Wolf, Christa (Vol. 150)
Christa Wolf 1929-
German novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, and screenwriter.
The following entry presents an overview of Wolf's career through 1998. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volumes 14, 29, and 58.
A highly respected East German literary figure during the Cold War, Wolf won international renown on both sides of the Iron Curtain as a politically committed artist and voice of moral conscience. Though tolerated by Communist authorities, Wolf probed the psychological difficulties of East German life, scrutinizing Germany's Nazi past, problems facing women in a male-dominated culture, and the estrangement of the individual under a rigid social order. In daring novels such as Nachdenken über Christa T. (1968; The Quest for Christa T.), Kindheitsmuster (1976; A Model Childhood), and Kassandra (1983; Cassandra), Wolf broke with state-sanctioned literary modes to present highly subjective accounts of repression and alienation, particularly as experienced by women, winning universal appeal and attracting the interest of Western feminists. However, with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and subsequent revelations that Wolf had briefly worked for Stasi, the East German secret police, she suddenly became a lightning rod for controversy; consequently, her reputation has suffered as critics question the moral—if not the literary—merit of her work.
Wolf was born Christa Ihlenfeld in Landsberg an der Warthe, Germany (now Gorzow Wielkopolski, Poland), the daughter of a salesman. A teenager during the Second World War, she was a member of the Hitler Youth. In 1945 her family fled from the advancing Soviet army to the Mecklenburg area, in what would later become East Germany. Four years later, enthralled by the utopian promise of Marxism, Wolf joined the Socialist Unity party. She also began studying German literature at universities in Jena and Leipzig. In 1951 she married essayist Gerhard Wolf. After earning her degree in 1953, she began working as a researcher for the East German Writers' Union. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, Wolf held various editorial positions, including one with the literary journal Neue Deutsche Literatur. For a time, she also worked in a boxcar factory. In 1961 she published her first book, Moskauer Novelle (Moscow Novella), and the following year began writing full-time. Two years later she published Der geteilte Himmel (1963; Divided Heaven), for which she won East Germany's prestigious Heinrich Man Prize for literature. Divided Heaven also won great praise in West Germany—a rare achievement for an East German writer. During the next several years, she completed a book of essays, Lesen und Schreiben (1972; The Reader and the Writer); a film script, Till Eulenspiegel (1973), written with her husband; and a book of short stories, Unter den Linden (1974; Under the Linden). In 1974 Wolf traveled to the United States as the Max-Kade German Writer-in-Residence at Oberlin College, Ohio. In 1976 she signed an open letter protesting the East German government's mistreatment of writer Wolf Biermann, an action that resulted in her dismissal from the executive committee of the East German Writers' Union. The following year she was made a member of the German Academy for Language and Literature, a West German body. In 1979 she published a book of essays, Fortgesetzter Versuch, and the experimental novel Kein ort. Nirgends (No Place on Earth). She traveled to Greece in 1981, an experience that provided inspiration and material for the novel Cassandra, published two years later.
During the remainder of the 1980s, Wolf continued to collect honors. She won West Germany's most prestigious literary award, the Georg Büchner Prize, in 1980, was named a member of the European Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1984, became an honorary fellow of the Modern Language Association in 1985, and won East Germany's National Prize of the First Class for her novel Störfall (1987; Accidents: A Day's News). She also published a collection of essays, Die Dimension des Autors (1987; The Author's Dimension), and another novel, Sömmerstuck (1989). With the reunification of Germany—an event Wolf ardently opposed—the path of Wolf's career took a sudden turn. Soon after the Berlin Wall fell, Wolf published Was bleibt (1990; What Remains), a collection whose title story embroiled the author in a heated public controversy over her role in the former East Germany. The controversy soon erupted into a complete reappraisal of Wolf's entire catalog, intensified in 1993 after Wolf admitted that she had briefly worked for Stasi. Though shaken by an onslaught of ad hominem attacks in the popular press, and even relocating to California for a time, Wolf responded to charges against her in works such as Auf dem Weg nach Tabou (1994; Parting from Phantoms), a collection of essays tracing her development as a writer, and Medea (1996), a revision of Greek mythology.
Although Wolf's essays and short stories constitute an important part of her work, her literary reputation rests squarely with her novels, in which she elaborates upon the central moral and social themes that have preoccupied her throughout her career. Divided Heaven is narrated by Rita, a woman recovering from a recent, unspecified accident, who recounts the story of a failed love affair. Rita is an idealistic young education student from the country who firmly believes in the promise of socialism. Her lover, however, is a cynical urbanite who flees to West Germany to advance his career, assuming that Rita will follow. She chooses not to, and then suffers her “accident”—interpreted in the West as a suicide attempt (a taboo subject in East German literature) and an indictment of the East German state. In contrast, Rita's allegiance to the East was viewed by East German critics as a vindication of the state. Using the 1961 construction of the Berlin Wall as a backdrop for Rita's narration, Wolf imbues the novel's themes of division and separation with political urgency. The Quest for Christa T. is narrated by an unnamed young woman whose friend Christa T., a failed writer, has just died of leukemia. While combing through Christa's papers in an effort to make sense of her friend's life, the narrator discovers that Christa felt completely estranged from society and believed that, as a result, her literary pursuits were futile. Frustrated, Christa became a housewife, but found no refuge in what she felt was a banal existence. Ultimately, the narrator discovers that Christa's difficulty involved finding an appropriate way to be an individual—an “I”—in a society in which the collective “we” is all important. A Model Childhood is a largely autobiographical novel in which Wolf confronts her own—and Germany's—Nazi past. The heart of the narrative concerns the visit of a woman named Nelly to the town in which she grew up. During the course of the visit Nelly tells her daughter, Lenka, about daily life under Nazi rule and how ordinary people gradually acquiesced to Nazi brutality through self-absorption and political indifference. In this way Wolf emphasizes the importance of the individual's responsibility to remain engaged in society.
Wolf's next novel, No Place on Earth, was a radical departure from her previous works. Forsaking any semblance of realism, socialist or otherwise, she wrote of a fictional meeting of two nineteenth-century Romantic writers, poet Karoline von Günderrode and playwright Heinrich von Kleist—both of whom committed suicide. The two share their idealistic dreams of an artists' utopia, but also their sense of alienation from society—feelings shared by Christa T. in Wolf's earlier novel. Written immediately after Wolf's dismissal from the executive committee of the Writers' Union, the frustrations expressed in this novel also reflect Wolf's own. Wolf revisited the themes of social responsibility and frustrated isolation in her next novel, Cassandra, also one of her most overtly feminist works. Wolf's reinterpretation of the Greek myth begins with the shunned prophetess Cassandra in a Greek prison, recounting her part in the last disastrous days of the Trojan war. Wolf casts Cassandra as a lone voice of reason pitted against the arrogant Trojan military elite, who are too sure of their own power to heed her dire warnings. Wolf's mistrust of entrenched power also pervades Accident, a novel that relates the events of a single day in the life of its female narrator—a day during which her beloved brother undergoes surgery to remove a brain tumor and during which an accident occurs at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine, a mere thousand miles away from the narrator's home. The narrator's simple account of her day's activities—gardening, listening to the radio, walking to the post office—take on apocalyptic significance as she alternately yearns for good news about her brother's health and fears catastrophic news about the nuclear accident. While highlighting the obvious hazards of nuclear technology, the novel warns against blind faith in technology in general, which Wolf views as a serious affliction of modern civilization. Wolf returned to Greek mythology in Medea, her first novel following her public condemnation during the early 1990s. The novel rehabilitates Medea, who in the best-known version of the mythic story was a sorceress who murdered her own children as a means of taking revenge on her unfaithful husband. Wolf's version—told in eleven monologues delivered by six characters—is a complex tale of palace intrigue and political conspiracy in which Medea is innocent—her children were murdered by political rivals—yet she is powerless to clear her name and thus remains at the mercy of her corrupt enemies. Suggestive of Wolf's own vilification in the press, the novel is a meditation on the dangers of power and the elusive nature of truth.
