Monika Maron Critical Essays

Introduction

Monika Maron 1941-

German novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, and journalist.

The following entry presents an overview of Maron's career through 2001.

Among the most prominent women writers to emerge from the former East German state, Maron is distinguished for her provocative explorations of patriarchal order and the place of women in communist society. Through the use of surrealist imagery and fantastical scenes, an aesthetic embraced by French feminist theorists, Maron evokes a specifically female subjectivity that reveals the conflicted psyche of women under sharply circumscribed political conditions. In each of her novels—Flugasche (1981; Flight of Ashes), Die Überläuferin (1986; The Defector), Stille Zeile Sechs (1991; Silent Close No. 6), and Animal Triste (1996; Animal Triste)—Maron portrays individual women who struggle against the limitations imposed by a variety of father figures, embodied in both individual and institutional forms. While critical of the oppression of women in both pre- and post-unification Germany, Maron often exposes the weaknesses of the female protagonists in her fictional writings. She has also produced several significant collections of personal and political essays, including Nach Maβgabe meiner Begreifungskraft (1993) and Quer uber die Gleise (2000).

Biographical Information

The daughter of communist and anti-fascist parents, Maron was born in Berlin in 1941 and moved with her family to the eastern, communist-controlled section of the city in 1951. Though she had little contact with her biological father, Maron's relationship with her stepfather, Karl Maron, had a profound influence on her life and work. Karl Maron was the deputy mayor of East Berlin after World War II and became one of the founders of East Germany (GDR). From 1955 to 1963, he served as the GDR Minister of the Interior and was a staunch supporter of Russian premier Joseph Stalin. After completing high school, Maron worked in a factory, studying theater and art history in her spare time. She also spent a period working for the official GDR television network. She began her writing career as a journalist for the magazine Für Dich and the newspaper Wochenpost. In 1976 she left these positions to work as a freelance writer. During this time, Maron was contacted by the Stasi, the GDR secret police, who wanted Maron to act as an informant. For six months in 1977, Maron went on several informational missions into West Berlin for the Stasi. Her reports to the Stasi were sharply critical of the GDR regime and, as a result, she was placed under surveillance herself after she ended her role as an informant in 1978. Maron's compliance with the Stasi was subsequently disclosed after the German reunification, generating considerable controversy surrounding her identity as a dissident author and social critic. Maron's first novel, Flugasche, was completed in 1978, but due to censorship by the GDR authorities, it was not published until 1981. Unlike other female GDR authors such as Christa Wolf and Irmtraud Morgner, Maron's works never received official GDR approval. Subsequently, all of Maron's works had to be published in West Germany, although her writings did enjoy covert circulation within the GDR. Following the publication of her politically-charged correspondence with author Joseph von Westphalen in Trotzdem herzliche Grüβe: Ein deutsch-deutscher Briefwechsel (1988), Maron left the GDR on a three-year visa. During and after the fall of communism in Germany, Maron published several essays on the difficulties of contemporary German politics and her struggles with finding a new German identity. Her harsh criticism of former East German writers and steadfast support for reunification, a position that many East German intellectuals mistrusted or opposed, placed Maron at the center of a heated public debate during the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1992 she was awarded the prestigious Heinrich von Kleist Prize for Stille Zeile Sechs.

