Pleasures of Fear: Antifascist Myth, Holocaust, and Soft Dissidence in Christa Wolf's "Kindheitsmuster"

by Anke Pinkert
Pleasures of Fear: Antifascist Myth, Holocaust, and Soft Dissidence in Christa Wolf's "Kindheitsmuster"
Anke Pinkert
The German Quarterly
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ANKEPINKERT University of Illinois

Pleasures of Fear: Antifascist Myth, Holocaust, and Soft Dissidence in Christa Wolf's Kindheitsmuster

Since 1989 many East German intellec- tuals and critical writers have been faulted for their accomodationist attitude towards the GDR state and its punitive politics. While accusations and counter accusations were flying, the question emerged: what was it about German culture or, for that matter about intellectuals, about their particular brand of emancipatory cultural politics that made them such blind and willing instru- ments of repression?l In an effort to explain the apparent inconsequence of enlightened doubt among intellectuals in the GDR, schol- ars have pointed to avariety of psychological, political, and historical mechanisms at play2 Antifascism and its constituent idea of the unity of all social, cultural, and political forces made for a powefi foundational pro- gram that implicated intellectuals in a web of power relations which supported the regime and entrapped critical thought. In a 1990 in- terview Christa Wolf herself asserted that her generation, a generation that had been socialized under fascism, felt reluctant to organize resistance against people who had been in concentration camps during the Nazi peri~d.~

But if it had yielded to a state with a stained history, ruined economy, and demor- alized population, how exactly could the an- tifascist narrative remain cohesive all the way until 1989 when in her speech "Rir unser Land" Wolf invoked antifascist ideals as the basis of a new socialist East German nation? In other words, as Dorothea Dornhof put it succinctly, how is it possible that intellectu- als who pride themselves on an emancipa-

tory understanding would not only enter power relations of their own freewillbut sus- tain them despite increasing doubts about their ability to realize any of their eman- cipatory goals?(63). Christa Wolf's Kind- heitsmuster inadvertently points to a pro- found desire for preservation. Re-writing the state's foundational narrative of antifascism through a discourse of empathy with Jewish victims commonly neglected in the state's symbolic ritualization of communist resis- tance, Wolf's project engenders a soft dissi- dence that avoids challenging antifascism as a discourse of power. This is not to say, how- ever, that the text hides its increasing doubts about the legitimacy of the GDR's ideological project. Qwte to the contrary, Wolf's novel invests a great deal in a discourse of fear to perpetually regenerate a dilemma of lin- guistic impotence. This linguistic impasse in Wolf's works has often been read by critics in the context of modernist Spruchkritik, and thus as Wolf's relevant, if limited, contribu- tion to an emancipatory political and aes- thetic discourse in the GDR.4 Instead I suggest Kindheitsmuster continuously and quite consciously restages the liminal experience necessary to sustain the "peculiar intimacy" that lies at the heart of a particularly "sym- biotic dissidence," a brand of dissidence in which critical writer and state feed on each other.5 Seen in this light, the crucial question is then no longer whether or not the critical GDR writers who decided to stay in their country undermined or legitimized the East German state, but rather how could they do

The German Quarterly 76.1 (Winter 2003) 25


it both at once? How could they both support and corrode the authority of the state? How exactly is a soft dissidence (re)generated and how does it partake in the production of ide- ology?

Kindheitsmuster has entered the canon as the German book exemplary of Vergangenheit~bewtiltigung.~Starting out as an examination of the individual and collective psychology of subjugation under socialist con- ditions, the book carefidly reconstructs the coercive mechanisms surrounding the com- plicity of Wolf's generation with the Nazi past ("Wie sind wir so geworden, wie wir heute sind? Horigkeit." 248).More than any other book of the 1970s, Wolfs novel negoti- ates, contests, and reworks the different poli- tics of memory that evolved in both East and West Germany since the end of WW 11. In contrast to the GDR state's mythologizing of the communist resistance to fascism, Kindheitsmuster suggests that a fidl and truthlid account of Germany's national socialist past would lead to a more conscientious socialist present and serve to guide future-oriented action. Deploying such a "therapeutic mode of discourse" (Trornrnler), Wolf's text inter- locks with West Germany's left wing politics of memory for which working through the mass death and violence of Germany's na- tional socialist past became the corner stone of improving the nati0n.I As Frank Tromm- ler has pointed out,

since World War 11, a new communicative attitude has arisen among writers, on the basis of which they have established a mo- ral authority that eschews heroic dis- tinctions and creates a discourse both of scrutinizing and healing the effects of his- tory. (38)

Yet, in order to remain within the GDR's teleological model of history Wolf needed to suspend the very program of her book- a historical analysis of domination, sub- mission, and authority-and ultimately alter the premise of the West German left- ist discourse on the Holocaust, according to which the single genuine force standing against collective coercion was the sub- ject's autonomy.

Already in 1972, in her essay "Gedacht- nis und Gedenken, " Wolfhad drawn on mod- els of Vergangenheitsbewdltigungdeveloped in the public discourse of the West. Re- flecting here on Fred Wander's Der siebente Brunnen (1971), an exceptional autobio- graphical account of survival by an Austrian Jewish Communist who had emigrated to the GDR, Wolf had declared that memory work could be carried out only by an authen- tic Jewish voice.8 Similarly, a decade earlier, in 1959, Hans-Magnus Enzensberger had argued that Nelly Sachs succeeded in finding a language appropriate for the representa- tion of Auschwitz only and exclusively be- cause she was avictim herself.9 Like Enzens- berger Wolf transposes the Christian model of salvation and redemption onto the Jewish writer.She envisions a reconciliation between Germans and Jews-a convergence between "two alienated worlds of experience, of con- sciousness, and of collective memorynlO- through the communication of the victim's authentic Holocaust experience.ll Given the (selflimposed repression of Jewish identity in the GDR as well as the state's strategy to absorb the Jews into a larger group of vic- tims of fascism, this model of negative sym- biosis between Germans and Jews was par- ticularly problematic in the antifascist con- text of the GDR.12