Before the controversy of the early 1990s, critical assessment of Wolf and her work was overwhelmingly positive. She was regarded as a preeminent East German writer, as well as one of the finest postwar European writers, for her utopian ideals and penetrating critiques of postwar Germany, its patriarchal conceptions of truth and identity, and the alienation of modern techno-industrial life. While her complex narratives, replete with multilayered authorial perspectives and explorations of subjectivity, attracted notice for their postmodern quality, her vivid evocations of conflicted female self-identity and psychological crisis won the admiration of feminist scholars. Her critical reputation, especially as supported by Divided Heaven, The Quest for Christa T., A Model Childhood, and Cassandra, extended to both sides of the ideological divide between communism and capitalism. In East Germany, however, her acclaim came somewhat grudgingly. Officially she was recognized as a masterful writer, but her sometimes harsh criticism of life in East Germany meant that her acceptance was always tentative. Only Wolf's obvious devotion to socialist ideals kept her from facing official sanctions and total censorship. Her critical acceptance in West Germany was much more solid, with critics on the right commending her for admonishing the East German government, and critics on the left admiring her for standing up to a totalitarian regime while retaining her socialist ideals. In the eyes of many, Wolf was the ideal dissident writer. Moreover, she was seen in the West as a person of great moral authority who was willing to deal with difficult political and social issues in an honest manner, with the goal of improving the quality of human life.
All of this changed, however, with the fall of East Germany and Wolf's 1990 publication of “What Remains,” a story originally written in 1979 in which Wolf chronicles the slow, grinding horror of a day in the life of a writer under Stasi surveillance. Critics writing for conservative German newspapers considered the delayed publication an act of cowardice, contending that Wolf should have published the story in 1979, when it may have served a political purpose. Likewise, critics on the left considered Wolf's failure to publish the story sooner a betrayal of her dissident standing. Critics on both sides agreed that Wolf's actions were a dishonest attempt to portray herself as a political victim, and soon they were questioning whether she had ever been anything but a puppet of the East German state. Wolf's vaunted moral authority was thus undermined, and she was called on to atone for her misdeeds. The revelation three years later that Wolf had been an informer for Stasi between 1959 and 1962 further reinforced all the worst opinions. Wolf, however, was never without supporters, including Nobel laureate Günter Grass, who noted that Wolf's collaboration was essentially trivial, especially when viewed in contrast with extensive Stasi files outlining a decades-long campaign against her. Furthermore, though Wolf was the focus of the critical attacks, she was not the only East German writer to undergo harsh scrutiny in the early 1990s. Indeed, what came to be known as the “Wolf Case” was nothing short of a complete reappraisal of East German literature, a critical project of paramount importance in a Germany still very self-conscious of its recent reunification. In fact, some of Wolf's supporters claimed that the attacks on her were an effort on the part of German conservatives to strip the last traces of relevance from East German socialism, which they considered a threat. While the difficult cultural merging of the former East Germany and West Germany slowly proceeds, Wolf's place in contemporary German literature remains uncertain. As critics repeatedly note, any discussion of East German literature must take politics into account, especially in the case of Wolf, whose complex artistic and political commitments are inextricably connected. Yet none but the most vituperative of Wolf's critics has suggested that her purely literary gifts—her prose, her narrative technique, her subtle treatment of profound themes—are anything less than impressive.
Moskauer Novelle [Moscow Novella] (novella) 1961
Der geteilte Himmel [Divided Heaven: A Novel of Germany Today] (novel) 1963
Nachdenken über Christa T. [The Quest for Christa T.] (novel) 1968
*Lesen und Schreiben: Aufsätze und Betrachtungen [The Reader and the Writer: Essays, Sketches, Memories] (essays) 1972
Till Eulenspiegel: Erzählung für den Film [with Gerhard Wolf] (screenplay) 1973
Unter den Linden: Drei unwahrscheinliche Geschichten [Under the Linden Tree: Three Improbable Stories] (short stories) 1974
Kindheitsmuster [A Model Childhood; also published as Patterns of Childhood] (novel) 1976
Fortgesetzter Versuch: Aufsätze, Gespräche, Essays (essays and interviews) 1979
Kein ort. Nirgends [No Place on Earth] (novel) 1979
Gesammelte Erzählungen (short stories) 1980
Kassandra: Vier Vorlesungen; eine Erzählung [Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays] (novel and essays) 1983
Voraussetzungen einer Erzählung: Kassandra [Conditions of a Narrative: Cassandra] (lectures) 1983
**Die Dimension des Autors: Essays und Aufsätze, Reden und Gespräche 1959–1986 (essays, speeches, and...
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SOURCE: “Christa Wolf,” in Meanjin, Vol. 44, No. 1, March, 1985, pp. 100–109.
[In the following essay, Gunew discusses Wolf's humanist perspective, her studies of collective memory, and the social construction of identity, particularly female identity, in A Model Childhood, Cassandra, and other works.]
For Margrit Braun and Hansi Foks, and for Christa W. who almost came to Australia.
My major interest was to try to find out where it actually started—this appalling split between people and society? When did the division of labor influence people so decisively that literature was pushed farther and farther out of that sphere which society understood and defined as important, essential—indeed present! At the same time, the feminine element is also forced out of society; that's a process which began much earlier, however.
(C. Wolf, New German Critique, 27)
The above was part of Christa Wolf's answer as to why she, an East German, had written a novel about the early German Romantics (No Place on Earth) who are traditionally dismissed as a group of over-privileged intellectual elitists. Her answer went on to describe them, instead, as one of the few groups committed to social experimentation and change on the eve of the industrial era,...
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SOURCE: “Christa Wolf's Cassandra: Parallels to Feminism in the West,” in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, Vol. XXVIII, No. 3, Spring, 1987, pp. 149–57.
[In the following essay, Pickle examines Wolf's feminist perspective in Cassandra and notes both similarities and differences between Wolf and feminist writers in the West.]
