"Truth Is a Woman": Post-Holocaust Narrative, Postmodernism, and the Gender of Fascism in Bernhard Schlink's "Der Vorleser"

by Joseph Metz
"Truth Is a Woman": Post-Holocaust Narrative, Postmodernism, and the Gender of Fascism in Bernhard Schlink's "Der Vorleser"
Joseph Metz
The German Quarterly
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University of Utah

"Truth Is a Woltlan": Post-Holocaust Narrative, Postmodernism, and the Gender of Fascism in Bernhard Schlink's Der Vorleser'

Bernhard Schlink's 1995 novelDer Vorleser has emerged as one of the most popular recent German Vergangenheitsbewaltigung texts: texts that attempt to "come to terms with" or -as the deeply problematic German expression suggests "master" the Nazi past. It has also become one of the most controversial. Initially praised for its ostensible moral subtlety and its exploration of the varieties and degrees of guilt among Tater-and second-generation Germans, Schlink's novel has drawn increasing criticism for its portrayal of second-generation narrator Michael Berg and former concentration camp guard Hanna Schmitz as victims -indeed, for what might be seen as exculpatory gestures in the face of Nazi atrocities (Donahue75-77).

One reason for the novel's overwhelmingly positive reception in the mainstream media and its later rejection by more "serious" academic criticism might be its style: Der Vorleser is, at least on the surface, an easy read. Indeed, it seems too easy a read: in its smoothly accessible "realist" prose, stereotypical scenarios, and power to seduce readers into passively accepting the values and viewpoints of hypnotic narrator Berg,Der Vorleser appears to constitute a classic example of what Roland Barthes has called "the readerly text."?

Yet there is more here than immediately meets the eye, as might be expected from a novel that so overtly announces its thematics of reading, writing, and illiteracy.And, toemployBarthes'stermsagain, thetext'sself-reflexivitychallengesus to make what at first appears "readerly" about this consumption-and consumerfriendly work-"writerly." Thus viewed, Schlink's novel reveals itself to be a web of heterogeneous tropes, overdetermined signifying fragments, and contradictory impulses that move in multiple directions, belong to different universes of meaning, and articulate competing structures of fear and desire at once. More specifically, the novel's readerly prose serves as a vehicle for the problematics of repression, trauma, and postmodernism, none of which can be considered here apart from questions of gender.

In the following, I will explore this heretofore unanalyzed, yet crucial aspect of Schlink's text: the intersection of its post-Holocaust problematics with its figural networks and rhetorical strategies, its postmodern affinities, and its strikingly

The German Quarterly 77.3 (Summer 2004) 300

gendered modesofsignification. Ishallconsiderthewaysinwhichthenovelfunctionsasasignifying systemat a level interwovenwith, but alsodistinctfrom,the levelofitsnarrator;themarksoftraumainits figural inventory;themodalities of postmodernismwith which it resonates (citationality; self-reflexivity, the problematizationoftruth, theconcernwith thetransparencyofrepresentationand with the pervasivenessofmediatedimages); andtheculturalimaginaryofgender codes, ideologies, andinvestmentsit reproduces at the level ofstrategyandstructure(its"noir" plotandconceitofthefeminineasaforceofabjectionandfalseness, amongothers).3 Iwill takeasmy focus, andasthelinkbetweenthe spheres Iinvestigate,thenovel'sallegoricalmappingofGermany's"seduction"byfascism-and of fascism itself-onto the figure of a deceptive, dangerous woman. Here, Michael'sseductionbyHannatakestheformofmaleabjectioninthe face ofoverwhelmingfemalesexualityandthe "feminine" powertoerodethemalesubject position: perversely; the dangers of fascism are figured as a woman in the same terms that fascist discourse itselfemploysto figure the dangers posed by women or "thefeminine." Thisgenderingof fascist duplicityisstrikingnotonlyforwhat it says about male anxieties or the misogynistic conflation of the feminine with falsehood. Rather, initsunfolding acrossanentirearrayofstereotypical"citations" and polysemic rhetorical gestures, it has profound implications for the task of writing about the Holocaust (with its compelling need for veracity), for postmodern narration and thought (with their rejection of "absolute" access to truth and awareness of their own mediation), and for the problematic ways in which these constellations come together in Schlink's text. Ultimately, Der Vorleser emergesasa"trauma"or"crisis" text:onethat remainssuspendedbetween,onthe onehand,theuncannyrepetitionofgender(ed) paradigmssuspiciouslysimilarto thoseemployedby fascism and,ontheother,apostmodernself-deconstructionof thisveryrepetition-one,however,thatdoesnot resolvethetext'sfundamental agon)!, ambiguity; andtraumaticstructureofdesire. An investigation of the interactionbetweenthesefactors bearswitnesstoafarmore complexunfoldingof meaningsattheinterfaceofcultureandtextthan thenovel'ssmoothnarrative

surfacewouldsuggest-indeed,revealsthissmoothsurfaceitselftobean overdeterminedsymptomoftheveryinteractingfactors underexamination. Italso shedslightonsomeimportant dilemmas and aporias incurrentmodesof representingthe signifying sphereof fascism andthe Holocaust.


The plot ofDer Vorleser isbynowwellknown; still, afew basicsareworth recountinghere. Middle-aged narratorMichaelBergrecalls hisstrugglewith hepatitisasaboyoffifteenin 1950sWestGermany. Heisrescuedfromacurbsideattack ofnauseabyHannaSchmitz,a36-year-oldneighborwho seduceshimuponhisrecoveryafewmonths later.Thetwobeginanintenselysexualrelationshipthat includes the ritualofMichael's reading aloudto Hannafrom classic worksofliterature.Hannaremainsmysteriousthroughoutthe affair, concealingdetailsofher pastandinventingdeceptions inthe present.Hersexualattentions comemixed with ashockingundercurrentofviolence: shepicksfightsfortrumped-upreasons, strikesoutatMichaelwith unnervingemotionalandphysicalbrutality; andsubjectshimtoa regimeofabusive, erraticbehavior. Finally; shedisappearsfromtown without a trace; Michael, stunned, blameshimself.

Sevenyearslater, MichaelisalawstudentinaHolocaustseminarwhosemembersare assignedtoattendthetrialof fivefemale SSconcentrationcamp guards. He finds Hanna among the defendants, charged with participatingin the selections for Auschwitz and with allowingJewish prisoners to burn to death in a lockedchurch.Michaelresponds tohisdiscoverywith numbness.Hanna,meanwhile, behaves idiosyncratically in court, appearing sometimes self-defeatingly candid, sometimesevasive.Accusedofhavingwrittenareportthat establishes the guards'guilt,Hanna firstdeniesthis, then admits authorshipin orderto avoidundergoing handwriting analysis. Immediatelythereafter, Michael realizes Hanna's secret, thesupposedexplanationforallherbehavior(including,inhiseyes,herostensible "fall"into the SS): sheisilliterate. Unwillingtoinformthejudgeabouthis revelationortoconfrontHanna directly; MichaelspendstherestofthetrialrationalizingHanna's past criminalbehavior. The other four SS women receive fixed jailterms;dueto heralleged authorshipofthe damningreport,Hanna issentenced to lifein prison.

In the novel'sdenouement,Michael continues,viacassettetape,to readthe German classics aloud to the imprisoned object of his fixation. Hanna learns to readbylisteningtoMichael's tapes,thengoesontoreadabouttheHolocaust. She commitssuicidetheday beforesheistobe releasedonparole. Inherfinalletter, Hanna instructs Michael to giveher modest savings to the church-fire survivor whosebookhelpedput heron trial. Thesurvivorrejectsthemoneyoutofconcern that acceptingitwouldgrantHannaabsolution; however, shepermitsMichaelto donate the money in Hanna's name to the JewishLeague AgainstIlliteracy.