According to Jeffrey Herf the party's pol- itics in regard to questions Jewish remained rather static throughout the existence of the East Gennan state. He contends that "East Germans were able to freeze political mem- ory with some minor m~~cations,

in the dogmas of the 1950s."l3 "Until its demise, the Gennan Democratic Republic had no dip- lomatic relations to Israel, remained a loyal ally of the PLO and Arab states, and kept the Holocaust on the periphery of its national political culture" (363). While this is certain- ly true in regard to the SED's overall political program, the relationship between these different discourses is more dynamic in light of the party's cultural politics and interna- tional agenda. As an intensified anti-Zionist foreign policy seized center stage in the late sixties and early seventies, the internal poli- tics of memory underwent a shift in perspec- tive and tone.14 In contrast to the 1950s, the anti-Zionist foreign politics around 1970 cor- responded with both a more moderate cultural politics in regard to things Jewish and a growing public space for Jewish and non- Jewish writers to investigate anti-Semitism and the Holocaust in their works. Not only were books published, such as Jurek Be- cker'sJakobderLiigner, (1968), Peter Edel's Bilder des Zeugen Schathnann (1969), Fred Wander's Der siebente Brunnen, (1971), and Franz Fiihmann's 22 Tage oder die Hiilfte des Lebens (1973) but the issue of the Holo- caust received greater public visibility. In

1972 Fred Wander was awarded the Hein- rich Mann Prize for his autobiographical ac- count of imprisonment in Buchenwald, and three years later Frank Beyer finally re- ceived permission to complete the film version of JakobderLiigner,which was the first GDR film to gain international attention in the West.15 If in different ways, all these cul- tural productions of the late sixties and early seventies, including Wolfs Kindheitsmuster, pointed to the blind spot within the SED's antifascist politics. According to her own ac- count, Wolf was moved to write Kindheitsmuster because she sensed a growing indif- ference toward the Holocaust among the younger East German population.l6 This in- difference was indicative of the bankruptcy of pre-existing representations that had failed in their task to evoke mourning and atonement. In contrast to the prescriptive novels of conversion, which focused on the transition from fascism to socialism rather than explaining why people participated in fascism, Wolf returned to childhood to con- struct a Nazi past that could at least come to consciousness, if not be outgrown.

Looking for models of atonement devel- oped by the leftist memory discourse in the West, Wolf appropriated, applied, and altered Adorno's 1966 essay "Erziehung nach Auschwitz," which attributes Auschwitz to deficient libidinal relationships, an inability to love.17 In "Gedachtnis und Gedenken" Wolf had already displayed an adept farnil- iarity with Adorno,clarifying a substantial misreading of his famous dictum (147). (Adorno's dictum had entered the cultural- political discourse in the GDR only briefly in the mid-sixties, and had done so in form of a false and distorted reception of the original idea. In 1965, Brecht expert Werner Mitten- zwei had understood the dictum as a ban: "Enzensberger (sic) habe einmal gesagt, nach Auschwitz konne man keine Gedichte mehr schreiben. Nun, er hat inzwischen selbst wieder Gedichte geschrieben").18 Although for Adorno Auschwitz could be ex- plained as the barbaric tendency towards violence inscribed within the principle of civili- zation (192), the difficulty lay in an antidote to barbarism. The possibility of changing the objective societal and political conditions of postwar West Germany seemed extremely limited to Adorno, and therefore he argued that attempts to work against the recurrence of Auschwitz were necessarily restricted to the subjective dimension of people's psychol- ogy. He insisted,

if coldness were not a fundamental trait of anthropology, that is, the constitution of people as they in fact exist in our socie- ty, if people were not profoundly indiffe- rent toward whatever happens to everyo- ne else except for a few to whom they are closely bound and, if possible, by tangible interests, then Auschwitz would not have been possible, people would not have ac- cepted it. (201)

Adorno, however, also insists that this rei- fied consciousness could not be disman- tled by preaching love, empathy, and iden- tification (202). These "so-called bonds ea- sily become either a ready badge of shared convictions-one enters into them to prove oneself a good citizen-or they pro- duce spiteful resentment, psychologically the opposite of the purpose for which they were drummed up. They amount to het- eronomy, a dependence on rules, on norms that cannot be justified by the individual's own reason" (195). Instead, he suggests, the single genuine power standing against the principle of Auschwitz is autonomy, that is, "the power of reflection, of self-de- termination, of not cooperating" (195). Like Adorno Wolf suggests the inability to identify and empathize with others was the most important psychological condi- tion for the fact that something like Auschwitz could have occurred in the midst of more or less civilized and innocent people (201). Throughout her novel she an- alyzes the psychology of the authoritarian personality and concludes chapter eleven with the weighty sentence "Lieblosigkeit ist ein schauerliches Geheimnis" (KM 329).19 But rather than insisting that, if anything, only the insight into the very conditions that determine societal and in- dividual coldness can help against the principle of Auschwitz (202), Wolf redi- rects Adorno's rational approach by re- sorting to an affective model of "imagina- tive empathy."20 On the discursive level Wolfs protagonist insists on the insur- mountability of the breach between vic- tims and perpetrators ("Fur immer sind

die Betroffenen von den Nichtbetroffenen durch eine unuberschreitbare Grenze ge- trennt" 306), yet the text invests a great deal to fur this gap, retrospectively.

This shift toward an eddjing aesthetic canbe illustrated with a closer textual analy- sis of a narrative Wolf has placed in chapter six, entitled "Erinnerungslucken, 'Friedens- zeiten,' Einubung in Hass." This story ex- amines how anti-Semitism could be trans- formed from a passive appropriation of ste- reotypes into an actively exercised hatred. It provides a psychological model that deviates remarkably from the GDR's concept of anti- Semitism as a tool of the Nazi leadership to divert the growing anger of the people against the fascist di~tatorship.~~

As such it crystallizes both the achievement and limitation of Wolfs aesthetics of interiority and therapy. The story is told from the perspec- tive of an adult narrator whose memories are being recounted in their encrypted form, that