In the workbook-diary she kept while writing her novel Cassandra, the East German writer Christa Wolf called the tale a “roman à clef” (264).1 What is encoded in this work? Cassandra, the scorned prophetess, is stripped of the tragic, mythic elements associated with her in the Western cultural tradition. She appears as a fully rounded figure in an historical and personal setting that seems realistic to the reader. But she is also representative of the modern writer: a truth-sayer, engaged to the moment of her death in a search for (self-)knowledge and the realization of her autonomy as an individual. It is no accident that Wolf chose this figure from a preliterary age to represent her model of the writer. Cassandra's gender as well as her lack of status are important, for in her novel Wolf seeks a revision of myth and history, a revision that reflects the experience of the powerless and the previously voiceless. Therefore, Cassandra's personal experiences and the changes her society undergoes are examples of the beginning of the...
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SOURCE: “Introduction: Setting the Context,” in Christa Wolf's Utopian Vision: From Marxism to Feminism, Cambridge University Press, 1988, pp. 1–19.
[In the following essay, Kuhn discusses Wolf's critical reception and provides an overview of her complex identity as an East German female writer, drawing attention to her interrelated political, feminist, literary, and personal perspectives.]
In the twenty-six years since her emergence as a writer of imaginative literature, Christa Wolf has become one of the leading figures of German letters and the foremost female voice of the German-speaking world. Inherently political, her writing is both subtle and subversive. As she has matured, her themes have become more complex and the problems she addresses broader. The increasing universality of her writing, the immediacy and compelling relevance of her most recent works have helped earn her the international reputation she enjoys today. The East German writer of the early 1960s has evolved into a writer of world stature in the eighties. Abandoning the Socialist Realism that had influenced her early works, Moscow Novella (1961) and Divided Heaven (1963), Christa Wolf established a distinctive style and set of concerns with The Quest for Christa T. (1968) and Patterns of Childhood (1976).
These novels were at first severely criticized in the German Democratic...
(The entire section is 9378 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Ansprachen, in World Literature Today, Vol. 63, No. 2, Spring, 1989, p. 304.
[In the following review, Blomster offers a positive assessment of Ansprachen.]
When Gerhart Hauptmann and Thomas Mann—the two major literary representatives of Germany in the first half of this century—celebrated their sixtieth birthdays, each had received the Nobel Prize in Literature. Such Olympian heights are less easily scaled by today's writers, and when Christa Wolf turns sixty this year (i.e., 1989), she will look upon an assembly of significant yet comparatively minor prizes. Still, Ansprachen, a modest volume of eight brief “addresses”—two are in reality letters and one a magazine article—makes clear that no writer, East or West, approaches Wolf as the representative figure in German literature today. She has achieved this station through an artistic and personal integrity encountered otherwise only in works of fiction.
The entries in the book—it can be read in an hour—document the discomfort that Wolf continues to cause the cultural authorities of her native GDR. In her letter to the 1987 congress of the Writers Union, recalling the expatriation of Wolf Biermann in 1976, she asked her colleagues to establish contact with former Eastern writers now residing in the West. When the letter was greeted as something between open attack and provocation by...
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SOURCE: “Contemplating Chernobyl,” in New Statesman and Society, April 14, 1989, p. 35.
[In the following review, Benn offers a positive assessment of Accident.]
A first spring day in 1986 and a writer is giving herself the day off. This, a day when her beloved brother is undergoing a risky brain operation, and the consequences of Chernobyl are beginning to filter through East German television, radio, papers. The writer broods constantly on the madness of the nuclear age—on the statistics of danger of contamination as a result of Chernobyl, on an article she has read about “Faustian” young men working on Star Wars technology in California who have become so obsessed with their particular discoveries that they work 15, 16 hours a day—living off junk food and cake—isolated from women, children, “ordinary life.”
The writer is frightened by their obsessiveness and their cut-off-ness. And yet she still thinks to ask herself: “Is ordinary life a value in itself?” The very structure of the book suggests that it is; the description of a day's slow rhythms and pleasures—watching the sea, fields, the sun setting: preparing food, drinking a glass of wine alone in front of the flickering TV screen; listening to other people's dramas and opinions—the odd mix of absolute certainty and contingent anxiety that make up the everyday. The more obvious, threading question of...
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SOURCE: “Morning Becomes Radioactive,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 4, 1989, pp. 3, 16.
[In the following review, Eder offers a positive assessment of Accident.]
It is three years since the nuclear catastrophe at the Chernobyl power station in the Ukraine, and already, for most of us, it has gone from a universal portent to an affair conveniently left to worry specialists. Our memory's half-life is so much shorter than strontium's.
Christa Wolf, one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary German literature, forbids us to forget. That is all very well; the half-life of forbidding is the shortest of all. Except that Wolf is a great artist, and her brief and shining Accident shifts her voice into our throats. It will be we who forbid.
Accident: A Day's News is, in form, precisely that. The day is a bright day in April, 1986; the place is a village in the Mecklenburg countryside in East Germany, 1,000 miles from the site where the accident has just occurred. The narrator is a writer who is Wolf's alter ego, if not her very self.
The writer moves in and out of her kitchen, weeds her garden, does errands in the village, bicycles in the woods. Each move and moment is precious and suspect. News reports describe the radioactive cloud moving west. The airwaves are clouded by argument and advice about milk, vegetables and...
(The entire section is 1067 words.)
SOURCE: “A Blade of Time,” in Belles Lettres, Vol. 4, No. 4, Summer, 1989, p. 34.
[In the following review, Manos offers a positive assessment of The Fourth Dimension and Accident.]
Christa Wolf, a citizen of the German Democratic Republic, has achieved international status as one of the leading visionary women writers of our time. Indeed, in her deeply personal, highly experimental novels, notably Cassandra, The Quest for Christa T., A Model Childhood, and No Place on Earth, she appears to have answered in advance the recent call by feminist critics for women writers to forge narrative strategies independent of the male-dominated literary establishment. In The Fourth Dimension, a series of interviews and conversations spanning a decade, Wolf openly discusses what it means to be a woman and a writer, repeatedly insisting that the author must not be absent from her own work. In Accident, her latest novel, she gives us a haunting meditation on the Chernobyl nuclear accident.
Wolf is not concerned with celebrating women's erotic impulses or familial duties. Her greatest concern in the last decade, as she declared in a 1983 conversation recorded in The Fourth Dimension, has been the fear she sees dominating our view of the future. Indeed, as she pointed out in a 1984 interview, the presence of nuclear warheads in Europe has greatly...
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SOURCE: A review of Sommerstück, in World Literature Today, Vol. 63, No. 4, Autumn, 1989, p. 674.
[In the following review, Blomster offers a mixed assessment of Sommerstück.]
Sommerstück, a loosely woven recollection of an idyllic Mecklenburg summer, is Christa Wolf's 1987 reworking of sketches made in 1982 and 1983; they are in part a by-product of Kein ort. Nirgends (see WLT 53:4, p. 671), which she wrote several years earlier. Although the author concludes her new work with the customary disclaimer about the actuality of persons and events depicted, there is much here that invites autobiographical decoding. Indeed, the book is clearly a Künstlernovelle, in which the central figure is a no-longer-young writer (Wolf turned sixty in April) who experiences a crisis in her relationship to the word. “Unbefangenheit,” that cherished naïveté which Thomas Mann's Gustav von Aschenbach sought to regain in 1911, is no longer hers. She is caught up in the contradiction between the desire to create and the consciousness of her own inadequacy. Art, she stresses, must be nourished with bits of the self of its creator.