Foratextthat seemseagertopassasstraightforwardfictional autobiography -asanunembellishednarrativeoflifeevents,recountedinproseboth"clearand spare" and "frankly direct" (Hoffman33)-Der Vor/eser isfarfromsparingwith its symbolic moments. It is surely no coincidence that the post-Holocaust Hanna worksasaconductoronastreetcar, that MichaelgetshisfirstglimpseofHanna's cruelty-herrefusalto recognizehim-preciselywhileridingoneofhertrams,or that this rideitselfbecomes a thinly veiled "concentrationary"transport: Michael "warinderlangsamfahrendenBahneingeschlossen. [...] [Er]fuhlte[sich] ausgeschlossen, ausgestofsenausdernormalenWelt,inderMenschenwohnen,arbeiten undlieben" (Schlink46).Evenmore tellingly, Hanna'sapartment building -located, significantly; on Bahnhofstrafse -is a pan-historical phantasmagoria of Germany itself. It dominates (Udominiert") its block, giving the impression that "wenn es sich noch schwerer und breiter machen wurde, mufsten die angrenzendenHauserzurSeiteruckenundPlatzmachen" (9). Literallyandmetaphoricallydarkenedby the smokeof the trains, it houses, in Michael's imagination,inhabitantswho havelikewisebecomesymbolicallydark("duster") anddeformed, "tauboderstumm, buckligoderhinkend" (9). Andconspicuouslysituated across fromtheconstructionsitewherethe"ehemaligerBahnhof"isbeingtorn down to makewayfor"neueGerichts-undBehordengebaude" (13)-thatis,whereemblematicspacesoftheThird Reichandthenew FederalRepublicmeet-itforms theideallocusforanarchetypalencounter(orconflation) betweentheGerman presentand past.Toallofthismust beaddedthe novel'smost conspicuous and controversial metaphoricgesture: its "use" (toparaphrase the titleofareviewby Eva Hoffman) of Hanna's illiteracy; which -as Dominick LaCapra argues "mightbereadasaculturalmetaphorapologeticallyalludingtoGermanswho presumablywerenot 'intheknow' aboutwhatwashappeningtoJewsundertheNazis" (LaCapra 202).

Thisbrieflistismicrocosmicat best:itaccountsforonlyafractionofthestrikingnumberofexemplary"Germanytropes" Imighthave chosen."Suchtropes cannot beeasilyexplained byanaestheticagendaonMichael's part,particularly givenhispredilectionfor figurally "minimalist" prose, norcanthey,intheirgreat numbers, be comfortably dismissed as mere instances of coincidence between purelydescriptiveandpotentiallysymbolicdetail. Here,thedistinctlymetaphoric implicationsofdiegetic particularitiesmightbereadassuggestingthe presence of a critical instance or authorial consciousness -or unconscious -behind the scenes. Yet theattempt toverifythe presenceofsuchaninstance(asseparatefrom theinherent"semanticproductivity"ofthetext's signifiers), todetermineitsstatus (conscious, unconscious), ortointerpretitsvexinglyoverdetermined messages generates a disturbing indeterminacy. Indeed, from a certain point of view, Der Vorleser might besaidto be about the ways in which its narrator's (and author's) conscious and unconscious strategies (with their perhapsinternallycontradictory trajectories)-aswellastheinevitablepolysemyofthetext'sownrhetoricand signifyingfield-interactwith,pullagainst,andtroubleeachother.Forthisisthe rhetoricandsignifying field ofa "crisistext"oratextin crisis: atextshotthrough with the crisis of German post-Holocaust discourse and, especially; response/'

Consider, for example, the contesting levels of signification of the setting in whichMichaelcomestohisrealizationofHanna's illiteracy. Ostensiblyrandom ("Sie [hatte] nichts Besonderes,"126), this location-a "Stelle im Wald" reached via"Bisrnarckturm, Philosophenweg," and"einenWeg, dersteilden Berghinansteigt"(125-26)-isinfactsorichinsymbolicconnectionswithGermanliterary; political, and cultural history that its appearance as the site of Michael's insight figurallylinksthe signifier"illiteracy"with aquintessentialCermanness.? Indeed, the "StelleimWald," with its"naturalizing"conflationofculture(Germanliterary topos and textual passage, "Stelle") with nature itself ("Stelle imWald"),suggests that theconditionof illiteracy;discoveredatthis "Stelle,"justasmuch belongsto German"essence" or"nature"asdotheother,morepositivelyvalorized cultural signifiers encounteredalongthe way in the scene'sinventory of national identity.

Here,fromoneperspective, thediscoveryofilliteracyat the "StelleimWald"might be read as a subtly exculpatory rhetorical gesture: thus naturalized, German (moral) illiteracy might somehow be accepted (or excused) as "just part of the landscape." However, thelinkingofHanna/Germany'silliteracytoa "Stelle"not onlyquintessentiallyGermanbut alsoironicallymarkedbyimagerydrawn from the signifyingsphereofGermanhigh-cultureliteracy (tlphilosophenweg," mountain path, topos, textual passage) might be read as making a different point entirely: anacknowledgementandpointedcritiqueofthegapbetweenGermany's literalanditsfigurative, moralliteracy7Finally;Michael'sdenialofthesignificance ofthe "Stelle"-hisclaimthatit tl [hatte] nichts Besonderes" -effectively signals itsopposite,therebypromotinganevendeeperliteracy. Iturgesscrutinyofthe "Stelle" (anditscorresponding Text-Stelle) forthe veryfigural import whoseoccultingwould signifyan interpretive illiteracy. Simultaneously; it alertsthe readerto the potentialpresenceofaself-criticaldiscourseembeddedwithin thetext'suseof antiphrasticandotherrhetoricalstrategies(adiscoursethat wouldallowthetext, inself-awarefashion,toregisteranddebunkitsownexculpatorygestures)-orto the potentialforconstructingsuchadiscourse byreadingstrategicallyor "oppositionally"againstthe grainofthe text's own imagesand statements.

The point here is not that Schlink'stext must be read as functioning at a level "above"thoseofdiegesisandcharacterorthat itcannotalsobeviewedasan exploration of the "mysteriousness of individual lives" (Bernstein Cl6), but rather that itsextravagantstoreof aggressivelysymbolicdetailsopensthedoorfor-indeed, invites-symbolicor allegoricalreadings.Justasimportantly;astheambiguityof the aboveexamplesuggests -its suspensionbetween apology; critique, and a potentiallyself-awarerhetoricalannouncement ofitsown status asanespeciallydifficultsceneor "Stelle"ofreading-these allegorieswillbeaporetic, contradictory; and internally heterogeneous ones, indexing conflict between and within consciousandunconsciouslayersofthenovel'smeaning-generatingnetwork (author, narrator, rhetoric, signifiers).

Among the novel's most commented-on allegorical dimensions is its synecdochic figuration of the relationship between "two generations of Germans" (Annan23)-thegenerationofNaziperpetratorsandthat ofGermansbornafter the war.8Andalthoughmost commentators havenoted Hanna andMichael'spars pro toto representationof the T.ater-and secondgenerations, respectively; what has beenlessnoticedisthat thetextinfact"doublecasts"Michael,installinghim asa secondfigure forthe T'atergeneration aswell.A glanceat the pointsofcontact between Michael'sfictional biographyandthe psychologicaltrajectoryofthe perpetrator generationasoutlinedbyAlexanderandMargareteMitscherlichintheirinfluential 1967 study Die Unfiihigkeit zu trauern: Grundlagen kollektiven Verhaltens (The Inability to Mourn: Principles ofCollective Behavior, 1975) makesthis clear. Both Michaeland the Mitscherlichs' perpetratorsexperience profoundlibidinal investment inanoverpoweringNazi "loveobject"(intheperpetrators' case, Hitler),increased self-confidence due to this investment, masochistic pleasure in submis

sion, abrupt loss of the cathected object, and failure to work through or mourn this loss (Mitscherlich and Mitscherlich 16-41).9 Here, Michael's path -his capitulation to an overpowering, eroticallycharged force whose signs of violence he fails to "read" -is a second allegory of the perpetrator generation's relation to Nazism, and one that seems as exculpatory as the more direct Tdtergeneration allegory of Hanna as illiterate. Like Hanna, the text implies, Michael incurs his fascist entanglements due to a deficiency in his ability fully to control his faculties; in his case, however, figurative illiteracy is the result of the subversive effects of a sexual woman. In short, "der deutsche Mich(a)el" is the victim of Nazi seduction.

