ([19901, Fremd daheim 9) and writing to defy death in "Einspruch" (1990) as the fol- lowing lines state:

Kraft: Ausreichend fiir ein Gedicht.

Doch Verzicht, wen zu belehren.

Wenige Worte: Als Pflicht 
sich gegen den Tod zu wehren. (Fremd 
daheim 88) 


lThe first publication date for Kunert's works is taken from Nicolai Riedel's Internationale Giinter Kunert Bibliographie l.

2For further discussion of negative images of female sexuality in Kunert's work, see Dunne 266-82.

3Anne Higonnet uses the mythic material as a metaphor for the art of the sculptor in her arti- cle on Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin (15).

4Gunter Kunert. Letter to the author. 26.2.1993.

jFreud interpreted the Medusa's head as ex- pressing the young boy's castration anxiety on seeing his mother's genitals (273-74), while Creed states the Medusa is a version of thevagina dentate (1 1 I), an image found in Kunert's "Lovestory: made in DDR" ([I9781 Auf Abwegen 100).

6The date of this poem is said by Riedel to be 1965. However, "Blick auf einen Strand" is in- cluded in the selection from Tagwerke (1961) in Unruhiger Schlaf, an anthology of poems, sug- gesting the earlier date is correct.

'The date of composition was given to the au- thor by Kunert.

sAnn Beth Presley lists dieting, women's emancipation and the desire to express it in their dress, and a desire for more practical clothes necessitated by a shortage in domestic labor.

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