A panorama of characters, largely couples of intellectual bent, seek refuge from the city and the society it represents in thatched rural homes of the northern Democratic Republic and in the anachronistic bucolic beauty of the region. All...
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SOURCE: A review of Gesammelte Erzählungen, in World Literature Today, Vol. 64, No. 2, Spring, 1990, p. 303.
[In the following review, Blomster discusses the value of the content in Gesammelte Erzählungen.]
“One has to have attended Christa Wolf's readings in the GDR to realize how her moral authority has grown with the years,” wrote Marlies Menge in Die Zeit in the days following the catastrophic fortieth-anniversary celebration in the author's homeland. “Questions are put to her not as an author but as a prophet.” Read in the light of current events, the seven short narratives collected in Gesammelte Erzählungen (they were written between 1960 and 1971) strike the reader with a cogency that validates Menge's observation. Even in “Blickwechsel,” the 1960 story that touches upon experiences more fully developed in Christa T. (1968) and Kindheitsmuster (1977; see WLT 51:4, p. 611), there is an undertow of troubled discontent that clearly anticipates the unhappy situation in which the GDR has found itself in recent months.
Since the Aufbau Verlag exercises its now-customary editorial frugality, bibliographic information will be of value to the reader of Wolf's collection. “Dienstag,” first printed in the West in 1980, makes its first East German appearance here. “Juninachmittag” was published (in German) in both Denmark and...
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SOURCE: “The Alienation of ‘I’: Christa Wolf and Militarism,” in Mosaic, Vol. 23, No. 3, Summer, 1990, pp. 73–85.
[In the following essay, Marks discusses the conflicted and oppressive social environment of Wolf's youth in Nazi Germany and examines its literary expression in A Model Childhood and Cassandra.]
In 1938, witnessing the rise of Fascism and the threat of a second world war, Virginia Woolf wrote Three Guineas to answer the question, “How in your opinion are we to prevent war?” (3). War, Woolf argues, is only a symptom of the competitive, dominating drive fundamental to patriarchal society; it is the rivalry inherent in business, law courts and church hierarchies taken to an extreme and openly violent degree (18–20, 64, 91). Preventing war would seem, then, to require a basic restructuring of society—a difficult task, Woolf feels, especially for women, who are denied any direct political clout. The most reasonable option, she decides, may be to adopt an attitude of “indifference.” By this, Woolf means refusing to participate in or even acknowledge any form of competition, patriotism or militarism, and saying instead, “as a woman, I have no country. … As a woman my country is the whole world.” Such women, declaring themselves a “Society of Outsiders,” would not gratify nationalist vanity with either praise or scorn, but would “shut the bright eyes...
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SOURCE: A review of Was bleibt and Reden im Herbst, in World Literature Today, Vol. 65, No. 1, Winter, 1991, p. 111.
[In the following review, Blomster discusses the critical reception of Was bleibt.]
Christa Wolf might have subtitled Was bleibt “Ein Tag in dem Leben einer DDR-Schriftstellerin,” for in the brief narrative she tells of the close observation by the East German secret police to which she was subjected in 1979 as a result of her stand on the expatriation of her colleague Wolf Biermann. The work is remarkable for the almost unmediated account it gives of wiretapping, break-ins, and the attempt to undermine a public reading that Wolf gave in East Berlin on the evening in question. Wolf conveys the anxiety, the helpless frustration, and—above all—the nausea that she experienced at the hands of the Stasi.
More important than the book itself is the critical dispute that has grown up around it throughout Germany. Wolf has been called by some a “state poet” of the GDR who, because she never broke with the regime, supported it through the mere fact that she remained in the country. However, no less a colleague than Günter Grass has come to Wolf's defense in a Spiegel interview, in which he praises her for her desire to live in peace with all parties while serving the high humanitarian goals that were at the center of her concern....
(The entire section is 566 words.)
SOURCE: “Force Fields: Who's Afraid of Christa Wolf? Thoughts on the Dynamics of Cultural Subversion,” in Salmagundi, No. 92, Fall, 1991, pp. 44–53.
[In the following essay, Jay discusses public criticism of Wolf stemming from the publication of Was bleibt and allegations of her complicity with the former East German government.]
“Why not?,” asked our driver, as he jumped the curb and drove his little Trabant onto the thin strip of paved road between the still forbidding outer ramparts of what since 1961 had been known simply as “The Wall.” It was now July, 1990, eight months after it had been breached and the city it had separated reunited, but this was the first time he had been tempted to enter the former Todesstreifen or “deathstrip” that had encircled West Berlin. What only a short time ago was a no-man's-land patrolled by watchdogs and guarded by border police with automatic weapons was now open to anyone with the curiosity to wander into it and a car as small as a Trabi able to negotiate its narrow road. Except for a listless group of teenagers resting on their motorcycles, we were the only ones who seemed to seize the opportunity that summer afternoon.
As we passed toppled watchtowers and bales of rolled up barbed wire, taking note of the fresh graffiti that now covered previously untouchable section of the interior...
(The entire section is 3402 words.)
SOURCE: “‘A Little Susceptible to the Supernatural?’: On Christa Wolf,” in Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies in German Literature and Culture, edited by Jeanette Clausen and Sara Friedrichsmeyer, University of Nebraska Press, 1991, pp. 1–22.
[In the following essay, Love identifies aspects of psychic experience and intuitive understanding in Wolf's writings that challenge and transcend the Western concept of rationality.]
I see what is beneath me, what is above me, what men say is-not …
(H. D., “The Flowering of the Rod”)
In first setting out to write this essay, I intended simply to address a topic with little currency in academic discourse: the thematization of prophecy, clairvoyance, and extraordinary or psychic healing in the writings of Christa Wolf. The presence of references to such phenomena in her writing, the absence of a functional vocabulary suited to discussion of the topic, and the tendency of literary critics and scholars to avoid any serious confrontation with it made the topic seem both fascinating and intimidating.
The thematization of prophecy, clairvoyance, and psychic healing in Wolf's writings is difficult to place in context. My first impulse was to historicize the subject: to treat it as yet another indicator of Wolf's affinity or indebtedness to...
(The entire section is 9186 words.)
SOURCE: “The Hysteric and the Mimic: Reading Christa Wolf's The Quest for Christa T.,” in Writing the Woman Artist: Essays on Poetics, Politics, and Portraiture, edited by Suzanne W. Jones, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991, pp. 233–58.
[In the following essay, Voris examines the construction of female self-identity and aspects of alienation in The Quest for Christa T., drawing attention to the representation of women as creative agents—both biologically and intellectually—and the narrative's appropriation of bildungsroman literary conventions.]
