Preservation and Change in Christa Wolf's Was bleibt

by Stephen Brockmann
Preservation and Change in Christa Wolf's Was bleibt
Stephen Brockmann
The German Quarterly
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Carnegie Mellon University

Preservation and Change in Christa Wolfs Was bleibt

Mit der Erdlung geh ich in den Tod.

Kassandra (5)l

Du lugst, wenn du uns allen den Unter- gang prophezeist. Aus unserm Untergang holst du dir,indem du ihnverkiindest, dei- ne Dauer. Die brauchst du dringlicher als das biljchen Nestgluck jetzt. Dein Name wird bleiben. Und das weifit du auch.

Panthoos to Kassandra (14)

Seldom does a book catch and shape the tenor of its times like Christa Wolfs Was bleibt. Originally written in the summer of 1979, three years after the Biermann affair had plunged Wolf and other East German writers into controversy and intensified police observation, and then revised ten years later in the wake of the revolution inside the erstwhile GDR, Was bleibt implicitly spans the ten years which ended with the demise of Christa Wolfs state. It outlives that state.2

The self-reflexive gesture of the book's narrative voice dialogically invokes both past and future, making the story a dec- tion on the conditions and possibilities of its own writing. As the female narrator states on the fmt page of the book, she wants to know "wie ich in zehn, zwanzig Jahren an diesen noch frischen, noch nicht abgelebten Tag zuriickdenken wiirde" (5). With this gesture, she invokes both an Ich and a reader who will, like her story itself, "remain" long after the state whose moral and spiritual decay the story relates isgone. The story, then, becomes not just an effort both to save and to live more fully a par-

ticular day, but to invoke another, future day:

Ich fiirchte ja, alle diese wiisten Tage wiirden nichts beisteuern zu dieser dauer- haften Wegzehtung und deshalb unaufhaltbar im Strom des Vergessens ab- treiben.Inheller Angst, in panischer Angst wollte ich mich ietzt an einen dieser dem Untergang geweihten Tage klammern und ihn festhalten, egal, was ich zu fassen kriegen wiirde, ob es banal sein wiirde oder schwenviegend, und ob es sich schnell er- gab oder sich stsauben wiirde bis zuletzt.


The narrator of Was bleibt views narration as a balancing act between life and death. With her narration, she overcomes the pres- ent moment and preserves it. Writing is an Aufhebung in the Hegelian sense: it is an attemptbothto make something remain and to invoke the day on which what is will have become what was, when the narrator will have passed on into death so that the future reader, already invoked, will be engaging in a dialogue with the dead. The narrator of Was bbibt is both plunging into, and trying to stop, the remorseless stream of time and forgetting. She is searching for a language adequate to a reality both present and not yet evident, to fulfill the double promise of Holderlin's verse: "Was bleibet aber, stfin die Dichter." Washlebht is more than just an interior monologue; it is a dialogue with the future and the past. Anne Hermann writes: "Dialogue suggests a discursive struggle be- tween two subjects rather than the construc- tion of another subjectivity based on a rec- ognition of the other as object, already

The Gerrnari Qriarterly 67.1 (Winter 1994) 73

silenced and spoken for.? Opposed to the narrator's dialogic writing project is a fear invoked as a sort of negative muse in the story's opening words: "Nur keine ~ngst.* Thisfear hampers the project of writing and poisons the faith in a futuredialogic partner, relegating the proposed project to the sub- junctive mood or to an indefinite future tense:

In jener anderen Sprache, die ich im Ohr, noch nicht auf der Zunge habe, werde ich eines Tages auch dariiber reden. Heute, das dte ich, wb es noch zu friih.Aber wiirde ich spiiren, wenn es an der Zeit ist? Wiirde ich meine Sprache je finden? (5)

Thus,the narrator asksherself at the beginning of the story. By the end, in spite of the rich and detailed experience of a stressful and exciting day, she still claims not to have found the language she is looking for:

Eines Tages, dachte ich, werde ich spre- chen kijnnen, ganz leicht und hi. Es ist noch zu Giih, aber ist es nicht immer zu W.SoUte ich mich nicht einfach hinset- Zen an diesen Tisch, unter diese Lampe, das Papier zurechtriicken, den Stift neh- men und anfangen. Was bleibt. Was mei- ner Stadt zugrunde lie@ und woran sie zugrunde geht. Da13es kein Ungliick gibt aul3er dem, nicht zu leben. Und am Ende keine Verzweiflung aul3er der, nicht gelebt zu haben. (76)

By the end of the story, the attempt to pre- serve a day has come into explicit conflict with the attempt to live the day more fully and to address a future dialogic partner. What remains is now no longer the hope of utopia but the terror which isparalyzing and destroying the writer) her city, and her state. The ambiguity, of course, lies in the fact that the narrator's territied thoughts arevitiated by the very act of writing which she has un- dertaken. Since the narrator has now written her story, the day which she invokes throughout in the subjunctive mood has been transformed, outside the text, into the indicative. The day of free speech has arrived; the narrator has in fact sat down, taken pen in hand, and transferred her thoughts onto paper so that they can indeed remain to speak to her and to us and involve us in a conversation even &r her state has disappeared. But it is always already too late. Was bleibt becomes a controversial and moving readmg experience because we, as the readers invoked in the narrative's implicit dialogue, know more than the narrator herself claims to know.

But Was bleibt does more than simply self-reflexively pose the question of its own existence, in the sense that both the state- ment and the question implicit in the title (What remains? Something remains) are answered by the book itself: Was bleibt remains. Was bleibt also contains its own cri- tique, or rather, the critique of its own nar- rator's fear and privilege, as if the urgent question posed by the narrator of Nachdenken iiber Christa ?: ("Wann, wenn nicht jet~t?")~

were now posed all the more ur- gently, and with an implicit self-accusation of bad faith, by the narrator of Was bleibt. What, in other words, have you been wait- ing for? Why are you not speaking now? When Wolfs critics initiated the first postunificationLiteraturstrett by attacking her for keeping Was bleibt in a drawer for ten years, rather than publishing it and mak- ing explicit her indictment of the Stasi and the SED at a time when such an indictment might have had an explosive impact, per- haps even saved the state whose demise Was bleibt foresaw, they were, of course, taking their cue from the book itself, be- cause the dialogic partner invoked by the narratorisnotjust a passive readerbut also a criti~.~

The narrator of Was bleibt invites, demands, and invokes acritical futurepartner. It should not be surprising that it re- ceived one.