Thisallegoricalcastingof Germany'ssubmissionto fascismasaseductionisby itself already deeply problematic. It smacks of blame shifting and continues the novel's apparently apologetic trend by figuring Germanyas an innocent victim or, in Michael's case, abused child (the 15-year-old boy seduced by the 36-year-old Hanna, an incestuous mother substitutej.l? And this move becomes even more problematicwhenwefurtherconsiderits gendering. Forif,onthemostovertlevel, Hanna is the perhaps coincidentally female representative of the Nazi perpetrators, in the second version of the Tatergeneration allegory -the one in which Michael figures a first generation that has succumbed to an eroticized fascism Hanna is the feminine force of seduction itself, able to play havoc with Michael/ Germany's rationality. Thus the text maps not only Nazism, but also Nazism as seduction (and -if we return once again to Michael's simultaneous coding as an excuse-making representative of the second generation -the lure of abandoning moral judgment regarding Nazi crimes) onto the figure of a dangerous, deceptive, sexually predatory woman: a femme fatale who unites proverbial patriarchal fears of female deadliness and falsehood.'! Indeed, in what might be called the novel's "noir plot," Nazism/fascism and its dangers become the sphere of a destructive femininity: the hapless male protagonist is duped and undone by Hanna and her sexuality; before which he is helpless and to which he systematically loses his moral subjecthood.l?

As is well known, female concentration camp guards did indeed exist. However, as Claudia Koonz points out, they were "statistically insignificant" (404) in thelarger powerstructureofNaziGermanyandinno wayalteredtheoverwhelmingly patriarchal bias and "contempt for women" (3)which Nazism clearlyarticulated. For the purposes of this analysis, then, I am less interested in the existence of a small number of womenguards than in the fact that a text so broadly exemplary and allegorical in nature should seize upon precisely this marginal historical detail in order to fashion one of its key tropes (UNazism-as-Woman") -andin the fact that this Nazi woman / "Nazism-as-Woman" should be figured in such persistently misogynistic terms, that a repertoire of male anxieties and patriarchal stereotypes should be so consistently evoked and repeated. These peculiarities provide key points of contact among the multiple generational allegories in the novel while forming a crucial pivot between readings that would cast the text as complicit and those that would view it as criticaL

Stereotypicalmaleanxiety reigns inSchlink's novelevenbefore the beginning oftheHanna-Michaelaffair proper, asMichaellies "mit schlechtemGewissen"

(20) inhis"Krankenzimmer," fantasizingabout the mysteriousFrauSchmitz,yet convinced that "[djie Bilder und Szenen, die [er] traumte, nicht recht [waren]" (20). Here, male sexualdesire, awakened through a female temptress, is mapped ontodisease,guilt,andafallintoimmorality-acomplexthetextlinksinextricablyto Hanna.AsMichaelconcludes, toseekout thevoluptuouslyfeminineHanna wouldbebotha"sundigeTat" (21) andapotential danger: "Hinzugehenmochte gefahrlich sein" (21) .13

And the danger certainly comes to pass, as Michael proceeds to "decline" at Hanna'shands.Atfirstsimply pleasedto surrendertoherrough sex, hebecomes increasingly; indeedpathologically; submissive, acceptingtheblameforherirrationaloutburstsofangeragainsthim (48-49) andfinallysuccumbingtoanalmosttotal collapse of self-regard, dignity; and independent will: "In den kommenden Wochen habe ich nicht einmal mehr kurz gekampft. Wenn sie drohte, habe ich sofort bedingungslos kapituliert. Ich habe alles auf mich genommen. Ich habe Fehler zugegeben, dieichnicht begangenhatte, Absichteneingestanden, dieich niegehegthatte. [...]Abersoodersohatte ichkeineWahl" (50).

Throughout the novel, Hanna is marked with the traits -(stereo)typically coded'female"inpatriarchaldiscourse -ofdeceptiveness,manipulativeness,and falseness: shestructuresherentirelifearoundlies (literacy;theconcealingofher Nazi past) and invents coverarguments to deflect from the truth. This falseness, apparently; iscontagious: Michaelbegins todeceive notonlyhimself("MitHanna gingesmirtibervieleWochengut [...],obwohlsiemichimmerwiederzuruckwies und ichmichimmerwiedererniedrigte," 65)but othersaswell,lyingand stealing tomaintain theaffair(58-60). Finally; hispost-Hannalifeunravels ina divorceand a series ofbrokenrelationships directlyprecipitatedbyhiseroticobsessionwith Hanna.Thus,underHanna's sexualinfluence, Michaelbecomes passive, criminal, false, patheticallyfixated, anddispossessedofhismoralprobity:heisabsorbedby Hanna's moral universe, degraded, and, in patriarchal-misogynistic terms, 'ferninized."

ThisprocessisnotlimitedtoMichaelalone. Rather, thenovelputsondisplay thewide-scaleerosionofwhatcouldbecalledthemalesymbolicposition-those valuestypicallycodedttmale"ina patriarchalorder. Wehavealreadyseenthis in the caseoftruth, whichHannahidesin herownlifeandunderminesinMichael's, and inthecaseofwill, whichMichaelloses. Butitisnolesstrueofreasonand law asevidencedby the failure of those quintessentially"male" lociin the text: Michael's philosophy-professor father and his public-sphere counterpart, the courts of the Federal Republic.

Muchcouldbesaid, intermsofthe unfoldingofgendered meaninginthe text, aboutthe failureofMichael'sfather -professorofKantand Hegel,specialistin ethics,andsymboliclocusofpatriarchalauthority-toprovokealaststandof "maleuprightness": that is,to convince Michaelto confront Hanna directlyabout herilliteracyratherthan reveal hersecret to the trial judge behindher back. The gendered register ofthe father's advice becomes clearwhen we consider hisrepeatedlyinvokedexampleofinsufficientlyethical, philosophicallyproblematic behavior: Michael's mother."Mother," of course, isalreadyahighlysuspectsignifierin the text, beingclosely associated with the incestuouslymaternal Hanna and her debasing powers. And, as Berg Senior recalls, Michael's actual mother, in an uncannyprefigurationofthe Hanna-Michaeldynamic, regularlyusurpedherson's subject position during his childhood, violated his "Wurde und Freiheit," and "immerrechthatte" (136).Thefather'scounseltohissonnot toactlikeMother, then,suggests therejectionofanimplicitlyfeminized modeoftruthandjusticeas wellasaresistancetoanabjectingmaternal principle-onethat,evenwhenit "recht hatte," is not the rationallyand ethicallysound "Recht" of a masculinized Philosophy. BergSenior'sfailuretopersuadehissonto faceHannathus signalshis inabilityto inscribe Michaelwithin anacceptable malesymbolic-ethical order.

Turningour attention to the court, we find it thrown into disarrayby its encounter with Hanna. Indeed, one might say that truth is the first casualty of Hanna'strial,asthe gaps, provocations,anddistortionsofhertestimonydirectthe judicialproceedingstowardacompromisedverdict. NotonlydoesHannadirectly undermine the judge's authority with her question, "Neshatten Sie denn gemacht7" (107) -a move that subvertsofficial courtroom procedure CtEs gehort sichin deutschenStrafverfahren nicht, da~ Angeklagte RichternFragen stellen," 107)and,intheformofthereplyfromthe bench, makesthe judgelookplatitudinous, cowardly; and himselfof less than impeccable ethics: tttEs gibt Sachen [... J, vondenenman sich, wenn eseinen nicht Leib undLeben kostet, absetzenmuls" (107, emphasismine).Heridiosyncratic,indeedinverted,courtroombehavior-candid whenthishurtshercase,deceptivewhenthetruthwouldhelpher-alsobecomes asortofdestabilizing practicein itself: itdemonstratesherignoranceorrejection of the conventionalized defense strategies of her co-defendants and places her in thesubversive positionofbeingbothatrueand false witnessagainstherself. Devoidofany "Cefuhlfur[...]die Regeln, nachdenen gespieltwurde"(105),she seemsto glide by;literallyex-centrically,inherownsignifying universe,outside the symbolic order of the court.