But for this reason I fancy that I am seeing myself lying in the coffin, and my two selves stare at each other in wonderment.
—Karoline von Günderode
Man likes woman peaceful—but woman is essentially unpeaceful, like a cat, however well she may have trained herself to be peaceable.
To compare woman to a cat is banal. Yet the comparison is found in numerous texts of Nietzsche and Freud and for the same reasons as in Christa Wolf: the cat is an independent animal, little concerned with man, essentially narcissistic and affirmative, like a child and as such both self-sufficient and dependent.1 For example:
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SOURCE: “The Case of Christa Wolf,” in Cross Currents: A Yearbook of Central European Culture, No. 11, edited by Ladislav Matejka, Yale University Press, 1992, pp. 9–22.
[In the following essay, Hutchinson presents an overview of Wolf's literary reputation and ongoing critical controversy surrounding the publication of What Remains.]
Six months after the opening of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the East German government, an anxious little story called What Remains was published in Germany.1 In this slender volume Christa Wolf describes her life under the surveillance of the state security police in East Germany. Written in the late seventies but first published in 1990, What Remains caused a great stir in reunified Germany. This single book at once brought Wolf's person and political history under intense scrutiny and instigated a wide-ranging debate among German intellectuals about the moral responsibilities of the writer and the politics of literature and literary criticism. The so-called Wolf debate, I believe, is the vehicle of a long-standing and unresolved question: the relationship of the writer's life to the reading of her work.
CHRISTA WOLF'S EAST GERMAN CAREER
According to the New Handbook of Contemporary German Literature since 1945, Christa Wolf is the most important contemporary German author.2...
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SOURCE: “Who's Afraid of Christa Wolf?,” in Cambridge Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 3, 1992, pp. 213–21.
[In the following essay, Juers discusses Wolf's concept of “subjective authenticity” and her abiding moral authority as a critic and author despite controversy surrounding Was bleibt.]
The title of Christa Wolf's latest work, Was bleibt, is conspicuously without a question mark—that form of punctuation, or as she has deployed it in her writing, anti-punctuation, which has become a significant feature of her literary signature. ‘Was bleibt’ could mean ‘what remains’ in the sense of ‘what remains to be done,’ or more pitifully, ‘what else could we have done’ (‘was blieb uns übrig’). Or perhaps more exactly, ‘what is/will be left’ (in the sense of ‘when this whole mess is cleaned up’); or it could mean something more positive, an abbreviation of ‘etwas bleibt’ (‘etwas muss bleiben’), to suggest that out of the chaos—that was and in a way still is the GDR—surely some good must be salvaged. Finally the title also carries a more personal message, about growing old, and scanning the significance of one's life. Was bleibt is both the culmination of this author's work and her casting around for new beginnings.1 Set in the ‘last days’ of East Berlin (the story is actually set in 1979: thus the decline of East...
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SOURCE: “The Crisis of East German Socialism: Christa Wolf and the Critique of Economic Rationality,” in Monatshefte, Vol. 84, No. 1, Spring, 1992, pp. 59–73.
[In the following essay, Love discusses Marxist conceptions of work and economic ideology in East Germany, drawing attention to Wolf's criticism of modern industrial society for its alienating effect on individuals.]
Wir mochten ihn nicht, diesen Kapitalismus mit seiner sozialen Ungerechtigkeit, mit seinen perfekten Mechanismen, mit seiner rücksichtslosen Effektivität.
As the mass media reported the disintegration of Eastern European socialism and either triumphantly predicted the reunification of Germany and the demise of the German Democratic Republic, or else projected terrifying images of a potential “Fourth Reich” emerging from a reunified Germany, research on literary and cultural developments in the GDR became both more difficult and more urgent. Faced with the need to see past the superficial exultation as well as the dire predictions offered periodically, the researcher who wishes to consider the implications of recent events must also reflect on the manner in which they have been publicized. And a careful consideration of the rapidly changing scenario offered by German-German relations must also be counterbalanced by informed...
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SOURCE: “‘We Erect Our Structure in the Imagination Before We Erect it in Reality’ (Karl Marx, Das Kapital): Postmodern Reflections on Christa Wolf,” in Germanic Review, Vol. LXVII, No. 4, Fall, 1992, pp. 159–66.
[In the following essay, Saalmann examines postmodern elements of Wolf's writings, particularly aspects of self-consciousness and indeterminacy, that foreshadow—and perhaps anticipate—the fall of the Berlin Wall and the elimination of binary distinctions between East and West Germany.]
Until the Wende, or turning point, of 1989, West and East Germany functioned as models of putatively unshakable identities dependent upon schemes of division. Postmodernism may well be responsible for their demolition. If we indeed dismantle our structures in the imagination before we do so in reality, to reverse Marx's dictum, then the annus mirabilis of 1989 suggests that the decline of socialism is in fact a postmodern phenomenon with its uncontested privileging of the present (Lock 442).1 Given this premise, the paradigmatic change in Europe deserves to be analyzed in accordance with some of the key principles underlying postmodernism and the coterminous tenets of deconstructionism.
As for Christa Wolf's role in the redrawing of the Central European map, it is peremptory to ascertain why this unwavering proponent of a Marxist philosophy has...
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SOURCE: “The Quest for Christa W.,” in Nation, April 5, 1993, pp. 454–57.
[In the following essay, Paley recounts her personal admiration for Wolf, as well as a meeting with the author, and provides an overview of Wolf's career and writings.]
About ten or twelve years ago I visited my friend Marianne Frisch in West Berlin. I asked her if I could somehow meet the writer Christa Wolf. Yes, they were friends, Marianne said, and took me by way of Checkpoint Charlie through the Wall past the taciturn, well, hostile guards into that other country, the German Democratic Republic.
Christa Wolf is the second writer I've ever sought out; the first was W. H. Auden, in New York in 1939, the year, maybe the day, that 10-year-old Christa stood watching the S.S. march through her town, bayonets pointing toward Poland. She remembers that day, sharp as a wood carving, and tells about it in one of her essays (“Thoughts about September 1, 1939”).
Why did I want to see her? I had read The Quest for Christa T. and Patterns of Childhood. I thought we would talk for hours, this pacifist feminist who might never define herself in this way. What interested me was the woman, the writer who had a passionate commitment to literature and believed at the same time that she had to have a working relationship with society—and a responsibility as well. She seemed to be...
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SOURCE: “Rebel within a Cause,” in New Statesman and Society, April 23, 1993, pp. 29–30.
[In the following review of What Remains and The Writer's Dimension, Benn defends Wolf against public condemnation for her socialist beliefs.]
Angry citizens may have pulled Lenin from his plinth in an orgy of symbolic fury, but the reputations of far more subtle figures have suffered in the post-communist reckoning. Most saddening, perhaps, are the attacks currently directed at the east German novelist and essayist Christa Wolf. Before 1989, Wolf occupied an ambiguous but unique position of prominence both within the GDR and the west; since 1989 she has been castigated, particularly in West Germany, for both her actions and inaction. What should be made of this reversal of fortune?