Major Works

In Flugasche Maron draws upon her own experiences to depict the plight of Josefa Nadler, a journalist sent to investigate pollution and ecological degradation in a small mill town. When Josefa attempts to publish her exposé, she discovers that the government has placed limits on the extent of her criticism. Rather than alter her story, Josefa initially holds out hope that within socialism there lies the possibility of reform, only to become increasingly frustrated with officials who demand that she censor herself. Josefa's disillusionment ultimately causes her to retreat to her bed, where her hopes for the future are found only in the realm of dream and fantasy. The surrealism that characterizes the closing of Flugasche reappears in the opening of Maron's second novel, Die Überläuferin. At the center of the work is Rosalind Polkowski, a historian who awakens to find her legs paralyzed and all her bodily needs apparently suspended. Isolated in her room and freed from the routines of her everyday life, Rosalind's imagination and memories roam at will, evoking interactions with a variety of figures from her past. Through her imaginary wanderings, Rosalind searches for her own identity in a life that was previously determined by GDR social conventions. Like Josefa, Rosalind is only able to find true individual freedom in the isolation of her own fantasies. In Maron's third novel, Stille Zeile Sechs, the character of Rosalind returns. After resigning her position as a historian, Rosalind agrees to type the autobiography of an elderly party functionary, Herber Beerenbaum, a key member of the very political system she detests. Rosalind becomes drawn into conflict with Beerenbaum, because he reminds her of her own dead father and he symbolizes the political ideology that Rosalind blames for her own lack of identity. When Rosalind confronts Beerenbaum with her anger, he collapses and dies, leaving her to feel that she has caused his death. Rosalind then resigns herself to the fact that, despite her best efforts, she has been profoundly shaped by the repressive forces that both her father and Beerenbaum symbolized. Maron's first essay collection, Nach Maβgabe meiner Begreifungskraft, includes autobiographical pieces as well as personal reflections on German reunification, abortion rights, and the process of writing. In her fourth novel, Animal Triste, Maron traces the ill-fated affair between the female narrator, a nameless East Berlin paleontologist, and Franz, a scientist from western Germany. The story unfolds from a point in the future after the affair has ended and the narrator has withdrawn from life. Although the novel explores the vagaries of a romance in middle age, it also reflects on the struggle to define individual and collective identity in the wake of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. Maron followed Animal Triste with Pawels Briefe (1999; Pavel's Letters), a collection of stories that recount and reflect upon her family history. Pawel was Maron's maternal grandfather, who—though he converted to the Baptist faith—was born a Jew and was deported and murdered during World War II. Throughout the book Maron uses the letters that Pawel wrote to his wife and children as the basis for her accounts of her family's turbulent history and its experiences under fascist and communist regimes. Quer uber die Gleise is a collection of Maron's newspaper articles, speeches, and essays. The volume includes a lengthy and vehement response to critics of Pawels Briefe as well as commentaries on the German national consciousness after reunification. Like many of Maron's previous works, the essays in this collection often focus on the role of memory in both personal and political settings.

Critical Reception

Flugasche has attracted considerable critical attention for its depiction of the role of women in GDR society and for its close examination of how political ideology exerts profound psychological effects on individuals. Reviewers have also commented favorably on Maron's use of fantasy in Flugasche to create an imaginary space in which her protagonist experiences the freedom that socialist ideology denies. Likewise, Die Überläuferin has won acclaim for its analysis of the difficulties women face in establishing their own identities within oppressive social structures. Critics have hailed Maron's use of evocative imagery in the work to portray how women escape oppression and give voice to their own desires. Maron's novels written after the German reunification—Stille Zeile Sechs and Animal Triste—have also earned a favorable critical response. Though some reviewers have found Maron's realism in Stille Zeile Sechs to be stark and contrived, others have lauded how the work raises questions about political and personal responsibility. Animal Triste has been praised for being more accessible than Maron's more surrealistic works and for its use of metaphor to examine complex issues of identity, love, and politics. Unlike her novels, Maron's first collection of essays, Nach Maβgabe meiner Begreifungskraft, has received mixed assessments. Though several of the essays have been commended for their stylistic quality and insight, those written during the early days of German reunification have been viewed as dated by critics. Pawels Briefe has drawn the sharpest criticism of all of Maron's works, with reviewers arguing that the volume lacks the passion and honesty that distinguishes Maron's other writings. Moreover, some commentators have regarded Maron's explanations of her early opposition to the GDR, her difficulties with her communist mother, and her association with the Stasi as self-serving and dubiously removed from the purported focus of the book. Maron responded to many of these criticisms in Quer uber die Gleise, which has received largely favorable reviews. As with her novels, reviewers have commended Quer uber die Gleise for the honesty and depth of spirit in Maron's prose.