Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 December 2013
Postmodernism has often been associated with the demise of the ethical. Conversely, the so-called “ethical turn” in contemporary literature means that literary texts are more inclined than ever to engage in ethical dialogue concerning questions of how we act toward one another. Given that encounters between human beings are contingent upon particular social and historical contexts, literature, which typically involves fictional characters interacting with each other in concrete settings, and so depicts specific actions and situations, is arguably well placed to chart a new, emerging form of postmodern ethics, one that rejects universalism and posits specificity as key to ethical behavior.
in this essay, I explore how two contemporary German-language novels negotiate particular encounters between characters: Robert Schneider's Die Luftgängerin (1998) and Sybille Berg's Vielen Dank für das Leben (2012). In spite of the fact that the novels were published fourteen years apart, the narratives' protagonists, maudi and toto respectively, have much in common. Both are intersexed; that is, their bodies exhibit what are socially read as female and male sexual characteristics. Medically speaking Toto is born with ambiguous genitalia (DL 15), whereas maudi's outwardly female appearance hides her non-descended testicles and XY chromosomes (LG 157). Yet in stark contrast to other contemporary literary texts that tell the life stories of intersexed characters and mainly focus on the protagonists'; desperate search for a gendered identity, these diagnoses are of no importance for Maudi and Toto.
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