Was bleibt has already indicted itselfby the very self-reflection on the conditions of its writing to which it submits, by its im- plicit textual acknowledgment that it is coming ten years too late, ten years after it should have appeared. In the middle of the afternoon on the day in March whose thoughts and events the narrator is describing, a young woman separates herself from the stream of passers-by outside the narrator's window and appears at her door with a manuscript which the narrator ac- knowledges to be a true and accurate de- piction of life in the former GDR---so true and accurate, in fact, that it could bring its author once more into prison, where she has already spent one year ofher life, a year which separates the unprivileged younger writer from the privileged older writer, as the narrator acknowledges (53). At this point, the narrator decides to direct the in- terior voice of fear, which she had tried to ward off in the book's invocation, against the young writer; the story's interior dia- logue now becomes an external dialogue. The narratorjustifies her work offear thus:

Ich mul3te jetzt, falls es moglich war, die- sem Madchen Angst einjagen. Muate ihm sagen, die grijaten Talente seien in deut- schen Gefangnissen vermodert, dutzend- weis, und es sei nicht wahr, dalj ein Talent der Kalte und der Demiitigung und der Zermiirbung besser widerstehe als ein Nichttalent. Und dalj noch in zehnJahren Menschen Satze wiirden lesen wollen, wie sie sie schrieb. Und dalj sie, bitte, nicht in jedes offene Messer laden sollte. (54f.)

The narrator's words to the younger writer are, of course, also her words and her advice to herself, her justification for her own fear and own decision not to show her work to a larger public. "Jeder Satz sei wahr," she says of the young woman's writing, but neverthe- less--or rather, precisely for this reason- "Sie solle es niemandem zeigenn (54). The youngwoman's response playsupon the self- perpetuating gesture of Waqbleibt and puts it into question: "Sie solle sich adsparen? Aber wofi?" The tiny word "wow negates the possibility of artistic self-perpetuation. It is no longer a question of what remains, or even of something remaining, but rather, to what end anything remains: no longer "what?" but "why?" and, of course, insistently "when?" The young woman becomes the echo of another young writer, now belonging to the past and asking, demanding: "Wann, wenn nicht jet&?"-just as she is also the present-time echo of the future critical part- ner who will ask the same question in the past tense.7As the older narrator reflects after the young woman has disappeared: "Das Madchen fragte nicht kramerisch: Was bleibt. Es fragte auch nicht danach, woran es sich erinnern wiirde, wenn es einst alt w&" (55f.). The young woman insists on the rights of the present, while the older writer and narrator, femfd of the future, puts off the present even as she is attempting to per- petuate it. "Mit meinem Morder Zeit bin ich allein," she reads at the end of her long day (7418

The narrator of Was bleibt is perfectly aware of her own privileged position. "Du bist und bleibst ein Luxusgeschopf," she tells herself (42), and she is filled with a giulty conscience at her own inability, in spite of that privileged position, to find the courage and the language she is seeking. Her own accusations against herself pre- suppose the accusations of the future:

Jeden Tag sagte ich mil; ein bevorzugtes Leben wie das meine liel3e sich nur durch den Versuch rechtfertigen, hin und wieder die Grenzen des Sagbasen zu iiberschrei- ten, der Tatsache eingedellk, dalj Grenz- verletzungen aller Art geahndet werden. (1619

Just as the narrator urges her young visitor not to run into the open knives of the Stasi, so, too, she muses on the possible fate of a young male writer who places his work in her mailbox, and whom she meets for the first time at the reading which is the high- point of her day and of the story:

Ich war rnanchmal wiitend auf ihn, mehr noch aufmich. Er koimte mein Sohn sein. Ich glaubte vorherzusehen, was auf ihn wartete. Sie iwmten ins Messes. Die jun- gen Herren, die vor meinel* Tiirstanden

in die seine wiirden sie ohne weiteres ein-

treten. Dies war der Unterschied zwi

schen uns beiden-ein entscheidender

Unterschied. Ein Graben. Mdte ich rii


The ambiguity of the subject 'sie" in the fourth sentence-is it pluralizing the young male writer, or does itperhaps refer forward to the young gentlemen of the Stasi?-raises the question of precisely who isrunninginto what knives in this story. Is it possible that, by means of this story, the narrator is subjectingherself to the pain which she projects onto her young doubles of the present, past, and future? After all, the language she is seekingwill be painful. Thislanguage

wiirde, mehr und mehr, das unsichtbare Wesentliche aufscheinen lassen. Zupak- kend wiirde diese Sprache sein, soviel glaubte ich immerhin zu ahnen, schonend und liebevoll. Niemandem wiirde sie weh tun alsmir selbst. (10f.)

To remain privileged or to cross the bridge which separates a famous author from her readers? As the narrator admits, this is precisely the crucial question, a question of both time and social space. Is it necessary for the narrator to bridge the so- cial, political, and chronological gap which makes it possible for the Stasi openly and without fear to persecute less well-known writers? The gap ischronological as well as social and political, because the Stasi's powerisbased, notjust onfear andcoercion but on the implicit belief in the absolute isolation of the present from the past and the future, the belief that there really is no place but home and no time but now, and that, hence, there can be no escape, neither geographically nor chronologically, from the Stasi's power.1° The narrator of Was bleibt attempts to transform the Stasi's ab- solutist monologue into a dialogue ac- knowledging the possibility of addressees who will be able to respond. Must she, in order to initiate this dialogue, claim that