Equally subversive isthe crucial liearoundwhichthe trialcomesto revolve: Hanna'sinsistencethatshehadwrittentheincriminatingreport -something that shecouldnothavedoneduetoherilliteracy.Although,onanindividual level, thisfallacious claimresultsina heavier sentenceforherandinlighteronesforher co-defendants, and is thus not personally to her advantage, it undermineson a broaderlevelwhatmightbecalledthecourt's"masternarrative"-thefunctioning of the very principles of truth, fairness, and appropriateness of punishment uponwhichtheconceptofjustice rests."AsaresultofHanna'stestimony; "inaccurate"penaltiesarehandeddownonthe basisofa falsehood. Yet,fromadifferent point of view; Hanna's ex-centric testimony exposes significant gaps in, and indeedmust stepintosupplement, thesocietallynormativetruth-seekingmission of the justice system: as Michael suggests, without Hanna's personally counter-productive failure toconformto theconventionallyvalidsymbolicrulesofthe court,allthe defendantsmighthavereceived lightersentencesstill(109-10). Thus, beneaththesurfaceofthetrialatwhichsheherselfisjudged, wefindthespectacle ofHanna,the femaleHolocaustperpetrator-clad,moreover,onsentencingday inatheatricalsimulacrumofan SSuniform(156-57)-simultaneouslydisordering and orderingthe proceedings, surreptitiouslydirectinghow post-Holocaust justiceismetedout.Asinan earlier scene inwhichshevisitsMichael's homeduring his parents' absence, settling into the place "wo sonst [sein] Vater sals" (60), Hanna onceagainsymbolicallysitsinthe father's seat.iS

Significantly; these developments further erode Michael's "male" powers of reasonandcritical judgment,particularlyregardingHannaandthe Holocaust. Indeed, Michaelbecomes, at least in his own mind, Hanna's best defense attorney; spendingthe restofthe trialandyearsthereaftermakingexcuses forher: "Nein, habe ich mir gesagt, Hanna hatte sich nicht fur das Verbrechen entschieden. Sie [...]warindieTatigkeitalsAufseherinhineingeraten. [...] Sieverfolgtenichtihr Interesse, sondern kampfte urn ihre Wahrheit, ihre Gerechtigkeit" (128).

Whatisstrikingabouttheconstellationwehavebeenexaminingisthat, perversely; thedangersoffascism andthesubversionoftrutharefigured asawoman or asfeminine-coded forces inthe sametermsthat, as KlausTheweleithasshownin hismonumental studyMiinnerphantasien, fascist discourse itselfemploysto figure the dangersposed bywomen or "the feminine": that is, as mortal threats to male "uprightness" and integrity on the individual and social-symbolic level." This genderingof fascist duplicityseemsto suggestadisturbingpointofoverlapbetweenSchlink'stextandthe energiesoffascismitself-onestrengthenedbythe linksbetweenthe novel'smisogynistic subtextandits/Michael'spervasive desire forcontrol(ofemotions,form,narrativearc,and "transparent"language). The implications and ambiguities of this phenomenon deserve further exploration.

Aswe haveseen,asthe text's first-generation allegoryofMichael/Germany's eroticized submission to Nazism coincides with its second-generation allegory of MichaeVGermany'sattempttocometotermswith theNazipast,Schlink'sown second-generation response to this past -his novelitself-unfoldsin gendered termssuspiciouslysimilartothoseofthefirstgeneration. Thenovel'smost decisive acts of Vergangenheitsbewaltigung -of "mastering" the past -at the levels of diegesis andstyle might bereadthrough the lensofgenderaswell.At the diegetic level, thenovel'sconclusionpresentsafrenzyofpatriarchalbindingwork:theliteralbindingorphysical restraintofthecharacterHanna,the "reigningin"ofthe energiesshefigures,andtheresultantrestorationofmale order. Here,Hannabecomesa"ruly"subject, quiteliterallysubjectto rules, assheisdomesticated by prison. Thisrestoration reaches itsapotheosis inthefinalpassagesofthe text,as thetextitself-ona levelaccessiblethrough,yetstructurallymoreprimarythan, Michael's narration -effectively neutralizes Hanna's dangerous sexuality. In prison, Hannaistransformedfromseductive (slim, with womanly curves, freshsmelling, and "vonpeinlicher [...] Sauberkeit," 196) to grotesque (ungracefully aged, fat,malodorous,andwearing"einzu enges,anBrust,BauchundSchenkeln spannendes[...] Kleid," 184)-from femme fatale to patheticoldwoman.17Ultimately, the text kills Hanna off: the eliminationof the threat she represents and thelogicalconclusionofthepushto relegate thefeminine toamoreharmless position.

Michael's narrative performance -his attempt to bind or banish Hanna's ghostwith hiscontrolledandcontrollingnarrative-likewisesuggestsagendered dimension. Viewed from the perspective of the patriarchal subtext that pervades thenovel,thestylisticsignatureofhisnarration-itssupposedstraightforwardness, honesty, and "realist" transparency-encodes the stereotypically "male" antithesisofHanna'selaboratedeceptions. Inasimilar vein, andincontradistinction toHanna's "falseness,"Michaelhastenstoassurethereaderthat hisnarrativeis neither happy nor sadbut true ("[I]ch denke, daf sie [die Geschichte] stimmt und daf danebendie Frage, obsietraurigoderglucklichist,keinerleiBedeutunghat," 206) -a move that, following his "corruption" by and self-abasement before Hanna, implies the re-establishment of his, and his text's, "masculinity."

Related processesareatworkinMichael'sinsistenceonthe exclusivevalidity ofthefinalversionofhis"Hannastory" (205--06). Here, the juridicalfinalityofthe words he usesto describe this version, "geschlossen und gerichtet" (206), signals the dreamof "closing Hanna'scase" inaway the courtcompromised byHanna's behavior could not. Just as significantly; in their rejection of fluidity and their fetishizationofcertaintyandcontrol,Michael'swordsarticulatevaluesthat have historically accompanied and helpedfurther the exercise of patriarchal power. Indeed, intheir exclusionofheterogeneity; Otherness,and disorder, thewordssuggest the further unfolding, noted above, of the text's second-generation concerns in disturbingly familiar first-generation terms. Here, the novel's literaland figural lexicon marksan overdetermined sitewheremultipleversions ofthe driveformasteryand closure-somemotivatedbyMichael'sfictionalpsycheand biography; somenational-historical, somestylistic/diegetic/narratological, patriarchal, or, in theiroverallcontrollingimpetus,potentiallyfascistoid-intertwineanduncomfortablymeet.

Yetthereismoregoingonherethan thisinitialglanceatthetext's drive(s) towardclosurereveals. For,inamovethatopensagapofironybetweenlevelsoftextualmeaning, thenovelconspicuouslyletsusknowthat thetruthlaidclaimtoin Michael'snarrativeisnotafactbuttheproductofatrajectoryof (repressive) desire: "DieCewahr dafur,dafdiegeschriebene [VersionderHanna-Geschichte] die richtige ist,liegtdarin, daf ichsie geschrieben und dieanderen Versionen nicht geschrieben habe.Die geschriebene Version wollte geschrieben werden, die vielen anderen wollten es nicht" (205--06, emphasis mine). Indeed, the text draws attention to the excessandplurality("dievielenanderen[Versionen]") existingpalimpsest-likebehindthemonolithofMichael'sostensiblyreliable narrationandperhapsnot fully replaced byit. Here, Michael's anthropomorphizingassertions aboutthe desire of thetextaresimultaneouslyprojectionand denial: itisMichael who did not want towrite other possibleversions ofhis story; yet theseversions doinfact exist, embeddedwithin the signifiersweread. Indeed, thegapsbetweenthenarrator'sdiscourse(andthe narratorascharacter) and"text"inits broadestsense(asatotalityof meaning-production) invite questions about other gaps and intersections betweendifferentsignifyingtrajectoriesat thisbroadestleveloftext itself: questions about further ways of conceptualizing the novel's deployment of the feminine andaboutthepotentialinscriptionofmultiple,contradictoryfears anddesiresat the novel's surface, where its style, form, image-inventory; and uses of gender meet.Ishallpursuethesequestionsin the following.


Looking overthe entirety ofSchlink's text, onebecomes awareofacrucial phenomenon:Der Vorleser isacollectionofrepetitions, doubles, anduncannyreturns. Viewed as an allegory of Germany's Tdtergeneration, the novel offers a double modelofthepathto fascism,bothpartsofwhich-the"seductionhypothesis" andthe"inabilityto read" the politicalandethicalsignsinone's environmentare old stories frequently told before. Viewed as an allegory of the relations betweenthegenerations, thenarrativebecomesataleabouttherepetitionofthefirst generation's blindnesses in the second: Michael is as bad a reader of Hanna as HannawasoftheevilofNazismitself. Atthe levelofunderlying ideology; wefind the uncanny return, in this text recounted by a second-generation narrator and written byasecond-generationauthor,ofadisturbinglyfirst-generationgender rhetoric: themisogynisticfearoffemalesexualityand falseness.Andatthe levelof specific textual detail, we encounter a conspicuous structure of repetition, a saturation with familiar, stereotypical imagery. Michael's sexual encounters with Hanna,for example, representlessanindividual experienceoftheeroticthan a shopworn generic marker for one, a compendium of male fantasy cliches and moviescenarios: olderwoman initiatesyoungboyinto sexwithout eventelling hername;boyisatfirstafraid"daf [er]ihrnicht[...]genugenwurde" (27),butall goesoffswimminglyincinematicfashion. Familiarfromcinemaaswellisthecrucialtrial scene,whichisindeeda (stock) "scene":a"behabig-gehassige"co-defendant(121)shoutstheatricaldialogue("'DudreckigeLugnerin!" 111)anddoesnot fail, at the climactic moment, quite literallyto "point the finger" at Hanna ("Sie zeigtemit dem Finger auf Hanna. 'Siehat den Bericht geschrieben. Sieist an allem schuld [...],'" 121).

