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Shameful Stories: The Ethics of East German Memory Contests in Fiction by Julia Schoch, Stefan Moster, Antje Rávic Strubel, and Judith Schalansky

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2013

Emily Jeremiah
Affiliation:
Senior Lecturer in German at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Frauke Matthes
Affiliation:
Lecturer in German at the University of Edinburgh.
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Summary

“Memory contests” are a defining feature of contemporary German cultural and political life. As Anne Fuchs and Mary Cosgrove explain, the term denotes “highly dynamic public engagements with the past,” which in the German context constitutes “hotly contested territory.” While the now well-established notion was developed in response to framings of the national socialist past, it can also be applied to ongoing attempts to articulate and account for the east German experience. This chapter engages in such an application, with the complementary aim of bringing to light the ethical implications of these memory contests. “ethics,” here, connotes a relationship of obligation to “the other.” The chapter asks: what is at stake, ethically, in writings of the GDR past? How do such writings fit into, or indeed challenge, the “continuing struggle to imagine Germany as a unified, democratic, and capitalist country”? And what do they tell us more broadly about the relationship between ethics and memory?

This project involves an examination of four recent German novels in which the memory of life in the GDR plays an important role: Julia Schoch's Mit der Geschwindigkeit des Sommers (2009), Stefan Moster's Die Unmöglichkeit des vierhändigen Spiels (2009), Antje Rávic Strubel's Sturz der Tage in die Nacht (2011), and Judith Schalanksy's Der Hals der Giraffe (2011). In all of these works, the memory of the GDR is mediated and explored through the depiction of difficult, even taboo, familial or quasi-familial relationships. In all the texts, shame—“an intense and painful sensation that is bound up with how the self feels about itself”— features significantly.

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Edinburgh German Yearbook 7
Ethical Approaches in Contemporary German-Language Literature and Culture
, pp. 65 - 84
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2013

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