the future is now, seize immediately the painful language which keeps puttingitself off into an uncertain subjunctive? This 'richtige Frage" addresses itself to the cour- age of the narrator herself and connects itself to the more general and climactic ques- tion posed by a female listener at the narrator's publicreading later on in the day: =Aufwelche Weise aus dieser Gegenwart fiir uns und unsere Kinder eine lebbare Zukunft herauswachsen solle" (67). Once again, it is the question 'What remains," but posed differently, with a view not to- ward preservationbut toward creation. The creation of a "lebbare ZukunfY is here directly related to the privileged writer's abil- ity and courage to show solidarity with her less privileged readers, to bridge the gap from monologue to dialogue which she has already reflected and agonized over, just as Kassandra had agonized over her own iso- lation: "Nie war es mir vergonnt, in ihrer Menge unterzutauchen, zu spat hab ich es mi.gewiinscht, zu vie1 hab ich, in meinem friiheren Leben, dazu getan, gekannt zu sein" (11).11As the narrator of Was bleibt concedes to herself, standing in front of her readers and fans: "Nun standen die wirk- lichen Fragen im Raum, die, von denen wir leben und durch deren Entzug wir sterben konnenn (67). Significantly, these "wirkliche Fragen" are posed, not by the narrator herself but by those who have, as readers,

responded to her narrative.

Poised self-reflexively between a younger voice which declares 'Seize the day!," a middle-aged voice which declares "Preserve the day!," and a future voice which asks 'Why didn't you seize the day?: the narrator of Wasbleibt ispresented with yet another possible approach to time and to the act of writing in the behavior of the young Stasi agents who waste their days observing her apartment. For these Stasi agents, time has no value: "Mit beiden Handen, lustvoll geradezu, warfen sie ihre Zeit zum Fenster hinaus; oder nannten sie das womoglich Arbeit, was sie taten?" (16). The work of the Stasi is to kiu time, as if it were the most hated and powefi enemy.

The Stasiis, ofcourse, in a sense another colleague and rival of the writer herself, even if, unlike the young man and the young woman, the Stasi-never explicitly named--comes to the narrator not for en- couragement and advice but in order to re- search its own writing project, which sets itself up in direct opposition to the writer. As the narrator reflects, the Stasi longs to outdo the writer in her own field, to create a truer and more accurate picture of what is and what will remain. The narrator's friend-turned-enemy JurgenM. burns with the desire to prove his own literary prowess to himself and to the narrator:

Mir zubeweisen, nicht nur ein Schreiber konne alles iiber eine Person herausfin- den--er konne das, auf seine Weise, auch. Auch er konne sich, wie jeder x-beliebige Autar, zzum Hem und Meister seiner Ob- jekte machen. Da aber seine Objekte aus Fleisch und Blut sind und nicht, wie die meinen, aufdem Papier stehen, ist er der eigentliche Meister, der wirkliche Herr.


The Stasi claims to know reality and the writer better than the writer herself.12 Whereas the narrator's method is interior dialogue, remorseless and meticulous intro- spection, an opening up to responses from the present and past, the Stasi believes in meticulous inspection of external details and external monologue. Hermann writes: The dialogic undermines the hierarchy of sexual difference by positing the relation between the author and character asone between two subjects."13 The Stasi, in contrast, views writing as a method of control which will make it the lord and master of itsflesh and blood characters, rather than partners in a conversation with them. The Stasi is the ultimate naturalist. In the equation art = reality + x, it seeks to reduce x to 0and, via its absolute control of "art,"to control reality absolutely

Moreover, the Stasi has overcome the problem of individual authorship and sub- scribes to a collective artistic project. As a writer, the Stasi isplural. Sometimes, there are three men in the car observing the writer's apartment; sometimes, there are two. Perhaps there are six agents at the climactic reading, perhaps there are more. Agreat many people are involved in collect- ing data for the Stasi's records. It is a col- lective social effort in more than one sense:

Eine gewifl immer weiter anwachsende Schar, die sich darnit abfinden muflte, im Dunkeln zu wirken. Das Wort "Dunkelzif- fer" hakte sich in mir fest, ich schrieb es auf einen Zettel. Die Tatigkeit grofler Bevolkerungsteile verschwindet in einer Dunkelziffer. Ich sah Menschenmengen in einen tiefen Schatten eintauchen. Ihr Los kam mir nicht beneidenswert vor. (38)

When, on a brief shopping excursion, the narrator sees her former &end Jiugen M., her thoughts turn to his probable activities as astasiagent and to theunhappy, drunken confession he had made to her many years ago. Like the narrator herself, Jiirgen M. is a victim of fear. When asked by the narrator why he does not stop working for the Stasi, he replies simply: "Ich-habe-Angst" (34). Jiirgen M. resents what he sees as the nar- rator's arrogance in believing that she can simultaneously be a powem, privileged, and respected member of GDR society and a free human being. M. believes only in Faustian bargains: power and knowledge can be obtained only by selling one's soul-in this case, to the Stasi. "Wir sind im Mittel- alter," he corrects the narrator when she asserts the opposite; and the reader recalls that the path toward this epicconfrontation within the space of memory had led, within Berlin's geography, past the Berliner En- semble, where Bertolt Brecht's play Leben &s Galilei was being performed, and over the Weidendammer Briicke. The narrator's reflections on "der me BBms belief in sci- ence had led to an intertextual reflection on Cmlileo, the play about a scientist whose at- tempt to excape out of a previous Middle Ages had met with resistance at least as de- termined asthat of the Stasi:

Die Kirche, die ihn zu vernichten droht, hat ihm immerhin die W&e geliefert, mit deren Hire er gegen sie standhalten kann: den Glauben an den Sinn der Wahrheit. Er rnul3t.e nur mit der Angst fertig werden. Eine reine Charakterhge also, ob er gegen die Liige antrat. (22)

Unlike the narrator's two youthfid col- leagues, the older Galileo, in whom the nar- rator sees an anachronistic companion, had, of course, decided not to run into the open knives ofthe powerful forces arrayed against him. If Galileo had lost the question of char- acter, he had perhaps won the question of truth with his apocryphal assertion ("sie bewegt sich doch") that the earth revolves around the sun regardless of what the church or even Galileo himself said.14 The narrator implicitly accuses both herself and her society of having lost not only character but also the belief in truth itself. Or is the narrator's belief in the sigdicance of her writingasgreat as Galilee's conviction of the s@nce of truth? Is something, afterall, moving, or do we remain in the Middle Ages?