Thetextalsorepeatsanentiretropicinventoryofimages popularlyassociated with Nazism,rangingfromtheuniforms,leatherstraps,sadomasochism, and fetishisticsexualityofSusanSontag's"fascinating fascism" tothestandard suggestions of homosexualitythat seldomfailed to accompanydiscussions of Nazism and "theeroticsofpower" (Hewitt 39)sincethe daysofTheodorAdorno's1950 remark that "totalitarianism and homosexuality belong together" (Minima Moralia 46, cited in Hewitt, 39).18 Think hereoftheseeminglysuperfluousaccusation,raisedatHanna's trial,thatHannahadusedher seriesofyoungfemaleconcentration campinmate "Lieblinge" (111) forsexualgratificationbeforesending them toAuschwitztobekilled; thinkalsoofMichael'sprogressive"feminization," hisinabilitytomaintainrelationshipswithwomen,and -inthepersonofHanna -his persistent "mother fixation." Indeed, one might read in this context the overallthemeofpedophiliathatpervadesthetext-aclassicmarkerofhomophobia here displaced onto the image of an age-inappropriate heterosexual relationship between adult woman and young boy or "Kind" (41).

This entirecomplexmight beviewedasan exampleofwhat LauraFrosthas identifiedas the longstanding tradition ofassociatingfascismwith sexualdeviance (6): a tradition that casts normative heterosexuality as a reflection of the democraticpoliticalidealsof"equality; respect,and nonviolence" (6-7) while linking alternative sexual modes (homosexuality; sadomasochism) to fascist perversionand"institutions ofoppressionanddomination" (7) .19Here,weareonthe politicalgroundofthe "deviant"sexualizingoffascismas"away to morecompletely sever fascism from democracy; down to the most basic, intimate psychic structuresofdesire" (Frost159),aswellasontherelatedpsychicterritoryofwhatHewitt diagnosesasthecombined"liberalfearofbecomingfascistandtheheterosexual [...]fearofbecominghomosexual"(9)-aclusterofanxietiestowhichFrostadds the"fearofsadomasochisticimpulses[inthe self]" (100).Butthereismoreto Schlink'siterativetextualpicturethan fearsalone(thoughthesearecertainlypresent inthe novel'sdual-generational allegories ofseduction,particularlyitsdepiction ofsecond-generation, "democratic" Michael'seasysurrenderto both aNazi woman and apologetics). This becomes especially apparent when we consider Frost'sassertion that"antifascist,democraticculturehassubstantial, unacknowledgedlibidinalinvestmentsinfascismthatneedtobeexplored" (15).Inthiscontext, Der Vorleser'smisogynistictenorand useof gender, includingthe narrative's role-reversal of the typical "gendered sadomasochistic encounter between a male fascistandasubservientfemale" (Frost 121),takeonacrucialsignifyingroleinexposingthe nature ofthese"libidinalinvestments,"illuminatingtheconnectionbetween the novel's first-and second-generation allegories, and interpreting what appearsto bethe disturbingrepetitionofapotentiallypatriarchal-fascistoidideology in the latter.

The presencein the text ofrepetitionsand returns representsasignifyingphenomenon opentomultiple,contradictoryandcomplementaryinterpretations.In thefirstinstance,the text's repetitionssuggestaFreudianrepetitioncompulsion, intimately linked to the narrator's (and novel's) attempts to master traumatic events-or,moredisturbingly;tosuccumbtothedeathdrivethattraumarenders visible.PForboth trajectoriesmanifest themselvesin the text, reflectingits ambivalentresponsetothetraumaof fascism. Here,boththediegeticand allegoricaldimensions of the narrative (Michael's traumatization by Hanna and Germany's traumatization by Nazism) rely on and intersect in the polysemic trope of "Hanna-as-Mother" -the focal point of simultaneous, contradictory fears and desires morebroadlyarticulatedbythenovelandits largerproblematicofrepetition. For"Mother" (and,in Der Vorleser, Hanna/Mother) occupies the classically psychoanalyticpositionofprohibited, desiredobjectandreturntodeath,atonce yearnedforand feared onbothcounts:shefunctionsinthismannerinthe diegesis (assexually desirable olderwoman),onthesymbolic level (asrepresentativeofa deadlysystem),andinthebroaderrhetorical markers ofattractionandaversion of the text quatext (the nove/Is fearof/ desirefordeadlyfascist Hanna,asarticulated through her seductive/misogynistic figurationj" It is this nexus of fear, prohibiteddesire,anddeath vis-a-visfascismthat findsexpressioninMichael'srecurring dream/nightmare of Hanna's "house," the apartment building that, in the course ofthenarrative,becomesametonymyofHanna herself: itisa"womb"Michael has"seenbefore" ("Dannfalltmirein, dafichesschongesehen habe," 10) and to whichherepeatedlyreturnsdespitethefactthat ittakeson,ina seriesofdisplacements, the characteristics of castration and death it will cause in him ("Die BrandmauernlassendasHausabgeschnitten,unzulanglichaussehen. [...]Das Hausist blind. [...]DieWeltisttot," 10).22 But this dream of the mother is itself alsoadisplacementofanother figureandanotherrelationship -onethatformsa crucial locus of fascist desire, structures the misogynistic common ground between the text's second-andT'atergeneration allegories, and shapeskeyimages (e.g., Hanna)throughwhichthe novel'sfears anddesires arearticulated. Thisisthe figureofthestrongfather, ironicallyinvalidatedbyitsownultimatemanifestationin patriarchalNazism itself: discreditedby crimesorbythe failure tohaveresisted these,perversely"castrated" bybeingplaced inthe shadowof Hitler, andinany caserendered ideologicallyunacceptablebythe legacyoffascism. If,asBartonByg suggests, post-WWII Germanysuffered froma "crisisofmasculinity"encompassingbothalamentedweakeningoffather figures andan"anxietyover[...]areturn tothe'feminine'seductionsoffascism" (176),thentheimageofNazismasdeadly woman, Hanna-as-Nazism, emerges as an overdetermined, perhaps inevitable trope:the onlyway to acknowledge a problematic second-generation desire fora strong father (problematic due to its own fascistoid shading) is to displace this onto the more "acceptable" fear of (desire for) a devouring mother.P

Thus-whetheroneviewsMichael'sstoryasan allegoryofthe secondgeneration, the Tdtergeneration, orboth,andwhether onefindsa repressed "fatherprinciple"lurkingbehindthemaskofHannaornot-alongsidetheobviousfearofand resistance to Hanna-as-fascism isadiscernible driftin the directionoffascination anddesire. Yet Der Vorleser isalsoatextunsureofwhat todowithitsownhorrified, hypnoticfascinationwith thedeadlypast (here,thenovel'sFreudianfamilyscenariobecomesafittingmetaphorforthissecond-generationfascinationwith the past'straumatic power). Thishelpsexplain the text's pervasive tropeofsadomasochism-astructureof desirethat,figurallyextendedbeyondthenarrowly sexual sphere, marks Michael/Schlink's scene of writing and allegorizes one possible second-generation response to the Nazi past: identity-formation through the pain/pleasureofsoul-searching,ofproducingevermoreagonized discourse (asMichaelhimselfasks, not entirelyrhetorically; 'Aberdaf einige wenigeverurteiltund bestraft und da~ wir, die nachfolgende Generation,in Entsetzen, Scham und Schuldverstummenwurden-dassolltees sein?"[100]).Inshort,whetherwe considerthetext'sstructuringtropesand reifiedimages, thelonged-forfinalityof its plot,orthe figure ofHanna herself, Der Vorleser takesthe shapeofarhetoricof trauma in which the signs and effects of fascism and its death driveare compulsivelyrepeated, at sitesofgenderand sexuality; as something simultaneously feared anddesired. I will leave these matters for the moment, however, and pursue anotherlineofinquiry -onethatshedsadifferent,althoughrelated,lightonthe novel'suse of repetitions.