Winter 2003

is, through the symbolic dream space of her childhood. The story has three components: a Jewish boy, an encounter with an exhibi- tionist and the mutilation of a lizard. In the first portion of the story the protagonist en- counters a Jewish boy. She has no difficulty conjuring up a stereotypical image of the boy as threatening coward, yet she fails to exer- cise, or even feel, hatred. On another occa- sion the girl is confronted by a clean, well- dressed man, standing at the edge of a for- mer garbage pit. He pulls out a whitish snake at which the girl stares until the spell is bro- ken and she runs off. On a third occasion she comes upon a lizard whose tailremainsinher fingers as the animal escapes. Disgust and horror blend into one. The narrator reflects that it was at this point that she as a young girl could no longer hear the word "unrein" without having a vision of vermin, the white snake, and the face of the Jewish boy.22 There- fore, she decides to stay away from anything considered "unchaste." The story concludes with the image of the girl loudly chiming into a song: 'kdenkijpfe rollen, Judenkopfe rol- len,/ Judenkijpfe rollen ubern Burgersteig, / Blut, Blut, Bluhuhut, / Blut muss fliessen kniippelhageldick [...I" (178-81).

Wolfs psychological model centers on disgust. The disgust evoked by the exhibi- tionist fouls the girl's perception of Jews. She no longer looks at the Jewish boy with the benign contempt associated with curiosity; instead, he becomes dangerous, something that possesses the power to contaminate by proximity or contact. He elicits a need for p~rification.~3

Given the story's emphasis on disgust, the subsequent commentary pro- vided by the narrator is rather conspicuous, if not contradictory. For here we are told that in fact the images ofvermin, the white snake, and the face of the Jewish boy did not evoke in the girl hatred or revulsion but rather Scheu-a feeling very close to the first stage of Angst. To quote the protagonist:

Wie weiss man also nicht. doch es geschah, dass sie, Nelly, durch eine Vermischung und Verquickung scheinbar entlegener Be- standteile das Wort "unrein" nicht mehr horen konnte, ohne gleichzeitig Ungezie- fer, die weisse Schlange und das Gesicht jenes Judenjungen zu sehen. Wir wissen wenig, solange wir nicht wissen wie der- gleichen geschieht. Solange man sich nur wundern kann, dass in Nelly mit jenen Bildern nicht Hass oder Abscheu aufkam, sondern Scheu ein Gefuhl sehr nahe den Vorstufen der Angst. (181,my emphasis)

While the story suggests that the girl con- nects the images ofvermin, the exhibition- ist's penis, and the Jewish boy through a sense of revulsion, the reflecting commen- tary states something else: Scheu.

It is through this semantic shift from Abscheu to Scheu that Wolf negotiates her engagement with the GDR's antifascist pro- ject revealing that the antifascist bond be- tween critical writers and GDR state was far less immutable than commonly assumed. What we encounter here is a case of negation, a rejection, by projection, of an idea that has just come up. In other words, anti-Semitism gains the status of a repressed idea that makes its way into consciousness on the con- dition that it is negated. According to Freud, negation is a way of lifting repression with- out accepting that which is repressed.24 But why this need for revision? What is at stake in these different concepts of anti-Semitism, one predicated on disgust, the other on Scheu?As the American psychologist Silvan Tomkins has indicated: "Shame-humiliation (which encompasses shyness, shame, and @t) is the negative affect linked with love and identification, contempt-disgust the neg- ativeaffectlinkedwith individuation and hate. Bothaffects are impediments to intimacy and communion, within the self and between the selfand others. But shame-humiliation does not renounce the object permanently, where- as contempt-disgust doe~."~5

Shame inhibits communication, whereas disgust severs communication.

These two different psychological models of anti-Semitism provide the sites where Wolf's text contests the party's legitimacy. The anti-Semitic image of the Jew as abject undermines the consoling logic of mourning.

This is illustrated remarkably well in Franz Fiihmann's book 22 Tage, published three years before Wolf's Kindheitsmuster. Fiihmann's poetic diary (which is also an attempt to cope with Auschwitz from the persmve of the perpetrator) is interspersed with vari- ous images of bodies filled with waste, excre- ments,dirt.The breach in solidarity with the victim was sothorough for Fiihmann, that it could be closed only negatively-through a fantasy of incorporated dirt, a fantasy of bearing inside one's body the Jew once

Employing "negative aesthetics" Fiihmann accounts for his complicity with the annihilation of the Jews without the comfort of relief, catharsis, and salvation.27 Such zweckfieies Eingedenken rejects the normative status of Trauerarbeit (which has dominated the West German cultural dis- course on the Holocaust) as a self-serving es- cape from pathology. In the specific historical and political context of the GDR, Fiihmann's fantasy of incorporation exposes and vitiates the rhetorical purification of the antifascist discourse from the specific victims of the Ho- locaust. Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok assume, "the fantasy of incorporation emerges as a substitute, a substitute that is both regressive and reflective [...I ."28

It is because the mouth cannot articulate certain words, cannot utter certain phra- ses [...I that in fantasy one will take into the mouth the unspeakable, the thing it- self. [...] unable to obtain nourishment from words exchanged with others, [the empty mouth] will take within itself, in fantasy, all or part of a person, the only de- pository for that which is nameless. (6)

That is, in Fiihmann's text, this imaginary thing-the Jews retained in the body of the perpetrator-becomes a sign that an- nounces the empty place (Leerstelle) in the antifascist self-imagination of the East German state. Exposing the party's anti- fascism as a discourse of power, it is this corporeal sign that symbolically blocks linear history.

In order to uphold a model of history built on progress Wolf revises anti-Semitism by splitting off disgust-not Abscheu but Scheu. This yields empathy. Here, Wolfs novel with its modernist desire for narrative uncertainty and temporal disruption is in fact linked to the aesthetics of the 18th cen- tury. Lessing in his Laokoon discerned that the disgusting(dasEkelhafte) does not lend itself to the arousal of empathy (Mitleid). In- stead, it causes the urge to vomit. Reminding us of our bodily existence, disgust resists the transformative power of an illusion-based ae~thetic.~g

But this is precisely what Wolf is interested in: transformation through iden- tification. A model of anti-Semitism built on the affect of shynesslshame rejects the idea of a radical breach between perpetrator and victims. It makes for what Eric Santner called "paleontological memory-work [that] will hit on fossilized traces of a once vital and intact solidarity with the victim" (160). This elegiac search for residual empathetic poten- tial invites the reader's identification with both the perpetrators and the victims.