Wir sind doch nicht mehr im Mittelal- ter!" says the narrator to Jiirgen M., her Stasi friend-foe. "Nicht im Mittelalter? 0 doch, Madam. Wir sind im Mittelalter. Es hat sich nichts geandert, abgesehen von ~ukrlichkeiten. Und es wird sich nichts tindern" (33f.). The statement "Was bleibt" here becomes not a promise but a threat. Nothing is moving, and nothing is changing. Whereas Brecht's play is a reflection on revolution in all its meanings, the nar- rator's memory of Jiirgen M. insists on the impossibility of anything other than stasis. The Stasi's worldview is Ptolemaic.

What Jiirgen M. hates most about the narratorisher attempt to have itboth ways: to be both an enemy and a friend of the state, to remain powerful herselfbut speak for those without power.15 "Deine ganze Traumtiinzerei, . . . dieses Gehabe auf dem Seil, ohne abzustiirzen," he snarls (33).But this is not just Jiirgen M.'s accusation; it is also the narrator's. Like the two younger writers, Jiirgen M. is also the voice of the narrator's own conscience. Both the state and its opponents deeply mistrust and re- sent anyone who thinks she can be neither friend nor foe, or both friend and foe. Both assert that there are only two paths open: for or against. But the writer's insistence on dialogue implies her ability to exist in- side the minds of her interlocutors, to as- sume different personae, to weaken the bands which determine her Ich. Her gift of prophecy is like Kassandra's uncanny tal- ent, which rests on an Ich able also to be- come a Du: "Da von jedem etwas in mirist, habe ich zu keinem ganz gehort, und noch ihren Ha13 auf mich hab ichverstanden" (6). The writer's Ich is intersubjectively deter- mined, characterized by the falling away of boundaries and by dialogue.

The narrator's courage or timidity is intimately connected to the language for which she is searching. Between two pos- sible approaches to language, the narrator of Was bleibt seeks a third possibility. Her search for a new language isalso her search for the courage to express her reality, and to do so better and more honestly than her rivals at the Stasi. She can do this precisely because of her intersubjective, dialogic gift, which opens her up to other subjects and other times. Between two possible mascu- line uses of language, embodied, on the one hand, by the opposition or by the West, with their moral denunciations of the GDR, and, on the other, by the state and the Stasi, the narrator seeks a feminine third.

The opposition speaks a binary lan- guage of absolute moral choice.16 In her self-consciousness about language, the nar- rator is no longer willing to accept so se- verely limited a language. She recalls Mar- tin Luther's lusty moral certainty, his fierce hatreds and passionate loves, and finds that she cannot claim such certainty for herself

Doktor Martin Luther, der mir weisma- chen wollte, daJ3 wir nur zustimmen oder ablehnen, Freund oder Feind seinkomen. Deine Rede sei ja, ja und nein, nein. Was dariiber ist, ist vom fJbel. (12)

Unlike Martin Luther, the narrator of Was bleibt does not have either the certainty or the self-righteousness for absolute moral condemnation or approval. She lives in a world of gray, not in a world of black and white. Was mir fehlte, war wahrscheinhch ein gesunder nivellierender HaJ3" (131, she observes, just as the doomed narrator of Kbssandra had reflected: "Er fehlt mir doch, mein praller saRigerHal3" (12). Far from hat- ing her enemies, she finds herself trying to understand them, to put her mind into theirs, toimagine what their home and fam- ily lives arelike. She wishes to engage them in dialogue. She cannot call the young men outside her window "swine" orUdogs" but has to recognize them as human beings like her- self, humanbeings whom she wishes shehad had the courage to inviteup to her apartment foracup of tea on a cold day. She cannot even completely separate herrole as a writer from Jiugen M.'s presumed role as a collector of documentsfor the Stasi. She lacks the ability tohate, and she isvery much aware that this lack may be a sign, not of moral strength but

of weakness.

The narrator of Was bleibt is seeking to negotiate space forherselfbetween two con- tradictory modes of speaking: (1)the abso- lute moral rigor of Martin Luther, charac- terized by a self-assured bipolar language; and (2) the equally absolute moral vague- ness and relativism of the Stasi and its operatives. The first mode of speech corn- sponds to well-defined ego boundaries which shore up the Self by excluding the Other; the second, to an ego without boundaries which, hence, threatens to col- lapse. What connects the two modes of speaking, as contradictory as they are, is the exclusion of dialogue. The first mode of speaking excludes the Other in order to pro- tect its own boundaries; the second cannot acknowledge the Other as Other because, lacking boundaries, it does not know its Self.17 The first mode of speaking isrobust, based on clearly defined terms; the second mode of speaking threatens to collapse into silence, since the differentiation between linguistic signs is at

The narrator describes the second mode of speaking as devoid of conscience, i.e., of self-knowledge:

Eine Geschichte des schlechten Gewis- sens, dachte ich, ware einzubeziehen in das Nachdenken iiber die Grenzen des Sagbaren; mit welchen Wortern beschreibt man die Sprachlosigkeit des Gewissenlosen, wie geht, fragte ich mich, Sprache mit nicht Vorhandenem urn, das keine Eigenschahworter, keine Substan- tive an sich duldet, denn es ist eigen- schaftslos, und das Subjekt fehlt ihm durchaus, so wie das gewissenlose Subjekt sich selber fehlt. (22)

What the narrator seeks to do seems illogical and impossible, given the constraints of con- ventional language and perception. A conscience isbased on a self:consciousness and consciencearerelated. Where there isno self- knowledge, there can be no conscience, either-gdty or not. Therefore, the second, amoral mode of speaking tends toward speechlessness. But the narrator also rejects the first mode of speaking. What she offers instead is the paradox of the guilty con- science: a self-awareness which proceeds, not via a critique of the Other but via a cri- tique of the Self ("Niemandem wiirde sie weh tun alsmir selbst" 1221.) This is a mode of speaking which puts itself into question, which entertains the possibility of silence; in it, the self can speak against itself. Refer- ring to the Stasi men outside her window, the narrator reflects:

Meine neue Sprache, dachte ich gegen mich selbst, miil3te auch von hen spre- chen konnen, wie sie sich jeglicher Sprachohnrnacht annehmen sollte. (22)

In this sense,the narrator of Wasbleibt does indeed, asJurgen M. asserts,seem to have set herself an impossible task. She issearching for a language which will express both the ability and the inability to speak, a lan- guage which will negate and reassert itself at each step, in which the subject is constantly negotiating and renegotiating its aesthetic, psychological, social, and chrono- logical positioning.