Giventhestrikingprevalenceinthetextofwhat canbeseenintermsofwhat hasbeenseenbefore, wemightaskwhether theserepetitionsthemselves couldbe re-thought ascitations: that is,assnapshotsofaculturalimaginary; assummaries of the ways in which fascism has been theorized, received, explained, or framed (forexample, asfearofthe feminine, asbelongingtothesignifyingspheresofhomosexualityandsadomasochism, asmoralilliteracyorasaphilosophically illegiblephenomenon). Fromthis perspective, what we encounterin the text's repetitionsisnot (only) traumabutaninventoryofpositionsorstancesequivalentto topoi, aseries ofsocial scriptsto beread from, Vorleser-style.

This profoundlycitationalcharacterofSchlink's text,alreadyannouncedin the novel'stitleandthematicsofreadingaloudfromotherworks,raises thequestion ofthe extent to whichDer Vorlesermight bereadasa type of postmoderndiscourse.Indeed,otherfeaturesofthetext -itsfusionofthe "readerly"withtheallegorical (thatis,its double-coding), itsfocus onthecentralityanddifficultyofacts of reading and interpretation, and its concomitant foregrounding of representationandtextuality-likewisestrengthenitsaffinitywith acertainunderstanding of postmodemism.f In this context, Der Vorleser mightbeseenascritical metafiction: anallegoryofreadingorabookabout how to read, about how itand the citations that constitute it might be read-and one that quite explicitly warns us againstfigural "illiteracy,"againstbeingabad reader. Initsdescription, forexample, of the bookthat helpedput Hanna on trial-the memoirsof Hanna's former prisoner, the daughterwho survived the death-marchfire -Der Vorleser signals its awareness of,andadmonitionagainst, itsown "seductive" powerto elicit simplistic readings. Michael's description of the daughter's book constitutes a photographic negative of Der Vorleser's (that is, Michael's) own textual practice. The daughter'stextdemonstratesclearformalandstructural parallelswith Michael's: likehis,the daughter's text "atmet [...J Betaubung" (114), andshe,too,"schreibt tiber sich und ihr pubertares [...J und, wenn es sein mufs, durchtriebenes Verhalten"(115). However, insharpcontradistinctiontoMichael'snarrative(withits surfeitofempathyforbothitsauthorandHanna),thedaughter's text"Iadtnicht zurIdentifikationeinundmachtniemandensympathisch" (114);similarly,the daughterherselfdoesnotlose"dasVermogen, [...]zuanalysieren" (115)asthe apologetic Michael hasdone.Byincluding itsown counter-example ofhow a book about the Holocaust might be (better) written, Der Vorleser self-reflexively calls uponits readers tobringcomplex, "writerly"modesofcriticalanalysistobearon the connected, yet distinct levels of narrator and text.25

Inanotherofthetext'sintersectionswith thesphereofpostmodernconcerns -thistime,concernsdirectlyrelatedtotheproblemoftheHolocaust-Hanna's trial,with its failuretopindownthetruth, becomesanextendedfigureforoneof the novel'smost important underlying questions: the question of how a text can approachtheHolocaustinapostmodern age; ofhow;atatimeinwhichthe existenceandaccessibilityoftruthhavebeencalledintoquestionor redefined asfunctionsoftextualmediationitself, atextcanapproachtheoneeventwhosedemands on truth are the most compelling-"This postmodern problemof truth has other implicationsforadiscussionoftheHolocaustaswell:onesthat illuminatecontradictorysignifyingpossibilitiesopenedupbySchlink'srhetorical field. Forif,asthe essays collected insucheditedvolumesasSaulFriedlander's Probing the Limits of Representation (1992) andAlanMilchmanandAlanRosenberg's Postmodernism and the Holocaust (1998) make clear, postmodernism's embrace of fluid signification andrejection offoundationalistabsoluteshavefrequentlybeenreadasa radical, relativisticassaultonthe facts, truthclaims, andveracityofhistory(andthusasan accessoryto fascismitself), theyhavelikewisebeenviewedastheantidotetothe Westerntradition ofwhat SusanHandelmancalls "ontological totalitarianism" the privileging ofthe conceptof"OneTruth"andthe exclusion ofOthernessand plurality that, taken to an extreme, helped make the Holocaust possible. Both viewsspeakdirectlytotheconcernsanddetailsofSchlink'stext,andboth -particularlywhen we recall that the problemof truth in the novelhas been consistentlylinkedtoquestionsofgender("feminine"falseness, "masculine" [narrative] certainty)-invitetranslationintoagenderedrhetoricwhoseindividualelements becomedifferentlyvalorized dependingon their positioningwithin this rhetoric. Indeed,genderformsasiteatwhichthenovel'scrucialconcerns -reading,truth, citationality, postmodernism, critical metafiction,approaching the Holocaustin text and representation-meet.

As we have seen, Der Vorleser is structured not only by the obvious equation "fascism =bad"(though,asIhavesuggested, stillapotentiallocusof desire at the unconscious level), butalsobythesubtextualformulas "idealoftruth (including certainty,'realism,' closure,non-ambiguity) =not-Hanna=not-fascist=good=male"and"dangeroffalseness=Hanna=fascist=bad=female." Here,between thelinesofanarrativeinwhichnarrator Berg's,andthetext's, baseline (conscious) oppositionto fascism canbetaken forgranted,the novelin factreiterates an ideologythat itselfcontainsrootelementsof fascistoid thinking:onethat recallsthe "ontologicaltotalitarianism"that, atleastfromonepointofview, postmodernism, conceived ofasanti-fascism, contests.Putindifferentterms,while "male" truth andMichael's (eventual, apparent,textual)transparency; intheirrhetorical associ

ationwitheverythingHannaisnot, figurerejectionoffascism, theyalso-intheir drive toward certainty; exclusion, and (textual) closure, as well as their reifying naturalizationofanentirearrayofstereotypes -evokeand endorse "ontologically totalitarian" values that, radicalized, underwrite fascism's fatal closure.

Yet the novel's proximity to a certain type of post modern discourse -its very stereotypical or citational structure, self-reflexivehighlighting of the problems of reading and representation (including reading/representing that which seems clear), and understanding that, as in Hanna's trial, what seems clear may reveal itself to be a rhetorical game (UKontext," "Regeln, nach denen gespielt [wird]," "Formeln,"105)-suggestsanalternativetosuchareading.Indeed,itcombats the novel's potential slippage into a fascistoid signifying sphere by providing readers with the tools to recognize the narrative's smooth codes -passed off as true -as false. Once again, we arrive at the alternative via the text's deployment of gender. Here, Hanna and "the feminine," misogynistically positioned by the text as 'falseness" and as a negatively coded danger to "male" integrity; also become one of the novel's most positively valorized self-reflexive "citations": at the meta-textual level,where theycoincidewiththeconcernwiththe rhetoricalnatureof truthand the slipperiness of texts and representations, they become a powerful force for destabilizing, from within, the novel's own dangerous self-presentation as a transparent, unproblematically trustworthy discourse of truth. As the privileged figuresforfalsenessin thetext, Hannaandthefemininecallattentiontothefactthat they are, at least on one level, themselves ironically "false"-that is, textual citations of misogynist or fascistoid ideology:They thus likewise call attention to the conventional nature of the novel's wider inventory of representations and topoi: to the falseness of how the Holocaust is represented; to the fact that the statements that go down so easily in Michael's smooth narration, or the subtexts so innocuously transmitted by them, are in fact a compendium of stances about or derived from fascism,vorgelesen for our perusal, critique, and possible deconstruction. 27

Significantly;thenexusoffalseness,difficultyinreading,andilliteracy -along with its correlate, the necessity of questioning the reliability of what is read self-reflexively expand beyond the character of Hanna to destabilize the very diegetic foundations and plot-structuring devices of the novel itself: it is, after all, exceptionally unlikely that Hanna's illiteracy could have remained unnoticed throughout the entire process of her application to and work for the 55, yet this is the conceit upon which so much else depends. Thus, Der Vorleser, in the self-referential gaps within its structuring tropes, becomes itself a 'feminine" rhetoric of 'falseness" that announces the difficulties it poses to reading and resists its own apparent transparency and closure. And thus also, a crucial postmodern sphere in the text -the self-reflexive thematization of falseness, (illlegibility; and (ililiteracy, along with its anti-foundationalist warning not to mistake reified representational topoi for legible truth -becomes the sphere of the feminine. Accordingly; the text's deployment of the feminine puts itself under erasure, for the feminine here figures the impossibility of telling the absolute truth, also about women or the feminine. Indeed, we might say along with Nietzsche that in Schlink's text, when textual and meta-textual figures for the resistance to ontological totalitarianism are at stake, Truth is indeed a Woman.28