Criticism of Wolf has turned on two distinct, rather sensational accusations: first, that the delay in publishing Was bleibt—her autobiographical tale of surveillance by the Stasi, the GDR's secret police, in the late 1970s—until after the fall of the wall was a disingenuous attempt to claim retrospective victim status. More recently, it has been suggested that Wolf herself was an “unofficial co-worker” for the Stasi in the late 1950s, along with other prominent GDR writers such as Heiner Müller.
Beyond her own country, Wolf is a distinguished rather than a famous...
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SOURCE: “Dance of the Marionettes,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 25, 1993, pp. 3, 17.
[In the following mixed review of What Remains, Eder discusses Wolf's unique stye of prose.]
It seems impossible right now to write about Christa Wolf's What Remains without writing about Christa Wolf. The author of such luminous accounts of the human spirit as Cassandra and The Quest for Christa T. admitted earlier this year that for three years, three decades ago, she was an informant for the East German security police. She gave them her impressions of the political postures of various fellow-writers and other information about her literary world.
Nothing she told them could have been truly harmful, she says, and by 1962 she had stopped and begun to distance herself from the regime. It is not the business of this review to doubt it. Nor is it a matter, here, of judging an author's work by the author's private life—or more exactly, her private public life—as with T. S. Eliot's anti-Semitism or whether Primo Levi's suicide invalidated his writings.
But with Wolf, it is the work itself that is marked by the moral ambiguity of borderlines. While there was still an East and a West, she placed herself on the frontier, telling of the blight that blew across from both sides. Her writing, which can be powerful and delicate, has always had a...
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SOURCE: “In the Doghouse,” in London Review of Books, May 27, 1993, pp. 13–14.
[In the following review of What Remains and The Writer's Dimension, Hofmann acknowledges Wolf's complicated political commitments and literary context, but is critical of what he considers her naive utopianism and her decision to publish What Remains.]
In the wall-month of November 1989 I translated two pieces from an anthology of East German writing for the magazine, Granta, which in the end didn't use either of them. (These things happen.) One of them was by Christa Wolf, an extract, I think, from her book Sommerstück. It was just two pages long, nothing more than a preamble and image, but of a Shakespearean power and amplitude. A group of adults and children (Wolf's habitual, occasionally irritating, panti-social ‘we’), driving in rural East Germany, stop by a beautiful old farmhouse that is in the process of being vandalised by the local youth: doors and windows, furnishings, the massive Dutch stoves in the corners, everything senselessly in ruins. As they leave, a little girl in the party sees a birdcage toppled over in a nettle-patch and walks over to have a look. Then she sees it: the furry remains (what remains) of a cat, locked inside the bird-cage and left to starve and rot.
I thought: could there be a better, more terrible image for what was happening, and...
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SOURCE: “The Silencing of a Voice: Christa Wolf, Cassandra, and the German Unification,”1 in Differences, Vol. 5, No. 2, Summer, 1993, pp. 92–115.
[In the following essay, Postl examines Wolf's attempt to reconcile socialist ideals with Western-style postmodern feminist concerns.]
In the early summer of 1990, four months before the German reunification, a little book was published in Germany, initiating a heated debate not only about the political integrity of its author but also about the role of literature in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), the inter-relatedness of writing and politics, and the status of German intellectuals in general. The book was Christa Wolf's short narrative Was bleibt (What Remains), an account of a period in the author's life in which she was put under surveillance by the secret police. According to Wolf the text was originally written in 1979, never published, and revised in 1989.
Immediately after the publication several articles appeared in the West German press that, due to the extreme harshness and arrogance of their critique, can be called a “media campaign” against Wolf.2 The critics saw the delayed date of publication as indication of her alleged opportunism and collaboration with the communist regime, which in turn lead to a general attack on Wolf's topics, her language, and her literary...
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SOURCE: A review of What Remains and The Author's Dimension, in Wilson Quarterly, Vol. XVII, No. 3, Summer, 1993, pp. 90–91.
[In the following review of What Remains and The Author's Dimension, the critic finds Wolf's writings “dated” and tainted by her collaboration with East German authorities.]
These stories and essays by the former East Germany's most famous writer arrive here under a cloud: the recent revelation that from 1959 to 1962 Wolf was an Inoffizielle Mitarbeiter (I.M.), an informal collaborator for the East German secret police, the dreaded Stasi. Suddenly Christa Wolf, who was once considered her country's dissident Joan of Arc, appears to be a quisling who slept with the enemy. With this knowledge, how should a reader respond to her novella What Remains, which evokes the life of a person living under constant Stasi surveillance?
Wolf recently said she fears “being reduced to these two letters”—I.M. Although Wolf did not confess her Stasi connection until police records were made public, those records suggest that the secret police found her ultimately of little use. Indeed, her role changed when she became the object of Stasi surveillance between 1969 and 1980. The year 1969 is significant. It was the year after the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, an event that caused many behind the Iron Curtain to...
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SOURCE: “A Bruised Loyalty,” in Times Literary Supplement, July 2, 1993, p. 11.
[In the following review, Enright offers a mixed assessment of What Remains and The Writer's Dimension.]
“Our uprising appears to have come years too late,” Christa Wolf lamented when receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Hildesheim (West Germany) in January 1990. That is, it should have come before things had grown too bad to be redeemed, and abuses of power had discredited the values in whose name the abuses were committed. No suggestion here that the values in any way condoned, let alone created, the abuses. In itself the East German uprising was fine, but what would happen next? “Our society” has had no time “to develop an immunity against the economic slogans of Western nations,” and many East Germans “are disoriented and are sinking into depression.” And what has happened to art? Books which “met with opposition” only a few months ago are now passé, because radical social criticism is coming straight from the public's mouth, and the theatres are half empty. But literature will still be called on to perform its eternal and ubiquitous task, “to investigate the blind spots in our past, and to accompany us into our changing future.” In short, business as usual; it is only prudent of writers to ensure their continued employment.
“We are the...
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SOURCE: “A Woman-Centered Politics of Peace,” in Belles Lettres, Vol. 9, No. 1, Fall, 1993, pp. 61–62.
[In the following review, Manos offers a favorable assessment of What Remains and The Author's Dimension.]
When I first read The Quest for Christa T., I knew that Christa Wolf was presenting a notion of the self that I could identify with as a woman, that underscored the forces, within as well as without, that combine so effortlessly to discount our individual quests for self-fulfillment. Wolf assigns her narrator in Christa T. a seemingly impossible task: to return her dead friend to a living presence by reconsidering memories of Christa T. and scrutinizing their correspondence over the years. The narrator discovers, in the process of completing her quest, that she is actually validating her own being. What struck me even more profoundly was another quest underway in the novel: Wolf's own, as author, to probe the interplay between self-exploration and self-assertion that has governed the act of writing for her. Indeed, when I finished reading Christa T., I realized that the work was highly autobiographical—not only for the narrator and Christa Wolf, but also for me. In my determination to understand the novel, I too had been invited to engage in my own process of self-validation.