The search for this language goes through a carefulintrospection of the day which is to be used fully in anticipation of a future day and saved, a day on which the writer is more or less isolated from the world except for her three Stasi shadows. The writer's isolation is interrupted by three telephone calls, by the arrival of the mail, by a brief walk along the Friedrich- strah and the Chausseestrah, and by the visit of the young woman from the street. But throughout the day, the writer is waiting for the decisive moment in which her isolation willbe confronted with the outside world: the reading which she will hold in the Kulturhaus in the evening. This read- ing is preceded by the writer's visit to her husband, who is in the hospital. In one sense, this visit is a low-point in the story's diurnal rhythm, for it is precisely at her husband's bedside where, as she had sug- gested to her young visitor, her "remaining" is most needed, that the narrator realizes that her fear has now given way to a terror which takes the form of absolute apathy, separating her from her husband and from everything else in the world. Speechless- ness has progressed into solipsism:

Was ist mit uns, horte ich mich denken, mehrmals hintereinander, sonst fehlten mir die Worte, sie fehlen mir bis heute. Versuchsweise sage ich, es war ein Band gerissen zwischen mir und der Stadt- vorausgesetzt, "Stadt" kann noch stehen ftir alles, was Menschen einander antun, Gutes und Boses. Nicht, da13 ich Angst ge- habt hatte, veniickt zuwerden. Ich hatte weder Angst noch iiberhaupt ein C-f&l, auch mit mir selbst stand ich nicht mehr in Kontakt, was waren mir Mann, Kinder, Briider und Schwestern, Grijflen gleicher Ordnungin einem System, das sich selbst genug war. Das blanke huen, ich hatte nicht gedt, da13 es sich durch FMosig- keit anzeigt. (56)

At this emotional low-point, itbecomes clear that the effort to preserve isalso tantamount to the destruction of what is supposed to be preserved. The writer, who had sought to preserve herself for her husband and her readers, has now lost herself in addition to her husband and her readers. She is in seri- ous moral danger.

By the time the narrator has finished her visit to her husband, it is clear that she cannot go on in an isolated fashion. It is time for the reintegration of the writer into society via a new language. At the reading in the Kulturhaus, the narrator's readers, like the young writer who had visited her earlier in the day, break into her interior dialogue and force an external dialogue. They are real people able to respond to, and demand answers from, the writer. The writer's work is no longer self-reflexive and solipsisticbut integrated into a larger social project-like the Stasi's work, but different in that it allows for genuine dialogue, for openness, forpublicity. The writer reads her documents publicly in front of an audience, taking fullresponsibility for her words and actions; the Stasihides its documents away in fdes, hides the authorship of those docu- ments, and does not take responsibility for them. Was bleibt becomes the attempt at a counterproject to the Stasi, a defiant state- ment that no matter how carefully and ac- curately the Stasidoesits work, itwill never succeed ingetting to the heart of the matter, to the "wirkliche Fragen" which run through the story. The Stasi is wastingtime in order to kill it. Its vision of the present is as a "Dauermonolog"; the narrator isusing and preserving time, transcending it in an ongoing dialogue.

Appearing in the summer of 1990, the strange halftime between the collapse of the SED and reunification, during a period when the GDR was still pursuing a shadow existence, Was bleibt becomes both a ques- tion and a possible answer to the often- asked question as to what remains of the erstwhile GDR. The pessimistic answer to this question is, of course, that nothing re- mains but the hundreds of kilometers of documents collected by that Socialist Real- istauthor par excellence, the Stasi. With its barely seventy pages, Was bleibt becomes a thin, self-questioning challenge to the mammoth scope of those documents. Long before the Stasidebate broke out inearnest, and Germans became aware of the vast ex- tent and implications of the Stasi's literary career, Was bleibt both suggested those im- plications and put them into question.

Was bleibt also already anticipates the literary debates which were to shake the artistic consciousness of unified Germany. Its narrator is as hard on herself as any of West Germany's critics were on Christa Wolf when they accused her of cowardice for having saved Was bleibt in a drawer for ten years, and of complicity with and even sympathy for the former GDR regime. "Es hat keinen Zweck, so zu tun, als wiifiten wir nicht, wer da spricht und wovon er spricht. Es ist Christa Wolf, es ist der SED- Staat," wrote Ulrich Greiner in the summer of 1990.19 His accusation was both unfair and blind to the way in which the narrator of Was bleibt had already implicated herself for her ventriloquist's ability to take on many voices simultaneously. And when Frank Schirrmacher-reminding readers that in the fall of 1989 Christa Wolf had telephoned Erich Honecker personally to protest her daughter's mistreatment at the hands of the police-accused the writer of "ein familiih-es, fast intimes Verhaltnis zu ihrem Staat und seinen Institutionen,"20he was writing as ifthe narrator of Was bleibt had not already questioned her desire to engage the Stasiin a conversation'bber das Wetter, iiber Krankheiten, Famililires" (14), and as if Kassandra herself had not already questioned the "aerheblichkeit

der Konigstochter" (14) and the misfortune of being "deines Vaters Lieblingstochter" (18).21