Ofcourse, if the feminine functions in the text not only as a signifier for the return of misogynistic and fascistoid thought but also as the figure for a positively conceived "falseness," theopposite of a patriarchal or proto-fascist ontological totalitarianism -and if we are thus left with a sort of aporetic double helix in which the use of the feminine inscribes key elements of misogynistic and fascistoid thoughtuponesideof theladderwhile"unzipping"these downtheother-then there are some significant problems with this double inscription. To begin with, it does not escape the more subtle misogyny of the reduction of "the feminine" to a mere figure for deconstructive differance (cf. Jardine 118-44). Further, the specific female character positioned by the logic of the text as the focal point for this differance and anti-totalitarian resistance is in fact a Nazi -once again a perverse irony and highly disturbing convergence, to say the least. Finally; in the thematic context of Schlink's novel, the entire discussion of falseness necessarily evokes the other side of the debate surrounding postmodernism and the Holocaust: the side that views postmodernism's rejection of absolute truth as an accomplice to fascismitself. Indeed, following this line of thought further, wearrive at a lose-lose situation. For in the gendered scenario I have traced above, either truth itself must be coded negatively; must be associated with totalitarian modes of thought and representation (again, a highly perverse destination to arrive at in the context of the novel's Holocaust thematics) -or, conversely; in celebrating the rejection of absolutes, however well-intentioned in the specific case of Michael's controlling narrative, we raise the specter of the absence of truth altogether, including the truth of theHolocaust. Thisisa problem, anda fear, that haunts Schlink'stext, as indicated by the novel's detailed exposure of the wayin which the court's truth turns out to be a sort of rhetorical game, as well as by Michael's desperate and unsuccessful attempts to replace his cliched images of concentration camps with "Wirklichkeit" (144) -as though the cliche threatened to supersede this "Wirklichkeit" in a sort of Baudrillardian hyper-real, or formed the impassable "limit of representation" itself.

This problem of (the loss of) "Wirklichkeit" once again brings us to a point where Der Vorleser's image-inventory; its Holocaust problematics, and another strand of postmodern thought (the sense of reality's replacement by signs and simulacra) intersect.I? Consider, for example, Michael's observations regarding current media and mediated fantasy -spheres in which Schlink's own bestseller itself participates:

Heute sind so viele Bucher und Filme vorhanden, daf die Welt der Lager ein Teil der gemeinsamen vorgestellten Welt ist, die die gemeinsame wirkliche vervollstandigt, Die Phantasie kennt sich in ihr aus, und seit der Fernsehserie Holocaust und Spielfilmen wie Sophies Wahl und besonders Schindlers Liste bewegt sie sich auch in ihr, nimmt nicht nurwahr, sondern erganzt und schmuckt aus. (142-43)

This passage traces the figure of the domestication ofthe unimaginable: the imagination's "at home-ness" in a societally shared inventory of mediated images both brings the Holocaust closer and, through the illusion of accessibility or familiarity itself, becomes a defense mechanism against the Shoah's monstrous reality and alterity. This process of domestication is at work in Der Vorleser's own rendition of the Holocaust, in which unprecedented historical trauma is transcribed into the media language of family-trauma-of-the-week (incest, seduction, child abuse) -a displacement of registers ideally suited to the 1990s pop culture from which the novel emerged and, in the realm of talk show host Oprah, found its American home.P

What emerges from all of the aspects analyzed above is the striking number of levels on which Schlink's text, with its seemingly straightforward prose and stereotypical image-and scenario-inventory; isworkingat once:the "realist"/readerly desirefordocumentarytransparencyand accessto truth, theself-reflexiveinterrogation of the textual/tropic fieldfiguring that truth, the recognition of the inevitably mediated nature of the image, particularly in a bestseller that draws on or "cites"a popular, public repertoire of stances, topoi, and tropes. One is reminded of Michael Rothberg's claim, in his study Traumatic Realism (2000), that post-Holocaust texts may respond to the "demands of Holocaust representation" through a combinationofstrategieshedesignates "realist,""modernist,"and"postmodern": "a text's 'realist' component seeks strategies for referring to and documenting the world; its 'modernist' sidequestions its ability to document history transparently; and its 'postmodern' moment responds to the economic and political conditions ofitsemergenceandpubliccirculation" (9).31Still,theapplicationofeventhemost useful analytical paradigms to Der Vorleser -gestures that themselves may represent attempts at domestication -does not resolve the novel's agonized overdetermination: the anxiety of so many textual strands unspooling simultaneously -uncanny repetitions of misogynistic/fascistoid ideology; marks of trauma, fear, and desire; reality-replacing and domesticating simulacra; and subversive,citationaltoolsofself-deconstruction-generatesanirresolvableaporia.

ForDer Vorleser remains a text in crisis,and we return once again to the question of the conflicts between and within its critical consciousness and unconscious, the meanings of its stylistic and figural economy (including its use of gender), and the sense of its conflation of apology; critique, rhetoric of trauma, and potentially postmodern discourse. This is simultaneously the question of whether the novel's repetitions, mediations, and quotations represent what Laura Frost, in another context, calls postmodern culture's awareness of its cliches (151) or instead the text's own repression and "merely" stereotypical nature; the question of whether Der Vorleser is a narrative that includes its own self-deconstruction or is simply a narrative capable of being deconstructed.

Thenovelmayinfact finallybeallofthe above.Its pop-cultureclichesand domesticating transcriptions -the retreat of reality behind mediated fantasy and the recasting of genocidal trauma as family dysfunction -suggest exculpatory or revisionist wishful thinking, the desire to tell the (German side of the) story of the Holocaust in terms of media-friendly; media-promulgated tropes: closure, rehabilitation (Hanna's immersing herself in accounts of the camps in prison), or even, shockingly; "a crime one didn't commit" (Hanna's compromised trial and punishmentfortheimpossiblereport).Yetitsgapsbetweennarrator andtext, self-reflexivity; and citational character link it to an auto-critiquing, self-dismantling postmodernism. Its repetitions, including its second-generation repetition of a firstgeneration gender ideology (particularly when this also codes the repressed desire for a strong father), expose it as a text shot through with the markers of trauma andwithdecidedlyconflictedfeelings aboutthefascist past. Yetitscitationalrepetition or use of the feminine is likewise a tool to unravel the text by means of its own components and rhetorical strategies. As in the case of Michael's "Hanna story;" which version of Schlink's novel "wanted to be written" remains notoriously difficult to determine: all map uncomfortably onto each other, as much a result of the trauma of the Holocaust as of the polyvalency of signification itself.

Wewoulddowelltoresistclosingthisdiscussion andthistext -toresistcomplying with the smoothness that appears to be Schlink's/Michael's dominant rhetorical mode, but in fact screens a crisis of history; affect, representation, and signification. In the end, Der Vorleser plays a series of exceedingly dangerous double games as it attempts to mediate between the very different, perhaps finally irreconcilable, imperatives of post-Holocaust and postmodern discourse -or, just as disturbingly; it unveils a heterogeneous semantic field whose signifiers and implications remain caught between competing and contradictory warnings and repressions, fears and desires regarding the unmasterable German past.32


1I would like to thank David Wellbery and the anonymous German Quarterly reviewers for valuable suggestions regarding earlier drafts of this essay. I am also indebted to my students in "Holocaust and Remembrance" at the University of Utah for lively, provocative discussions that helped inspire this article.

2 Barthes distinguishes between "the readerly text," frequently associated with the 19th-century realist novel but in fact any text that reduces its readers to passive consumers of pre-imposed meanings, and the "writerly text," which challenges readers to participate actively in the production of textual meaning (5/2). Barthes's terms might be thought of as modes of reading rather than taxonomic types: even the most authorially controlled text, read critically and against the grain, can generate "writerly" engagement.