Still, I knew that my initial response merely tapped the surface...
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SOURCE: “The Last Word: Christa Wolf—Moral Force or Farce?,” in Belles Lettres, Vol. 9, No. 1, Fall, 1993, pp. 63–64.
[In the following essay, Derr discusses Wolf's literary career and her future as a writer after drawing public condemnation for her admitted collaboration with East German authorities.]
As mother, wife, and avowed Marxist, Christa Wolf is one of Germany's best-known living writers. Literary darling of the former East German government, Wolf had an apartment in Berlin, a summer house, and the freedom to travel anywhere. She was a vocal critic of German unification to the very end. But with the collapse of the East, the publication of her short story What Remains, and the revelations about Wolf in the East German secret police files, she has come to represent all that was wrong with the former German Democratic Republic (GDR): opportunism, elitism, and deceit. Once touted among supporters as a leading moral force in literary and political circles, Wolf—who is currently living in California—is now considered by many to be a moral farce. Most of her supporters have turned from her in anger, disappointment, and sadness, while even the most loyal among us must admit to a nagging discomfort when trying to defend her case. How did this onetime literary star turn literary refugee?
Born Christa Ihlenfeld in 1929 in Landsberg on the Warthe River (now part of...
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SOURCE: “Five Women and One Man,” in Hudson Review, Vol. XLVI, No. 4, Winter, 1994, pp. 765–72.
[In the following excerpt, Phillips judges What Remains to be “an uneven volume,” but concludes that it is a welcome collection of Wolf's short fiction.]
When The Quest for Christa T. was published in 1970, I recall discussing with friends the brilliance of this new “girl” writing in Germany. Her jacket photograph seemed to depict a teenager. It is with some surprise one realizes that Christa Wolf is sixty-four today, the author of seven books, and that the new photographs resemble Golda Meir. What Remains purports to collect her short fiction, from the early work in the 1960s to the title story, recently published in Germany and the subject of some debate there. (Strangely missing from this collected stories is “Divided Heaven,” Wolf's long story published in 1963, about a working woman who prefers East Germany to the supposedly more easy life in West Berlin.) In addition to that omission, the editors and/or translators have not provided dates for the eight collected pieces, which span thirty years. Dates would be of especial interest in the case of a writer so engaged in social and political commentary.
What Remains is an uneven volume, but collectively it poses questions about survival and existence. The best story, “Unter den Linden,” is a...
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SOURCE: “Romanticism as a Feminist Vision: The Quest of Christa Wolf,” in New German Critique, No. 64, Winter, 1995, pp. 105–34.
[In the following essay, Sayre and Löwy discuss the connections between nineteenth-century Romanticism and Wolf's feminist and anti-capitalist perspective.]
Few modern authors have given such powerful expression to the “elective affinity” between Romanticism and feminism as Christa Wolf.1 When we refer to her as a Romantic writer, we not only take into account her explicit interest in the German Romantic tradition of the early nineteenth century, but also—and above all—her own Romantic worldview [Weltanschauung]. Our interpretation of Wolf's writing is based upon a conception of Romanticism which recognizes it to be not only a literary school from the past, but a worldview that pervades all spheres of culture from poetry and the arts to theology, philosophy, and political thought. Due to its pervasiveness, Romanticism has been a significant cultural force from the latter half of the eighteenth century until today.
Considered as a worldview, Romanticism can be defined as a form of cultural criticism of “modernity”—the capitalist/industrial/technological civilization born in the eighteenth century and still predominant—which is inspired by premodern values. The disenchantment of the world, the quantification and...
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SOURCE: A review of Auf dem Weg nach Tabou, in World Literature Today, Vol. 69, No. 3, Summer, 1995, pp. 579–80.
[In the following review, Knapp offers a mixed assessment of Auf dem Weg nach Tabou.]
Christa Wolf describes her ideal form of writing as a mixture of subjectivity and objectivity, in which her personal encounters and literary efforts are recorded simultaneously. Accordingly, the collection Auf dem Weg nach Tabou mixes diverse levels of experience, often leaving the reader to sort out the relevance of one to the other, and to establish the boundaries between the writer's private and public spheres.
These twenty-eight minor works (nine of which were previously unpublished) can be sorted into four basic categories. The first is made up of journal entries, letters, speeches, and autobiographical reflections, which give an ample glimpse into Wolf's private world. Most notably, she observes and critiques the reunification process as it affected private citizens (and the literary community) in the former German Democratic Republic. Very subjective in quality as well are the texts in the second group, her commissioned pieces on nonliterary subjects such as “Cancer and Society” or contemporary art. When outside her area of expertise, Wolf is earnest but generally uninspired. Her verbose commentaries are accompanied by illustrations (artwork by Nuria Quevedo and...
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SOURCE: “A Scapegoat, not a Sorceress,” in Times Literary Supplement, October 4, 1996, p. 17.
[In the following review of Medea, Graves finds Wolf's reinterpretation of the myth “too neat” and ultimately “unpersuasive.”]
If, as Claude Lévi-Strauss contended, a myth is properly defined as consisting of all its versions, then the dominant image of Medea which has come down to posterity, that of the murderer of her own children, may seem distinctly partial. It is derived, of course, from Euripides’ Medea, where the heroine slays her two sons in an act of fearful vengeance against Jason, her husband, for his unfaithfulness with the daughter of Creon, King of Corinth. Earlier sources tell the story differently, however, ascribing the death of the children either to an accident or to the citizens of Corinth, and a contemporary rumour even alleged that Euripides accepted a Corinthian bribe to transfer the deed in his play to Medea. Improbable though that may be, the picture of Medea as an infanticide, for all its longevity and dramatic power, remains just one representation of the myth. Christa Wolf's new novel on the subject, Medea: Stimmen, seeks not merely to challenge this version but to demolish it, along with much else besides.
The narrative is presented in a series of eleven monologues from six voices (the “Stimmen” of the title), three of them...
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SOURCE: A review of Medea, in World Literature Today, Vol. 71, No. 1, Winter, 1997, pp. 142–43.
[In the following review, Grawe discusses Wolf's damaged literary reputation following Was bleibt and her implicit self-defense in Medea.]
Christa Wolf, formerly everybody's darling in both East and West Germany and a moral as well as a literary authority, was in an excellent position to play an important conciliatory role after the Wendé. Sadly, she failed to do this. In 1990 she published her ill-fated story Was bleibt (see WLT 65:1, p. 111) in which, many critics felt, she had seized upon the first opportunity to portray herself as a Stasi (East German security service) victim. Suddenly Wolf was very controversial indeed. She withdrew from the battleground, accepting an invitation from the University of California at Santa Barbara, where she compared herself with the Jews driven into exile by the Nazis, a comment which gave rise to bewilderment rather than understanding. When she confessed soon after that she had briefly been involved with the Stasi herself in the late fifties and early sixties, she countered the public attacks by publishing her complete and rather innocuous IM Stasi file (1993). Next she published a volume of topical essays, speeches, and letters (Auf dem Weg nach Tabou, 1995; see WLT 69:3, p. 579) in order to give an insight into her...