But Was bleibt does more than simply anticipate and incorporate its own critics in a dialogue. In contrasting two possible ap- proaches to language and to writing, one insisting on absolute moral decisions and the other on the uncertainty inherent in all language, Was bleibt also prefigures the ethical and literary debate about language itself that was to be at the center of the second Literaturstreit, the one involving Wolf Biermann and Sascha Anderson. Wolf Biermann's "Lutheran fart" against Sascha Anderson, aclaim that right and wrong can and should indeed be separated from each other in principle, eerily echoed the thoughts of the narrator in Was bleibt, as did the diatribes of Anderson and his defenders against such moral absolut- ism.22 A year and a half after the publica- tion of Was bleibt, Klaus Schlesinger, in an article entitled "Ich war ein Roman," wrote that while examining his own Stasi file he had the bizarre feeling of reading a novel in which he himself was the main figure:

Ich sagte noch, dah die Struktur dieses

Fbmanes der europaischen Modenle ent-

lehnt sei, in dem die Fimn aus Blicken


entstehen, die andere Figme11auf sie wer-


The Stasi as amodern novelist, transforming reality into 1iteratu1-e.~~

As Lutz Rathenow put it in the fall of 1991, during the Sascha Anderson debate: "Literatur im Dienste einer geheimdienstlich arbeitenden Macht mit ungeahnten und ganz konkreten ~irkun~smij~lichkeiten.~

Had this vision not already been suggested by the narrator of Was bleibt in her reflections on her friend- foe Jiugen M., "der mich . . . auf meinem ureigenen Feld ausstechen will"(37)?When, in January 1992, Wolf Biermann, upon ex- amining his own Stasi files, wrote of his enemies and tormentors as "Schweinehunde" (180)-had he not already been an- swered by the narrator of Was bleibt? Expressly, she wrote:

In meiner Sprache werden Tiernamen nur auf Tiere angewendet werden, nie wiirde ich, wie andere es taten, die Namen von Schweinen und Hunden, nicht einmal die von F'rettchen oder Reptilien auf die jun- gen Herren da &den miinzen k6nnen. (12f.)

Given writers' implication in the machina- tions of power, is it possible to assert that writers areor should be the moral leaders of their people? Can they in any way function as seers and as prophets? What is the moral responsibility of the individual in a dictator- ship? Ought those who desired change inside the GDR to have been Hierbleiber, as Christa Wolf herself was and urged others to or ought they to have gone into exile? When is it important to speak and when to remain silent in order to "save" oneself? Is the instinct or the desire for self-preserva- tion a priori despicable? Is there such a thing astruth? Can language name it? Wasbleibt asked all these questions long before they became part of the post-unification German cultural scene. Was bleibt appears to have captured the spirit, not only of a day but of its times.

And yet, Was bleibt is more than just a reflection and a shaper of its own social and cultural context. It is also a profound reflec- tion on what it means to be human, to live life. Like so much of Christa Wolfs work, it insists on the rights of the moment, not as a Faustian injunction to make the present stand still at the expense of the past and the future, but rather as a Hegelian injunc- tion to recognize in the moment the shape of the future and in the future the shape of the moment. "DalJ es kein Ungliick gibt aukr dem, nicht zu leben. Und am Ende keine Venweitlung aul3er der, nicht gelebt zuhaben" (76). In Was bleibt, life is an in- tersubjective and chronologically open dia- logue which preserves itself precisely by ac- knowledging that it will pass away. What remainsislife,if we choose to accept it.Our acceptance is not aforegone conclusion. For fear of having life or some of its attributes and accoutrements taken away, we may choose not to live, thus preserving and de- stroyinglife at the same time, just as allthe Stasi's efforts are, ironically, both the de- struction and the preservation of the life of the state in quotation marks ("GDR") it sought to serve. What remains if we do not accept dialogic life is monologic "life," an epigone made of fear and founded on the dissolution of language, the ego, and time itself. The life which "life" seeks to preserve eludes the grasp of determinate power pre- cisely because power wishes to establish itself as the monologic lord and master of life. The only place and time for a life we choose to accept is a here and now inte- grated dialogically into the self-conscious stream of time and, therefore, of conversa-

tion with death.


lHerbert Lehnert points out that Was bleibt, written in the year of the publication of Kein Ort. Nirgends and shortly before the con- ception of Kassandra, "stellt die Entstehung von Fremdheits- und Angstgefiihlen dar, die in der Erzaung der Crliechel~landreise [i.e., in Voraussetzungen einer Erzahlung] ihr Wesen treiben und erst aus unserem Text voll ver- sthdlich werden." He adds: "Auch der Anteil der Autorin an der Entfremdung ihrer Figur Kassandra von ihrer Heimat, ihrer Klasse, ihrem Staat wird durch Was bleibt verstfindlicher." See his "F'iktionalitiit und autobiogra- phische Motive: Zu Christa Wolfs Erziihlung Was bleibt," Weimarer Beitrage 37 (1991): 423- 44;here, 424. I shall follow Lehnert's lead here.

=Marilyn Sibley Fries accurately writes that the "evaluation [of Was bleibt] as litelature has been impeded by the critical storm un- leashed by its 1990 publication," failing "to address the place of Was bleibt in Wolf s work or, for that matter, to judge it in any literary con- text at all." See her "When the Mirror Is Broken, What Remains? Christa Wolfs Was bleibt," GDR Bulletin 17.1 (Spiing 1991): 11-15; here,

12. Since it is my belief that one of the central problems of the Literaturstreit that followed the publication of Was bleibt was its curious reluc- tance to enter into dialogue with a text that demands and presupposes such dialogue, and since, likewise, most of what has thus far been written on Was bleibt-not excluding pro- Wolf interventions-deals more with the Literaturstreit than with the text itself, I will re strict myself here to a close interpretation of Was bleibt. If I am right that this self-reflexive narrative already presupposes its own criti- cism, then it is high time for such a close read- ing. There is no lack of detailed analyses of the htLiteraturstreit. See especially Karl Deiritz and Hannes Krauss, Der deutsch-deutsche Li- teraturstreit oder "Freunde, es spricht sich schlecht mit gebundener Zunge" (Hamburg: Luchterhand, 1991); GDR Bulletin 17.1 (Spring 1991): 1-18, special section on '"The Christa Wolf Debate"; William H. Rey, "Christa Wolf im Schnittpunkt von Kritikund Gegenkri- tik: Gedanken zu dem Literaturstreit in der Deutschen Presse," Orbis Litterarum. 46.4 (1991): 222-39; Reinhard Baumgart, "Der neu- deutsche Literaturstreit: Anlafl-VerlaufVorgeschichte-Folgen," Text + Kritik 113 (January 1992): 72-85; and my own The Poli- tics of German Literature," Monatshefie 84 (1992): 46-58.