Wolfs aesthetic model then feeds into the web of power relations that sustained the so- cialist state by integrating emotive represen- tation of the Holocaust INTO the antifascist discourse. Wolf assumes that the contempo- rary subjectssubjects unmoved or numbed at the sites of mass death (310)--can be changed through the affective dimension of art (312). Taking this transformative role of art literall5 she designs a number of eddjmg narratives to arouse the reader's emotion and imagination (Einbildungskraft): the Reichskristallnacht rendered in the image of an abandoned, burned-down synagogue suffused with sadness and sorrow (210-ll), the depiction of the protagonist's daughter weeping over Joseph Roth's Hiob as a story that goes to the heart (265), or an allegorical dream of a shower scene revolving around a mother with her suffocating child (314). As a counterforce to numbing, empathy may be understood here also in terms of attending to, even trying, in limited ways, to recapture the possibly split-off, affective dimension of the experience of others.30 Assuming that such identificatory practice will induce ca-

Winter 2003

tharsis, Wolfreverses the concept ofredemp- tion laid out in "Gedachtnis und Gedenken." Whereas there, it was the Jewish victims who bring about salvation as they offer their memories to the perpetrators, it is now the perpetrators's offering of empathy to the Jewish victims that promises relief. Wolfs understanding that cathartic mourning over the Jewish victim will yield to a new, more mature and tolerant subject underscores Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich's no- tion of collective therapy. A decade earlier in the West the Mitscherlich's challenged the language of abstract morality by providing what Frank Tromrnler recently termed a "direct tunnel" to a secret expressed in a lan- guage of individualized g~dt.3~

Yet while the Mitscherlichs (in line with Adorno) based their vision of increasing tolerance on the psychoanalytically informed recognition that human beings are inherently destructive, that is, driven by their aggressive instinct, Wolf draws on the humanist belief in the in- herent goodness of people.S2 Within Wolf's model of empathetic communication toler- ance is not so much reflection on difference but rather a plea for sameness. This suspen- sion of alterity makes sense in the context of the Marxist emphasis on equality. But it also means that empathy runs the risk of being conflated with unchecked identification, vicarious experience, even surrogate victim- age rather than a virtual experience related to what Kaja Silverman has termed hetero- pathic identification, in which emotional re- sponse comes with respect for the other and the realization that the experience of the other is not one's own.33 Although this emo- tive model of coming to terms with the fascist past, and especially Auschwitz, undermines the GDR's abstract and de-personalized dis- course on fascism as the most advanced form of imperialism, it integrates a history of suffering into the narrative of German commu- nist history without inquiring intothe mech- anisms of power that excluded this history of suffering in the first place.

Obviously, the motto of the book, "Wie sind wir so geworden, wie wir heute sind?

Hijrigkeit," points in a different direction. Repeated several times throughout the novel, this question announces the text as a critique of obedience/subservience, implying a hope of arousing self-determination and change. In line with this program (and the text's exposure of the subject's complicity with fascism), many have read the book as a text of a dimcult and fragile, yet successful subject-formation, overlooking that Wolf's critique of subjugation remains somewhat complicitous itself.34 Only Hans Mayer has pointed to a hidden theme in Kindheitsmus- ter: the concealment of the known truth.35 Wolf's protagonist maintains for example, "Der Luxus vollkornmener Aufrichtigkeit- warum sollte er gerade dir ausgesucht sein?"

(359) or "Alles kann und sou nicht gesagt werden, dariiber muss Klarheit herrschen" (164). That is, Wolf's text does not only 'con- ceal the truth' but it explicitly states that it willdo so. There is something puzzling about this figure of speech of talking about not tell- ing the known truth, something puzzling about a book, a public text produced under the conditions of censorship, in which the protagonist confesses that she knows but willnot disclose the truth. What is at stake in this suspended critique, a position walking a thin line between transgression and confor- mity?

It is fear we are told that prevents the protagonist from articulating the unspoken: "Bei dem Versuch, Unberiihrtes zu beriih- ren-Ungesagtes auszusprechen-, wird Angst 'frei'. Die freie Angst macht den von ihr Befallenen unfrei" (486). Linguistically the expression of fear vis-a-vis the unspoken is not identical with the 'not-yet-said'-a liminal space to which I will turnshortly Psychologically, however, the fear which needs to be overcome to state publicly under the conditions of internalized censorship that the known truth willnot be revealed ap- proximates the fear that needs to be over- come to speak the truth. Sowhy not speak it? Why does the text, as Michael Levin put it succinctly, "respect 'the limits of the express- ible' against which it claims not to revoltV?36

It is the overwhelming pleasure of the symptom that sustains Wolfs text. In other words, underneath the crisis about the fear of saying the not yet said lies a much bigger crisis: the fear of losing the language of fear. The protagonist's medi- tation on fear climaxes in the next to last chapter, entitled "Ein Kapitel Angst. Die Arche." Within this chapter, numerous micro-meditations on the theme of fear (462,471,486ff, 492f, 497) disrupt the flow of the narration. Placed towards the end of this long novel, they repeatedly stall the narrative's closure. This narrative delay simulates a psychoanalytic setting. When the analytic cure approaches its final stage, it usually provokes in the analysand a paranoiac fear that the analyst is after his innermost treasure, his kernel of se- cret enjoyment (Zi?iek, Symptom 39). The protagonist in Kindheitsmuster admits that her creativity is contingent upon fear when she dismisses as anecdotal any art which is not a product of the particular suffering caused by Angst (462). Without fear what remains is what the protagonist calls elsewhere art without a mission (453). But as the Hungarian dissident Miklos Haraszti has astutely pointed out in his book The Velvet Prison:

commitment entails obligation. In ex- change, the artist receives a prize from the revolutionary movement that he painfully lacked when he was free: the sa- tisfaction of being truly needed.37

That is, in order to prevent an "investiture crisisv-a crisis of "performative magic" whereby individuals are endowed with a symbolic mandate that henceforth informs their identity in the community, that is, in order to prevent her own erasure as a public intellectual who reveals the truth to those unable to see or speak it, Wolf needed to work creatively at and on the limits of the expressible, "writing oth- erwise" as Levin put it, "in the interspace between speech and silence."38 Wolf suc- cessfully performed this labor of doubt all


the way until 1991 when she published Was bleibt. Obviously, labors of doubt themselves had a tendency to create a false candor that absorbed the dissatisfactions and excused the inhuman practices.39 But already Kindheitsmuster shows that the underlying logic of this duplicity was not so much one of conscious concealment, ly- ing, or betrayal, as the media tended to construct it after 1989 (and the protago- nist herself suggests at certain points) but that the sustenance of doubt rested on the continuous, more or less unconscious, per- formance of self-deception.