3 Since the completion of this essay two analyses of DerVorleser have appeared that focus on aspects of self-reflexivity and trauma in Schlink's novel. For an alternative argument that foregrounds the role of the text's metafictional features, see Reynolds, "A

Portrait of Misreading;" for a different perspective on post-Holocaust intergenerational trauma, see Mahlendorf, "Trauma Narrated, Read and (Mis)understood." The current version of this article includes cross-references to points of contact and difference between my essay, Reynolds's, and Mahlendorf's where helpful.

4 Forfurther symbolicdetailsand"Germanytropes"(figuralelements thatconnote ahighly chargedGerman history) inDerVorleser, seeHoffman, Franklin,and Sansom.

5 Cf. Mahlendorf 461-62.

6The referencesto Heidelbergalreadyplacethe sceneat a locus classicus of German identity. "Bismarckturm" evokes the history of German political nationhood, while "Philosophenweg" suggests the popular Kulturnation trope of the "Land der Dichter andDenker."The"Weg,dersteildenBerghinansteigt" recallsthenational-poetic,elegiactraditionofSchillerand Holderlin(cf.Ziolkowski),andthe significanceofthe "Stelle im Wald" to Germanic literary self-definition need hardly be mentioned.

7 The same potential ironic critique may be found in the novel's conclusion, in which Hanna's apparent development of moral conscience through literacy is belied by the existence of great numbers of Germans whose own high degreeof literacy did not prevent them from becoming Nazis. On moral literacy inDer Vorleser, seeSansom

14. 8 Seealso Franklin, Sansom, and Donahue. Bernstein, dissenting, asserts that "it would probablybewrongtointerpretMr.Schlink'sstoryasanationalallegory"(C16).

9 In another point of contact with the Mitscherlichs, Michael's adolescent struggle with hepatitis forms the catalyst for his affair with Hanna: cf. the Mitscherlichs' contention that "[f]or the [... ] majority of Germans who lived through the Third Reich, lookingbackontheperiodofNational Socialistruleislikelookingbackontheobtrusionofaninfectiousdiseaseinchildhood [...]"(15).Michael'saffectivetrajectorydiffers from that of the Mitscherlichs' perpetrators in two respects. Unlike the perpetrators, with their denial of love for Hitler, Michael never denies having loved Hanna. Also, the decathexis that the Mitscherlichs see as having prevented "an outbreak of melancholia" (26) among Germans appears less successful in Michael: he remains Hanna-fixated andclassically"melancholy"inthe Freudiansense.Overall,however, both Michael and the perpetrators experience (different variations of) an "inability to mourn." Forareadingof DerVorleser that applies the concept of the inability to mourn to the "second generation," see Schlant 207-16.

10 Hanna bathes Michael, makes sure he does his schoolwork, and travels with him "als Mutter und Sohn" (41); Michael's mother herself sends Michael to thank Hanna for helping him during his illness, thus initiating their affair and marking it with "the signofthemother." SeeFranklinonHanna'smaternal codinganditsallegoricalimport ("[t]he 'mother,' of course, is the Nazi past, of which Michael is a child," 56); see also Sansom 7.

11 The affair with Hanna brings Michael close to (literal and symbolic) death: shortly after Hanna's trial, Michael risks skiing without winter clothes on dangerous slopes (159-60); he then spends most of his post-Hanna life in a state of "Betaubung" (98-99), unable to connect with others.

12 I shall use "Nazism" and "fascism" interchangeably in the course of this essay. Though the two phenomena do not coincide perfectly (and each provides much ground for definitional debate), they form a common signifying complex in DerVorleser. The complex might be seen as unfolding across a spectrum from character to form as follows: Hanna, Hanna's violence, Hanna's figuration as dangerous "feminine" force, Michael/the text's rigid and controlling gestures as responses to this force. On actual [ilms noirs that figure Nazism as femme fatale, see Byg.

13 Strengthening the nexus of female seductiveness and illness, Michael's eponymously "wise" friend Sophie attributes Michael's emotional evasiveness, caused by Hanna, to the aftereffects of hepatitis. She thus correctly identifies Hanna's figural meaning: "Hanna als Krankheit" (74), the reason why allegorical Michael "nicht mehr richtig gesund wird" (73).That hepatitis isa blooddisease is surely not coincidental: this reflects the text'strendsofmetaphoricallyevokingaNazi signifyingspherewhenever possible and critiquing fascism in suspiciously fascist terms.

14Similarly,the illiterate Hannahasfailedto readkeydocumentsofthe prosecution and does not fully understand the charges against her; she is therefore "unfit to be tried" in a system predicated on the legibility of the accusations to the accused. Hoffman suggests that despite Hanna's guilt, her trial begins to feel like a "public miscarriageofjustice"(34)-thelastfeelingonewouldwishtoevoke whentryingaNazi war criminal.

15 For an alternative reading of this passage, see Mahlendorf 464.

16Male Fantasies vol. 1. op. cit.

17 Alternately, we might say that the text's trajectory is toward literalizing, and thus confirming the "truth" of patriarchal "knowledge": toward making bodily explicit the horrifying force of abjection and contamination at first concealed by the "screen image" of Hanna as the sexually desirable mother figure who saves Michael from disease (hepatitis, "illness of the blood"). That is, the text's concluding images of Hanna unmaskthedesirable motherasa"powerofhorror" (toparaphraseKristeva),thedesirable woman as a polluting whore.

18 Regarding S&M and fetishism: Hanna strikes Michael across the face with a leather belt, drawing blood; Michael debases himself before Hanna's violent outbursts; Hanna and Michael's sex takes on "fetishistically" ritualistic components. Hewitt analyzes the use of fascism and homosexuality as tropes of "unrepresentability" (7), notingthe perverseironyofthe populartendencytolinkhomosexualitywithamovement that brutally persecuted homosexuals (3-4).

19 Frost traces the image of sexually deviant fascism to its pre-fascist roots in the allied propaganda of World War I (7).

20 On repetition as the simultaneous attempt to build up retroactive defenses against trauma and to fulfill the traumatized organism's "death drive" or desire to return to a pre-organic state (that is, to allow the trauma to "succeed" and fully obliterate the subject), see Freud, ]enseits.

21 Freudianmisogynyiswellsuitedforfiguringfascismasdeadly:inthenovel'sfantasy structure, all oedipal barriers are lifted from the mother figure who is simultaneously the "object of political prohibition" (Frost 28); however, to return to this "womb" would -due to Hanna's status as Nazi -literally signify death.

22 On "recognition" in a dream as a signifier for the maternal body, as well as on blindness as a displacement of castration anxiety, see Freud, "Das Unheimliche." 23 Onthe postwarfigureofthe "weakfather," cf.BergSenior'sstoopedpostureand lament that he cannot help his children (138-39).

24Ihave in mindthepoststructuralist strandofpostmodernism, withitsfocus on the textual nature of reality, the indeterminacy of language, and the resultant necessity and difficulty of acts of reading: cf. Derrida. On double-coding or the postmodern simultaneity of mass accessibility and "elite" complexity, cf. Eco 59-72.

25 On metafiction and the critical gap between narrator and text, as well as for a related reading of the daughter's book, cf. Reynolds 250-51. 26Another function of Hanna's flawed trial is to underscore the impossibility of ever achieving true justice in the face of the irreparable tragedy of the Holocaust.

27The text's use of "the feminine" thus becomes an example of the "self-undermining statement" Linda Hutcheon sees as characterizing postmodernism (1). Note that Michael's mode of writing is a specular construct formed in the mirror of Hanna's "falseness": "Als [Michael] selbst zu schreiben begann, las [er] [Hanna] auch das vor. [... ] Hanna wurde die Instanz, fur die [er] [... ] alle [seine] [... ] kritische Phantasie bundelte" (176).

28 Cf. Nietzsche 352: "Vielleicht ist die Wahrheit ein Weib, das Crunde hat, ihre Crunde nicht sehn zu lassen?" For deconstructive/feminist readings of this passage, see Burgard 1-32.

29 On the postmodern replacement of reality with signs and simulacra, see Bau

drillard. 30 On DerVorleser as a selection of Oprah Winfrey's Book Club, see Donahue. 31 Here, Rothberg divides two features I have discussed as "postmodern" -the con

cern with the transparency of textuality and the problem of the mediated, circulated image -into modernism and postmodernism; still, his general argument provides a helpful framework for a consideration of DerVorleser (which Rothberg does not discuss in his book). The phrase "the demands of Holocaust representation" is the subtitle of Rothberg's study.

32 The phrase stems from Charles M. Maier's The Unmasterable Past: History/ Holocaust/ and German NationalIdentity.

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