3Anne Hermann, The Dialogic and Differ- ence: "An/Other Woman" in Virginia Woolf and Christa Wolf (New York: Columbia UP, 1989)


41nan informative early article on the pos- sible implications of reunification for Christa Wolfs writing, William H. Rey appropriately cites Christa Wolfs question fbm Die Dimen- sion des Autors: Warum sprechen wir so wenig miteinander? Aus Angst natiirlich." It is Rey's hope that, with fear presumably no longer ac- tive, Wolfwill be able to enter a new period of productivity. See his Wo habt ihr blo13 alle ge- lebe: Christa Wolfs Dilemma in ihrem Verhdt- nis zur DDR,"The Germanic Review 66 (1991): 89-95; here, 93.

5Nachdenken iiber Christa T (Darmstadt: Luchterhand, 1969) 235.

this sense, and only in this sense, Frank Schimnacher, one of the book's early critics, was right to call Was bleibt "ein Buch des schlechten Gewissens." But it is not the book of a guilty conscience trying to hide; on the con- trary,it is a book about the consciousness of personal guilt. Indeed, much of the interior monologue in Was bleibt is in fact a dialogue between the narrator and the voice of her con- science. Rey's assertion that Schirrmacher's judgment "trifff . . . zu" (94) is, hence, inade quate.

7See Hermann 148:The dialogic relation between female author and female character becomes a specular one, in which the author can 'see' herself as hi'storical subject only through her self-authored fictional subjects."

8Fries cites this reference to 1ngeborg ~ach- mann as evidence of the failure of intertextual dialogue in Was bleibt. It seems to me, however, that this citation, as well as Fries's numerous references to other works by Christa Wolf, could be used to prove precisely the opposite point. Lehnert 426, I should submit, is more accurate in pointing out the intertextual, dialogic char- acter of Was bleibt: "Dieses Kontinuum von Er- innemng, Gegenwart und der Zukunft des end- lich geschriebenen Textes kann historische und intertextuelle Anspielungen aufnehmen."

gLehnert 435 suggests that the narrator's self-accusation ("Luxusgeschopf") plays on in- tellectuals' privileged status and the "biirgerli- che Freiheit" that supposedly goes along with it. He writes: "Risse die Erzahlerin sich los, dann verschwiinde ihr der 'Luxus,' der der Privilegierten und der der Moglichkeit, Freunden zu helfen, Solidaritiit zu iiben." I believe this to be a misreading both of the text and of the sit- uation of intellectuals in the former GDR. With respect to the text, it is clear that the narrator's self-critique aims precisely at her failure to show solidarity, not in spite, but because, of her privileged position. With respect to the sit- uation ofintellectuals, they had in no way more freedomto show solidarity than ordinary work- ers. On the contrary, they tended to pay for their privileged position precisely with the loss of solidarity. It was, in fact, not unheard-of for in- tellectuals to remain unprivileged, even to choose an ordinary working life, in order to pre- serve intellectual freedom and human solidari-

ty. 1°Kassandra reflects: Wir waren dankbar, dd3 gerade wir das hochste Vorrecht, das es gibt, genieflen durften, in die finstere Gegen- wart, die alle Zeit besetzt kit, einen schmalen Streifen Zukunft vorzuschieben"; Christa Wolf, Kassandra (Darmstadt: Luchterhand, 1983)


llFollowing the lead of Wolfs own Voraus- setzungen einer Erzahlung, most critics have interpreted Kassandra, not incorrectly, as a feminist reflection, at the end of Western civili- zation. on Western civilization's patriarchal be ginnings. Unfortunately, however, the relative- ly exclusive focus on gender and civilization in general, as convincing and important as it is, has tended to obscure a perhaps simpler and cruder but, nonetheless, necessary understanding of Kassandra as the story of the in- evitable and foreseeable decline of a walled-in city and a walled-in society. The parallels be- tween Kassandra's Troy and Wolfs Berlin, the city that is being destroyed in Was bleibt, are numerous and telling, as are the parallels be- tween Kassandra herself and the female nar- rator of Was bleibt, both predicting the decline and fall of their cities, and neither one being listened to. Kassandra also, of course, predicts Agamemnon's death and foresees that the Greeks' victory will lead only to their demise. Hence, Kassandra foresees, not just the end of one element in a bipolar world, but of both.

1WoLfs description of the Stasi as a kind of fniled literary movement with its own unhappy career was anything but far-fetched. This be- came clear, at the latest, during the second Literaturstreit, the one surrounding Sascha Anderson. in which the fact that the Stasi quite literally had literary ambitions was broaicast over the German airwaves and printed in newspapers and newsmagazines. My analysis of the second Literaturstreit, "ALiterary Civil War," will shortly be appearing in The Cer- manic Review. One of the most remarkable aspects of Was bleibt was its ability to contain and forecast in nuce much of the literary debate which was to shake the post-unification Ger- man intellectual scene.

13Hermann 147.