Although Kindheitsmuster has acquired the status of an innovative text that paved new paths of critical thinking, it is actually quite the opposite: it is something like an Endzeitromun, a text that, running out of be- lief, operates on the verge of a void, which is the loss of language. Seen in this light, Wolfs text is not so much a gradual approximation of truth, as thetextitself and other readers have suggested ("die Erzihlerin tastet sich mit emotionalem Fingerspitzengefiihl an die Niihe der Wahrheit") nor is the protagonist's Schwellenangst really "die Angst vor dem Schritt in den Text."40 While seemingly as- piring to trespass over the threshold to the realm of the yet unspoken, the text settles down on the site of this threshold, the state of the "in-between." Wolf creates this space through an aesthetics of suspension (Schwe- be), which is built on various grammatical forms, such as interrogative, subjunctive, and imperative that separate evocation from action.41 Applied on the narrative's past and present level, these linguistic strategies cre- ate a hovering atmosphere for the novel's fic- titious realm as a whole: "Tue es, wenn du es nicht lassen kannst. Aber worm erkennt man, was man nicht lassen kann, mit tot- licher Sicherheit?" (48), "Aber wo beginnt die verfluchte Pflicht des Aufschreibens?" (225), "Wem wiirde es schaden, wenn du die Sache auf sich beruhen liessest? Wer wiirde etwas vermissen?" (244, "Ganz anders, denkst du, ganz anders miisste geschrieben werden." (292) or more allegorically "Ein dunkler Faden schiesst in das Muster ein. Unmoglich ihn fallen zu lassen. Ihnauhheben beinah noch zufriih" (234).This linguistic oscillation between critique and si- lence symptomatic of Wolfs text as a whole can be illustrated with just one longer pas- sage where the protagonist's meditation on instrumentalized reason encapsulates a cri- tique of indifference and subservience per- vading socialist society:

Aber das gehort alles nicht hierher; dass unbenutzte Vernunft verkiimmert wie ir- gendein untrainiertes Organ; dass sie un- merklich zuerst, zuriickzieht; das eines Tages, zum Beispiel bei einer unerwarte- ten Frage, sich erweisen kann: wichtige Zonen der inneren Landschaft sind von Resignation besetzt, zumindest von Gleichgiiltigkeit (die Frage, Lenkas Fra- ge, auf die eine Antwort aussteht: Woran ihr eigentlich glaubt. Das wollte sie wis- sen, nicht herausfordernd iibrigens)--

das alles gehort wohl nicht hierher. Be- hauptung auf Widerruf: Wieso soll nicht hierhergehoren, was der President der Vereinigten Staaten, Richard Nixon, ge- stern (am 20.Februar 1973)gesagt hat.

Noch zu keinem Zeitpunkt der Nach- kriegsentwicklung seien die Aussichten auf einen dauerhaften Frieden so giinstig gewesen wie in diesem Augenblick. (124, my emphasis)

Here, the juxtaposition of the phrase "Das gehort alles nicht hierher" with the subse- quent "wieso soll nicht hierher gehoren, was der President [...I gesagt hat," that is, the semantic conflation of two different grammatical subject-"das" (indifference1 socialism) and "was . . ." (Nixon's appease- ment), the text mitigates its initial cri- tique of socialism's failure to create a new subject. This conflation folds the nascent specific critique of instrumentalized rea- son under socialism (complicity) back into a universal meditation on the relationship between modernity and war, the dialectics of enlightenment, and on the internation- al state of affairs.

These oscillating linguistic strategies are grounded in "Neither-Norism" which Roland Barthes paradoxically ascribed to the rhetoric of the right. This figure of thought consists in stating two opposites and balanc- ing the one by the other as to reject them both (I want neither to conceal nor reveal the truth). "Both sides are dismissed because it is embarrassing to choose between them; one no longer needs to choose, but only to en- d~rse."~~

Only the flip side of this Neither- Norism is the protagonist's fantasy of having everything at once, the protagonist's longing for the time when she could still hope that the decision for one possibility would not in- evitably exclude all others, and her desire to couple an uncompromising critique of social- ism with the belief in reform:

Manchmal hattest du Sehnsucht nach der Zeit, in der noch nichts entschieden war, der Zeit vor dem Anfang, als du noch hof- fen konntest, dass die Entscheidung fur eine der Mijglichkeiten nicht alle anderen unerbittlich auschliessen wiirde. (146)

Sein Lacheln, wenn du ihm begegnetest, war, von heute aus gedeutet, das Lacheln fur eine Abtriinnige, die nicht bis zuletzt durchhalt. Mitleid fur einen, der auf die absolute Einicht nicht angemessen dass heisst : mit absolutem Unglauben ant- worten kann. (145)

If the protagonist does not want to choose between silence and speech, what remains then is the compromise between the two impossibilities (112), the position of de- spair. In order to exist, however, this posi- tion must continuously re-invent the di- lemma. This circular logic resonates with Foucault's critique of the (universal) intel- lectual: "On the one hand, I've met a lot of people who talk about 'the intellectual.' And listening to them, I've got some idea of what such an animal could be. It's not diffi- cult-he's quite personified. He's guilty about pretty well everything: about speak- ingout and about keeping silent, about do- ing nothing and about getting involved in everything."43

