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Recalling the Goddess Pandora: From Utopia to Resignation, from Goethe to Peter Hacks in Irmtraud Morgner’s Amanda

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 February 2023

Matthew Philpotts
Affiliation:
University of Manchester
Sabine Rolle
Affiliation:
University of Edinburgh
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Summary

IRMTRAUD MORGNER’S FEMINIST-UTOPIAN project reserves a key place for Goethe in its famously complex mythology. Her feminist appropriation of Faust has received most attention from critics; less attention has been paid to her transformation of Goethe’s fragmentary play Pandora in the second volume of her Salman-Trilogie, Amanda. Yet a close examination of Morgner’s engagement with Pandora shows that Amanda marks Morgner’s move from utopianism to disillusionment in the final years of the GDR, and also that Goethe remained a poetic touchstone as she sought a new aesthetic form for her disillusionment. While the first volume of the trilogy sought to create a feminist poetics in a GDR context, the second volume traces an attempt to recall the goddess Pandora and create a rebellious “Hexenmythologie” on the Brocken mountain to ward off impending ecological and nuclear disaster. Amanda undertakes a complex balancing act: it attempts to articulate feminist and socialist appropriation of Weimar classicism and Romantic mythology without becoming complicit in official GDR narratives that tried to name Goethe, Schiller, Weimar, and the Brocken as legitimating icons of the East German territory and hence of the German Democratic Republic itself.

Although Morgner attempts to mobilize the German literary tradition in the service of rebellion, Amanda’s attempted poetic and political revolutions fail. Critics have often interpreted this failure as a theoretical or political breakdown of sorts, caused by Morgner’s inability to imagine any kind of utopian future within the GDR. Close attention to the role of the Pandora text demonstrates that the abandonment of plot resolution owes much to the appropriation of Goethe’s Festspiel Pandora, and to its cynical interpretation by Peter Hacks, as a new template for resigned hope. Amanda breaks with the exemplary biography and active utopia associated both with Faust and with Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, and replaces them with Pandora, thereby displacing a moment of hope for the salvation of humanity into the distant future. Further, I show that Amanda’s melancholy poetics owe more to Hacks’s far more abstract version of “socialist classicism” in his essay on Pandora, “Saure Feste,” than to Goethe’s original text.

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Edinburgh German Yearbook 3
Contested Legacies: Constructions of Cultural Heritage in the GDR
, pp. 218 - 232
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2009

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