'*Of course, Brecht's Galileo himself does not interpret his own actions so charitably; he is, at least in the play's final version, just as critical of himself for his own weakness as the narrator of Was bleibt is of herself: "Ich hatte als Wissenschaftler eine einzigartige Mog- lichkeit. In meiner Zeit erreichte die Astrono- mie die Marktplatze. Unter diesen ganz beson- deren Umstanden hatte die StandhaRipkeit


eines Mannes grol3e Erschutterungen hervor- den kijnnen. Hatte ich widerstanden, hatten Winter 1994

die Naturwissenschaftler etwas wie den hippo- kratischen Eid der kzte entwickeln konnen, das Gelobnis, ihrWissen einzig zum Wohle der Menschheit anzuwenden!" Bertolt Brecht, Leben des Galilei (Frankflnt: Suhrkamp, 1978)

126. The intertextual allusion here suggests that the narrator of Was bleibt is, perhaps, la- menting the fact that writers and artists are also lacking a "hippokratischer Eid."

lWth reference to Kas.~andra, Mechthild Quernheim writes: "Die Sehergabe verleiht- auch nach Kassandras Uberzeugung-der mhnliche Gott, und als verliehene Gabe ist das Sehen an die Bedingungel1 gebunden, die das patriarchale Hei~scherhaus diktiert." See her Das m~oralisclze Ich.: Kritische Studien zur Subjektu~erdung in der Erzah~lprosa Christa Wolfs (Wurzburg: Konigshausen and Neu- mam, 1990) 297. Kassandra, too, wants to have it both ways: to have the giftofvision with- out the god's conditions.

16Kassandra has a similar criticism of the Greeks, who, in her world, play the winning partner in a bipolar opposition: "Fur die Griechen gibt es nur entweder Wahrheit oder Luge, richtig oder falsch, Sieg oder Niederlage, Freund oder Feind, Leben oder Tod. Sie denken anders. Was nicht sichtbar, riechbar, horbar, tastbar ist, ist nicht vorhanden. Es ist das an- dere, das sie zwischen ihren scharfen Unter- scheidungen zerquetschen, das Dritte, das es nach ihrer Meinung uberhaupt nicht gibt, das lachelnde Lebendige, das imshde ist, sich immer wieder aus sich selbst hervorzubringen, das Ungetrennte, Geist im Leben, Leben im Geist." Such self-righteous moral certainty is not accepted in Kassandra any more than in Was bleibt: "Anchises meinte einmal, wichtiger als die Erfindung des verdammten Eisens hat- te die Gabe der Einfihlung fur [die Griechen] sein konnen. Da13 sie die eisernen BegrifTe Gut und Bose nicht nur auf sich bezogen. Sondern zum Beispiel auch auf uns"; Wolf, Kassandra 121f.

171n the world of Kassan.dra, the role the Stasi plays in Was bleibt is taken over by the soldier Eumelos and his praetorian guard. Just as the Stasi will outlive the GDR, so, too, will Eumelos outlive the fall of Roy: 'Eumelos . . . Der uberlebte nhlich. Und die Griechen wiirden ihn gebrauchen. Wohin wir immer hen, dieser war schon da. Und wiirde uber uns hin- weggehen. Jetzt verstand ich, was der Gott ver- f5gt.e:Du sprichst die Wahrheit, aber niemand wird dir glauben. Hier stand der Niemand, der mir hlitte glauben miissen; der das nicht konn- te, weil er gar nichts glaubte. Ein Niemand, der nicht glaubensffig war"; ibid. 153. Here, Eu- melos's moral blindness is clearly connected with his lack of subjectivity, his inability to be a someone.

ls'Wie sind mir worte abhanden gekom- men," wrote Rainer Schedlinski, exposed as a Stasi informant in January 1992, in the West German edition of his kt book of poetry, enti- tled, with no apologies to Martin Luther, die rationen des ja und des nein (Frankfurt: Suhr- kamp, 1990). See ibid. 136 and 135: "die spra- che mutierend wie trummer"; "es liegt / ein schweigen uber dem schweigen & / damit es jeder erfirt / haben wir endlich das sprechen gebrochen."

IgReprinted in "Es geht nicht urn Christa Wolf": Der Literaturstreit im vereinten Deutsch- land. Ed. Thomas Anz (Munich: Edition Span- genberg, 1991) 68.

20Ibid. 80.

21Kassandra also criticizes her slowness to recognize the moral and political bankruptcy of !I'roy's ruling family: "Ich brauchte vie1 Zeit. Meine Vorrechte stellten sich zwischen mich und die allernijtigsten Einsichten, auch meine Anhkinglichkeit an die eignen Leute, die nicht von denvorrechten abhing, die ich genol3. ~e+- ah erschrak ich, da13 mir das steif-stolze Geha- be der Konigsfamilie peinlich war, als wir in feierlichem Zug, gemeinsam mit dem Gast- fkeund Menelaos, der Pallas Athene ihr neues Gewand brachten"; Wolf, Kassandra 62. The "steif-stolze Gehabe der Konigsfamilie" is of course, among other things, a fairly accurate description of official ceremonies in the GDR. Anna Kuhn writes about 'the tension between patriotism and self-love" which underlies Kassandra, adding: 'An essential subtext of this work is the question of whether and how the fall of 'hy could have been avoided and by ex- tension whether Europe can be saved." See her

Christa Wolfs Utopian Vision: From Marxism to Feminism (Cambridge: Cambridge UP,1988) 183.While fully agreeing with Kuhn that Wolf =gives explicit contemporary relevance to questions raised in her literary text," I would sug- gest that %he GDR could just as easily fill the space of 'hy in any modern parallel.

2zWolf Biermann, "Tiefer als unter die Haut," Der Spiegel(27 January 1992): 180-85.

23Klaus Schlesinger, "Ich war ein Roman: Blick auf eine Kolportage," Die Zeit (24 April 1992; overseas edition): 13f.

24With reference to her dialogic linking of Virginia Woolf and Christa Wolf, Anne Her- mann writes: "While the modernist seeks to transform modes of representation to rewrite the world, the postmodernist seeks to reveal the systems of power in the world that legitimize certain representations and not others"; Her- mann 3.

2%utz Rathenow, "'Schreiben Sie doch flir uns': Was sich die Staatssicherheit einfallen liel3, um die Literatur zu bkdigen," FrankfurterAZlgemeineZeitung (27 November 1991): 36.

26%leiben Sie dochin Ihrer Heimat, bleiben Sie bei uns!" she had urged her fellow country- men on the radio on 8 November 1989, one day before the opening of the wall. Quoted by Frank Schirnnacher, "Es geht n.irht urn. Christa Wolf"


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