The impasse for which Wolfs text settles resonates with a fundamental problem of critical thought among intellectuals in the GDR. Emphasizing the protagonist's predic- ament between revealing and concealing the truth, the text continuously reassures the

reader: the Truth exists. Such ethics of true self-expression is buttressed by the text's continuous references to the image of the mask (e.g. "Und andauernd dieses Gem, an Stelle eines Gesichts diese iiberanstreng- te Maske zu tragen," 49). Yet, what would this truth--the not-yet-saidlsayable-sound like? The pathos of the protagonist's implor- ing exhortations ("Ganz anders muss ge- schrieben werden" 298) only barely covers an underlying muteness. As David Bathrick has argued in The Powers of Speech, the dis- course of Marxism had become moribund in the GDR as basis for alternative thought. Although the intellectuals in the GDR saw themselves as Marxists (in the sense of a spe- cific political, economic, or philosophical po- sition), they had actually failed to revitalize Marxism as a tool for a dialectical under- standing of concrete reality@ In this context, the protagonist's seemingly puzzling, if not contradictory confession that she is unable to react to the "absolute Einsicht" with "ab- solutem Unglauben" (145) begins to make sense. To use Ziiek's analysis of everyday ideological attitudes under "totalitarianism," the gap between (real) knowledge and (symbolic) belief attests to apsychotic split, a disavowal of the obvious evidence, not a "re- pression of secrets": the knowledge that we "deceive" in no way prevents us from believ- ing in the result-effect of the deception. Again, this is not a position of cynicism but rather self-deception. Kindheitsmuster re- veals the logic of an ideological attitude that Ziiek describes like this: I know that the sys- tem is bancrupt, but nevertheless [orjust be- cause it is bancrupt] I operate as if (I believe that) it exi~ts.~5

Wolf protects the real existing socialist system and ultimately her own role as an in- tellectual within this system by assuming the role of the scapegoat, that is, by con- structing her autobiographical characters as defective selves, or what Ortrud Gutjahr once coined Mangelwesen (too fearful, too


subservientlobedient etcJ46 Although Wolfs protagonist imagines her fear as the obstacle which interrupts the circle of pleasure from closing, she actually finds a sort of perverse pleasure in this displeasure, in the repeated, circular movement around the unattainable object (delsubordination). The system is bankrupt but by assuming gdt, the subject canspare the system and ultimately herself the experience of inexistence and preserve the purity of the revolutionary project itself. As zi~ekhas pointed out,

in ~s~choanal~tic

theory one talks ''0' about the transference or the "projection" of guilt, i.e. about the way the subject gets rid of his responsibility via paranoiac "projection" of guilt onto the Other.

His argument continues, "perhaps, we should rather reverse the relationship and conceive the very act of assuming guilt as an escape from the real traumatism-we don't only escape fromguilt but also es- cape into guilt, take refuge in it."47 By the very act of sacrifice we (presup)pose and thus find support in the existence of its ad- dressee that guarantees the consistency and the meaningfulness of our experience. That is, ultimately and against its own pro- gram, Wolf s specific critique of the power relations under socialism as centered on the subject ends up generating the illusion of an intact societal whole.

HereKindheitsmusterinadvertentls: sug- gests a similarity between the intellectual and the people: both resist change. As the "Pseudo-Menschen" (292), the people who do not want to break the rules, Wolf's protag- onist, in spite of her statements to the con- trary, ultimately cannot break them either. Woli's particular model of dissidence relied on the preservation of things as they were. As Wolf explained herself by actively partici- pating in the construction of a new society, a society which represented the exact opposite of the criminal National Socialist system gave her generation the possibility to rid themselves of their "potential but not yet re- alized participation in this national guilt."@

This story of historicalresponsibility should not be taken hghtly.

But Kindheitsmuster also shows how Wolfs revisionist critique of the state's antifascism engendered a particularly symbiotic, yet contingent and mutable, relationship be- tween dissident writer and state: Wolf needed the state to allow her to point to its wrongdoings and the state needed Wolf to learn some truth about itself. For even in the "innermost circle" the party cannever come to the point at which it can express in the first person how matters actually stand.49

In 1976, Hans Mayer described Kindheitsmuster as a complicated failwe ("kom- pliziert gescheitertes Buc~").~~

In hindsight, we might call it a "victorious failure." On its diegetic level, the text drives on a somewhat naive political optimism that the subject can liberate herself from the (self) imposed con- straints of power, if at least given the right psychological and political circumstances. On its mimetic level, however, the novel dis- plays the postliberatory insight that power is not simply what we are opposed to but what we depend on for our existence, what we har- bor and preserve in the beings that we are. In this slippage emerges a model of precarious dissidence that compels us to ask if there is "a way to &i complicity as the basis of po- litical agency, yet insist that political agency may do more than reiterate the conditions of s~bordination."~~


lMichae1 Geyer, The Power of Intellectuals in Contemporary Germany (Chicago: U of Chica- go P, 2001) 8.

2See, for example, the essays by Dorothea Dornhof ("The Inconsequence of Doubt: Intel- lectuals and the Discourse of Socialist Unity"), Frank Trommler ("German Intellectuals: Public Roles and the Rise of the Therapeutic"), Katie Trumpener ("La guerre est finie: The New Waves, Historical Contingency, and the GDR 'Rabbit Films"'), and David Bathrick ("Language and Power") in the same volume.

3Christa Wolf, Zm Dialog (Frankfurt, a.M.: Luchterhand, 1990) 136. Most scholars of GDR literature follow Wolf's self-understanding suggesting that because of the legacy of fas- cism, the GDR writers' criticism of the SED had to be limited and that the critical writers, despite the limits of their dissent, contributed to the social changes that culminated in the collapse of socialism. See, for example, David Bathrick, The Power of Speech (Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1995); Wolfgang Emmerich, Kleine Literaturgeschichte der DDR (Leipzig: Kie- penheuer, 1996); John C. Torpey,Zntellectuals, Socialism and Dissent (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1995); Michael Schenkel, Fortschritts- und Modernitatskritik in der DDR Li- teratur: Prosatexte der achtziger Jahre (Tubingen: Stauffenberg, 1995). West German jour- nalists, East German exile writers, and some scholars, on the other hand, tend to see the crit- ical GDR writers in the infamous tradition of Germanintellectuals collaborating with the pow- erful and turning against the populace. See, for example, Frank Schirrmacher, "Dem Druck des harteren, strengeren Lebens standhalten," Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 2 June 1990; Ulrich Greiner, "Was bleibt? Bleibt was?," Die Zeit 1June 1990; "Die deutsche Gesinnungs- asthetik,"Die Zeit 2 Nov. 1990; Monika Maron, "Die Schriftsteller und dasvolk," Der Spiegel4 Dec. 1989; Hans-Joachim Schadlich, "Tanz in Ketten," Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 30 June 1990; Robert von Hallberg, ed., Literary Zntellectuals and the Dissolution of the State

(Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996).