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SOURCE: “Velvet Prisons,” in Nation, November 3, 1997, pp. 28–30.
[In the following review of Parting from Phantoms, Gitlin discusses Wolf's despair over her condemnation in the popular press, her disdain for Western capitalism, and her efforts to come to terms with post-Cold War realities.]
Christa Wolf was arguably the most influential writer of a nation that no longer exists, the German Democratic Republic, where Soviet troops implanted a forty-four-year dictatorship to succeed the twelve-year catastrophe of the Thousand-Year Reich. In 1989, aged 60, this strong, subtle writer of melancholic conscience found herself suddenly released from dictatorship for the first time in her adult life. When she found out that the police had not fired on an antigovernment demonstration in Leipzig that year, it was, she told me in 1992, “the happiest moment of my life.”
But Christa Wolf's post-Communist years have turned out to be wrenching in ways she did not anticipate and instructive beyond the particulars of her case. In the country of which she is now willy-nilly a citizen, united Germany, she has been pilloried as a onetime government informer. In a country that loves its documents, she was encased within documents—an especially miserable turn of fate for a writer. Parting from Phantoms traces the fever chart of her anguish—the anguish of a dissident left not only...
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SOURCE: “Reality Broken in Two,” in Understanding Christa Wolf: Returning Home to a Foreign Land, University of South Carolina Press, 1997, pp. 54–68.
[In the following essay, Resch examines the narrative structure, fictive techniques, and themes surrounding the invention of memory and identity in The Quest for Christa T.]
Christa Wolf did not think that The Quest for Christa T. fit the literary genre of the novel. Therefore, she asked that the label “novel” not be printed on the book cover. This is the first sign of an act of courageous defiance—creating a book that challenged the most sacred tenets of socialism and violated the essential principles of socialist realism. To smooth the arduous path to publication and to placate the cultural functionaries who would determine the book's fate, Wolf introduced her work carefully. She held public readings, explicated excerpts, described her narrative techniques, and boldly bent the official literary and political position to her concepts. In “Interview with Myself” she expounded the need for change: “The absurd opinion that socialist literature cannot treat the fine nuances of emotions, the individual differences of characters; that it is reduced to create types moving in prescribed sociological tracks: this absurd opinion is not held by anyone any longer. The years when we laid the practical foundations for the self-realization of...
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SOURCE: “The Good Old Bad Old Days,” in New Republic, July 20–27, 1998, pp. 38–40.
[In the following review, Herf discusses Wolf's disillusionment over the German reunification and criticizes Wolf's failure, or refusal, to acknowledge the inadequacies and transgressions of the former East German government.]
Though communism collapsed everywhere in Europe in 1989, the German Democratic Republic was the only one of the communist nation-states to disappear completely and become absorbed into another country, the Federal Republic of Germany. In the essays, the lectures, and the interviews collected in this book, Christa Wolf, the most prominent novelist and essayist to emerge from East Germany, and a leading member of the loyal opposition to the old communist regime, expresses her regrets about that disappearance. In her treatment of the collapse of communism, she conveys the sense of the utter defeat of her political hopes, lashes out in anger and defensiveness at the victors’ “phantoms” that offer a distorted picture of the GDR, and attempts to provide examples of the better aspects of East Germany.
Wolf wrote to and for critics of the East German government who accepted the fundamental postulate of official antifascism. It was East Germany, and not West Germany, that had truly faced the Nazi past, purged its elites, and built a regime based on memory rather than amnesia...
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SOURCE: “An Allegory from Atlantis,” in New Left Review, No. 231, September–October, 1998, pp. 132–45.
[In the following review of Medea, Watkins provides an overview of Wolf's literary career, thematic preoccupations, and the complex political context of her work.]
She comes from a small, poor country in the East where the trees are hung with goatskin bags full of human bones, swinging in the breeze, to a western state so powerful, arrogant and rich that even the dead lie buried with food, jewellery and horses in their gorgeously furnished tombs; from a childhood full of secrets—‘but everything in Colchis was full of dark secrets’—to the glittering city-state of Corinth, whose people affect to have no secrets at all: though, ‘how much they hold it against you if you express doubts about their happiness.’1
Thus Medea, in the first work of fiction since the reunification of Germany by the ex-GDR's foremost writer, Christa Wolf. But this is a Medea very different from the powerful and impassioned heroine of Euripides, the mature and furious woman whose grief and anger, when she is deserted by her adored husband Jason, is so devastating that she is ready to destroy her own children in her all-consuming, all-purifying rage. The tragedy of Wolf's Medea lies in politics, not in love. In this late German version of the myth, Medea comes to Corinth in...
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SOURCE: “That Stupid Pelt,” in London Review of Books, November 12, 1998, pp. 20–21.
[In the following review of Medea, King compares and contrasts Wolf's reinterpretations of the Cassandra and Medea myths.]
Recent interpretations of Medea have tended to focus on issues of gender and race, portraying her either as a feminist challenging Jason's misogyny, or as a freedom fighter on behalf of the oppressed Colchian immigrants in Corinth. In what remains the best-known version of her myth, the one created by Euripides in 431 BC, her actions turn out to be as violent and tyrannical as those of her oppressors, as she kills her own children in a quest for revenge. Modern productions have tried to provide a reading of the play that makes sense of her appalling crime.
The story of Medea, daughter of the King of Colchis, has a number of variants. In some versions, having fallen in love with Jason and used her magical powers to help him steal the Golden Fleece from her father, she murders her brother on the voyage from Colchis and scatters his dismembered corpse from the Argo in order to delay her pursuing father. Safely installed with Jason in Iolcus, she restores his father to youth and murders his uncle in revenge for the wrong he has done to Jason's family. As a result, she and Jason are forced to flee to Corinth, where Jason spurns her for Creon's daughter. Medea arranges...
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Buruma, Ian. “There's No Place Like Heimat.” New York Review of Books (20 December 1990): 34, 36–39, 42–43.
Buruma provides a critical overview of Patterns of Childhood, The Quest for Christa T., No Place on Earth, Cassandra, and The Fourth Dimension, as well as a discussion of the controversy surrounding Was bleibt.
Gewen, Barry. “Eastern Lights.” New Leader (15 October 1984): 13–14.
Gewen offers a mixed assessment of Cassandra, faulting the work for its heavy-handed feminist ideals.
Goozé, Marjanne E. “Finding a Place for Christa Wolf: Gendered Identity in No Place on Earth.” In International Women's Writing: New Landscapes of Identity, edited by Anne E. Brown and Marjanne E. Goozé, pp. 44–59. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1995.
Goozé examines Wolf's underlying feminism and prescient commentary on the marginalized status of the writer—notably her own—in No Place on Earth.
Gordon, Mary. “Skeleton in the Cellar.” Nation (11 May 1998): 18, 20.
In this review of Medea, Gordon comments on the impossibility of separating Wolf's personal past from interpretations of her writing.
Graves, Peter. “Christa Wolf's Sommerstück: An Intensified June Afternoon.”...
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