4Michael Beddow, "Doubts about Despair: Christa Wolfs Kindheitsmuster," James Har- din, ed., Reflection and Action: Essays on the Bildungsroman (U of South Carolina P, 1991) 428; Astrid Herhoffer, "Vor den Worten kommt die Angst: Christa Wolfs Suche nach einer neu- en Sprache," Graham Jackman and Ian F. Roe, eds.,Findinga Voice: Problems ofLanguage in East German Society and Culture (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000) 229ff; for acritical reading of this approach, see Manfred Jager, "Die Grenzen des Sagbaren. Sprachzweifel im Werk von Christa Wolf," Angela Drescher, ed., Arbeitsbuch (Berlin: Aufbau, 1989) 318.

5Sara Suleri, The Rhetoric of English India (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992).

6Michael Geyer, "The Politics of Memory in Contemporary Germany," Joan Copjec, ed., Radical Evil (London: Verso, 1996) 174); Eric Santner, Stranded Objects: Mourning, Mem- ory, and Film in Postwar Germany (Ithaca: Cor- nell UP, 1990) 156); Lothar Baier, "Wo habt ihr bloss alle gelebt. Christa Wolfs Kindheitsmuster, 1994 wiedergelesen," Christa Wolf46 (Munich: edition text +kritik, 1994) 66.

7Michael Geyer, "The Politics of Memory" 176-77; Anson Rabinbach and Jack Zipes, eds.,

German and Jews since the Holocaust: The Changing Situation in West Germany (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1986) 5; Micha Brum- lik, "Trauerrituale und politische Kultur nach der Shoah in der Bundesrepublik," Olaf Groeh- ler,ed.,Holocaust: Grenzen des Verstehens (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1992) 191-212; Frank Stern, "Antagonistic Memories: The Post-War sur- vival and alienation of Jews and Germans," Luisa Passerini, ed., Memory and Totalitarian- ism (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992) 21-44; Wolf- gang Benz, "Zum Umgang mit der national- sozialistischen Vergangenheit in der Bundes- republik," Jurgen Danyel, ed., Die geteilte Vergangenheit;Jeffrey Herf, Divided Memory: the Nazi Past in the Two Germanys(Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1997) 362-65.

8Christa Wolf, "Nachwort: Gedenken und Ge- dachtnis," Fred Wander, Der siebente Brunnen (Darmstadt: Luchterhand, 1985) 147-59.

gPeter Stein, "'Darum mag falsch gewesen sein, nach Auschwitz liesse kein Gedicht mehr sich schreiben' (Adorno)," Weimarer Beitrage 4 (1996): 492.

loFrank Stern, "Memories" 42.

llWander himself remembers the popularity of this idea: "'Ein Buch uber Korsika schrei- ben', sagte Marchwitza zu mir. 'Aber uber die Judenverfolgung kann nur der schreiben, der es erlebt hat. Warum schreibst du nicht ein Buch uber die Konzentrationslager?"' (Fred Wander,Das Gute Leben: Erinnerungen [Miinchen: Carl Hanser Verlag, 19961 187).

12Thomas C. Fox, Stated Memory: East Ger- many and the Holocaust (Rochester: Camden House, 1999) 1-21.

l3Herf, Divided Memory 390.

14Mario Kessler "Die SED-Fiihrung und der Junikrieg 1967," Hefte zur DDR Geschichte 26 (1995): 48; Jutta Illichmann, Die DDR und die Juden: Die deutschlandpolitische Znstrumen- talisierung won Juden und Judentum durch die Partei-und Staatsfiihrung der SBZIDDR won 1945 bis 1990 (Frankfurtm: Peter Lang, 1997): 183-207; Olaf Groehler, "Erblasten: Der Umgang mit dem Holocaust in der DDR," Holocaust 124).

Winter 2003

15Beyer's film "Jakob der Liigner" was turned down by the Moscow festival and eventually be- came the first East German entry ever to com- pete at the West Berlin International Film fes- tival (Mira Liehm, Antonin Liehm, The Most Important Art: Eastern European Film after

1945 [Los Angeles: U of California P, 19771 361).

l6Christa Wolf, "Erfahrungsmuster. Diskus- sion zu Kindheitsmuster," Die Dimension des Autors, vol. 2 (Darmstadt: Luchterhand, 1987)

361. For an appraisal of Wolfs solidarity with the Jews, see Heidy Miiller, Die Judendarstel- lung in der deutsprachigen Erzahlprosa (1945 -1981) (Konigstein:Athenaum, 1984) 163. For a reconstructive reading of the relationship be- tween the Holocaust and the question of guilt in Kindheitsmuster, see Nancy A. Lauckner, "The Treatment of Holocaust Themes in GDR Fiction from the Late 1960s to the mid-1970s: A Survey," Margy Gerber, ed., Studies in GDR Culture and Society. Proceedings of the Sixth International Symposium on the GDR (Washington: UP of America, 1981) 141-52. For an analysis of Kindheitsmuster's analogies be- tween Auschwitz, subjective memory, and la- ter historical events, see Sabine Wilke, Ausgraben und Erinnern, esp. 64-76. Ingrid Dinter has argued Kindheitsmuster lacks criticism in regard to the marginalization of the Holocaust within the antifascist discourse (Ingrid Dinter,

Unvollendete Trauerarbeit in der DDR-Litera- tur (New York: Peter Lang, 19941 104-05).

17Theodor Adorno, "Education after Ausch- witz," Critical Models: Interventions, Catch- words (New York: Columbia UP, 1998) 200.

18Quoted in Stein, "Auschwitz" 501.

lgAdorno, "Education" 201, Unless otherwise stated,Kindheitsmuster is quotedfrom Christa Wolf,Kindheitsmuster (Berlin: Aufbau, 1982).

20Pamela Barnett, "Perceptions of Childhood," Ian Wallace, ed., Christa Wolf in Per- spective (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1994) 64.

21Jeffrey Herf, "German Communism, the discourse of 'Antifascist Resistance,' and the Jewish Catastrophe," Michael Geyer and John Boyer, eds., Resistance against the Third Reich.1933-1990 (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992) 264-66.

22Here Wolf employs an anti-Semitic stereo- type common at the time: "There seems to be something of the reptile in him [the Eastern Jew], something sinuous and crawling, some- thing slimy and clammy, of which not even the educated Israelite has always been able to rid himself. This is a quality that transforms him again ...into an Oriental; it is a racial feature, an inherited vice, not always to be washed a- way by the water and salt ofbaptism.. ."(Leroy Beauliece cited in Sander Gilman, Franz Kaf- ka: The Jewish Patient [New York: Routledge, 19951 17); Also Iris Bruce, "Illness of Human Commodities in Woody Allen and Franz Kaf- ka," STLC 22.1 (1998): 41-49.

23William Ian Miller, Anatomy of Disgust (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1997) 12. 24Sigmund Freud, "Negation," James Stra- chey, ed., Standard Edition, vol. 19 (London: Hogarth Press, 1974) 235-36. 25Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adam Frank, eds., Shame and Its Sisters: A Silvan Tomkins Reader (Durham: Duke UP, 1995) 139.

26Anke Pinkert, "Excessive Conversions: Anti- fascism and State Dissidence in Franz Fiih- mann's 'Das Judenauto'," Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies 38.2 (2002) 142-53.

27For a persuasive scholarly critique of the concept of mourning in relation to the victims of the Holocaust, see Micha Brumlik, "Trauer- rituale und poltische Kultur nach der Shoah in der Bundesrepublik," Hanno Loewy, Holocaust: Grenzen des Verstehens 202-10.

28Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, "Intro- jection-Incorporation: Mourning or Melancho- lia," in Serge Lebovici, Daniel Widlocher, eds., Psychoanalysis in France (New York: Interna- tional UP) 7.

29 Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, "Laokoon," Werke 1766-1 769, vol. 5.2, ed. Wilfried Barner (Frankfurt a.M.: Deutscher Klassikerverlag, 1990) 26-37, 169-82. For an analysis of Les- sing's discussion of disgust, see Dorothea von Miicke, "The Powers of Horror and the Magic of Euphemism in Lessing's 'Laokoon' and 'How the Ancients Represented Death,"' Ve- ronica Kelly and Dorothea von Miicke, eds., Body and Text in the Eighteenth Century (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1994) 166-67.

30Dominick LaCapra, Writing History, Writ- ing Trauma (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2001) 40.

31 Frank Trommler in a presentation at a con- ference entitled "Rethinking the Holocaust at the End of the 20th Century" at the University of Chicago (Nov. 1998).

32Alexander und Margarete Mitscherlich,

iiber die Unfahigkeit zu trauern (Munich: Piper, 1977) 265.

33Kaja Silverman, The Threshold of the Visible World (New York: Routledge, 1996) quoted in LaCapra, Trauma 40.

340rt~dGutjahr, Erinnerte Zukunft, iiber die Fahigkeit zu trauern. Das Bild der Wand- lung im Prosawerk uon Christa Wolf und Franz Fiihmann (Frankfurt a.M.: Athenaum, 1987) 62; Uwe Wittstock, aer die Fahigkeit zu trau- ern: Das Bild der Wandlung im Prosawerk uon Chrzsta Wolf und Franz Fiihmann (Frankfurt a.M.: Athenaum, 1987) 126f; Anna Kuhn,

Christa Wolfs Utopian Vision: from Marxism to Feminism (New York: Cambridge UP, 1988) 1; or more recently, Santer, Stranded Objects 162; Herhoffer, "Angst" 231.

35Hans Mayer, "Der Mut zur Unaufrichtig- keit," Der Spiegel 16 (1977): 186.

36Michael G. Levine, "Writing Anxiety: Chris- ta Wolfs Kindheitsmuster," Diacritics 27.2 (1997): 120.

37Miklos Haraszti, The Velvet Prison: Artists under State Socialism (New York: Noonday, 1987) 31.

38Pierre Bourdieu, Language and Symbolic Power (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1991)195; Levin, "Angst" 120.

39Dornhof, "Doubt," PowerofIntellectuals 61. 40Jorn Rietsch, "Versuch iiber einen Versuch: Gedanken iiber den Blick auf Geschichte in Christa Wolf s Kindheitsmuster," Weimarer Bei-

tree 38.1 (1992): 74; Herhoffer, "Angst" 230f.

41For the stylistic function of the interrogative and subjunctive in Wolfs texts, see Matti Luukkaien, These, Antithese: Zu Wandel und Bestandigkeit des Sprachstils im Werk uon Christa Wolf 1961-1996 (Hamburg: Helmut Buske Verlag, 1997) 211-13,221-23.

42Roland Barthes, Mythologies (New York: Noonday, 1992) 153.

43Michel Foucault, "The Masked Philosopher," Lawrence D. Kritzman, ed., Michel Fou- cault. Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interuiews and other Writings 1977-1984 (New York: Routledge, 1988) 324.

44Bathrick,Speech 63

45Slavoj Zigek, For they know not what they do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor (London, New York: Verso, 1991) 241ff.

46Gutjahr, Erinnerte Zukunft 71.

478iBek,Enjoy, 38ff.

48Christa Wolf, "Unerledigte Widerspriiche: Gesprache mit Therese Hornigk," Im Dialog (Frankfurt, 1990) 29-30 quoted in Julia Hell, "Soft Porn, Kitsch, and Post-Fascist Bodies: The East German Novel of Arrival," South At- lantic Quarterly 94.3 (1995): 747.

498ifek, Enjoyment 253.

5OMayer, "Unaufrichtigkeit" 188

51J~dithButler, The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1997) 29.

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